At a recent Ranching for Profit School several participants discussed how they could make room in their ranch businesses for their kids. They came up with several solutions. But they were basing their discussion on the assumption that they should make room for their children in their business. I pointed out that parents don’t owe their adult children a living. I’m all for keeping it in the family. But it isn’t a parent’s job to make room for the kids. The kids should make room for themselves.

It may be tempting to bring junior right back to the farm as soon as possible. From a parent’s perspective we could use that cheap labor to subsidize our businesses. We usually pay them less and treat them worse than non-family employees. We get away with it because of our promise, implied or spoken, that "Someday this will all be yours." But bringing Junior right back often isn’t good for the business, usually isn’t good for Junior and may not be good for us.

Bad For Business

We do our businesses a disservice and set the stage for future problems when we bring our kids straight back to the ranch when they get out of school. Consider two candidates for a managerial position in a business. One finished school, worked on a couple of ranches in different parts of the US and may have even traveled to Australia where he worked for a year. The other candidate has no significant experience beyond his family’s farm. Which person would you hire? Because the answer invariably is, "The one who’s related," we need to make sure he’s the one with the experience.

Bad For Junior

Our well-intentioned nepotism leads to another, even more serious problem. When our kids come straight into the business, without taking time to stretch their wings and experience the world, what they do becomes who they are. Without the perspective gained by varied experience, there is no separation between their work and their life. When prices slip or drought descends, they tend to be even more vulnerable to depression than the rest of us. At the very time they need strength and creativity to manage through these recurring issues, they become least able to perform.

In contrast, people who are able to leave work at the office when they go home and focus on family and other interests are in a much better intellectual and emotional position to manage through the difficult times. Burnout and depression can have its roots in coming back to the farm too soon.

Bad For Dad

When Junior comes straight back to the ranch, Dad is usually just entering his managerial prime. Will Junior really be happy mending fence until Dad is ready to hand over authority? If the only experience Junior gets is at the back end of a post hole digger, Dad would probably be smart to hang on to the authority as long as he can. If Junior comes right back to the farm, where will he gain the life experiences he will need to become an effective business man? It’s a vicious circle.

Sharing your genes does not predispose your kids to managerial excellence. When we limit the candidate pool for positions in our business to our gene pool, it becomes even more important to design a career path for our kids to prepare them for the managerial challenges ahead.

If the kids come back to the business, it should be because they have something valuable to contribute. In other professional businesses, associates are expected to generate at least three times their salary in gross income for the firm. You should expect the same performance from the people you hire, whether or not they are related, when you are ranching for profit.

David Pratt of Ranch Management Consultants teaches the Ranching for Profit School. For more information, visit, contact him at 707/429-2292 or e-mail