Shelli Mader: Road to Ranching 5-28-12
Like a lot of young couples who grew up in the country, my parents wanted to farm and ranch when they got out of high school. Unfortunately, even though both sets of my grandparents farmed, neither place was big enough to support another family. My parents had to find a way to start farming on their own.
The summer after they both graduated high school my mom started work in town while my dad helped his dad farm. That fall my dad started working with mom’s dad and her brother on some construction jobs. What was supposed to be a few days ‘work turned into a few years’ worth of construction for him.
My dad was focused on saving up for his farming goal, so when he wasn’t doing construction work he picked up odd jobs roofing, pouring concrete, digging basements and hauling hogs. In 1980 my parents got married. Just over a year after that, my mom’s dad and her brother stopped doing the construction work to start a dairy farm. My parents joined them.
My dad thought that having a dairy might be the best way for him to get into farming, so he was excited about the prospect. I was born just a few months after they started and it became apparent pretty quickly that even though my mom was working, my dad needed to get another job too. He called up a guy that was in the oilfield and started contract oil well pumping on the side.
The dairy lasted for about two years until my uncle and grandpa decided that they wanted to sell. My grandpa sold everything for just enough money to pay off the note – less than a year before the big government dairy cattle buy out that would have gotten $3,000 a head. My parents walked away from the dairy a few years older, but not any closer to their farming dream.
Thankfully, my dad had started the contract oil well pumping, so he had a decent job. He and my mom bought some dairy heifers with the goal of getting back into the dairy business someday. But that summer during wheat harvest, when my dad was helping his dad work on a combine he got a piece of metal in his eye. He was laid up for almost a month and lost most of the vision in that eye. He was able to keep his contract job with the help of some other pumpers and my mom driving him around to the wells.
But by the time he healed, oil field production and his contract work slowed some. Just after that though, a local gas plant hired him for two weeks to overhaul an engine. The work at the plant continued and he was able to keep his contract work too.
My folks decided to sell heifers with the plan to use that money to make a down payment on a place. Unfortunately, that spring taxes took all of the money they earned from the sale. But, like most of my parent’s story, there was another opportunity waiting for them.
About that time my parents found some pasture to rent, so they were able to get a loan to get their first 12 cows. The day they bought those cows was one of their most exciting. I was only 6, but I still remember it. They bought some black and red Chianina cross cows. We named them all and spent a lot of time driving around the pasture admiring them.
About a year later, my parents bought their first farm – a place in Lyman Nebraska. I think we were all excited about moving up there (my folks had 3 kids by then) and we were even trying to figure out which bedroom in the house was going to be whose. But, the place turned into more of a headache than a blessing for my folks. Problems with the rental house and irrigation were a financial drain. Worst of all, we couldn’t move up there – my dad’s job wasn’t easily transferred and he couldn’t find another good one in Nebraska.
Owning a farm and yet not being able to farm it wasn’t my parents’ idea of being farmers. Yet, once again, there was another, unexpected opportunity waiting for them at just the right time.
To be continued …
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