Note: This post is a bit lengthy, but well worth the read. I hope you’ll take the time do so.
I have been going to a guest ranch called The Home Ranch in Clark, Colorado for about the last 15 years or so.
It has always been a great experience for me. It is a very nice place. They have real nice cabins to stay in, the best food you could ever imagine, and lots of outdoor activities to participate in with the main one being horseback riding. They also provide entertainment of the indoor variety with music and a barn dance.
Ken Jones was the manager and partner that hired me to do a horse clinic the first time I went. He was very interested in horsemanship and at the time had several different clinics every year with a mix of folks sharing knowledge.
Ken was a lot of fun and really was a great manager of the ranch. I really admired the way he stayed traditional and always promoted the western way with lots of style.
He had been at it a long time and decided to get out. I owe Ken a lot for all the good he brought me and my family by bringing us to the Home Ranch. Besides that he is one heck of a left handed roper.
The next and present manager was Johnny Fisher. He has quite a different style of management, and the ranch is evolving quite nicely.
The first thing he told me was that the Home Ranch was not about horses, but about people. He was a guy that enjoyed horsemanship for himself, but told me the people that could afford to come to the Home Ranch were interested in lifestyle and getting what they were paying for. His number one focus was to give people what they needed, not what he wanted them to need.
I never discussed business much with Ken (the first manager), we always discussed horse stuff.
The thing I learned is you can have two very different people managing the same operation and get great results. You will lose some clients, but you will gain some.
The next person I have observed during my time is Clyde, the head chef. You can’t believe the things they do with food around that place. At breakfast they squeeze oranges to make orange juice, make all the pastries, and will cook you any thing you want. Lunch, or what I call dinner is probably my favorite. Plenty of fresh salads, and always something on the grill, from quail to salmon to burgers and brats. Dinner or what I call supper is pretty fancy and you may even eat soup that is cold (It’s supposed to be). I have eaten things I can’t pronounce, but it sure was good. Clyde and I have not had much conversation in the last 15 years, but I really enjoy and admire his skill and dedication to high quality and low waste. He and his staff are incredible and really bring much pleasure (and weight) to lots of people.
After a couple of years with Johnny, he could tell I did not really fit the program. He and my wife, Tammy, came up with a new program, yoga and horsemanship. It fit way better than what I was doing. The program that they have developed is great and many lives have really been improved with the yoga and horsemanship week.
My time at the Home Ranch has now turned into the Weanling Week. Gordon Jessman from Canada brings a load of weanling horses down and the guests get to halter break and prepare them for the auction, which is an annual event at the Home Ranch. Gord and myself as well as the wranglers at the ranch help and I auction the sale at the end of the week. I truly enjoy working with the babies and have way to much fun with Gord.
As I mentioned I have observed many changes over the years at the Home Ranch. Remember, most of the folks that go to the ranch have money. The trends and thoughts I hear at the Home Ranch are most likely from the top of the money folks in this country.
The new thing evolving at the Home Ranch is growing and raising their own food. They are raising grass-fed beef, finishing hogs on the ranch, and have put in a huge greenhouse and outdoor garden. The guests love the concept of the food being all “Home” grown.
Now the interesting thing to me is why people are willing to pay a lot of money to spend a week doing what ranch folks do everyday. The food is a big part of it, and the activities are great, but I feel the true reason people go to the Home Ranch is because the fast pace life that they have all been sucked into goes away. Johnny and Ken both kept it real and honest. They actually in a way get paid to keep these folks living the ranch lifestyle for a week of someone’s life. We in agriculture should be careful not to get sucked into the fast paced crazy world that people pay to get out of. Stop and smell the alfalfa and cow manure.
Of course I can’t think of something without involving animal care, so here is something for you to think about. Lets compare the Home Ranch for people to a feedlot for cattle.
To get to the Home Ranch, many people must fly. They are sorted, poked, and shoved through security, put into waiting areas, then loaded on a plane (which are way to tight in my opinion, and for me not enough leg room). If you have no experience or training on flying, it can be very stressful.
To get to a feedlot, cattle are trucked. They are sorted and hopefully not poked or shoved into holding pens, put into holding pens, then loaded properly. If the driver follows trucker quality guidelines there should be no turbulence and the cattle should have plenty of room to ride comfortably.
The first commingling at the Home Ranch for me is always very stressful. Everyone meets in a room with drinks and fancy food that I don’t quite know how to eat, or even what some of the things are. It makes me nervous being forced to be around all these people I don’t know and talking about things I am not sure about. About the time I am going to break and run they open the door to the dining room and everyone heads for the door. Dinner is served family style so if you are thinking you pick someone you know and enjoy being around to eat with. My wife is real good at all the social stuff, so I rely on her to keep my stress level down.
After we all get situated everyone seems to be more comfortable, and when food starts being served, life is good. After a fine meal and conversation and interaction on a more personal level, I am ready to go to bed and get a good nights rest so I can get up and enjoy the next day which I spend eating, relaxing, being around people I enjoy, staying away from the ones I don’t enjoy, eating some more, getting some exercise or doing something fun, and then eating some more before bedding down to rest for the next days activity, in which I am now looking forward to.
