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A tribute to veterans in the cattle industry

Joy Hendrix for Progressive Cattleman Published on 26 October 2018

“First of all, duty to our country and God, and secondly to our traditions and our culture,” says Carlos Chacon, northern New Mexico rancher and Vietnam-era veteran. Chacon, like many ranchers in the industry, had his values instilled in him from the very beginning. These values led him to enlist in the Army and serve our country for four years.

Claudio Chacon, Carlos’ brother, carries the same values. Claudio served four years in the Navy, and two and a half years overseas aboard the USS Mattaponi.

The Chacon family runs a small, Red Angus commercial cow-calf operation near Española, New Mexico. The family has raised cattle in the area since it was first settled in the late 1860s, says Claudio.

Like the cow-calf operation, serving our country runs in the family for the Chacons. Their father, Charlie Chacon, is a World War II veteran who worked on the operation before the brothers.

“All of our efforts have been for the family and for the future,” says Claudio. “It’s a labor of love.”

Both Carlos and Claudio uphold tradition in their family with not only their service, but also by preparing the next generation to help on the ranch.

“We’ve been assisting on the ranch since we were small kids,” says Carlos. “It’s part of our culture. We are very, very heavily influenced by agriculture. On top of it being a business, it’s also very deep in who we are.”

For the Chacons, growing up on a ranch and then enlisting wasn’t out of the ordinary.

“A lot of the people we grew up with that are ranchers or had a family agricultural background also served,” says Carlos. “Particularly in the Vietnam era or during World War II. Many of them came to back to continue to contribute to their family operations.”

While the Chacons are working with the herd, they are also working on teaching the next generation of the importance of their values. The operation is a small operation and relies on help from the entire family, says Claudio. The Chacons have several nieces and nephews who help carry out the daily activities needed to keep the operation running.

“It’s probably one of the better ways to live and to raise a family,” says Carlos. “Even in my grandchildren, I can see how much they enjoy it, and I can see how it has benefitted their personalities to be influenced by the culture and the lifestyle.”

The Chacons know firsthand the struggles of being cattle ranchers but persevere through hard times for the same reason many people serve our country.

“It’s a hard occupation,” says Claudio. “It’s hard on you physically, but it’s also rewarding in the sense that we are on our ancestral properties carrying through the work that was done before we were here. You do whatever you can to improve it, to maintain it and to make sure it’s there for following generations.”

Dennis Place is another cattle producer who has served in the military. Place served in the Army from 1966 to 1969. Throughout his time in the military, he was stationed in the U.S. and Vietnam.

Place currently resides in Manatee County, Florida, where he and his wife, Sally, operate a cow-calf operation.

“We enjoy what we do,” says Place. “We like to live here, and we love to watch our cattle grow.”

Place did not grow up on a traditional cattle operation before joining the military, but raising his own herd is a lifelong dream for him.

“I’ve always wanted cows since I was 10 years old,” says Place. “I had to find a place to put them.”

He was inspired to raise cattle by his mother’s uncle, who he remembers visiting, and spiked his interest in the cattle industry. After his time in the service, Place made it his mission to have his own herd of cattle.

Since then, Place has established his own herd of Brangus cattle and has been a member of the Florida State Cattleman’s Association for more than 25 years. He also held the title of director of Sarasota County for the state association.

The organizational skills he learned while in the Army have played a key role in his ability to keep records on his cows, says Place.

Place says the best part of raising cattle is to watch new calves be born and watch your own heifers grow into successful cows.

Regardless of how it started or what he has done in the past, Place says he is a typical cattle rancher: “Always waiting for a good calving season.”

Veterans in the industry aren’t hard to find, because the values between those who feed others and those who protect others seem to be pretty similar and are both deeply rooted in years of tradition.  end mark

Joy Hendrix is a freelance writer currently based in Oklahoma.

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