Sustaining the family ranch: Wilson provides tips for returning to the family ranchWritten by Saige Albert
Sheridan – As the fifth generation on her family’s Lakeside, Neb. ranch, Jaclyn Wilson has seen highs and low since returning home in 2002, but she noted during the 2016 Ranch Sustainability Forum on March 9 that families can work together successfully by following some simple tricks.
“Wilson Ranch was founded in 1888 when my great-great grandfather decided to homestead in the Sandhills,” Wilson explained. “Over time, we’ve acquired more homesteads and grown.”
She added, “We have enough cows to eat the grass and enough grass to feed the cows.”
The cattle on Wilson Ranch started as Shorthorns.
The family transitioned to Herefords in the 1900s, “like everyone else,” she said. “Today, we run a high percentage Red Angus and red composite cowherd.”
On the ranch, Wilson’s father, mother, uncle and grandmother play a major role in the operation, along with a few cousins.
“We have four very different generations on the ranch,” Wilson commented. “We have my grandmother, a traditional. The traditional generation is made of team players who are used to sacrifices because of events like wars and the Great Depression.”
Her father fits into the Baby Boomer generation, which is uncomfortable with conflict, team oriented and optimistic.
“Then there’s the Generation X-ers,” she explained. “They are impatient and self-reliant, and they like flexible hours.”
As a millennial, Wilson said she identifies with the tech-savvy nature and confidence of the generation.
While all the generations are present on their operation, Wilson noted that her family works well together.
“One advantage of working with family is we don’t have a hierarchy system,” Wilson said. “We are all management, and we’re all at the bottom. There is no in between, and it isn’t the same every day.”
Wilson’s father, who she affectionately calls “Bossman,” is the overseer of the operation.
“He does most of the financials and has an idea about what’s going on all the time. He’s the integrity behind our ranch and is focused on the integrity and legacy of the operation,” she explained.
Her uncle manages half the cowherd while also overseeing the complex computer software system they utilize.
Wilson manages the other half of the cowherd and works in marketing and public relations for the ranch.
“Our big family is an integral part of the operation,” Wilson added.
Bringing back the next generation
Wilson noted that many ranchers want their children to come back to the ranch, but she also noted that they aren’t teaching their kids useful skills to encourage them to return.
“How many of us have kids that play sports? How many of us think our kids are going to play professionally?” she asked. “Probably not very many.”
She continued, “My next question is how many of us have kids who do range judging? By the time I was eight years old, I was part of the range judging team. My brother played sports. I'm the one who is home on the ranch today.”
If ranchers want their children to come back to the ranch, she encouraged that they teach their children marketable skills that will help bring them home.
“There are a lot of things we can teach kids at a young age,” she added.
Another mistake that ranchers might make is pigeonholing their children into gender-stereotyped roles.
“Don’t play into the Barbie doll-G.I. Joe syndrome,” Wilson said. “If our daughter want to spend the day welding in the shop, let her, and if our son wants to cook, let him.”
In the same vein, Wilson noted that it is important to never be “above” a job.
“One of the things I most respect about Bossman is there is no job he is not willing to do,” she explained. “It also doesn’t allow me to say there are things I don’t want to do. We have more respect for people because we are working together.”
She added that another valuable lesson is to learn to say no and to teach children where the boundaries are.
“When we start early telling our kids no, by the time they get older, they will realize that we mean it instead of thinking that we will always cave,” Wilson said. “When we’re working with our families, we need to learn to say no, too.”
Separating work and personal life
In working with the family, Wilson also emphasized that the family business can be separate from the personal lives of family members.
“It is okay to work with family but not have Christmas dinner together or celebrate birthdays together every year,” she commented. “We can keep the business and personal life separate.”
At the same time, she also noted that it is ok to not ask questions or comment sometimes.
“We can comment on personal matters, but it is also ok not to give an opinion on a personal matter,” Wilson added.
When working together, using incentives can provide positive reinforcement for doing well.
“Using incentives is a powerful form of communication,” Wilson said.
“If incentives don’t work, guilt does,” she laughed, adding that a weekend away might mean doing a few extra tasks before leaving the ranch to make sure the work is done.
“Communication is also really important on the ranch,” she added. “If we don’t communicate, we’re going to end up with a blow-up.”
Communication is also not always in the form of words.
“When we’re working cattle, we often grunt,” she said. “We can come up with ways to work together without yelling.”
“We can all learn from each other on the ranch,” Wilson said. “It is important for everyone to realize that we don’t know it all.”