BEEF Daily

Ranching Requires Working Smart AND Hard


Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” encourages kids to work smart and hard to be successful in life, and to avoid one four-letter word: debt. 

I recently read an interview on The Blaze featuring Mike Rowe from the TV show “Dirty Jobs.” Rowe appeared on the Glenn Beck Program to discuss his thoughts on “the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success.”

Rowe told Beck, “We’re lending money we don’t have, to kids who will never be able to pay it back, for jobs that no longer exist. Today, skilled trades are in demand. In fact, there are 3 million jobs out there that companies are having a hard time filling.”


Subscribe now to Cow-Calf Weekly to get the latest industry research and information in your inbox every Friday!


Rowe was inspired to begin his campaign after he saw a poster in his high school guidance counselor’s office that encouraged students to work smart not hard. It encouraged everyone to go get a four-year degree, and as a result, fewer and fewer young people pursued technical degrees for skilled labor jobs.

His advice -- work smart AND hard.

“I’m not against a college education. I’m against debt,” he said. “That was the only four-letter word in my family.”

According to Rowe, of the roughly 3 million jobs that companies are struggling to fill, only 8-12% require a college degree.

I graduated from South Dakota State University in 2009, and I greatly value my college experience. However, I do believe I’ve learned more practical knowledge in my last four years in the “school of hard knocks” on my family’s ranch than I did in university classrooms.

Of course, 2009 offered a huge wake-up call to many of my peers, as the national recession was in its full fury. I was lucky to be able to continue my freelance relationship with BEEF, which was an outgrowth of a summer internship I did with the magazine. During this internship, I helped research and develop the concept of BEEF Daily, which launched that fall of 2008. I also was fortunate to have the opportunity to join our family cattle operation when I graduated in spring 2009.

Some of my classmates weren’t so lucky, however. It took many of my peers a few years to find jobs in their chosen field. Even then, many of them were forced to live with their folks in order to make ends meet. Others found jobs that were totally unrelated to their major study of choice. And some opted for graduate school as they waited for the job market to improve. However, even after acquiring advanced degrees, many found they couldn’t command the starting salary or the advancement potential they had hoped for. Plain and simple, with the recession, there just weren’t many jobs out there.

I tend to agree with Rowe that while college is a great choice to expand your horizons, gain a great network of friends and colleagues, and explore new interests, it isn’t the only path to success. And, the idea that we only need to work smart and not hard is simply ludicrous. The best ranchers I know are those who work tirelessly on their craft day-in and day-out. I really like Rowe’s campaign to help reward kids who are willing to work hard and smart.

“Why don’t we reward kids who are willing to learn a new trade, a useful skill, and prove that they’re willing to get up early, stay late, and volunteer for every crappy task there is? Let’s reward the thing we want to encourage,” he said.

What do you think about Rowe’s comments? What did you do after high school? How have your choices helped or hurt your success in your operation? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


You might also like:

A Calving Checklist: Everything You Need To Know (& Have) Before Calving

10 Best Christmas On The Ranch Photos

4 Tips To Cut Your Winter Feeding Bill

Bale Grazing: Let Your Cows Feed Themselves

How To Manage Cattle, Equipment In The Cold

Discuss this Blog Entry 5

on Dec 30, 2013

Mike Rowe has hit an important subject hard and at a good time. The concept that you'll work "smarter" with a degree is a fallacy. A skilled trades person who can tackle key manufacturing positions, or serve customers in other ways - I value the plumbers, electricians and others I rely on - will have as much, or better, job security as someone who invested thousands more in a college degree.

Shannon Marie Conley (not verified)
on Dec 30, 2013

I had a child at 19 with no education and no husband. I ended up in an abusive marriage with a man, I thought, I had no way out. After my second child was born, I was happy, for a minute. Until, I was reminded on a daily basis of what a piece of garbage I was. Then I saw you. I saw you Mike, standing on bridge. A bridge in Michigan. You stood for everything I had always known and believed in my heart, but that no one else had ever dared to convey. Ever since that day, nothing for me has ever been the same. I took your lead, and I learned how to work hard and smart, all on my own. I found the strength to leave that marriage and not only become the person I should have been years ago, but a better person, the best person I can be. I have no doubt that because of Michael Gregory Rowe, for the first time in my life, I feel love. I will never regret my silly heart. Mike was right, it's amazing what you can find in the trash. Here I am. Alive. Thank you for everything. God Bless you. Shannon Marie Conley. Amen.

Burke (not verified)
on Dec 30, 2013

This is one of my pet peeves too. I think it is completely foolish to incur debt to go to college. I place great value on my university education which was acquired with no long term debt (sometimes I borrowed to pay tuition which was then repaid before the semester ended. I worked all the way through and had a fairly good assistantship for my Master's Degree. I might not have been able to follow my career path without the degrees, but I have to admit that most of what I know and use today has come since my university days. I think if one truly wants to get educated, it can be done without debt and fit the work you want to do in most cases.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 31, 2013

I've come to realize as an owner operator of several small businesses that the workforce today wants to do as little as they have to for the most money they can get. When you do find that individual that will work their but off for you you cherish them and move them up as quickly as possible. It is truly a rarity in deed.
My advice would be the same as mike's. Work smart and hard but avoid debt like the plague. Life is hard enough without having to work the rest of your life to pay off a dead horse.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 1, 2014

Debt from schooling is a huge problem, no doubt. That said however, the experience you get through that four year education is something that cannot be attained any other way. I spent 7 yrs in college (3yrs as SDSU and 4 in a professional school) and managed to graduate with a Dr. in front of my name. I have been out of professional school now for 12yrs and I can say the following: I don't know that I use much of anything I learned in the 7 yrs of college on a day to day basis to make my living. However, those 7 years of school taught me many things I could not have gained ANY other way. A few of those are: How to deal with people effectively, how to think about people and situations differently, how to be creative in attempting to attain specific outcomes and life experiences gain in college that cannot be attained any other way. The four year education is not an end all be all solution to making a good employable person. It provides a solid knowledge base and skill set to prepare someone who is well motivated and driven to achieve whatever they desire. A well motivated person without a 4 year degree can certainly be successful as well, but many of those folks lack the depth of understanding and knowledge that a 4 yr degree provides. On a daily basis I work with clients with all sorts of education levels. Those folks with a 4yr degree are not necessarily any smarter or more intelligent, but it is much easier to get the college grads to think outside the box, entertain new ideas, and challenge them to change and strive to be better. I would not trade my 3 years of undergraduate work in Brookings for anything, they were some of the best days of my life, period.

Please or Register to post comments.

What's BEEF Daily?

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


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

Sponsored Introduction Continue on to (or wait seconds) ×