by Barry Denton

View From the Backside

21st Century Cowboyin’

by Barry Denton

I certainly enjoyed astronauts and thought I was going to be one for the longest time. When I was a boy the “Space Age” was just beginning and what a marvel it was.

Now that I have seen much of the equipment the astronauts used, what they accomplished is even more astonishing. Being propelled by several hundred gallons of jet fuel and located in a bucket of bolts is just not too sophisticated.

I happen to have a friend that spent over twenty years of his career as a rocket scientist developing the engines for the Lunar Module. He is perhaps one of the smartest people I know and he is amazed at what did not go wrong on that moon landing. The bottom line is that our astronauts were brave hardy Americans that liked to gamble because the risk was worth the prize.

Our ranch here in Arizona was started in 1945 by my in-laws. They were tough hardy people with a vision of the future. Their goal was to build a cattle ranch known for having the best stock you could find. These hardy folks bought a run down ranch with an inherited string of pearls put up as collateral at the bank. With some money they had saved up they were able to seek out some good horses and fresh cattle.

They worked side by side for several years until they accomplished what they had set out to do. Many people came from near and far to buy good Hereford cattle and top American Quarter Horses. The cattle herd supported the race and show horses easily for nearly 50 years.

Then in the 1980s things began to change. Cattle started to drop in price and horses started to go up. Within ten years the ranch changed completely to stay alive. Horses became the mainstay and cattle became secondary. It’s incredible how for over 40 years cattle paid the bills, but then the horses had to take over most of it.

The most important lesson is if you are running your own business you must embrace change.

I know many cattle and horsemen that are very traditional by nature. That is a fine thing to preserve the old ways, but when it comes to paying bills you may have to change some of that to make a living in the present.

We all know that the forces are against the small independent family ranch or farm. Large corporations have taken over agriculture and don’t have much sympathy for the little guy. They have even imposed a tax on the independent that he has to pay at the auction house when he sells his cattle. You have no choice to opt out of this ridiculous tax that probably goes to something that will never help you or your livelihood. The only choice is to not sell your cattle at auction. It is one thing to be taxed by government as you know they will gladly waste your tax dollars protecting some turtle from the evil cattle. However, it’s doubly insulting when you have to pay a tax to a cattle lobby you do not believe in.

There is no sense complaining about something you can’t control. You should use that energy in a positive manner to be successful in spite of the government and the cattle lobby.

There are a few outfits here in Arizona that still run a wagon and I’m glad they do. However, those big ranches that do that are owned by large corporations and are used as tax havens. There may be a few private ranches that run a wagon, but I’m not aware of them.

The good things that corporation owned ranches bring to cowboys are better wages, an insurance plan, a more stable working environment, and better working conditions. We that are traditional may not want to see corporation owned ranches, but many of our family and friends are doing well working for them. This has been a big adjustment for traditional cowboys. However, cowboys are still getting hired and not eliminated all together.

One eye opening experience you can have is visiting an agricultural university and see what they are teaching. The courses are now geared much more to getting a good job working for an ag corporation than they are toward starting up your own ranch. It would be nice to see a course in catching wild cattle or tying wild cattle to trees at Texas A&M.

The realization is that government doesn’t want you working for yourself anymore. Somehow you are supposed to fit into the system and behave yourself. There are no differences in trading television sets on a computer or trading cattle on a computer. We normally are ranchers because we like the lifestyle and the freedom that it brings. There are bigger powers at work that don’t want you to have that freedom.

Like those first astronauts that went to the moon we ranchers and cowboys have to be very dedicated to what we do. We have to be so dedicated that we have to find new ways to survive when forces are against you. Being a gambler also helps as you are gambling with your well being, sanity, and livelihood. We may not be on the moon, but it certainly feels like it compared to ranching just twenty years ago. Keep going forward and “May The Horse Be With You”!