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The working school -- Resisting the urge to automate

TOWNER, N.D. -- If you want to know a rancher's age or family status, there's no need to ask. Just take a look around their place. Take two medium-sized ranches to compare. If you see a tractor hooked to an automated grinder/mixer wagon and a fen...

TOWNER, N.D. -- If you want to know a rancher's age or family status, there's no need to ask. Just take a look around their place.

Take two medium-sized ranches to compare. If you see a tractor hooked to an automated grinder/mixer wagon and a fenceline feeding system, they either don't have kids or else the kids they had have all grown up and moved away.

If you see a bunch of feedbunks in the middle of the pens and a dozen plastic pails next to an old truck or grain bin, the rancher is in the prime of his child-rearing days. Kids and plastic pails go hand in handle.

The childless ranch with the feed wagon and fenceline feeding probably has a set of cone-shaped gravity bins to store their feed grains, too. The place with the kids running around probably has a bunch of flat-bottomed bins or wooden granaries and a collection of well-worn scoop shovels.

Blistered lessons

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I got to thinking about this point of differentiation while I was bent over a scoop shovel in an old, wooden granary filling a set of 5-gallon plastic pails.

I was thinking how nice it'd be to load the ration in a feed wagon and drive along a fenceline augering it out for the calves without so much as opening a gate.

Then I looked over at my boys -- one almost 4 years old and a year-and-a-half-old -- who were in the granary with me trying to empty the pails I was filling. I looked at them and thought how awful a dad I would be to deny them the opportunity to fill pails with a scoop shovel and carry them to feed the calves while they were growing up.

As one rancher and father told me, one of the best things you can do for your children is teach them how to work. Too much automation on a place, and you'd lose an awful lot of teachable moments.

So I'm going to hold back on the feed wagon and hold on to the plastic pails until my boys grow into them.

Breadth of education

To really give them a good schooling, I may want to do even more for them. Like get a couple of milk cows. You always can find a nice herd of dairy cows for sale somewhere when the dairy farmer's youngest kid heads off to college.

Sheep are a pretty labor-intensive piece of livestock. A small flock could teach young folks a lot about hard work, patience and disappointment. And it might encourage my boys to find a wife with those qualities if they want to stay in the sheep business.

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Birthday shopping for the boys will be a cinch. A scoop shovel for their 12th birthday, a pitchfork for their 13th birthday, a posthole digger for their 14th birthday and so on. By the time they graduate from high school, they could have a whole set of wood-handled educators.

If they grow up well, they'll probably be successful ranchers someday who can afford to finally automate the place that dear old Dad never did.

That is, unless they have kids of their own who need to learn about chores.

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“In our industry there aren’t a lot of young people in it. I like the fact that there are a lot of young people in agriculture here,” he said of the Mitchell area.