Cows As Bait

By Gary Matteson
June 5, 2015

I wonít deny happily daydreaming about what happens in the next chapter of my life; I'm planning on going back to my farm in New Hampshire.††The basic idea is to reestablish the cattle business, raising beef cattle for the local grass fed market.††There is one reason in particular why I am planning to have cattle.††You see, I plan to use them as bait.

Not bait for wolves or coyotes, but as bait to get my three sons to move back close enough to the farm that I get to raise cattle and grandkids.

My vision is to have the good life of the family farm with cattle like I used to before I moved to DC to work for Farm Credit.††With cattle as bait to attract my sons, I figure Iíll also snag a few grandchildren that I can teach to love cattle, respect hard work, and perpetuate family farm life.

My sons are all in different cities, but we often have group family emails, sending each other spreadsheets of stocking rates, forage production capacity, and calculations of how many head it takes to turn a profit.† All that talk about land and cattle is the bait Iím using to draw their attention towards a future of farming.

As with my own sonsí farm business planning, Iím trying to practice what I preach in my day job.†My job with Farm Credit involves talking to beginning farmers about farm business planning, basic financial skills, and farm succession planning.

I want to assure you that unlike conversations with my own sons, my dialogues with beginning farmers do not involve me luring them towards visions of cattle with the hope of snagging a few grandchildren.† Just sayiní.

With beginning farmers I first discuss WHY they want to farm.† I want to help beginning farmers identify what they are so passionate about that it will keep them motivated, looking to the future, and clearly defining their own version of success so they know what to aim for.

One of the more unusual suggestions that I have for beginning farmers is that as they plan their version of success, they need to make sure they plan to be happy in the context of a good balance of work life and home life.† Yeah, I know thatís easier said than done for all those of us who should sign up for Workaholics Anonymous.

Iíve got an advantage over many beginning farmers as I plan for my future.† I already know what makes me happy:† living with cows around, with many generations of family close by, and being active in the community.† So whatís the harm if those cows are used as bait, as long as theyíre happy, too?

Goal setting in action:† The older cows at the front of the herd have done this 15 mile drive before and know where theyíre going.† The cowboys are there to help the stragglers clarify their definitions of success.† This is 600 head on the move in western Colorado at Bray Ranch.

About Gary Matteson
Gary Matteson knows agriculture first hand. Until recently he was a small farmer operating a greenhouse business in Epsom, New Hampshire. Matteson now works at the Farm Credit Council, the trade association for the nationwide Farm Credit System. He is an advocate for young, beginning, small, and minority farmer outreach programs. Matteson is responsible for spreading best practices for beginning farmer lending and training among Farm Credit Associations, generating new program ideas to benefit them. In addition to working directly with farm groups, Matteson is active in policy related to new entrants to farming. He now serves on the USDA Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers.