8 Must-Haves for a Rancher’s Toolbox

Like most ranchers and farmers, there are tools all over our place. Toolboxes are in the back of every truck, on shelves in the garage and there’s even a small one in the house with odd ‘n ends. Each box holds items that we need on the ranch to keep things operating as smoothly as possible: screwdrivers, pocket knives, hammer, socket set, duct tape etc. But there are a lot of intangible items that we need on the ranch as well, that are just as important, if not more so, than the contents of the nearest hardware store.

I give you my list of 8 Must-Haves for a Rancher’s Toolbox. First and foremost….

PassionTheodore Roosevelt (one of my favorite presidents; did you know he disliked being called ‘Teddy’?) once said, “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” The Ninja and I love this ranching life and we cherish each day we get to spend raising our baby in this lifestyle and raising cattle in the heartland. Agriculture is in our blood and I can’t think of anything else we’d rather be doing – why do something day in and day out if you don’t love it?!  A friend of mine said “pursue with passion that which sets your soul on fire” and wow, that’s about the best advice I’ve been given.

Patience – We live in a fast-paced world. Business transactions, news and life decisions all take place in the blink of an eye. But in the pasture or in the sorting pen, a rancher absolutely must have patience and go slow when necessary. Cows move as fast as they want and if you try to speed them up to your pace, things can go to hell in a handbasket real quick. Slow and steady wins the race, in my book.

Vaccinations – I vaccinate my daughter, unabashedly and at the advice of her doctor. I would rather risk her getting a fever as a side effect than actually contracting measles, mumps or small pox. And the same goes for my cattle – we vaccinate for several diseases in cattle, many of which are respiratory. We vaccinate because we don’t want them to contract something and potentially die and because vaccinations decrease the amount of antibiotics we have to use. Using vaccinations is an easy way for us to protect our herd health and, ultimately, our investment in our cattle.

Beef growth hormone implant
One small pellet is inserted in the back of the ear and it makes a world’s difference!

Antibiotics – Antibiotics are tools that we use to keep our animals healthy so that we can produce safe beef.  Just like humans, animals get sick. Especially when the weather is crappy – here in southeastern Kansas, the weather has been fluctuating between warm and 60s and rain/snow paired with 30-40 degree weather. This does not bode well for cows, or people, and there have been sniffly noses on all fronts. When an animal is sick, the humane thing to do is to treat it with the appropriate antibiotic as prescribed by a veterinarian. As a rancher, I take the responsibility of caring for our cattle very seriously, which is why I strive to improve our practices to provide a safe environment for our animals so that antibiotic use is kept at a minimum.

Growth implants – Let’s start this conversation with salt. Did you know that salt is the only substance on Earth that DOESN’T have hormones? True story.

Now that we have that out of the way. Yes, we use hormone implants in our cattle. A hormone implant, mostly estrogen, allows us to raise more beef using less feed which translates to less land and water used and ultimately makes us more sustainable.  Just one of those little nuggets is responsible for decreasing the amount of fat while increasing the amount of muscle in an animal. More output using fewer inputs. Cattle are great environmentalists, y’all.

Stewardship – We depend on the land and mother nature to help us care for our cattle. We need rain and grass to raise our cattle and that means taking care of our waterways and pastures. In the winter, we move our cows to a harvested corn field so the cows can eat cornstalks and our pasture can be rested. This allows the grass to regrow stronger in the spring. We just recently brought our cows home from the cornfield but instead of turning them out in our pasture, we have them in pens close to the barns so that the grass can utilize spring rain and have ample growth before we turn the cows out.  By caring for our land we are ensuring that our operation is sustainable for years to come and that our pastures retain their integrity.

[bctt tweet = “We depend on the land and mother nature to help us care for our cattle”]

Good Stockmanship – This goes hand in hand with patience. On our ranch, we try to set up our working facilities and panels so that cattle can go with the flow. We implement many of Temple Grandin’s teachings in terms of using flight zones, being quiet, the point of balance and using cattle’s natural behaviors to move them where we want them to go.

Paying attention to natural cattle behavior and the point of balance aids in working and moving cows. Image courtesy:http://www.grandin.com/behaviour/principles/flight.zone.html

When done right, moving and handling animals can be very smooth if you have patience and are thinking like a cow. Animals that are calm and collected are safer to be around and produce higher quality beef. They also have a better quality of life – because of these aspects we do our best to keep things low-stress and ‘chill’ on the ranch.

Mentors/Role Models – John Crosby once said, “Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction” and I’d say that goes three-fold for ranching. The mentors my husband and I have in the beef business – our neighbors, friends, parents – are invaluable to our operation. It’s quite the relief to be able run an idea past one of them to see if we’re crazy or moving down the right track. I don’t know anyone who has experienced great success that didn’t have mentors that helped them find their path. Raising cattle, (well, ranching and farming in general), takes a lot of experience and time to ‘master’ and I would definitely say that no one has it completely figured out all the time.

This business is a learning experience and can be very humbling. I’m far from an expert and am still trying to fill my toolbox with the necessary tools, both abstract and tangible, that will allow me to grow and improve our operation. Are there tools I am missing? Fencing pliers, perhaps?!

Until next time,
~ Buzzard ~

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4 responses to “8 Must-Haves for a Rancher’s Toolbox”

  1. I think this is a great set of tools! I would add a sense of humor. It helps keep things lighter. In an industry that can be so stressful, finding humor along the way, helps even things out a little. Even if the humor isn’t realized until after a not so funny at the time moment! Thanks for another great read!

    1. bbuzzard13@gmail.com Avatar

      I completely agree, Ginger. A sense of humor is a big must-have!

  2. Roxybo Avatar

    I like the spin you put on growth hormones…your average dumb American will eat that up. Don’t forget medicated feed…. But that’s on the hush hush…

    1. bbuzzard13@gmail.com Avatar

      Roxybo – I am not ashamed to use growth hormones in our beef. I know that they help me produce several pounds more beef while using less water and grass to do so. I know that the amount of added-hormone in one steak is far less than the same amount of hormone (estrogen) found in a regular garden salad, a serving of tofu or a baked potato. And I absolutely know that they are safe.

      We do not use medicated feed HOWEVER, if we did, we would have to visit our veterinarian (or have her come to our ranch) and prescribe us the feed. The prescription has an expiration date and very detailed directions that we must take to the feed dealer, who will then only give us the exact amount of feed prescribed. No extra to hold over for the next time. These rules are set in place to prevent abuse of valuable antibiotics.