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The value of education

A lot of farm and ranch kids growing up in the '70s and '80s were told by their parents to “get an education” and find a better job than farming or ranching. Lack of profitability and too much daily drudgery drove most of my generation off the farms and ranches where they grew up.

Kids continue to leave and go to better jobs in the city. A lot of them would like to come back and try their hand at managing the old home place. Some have successfully made that midlife transition.

“Getting an education” can mean different things. One kind of education is going off to college and getting a degree. I've met a wide array of farmers and ranchers — some with college degrees, many without. Some of the best managers I know have nothing more than a high school education.

The real difference I see in farm and ranch managers' success isn't in their high school or college education, but in how they have continued to educate themselves after entering the working world. I've met men and women graduates of ag schools 20 years ago who are still trying to implement and apply what they learned in those classrooms, but they have never attended any kind of workshop or school since then.

Make time for opportunity

The opportunities for farmers and ranchers to continue their education has never been better. From practical range-management schools to estate planning, specialized programs abound to help farmers and ranchers become better managers, business people, and kinder, gentler parents.

Whatever it is you need help to do, someone is out there trying to help you do it. These programs may be publicly supported through land-grant universities, federal or state agencies, or private business.

We can find all kinds of excuses for not going to a grazing school or a marketing program. There's hay to bale, calves to work, equipment to repair and the rest of that never-ending list of tasks that should have been done yesterday.


Have you heard the terms “WITB” and “WOTB?” They're acronyms for “working in the business” and “working on the business.” I first heard these terms from Stan Parsons, founder of the Ranching for Profit program.

Most of us spend the majority of our time working “in” our farming or ranching business; we have no time to work “on” the business. Maybe if we spent more time working on our businesses, we'd find ways to eliminate half the jobs on that daily list.

My favorite is the guy who said he really would like to attend our grazing school, but he's too busy making hay. Many of our grazing school alumni have found ways to completely eliminate haymaking and feeding from their operations. They learned how to do it because they took the time to continue their education.

If you're interested in continuing your education and learning what managed grazing can do for your operation, see our ad on page 34.

Jim Gerrish is a grazing management consultant based in May, ID, and former lead pasture researcher at the University of Missouri's Forage Systems Research Center in Linneus. Reach him at 208-876-4067,, or visit