Three ranchers spoke about multi-generational ranching at the 2011 Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show last week in Denver. With only 40% of U.S. family businesses making it to the second generation, I think this is a vitally important topic to discuss in order for cattle operations to be sustainable through the generations. Here are a few pieces of advice I picked up from the ranch families who testified on this topic and so candidly shared their experiences for how they make it work.
1. “There are four challenges to consider in multi-generational ranches — complacency, communication, varied visions and off-farm family members. My advice for young people is to get a real job for a while and find a good support system in a spouse before coming back to the ranch,” says Matt Perrier, a fifth-generation cattle rancher from Eureka, KS.
2. “The critical ingredients for cohesiveness in a multi-generational ranch are shared values and faith, deciding who is the primary decision maker, avoiding feelings of entitlement from siblings and keeping spending in check. Remember how deeply invested family members are emotionally to the ranch, know that every family member has value and remember to set aside time to enjoy relationships with your family,” recommends Sara F. Shields from the San Isabel Ranch located in Wescliffe, CO.
3. Don Schiefelbein of Kimball, MN, offers a different perspective: “A formalized plan is something nobody wants to do, but you’ve got to do it. The ranch should follow guiding principles such as the ‘unselfish rule,’ which means the priority of all family members must be the long-term success of the ranch. It’s also important to understand fair vs. equal; meaning on our operation we all get compensated the same regardless of our various responsibilities.”
Ultimately, every family is unique, and every ranch runs a little differently. However, all three panelists agreed that clear communication and a formalized, unified vision are the key components to making an operation last through the generations. How do you make things work on your operation? What do you think of these three ranchers and the advice they offered?