News / USA

US Great Plains Ranching Faces Uncertain Future

Other opportunities lure young Americans away from ranches, farms

Brother Placid Gross has cared for the Assumption Abbey cattle herd for 50 years.
Brother Placid Gross has cared for the Assumption Abbey cattle herd for 50 years.

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
Jim Kent

There’s a chill in the air as high plains winds beat against the walls of Assumption Abbey. The Benedictine monastery stands like a great stone fortress at the edge of the small town of Richardton, North Dakota.

Inside, sounds of the daily activities of 25 monks - singing, prayer and conversation - fill the air. There are also sounds not usually associated with the Catholic Church.

The monks care for 300 head of cattle, descendants of animals brought here when the monastery was built more than a century ago.

Brother Placid Gross has been the main wrangler for the black Angus herd almost since he arrived at the abbey in 1957.

“The monks came here, started a monastery here in 1899 and they’ve had a farm right from the beginning. It was a way of raising our own food," he says. "In the early days, everybody had beef cattle and dairy cattle. But now, in recent years, we’re selling most of the cows or the calves. We still butcher our own, but we don’t butcher very many. So, it is a source of income for the abbey.”

Selling off

It’s a source of income that’s about to disappear. The monks are preparing to sell their herd at auction, probably in late November.

Abbot Brian Wangler, who’s in charge at the monastery, says it’s strictly a matter of manpower.

“It’s people willing to do the work, knowing how to do the work. It almost requires somebody who was raised on a farm. I mean, you can learn the work, but you’ve really got to have an interest in it. And we just don’t have enough young people who are really interested in that kind of work.”  

Not just interested in that kind of work, but such a person would also have to be willing to live the life of a monk, which includes group prayer sessions four times a day.

At 76, Brother Placid finds handling the cattle herd, with just one 40-something fellow monk, a bit taxing.

“The hardest part of the work is the calving time. Very often we get really bad weather. You have to be out there to help bring the calf inside to a warm place. So we get up during the night. We check at least every four hours.”

South Dakota rancher Marv Kammerer lives on the ranch his family first settled in the 1880s.
South Dakota rancher Marv Kammerer lives on the ranch his family first settled in the 1880s.

Rancher shortage

A shortage of young ranchers isn't just a problem for the monks in North Dakota.

“We’ve got the average age of the farmer/rancher in the Upper Great Plains as 58-years old," says cattleman Marv Kammerer, who attended a recent meeting of the Stockgrowers Association in Rapid City, South Dakota. "And that’s dangerous for the economy and the industry.”

Kammerer feels fortunate that five of his seven children followed him into ranching, but says that’s not the norm.

“There’s a lot of things drawing the young people away from the ranches and farms. They’re going for better wages, schools, otherwise a lot of economic factors drive them off these places.”

Lakota rancher Alex Romero-Frederick is concerned about the future of family ranching.
Lakota rancher Alex Romero-Frederick is concerned about the future of family ranching.

Losing the family business

The number of cattle operations in South Dakota has dropped by more than 13,000 since 1980, according to R-CALF USA, a national stockgrowers association.

Nationwide, more than 147,000 cattle operations have gone out of business in the past 15 years.

Alex Romero-Frederick, who runs a small ranch on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation with her husband, feels the squeeze.

“We’re losing the family ranching business," she says. "The next generation takes over after the other generation retires and I’m not seeing that anymore. And it’s kind of scary. I mean, are my kids going to do it? Did I instill in them the right stuff to want to take over after I’m gone?”

Whether at a North Dakota abbey or on ranches in South Dakota, Kammerer believes the gifts of raising cattle - providing food and caring for the land - should be relished. He hopes they’re gifts the next generation will choose to accept.

You May Like

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Egyptian Court Jails 23 Pro-Morsi Supporters

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials say gunmen have killed two members of the country's security forces More

Pakistani Journalists Protest Shooting of Colleague

Hamid Mir, a host for private television channel Geo, was wounded after being shot three times Saturday, but is expected to survive More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid