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Feed, Water, Location: secrets of time management


A ranch can seem like a never-ending list of tasks. There are so many things to do, nobody gets to the end of that list. We can all think of a brace that needs to be replaced, some old wire in a pasture that needs to be cleaned up, a colt we could be riding, calves we could be marketing, analyses we could be doing. We’re all working hard; lazy isn’t our issue. Sadly, we’re often neglecting our family “to do” list in the hopes of getting a little ahead on our ranch list. There are ball games, Sunday school, dinner, and old-fashioned quality time with our spouse.


I was lucky to be raised by a man who played catch with me in the yard. And we skated when the pond was frozen. Not every day, but regularly. I am humbled to tears today when I imagine the things he would’ve rather been doing, the things he needed to be doing. As a kid, I had no idea about those things. But those days playing hockey on the pond or H-O-R-S-E are precious memories.


Tired of running on a hamster wheel? Make some priorities. Set some limits. But how?

A good friend of mine taught me a simple system years ago. Do the most important things first. What are the most important things? If we care for cattle it’s pretty simple:

  1. Cattle can’t survive long without water, so that always comes first.

  2. They need to eat, but they could miss a meal in a pinch, so that’s a close second.

  3. Finally, you don’t need them standing on the highway or grazing the neighbors crops. So, location is number three. But location requires some discernment. The urgency of location depends a little on when and where. If cattle are on the highway or the neighbors, that’s a priority. If they are in the wrong pasture at 6pm and you’re headed to a date with your wife, or you’re headed to church on Sunday morning, they can probably wait until tomorrow (assuming they have some water and feed). If there are bulls in with cows and it’s 60 days before turnout, well, you decide.

If your cows are out of water, you don’t need to be doing anything else but getting that fixed or moving cows to where there is water. Too many times, in hot weather or bitter cold, I’ve found a problem too late in the day to see what I’m doing or get parts.


Everything takes longer in the dark. Daylight is especially short in winter, use it wisely.

Don’t worry too much about efficiency. The problem with efficiency is that it’s possible to get side-tracked, stuck, or somehow mired down. We’ve all been there. We start out to get 10 things done and at dark we’re struggling to finish the first item as the sun goes down. That’s not a good time to discover that we have not been doing the most important things. Better to have free time at the end of the day for less urgent projects.


If my cows are out of water at 6pm in July, I’m not going to be home for dinner. If it takes 3 hours to fix the trough or move the cows to water, I’m not spending quality time with my family (dodging angry momma cows at the tank while daddy cusses at a seized valve isn’t the kind of quality we’re shooting for). If I had found the problem at 6 am, or even 9am, it probably only takes 2 hours to fix because I can see what I’m doing. Either way, I’m finished by lunch. In that case, crises averted. Now, I assume that over time you are not always in crisis mode. If watering, feeding, and containing your cows is a problem EVERY day, then I’d suggest you need to rethink your operation. While water and feed are urgent items of importance, most days aren’t -40* or 100*. Crises happen, but they shouldn’t be a regular occurrence. Let’s face it, the tank never breaks when it’s convenient, but these things should be rare.


I’m not writing this because I’m naturally great at it. It’s a constant battle. I love ranching. My kids and my wife would like more of my time. I love them too. I risk neglecting my family in exchange for dealing with things that are often crises of my own making.


A good friend of mine recently reminded me that time is one of our most sacred gifts. Are we spending it on the things that are important?


If the cows are watered and fed and it’s dinner time, I’ll head home. The rest can wait until tomorrow.


Ranch Right LLC

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