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The Average Age of the Montana Rancher12 February, 2018
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BY Kamrie Smith
Ranch wife, and Real Estate Agent with Clearwater Montana Properties
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Kamrie Smith

58.91 as of March 2015 – that’s the average age of the Montana rancher. Let that sink in for a second. Arguably one of the most physically demanding jobs in the U.S. is operated by men and women at the age that they would normally be preparing to retire. Sure, the industry is evolving with the help of modernized equipment and technology, but there are still many chores around the farm and ranch in which equipment could never replace the human body.

For instance; tight spaces like corrals require sorting and chasing the cattle on foot. Some fields are not appropriately shaped to accommodate a less labor-intensive pivot or wheel line, so changing hand line once or twice a day during the irrigation months can be demanding work. Salt blocks and mineral tubs must be placed out for the cows regularly depending on the time of year, which can range from 50-250 pounds each.   Photo credit: Kamrie Smith

And as far as I know, there hasn't yet been a robot invented that can mend fence, let alone in the extreme temperatures Montana is known for!

Not all jobs can be done from the warmth of the shop or house, nor with the power of a tractor. In the warmer months, most ranchers send their herd into the high country to graze. Horses are commonly necessary to chase the cattle to the grazing permit area, and then gather and retrieve them in the fall.

This requires many hours in the saddle. Said terrain can be too rough for four-wheelers to access, or that particular area may not allow motorized vehicles to go off-road. The grueling 24/7 job of calving season takes its toll on all ages.

Photo: Kamrie Smith

So where are our younger agricultural entrepreneurs? From my experience I have seen a lot of young people raised in the industry that lose interest as they attend college and branch off on their own paths.

On the reverse side, I see some who fall in love with the lifestyle and can't see themselves doing anything else.

Additionally, it is increasingly difficult to get into the business if you were not born into it. Just the land, equipment and cattle can cost millions of dollars. No lender that I know of will hand out that kind of financing to a 20 or 30-year-old, who may not have a lot of credit built up or savings for a down payment. That said, there are some programs offered by the State for individuals that may be able to help with this problem.

There is a season for everything and keeping that cycle on course takes skill and years of knowledge, best learned from childhood and pounded into your head by a parent, grandparent or other mentor. Your cattle are your paycheck and keeping them healthy, well conformed, and of good reputation is a must. Photo: Kamrie Smith

So, what can you do to help keep the American rancher alive? First of all, eat local/Montana/US beef. Secondly, (and this goes for farmers/ranchers as well as anyone who owns real estate) please make sure you see a financial advisor and do estate planning!

I know that it is no one's favorite subject, but even if you are young and healthy, it is an important step in securing what you have worked so hard for. Involving youth in programs such as 4-H and FFA is a great way to teach lifelong skills and possibly spark interest for a future career. It is imperative that we keep young, fresh faces coming into the business, as the rancher is not only a strong part of our State's history, but a vital part of today's economy.


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