In looking for a career, most people wouldn’t look twice at one offering long hours in
all kinds of weather (bitter cold, mud, summer, dust, and back to bitter cold), broken equipment, and no promise of profit, but a guarantee of debt. Even with all the hardships, I cannot think of anything I want to do more than continue ranching.
When asked why I want to return to the ranch after college, I usually say something along
the lines of “I was raised on it” or “I love it.” However, those really aren’t solid answers. Many
kids were raised on a farm or ranch and cannot wait to leave. They feel isolated and bored in
small ranching communities; so they leave for the lights of a city. Others stay for a while, but
end up leaving ranching later on in favor of a more stable career. The current average age of farmers and ranchers in the U.S. is 57.5 and one-third of US farmers are over 65. If I were looking at a career
in the normal terms: profit, stability, health benefits, retirement etc., ranching probably wouldn’t
even make the list. According to the 2017 census, the average income of a farm in 2017 was
$43,053 and 56.4% of farms had a negative net cash income. These are some really depressing
stats. It is obvious that ranching has to be viewed as more than a career.
I have a passion for agriculture that runs deeper than money or physical comfort. I am
being handed a legacy, there is a story in every acre of land and decades of breeding have gone
into every cow and horse on the place. My family has worked this land since 1912 and there is
something special about that. But even if I did not have the opportunity to take over an
established farm/ranch operation, I would still want to be in agriculture production. I love the
neighbors who are willing to drop everything and come help when you need it. I love the freedom
to live and work in the fresh air. There is something special about watching your work multiply.
When I have worked a day on the ranch, I can look back and see something I have accomplished.
There is a sense of pride in watching things grow. I may not be getting rich off it, or even
breaking even, but seeing a new calf, a gorgeous sunset, or the mares running in makes it “worth
it” on a level money never will. Now, I am realistic enough to know that you can’t finance a
ranch on sunsets, but the challenge of trying new things to turn a profit is another reason I am
drawn back to the ranch.
Ranching is difficult and it is often depressing to look at a beautiful crop and know it is worth nothing, or to be feeding calves months after they would usually sell because the markets are down. However, there are things that can be done to turn a profit, we just need to find them! I was at a conference once and the speaker said that the only way to make money in today’s developed world is through ideas. Young people need to return to ranching because they will bring new ideas to make ranching profitable. I would not be the person I am today if I had not been given opportunities to try my own things. Whether that was a different breed of cattle or new ways of training my colts, I have had the freedom to make things “my own.” At the same time, I have had my grandpa and parents walking alongside me to explain why we do things the way we do. Most things are done a certain way for a very good reason!
My passion for agriculture has been fostered by the lessons I have learned growing up in
agriculture. I have always known that I wanted to take over the family ranch and continue our
legacy. After leaving for a short time for college, I want to return to my roots more than ever. I
miss working alongside my family and with my hands. The trials of life make the good parts of
life sweeter. In the same way, the troubles of ranching make the triumphs even more triumphant.
Farmers and Ranchers are the backbone of a nation, the grassroots producers of life. Who
wouldn’t want a career watching the fruits of their labor feed their nation and world?
If you have questions about ranching/farming, I encourage you to reach out to us or a
local producer. Spending a day in the life of a farmer or rancher will be an experience you will
“Be sure you know the conditions of your flocks, give careful
attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is
not secure for all generations.” – Proverbs 27:34-35
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for
the good land he has given you. – Deuteronomy 8:10
Written by Alexis Canen. Alexis is a senior in International Studies at Bob Jones University and the fifth generation on Mahlstedt Ranch.
11, Apr. “Average Age of U.S. Farmer Climbs to 57.5 Years.” Farm Progress, 11 Apr. 2019,
Chuck Abbott, April 11. “On Average, U.S. Farmers Are Aging, but a Quarter of Them Are
Newcomers.” Food and Environment Reporting Network, thefern.org/ag_insider/onaverage-u-s-farmers-are-aging-but-a-quarter-of-them-are-newcomers/.