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Cattle Rancher

The Real Poop

You have fond memories of your tenth birthday, when your parents gave you a cowboy hat and a rope you later used to lasso and then hog-tie your little brother. You spent hours with that hat and rope, pretending you were a cowboy on the open range. You rode an imaginary horse, herded imaginary cattle, survived imaginary stampedes, and sang melancholy tunes while eating imaginary beans beside an imaginary campfire.

Of course, as a city kid, the closest you ever came to an actual cow was the time you watched your uncle—a lean, recalcitrant rancher with a fondness for plaid shirts—and a few of his hands castrate calves. You recall that you and your cousins played a particularly messy game called "dodgeballs" afterward.

Today's ranchers, for the most part, don't spend their lives the way the cowboys of yore did. You're as likely to find them at a desk or in a truck as in a saddle. They don't stare moodily off into the distance with a gun on each hip and a lovelorn Miss Kitty on their arm. Instead, American ranchers are, first and foremost, businessmen: They raise and sell the cows, pigs, and sheep that go on to become the steak, pork loin, and lamb chops that grace your kitchen table. Mmm, steak.

While ranching may have been romantic in the days of the Old West (or so most John Wayne Westerns would have us believe), it isn't now. Even young people who grow up in ranching families are often compelled today to go to college and get four-year degrees in animal science. Technological advances and the outsized influence exerted by agribusiness corporations require ranchers to be familiar with even the most esoteric aspects of animal husbandry and agricultural economics. If you want to be a rancher, just knowing how to herd your product from Point A to Point B isn't enough anymore.

That said, experience is still key to making it as a rancher, as is a talent for planning ahead. The ranching business is normally rife with unexpected obstacles, any of which could result in financial disaster for a rancher. For example, predicting the worst blizzard in a century several years in advance is impossible, but a practical rancher is always prepared for Snowmaggedon.

You might think there are a lot of perks to being a rancher, but there aren't. Ranchers work all the time; vacations and weekends are for people who spend their days in a cubicle, tapping away at a computer keyboard. The job is stressful, and you'll probably end up bruised and on your butt in the dirt on a fairly regular basis. Insolvency often seems like it's a breath away…and, in truth, it probably is.

The one huge pro to ranching is the same one that has existed since the cowboy first made his appearance in the West more than a century ago: Ranchers are hot. There's nothing quite as attractive as a strong, silent man who's close to the land and knows his way around the inside of a cow. As for the lady ranchers, any woman who can teach her beloved horse to Tebow must be something special.