The Transfer Of Stewardship

What does a future rancher look like? You’re lookin’ at it.

Kids on ranches today are being raised with tried & true old-fashioned values passed down from one generation to the next. Ranching isn’t just a healthy lifestyle, it is also provides many character building experiences which are so much a part of the maturing process. The end result serves the purpose for which this profession exists…providing top quality meat products for the American consumer. I hope the next generation can help the U.S.A. hold onto something we’ve long enjoyed…an abundance of homegrown food.

A ranch kid’s life revolves around livestock. As they sit at the dinner table, they listen to their parents discuss the daily ‘goings on’. Their first words may very likely be an answer to questions like, “What does the cow say, what does the horsey say?” Animal husbandry is an ancient vocation and although technology has changed much of how we do some things, those ‘things’ still need ‘hands on’ application. Children raised on farms and ranches begin their training very early. They may not grow up to work on a ranch or a farm, but they will take much of what they experienced with them and it will serve them well, no matter what profession they pursue.

One item ‘grown’ on ranches and farms that kids really benefit from is a hardy work ethic. On a family ranch, they see firsthand that there is no ‘passing the buck’. If a job doesn’t get done by you, it doesn’t get done at all. And, if a job is done poorly, you pay the price and get to do the job twice. If you want a thing, you work for it – end of story. Sometimes failure happens, and here a child learns an invaluable coping skill: patient perseverance. There are so many random problem generators in rural work. Weather is a big one, but you accept the challenges…plain & simple. Learning to see yourself as a victor in problem solving is where confidence is born.

Freedom is necessary to develop depth of character, confident independence and a strong sense of self reliance. Kids are like carrots. They need deep, soft soil, plenty of water, sunshine and room to grow. Hovering over a carrot doesn’t help a carrot grow. However, nurturing care surely does. The latter makes for a carrot that is deep in color, crisp and sweet !!

All this talk about “self” really isn’t about self. What it is about, is becoming someone who matters richly in the lives of others, in the practical application sense. And, not just to those close to you, but on a larger scale. The rancher and the farmer put food on the tables of every man, woman and child in this country. You can’t be much good for anyone else if you’re not much good at being the best possible you.

Branding time on the ranch is as much a social event as it is a day of hard work. That is more true today than in times past. In the old days, ranches were bigger and farther apart. Ranch country was sparsely populated. While Wyoming is still a state where cattle far outnumber people, ranches are smaller and towns are more numerous. Ranch neighbors are closer and there is a strong sense of community. Brandings become a string of field trips that begin in May and continue into June. Friends and neighbors create a ‘crew’ that shows up ready to ride and work…and eat!! The meals prepared for the workers are outstanding.

Memories made during brandings, over time become a colorful tapestry that you hold dear all of your life. The people, the smells, the wrecks, the practical jokes, the camaraderie…all of it.

The contrast between my middle-aged self (assuming that I live to be 108) and all the youngsters of various ages that I saw this past branding season, reminded me that there is a continuous ‘changing of the guard’. To make the description fit the ranching scene better, let’s call it an ongoing transfer of stewardship. Thankfully, there isn’t a sharp line between those who maintain and those who take over. The variety of ages makes the whole thing work like a well-oiled machine. As time moves on, some leave this life and others pick up the reins to take their place…quite literally. On the ranch, there is a place for everyone in the grand scheme of things. The elderly teach…and enjoy it, the young learn and feel very good about being important, being needed and quite capable.

There are times when the state of affairs in this old world can discourage and dishearten, even make you fearful about what the future holds. But, I’ve come to believe our times are not much different than other eras. We just have our own unique set of challenges and so will the next generation. Character qualities that help a person achieve a ‘well lived’ life remain the same. Being a good steward of all things in your charge is and always has been a key for successful living. I’m beginning to understand why many elderly people smile more than those of us in the middle. While they ‘get it’, we middle-agers can tend to be a little too caught up in being worryworts. Our elders know that one way or another, things will work out. So … they smile.

During a seven year drought, my husband sort of jokingly asked an old rancher if he thought it would ever rain again. He never raised an eyebrow, looked straight ahead and flatly stated, “It always does.”

Character…integrity, manners, compassion, patience, trustworthiness, courage, generosity, confidence, finesse. When you see these seeds growing, then all of it coming together in a young person, it really is a thing of beauty.

I’m watching the children in our circle of friends grow into ‘contributing members of society’. How can it be that just a short time ago they were toddling around at brandings? Ahhhh, yes, ‘loaded’ diapers and sticky from end to other…having eaten a little of everything at lunch, watermelon, brownies and lemonade. Then, add an afternoon of playing in the dirt while the branding was going on. Years back, my husband pointed out a spectacularly filthy toddler. He laughed and commented, “I think it’d be easier to make another one than to bother cleaning that one up.” Now, that boy is a man.

Our young friends are on their way. Let ‘er rip taterchip!

  1. Sheree says:

    What joy you obviously get from watching and assisting the younger generations to grow!I am currently in the midst of a life change as I am months away from retirement and heading to the mid-west for a re-creation of lifestyle, for both myself and family. I, too, will have to live to 108 to live another very fulfilling "second" life! A life more connected to the earth with garden and small collection of critters. Things my daughter was not really able to experience or appreciate will hopefully be enjoyed by raising her daughter in a more rural setting. Bye, bye surburban sprawl!

  2. Debbie says:

    Sigh…Oh Shery, You know I can’t take looking at all those horses at once! ( smile )

    You always get right to the heart of the matter in your writing. What a blessing your blog is for all who might happen upon it. To think some folks are still surprised to see a chicken in someone’s yard, much less REAL CATTLE at branding time. All I can say is what lucky children they are to be learning some of life’s most important lesson’s early in the game!

    What a wonderful and blessed life you are living. A life for the greater good! Ours!

    Thank you for sharing it here! I loved every word ( and photo ) especially all the palomino shots!

    Your middle aged, still horse sick after all these years friend!

    Deb~ ( who hears horse hooves in her dreams ) Some day by golly… I just know it…:)

  3. Paula Spencer says:

    Some of these pix are just priceless–

  4. Carol McElroy says:

    Shery, Great article, as always. Isn’t there a saying about raising your kids up right and they will find the right way? Something like that. I was watching the news about the oil spill, and how, after generations of shrimping, this generation may not be able to follow those foot steps, and a way of life is gone. Your article brought that to mind, how fortunate these kids are to be able to proudly follow this way of life.
    I really like the comment about the toddler being so dirty that it would be easier to start another one! I used to rinse my kids off with the hose before their bath!!

  5. Grace~katmom says:

    Ok, by far my favorite photo, is the one with the ‘young fellers’ on the left, cows in the middle & ‘old fellers’ on the right…what a great analogy of the old passing on the ‘reins’ to the young….
    hugz from the windy West Plain of WA., to the cool breezes of Wyoming…

  6. Ruthe says:


    I always enjoy reading your blog! It brings a comfort, much like the whole Mary Jane movement! Bless you forever!

    As I age and hopefully mature, I find it fascinating that my perspective on entering the second-half of my life has changed from one of fearing a reversal to my childhood to one of realizing that reverting back to childhood is more about returning to the wisdom and common sense of my childhood than it is ‘losing-my-mind’ ! And quite honestly, losing some of the stressful intensity of my present mind is a welcome relief! 🙂

    I plan to one day – soon – be content and happy just being content and happy! I sure know how to create a whole lot of drama in my life that, in hindsight, is rarely ever necessary or beneficial.

    Sometimes you just gotta have faith and go with the flow of life, trusting that things will indeed work out as they are intended…with or without our fussing and stewing! Farming and ranching are good growing medium for just such an attitude.

    Thanks for sharing your journey with the rest of us. You may never know the hope and peace it brings to many of us MaryJaners!!


