Why a Ranch Kid needs schoolSep 12, 2023 03:52PM ● By Allison Eliason
Just barely two weeks into the new school year, two weeks of far too many weeks, and the countdown to the next summer break is on. You might think the fun and excitement of friends, fresh starts and new backpacks would last a little longer but at this house, it just doesn’t last. As hard as it is to try and find new motivation daily to get the kids up and on the bus, I can’t help being a little proud that there is something they want more than to be with friends and a ride on the cool school bus.
That might sound funny that I’m proud that they don’t want to go to school, and that’s not what I’m saying. The thing is, they can’t stand the thought of what dad is doing on the ranch without them. Looking out the window to hay ready to chop, cows ready to ship, pivots set to put up- all of it is just tugging on their little ranch kid hearts and they just want to be a part of it more than anything else. This inspires an all too often question- “Mom, why do I have to go to school?!” or the comment, “I don’t need to learn this to be a cowboy!” But real life cowboy ranching experience tells us that reading, writing and arithmetic is going to play a big part in being a successful producer.
It can be mind blowing to realize that all that tough algebra is going to be pretty necessary while ranching. Whether it is putting up fence, figuring out the tonnage of hay in the stackyard or calculating AUMs (animal unit months) there is always X to be solved for. Math of all sorts- geometry, statistics, algebra and probabilities, can be used for ranching. Even imaginary numbers might come in useful because there are those times I must have imagined counting more cows in the herd than what came home...
Although geography focuses on studying lands and countries all around the world, learning all about topography and reading maps is sort of a big deal for anyone moving around the range. We might think we can just rely on google maps and GPS wherever we go but I am here to tell you that google doesn’t know what’s out there on the most remote places of the thousands of acres that make up the middle of nowhere. And it's even more likely that when you need Siri to give you directions to the trough that she doesn’t know exists, you won’t have service for her to help you.
But great-grandpa's old maps of all the trails criss-crossing the range with the long forgotten springs are going to come in real handy. That, coupled with those middle school map reading skills are what gets a cowboy where he needs to go.
Ranching is full of science from the biology of every living plant and animal, to the chemistry of fertilizer and insecticide to the physics needed to break free a hard-stuck lug nut. Does a rancher need to know how it all works? No, it’s true. But understanding how the world works around you can help save a lot of time when things aren’t working right.
Knowing how nitrogen works in the soil and what it looks like when there isn’t enough might be the difference between poor yields and a bumper crop. Understanding torque and how to increase your force saves a lot of time figuring out how to get take off those old rusty nuts and saving a lot of cussing!
It might make sense that learning math, geography and science can go hand in hand with ranching, but reading and writing are just as crucial to ranch work success. More often than not, ranching is a DIY project that requires reading a manual and following instructions. Those reading and comprehension skills long forgotten elementary teachers patiently taught are what a rancher banks on when it's up to him to get things up and running again.
I’ll admit it’s not too often that a rancher’s essay writing skills are put to the test but there are enough days of filling out paperwork, making requests, or communicating with other businesses and agencies that will require good grammar and knowing how to express a clear and complete thought.
There’s no doubt that for ranch kids, school is a bit of a let down compared to a hard working day on the ranch. Everyday out working is an adventure with something exciting to experience. But these long school days will play a big part in making them an even better ranch hand. Knowledge plus experience is a powerful thing and will put these ranch kids on the right track to having a bright future as the next generation of ag producers.