Quitting the Ranch – A Tragic Account of Failure in Succession

A young friend of mine died the other day. To be honest, “died” doesn’t seem like quite the right word, probably because it’s not. On a beautiful fall day, my friend Donny picked up a gun and killed himself. Rest in peace, Donny. When it comes to situations like this, it seems we like to publicly comfort each other by saying things along the lines of… “Well, I guess we’ll never really know why he did it…”. Later on, we talk in hushed tones about those bastards at the bank, or the difficulty of the cattle markets, or how Donny never really got along with his old man, or how he never quite got over the death of his first wife, or how the damn government just hounded him, the State and the Feds attaching tax liens to everything he owned. And you know what? All of those things are true. Donny had some troubles. But I don’t think that’s why Donny packed it in. That’s not why Donny decided to leave his young wife and kids alone here on this earth. I believe there were some underlying issues that Donny just couldn’t overcome. In fact, never mind overcoming those issues, Donny couldn’t even see them. Bottom line, Donny reached the point where he just couldn’t stand the ongoing, grinding pain of not being successful. And likely as not, as he looked forward, there was the obvious reality that he could never, ever find a way to find success in the future. And that great sadness and frustration is what (I suspect) Donny was trying to sort out as he

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7 thoughts on “Quitting the Ranch – A Tragic Account of Failure in Succession

  1. This was a tough read for me. I am new to cattle and got my start based on my day work. I do have kids and I want them involved as much as they want to be. This has me wondering. I am clearly not managing it as a business. What specific actions do you recommend?

    1. Hello DA.

      I think you have already made some good progress. Recognizing that you do not (currently, at least) have a functional business is a good start. Make sure your spouse understands that too. Then, look at ways you can enjoy the experience of owning livestock with your family. Along the way, you might find some valuable lessons about business even if you are running the ranch as a hobby.

      And I think folks should keep this in mind: there’s nothing wrong with having a hobby. Some folks bowl, some fish, some keep livestock.

      In the end, if your kids happen to become interested in agriculture as a profession, send them for professional training in the business of ranching. University training is fine as general background, but I would highly recommend that young ranchers study with recognized professional educators specific to ranching. Several of those people have written articles for On Pasture.

      Finally, a single workshop does not constitute adequate training. Prospective ranch professionals should plan on a lifetime of study in a range of topics related to ranching.

  2. Thank you for these words. Depression is very real and much more common in rural areas than we probably like to admit. We are hard wired to “stiffen up and just keep going”. Sometimes it is not that easy. You are absolutely correct that a good plan is needed.

  3. John,
    Thank you for tackling this difficult topic in a direct, yet sensitive manner.
    I continue to be shocked at the number of farmers & ranchers I visit with who do not have a business plan and only a rudimentary understanding of business accounting and general business principles.
    Success does not come from hoping for it.
    Success only comes from planning to be successful.
    Jim Gerrish

    1. I agree with all of Jim’s comments. The topics of depression & suicide must be discussed in a respectful and caring manner. We also need to discuss the importance of folks understanding ranching & farming must be carried out as a business and not a hobby.

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