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Labor Relations And Family Relations

The toughest thing about family ranch operations is that the labor force is primarily (ahem) family.

The toughest thing about family operations is that the labor force is primarily (ahem) family. I bring up this subject because this was one of those weeks when we had nowhere near enough time to get it all done, and all of it was pretty crucial and time dependent. Maybe it was a lack of sleep, stress, uncompromising expectations, who knows? But I wasn’t proud of myself this week.

My undoing began with the rain, which in an area like ours, which hasn’t had much over ½ in. total precipitation in the last seven months, is an unbelievably good thing! Still, I couldn’t believe my luck – one of the six days a year it actually rains, and I have all the cows synched to breed. The sun was down, we were reading ear tags with a spotlight, and my kids were drenched to the bone as they dutifully sorted and pushed cows without complaint.

Meanwhile, my wife was thawing semen in the back of the horse trailer that we’d pulled up close to the chute. And, she was doing a pretty good job of keeping most of the paperwork dry, to boot.

I admit I was proud of everyone’s presence and their efforts but when the back gate didn’t get shut, and I had two cows in the chute, water running down my back, and a straw of semen getting cold, I barked at my eldest son running the chute. I then got stepped on, and hit with that power evacuation that you occasionally get when you’re artificially inseminating cattle. It hit me right below my sternum and a good portion of my right leg. And, I admit that I may have given my wife a dirty look when she made an attempt at a humorous comment.

The next morning, I tried to drive 140 cows into a driving rain and up a hill, something they had no desire to do. I headed out earlier than my crew, expecting them to soon follow. Since it was raining, I thought I’d try moving the cattle with a truck, which proved pointless. I was getting more and more frustrated when I finally plunged down into a low spot and bogged the truck about a mile from the house.

So, I grabbed the four-wheeler, thinking the crew would be arriving soon and all would be good. But the crew didn’t show. I’m soaking wet, the cows have split and I’ve managed to lose the majority of them once again.

So I come screeching into the office looking for the crew, where I discovered them enjoying their coffee and hot chocolate. They had assumed I was heat detecting, so having consulted the radar and determining that the rain would stop soon, they decided to delay their start for another 45 minutes or so.

I was mad but I didn’t blow up. I went inside to get some warmer clothes, but mostly I was trying to get a better attitude. I know I shouldn’t have been mad; it was likely my fault for not communicating my plans to them.

As a younger lad, I did a college internship with a really good horse trainer. One day, I saw him pull his horse up, dismount and proceed to sit down against the arena fence and just hold the young horse he was riding. I watched him look at the dirt, the roof of the arena, the others riding and finally I asked him what he was doing. His response amazed me.

“I’m just sitting here getting my mind right,” he said. “This horse is pushing every button I have this morning and I don’t want to undo six months of training with 60 seconds of anger.”

At the time, I thought that was really profound and showed incredible discipline. I’ve always wanted to apply that lesson to my own life, but it’s harder than it seems, especially when it comes to family members.

I think my kids are the smartest, hardest-working, most commonsense kids I know. As a result, I sometimes expect them to intuitively know and react like grizzled veterans. And, of course, my wife is so darn brilliant that she should just know what I need and expect, without me wasting words to express it. To be truthful, she actually does figure it out about 95% of the time, so it’s almost understandable why the other 5% exasperates me so much.

Sitting here now at the keyboard, I’m thinking that my failure to communicate will actually help my kids. It will spur them to think ahead to try to figure out the plan; that will better equip them to make plans of their own. They’ll also see the folly of inadequate communication and become better communicators themselves. In fact, they’ll learn to laugh and enjoy the journey, and see firsthand just how counterproductive it is to bark at those helping you, thus learning valuable team dynamics. And, once they find that perfect spouse, they will also realize that one can act like a horse’s behind and not take it too personal.

In fact, I started out thinking that I might need to do a better job of directing and showing my appreciation to my loved ones. But after thinking it through, I guess I’m really doing them a great service. Nevertheless, I pray I do a better job of loving those I work with, because the Lord knows I do. It just might be easier, though, to tell them I’m sorry and buy them an Xbox and a new stove when the cows get to grass.