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
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

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease 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.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid