A successful rancher wears many different hats; businessman, bookkeeper, diplomat, truck driver, veterinarian, mid-wife, laborer, equipment operator, mechanic, nutritionist, leader, tracker, welder, horseshoer…the list goes on and on.
Ranching and the western lifestyle has been romanticized by books, movies and television, but ranchers know there is a lot more to ranching than meets the eye.
Ranching is a tiring but rewarding way of life. A lifestyle hard to comprehend unless you’ve lived it; really lived it for many years, from daylight to dark, seven days a week, 365 days a year, through spring, summer, fall and winter.
Ranching has no formula for success; however, a few Idaho County ranchers shared traits that successful ranchers tend to have in common:
Commitment to land and livestock
“A love and commitment to your land and livestock is the most important,” said Frank McIntire. “You show this by how you take care of your livestock, their quality and condition.”
McIntire is a lifelong rancher from Woodland who currently serves as president of the Idaho-Lewis County Cattle Association.
Cottonwood rancher Brad Higgins believes being passionate about what you do every day separates a good rancher from an average rancher.
“I personally love every part of the ranching business, and this passion is what drives me to be better today than I was yesterday,” said Higgins.
Higgins displays his dedication to the ranching industry by serving on the board of directors for the Idaho Cattle Association.
To be productive, ranchers need their cattle to produce and their land to hold up to use year after year. Ranchers show caring and love for the land and cattle they manage, said Jim Church, University of Idaho Extension Agent who also runs a small herd of registered Hereford cattle.
“I have an addiction to cattle,” Church said.
A great work ethic
A successful rancher needs “skills from management to marketing to animal nutrition to animal health to manual labor,” said Church, an extension educator for 31 years.
Church provides educational programs for commercial livestock producers in U of I Extension’s northern district, which stretches from Idaho County to the Canadian border. His specialties include beef cattle production, marketing and management.
Being a rancher is a lot of hard work, but if you love what you’re doing you will enjoy most of the work. “You get a real sense of pride when you see your cattle and ranch prosper,” said McIntire.
Higgins also agrees ranching requires a great work ethic.
Good business sense
Ranchers have the ability to make difficult management decisions and operate under tight financial constraints, Church said.
“A successful rancher needs to be a good businessman including keeping records of your livestock and expenses so you know what your costs are and if you are making a profit,” said McIntire.
McIntire also commented this includes marketing your livestock and having the type of animals that buyers want.
“Good prices don’t hurt either,” said Higgins.
Ranching isn’t just pounding fence posts, pulling calves, feeding hay or herding cattle. To be successful in today’s agriculture world, one needs diversity.
Many ranchers, especially the younger ones, have second jobs to earn extra income. Some use their semi-trucks, not only on their own ranch, but often haul hay or cattle for their neighbors.
Often times a rancher’s spouse holds down another job, possibly in a nearby town.
To supplement their ranch income, some ranchers also lease out their ground for other functions such as hunting or recreation.
Ranchers have “a no-quit attitude and won’t take no for an answer,” said Church.
They can make things work no matter what happens. A rancher is a handy man who can fix things on his own, Church added.
Ranchers have been known to cobble up something with baling wire or duck tape to continue the task at hand.
Favors are often exchanged between neighboring ranchers to take advantage of each individual’s talents.
Successful ranchers are always looking toward the future, always trying to better and preserve their legacy for the next generations to come.
Extreme weather conditions and market fluctuations are just a couple factors that can make or break a rancher. Handling adversity in a positive manner is important.
To make their operation more efficient and effective, ranchers need a willingness to change with the times.
“To be successful you need some education to help you know how to best accomplish your goals and continue this education throughout your life,” said McIntire.
— Shelley Neal is a resident of Lucile.