Taylor’s ‘Cowboy Logic’ got its start in AgweekFARGO, N.D. — While much of Agweek’s content is serious agribusiness, one career launched by the publication has focused on the lighter side of farming and ranching.
By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek
FARGO, N.D. — While much of Agweek’s content is serious agribusiness, one career launched by the publication has focused on the lighter side of farming and ranching.
Ryan Taylor has defined this role with his “Cowboy Logic” columns, which have appeared in Agweek since 1994. The column launched a public speaking and entertainment career, and didn’t hurt his political career, either.
Taylor, who just turned 40, continues to ranch and farm near Towner, N.D. His family homesteaded on the place in 1903. He writes tales about ranch life with his wife, Nikki, and their children, “little Bud,” Ole and Sylvia, ages 6, 4 and 2. Today’s Taylors raise “cattle, hay, horses and, now, kids,” he says, on his website.
Agweek was Taylor’s first major break in the writing business.
He graduated in 1992 from North Dakota State University in Fargo with a double-major in agricultural economics and mass communications.
Back then, Agweek was a bulked-up editorial powerhouse, with markets and political reporting on a national scale. It was before the days of the Internet.
“We used Agweek magazine in college for some of our courses: particularly livestock marketing, with the futures and options,” he recalls.
After graduation, Taylor went home to ranch with his father, Bud, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Back home, Taylor wrote some free-lance stories — serious stuff — for area publications, including the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers. His mother, Liz, an “FDR Democrat,” had written a “Meanwhile Back at the Ranch” column in the local newspaper. His dad was an “Eisenhower Republican.”
“What I learned from Dad was the saying: ‘There are two kinds of people — those who have something to say and those who just have to say something.’ He was the first kind,” Taylor says.
One year, Ryan wrote an essay for a contest sponsored by the American Quarter Horse Association, and it placed in the top 10 nationally.
Hillary and cattle
Taylor remembers then-Agweek editor Julie Copeland and Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald editor Mike Jacobs hiring him to free-lance.
“I think my first story was about Hillary Clinton and her cattle futures trading,” whether the then-first lady could have made profits in the cattle market without inside help.
In 1994, Agweek wanted something for its editorial page. It would be more of a human interest thing and personal.
“That was the first version of ‘Cowboy Logic,’” Taylor recalls, although he’d also written a column under the same name in his fraternity newsletter. The title is a common one in ranch lexicon and was a line in a song from the late 1980s by artist Michael Martin Murphey.
As Taylor’s popularity grew in the magazine, it catapulted him into other jobs that would supplement his 200-cow beef operation.
He became a staffer for Northern Plains Premium Beef, a cooperative that tried to launch in the mid-1990s to build a beef kill and processing plant in the North Dakota and South Dakota.
“I was a rancher intent on investing and processing cattle in the system,” he says.
That plan didn’t work out, but he was getting a higher profile.
After that ended, he went to work for Fort Dodge Animal Health, calling on veterinarians in the region. He met his wife in 2001 while he was working in Watford City, N.D. She was attending a veterinary health meeting with her brother.
“The local vet was actually the NDSU Homecoming queen when I was NDSU king back in 1991, but that’s aside from the point,” he says. The meeting involved “the sexy topics of internal parasites in cattle and bovine respiratory disease.”
The pair married July 5, 2003.
In 2002, he was encouraged to challenge a local state senator. He won the seat by about 12 percentage points in a district that has about 10 percent more Republicans than Democrats.
In 2006, he defended it by 32 points. Taylor sits on the agriculture committee, but feels some of his best work is on education and transportation issues.
“I see it as another step in community service,” Taylor says. “You’ve done your church council or school board, and then you’re asked to serve in this next capacity. Some use it for political purposes, for grandstanding, but I feel it’s more about public service for your neighbors.”
Rural humor, sans politics
As a columnist, Taylor has stayed away from political topics. The column is about farm and ranch life and small towns.
“There’s enough partisan stuff going on in the world,” Taylor reasons. “People like to read about people, without looking for the political angles.”
While much of his focus is humor, Taylor says it is some of the more serious columns that seem to evoke the most response.
Early on, he wrote a column titled, “Were you born in a barn?” It focused on “humbleness in a world where humility isn’t always respected” and where he drew connections between the Nativity stable and the world of animal husbandry where he lives.
He would get responses about his mother’s struggle with ovarian cancer and the family’s decision to get his father into long-term care.
“People respond because a lot of them have gone through this with aging parents, and it’s pretty hard,” he says.
Taylor’s mother died in 2009 and his father died in May. He had been getting used to operating the ranch on his own, but acknowledges he’s looking forward to his children getting older and helping out on the ranch.
Not long after the columns started gaining acceptance, Taylor started after-dinner entertainment speaking. He says he didn’t know how to sing, but he spiced up the act with “old-style rope tricks,” jumping in and out of spinning loops.
In 1998, Taylor published his first book of his compiled columns. He published a second book in 2003. His columns now appear in several publications throughout North America.
“People get involved in your family, your operation — involved in your life,” he says. “People want to be uplifted.”
One memorable column for readers was about “Daddy day-care,” when he would take his first son with him for chores after his second son was born.
“People read your column, and it’s kind of like a soap opera of your own life — the old equipment, the ornery animals. Sometimes you think you’re the only one who’s had a wheel fall off a tractor, but if Ryan has, too, they feel a little better about it.”