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Decision-making provides barrier to ranch success

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Worland – “Dysfunctional decision-making leads to dysfunctional farms,” commented Andy Junkin. “This trend is killing us.” 

Junkin, a seventh-generation farmer from Canada and expert in farm decision science, headlined 2019’s WESTI Ag Days, a two-day event highlighting a variety of production topics for farmers and ranchers. During his presentation, which included a four-hour workshop, Junkin emphasized the necessity of learning to communicate and make decisions as a family to improve the business. 

“The real villain of our times is not the bank, cattle prices or our family members,” he said. “The real villain is the dysfunctional way we make decisions together.”

Junkin continued, “If we can make decisions as a family, profitability will skyrocket, and we’ll get rid of our frustrations. Then, farming gets fun again.”

Helping ranches

Junkin works with ranches across the West, helping them to streamline their decision-making ability and turn the ranch around. 

As as example, he referred to one family in Iowa that he worked with.

“The farmer, Jesse, had two sons, Beau and Luke, and a daughter, Daisy,” Junkin explained. “Jesse had been controlling the farm with an iron fist, and several years before, the boys began rebelling because they didn’t want to be told by daddy what to do.”
Junkin approached the farm office and asked what problems or weaknesses the farm had, but it took the family five minutes before they admitted to weakness in their pregnancy rates. 

After one brother said they had a problem getting cows pregnant, the other balled up his fists, and a physical fight ensued. Unfortunately, Junkin said this situation is not uncommon.

Junkin said the problem is often a long-standing irritation that continues to cause problems.

“If I have a stone in my shoe and don’t take it out, I’ll be lame by the end of the week,” Junkin said. “It would be silly for us to leave the stone in our shoe. But, how many family farms do we know of that have a stone in their shoe and a couple of problems bringing down the operation?”

Technology changes

Changes in technology have affected many aspects of the agriculture industry across the U.S., but Junkin said the most impactful and most significant change has been in healthcare, which keeps farmers on the operation longer.

“Fewer farmers are dropping dead from heart attacks today than in the 1950s,” he said. “In the 60s, when a farmer needed a new hip, he retired. Today, he has surgery and comes back to the farm.” 

Many farms and ranchers have three generations helping to run the operation, which means three generations want control. As a result, everyone butts heads to pull the farm in different directions.  

“Going from the horse to the tractor, we’ve made tremendous changes in technology, but we’re still in the 1950s in terms of how we make decisions. Everyone wants to be the one in charge, making decisions,” Junkin explained.

Transfer of wisdom

“I deal with a lot of farms where the patriarch is more concerned with himself and his ideas instead of being concerned with what’s good for the farm and other individuals on the farm,” Junkin commented.

Further, he says many times the patriarch makes all the decisions until his death.

“My grandpa called all the shots until the day he died. He apologized to my mother and said, ‘I apologize. I taught my boy how to work, but I didn’t teach him how to manage,’” Junkin explained. “Often, we see that wisdom is not transferred from generation to generation, which destroys the farm.” 

Working together

Further, Junkin says it’s necessary to work together and stop being hard on one another as the farms operate. 

He talked about several families where the only conversations between a father and son involved the father telling his son why something the son did was wrong. Eventually, the son got fed up and left the farm. Junkin said the father didn’t understand what went wrong. 

“If we kick a dog every time we see it, it’ll bite us or run away,” he said. “The same thing happens when we’re negative every time we see our family members.” 

Making decisions

When deciding whether or not to do something new or which direction to move, the family should decide together. Junkin said the future of the operation is at stake. 

As families begin to look at decision-making, Junkin said they must consider what can be influenced by decisions on the farm. 

“I look at the Serenity Prayer as a decision-making tool. It says, ‘God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference,’” he explained. “I believe in the power of prayer, but now is the time for action on our farms.” 

Junkin continued, “We can’t change Chinese tariffs or weather, but we can change the decisions we make as a family. We can change how our family makes decisions.”

To make the farm or ranch successful, Junkin says families must learn to work together.

“Tough times never last, but tough farm families do,” Junkin commented. “We have to make our farms and families bulletproof.” 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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