Category Archives: Life Lessons

Stockmen of the past

My life has been a life learning about livestock from cattlemen, cowboys, cow buyers,rodeo stock contractors, rodeo coaches, rodeo cowboys, butchers, hog farmers, sheep herders, sheep farmers, dairy farmers, auction market operators, and more I can’t remember.  This was all before I was thirty years old.  I not only learned about livestock, but also about all kinds of different styles of management of many types of agricultural operations.

I went to college on a rodeo scholarship and took animal science classes.  I did not last a whole year. There were lots of reasons, but the main one I think of now is I felt I could learn more from my family at home.  It might of also been because I was about to flunk out. Since that time I have always been on a livestock operation and can’t imagine not.

I barely remember a man named Dan Buck.  He was a brand inspector that gave me my first real lass rope.  I have heard lots of stories about him.  He was a very different person and had many different ideas about how livestock should be handled.  I wish I would of known him better.

There is also an Indian fellow named Bill LaFromboise from Helena, Montana that I have known all my life.  He has a very special way with livestock and I have seen him do some amazing things with animals that I wish I could understand.

Curly Atkinson was a sheep herder and livestock man that was kind of a legend to me when I was young.  He worked for Sieben Livestock who had a feedlot next to our place and my mother cooked for him sometimes.  She and my grandfather had great respect for his abilities.  I could go on and on about the great stockmen and horsemen I was influenced by either through stories or actually working with them, but I will not.

I am pretty sure if you have been around livestock much you know what I am talking about.
My first big influence and inspiration was a fellow named Butch Anderson, as far as doing things different and working with an animals mind.  He also worked for Sieben Livestock.  I spent a whole bunch of time with him. Fom calving heifers to catching horses to working with dogs, Butch taught me to take a very different approach.

These great stockmen were just a few in the Helena, Montana area, and there are many more I haven’t mentioned.  I have been told so many stories about folks that were special with livestock all over the country. The common theme that I have seen with people that are good stockmen is that is all they have ever done.

The horsemen and stockmen instructors of the day are great at helping people that don’t get to work with livestock all the time.  The world has changed in the way we need to work stock and the modern day instructor is helping to get this done.

If you were raised on a big ranch and left you did not see all the good hands that were getting the job done while you were not interested.  If you are new to livestock you have no way to know all the top stockmen that have been in the area, so naturally you go to the knowledge that is available.

But let’s not forget the men and women of the past that have dedicated themselves to the care and handling of livestock.  From the Texas trail drivers of the 1880’s to the shepherds of Biblical times to the yak herders in Mongolia, I am pretty certain there have been a few good ones in all the livestock that have been handled through time.  It seems a little arrogant to think otherwise.

So on my part, I am sharing things I have learned through my life from good and bad stockmen.  When I give a live demo or write something it is partly how all these experiences have influenced me.  So thank you to all the folks that have shared the skills of a stockman with me.  If you have been dedicated to livestock all your life and have skills share it with others.

It really bothers me when people say that the stockman of yesterday are not up to par with today’s names in teaching horse and livestock handling.  When I give a demo or talk publicly about dealing with animals, in my mind all of the great influences of my past are a part of it. This is a huge responsibility and I don’t take it lightly.

Ballie Buck was a great stockman in our area.  He was kin to the before mentioned Dan Buck. There is a book I would recommend (available on Amazon) titled What the Cow Said to the Calf. The name of the book comes from Charlie Russell saying now there’s an Indian that knows what the cow said to the calf.

That kind of says it all about total stockmanship.  We should all try to understand “what the cow said to the calf.”  I will try to keep learning and sharing ways to get there.

~ Curt Pate

Trying to be someone else

I have been watching and participating in horse and livestock handling seminars for a long time.  One of the fascinating things to me is how some of the teachers have such a huge presence and how the followers go from following the craft or skill to making every decision and thought on what the guru would do.

The ones that seem to have the most presence are the ones that are the harshest on the students.  For some reason this seems to create a need to please, and so some seem to worship them to try to get their approval.  I don’t get it.

