I had a very interesting situation shape up that took place last week.
A few months ago, I was contacted and asked to give a stockmanship presentation for a conference in Lewistown, Montana. It was not a demonstration but a talk, and for the American Prairie Reserve. I thought it was a great idea as it was just an hour and a half from home. I like giving stockmanship presentations for grazing organizations.
As the time for the program got closer and they must have started advertising, I started getting emails and phone calls from folks that are against what the American Prairie Reserve is doing. They were all very professional in their opposition, but didn’t think I should be associated with the group.
First off I didn’t know what the group was, I thought it was a livestock grazing association. Second, I have never been into the political side of agriculture and can’t be because of my goals as a teacher of stockmanship. Third, I had given my word that I would present and I would not go back on my word. I would have said yes even if I had known, as I will present my thoughts on stockmanship to anyone who will listen, as I believe in it and want to help people and animals.
I was very nervous about all of it though. The title of the conference was “Living With Wildlife “ and that was a whole different topic that I was normally used to presenting.
So when I got there I was more nervous than normal, and the first thing I saw was a livestock trailer and a pickup with round bale and sign “Save the Cowboy” as a protest to the organization I was working for.
The ironic thing is the last time I had presented at the Yogo Inn, I had presented stockmanship to the very people that owned the trucks and were against this group.
I sat in on some sessions and learned some things about predator/human interaction and there were people on both sides trying to figure out solutions for livestock producers and wildlife enthusiasts to come up with for each to get what they needed. Not an easy subject.
Well it ends up I’m the keynote after dinner speaker. As always I had no power point presentation and really no plan of where my talk was headed. I let the presentations and the people I listened to around me set it up in my mind what my talk was going to be.
I have always followed the advice I heard many years ago from David Nelson with Purina Mills fame.
The Three E’s. Educate, entertain, and touch people’s emotions. If you can do that your speaking engagement will be a success, and that’s what I always try to do. I stepped up there with my best Greeley hat, a vest and a neck scarf, and I don’t know if I am a cowboy, but I think I at least looked like one. The first thing I said is I am involved in and believe in production agriculture. The next thing I said is I had presented to the folks that we in protest of this conference.
I used some humor and humility to get everyone relaxed and having fun.
I then related this experience that I had been a part of.
When I worked for Sieben Ranch Co there were two government trappers that would take care of predators that became a problem on the ranch. Just before Easter or sometime I had a mountain lion causing problems. I told the boss and they contacted the trappers, Jim Stevens and Carter Niemeyer. They didn’t wait, but came on the holiday and got the lion. They were so good and really cared about the rancher and really helped me learn how to manage for less loss and conflict with coyotes and mountain lions.
Cater became a very well known wolf biologist and a big part of the reintroduction efforts of the wolf in Yellowstone National Park. He also was a consultant for the Nicholas Evans(author of the “Horse Wisperer”) book “The Loop”. I new him as a guy that had helped me and the ranch I worked for and he would do whatever it took to protect out livestock and had seen him do it many times.
I got to know Conrad Burns at the Jordan Match Bronc riding as he and Taylor Brown announced and auctioned the Calcutta. When he was running for the US Senate I was announcing rodeos and ended up spending a lot of time with him. He has been friends with Wife Tammy’s Mother for many years. He was an old time get er done how ever you need to politician, and would do whatever he had to for the rancher and farmer. I really liked him and got a big kick out of how he campaigned and served.
One day I was flying from Helena to somewhere. I was standing there visiting with Carter Niemeyer as he was on the flight. We were visiting and up walks Conrad Burns and shakes my hand and asks how everyone is. I asked him if he knew Carter and he doesn’t miss a beat and says yes he knows this wolf loving son of a bitch!
I’ve got to look up to Carter to visit with him. I had to bend my neck down to visit with Conrad. He Banty Roostered there for a minute and then went on.
I got such a big kick out of it. As luck would have it I was behind them and they both ended up sitting across the isle from each other and Conrad gave it to him the whole ride. When we deplaned I was walking with Carter and asked if he got his mind changed and he said he didn’t even try.
The lesson was that these issues between ranchers and the rest of the public are very difficult as they create a behavior that is the same behavior we are trying to overcome in animal handling. You can force animals to do things, but you are much more apt to create conflict and give up some success, whereas if you can change an animals mind and make it his idea or at least resist a little less, the chance for success is much better.
I new Carter as a friend of the rancher and had received help from him to make the ranch I worked on succeed. Conrad’s only thought was as an enemy to the rancher as a wolf lover. I think it was a case of two people very passionate about the job they were given, but didn’t have the right pressure to work together, so they just were in conflict and forcing the issue up the chute with a hot shot if you know what I mean.
I spoke of lots of other little story’s and examples to make my points. I felt good about the talk and I think I made it easier for the people that are not involved with agriculture to see our point of view and not be offended. I enjoyed visiting with them after and got some nice compliments. I don’t think there were people there trying to ruin or steal or whatever. Just people trying to solve and understand a problem, and use the land for what THEY think is right.
I’m glad I spoke.
The next morning I went to breakfast at a local restaurant. I heard the coffee talk table commenting on the trucks with the banners. From what I could get out of their conversation was that they didn’t necessarily like what the American Prairie Reserve was doing, but they figured if they had the money and someone wanted to sell to them they had every right to buy it.
I’m just telling you what I heard. We all have our wants and needs. My mother and Stepfather went broke in the area in the 80’s because they paid to much for land and interest. Someone else ended up with it. That’s the way it is. Supply and demand.
So we have a conflict that I ended up in the middle of. I have not even really given thought to who is right or who is wrong. What I have given thought to is is what pressure to use to make progress. I would much rather be halving them tipped back in their chair listening and enjoying my thoughts and having a chance of understanding my point of view just as I will have a better chance to see things from theirs, rather than fighting and protesting.
I feel it is the exact same thing I do when I am riding my horse away from the barn. He might not want to go, but I try to change his mind and get him to decide to go, and pretty soon he understands. I could whip him down the leg and spur him in the belly and if I’m handy enough to ride him through it he might leave the barn pretty fast. But what if I can’t win and he learns how much power he has and how weak I am?
When I got back home I went to help Son Rial move back home. I got to hold “Neo” the new grandson for the first time as last time I saw him I was sick.
I got the same feeling as when I held his Dad the first time 28 years ago. I had a long ride home to think about it.
We have been in the “cowboy” business in my family for a long time and many generations. If he chooses I hope this boy will carry right on with it. I think the world is very different than when my grandfathers were cowboys, and I think it will be much different when Neo gets the chance. So I really agree that we need to “Save the Cowboy” but feel we really need to be careful how we go about it.
The world is changing. It’s changing faster now than ever before. If we can’t go with the change and help create the change the way we will benefit most we lose. Don’t fight a battle you can’t win. Do the right thing for your Grandchildren and Mine, the “Cowboys” of the future.