There are few places comparable with raising a family on a ranch. Children from agricultural backgrounds learn an unlimited number of life lessons and values before others do. My siblings and I were fortunate enough to learn how to be virtuous people while watching our parents build their dream together.
1. Responsibility – At the ranch, you care for your animals before yourself. Cattle don’t care what holiday it is or where you need to be, they have to eat. Also, you’re guaranteed to miss a few important events because someone’s calving, sick, or running down the highway. These animals are our livelihood and it’s our responsibility to care for them before we worry about anything else. Along with responsibility comes time management. I knew that I had to be ready for school and have the steers fed before the bus got to our house. A few times I tried to make this more efficient by wearing pajama pants to school. My mother quickly taught me another life lesson—don’t wear your PJs in public; you’ve got a reputation to uphold!
2. Respect – There’s an endless amount of ways to learn respect on a cattle ranch. Respect includes anything from doing what your father tells you (the first time he asks) to understanding that herd bulls are bigger than you, and won’t always go where you want. If you respect your animals, they’ll respect you. I know it sounds crazy, but our cows know dad and do exactly what he asks. My siblings and I can spend hours trying to sort a group of cows from their calves while they slip through the wrong gate and calves go everywhere. My dad walks in the corrals and it’s almost like the cows get in line to go where he says. He credits this to superior technique; I think he’s got some sort of telepathic thing going on with the cows. Either way, I admire his ability to efficiently work a group of cows. The cattle return his respect because he never treats them poorly.
3. Integrity –This concept probably started to truly stick with me during my first year showing steers. My parents didn’t have time to sit and watch me work with my calves, so they trusted that I was hard at work halter breaking and getting them ready to go. More often than not, I’d work my steer while they were around the barn, tie him up as soon as they left, and grab him when I heard the ranch pickup coming back down to the barn. This plan of mine would quickly backfire a few days later. Mom would tell me to pull my calf out so she could see how we were getting along, and he’d drag me across the ranch. The importance of being honest and doing the right thing, especially when no one is around to see it, was burned into my mind as that steer showed my mother how much time we hadn’t spent together.
4. Compassion – I grew up riding in the passenger seat of the ranch pickup, watching dad care for hurt animals and help newborn calves. When I got big enough, helping these animals became part of my responsibility. It was sometimes confusing as a young child to see an animal in pain or a calf that needed extra help. There were plenty of cold winter nights spent in the barn helping calves nurse or giving extra attention to sick ones. Learning how to truly care for something else might be the best thing I learned on the ranch. Ranch kids learn to show compassion for animals and other people from the first time we watch our parents help an animal. This value is strengthened every time we work with a sick animal and watch as our care helps them return to good health.
5. Work Ethic – There’s always something that needs to be done on a farm or ranch. When I got home from school, I had a list of chores to be done before dark. On weekends, while my friends slept in, I was up working cows in time to be done before we had to be at the school for a sporting event. When I’d get home, there were nighttime barn chores. It’s important to learn how to get things done and work hard to accomplish goals. My friends always thought that it must’ve been horrible to work this hard—what do you mean you don’t sleep until noon on Saturday?! But it’s rewarding to know that you’re contributing to the productivity and success of an operation. Those of us that grew up in agriculture don’t know lazy, it’s not how we were raised.
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