10 Things I Learned from My Grandpa, Sloan Williams
One of the biggest blessings of my life is the time I have been able to spend with my granddad, Sloan Williams. When I think about my grandpa, the words of the Robert Earl Keen “This Old Porch” song fondly come to mind, saying…
“And this old porch is like a weathered, gray haired, 70 years of Texas,
who’s doing all he can not to give in to the city,
And he always takes the rent late,
So long as I run his cattle
And he picks me up at dinnertime
And I listen to him rattle…”
Except he’s an 84 years of Texas, not 70.
And he doesn’t charge me rent, he never actually charges me for anything.
And I LOVE to listen to him rattle….
I’ve been able to work with my grandpa my entire life. But about three years ago, I took over the business matters of our family purebred Brahman operation and since then, we talk multiple times a day. The time we spend together is time I treasure, and I try to soak up every conversation we have so that I can learn from his experience. So as we celebrate Father’s day, I wanted to share 10 things I have learned from my granddad.
1. “The time to settle the hen is when she’s cackling!”
I have heard this expression from him thousands of times, it’s one of his favorites. Basically, it means….do it now. Take risks. Make deals. Strike while the iron’s hot. Many times in my life, when I have a decision to make, I hear these words and while I try not to be impulsive, I can’t help but think of this expression and it usually prods me to go ahead and do what I was thinking about.
2. “You want to guarantee you get the best heifer in the sale? Just buy ‘em all!”
Another one of his famous quotes, that he has also famously used in buying large groups of cattle. But he’s got a point, if you buy someone’s entire calf crop, or entire herd, you for sure are guaranteed to get the best one.
3. “Women are crazy…but they’re here to stay!”
Now I’ll admit, at first I didn’t quite know how to take this one…because…obviously….I’m a woman. But I have to hand it to him, once again, he has a point. And he probably speaks from experience, since most of the people in our family are women. Strong-willed women at that! He has even taken it as far as to make an acronym for this phrase, and sometimes when I can be going on a real business rant, or complaining, he will just look at me and say “W.A.C.” and laugh. I’ll admit, after him pointing this out, it’s actually made me more self-aware and has helped me in my own business. I work with mostly male ranchers every day, all day. At Ranch House, there are 18 women. Sometimes, I have embarrassingly said the wrong thing to clients and actually went back to them and apologized and just simply said, you know, sometimes women can be crazy. And chances are, if they are a male, they just nod their head and forgive me.
4. “The Lord will provide.”
Through our cattle business, I’ve seen my granddad go through many up’s and down’s. During the cattle bust of the 1970s, he was in debt for millions of dollars. He paid it all back, but it took him years. As a child in the 80s, I overheard many conversations between my dad and grandpa discussing high feed bills, low cattle prices, lack of rain, and other challenges all of those in agriculture face. Every time, my grandpa’s belief has been “The Lord will provide.” And He always does. While working closely in our V8 business, I’ve witnessed this time after time after time. We may be worrying about how we are going to make the next payment on the feed bill, and then we sell a load of bulls to a new client. Or, someone comes in and orders just enough semen to cover the payment. Anyone who knows my grandpa knows he takes risks, and he doesn’t mind debt. I ask him, how can you sleep at night knowing you owe that money?” and he always says, “The Lord will provide. He always has, and he always will.”
This man spends hours a day in prayer. I’ve walked into his house at 9 in the morning and asked my grandma “Where’s Dadaw?” and she says, “Oh…. he’s back in his room praying….he’s been back there 2 hours.” He prays about everything. He prays for everyone in our family. He puts his faith in the Lord, and isn’t scared to face the future because he knows it’s all in God’s hands.
6. “Army worms can ruin your whole pasture overnight!”
During this time of year, he’s like a vigilante sniper watching our hayfields. I have heard him say this expression probably 1000 times. He and his good friend Harry Goudeau have daily conversations monitoring the status of army worms across the county. He assigns different members of our ranch to scope out different pastures to watch for an invasion. And while it’s just watching for army worms, it’s taught me the importance of land stewardship. When the land is your life, and your livelihood, you take care of it.
7. “Brand your cattle.”
One of my granddad’s best stockmanship skills is his ability to brand. In his lifetime, he has actually put on educational clinics about how to brand cattle….he’s that good. While he’s turned over the actual physical duty now to Brandon, he has a passion for the skill and precision of where the brand is placed, how it looks, and when you actually do it. This has taught me a few things…..first, the method of branding multiple numbers….i.e., when you have 3 numbers to brand, you do it in the order of outside-outside-inside so that you get your spacing correct. I use this all the time in my graphic design business.
Two years ago, we were picturing heifers for our online sale, and Brandon decided to picture them un-branded so the brands weren’t all healing in the pictures. He thought it would look better. I agreed. So, we pictured all the cattle unbranded. When my granddad saw the pictures, about 3 days before the catalog went to print, he said, “Don’t you think it would be better to have them branded in the pictures” which was his nice way of saying, “I want them all branded in the pictures.” We were irritated and annoyed that we would have to go back and re-do it on a rushed up timeline
But then he explained why. He said that people buy cattle from us in online sales solely off a picture. And they pay top premium for our cattle. When they are branded, there’s no doubt of what the animal is and what they are buying. If they bought them off an unbranded picture, someone could be in doubt of was this really the animal they bought, or it basically leaves it open for the possibility of confusion. It made complete and total sense. That’s what his 70 years experience in the cattle business compared to Brandon and my 10 years in the business gets you. Which leads me to my next point…
8. “Your word is your bond.”
Most, if not all, of my granddad’s business endeavors have been done simply on a man’s word and a handshake. Contracts aren’t needed, lawyers aren’t involved, because when a man of that generation gives you his word, it means something. He operates on the full mentality of being honest in your dealings, have integrity, and treat people fairly.
9. “What’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine….”
Another one of his famous sayings, and something he lives every day. He’s the first to lend a hand, to offer to help, or even to just give you something of his that you need. He gave me a Brahman heifer when I was a newborn baby that just so happened to be the #1 cow of the Brahman breed for about 20 years. She raised 3 National Champions. He did the same for my sister, my cousin, and both my daughters. He gives unselfishly and doesn’t keep track of what favors people owe him. In our family business, really, he and my grandma are the sole owners of V8. They bought all the land, they own most of the cattle, and they pay the bills. But they let all of the members of our family be involved, run their cattle on the land, and work on the ranch together. They believe in including everyone.
10. “Check’s in the mail….”
I couldn’t write this blog and not include this saying, because it’s how he basically ends every conversation with someone… I guess when you’ve been dealing in land, cattle, and business for nearly 80 years, it’s just a common goodbye.
Agriculture is one of the few industries where we are all so blessed to be in multi-generational family businesses. We can learn so much from our grandfathers and fathers, and if you have the opportunity to spend time with the elders of your family business, I encourage you to do so. It’s a blessing for everyone.