Columnist David Zirnhelt discusses the generational importance of building up a ranch.

Columnist David Zirnhelt discusses the generational importance of building up a ranch.

COLUMNS: Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither is a ranch

This is about legacies of “retiring” ranchers and what it feels like to plan the future.

This is about legacies of “retiring” ranchers and what it feels like to plan the future of a couple’s holdings and business, which will become “owned” by someone else.

My wife (partner) and I hope that our life’s work will be taken over by the next generation, as do many of us at retirement age.

We can’t work as hard as we used to and ranching takes a lot of work. Working smarter is good in theory for those with a more nimble brain, but it doesn’t work when we are aging (ossifying) in the brain department.

Not everyone is in the same place with respect to whether their life’s work is done or is still in progress. In our case the ranch is a work in progress.

Many writers have commented that it takes more than one or two generations to build a farm or ranch, especially if you start from scratch and don’t take over a going concern.

Rome was built as a legacy to a civilization and an empire. It took a long time and you might say it is still being built or rebuilt.

Our ranch is now just getting some of the facilities and infrastructure that makes the work easier. But everyday when I am home I see things to do and have projects underway.

“Enough already” say you and our next generation. But we reply we are running the place now with the education of the grandchildren in mind. Grandpa (me) wants to help the kids learn to ride horses, work cattle and steward the land.

Grandma wants them all to know about food production and eating healthily. Why else would there be such a large garden on the place?

So I will be out there pounding posts for yet another pasture to keep the horses close to home for ease of catching and riding, as the weekends are short for us and the children.

You might say as I do that the varied work is like an exercise program and a hobby at the same time. I am doing exactly what I would be doing if I were retired.

People our age (seventy or so) are doing the succession planning quite late in our careers.

This planning is best done when the inheritors (hopefully for many of us, our children) of the land and business legacy, still have time and energy to put their stamp on this legacy.

Of course it doesn’t matter to us when we are “pushing up daisies and hawkweed” what becomes of the land. What will matter is the soft legacy of the family culture.

Culture is what we do and believe and what values we hold and exemplify. Ownership of land, property and money may be written in stone in our plans, legally protected.

For me, I believe that laws may be needed in our civilization to protect both individual and collective property, but what really counts is the resiliency of people’s culture to adapt to whatever comes our away as challenges in operating the business and caretaking the land and livestock.

Family legacy, then, is broader than the land, the infrastructure and the livestock. It is about relationships in the family and what is left when the land is disposed of however that happens.

How we resolve legacy issues in the family is as important as what we resolve about devolving ownership.

I am sure all of our generation will have some of the same feelings like letting go and feeling the absence of ownership when we pass on the land. However the up side is that really it is for the successors to take ownership, making choices and living with those choices.

Sometimes when I contemplate the fact that this land I am still working may soon not be ours (my wife and mine), then I feel a loss. So I grieve a little and realize that the torch of building is passed to the next generation as it should be.

Hope springs from doing the best we can to equip the next generation to take over and write their story and build their own legacy for our grandchildren.

This is easily said but harder done.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.

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