I always hear statements like I will never be half as good as so and so was.  Why not? And why would you try to compare it on a certain level?  Until you start competing at a competition, it is not about being better than someone else, but to improve your own skill level to the level you are willing or capable of achieving.

In my own situation, I got caught up in this.  I was so enamored by the new skills I was learning and thought it was the greatest thing ever.  After awhile I started to see that I was getting ego-based results that impressed folks and myself.  After some time I started seeing my actions were getting results, but the animals I was working with were not as content with it as I was.  I think I may be a little over sensitive to animals sometimes, so it helped me to question if what I was doing was right.  I felt I was physically doing things one way, but talking about it another.  Just because you have the feel-good words to describe what you are doing, it does not mean you are giving the animal you are working with the best deal.

I watched a real good fellow in the horse industry for several years struggle.  He was an apprentice under a real popular horse guru.  When he finally quit using that person’s name and started doing his own thing, his horsemanship really improved. He went from trying to get work to having more than he can handle. He was able to help a lot more people.  He and his mentor are still friends, but now I think he is helping his mentor with some things.  Isn’t that great?  It’s great on both accounts.  The student for improving and the teacher for still wanting to learn more.

I like to use the greats to inspire me to do things I did not know were possible.  I am no longer interested in ego-based animal interaction. Though I still fall off the wagon once in a while. What I am interested in is learning how to work with animals to improve humans’ quality of life without diminishing the animals’ quality of life.  There are limits to what we can ask of animals to do for us.  We can put the line out there much farther if we learn to work with the animals in a better way, but there is a line.

This is what I think the truly great animal communicators can do for us.  Inspire us.  Help us to not make unneeded mistakes.  Save us time in our learning.

So be yourself, have a strong desire to improve yourself to what you want to be, and don’t be afraid to not do what everyone else is doing.  If everyone is doing it, it may be the easy way out. You will be comfortable because you fit in, but it may not be the best way.

For it to be the best for you, it has to be you not someone else.

~ Curt Pate

I am real proud of my daughter, Mesa.  She grew up being exposed to some really influential horse clinicians.  She has the desire to be the best at what SHE wants to be.  The subject this week is being yourself and Mesa is the poster child!

~ Curt Pate

mesa WH cover


Farm Bill

Everyone sure seems happy the farm bill got passed.  I don’t know anything about what is in it and don’t really care.

The thing that I would be interested in is people’s attitude about how important it is to agriculturalists’ success.

I had some real good things set up in my morals when I was younger.

First my grandfather Leonard Frank was really against borrowing money.  It was not the borrowing that he did not like, but he felt by working and saving and starting small and growing you grew your skill ahead of your business and therefore could maintain and improve the business.  The farther along I get in this life I am seeing how smart he really was (ornery, but smart).

My father Tex Pate was very good at seeing a good business and then learning how to make it work.  He was not afraid to borrow money, but was real serious about getting out of debt.

Lee Pitts had a big impact on me as we got his paper The Livestock Digest. He was outspoken about things in the beef industry and I liked his philosophy at the time when I was just starting to think about things in the cattle industry.

Then I read a book titled The Time It Never Rained by Elmer Kelton.  It is a tragic book about the drought in the 50’s.  Charlie Flagg is the main character, and he is very set in his ways and does not believe in government programs.

I totally agree.  When you put your hand out to the government to pay or partially pay for something it will most likely cost you money or effect your business negatively somehow, but it is just so hard to turn down something that appears to be for nothing.  This is a thing that is very hard to see, especially when everyone is justifying it.  Nothing is for nothing.

Most of us know there will be a drought in whatever part of the country you live in.  Before all the assistance programs you kept your numbers down, and the feed reserves up just in case, or were willing to sell animals to match available feed.  When we started getting disaster assistance it changed the grazing programs, cattle numbers, land prices, age of ranchers, type of equipment, number of auction markets, added to the national debt,  and caused a ripple effect across the entire cattle industry.

From what I see we have become a nation that lives beyond our means and our country can’t support all the things we all think we are entitled too.  This goes from farmers to auto manufacturers to folks that have lost their job.  I would be willing to bet this is going to change.  It has to and it should.

