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How Does the Next Generation of Farmers and Ranchers Get Started?

By   /  October 28, 2019  /  1 Comment

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Don shares this piece as an opening to a conversation. It’s an important one to have. Please share your thoughts, experiences, ideas and suggestions in the comments below.

What Do Y’all Think?

Don and Betty Ashford

Donnie, our son, comes by to visit and check on the old people on Tuesday evening and Saturday morning. Last week he was telling me and his mother a story about something that had happened at the Co-op the other day and mentioned the names of two brothers that had done business with him when he ran the sale barn in Baton Rouge.

These names meant nothing to me so naturally I asked where their place was located. He explained to me that these two brothers each ran their own outfit.

So the next question was, “Do they have good cattle?” He replied well one had a good job at one of the plants in Baton Rouge. So, his cattle were the better of the two. The younger brother’s job didn’t pay as well so his cattle weren’t quite as good.

Is this what we have come to in our business – the better cattle will be owned by the folks who have money coming in from something other than the cattle?

To the young people who dream of being in the cattle business do we encourage them to get a job or build a career that will enable them to own cattle?

I know one young lady who is working two jobs to support her dream of one day being able to make a living with her cattle operation. Do we tell her she is being a fool?

I know what it is to want something that seems to be always just out of reach. I worked 20 years on construction jobs before I was able to go full time. But we were milking cows and those days are gone. The 34 dairies that were in our area are all gone. And I would be hard pressed to name a beef producer who does not have a job or business in town or is retired from one.

Understand, Betty and I have a granddaughter who is the third generation of our family who is in the cow business. We have a great grandson who will show his first calf this year. We love this business and do not want to see it become impossible for the young folks to find their place in it.

So I reckon my question to y’all is simply, what options do they have that will make it possible to get a start in livestock production?

Here are some other ideas to add to this discussion:

From John Marble, here’s an example of one man’s approach to getting started in the business:

John also offered this perspective:

Your thoughts and suggestions can help our next generation. Thanks for participating in the discussion!

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About the author

My name is Don Ashford and my wife is Betty and we live in Ethel, LA. It would be impossible for me to write a bio about myself without including Betty in it. We have been together since high school. I was in the senior class of 1955 and she was in the class of 1957. Do the math. We have raised cattle since 1959 except for a little time that I spent with Uncle Sam. We have grazed stockers, owned several cow- calf herds and custom grazed cattle for other folks. I worked as a pipefitter for more than 25 years. Until we went into the dairy business in 1977 we were as most people down here part-timers or week-end ranchers. Later after we had learned enough about MIG to talk about it so that it would be understood by others we put together a pasture-walk group to introduce it to our friends and neighbors. We belong to more farm groups then we probably should but we get great joy working with other people. What makes us most proud are our son and daughter, our 5 grandkids and our 7 great-grand kids. It has been a hell of a trip so far, but we are not done yet.

1 Comment

  1. Tom Krawiec says:

    A very relevant topic Don. The prevelant thinking is that a young person can not get started because the costs are prohibitive. However, we may think that because of where we think the starting point is. The starting point is not running 400 cows with a full set of equipment and owning 1500ac of land. The starting point may be custom grazing 40 cow/calf pairs on 100ac of rented land.
    There are basic skills a person must develop before being able to handle an operation that is capable of financially supporting a family. It is amazing how fast a nest egg saved up from the oil patch can disappear when it is used to buy your way out of mistakes!lol I was asked the other day how two people can move 500 heifers two miles down a county road so easily? My response, “You start with 40!.”
    This fall I hired an apprentice ranch manager with the vision to take my place at some point. Although I am not planning to leave any time soon, it seems to me that it will take 3-5yrs to train a person to step into the role as a manager. That’s 3-5yrs for a person who already has a good understanding of grass management, animal handling, and a good work ethic. It was a surprise to me that there were so few applicants particularly because the salary with benefits is significantly above industry standard. Further, there was only one qualified applicant!
    In every industry there are skills and experience that must be acquired before moving to the next level. If these are not obtained, a person will crash & burn at some point when they reach a senior position. Ranching is no different. So maybe we are looking at the end point and thinking that is the starting point?

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