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Ranch Families Working Together: What Makes It Work?

generations.jpg Last week, I had the humbling opportunity to speak at the Pfizer Mid-Winter Veterinary Retreat in beautiful Deadwood, SD. Seventy veterinarians were joined by their families for the annual event, and I enjoyed listening to several outstanding presenters, as well as visiting with the folks who play big roles in the cattle business. While on the way to Deadwood, I enjoyed a relaxing five-hour drive and watched the temperature rise from a brisk -19°F in Mitchell to a sunny 21°F. It seems the colder it gets, the harder it is on the people, the cattle and the equipment, and I welcomed the warmer weather in the Black Hills.

Visiting with the veterinarians at the meeting, I was able to gain some new perspectives on the issues they are focusing on in the beef industry today. The meeting addressed topics on controlling viral diseases in cattle, working with multiple generations in a business or on a ranch, evaluating antimicrobial effectiveness and clearing the air on agriculture's environmental impacts. The first speaker of the event was University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Professor Lawrence Firkins, DVM, who talked about working with and understanding the many different generations involved in production agriculture. Here are a few points I learned from his presentation.

“When asking people what they enjoy most about their job, it usually has to do with the tasks they perform at their place of work. When asking folks what’s the most challenging part of their jobs, most people agree that it’s working in a team and getting others to perform on the same levels and be on the same page. My job is to close the gaps," says Firkins.

Firkin's speech was titled, “You have to know ‘Y’ -- Getting people to perform; there has got to be an easier way.” He says the challenge is multiple generations trying to work together, despite their different styles and ideas. Firkins explained that there are four generations in the workforce today: the Veterans (born before 1946), the Boomers (ages 47-64), Generation (Gen) X (35-46-years old) and Gen Y (ages 16-34). Which generation do you represent? What do you value most, and how do you think this differs among the generations?

“Knowing and understanding what makes us different is the secret to determining strategies and actions that can transform the workplace. If you’re managing a feedlot, pair your young people with the best people qualified to mentor them. Gen Y looks up to the older generations, and they want to work with them and learn from these mentors," advised Firkins.

Although this probably isn't the biggest issue producers think about on their farms and ranches, good communication is the basis of any successful business model, and Firkins certainly offered some food-for-thought on how we work together. Are you a part of a multi-generation ranch? What lessons have you learned from past experiences? How can we better communicate to effectively run our ranches and businesses? For more information on working together, check out You Can Buy The Ranch, But Remember I Still Own It.

Finally, I mentioned earlier the chilly weather as of late. What's the weather like in your neck of the woods?