Even in the middle of a cold and sometimes harsh South Dakota winter, I can always find beauty all around me. The trees glitter with frost, the snow sparkles on the hills, and the sun shines down on the cattle as puffs of breath steam from their mouths. Birds chirp, cats hunt for mice in the barns, and our faithful farm dog is afoot as we do chores.
No matter what the weather, we’re responsible for the livestock, and that’s one of the first lessons I learned growing up on a ranch. Rain, sleet or snow, our cattle relied on us to take care of them. And it’s not just a business decision; it’s the right thing to do. This cowboy code of ethics is often called the “cowboy way,” and it’s instilled in most cowboys and cowgirls from the time they are old enough to sit up straight and pay attention in church.
Perhaps it’s good old-fashioned values, or maybe it’s something more. Whatever it is that makes cattlemen so great, it’s certainly worth talking about.
Anne Burkholder recently did just that on her blog spot, "The Feedyard Foodie." She’s a Nebraska cattle feeder who blogs all about her life on the farm. Her post, entitled “Feeding Body and Soul: How Growing Our Food Enhances Spirituality,” was featured recently on BlogHer. Through BlogHer, a website dedicated to women bloggers who write about everything from fashion to cooking, Burkholder was able to share her agriculture story to a very diverse audience of women.
Burkholder produces many great blog posts, but this one particularly piqued my interest as one that might resonate with a lot of folks because of its unique approach. Read this excerpt and you’ll see what I mean.
“While I am a regular church goer, the heart of my spirituality lies outside of the doors of the church building. It is deeply rooted in nature and is an integral part of my adult life.It is present on my cattle farm and in my vegetable garden. It is present in the volunteer work that I do to improve animal (cattle) welfare. It is present on the youth athletic fields where I mentor and coach.
“While I am very open and transparent about how I raise cattle and grow beef on my farm, I tend to hold my faith in a more private place. Despite that introverted tendency, I ‘take God with me’ on my life journey. There is something about wide open spaces and farming that lends itself to being closely tied to faith. Perhaps it is the beauty of a sunset over the plains…Perhaps it is the feeling of intense pride and contentment that comes from growing things with your own two hands…Perhaps it is the feeling of helplessness that comes from witnessing the brutality of Mother Nature…Most likely, it is all of these things that lends a farmer toward a strong personal spirituality.”
The faith and spirituality Burkholder feels while working on her farm isn’t a rarity in this industry. I’m willing to bet many of you feel the same way, and it’s that strong moral underpinning that guides our every decision on the farm or ranch. Simply put, it’s the cowboy way.
Likewise, Jim Owens, author of the bestselling book, “Cowboy Ethics,” translates this unwritten code of the West into the “10 Principles To Live By,” which anyone can apply to their daily life. Owens is the founder of The Center For Cowboy Ethics & Leadership, a non-profit organization that helps spread the message that we can all be heroes in our own lives. Inspired by the iconic figure of the working cowboy, Owens encourages people to live by a code of honesty, loyalty and courage.
We all see examples of this cowboy code of ethics on a daily basis, but we often take it for granted. Pay close attention this week, and you’ll notice it a lot more in the folks you deal with on a daily basis.
It’s our faith that keeps us going -- faith that it will rain, so we have enough grass to graze this summer; faith that cattle prices will be high enough to offset our skyrocketing input costs; faith that our kids will one day find their way back home to the ranch; and faith that there is a future in agriculture for them.
How does your faith influence your decisions on the ranch? If you could explain your family’s cowboy code of ethics, what words would best describe it? Please share your thoughts with readers in the comments section.