Stand up. Stand out. Horns optional.

Most ranchers have a favorite cow. We know this is a bad idea; choosing a favorite often means she’ll come up open, show up lame, or fall victim to a phantom illness reserved only for favorites. Favorites are even known to get undeserved second chances resulting in added expense, headache, or both.

Yet, favorites happen.

While I like some cows more than others in each of our herds, my favorite sticks out like a sore thumb and is about as useful as one. Though she bears no real name, she gets called plenty. You see, my favorite is our Longhorn.

Longhorn cow on the Blum Ranch in central South Dakota.
When you aren’t born to fit in, stand up, and stand out.

From the tips of her curved horns to the bottom of her white speckled coat, nothing about her fits our ranch, which is precisely why I like her. I like her so much I declare our Longhorn my
“spirit animal” for 2019. Perhaps she’s yours too.

This cow doesn’t fit in when it comes to conformation or eye appeal. She isn’t raising show ring champions or market toppers. While she’s a gregarious animal by nature, she doesn’t seek company for the sake of being in a group.

She also doesn’t have to.

Every year, she earns her keep. Her crossbred calves wean well, feed efficiently, and yield a premium via custom marketing channels. She has just enough attitude to be an easy, hands-off keeper but is gentle enough to be handled when necessary. She can independently care for herself and protect her offspring but doesn’t refuse help to do either.

Our Longhorn is unbothered by other cows that don’t think she belongs at the bunk. Instead of slinking away like some of our more docile bovine, she matter-of-factly uses the blunt tips of her horns to remind them she knows her place. The quick learners only need taught this lesson once.

Yep, silly as it might be to some folks, I want to be like her.

If our Longhorn was a rancher, I think she’d be the kind who keeps up with trends and top performers but does the best with what she has until she can do better.

I think she’d be proud of her history and traditions yet adaptable to new environments and ways of work. She’d live in the middle of the road and dabble in untraveled ditches.

As a person, I think the ole girl would be the type others notice and admire even if they felt intimidated by her steely gaze. She’d probably be the kind of person who quietly helped others but not at the expense of her own well-being.

If our Longhorn was human, I imagine she’d get laughed at or looked down upon by some who believe she is less, too different, even antiquated. She would feel the sting of their small-minded disdain. Then, she would use the feeling as motivation to hold her head high. And, if those who deemed her less tried to push her out or demean her purpose, she’d pointedly use the unique tools God gave her to hold her own.

She’d fight for her place at the table.

That’s why I like her so much. I see this misfit Longhorn hold her own in the pasture and at the bunks. She quietly does the job she was created to do, and I am reminded of the purpose in each of us.

Of course, our Longhorn isn’t human. She is merely a favorite cow I’ve personified for illustration purposes, and yes, I know the dangers of personifying animals.

But, there’s a lesson here for all of us.

The reality in rural America can be harsh. Suicide rates are increasing and alarming. Pressure to attain buzzterms like sustainable or transformative or regenerative agriculture is real and growing. Disconnected consumers, rising input costs, generational transitions—you know the list. Throw in the rarely discussed but widely known grinding wheels within our own industry, and it can all feel like an uphill battle with no victor in sight.

Yet, we must not despair.

There’s room at the proverbial table, and each of us must take our place. As agriculturalists, the table is ours. We must hold our heads high. We must let our own perceived shortcomings fuel our growth.

Just as our Longhorn doesn’t bring the same value to our ranch as some of the other cows, I don’t bring the same strengths to our ranch as my husband. I do, however, bring strength. The same is true for you.

Maybe I’m the only one who needs this reminder. I hope that’s the case, but I’ve been around. I listen and watch.

If we individually realize and embrace our uniqueness, our strengths—then collectively gather around the table we not only built but also set—we can hold our own. Each of us brings value to agriculture’s present and future.

Whether you’re a commercial cowboy, purebred cattleman, diversified rancher, or something in between, it’s time to realize we need each other. Our differences can make us stronger as an industry. If we use our horns as gentle reminders and not weapons for power, our industry and livelihood will prosper.

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really GREAT make you feel that you, too, can BECOME GREAT.”

Mark Twain

About thewritingrancher

I'm passionate, driven, and dedicated to my family. Connecting with people through my writing brings me joy and purpose while leaving a legacy for my children. Cheers to "Writing for the Brand"!
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