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The Cowboy Way Is Backed With Morals, Values

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Ranchers follow a code of ethics dictated by a strong moral compass.

Even in the middle of a cold and sometimes harsh South Dakota winter, I can always find beauty all around me. The trees glitter with frost, the snow sparkles on the hills, and the sun shines down on the cattle as puffs of breath steam from their mouths. Birds chirp, cats hunt for mice in the barns, and our faithful farm dog is afoot as we do chores.

No matter what the weather, we’re responsible for the livestock, and that’s one of the first lessons I learned growing up on a ranch. Rain, sleet or snow, our cattle relied on us to take care of them. And it’s not just a business decision; it’s the right thing to do. This cowboy code of ethics is often called the “cowboy way,” and it’s instilled in most cowboys and cowgirls from the time they are old enough to sit up straight and pay attention in church.

Perhaps it’s good old-fashioned values, or maybe it’s something more. Whatever it is that makes cattlemen so great, it’s certainly worth talking about.

Anne Burkholder recently did just that on her blog spot, "The Feedyard Foodie." She’s a Nebraska cattle feeder who blogs all about her life on the farm. Her post, entitled “Feeding Body and Soul: How Growing Our Food Enhances Spirituality,” was featured recently on BlogHer. Through BlogHer, a website dedicated to women bloggers who write about everything from fashion to cooking, Burkholder was able to share her agriculture story to a very diverse audience of women.

Burkholder produces many great blog posts, but this one particularly piqued my interest as one that might resonate with a lot of folks because of its unique approach. Read this excerpt and you’ll see what I mean.

“While I am a regular church goer, the heart of my spirituality lies outside of the doors of the church building. It is deeply rooted in nature and is an integral part of my adult life.It is present on my cattle farm and in my vegetable garden. It is present in the volunteer work that I do to improve animal (cattle) welfare. It is present on the youth athletic fields where I mentor and coach.

“While I am very open and transparent about how I raise cattle and grow beef on my farm, I tend to hold my faith in a more private place. Despite that introverted tendency, I ‘take God with me’ on my life journey. There is something about wide open spaces and farming that lends itself to being closely tied to faith. Perhaps it is the beauty of a sunset over the plains…Perhaps it is the feeling of intense pride and contentment that comes from growing things with your own two hands…Perhaps it is the feeling of helplessness that comes from witnessing the brutality of Mother Nature…Most likely, it is all of these things that lends a farmer toward a strong personal spirituality.”

The faith and spirituality Burkholder feels while working on her farm isn’t a rarity in this industry. I’m willing to bet many of you feel the same way, and it’s that strong moral underpinning that guides our every decision on the farm or ranch. Simply put, it’s the cowboy way.

Likewise, Jim Owens, author of the bestselling book, “Cowboy Ethics,” translates this unwritten code of the West into the “10 Principles To Live By,” which anyone can apply to their daily life. Owens is the founder of The Center For Cowboy Ethics & Leadership, a non-profit organization that helps spread the message that we can all be heroes in our own lives. Inspired by the iconic figure of the working cowboy, Owens encourages people to live by a code of honesty, loyalty and courage.

We all see examples of this cowboy code of ethics on a daily basis, but we often take it for granted. Pay close attention this week, and you’ll notice it a lot more in the folks you deal with on a daily basis.

It’s our faith that keeps us going -- faith that it will rain, so we have enough grass to graze this summer; faith that cattle prices will be high enough to offset our skyrocketing input costs; faith that our kids will one day find their way back home to the ranch; and faith that there is a future in agriculture for them.

How does your faith influence your decisions on the ranch? If you could explain your family’s cowboy code of ethics, what words would best describe it? Please share your thoughts with readers in the comments section.

Discuss this Blog Entry 5

william mangels (not verified)
on Jan 14, 2013

very, very good

on Jan 14, 2013

Like Anne states, I tend to hold my faith a bit more privately, but it is ever so present! As I have gotten older, faith has become increasingly important in my life, including what takes place on the farm. We definitely try to instill what is "right" in our family, but we are human and make mistakes along the way. This is how we learn and become better teachers to others. I truly believe that if everything went right all the time, we'd become complacent in our learnings and teachings. At this stage in my life, I can definitely see my faith working. When our family was delt a heavy blow, like losing a farm several years ago, it made us stronger and better. It was tough experiencing someting like that, but we learned from it and, I believe, we became better leaders in the ag industry because of it. Many people who have experienced something so devastating like what my family experienced would have turned their back on the industry that delt them the heavy blow. Instead, it took faith to move forward in an industry we love, and I believe my family is better because it.

I am not a scholar by any means when it comes to the Bible, but as for me and my faith, I find comfort and guidance in this verse and maybe some of your readers will, too:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." - James 1:2-4

Kelly Vaughn (not verified)
on Jan 14, 2013

GREAT ARTICLE. I think the 'WAY" would hep those that are not in the agricultural life also. honestly, opening up ones heart is essential. Thanks for making me smile on this cold Utah day!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 15, 2013

Here we go...you brought the heart & soul out : I am so grateful to be given the chance to return to the family farm . After 2 careers in the flying business , both civilian and military,I am happy to trade in the high/fast jet- set world traveling for this low and slow lifestyle. I was just thinking this morning as I bundled up for the 18 degree weather, that I owe it to my cows to feed them before I had my own breakfast. It was heart warming to see them line up to the water tank as I chopped ice.At the end of the day, I set on the porch , watching the sunset and thank God for my lot in life, before going into the house and putting another log on the fire.

on Jan 19, 2013

I have a good friend who grew up in Eastern Oregon, and spent a lot of time hunting with his grandfather. He likes to quote his grandfather telling him that the outdoors was his church, and that's where he worshipped. Now that I've been spending time in those parts, I understand the idea. I've been all over the world, but there is nothing like the wide open American sagebrush ocean.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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