I learned this the hard way.  I got into a situation that I had to make a payment on a grazing operation based on paying for it as the cattle grazed.  A very extreme drought caused us to reduce numbers and remove cattle early.  It did not cover the mortgage and it’s a good thing I had another income.  I was sold on a deal that couldn’t lose.  But in the back of my mind I could hear my Grandpa saying, “You had to be a big shot.”

Like I have said before when I share an opinion if you don’t feel the same that’s fine with me. These are just my thoughts and it really is not that big of a deal to me if you agree or disagree. I don’t farm the government and never have.  I got a check for $700 dollars and tore it up and threw itin the garbage. I had no idea what it was for. I also let a neighbor talk me into letting him get some money from the government for some farming he did for me. The money came to me and I gave the check to him, but I did not like it.

This is a really tough deal.  Every one says how tough it is to make it these days in agriculture. I disagree.  It is really tough to make it these days if you go borrow money that is impossible to pay back.  It is tough to make it if you don’t do the things that make money in this day and age.  Just because everyone else is doing it a certain way may be a good reason to do it a different way.

It seems we think you must get big to make it these days. I disagree. Start small, gain knowledge and resources, and then try to stay small.  If you are really good that will be the biggest challenge.  The better we get at something the more we challenge the limits and then we either are not as successful or quality of life suffers.

I hope you will read The Time It Never Rained.  I hope you will take pride in the fact that you are making good decisions that will help you prosper on your own.  Then when the time comes and this old country comes down hard on us, like it did to our friends in the North last fall, we can all pitch in and give the kind of help that really works – prayers, physical help and spare money, or commodities from friends and neighbors.  Our founding Fathers, our ancestors, and Charlie Flagg would be proud of that.

~ Curt Pate

Time well spent with United Farmers of Alberta

I have spent most of the month of January in Canada.  United Farmers of Alberta is a farmer owned co-op that hosts a series of “Cattlemen’s Colleges” each year and I spoke about cattle handling.

They were great learning experiences for me.  The speakers were top notch. Marketing, finance, nutrition, forage management, and best calving practices were presented.  I did not hear one sales pitch to buy anything from the store.  One  speaker on nutrition explained how a certain blue block of salt had little value nutritionally, and was like licking metal in the subzero temperature.  He recommended loose salt added to mineral to get the best value and health from the purchase of salt.  That was real good information, but the funny thing was the store was giving away several blue salt blocks for door prizes.  Now that’s humor!

I think it is real smart what they were doing.  If I owned a store I would want my customers to be educated enough to purchase things that made them a profit.  It is in the store’s best interest to help the customer become a professional beef producer.  The more they learn and implement for-profit practices, the longer they will be in business, and when you are profitable it allows for more expansion.

Knowledge is the first step, then learning how to use the knowledge. Then keeping that knowledge and skill learned in practice and improving is the big challenge.  This kind of beef production is what it is going to take to get it done in this era of ranching.  This is also what the consumer of beef wants, a producer that treats and cares for the environment and the livestock up to their moral standards.

I am a little embarrassed when I speak in front of the Canadian rancher.  They are good people that have had a tough go of it.  You can’t believe how bad they felt for the South Dakota storm victims.  These are the same ranchers that R-CALF and other groups has cost thousands of dollars.

I am not a political person.  I am a dedicated proponent of the proper production of beef.  If you are Mexican, Canadian, or from the U.S., we all are North Americans and if we can work together it sure seems like a lot better way to go about it.

I look at this in the same way as I look at neighboring in ranch country.  I’ll bring my crew to your branding and you bring yours to mine.  If there is a range fire we all go to it and help each other by putting it out, no matter whose land it is.  In the Southern U.S. they put everyone’s cattle together in groups to improve the marketing of the cattle. Good neighbors help each other, no matter if it costs them a little, because at some point it may save them a lot, and I am not talking only financially.

I’ve seen quite a few people bad mouth their neighbor when they weren’t around, and then not say a thing when they are present, but they can’t look them in the eye.

So all you folks that are for putting politics in to the beef industry, go to it.  I hope it’s not to just raise money for your organization or cause.  I am going to stay with doing the right thing for the industry, not for my own selfish greed.