When a calf arrives at the feedlot, he may be under some stress from the trip in, just like many people that had trouble with lost luggage or delays. If the airline does their job correctly and the weather cooperates it goes well and there is not much stress. If the livestock handlers and truckers do their job correctly the calf has a minimum of stress. If the guest seems to be stressed when they arrive, Salina at the check in is very good at taking the stress off. If she were to make it difficult or added more stress to the guest, the stay may not be as enjoyable and the guest may not enjoy themselves. A lack of pleasure will make guests not want to come back or tell others about the Home Ranch, so it is very important to take the stress off and make the guest feel comfortable.
We need to have this same policy when a beef animal is trucked and commingled into a new home. We can work with the animal in a way that calms the animal down and takes the stress off. This can be done by putting them into a pen that is big enough to move away from animals they don’t feel comfortable with, but still allows them to stay with the other animals to keep them from fence walking and getting them to eat and drink.
If we get control of the calves we can place them at the bunk and get them eating. The food may be a little fancy (feedlot nutritionists are gourmet chefs for cows) so it may take them a little bit to get used to it, but once they get started they will like it. If they are not encouraged to try it they may not eat properly and start to not feel good which leads to them not having as good of experience as they should. Just like the guest ranch, the feedlot will benefit its cattle (the guest) by taking the time to get the animals comfortable and then eating, drinking and sleeping.
If the guests at the Home Ranch were only eating, drinking and sleeping, after a while no matter how nice the bedding was and how great the food and drink satisfied, there would be un-contentment at the ranch. People need something to do.
Maybe this is something that is missing in the feed yard. Activity is very important for people’s health and contentment. Animals on the range have the activity of making a living by grazing. When they go to the feedlot, they need rest from the stress off the trip, but will soon need some activity to stay healthy and content. Just something to think about …
You must be very careful when you put human thoughts on animals. I think this is called anthropomorphism. I am not saying the same things precisely are needed to make animals and humans happy and content, but in a general way we have the same basic needs. Humans work to get enough money for this life and create choices through hard and smart work. The more money they have the more choices they can make. Domesticated animals are under our care so we make the lifestyle choices for them. It is important that we understand what the animal needs to give it a high quality of life. Beef cattle are in-the-moment thinkers and I don’t have any real evidence that they plan ahead or even think in the future. They seem happy when they have plenty to eat, companionship, nothing threatening their safety, and a comfortable environment.
The dust and the smell at a feed yard are not enjoyable to me. If you put cattle in a pen next to the pasture and leave access available to them they will spend the majority of the time in the pen eating at the bunk or laying on the manure mound. They will go out in the pasture a couple times a day, graze a little then come back to the pen. This tells me they enjoy the environment of the pen, even though I don’t.
The trouble in the feed yard is when we have weather extremes. Heat with humidity can cause cattle to die in the feedlot. In some areas of the U.S. every year we have this problem. We need to do something about it. Shade and water systems are needed. Mud is a huge discomfort to cattle. We need to figure out ways to get mud-free zones for cattle to rest in during the mud season. Snow and cold with no shelter is inhumane if the animal is forced to stay in it with no way out. If we put a fence around we should provide them what they could get themselves if the fence was not there. Technology and new products have made it much more practical to give the animals the comfort they deserve, but we must overcome old paradigms and use this new technology.
The employees at the Home Ranch work real hard to create a great experience for the guest. They have learned to give people what they want and sometimes need. It is not easy work and week after week of seeing the same old thing can get frustrating. It is not an easy job and the conditions for the employees are not the same as for the guest.
As I said earlier I don’t enjoy the environment at the feedyard. It is most always tough conditions for the people working with the cattle. The cattle may be in the shade, out off the wind and moisture but the handler or caregiver of the animal is not. Pen riders are like wranglers at the Home Ranch. They must meet the needs of the cattle, no matter the conditions.
I don’t recall many conversations I have had discussing cattle production with Home Ranch guests that they did not criticize feedlots. To most people they seem like a terrible place for cattle. From a human point of view they don’t look too good, and how could they if that is the only point of view you know. If this way of thinking by the consumer continues and increases, the consumer will demand another style of production. I am a firm believer that the customer creates the trends in the industry, and from most of the people I am in contact with outside of agriculture, they have a negative view of a feedlot.
The Home Ranch is a great place because they give people everything they could need. The management is the reason they are so good. I have been to other guest ranches that the food was not up to my liking, the horses were not safe for the skill level of rider, and the employees did not have the discipline to suck it up and give the guest what they had paid for.
If a feed yard is managed properly I feel it can be a great place place for a beef animal to be. If my thought of the animal being in the moment, and not knowing the concept of death is true then I am going to declare the feedlot industry to be the “guest ranch” for cattle.
I hope all guest ranches will use The Home Ranch as the bench mark for quality. They truly do improve quality of life for their guests.
~ Curt Pate