Saturday, May 24, 2014

Rocking Arrow Charolais Ranch

Lead by Mark, we met the extremely friendly and welcoming family of Bob and Janet Grabher, and Dean and Kathy Churchill who run the Rocking Arrow Charolais Ranch and Oakwater Ranch. These ranches, located in the sandhills of Valentine NE, raise cattle for both beef and show, and they brought us on a journey through the history of the ranch and what their future entails.

After a lunch capped with many delicious treats, we all sat around their beautiful living room to discuss the history of the ranch. Rocking Arrow started in 1974 raising commercial beef. In the late 1980’s, they decided to shift their focus towards registered purebreds in the Charolais breed; a beautiful beige and muscled cow that’s origins stem from Charolles, France. During their registered (purebred cattle with paperwork) cattle days, Rocking Arrow Ranch won multiple awards for best in show throughout the 90’s. They have since reverted back to commercial cows and go to yearly auctions where their grass fed animals are sold to the highest bidder.

During our talk, we discussed many aspects of the ranch and about how life and business has changed over the past few decades. One huge trend, says Dean, is that work on the ranch has greatly shifted towards more machinery and less manpower. However, there is still a need for a working hand on the farm and it has been difficult to find one this year. Due to the market, it has been difficult to find reliable and hardworking individuals (or couples) to help out on the ranch. However, due to the declining popularity of being a farmhand and the overall increasing average age of ranchers, “there could be terrific opportunities” for good farmhands in the future.

Other things that Dean mentioned about the ranch seemed to mirror re-ocurring themes that we've been hearing throughout the trip from other farmers and industries. Dean claims that ranchers need to grow bigger and bigger to sustain a family and make a living (the average # being about 400  cows to support a family). He also claims that few people can afford to purchase a ranch anymore. Many ranches are purchased by investors who made their money outside of agriculture. To become a rancher today, you are usually born into it, marry into it, or inherit one.

After hearing this I noticed a general trend within many of our agriculture's farms and industries. It seems that farms and industries are forced to grow larger make sufficient income. The farms need to adopt the newest technology (in order to keep up with production), and land and equipment expenses continue to climb so high that young people are excluded from starting a new farm due to the high expenses. This was found across the board in all aspects of US agriculture, let it be Pennsylvania and Ohio dairy farmers (big and small), grain farmers of the Midwest, or hog farmers.

I was grateful to listen and learn so much from these kind people but after so much learning and especially laughing at Rocking Arrow Charolais, we reluctantly had to leave the ranch to drive to our last destination of the day.
Janet telling us about family life in Bob and Janet's living room.

Bob showing us his squeeze chute to process cattle.

Dean telling us about care of cows and calves.

We hated to leave, but we have a picture to refresh our memories. 

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