If you get in a bind and need some help give me a call.  I bet I can get some of my Canadian ranching friends to come help us out of a tough spot.  You see there are some things you don’t learn at a Cattlemen’s College.  It’s called doing what’s right, it’s called integrity, it used to be the “Code of the West.”

~ Curt Pate

Get hooked on animals

After thinking about this addiction thing, it is becoming clear to me I am addicted to handling animals.  Just about everything I do in my life has to do with animals or people that work with animals.

I was very lucky growing up the way I did.  My Grandfather always had me help him take care of the chickens, feed the sheep and cows, and I went with him as much as I could when he would haul, buy, and sell cattle at the livestock auction.  Everything we did evolved around the care of livestock.

When I visited my Grandpa Ed and Granny Alice it was at a huge feedlot.  Everything there was about riding horses and working cattle and going to rodeos.

In my youth it was all about the care of animals.  My grandfathers, my mother, and stepfather were just incredible at taking care of animals. The animals always came before anything else in our lives.  This was a great influence on me.  We had a hog operation that I just loved.  I could pretty much take care of the sow barn and the finishing pens.  Someday I want to have pigs again.

We also had a custom slaughter house and meat cutting business.  I did not like it but I sure learned a lot about the meat side of the business.  My main jobs were hauling guts and salting hides, and that was just fine with me.

Every one I was around was very much into the care of animals but not really into the handling of animals.  They just got it done.

When I started getting real interested in horses and horsemanship the addiction started.

From then on I made all my decisions and work involve working with horses and grazing animals. If I had to irrigate I did it on a colt and learned it is a great way to get a horse real good.  I don’t put up hay, but graze intensively.  This allows me to work with the animals much more.  When I don’t know what to do, I go do something with animals.

I feel I am addicted to working with animals.  It is not as good always as I’d like but I keep working at it.  For a long time my work with cattle was about cowboy skills with a real emphasis on roping.  That was real good, but now my focus has really gone to getting animals to work better, and I am really focusing on getting the animal content mentally.

To me this is real satisfying to my addiction. I still like to rope, but working on getting animals to really trust me and want to be around me is my real goal.

I think this is a healthy addiction and am glad my addiction has turned into my work.  It seems to me that many of the people I observe involved with animal agriculture or horsemanship get so involved in the care and performance of the animal that they miss the the mental part.  The important thing to realize is that if the animal is not content you may not be getting the performance you are seeking.  You may not be as content as you could be with your involvement with animals. I hope you will search for a better deal as long as you are working with animals.  I hope you get addicted.

~ Curt Pate


I have been thinking over the idea that humans are just living addictions.  We all get stimulus to our brain from something that pleases us and we try to get as much of it as possible.

This is such a simple thing to realize and it could make it real easy to improve our quality of life by managing our addictions.

We all need some essentials in life.  Shelter, food, and water are the main essentials we must have.  The more time and energy it takes to cover those needs the less time and energy we have for addictions.

If you judge how good of times we are living in by how difficult it is to get, and the quality of food, shelter, and water, I would have to say we are living in the best times ever, or at least the possibility of the best times ever.

The reason it would maybe not be the best times ever for an individual would be the addictions in your life.  If your addictions create pleasure in the moment, and don’t create problems in the future your quality of life is good.  If your addictions create problems in the present or the future your quality of life will suffer.  If the people you are around have bad addictions they could impact your quality of life as well.

I would like to challenge you look at the addictions in your life.  Maybe list them in the order of how they control you.  I feel the real threats to quality of life are, uncontrolled emotion, unhealthy eating, lack of physical activity, living beyond your means, and lack of belief in a higher power.

Another thing that seems to me to be a real addiction is technology.  I think it will add to the quality of life as much as anything, but it is so important not to become so addicted that it replaces some other great addictions we can have to improve our lives now and in the future.  Don’t get to far away from the basics of survival. All of this technology could be gone in the morning and your addictions might quickly change from Facebook to getting a drink of water.

I hope this is as fascinating to think about for you as it is to me.  It seems like such a simple way to improve things in our life.  You have not heard the last of my thoughts on this.

~ Curt Pate