As I write this in preparation of taking a brief maternity leave from blogging, I’m overjoyed about the upcoming arrival of our first baby. Tyler and I are excited and nervous to bring a little cowboy or cowgirl to our ranch, and we can’t wait to start making memories as a family!
However, there’s plenty to do to get organized and prepare before we bring home this new member of our family. As I pack the hospital bag and practice buckling in the baby’s car seat, I can’t help but get sentimental about my own childhood on the ranch.
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I was browsing through my baby books the other day and realized that many of my photos are of my sisters and I outside playing, working and petting the many animals on our ranch. I have many good memories of being a kid on a working ranch, and those experiences helped to instill strong values that I rely on in my adult life. Reflecting on this inspired me to put together a list of the seven lessons I want my kids to learn on the ranch:
1. There’s nothing sweeter than working alongside your family.
While many of my friends were able to hang out with each other after school, going to parks or playing at each other’s houses, I was expected to ride the bus and help do chores after school. At the time, I felt deprived of missing out on all of this social time with my friends, but the responsibility of helping Dad feed bales and buckets of corn kept me busy and got me involved at a young age on our family operation. Looking back now, I realize how fortunate I was to be able to spend so much time with my parents and sisters. Now, as adults, we truly enjoy being together, whether it be work or play.
2. The animals come first, no matter what.
Whether rain, sleet or snow, I learned from a young age that the needs of our cattle came before my own. Being tired, having homework, wanting to go out with friends, or just feeling like vegging on the couch were never good excuses when there was work to be done. Sometimes this meant skipping the fun stuff in town or working when I had a million other things I would rather be doing. But when cattle need to be fed, fence needs to be fixed or equipment breaks down, that’s what takes priority.
3. Work can be fun, too.
Finding fun in the dirty jobs makes tough tasks more manageable. During the summer, I figured throwing square bales was good training to buff up before cross-country season started. The same goes with using the pitchfork to clean manure out of the barn. Washing calves or walking pastures chopping thistles in the heat was a good way to work on my tan. Spending time outside wasn’t work; it was fun, especially if I had my sisters with me to help get the job done.
4. Understand the circle of life.
As my friend Trent Loos always says, “Everything lives, and everything dies. But death with a purpose gives meaning to life.”
I remember the sadness I felt the first time I had to walk my 4-H steer onto the trailer, destined for the butcher shop. I remember the tears I cried over a calf that didn’t make it. I remember loading up my favorite cows that came up open after preg-checking, knowing they were now culls I would never see again. For some, this might be a cruel way for a kid to grow up, but to me, understanding that where there is death, there is also new life, is one of the most important lessons I learned on the ranch. Calving season was always a good reminder of that new life, and there’s nothing better than seeing young calves frolic and play in the pasture.
5. Be proud to raise beef and by-products to nourish yourself and others.
I want my kids to feel special that they are among the 2% of people in the U.S. who are directly involved in production agriculture. The work may be tough, the hours long, and the pay sometimes paltry, but knowing there are steaks in the deep freeze and essential by-products in my vehicle, kitchen, bathroom and hospitals to help make my life as well as others’ lives easier is a noble cause to be a part of.
6. Always do your best.
Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Whether it’s showing a heifer, raising bulls, cleaning out a barn, taking a test or being a good friend, it’s important to always do your best. Anytime I was competing in something, my mom always told me to do my best, and if my best was good enough to win, then I would. I want my kids to compete against themselves and always improve upon themselves, instead of comparing themselves to others.
7. Be the kind of person your dog thinks you are.
My grandpa always tells us, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Being a kind person ranks pretty high on my priority list. Whether it be a co-worker, an animal or a friend, treat others with kindness. Your dog thinks you’re pretty awesome, and others should feel the same way about you, too. Be a kind, warm, friendly person, and people will hopefully treat you the same in return.
What lessons do you stress to your kids? What were the most important things you learned growing up on a ranch? If you could give me advice on how to raise the best cowboy/cowgirl I can, what would it be? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of Beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.
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