Confessions of a 20-something cattle rancher
Seven months ago, I was your average college senior. It was early January, and I was returning to school from the winter break, counting down the days until graduation. After six years of college and four different majors I had finally settled on agriculture, economics, and business and, boy, was I ready to high-tail it out of there. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do,, but I had in mind a marketing job for a big agriculture firm in a different and bigger city. I had my hopes on moving to a new place and settling into the 9 to 5 Monday-Friday job thing. But that’s not what ended up happening.
A few months before graduation, I was having the typical catch-up lunch with my mom. We were discussing what my plan was after graduation, as we had been more and more lately. I started throwing out ideas of things I thought I would enjoy, and though the top of my list included being a stay-at-home daughter, a backpacker in Greece, or starting my own vineyards, I threw out one more option: buying cows of my own and starting a business. My mom paid attention to that. “Why not?” she asked me.
My father, having grown up on the ranch, was a bit more skeptical. My family has been in the cattle-ranching business for a long, long time. In October, 2011, drought conditions at the ranch were so bad that my great-uncle and grandfather made the tough decision to sell off all their cattle after 100 years of building the herd. So I knew that in order to impress him, I needed to make a plan, set some realistic goals, and then present them to him. So, with my mom’s help, I came up with my first business plan. Beyond nervous, I went over to their house that evening and presented what I had to him.
Fast forward to this May. It was a week until graduation and I hadn’t been able to purchase my calves yet because the price was so high. But on the Wednesday before graduation, I got a text that I was now an owner of a dozen 470 lb. steers. Graduation ceremonies on Friday and Saturday went by so quickly, and sooner than I knew it, my family and I were packed up and ready to hit the road. I also had gotten a few bags of feed, mineral blocks, and salt blocks as graduation presents the night before. (The best/funniest/weirdest/most perfect graduation presents ever).
Four hundred fifty miles later, we were waiting at the branding pens. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. You can see for miles and miles at the ranch, and I was eagerly watching for dust from the trailer that was hauling the steer out to drop them off. As they pulled up I froze. My dad, of course, snapped me right back out of it, with a quick yell to hurry it up and start branding the cattle before the rainstorm hit. These steers are angry and scared as heck and are pretty big boys as well, not the 200 lb. calves my dad and I are used to branding. We got them branded and corralled in the right pins just as some of the big drops started falling. All was good and we were ready for some well-deserved pizza and a celebratory beer. That 20-mile drive back to town was the fullest my heart had been in a long time. I got my diploma, my calves and my family. What more could a girl ask for?!
Today, three months later, and I can think of one thing I might want: a paycheck. You see, in the cattle industry your paycheck comes once a year. For me, because my project is only six months, that means I get a paycheck once in six months. In the past three months I have been going back and forth from my cattle to my family’s ranch, 450 miles north.
Since deciding to start my own business buy and selling calves I have gotten a very wide variety of responses from people. I’ve encountered people who have chuckled at me because I am too young, and they think it’s a phase I am going through. But most importantly, I’ve gotten to know people who have saluted me for following my dreams and being a part of something way bigger than just myself. Being a part of the agriculture community is something truly amazing.
While I have these steers for the next three months, they need to gain up to 300 pounds a piece. I think of them as 12 of the most important men in my life. Even though 12 steers doesn’t sound like a lot, it sure is. While it is scary and exciting all wrapped together, it’s also an incredibly experience. And I think it goes to show: This world is full of opportunity. Go and find yours!
Shelby Seward is from a small town in southern New Mexico. She aspires to become a professional writer, cattle rancher, and wine critic.
[Image via iStock]