Young producers lead panel discussion on beginning in ranching in Wyo
Casper – Young producers hailing from different backgrounds and operation types across Wyoming shared their stories, advice and encouragement on getting started in the agricultural industry during a panel discussion at the 2016 Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup in Casper.
The successful young producers on the panel came from a variety of backgrounds varying from growing up on family ranches to working as hired hands on agricultural operations.
Will Hudson, the ranch manager for a Wyoming ranch, explained that after several years working at different ranches, he began as a regular ranch hand at his current operation.
When the management position opened up, his work ethic and personal experience earned him the position.
“The manager of the ranch had quit, and they gave me a shot in the dark. I was 26 years old, and they hired me on as the manager. I’ve been there four years now managing that ranch,” said Hudson.
Lusk ranchers Sage and Faith Askin explained that they began their operation by custom grazing livestock on leased land.
“We started basically with no money, just credit from the pickup and horse trailer, and we had no assets,” explained Faith. “After beginning with custom grazing livestock on leased land, we have since moved toward livestock ownership with leased cattle, sheep and purchased livestock.”
Cross-training and diversifying skillsets is important in the present age of ranching operations, stressed Hudson.
“There are not very many cowboy positions out there. Ranches nowadays are willing to pay more for a diversified employee than people who only focus their skillset on one portion of the ranch,” said Hudson.
While there are lower-wage positions that are paid if an individual is able to work one part of a ranching operation, such as driving a tractor, Hudson noted that the ability to do any task on a ranch makes an employee much more valuable.
“If they can diversify themselves and are able to do everything, I would be willing to pay an extra bit of money for an employee,” he commented.
Regardless of whether a young agriculturalist is in a management position, continually challenging themselves to learn more about the industry is critical for success.
“I think that events like the Stock Growers convention or anywhere people can go to educate themselves, especially in today’s world, is important,” said Hudson.
Sage stressed that ranching is, first and foremost, a business and must be treated as such.
“We can still have ranching as a culture, but we have to treat it as a business first. It’s got to put the money in our pockets to continue down that road,” continued Sage.
The Askin family noted that a non-profitable year is not an option for them to stay in business.
“I can’t even imagine having a non-profitable year because we don’t have any assets,” commented Sage. “From our perspective, there’s no room for error. There’s no asset for us to fall back on to continue operating.”
Kirby Berger, a Saratoga rancher, recommended that young producers invest time into financial education.
“Financial education is something that’s really applicable to ranching. We need to learn the difference between an asset and a liability,” said Berger.
A common misconception is that if an operation is meeting maximum production, they are meeting maximum profitability.
However, Berger explained, “We’re looking for a maximum profit in our operation instead of maximum production.”
One of the largest challenges facing young producers is purchasing land that is often separated and priced higher than production value.
“Most land is priced at about twice the production value of that land,” said Sage. “That means that it’s pretty much impossible to buy the ranch with the livestock to run on it.”
To be able to purchase the land, young producers often must do more with the land than simply raise livestock or farm, or they have to become an expert at ranching very quickly.
As an alternative to immediately purchasing land, the Askin family advised beginning ranchers lease land first, noting that purchasing land and livestock at the same time is similar to “trying to swim the Mississippi with an anvil chained to our hip.”
However, purchasing land is still an attainable goal long-term if that is what a beginning producer wants.
“That doesn’t mean that buying land is out of the question. That’s our point. We think that people should be able to buy land if that’s one of the goals that they have for their life,” said Sage.
Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.