Preserving the Legacy of Texas Ranching
This edition of Reid’s Ram-blings was composed by Jake Thorne, Texas A&M AgriLife Program Specialist.
“Our kids are our future.” This quote, or some version of it, is universally accepted as truth. I expect that most readers of this article agree that raising children in the world of production agriculture is unparalleled. Kids thrive when there is space to get dirty, creeks to be played in, animals to feed, and responsibilities to be learned the “old-fashioned” way. Even with the afore mentioned benefits, why is it that children who become young, working adults are not all returning “home” to the ranch/business?
The sheep and goat industries are certainly not immune to this generational exodus. One only needs to look at the decline of total sheep and producers over the last half century to realize that it has contracted significantly, and at least some of that contraction is due to an imbalance between number of parents or grandparents exiting the business and number of young adults entering it. How do we, as an industry, change this?
The reality is the small ruminant industries of Texas have a problem with succession, and the solution is about as clear as a stock tank after a summer rain. In our jobs as Extension professionals, we try to only stick to scientific fact, which is why we often default to discussing topics such as animal health and management, etc. I write this article today with intentions less focused on providing the latest information and more as a gentle nudge of thought provocation. To ensure a strong future for the sheep and goat industries, we need the next generation to take over the family business, and we need young people not raised in this particular agriculture sector to enter it.
If you are a rancher and you have kids, it is never too early to have “the talk” with them. Not “the birds and bees” talk, I mean “the ranch talk”. The one that opens up a clear line of communication about succession planning. Kids are starting to think about jobs and their futures as adults way earlier than you realize, and they need to know if and when there may be a spot for them in the family ranching business. The “how, what, and who” of this discussion is entirely up to you and your family, but all I ask is that the discussion is had.
There are a number of great resources out there, a simple google search will provide a number of guides on this form of planning, if you need somewhere to start. Thinking about retiring/passing-the-reins/selling-out/moving to town (yikes!)/succession planning is way outside the comfort zone of most ranchers I know, and too often the topic is avoided. Families that have not had the discussion on how to incorporate the younger generation into the business early on almost always pay for it dearly in the end, and too often this leads to one more operation that is lost.
The second reality about succession planning is that some kids do not want to take over the family ranching business. The knee-jerk comment is always “well kids these days don’t want to work,” but that is not always the truth. Young people are learning to work, just differently than their parents (getting into this too much would turn this into a novel).
The hard question that ranchers need to sometimes ask themselves is, have I built a business that my kids want to take over? Is this business truly profitable? Is what I see as a labor of love being perceived as just non-stop back-breaking work to my children? Is that a lifestyle they want? Is that really what I wanted when I was young? These are tough self-reflecting questions. Again, every situation and every family is different, but avoiding these discussions is most certainly not the right way to go.
Finally, if your family is not in a situation to pass the business or ranch to a child, I would encourage you to entertain other ways to assist the future generation of Texas sheep and goat producers. In fact, there are many young people who would like to enter into livestock production, but do not have family land. The startup capital needed to get established in ranching is almost always cost prohibitive. If you, as an established rancher, have the capability to partner with or offer lease land to a young producer, know this could be life-changing for them. Maybe this lessee will bridge the gap until the next generation in your family is ready. Allowing someone else to ranch on your ancestral place is nearly always a sacrifice. Nevertheless, you may be surprised by the fulfillment that comes with this act of selflessness.
It would be completely unfair for me to write an article about succession planning and encouraging ranchers to ask themselves tough questions without saying thank you all you have done to ensure that the Texas Sheep and Goat industries are as strong as they are today. Through maintaining traditions and teaching invaluable life lessons that can only be learned in the working pens after a long day of marking lambs, you, as producers, have shown the younger generation “the way.”
Hopefully, you can maintain this legacy for your kids and for generations to come. Communication, something that might not come easy to most of us, may just be the missing piece to ensuring that your family’s business and way of life is preserved. The Texas sheep and goat industries are full of the best people in the world; those that do not back down from a challenge to do what’s right. Sometimes, those challenges are just a simple discussion around the family dinner table. Here’s to a strong future for the next generation of Texas sheep and goat producers!
To provide feedback on this article or request topics for future articles, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 325-657-7324. For general questions about sheep and goats, contact your local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service County office. If they can’t answer your question, they have access to someone who can.