Friday, November 13, 2015
Kathleen Durkin, Contributor

You never forget where you came from. To create Real Connections between agribusiness brands and their audiences, we draw inspiration from our own lifestories. See how stories like Kathleen’s influence our Agribusiness work.  

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Our third-generation cow-calf operation lies in the middle of South Dakota, a few short miles from where the Missouri river breaks its steady crawl to bend an elbow westward before heading south again. Here, an endless expanse of buffalo grass runs from horizon to horizon and the only thing disrupting the prairie’s flat plane is the occasional gentle swell of buttes and a few outcroppings of softly rounded hills.

Out here, people are a rare commodity. When you grow up on a ranch separated from the nearest town by 35 miles of poorly maintained dirt and gravel roads, you learn at an early age to cherish the people close to you — your family and neighbors that are few and far between. Your best friend is often a sibling and there are no secrets from your prairie community. Everyone knows family history, local “goings on” are shared around morning coffee, and relationships go back generations.

Country kids are a self-reliant bunch. You learn how to fix things out of necessity. There isn’t a corner hardware store you can run to for supplies or a mechanic down the street you can call on for help when equipment or vehicles break down. You learn to improvise and make do with what you have. Baling wire, string, a swift kick, and duct tape go a long way. You would be surprised at how much life you can coax out of an old engine with a pair of Vise-Grips.

A country upbringing prepares you to accept the unexpected with grace. Nothing surprises you. I vividly remember seeing a baby orphaned calf in the bathtub one morning when the last thing I saw there was a big insect with black wings.

Growing up on a farm or ranch means you work. No chore is too menial. No matter how young you are, there is always a task for you, whether it’s gathering eggs or walking down the road to fetch the mail. Need I mention picking giant ticks off the family dog?

Fall round up to wean and process spring calves is a big event for Midwest cattle producers. Every rancher pitches in and helps his neighbors. It’s a country tradition. Sort of like barn raising, only you’re pushing 500 cow-calf pairs over miles of prairie to the corrals for branding, castrating, dehorning, etc. Everybody plays a role. My youngest sister was proud to carry the castration bucket. Years earlier when dad handed me that same bucket, I told him I preferred helping mom bake pies for the noon meal. To this day, pies represent comfort while a castration bucket spells anxiety.

I’m proud to have been raised in the country — and I’m not saying that town kids don’t have the same work ethic, close family ties, or resourcefulness. It’s just that, when the only thing disturbing a vast world of silence at night is the subtle rustle of soft wind in the prairie grass and the strongest light comes from a starred-filled sky, you get the feeling that life here is a stone’s throw away from perfection. Except for that bug with the black wings in the bathtub.