Cowboy Heroes

Change. 

Change is a scary word to many. Like it or not, however, everything changes. Even the most formidable substances, such as rocks in a mountain, are being changed over time by elements. Slowly or rapidly, all is in a state of change. People, however, tend to resist it.

When life throws changes at you, and I guarantee it will, you need to adapt with the situation, or before you know it, the world is moving on without you — you become dead weight. Once you have done all you can about a situation, you have done all you’re meant to do about it.

Do you look towards the future with anticipation and excitement, or with dread and fear? Whether you think change is a good thing or bad, it doesn’t matter, for it is coming either way. Why not make the best of it?

What worked yesterday, may not work today and probably will not work tomorrow. Yesterday, you knew how to deal with circumstances, today you need another plan, tomorrow yet another.

Some gradual changes we have seen over the years:

  • In the days of the Old Testament, most Hebrews did not cut their hair or trim their beards. It was considered sacrilege to do so. Today, a lot of people shave from head to toe (yes, even Religious people). To my knowledge, God has not struck any of them down for it.
  • 100 years ago and beyond, God-fearing women would not dare dress in a manner, which showed any skin below the neckline. You were considered cheap if you did. Today, a woman may believe conservative dress refers to a one-piece swimsuit instead of the dental floss kind. None-the-less, someone calling a woman, “tramp,” just because some skin is visible would be considered out of step, old fashioned and chastised greatly.
  • Prior to 1537, mainly Church officials were the only ones allowed to read from the Bible. According to sources, the first man to completely translate the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into English was William Tyndale. He once told a Priest, “I will make the man who follows a plow know more about the Bible than you.” He was eventually strangled and burned for it, along with his Bibles, by Church officials!
  • Only when King Henry VIII changed the law was there English versions available. Even then, it wasn’t until 1611, when King James I ordered a new translation direct from old Greek and Hebrew manuscripts (The King James Version) that the Bible was made available to the common man en masse. Imagine a world where the most important book in history was not readily available to the public. I don’t think so!
  • During what most consider “the time of the cowboy,” a period from the end of the War Between the States until the 1890s, anybody could become a cattleman.

Entrepreneurs, who showed they had what it took could go into western states and gather maverick cattle for their benefit. Many large and wealthy ranches started in this manner. Men looked for opportunity, it came in the form of cattle; they seized the moment and did what was necessary to make it happen. They became successful and rich.

Today, although there are still plenty of cowboys and cattleman out there, it is totally different. Ranching is now a commodity business with fairly small margins. Large amounts of capital are needed to even have a chance of making a living at it.

When I was a kid, old men would tell me, “Cattle are the way to go. I raised so many children and provided myself a good living with cattle.” Traditions ran deep.

Yeah, and they probably did it with under 300 head and on an inherited ranch. What worked back then does not present the same opportunity today. According to the 2007 USDA census of agriculture, the average beef cattle herd size in the United States is 78 head. That’s hobby ranching.

As a matter of fact, only 5,813 out of 764,984 herds had 500 cows or more. 500 head being generally accepted by economies of scale measurements as where you ought to be if you’re actually going to make a decent living. While ranching is, at least in my humble opinion, a very good lifestyle, it’s appears that less than 1 percent of ranchers in this country actually make a living at it. Not the greatest business opportunity in the world unless, of course, you have large amounts of capital available or have inherited the ranch, but even then, there are other options with better margins.

With few exceptions, cowboys of today live on smaller acreages and earn their living at just about anything but punchin’ cows. And when folks refer to a “ranch,” it could mean an acre in north Scottsdale, five acres in the Rio Grande Valley, 40 acres outside of Austin or pretty much anything where a few head of livestock are held. Yes, cowboys and ranching have changed forever and will continue to change.

The preceding changes happened over a period of many years, even centuries. But these days, changes happen in hyper drive!

In the latter part of the 20th century, people, without much backing (similar to the ranchers of the late 19th century), were starting companies from scratch and becoming rich. However, the game had changed. Internet businesses (.coms) were the mavericks of the day. Some manufactured opportunity from thin air, it seemed, which made them rich. Personally, I would rather punch cows.

A world which gradually changed over six thousand years from the hunter / gatherer mentality to an agriculture mentality, then changed to the industrial age and before you could blink an eye (metaphorically speaking in the timeframe of the world) the technical age was upon us.

One hundred short years ago people were getting off horses and out of wagons to drive an automobile. After thousands of year’s a-horseback, mankind stepped into the industrial age. Today, with technology making advances by leaps and bounds, you can talk to someone on the other side of the world while looking at them on a hand-held device; sending pictures and full color documents at the same time. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

I knew guys back in the 1980s that swore if gas prices ever hit two dollars per gallon, they would go back to the horse and buggy mode of transportation. At the time, gas had broken the one-dollar mark, for good it seemed, hovering consistently around a dollar twenty-five. The two-dollar mark was such a great stretch, it would probably never happen in their lifetime.

Well, most of those same folk are still around today and they would jump for joy if they only had to pay two dollars per gallon for fuel! How times have changed!

Change comes at us faster and faster every day. A generation or two ago, people decided upon a career, got the education or training they needed and spent the rest of their lives doing that type of work. Sure, maybe along about retirement age they were becoming antiquated in their methods, but folks just called them outdated and let them go out to pasture when the time was right. Today, a lot of jobs are obscure within a decade!

We all know people who proclaim, “The world is changing too fast for me.” But I would like to remind them of an old saying, “You lead, follow, or get out of the way because either way, change is coming; fast!”

It’s impossible to go back in time and nothing stays the same, but the exciting part is that you can help choose the direction in which life takes you. Instead of digging in and clinging to a passing moment, welcome change and make it work for you. Don’t hate change, embrace it and make it your friend. Like it or not, it’s coming at the speed of light.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with holding on to traditions, I am a supporter and promoter of the western way of life and those uniquely American traditions myself; but what I’m getting at, is you have to find new ways to accomplish the same old goals.

Some say to me, “I just can’t, I’m too old and set in my ways.” But I say to them, “Can’t is a four-letter word, which should be eliminated from your vocabulary.”

Stop telling yourself what you can’t do and start focusing on how you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.

In the cowboy world, we are no more immune to change than anyone else. However, our kind has always been pioneers — used to loading up the wagons and heading into new frontiers. Just remember there is opportunity in every changing period.

Some examples which come to mind: better livestock genetics, agriculture tourism, the team roping number system, all natural and organic products, GPS guided farm equipment and niche markets of innumerable kinds.

Let’s not forget the ever-important cultural aspects like: cowboy poets, cowboy singers, movie cowboys and western re-enactors. Where would the world be without those guys to entertain the tourists and remind us of what cowboys are supposed to look and act like! LOL!

As we try to keep our heritage alive and well, we must find new ways of doing it. If you’re one of those 78 head ranchers, or a cowboy who lives on an acre, don’t give up, let’s not sit around reminiscing about the good ol’ days; complaining. Instead why shouldn’t we put our thinking caps on and figure out a desirable, yet sustainable place for us in the modern world.

Remember the past is best used for educational purposes; the future however, should interest us, as that’s where I suspect our remaining time will be spent! n