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Terryn Drieling: Transitioning from feedlot management to cow-calf ranching

Published on 24 March 2021
Terryn Drieling

Terryn Drieling: Transitioning from feedlot management to cow-calf ranching

Terryn Drieling grew up on a small feedlot and always wanted to be part of the ag industry in some way.

She studied feedlot management in college and worked on a feedlot for more than seven years before transitioning to a cow-calf operation in the Nebraska Sandhills. She now works alongside her husband, Tom, raises their three children and shares stories of ranch life on her blog, Faith, Family & Beef.

How have your experiences working on your ranch influenced your growth, personally and professionally?

Becoming a rancher was never on my radar and neither was living in the Sandhills or blogging. Prior to 2013, my heart was set on becoming a feedyard manager, and I was on my way. But alas, God had different plans for me, and here I am ranching in the Sandhills sharing our lives and lifestyle online.

Ranching has taken me so far outside my comfort zone, stretched me and grown me in ways I’d never known were possible. I’ve got a new kind of respect for not just this way of life, but life in general. The Sandhills I once took for granted, despised even, have now become my home. And if it weren’t for ranching, there would be no Faith, Family & Beef.

What roadblocks have you run into, and how have you overcome them?

The summer of 2013 saw huge changes for our family and my career. The feedyard I was working for changed hands, and my husband accepted a position at a large ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska. It was a great opportunity for him professionally and for us as a family. We’re still on the same ranch to this day.

I grew up on a feedyard, studied feedyard management in college and worked at that feedyard for more than seven years before moving to the ranch full time. The learning curve from feeding cattle to ranching was a steep one. Sure, I was still working with cattle, but there’s a big difference between feedyards full of feeder cattle and ranches stocked with cow-calf pairs.

That first year on the ranch was hard. I had zero experience with ranching and felt out of my element. I was so unsure of everything, including but not limited to my husband’s various hand signals. But I went back to what I did know – cattle behavior, stockmanship and low-stress cattle handling.

From there, I slowly but surely built my confidence back up as I learned more and more about ranching, from calving to grazing rotations. I’d be lying, though, if I said I wasn’t still learning. Just a few weeks ago, I finally learned how to run the hay feeder and successfully fed hay solo without breaking anything for the first time ever.

Who has influenced you in your role as a rancher? Why?

My husband. He has been my biggest influence mostly because we’re together all the time, but all jokes aside, he’s my biggest influence because he’s really great at what he does. I’m not saying he’s got it all figured out – no one does. But he can fill out a grazing plan chart that makes sense almost in his sleep. He’s got a way with cattle I’ve not seen in many humans, and though I joke that he’s basically MacGyver, I’m only partly kidding.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

It wasn’t advice anyone gave me directly, but a piece I read in one of Phil Roberston’s books. It was in the afterward, his son Alan wrote that his dad told him once, “Don’t tell anyone how good or great you are at something; let them tell you.”

What advice would you give to other women in your field?

Honestly, I’d give (and have given) them the same advice Phil gave Alan. Don’t tell people what you can do; show them. Work hard, be willing to learn, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

That and: Be kind but take no bull.

Who are other female role models you look up to? Why? (Can be personal or work-related)

My mom and both my grandmothers. All of them are the strongest women I know and have set and are still setting great examples for me.

What is the best part of your day?

First thing in the morning, I climb into my “Jesus chair” with a blanket, a cup of coffee and the Good Book to spend some time with God in the Word before the rest of the house wakes up.

It’s where I get my mind right, watch the sunrise and set the tone for the rest of the day.

What inspires you to come to work each day?

Knowing that what we do – caring for the land and livestock – is so much bigger than ourselves is what keeps me coming back. As ranchers, we’ve been entrusted with the big job of not only stewarding God’s land and animals, but also feeding His people both here and abroad. That’s good, important work and not something I take lightly.

What is your ‘North Star’ – one guiding principle by which decisions are weighed?

In a word – Jesus. I know I fall short and fail miserably, but every day I try to live a little more like Him, loving God and loving people graciously and unconditionally.

What is your favorite thing about ranch life?

My favorite thing about ranching is raising our kids in this way of life, taking them along and giving them front row seats to hard but rewarding work.

It’s feeding their curiosity and encouraging them to ask questions, try new things and learn by doing. It’s instilling a healthy respect for nature and all God’s creations. It’s showing them how to celebrate new life and how to remember those lost. It’s letting them see the struggle, then showing them the determination it takes to persevere. And it’s watching them grow in their love for what we do. Even if our kids choose completely different paths and don’t return to the range, this will always be my favorite part of ranching.  end mark

PHOTO: Don’t tell people what you can do; show them. Work hard, be willing to learn, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Photo by Laura Johnson Photography.