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Invest in their success: How I pass on ranch life know-how

Billy Whitehurst for Progressive Cattleman Published on 13 May 2016
girl at ranch

This weekend I had the pleasure of watching my daughter take off on a young colt that we have been riding for her. I love riding young horses and watching the lights come on when they really grasp what you are trying to teach them.

Much like the way you can see the lights come on when you are teaching a kid a new skill. It’s fun and rewarding to see those things happen. Therefore it made me doubly happy to see this young horse and my daughter take off and really thrive. For a lot of us, that is why we are in the business of agriculture. We want to pass something down to the next generation. We want the land, the livestock and the family to be the better for our efforts and sacrifices.

There was a little twinge of jealousy in me, though, as I watched my daughter take off on her new mount. I was really enjoying that gelding; he was just starting to really make a horse, and now I have to start over on another one, but then again, it’s not about me is it?

Sometimes as I look around, I often wonder if we spend too much time doing what’s best for ourselves rather than those who will be coming behind us or for our industry as a whole. Change and progress can be hard for some, while others find it exciting. If we want this industry to survive to pass it down to the next generation, we can’t forget that our actions today in how we conduct our businesses and manage our land and stock will have a direct impact on how viable this industry will be for the long run.

One of the biggest mistakes that I have seen as a teacher, as an extension agent and as a stock producer is a failure to let go and start letting the next generation take more of the reins. I have literally seen someone who is 80 years old not want to turn management over to his 60-year-old “kid” because he just wasn’t sure his son knew enough to be in charge yet.

Several years ago, when I was teaching a class on cattle handling to a group of college students, I had students who grew up in a production environment but had never branded a calf, castrated a calf, given an implant or in some cases, given a shot. They all said that dad and grandad did those things because they wanted to make sure they were done right.

I guess I take a different approach. Last winter when the snow was blowing and the roads were bad, I wouldn’t let my high-school-aged daughter ride the bus to school because I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to climb into the passenger seat and give her guidance so she could learn to drive in bad conditions while I was there to help her. One fine day our next generation will have to take the reins whether we are ready or not. Let’s not set them up for failure and make sure they have the skills and the ability to learn to make decisions and mistakes while we are there to guide them. It may cost us some time and money on the front end, but it’s high time we look past ourselves and the here and now and look far into the future and do what we can to make it brighter for our young.

I don’t know how true this is, but I was told that when Alexander the Great died, his last wish was for his coffin to be carried by the best doctors of the land to show all that no matter how good the doctors are, the end comes for us all. His wealth he had scattered along the road to his grave, and his hands he had sticking out of the coffin so that all could see that he couldn’t take anything with him and that his hands were just as empty when he left the world as when he came in to it. True or not, it’s darn sure something to think about.

The time we spend and the knowledge we give to others will be the only part of us that we truly leave behind. Where will you invest your time?  end mark

Billy Whitehurst
  • Billy Whitehurst

  • Extension Agent
  • Montana State University
  • Email Billy Whitehurst

PHOTO: Investing time to teach the next generation. Now that’s a worthy investment. Photo by Marci Whitehurst.

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