  7. bonnie ellis says:

    Shery,  What a wonderful opportunity you give to children to become those traits they learn. And what a beautiful place you have to do it. Thank you for sharing and caring about all God’s critters. Bonnie

  8. Nancy J says:

    I always enjoy reading your blog, and dreaming about "my farm". I am a city girl, born and half raised, before moving with my parents to the country. I say country loosely, because it isn’t the country or the city ,but I love it. Anyway, just the other night my husband & I were talking about our children, all adults now, 4 boys & 1 girl. He started out by saying they all had to make their own mistakes to learn and grow. And after a few (sometimes really bad) errors, they have straightened out. We are very proud of our kids & know they will be doing a great job of raising our grandchildren. Not all of this younger generation are screw ups, and even if some have drifted off the path, maybe we "older" adults can be there to help pull them back, not kick them further away. BTW, love all the pics…;-> I’ll go back to dreaming now…

  9. Lisa says:

    I grew up in Texas, college in west TX, but haven’t seen pictures like this in years. Absolutely warms the heart- thanks so much.
    PS- being a Texan- I love that beef, keep it coming
    Lisa, CO

  10. gtyyup says:

    Truer words couldn’t be spoken…if only every citizen of the US were to grow up with the work ethic and respect for self and others as the ranch and farm kids do today; the world would be a totally different place! We’re so thankful to be a part of a community such as yours…

  11. Ann says:

    I think your message about children is so important and focusing on our responsibilities for instilling traditions and values. I am always so heartened about the state of the world when I read or observe children having fun, learning things about the world, and testing their wings. I heard one of my favorite authors speak last evening, Sharon Lovejoy, and her message was very similar to yours. We should teach our children about the world outside our door, about plants, animals, and insects and about being good stewards. How wonderful to be inspired two days in a row about this important responsibility we have as adults and know that there is indeed hope for our future. Thank you.

  12. Sharon says:

    I really love your blog. It is my favorite one from MaryJane’s Farmgirls. I feel connected to you, like we would be really good friends. Keep it up! Sharon

  13. jami says:

    Amen, I’m so blessed to have raised my boys on ranches or with work from other ranchers. A good work ethic is in their blood as I see them grown into men. Makes a mother proud to have taught hard work, being independent and responsible and to respect life and what we have been given by a loving father in Heaven. They are my blessings.
    jami in Idaho

  14. Wendy says:

    Our five year old ranch raised daughter is always very proud to know from what animal her meat comes from. She is grateful that a pig has provided her with a pork chop or bacon, a cow has given her a hamburger or her chili is made with elk. An important piece of stewardship I believe.

  15. Cindy says:

    If I could raise my daughter like this, I would in a heartbeat!! This is my dream life. All of it, the hard work, the sore muscles, the weather, the roughness of ranch life (and the beauty), all of it…..

    What a fortunate life you live!

  16. Martha Cook says:

    Wow – Shery – fabulous article and photos!!! You are so right. I grew up on a cattle ranch in Idaho – moved away at 19 or so – ranch is still in the family. Noticed that when my niece and nephew could stay on a horse and open a wire gate, about ages 8 and up, they had become economic assets to the ranch – they could move bales, feed stock, check the chickens, work the garden, and later drive tractor in the fields as the men picked up hay bales. My 10-year old nephew drove up on his four-wheeler as we were building a fence on my acreage and announced "I’m here to help!" with the quiet confidence that his help was valuable and considerable. It was.

    Wish I could share this article with everyone I know.
    You are right, farm kids grow up with skills and purposeful action that can rarely be duplicated in the city kid’s experience.

  17. Marti Bee says:

    Well said, Miss Sherry. My kids are grown and gone, but grew up here on Rock Bottom Ranch. None of them have taken up ranching as an occupation/way of life (yet), because living in the City is still a novelty and it’s fun not to have to drive 30 minutes to the nearest store. What ranch life did for my kids:

    1) They have never been unemployed. If they need a job, they get one. Ranching isn’t just about animals, it’s about getting up and working every day, whether you want to or not. Rain or shine.
    2) Nursing a happy baby is a piece of cake compared to an orphan foal.
    3) Even if you are half dead with exhaustion, you can still walk a horse with colic.
    4) 5 AM is NOT that early. 6 AM is sleeping in and by 7 AM — well, have the day is gone.
    5) They all learned to listen not only with their ears, but with their eyes. A horse can’t tell you she’s not feeling right…but you can see it. The same skill works on people…
    and on and on and on.

  18. Chelsea says:

    I’m a little late, but I just wanted to say AMEN!

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