It’s not for everyone. Even in the best of scenarios, power dynamics rear their ugly heads, personal opinions detract from progress, and disagreements cause temporary bitterness.
But when it clicks just right, there is nothing more beautiful than being able to work with family.
Generations of agricultural families have survived and thrived together as a unit because of the “whole outfit” approach to making a living. It is arguably the best way to raise the next generation. Few activities foster understanding and appreciation like group work. Of course, the opposite case could be argued for the creation of lifelong resentment when your family drives you over the edge of sanity. Still, if the end goal of feeding yourselves and hopefully others can only be attained with everyone’s participation, you swallow your pride and figure it out.
Though engagement of the entire family unit is no longer imperative for operating in today’s agricultural world, there is still value to be gleaned from executing work that involves the blood kin crew.
I may be biased because I not only love but I respect my sister. Plus she is infinitely easier to work with than Daddy was, though I respected him equally as much. We all three worked well together despite his propensity for drama. His approach was just altogether different than my sister’s. She is more willing to communicate her plan for the work in question. I think Daddy assumed we could and should have read his mind.
“Don’t forget to shut that gate,” she will say prior to working, as opposed to Daddy’s prolific cursing followed by “You knew you were supposed to shut that gate” after the fact.
No one is perfect. He was a heck of a cowboy, but people management was not on his resume.
Thankfully, my sister integrates his superb animal husbandry skills with a revised version of his old school management style to improve workplace morale. With her, even the most stressful bovine-related events are laced with humor and perspective.
I honestly thought that any event involving a squeeze chute would always by nature elicit stress, until my sister took the ranch reins, and either replaced or repaired the old chutes that Daddy had dealt with, likely because he was trying to support a family of four and chose private school tuition over equipment repair. Previously, I had to awkwardly (and often unsuccessfully) secure the rusty head catch with a rope each time a cow entered the chute, creating the slowest vaccination record in history. Now I can barely keep up with the number of heads passing through, and the cattle (and people) are much less stressed from reduced chute time.
In addition to her willingness to reduce drama with better equipment, she also lightens the mood when the outcome may not be favorable. A few childhood jokes and some movie lines bring much-needed relief on a cold, windy and rainy day when you have no choice but to carry a sickly, week-old calf, born to your favorite cow, to the catch pen for additional treatment, knowing that all of the meds in the world cannot change the prognosis.
With all of her valiant efforts to put people and animals at ease, she occasionally loses her cool herself, though it still borders more on hilarious than heated. During the fall works this year, after chasing stubborn mama cows underneath a dusty barn for almost 10 minutes trying to get them to turn into a smaller pen, she started cursing and screaming at the top of her lungs. “Just pen already, you stupid cows!”
She turned around, shook her head at me and at one of the men helping, and we all three burst into laughter. There are few sights more amusing than watching a sweaty, angry, 118-pound woman with a curly ponytail throw her dirty hat after pregnant Charlais cows that refuse to pen.
If nothing else, working with family keeps you humble.