Next Generation Ranchers
My job has two main audiences; youth between 9 and 18 years of age and ranchers whom are generally 55 years of age and older. This is true for most AgriLife Extension employees.
Youth programs are geared towards 4-H and FFA members, such as livestock projects and wool/mohair judging contests. These interactive programs have been extremely successful at getting youth involved with agriculture, ultimately leading to a better appreciation, if not a lifelong passion, for food and fiber production.
According to the USDA, two out of every three current farmers and ranchers are 55 years of age or older, and only 5 percent are less than 35 years of age. The average age of new farmers and ranchers is nearly 50 years of age.
It is an asset and a liability to have a more mature ranching community. With age comes wisdom, more financial security, and careful decisions that are more likely to keep an operation running. However, there is a forgotten generation of folks who we simply don’t target enough of our extension and industry resources to helping, and that is the young adults.
The term ‘millennial’ often leaves a poor taste in the mouth of the older crowd, but that is largely due to an ill-conceived perception that ALL millennials still live off of their parents and don’t know how to work. There is a large sector of this age group however, that do, in fact, have both aspirations and a work ethic, and are looking for a chance to thrive in agriculture
Youth brings energy and a desire for new technologies and innovation. The sheep and goat industry has a limited amount of new technologies and innovative programs being put into practice, which I would argue is a direct result of the lack of managers under 35 years of age. Is this limited number of younger sheep and goat producers a result of low enthusiasm (like we hear is the case all the time) or is it simply because opportunities are few and far between?
The current ranching community has developed an admirable courage to sustain their way of life regardless of any challenges they face. Through thick and thin, the rancher is the epitome of steadfastness. But a side effect of this can be a resistance to those who approach the ranching way of life differently than themselves. Cell phones have replaced pocket books and the internet is now the first place many of us look to for an answer to a problem, but don’t confuse this with a lack of passion for feeding and clothing the world. The love of land and livestock persists, that much you can be sure of.
A small group of folks, including myself, have started a committee within Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association called “TEXAS RANCHERS OF TOMORROW” or TROT for short. It is made up of TSGRA members that are less than 40 years of age and want to be active sheep and goat producers. Since 2016, TROT has hosted a couple of ranch tours each year for members to attend to learn more about making a living from ranching.
Most members of TROT are part-time ranchers and rely on other forms of income to support themselves and their families. They would very much like to ranch full-time, but access to land resources prohibits that dream from becoming a reality. As we all know, land value has greatly exceeded ag valuation. Therefore, it is unrealistic for young ranchers to buy land and pay for it raising sheep and goats, or any other form of livestock, unless they inherit or earn a small fortune elsewhere. To get started in the industry, it must come from lease land.
Finding lease land for sheep and goat production has become a difficult task. Many landowners, absentee or resident, don’t want someone else on their land or only want to lease land for hunting purposes. There is also a misconception that sheep and goats don’t mix well with certain wildlife species, such as whitetail deer and quail. We all know that good land stewardship can be beneficial to both livestock and wildlife.
If you are a landowner and have land that is currently without sheep and goats, or may be in the near future, I’d encourage you to consider leasing some land to someone who’d love to have the opportunity to try and make this their living. Also, encourage your fellow landowners that don’t have active livestock leases on their land to a consider helping a next generation sheep and goat raiser get started. There is a large cohort of young adults that would be great assets to our industry, if we could find the right opportunities for them to get started.
The TROT committee is developing a directory of its members that are seeking lease land. The information gathered will include where they are located, the type of livestock they wish to raise, their education, and livestock experience. So if you don’t know of a next generation sheep and goat producer in your area and you have land to lease, this organization can help you find the right person.
While people in this industry are the most important thing to consider, the lack of production is also an important aspect. In the US, we are importing more lamb and goat meat than ever before, simply because we just don’t produce enough to meet our domestic demands. If we keep shrinking as an industry, the infrastructure to support this industry will shrink as well. Without a viable infrastructure to support sheep and goat producers, it will become harder and harder to compete with imported products.
To provide feedback on this article or request topics for future articles, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 325-653-4576. 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.