Skip to content

RANCH MUSINGS: Sharing the risk of ranch business decisions

Enjoying the teamwork is the watchword of a happy farming and ranching business and lifestyle
Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File photo)

By David Zirnhelt


This summer is a renewed experience for me since I am more fully sharing in the decisions about the haying and other operations.

As our place is in transition to the next generation, my wife and I are experiencing some of the “letting go” of the shouldered responsibilities for the outcomes of important aspects of the ranch’s operations.

As legal ownership transfers to our offspring, so do the rights and responsibilities of the “ownership” of the land and the caretaking of the range and hay licenses.

Most importantly, legal “ownership” is broader than a legal reality. The sense of ownership is taking responsibility for actions on the land, specifically where and when to do things. Take for example the decision to cut hay looking at forecasts of possible rain or showers.

How much hay could be devalued by some rain and how much labour and machine time will it take to prevent or recover a crop from being spoiled.

During this last hot spell, some of our family was away on planned holidays on the coast.

It was a new experience for us older folks who, in the past, would wait patiently for the right weather to get our hay up. Actually holidaying while there was hay to process, can you believe?

We have a small family chat group so those who were away could get updates and give input into decisions about what to do in the fields on a daily basis.

Of course family members who were home made the decisions based on the situation in the field and their reading of the weather.

Knowing that there would be a lot of hay to bale when we got home was motivating for us to return home on the tentative date planned when our one week vacation was booked. Others who were home working at their day jobs as well as haying had put down a sizable amount of hay to dry.

It was a collective decision which did not impact the enjoyment of holidays of those who were away. In fact those away (us) could relax knowing that the haying weather was being utilized by the operation.

A collective shouldering of the risks is necessary as we, the older generation, let go of those responsibilities we no longer can shoulder. In short, we can’t get all the work done ourselves, but can enjoy a less risky way of making decisions.

If a decision results in a poor outcome, we have company in our “misery.” At this point it seems there is only upside to sharing. If we have hay out and the decision to cut, rake and bale, then pending rain can kick the broader ownership team into action to get the hay under cover.

Enjoying the teamwork is the watchword of a happy farming and ranching business and lifestyle.

“Amen, y’all.”

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.