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Is there life after cattle?

Billy Whitehurst for Progressive Cattleman Published on 12 December 2017
wading the river with horses

This year we had a lease deal fall apart, and it really upset the apple cart. It caused financial hardship, emotions were high, stress levels went through the roof, and we were faced with the question a lot of people have been faced with at one time or another: Is it over? Where do we go from here and what will we do if something else doesn’t work out?

I have said many times in my life that I didn’t know what I would do if I couldn’t spend my time horseback out tending to cattle. What else could take its place? Would I even want to live if I couldn’t do what I love most? We have hope things will work out and we can keep going, but for now we have the cattle at home and are forced to feed through the winter (rarely a profitable thing as most of you know).

When I realized we were faced with a major change in how and where we operate, or even the thought of selling off the majority of the herd to search out other lease opportunities, I slept like a baby (just ask my wife). I couldn’t fall asleep; I woke up every hour; I cried and whimpered; I tossed and I turned. The thought of being forced out was a blow to my pride, my identity and my view of how the world should be. Has anyone been there?

I thought about the old Sawyer Brown song, “The café down on the corner.” It talks about retired farmers with no fields to plow and how out of place they were (for those of you who know me, if I was actually plowing a field, I would be grossly out of place. Equipment and I don’t get along). The thought of heading down that path made me cringe. That was when I realized I had my priorities out of order.

Hang with me and I’ll explain.

We all love what we do. If we didn’t, why do it? Every self-employed person, no matter what field they are in, are passionate about what they do. This is good. We should be able to enjoy our daily occupation and use our God-given talents. But I realized something through this experience: I had made it an idol, something I valued more than anything else to the point it was no longer healthy. Over the years, I had built up in my mind and my heart that what I do equals who I am, and that to do anything else would be less, and therefore, I would be less.

In the cattle business, we are blessed simply by being able to do what we love. I think it’s easy for us to become consumed by it more than other occupations because we live at our work; it’s our home all day, every day. I am ironically glad to have the chance to experience the possibility of being forced to sell out and sell down. For one, I will be able to truly empathize with others in that position when I come across them. Second, it made me realize I needed to recheck my priorities. For me, those include my faith, family, friends and then my occupation. If those are out of order, life and everything else is too.

The good news is we took some time to get our ship righted in our personal life, and it looks like there are new opportunities on the rise to keep us going professionally. From now on, we will have a new and better perspective on where we are going, and more importantly, we have remembered why we do what we do.

We all hit hard times and obstacles in life, business or whatever it may be. Sometimes they are because of our own choices and sometimes not. How we react to those challenges says more about where our priorities are, and in many cases, what the outcome will be. I encourage all of you to take time and write out your own priorities as we finish out the year and start a new one. When you do, make sure you know why you devote time and resources to everything you do to make sure you don’t get life out of balance.

Write down some goals for the upcoming year and look to see if you met your goals from last year. If you didn’t, ask why, and look at where you need to make changes. Be an overcomer, keep your perspective in focus and have some fun along the way. Tough times never last, but tough people do. This coming year will be a great one if we let it be. Merry Christmas and happy New Year.  end mark

Billy Whitehurst
  • Billy Whitehurst

  • Makale Livestock
  • Whitehall, Montana
  • Email Billy Whitehurst

PHOTO: Some days are tougher than others. I never thought this day would end up where it did, but that’s a story for another time. Photo provided by Billy Whitehurst.