My family recently celebrated our 100-year birthday. Pretty exciting! As an immigrant from Canton, Ticino Switzerland, my great grandfather, Serafino Settrini, came to America in 1915 and settled on our ranch which is nestled in the foothills of the Gabilan mountains of the Salinas Valley. In the early years dairy farms were commonplace so, like many Swiss immigrants, grandpa bought a few cows and started a dairy. After a bit of time Grandpa’s three sons, Gus, Walter and Henry, had a different vision for the ranch and created Settrini Brothers, and put the SIS brand on the hide of their Hereford cattle. Salinas Dressed Beef – wholesalers, butchers and jobbers – was the place where much of the beef was sold locally for use within the Salinas area and beyond. It has been said that Settrini Brothers had some of the best beef in the valley! Years of hard work and penny pinching helped the brothers thrive through the depression. Later, Gus Jr., entered into the partnership. He had a keen sense for cattle genetics and with that, cemented the successful legacy the family had begun.
The cattle industry is a very different business today than it was for my grandpa and his brother’s generation, and even my father’s generation. Change is inevitable in any business. With planning, true heart and a love for what you do, it is possible to roll with the changes and thrive. My brother and I are a living example of just that. Unfortunately for some ranching families, without the benefit of an estate plan, and/or an inheritance or land gift, many times there are big hurdles to overcome. Many of these hurdles can be too much to conquer and therefore, quite a few young people choose a different path.
With cattle prices at an all time high last year and now a whole $1.00 or more less, there are still challenging factors that young folks like myself will face as we forge ahead and try to keep our family’s legacy alive. Increasing land values, limitations on water (in my family’s case) due to one of the longest droughts California has ever seen, environmental concerns, air quality issues, increased costs of feed and supplements, as well as day-to-day inputs make it difficult for seasoned ranchers to prosper, let alone the younger generation.
Ranching is hard, manual work. With immigration issues still in the works, this is another hurdle that many ranches face. Constant, increased regulations at so many levels – especially those based on marketing and consumer emotions rather than hard core science – are other hurdles challenging this generation that past ones did not have to worry about.
So, in light of all the challenges facing today’s cattle ranchers, I asked some why they continue to do what they do. I was humbled by the array of responses from young people who truly do enjoy the life that they were destined for. One young lady in particular said that ranching grips her soul in a way that only other ranchers will understand. It allows her to be close to nature and appreciate the beauty of God’s creations. And ranching puts her in touch with her food source, producing a product that she is proud of for consumers. She loves being a part of something that is so much more than the ranch and the cattle. She is part of the bigger picture.
So why do I continue to ranch? My answer is quite simple. Because I love it and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I hang tight to the countless hours spent sitting in the pickup with my dad, opening gates and listening as he shared the challenges he faced throughout the years, many times not realizing how big those challenges really were. He told me about facing low cattle prices, drought, sick calves, broken equipment and all the things that went hand in hand with owning his own land and livestock. Through all the hours in the pickup, I learned about perseverance and making it work in order to make a life. And I also learned that no matter how gray the future may seem, there is always a shiny spot. The rains will come, the markets will pick up, we will work hard and we will be fine. I miss those times spent with dad and am thankful for them. Those hours of encouragement and constant teaching turned into days that turned into years and now my brother and I are in the driver’s seat and we are doing pretty darn well.
Anymore, ranching is not all about working with the cows. Today it includes sharing our information with consumers so they can make meaningful choices regarding the type of beef they want to buy and support. Ranching is now a profession that is a part of the bigger picture and transparency from ranch to table and everything in between is important. This is another reason I love it; I love talking with consumers and sharing what I enjoy – what makes me tick and why I continue ranching. I enjoy not only representing my ranch, but all the ranchers that might not feel as comfortable sharing the story of the good, beneficial things we do for our environment, for our businesses and for our communities.
It is an encouragement that today’s young producers are becoming increasingly more educated about a wide range of things that complement their chosen lifestyle – being active in issues, understanding how those issues will impact ranches and sharing stories of “why we do what we do.” They are putting a face on the cattle rancher, sharing not only with each other, but on social media platforms in order to connect with consumers. In a time when people are curious about why we do this or that, it is our responsibility as ranchers to share our journeys.
My dad taught me and my brother about a lot of things – cattle ranching being a small part – but above and beyond that, being responsible, good people. To be proud of the product we were raising and to never be afraid to share how we raised our beef with our consumers. Without consumers we would not be in business. I consider myself to be very blessed by all my dad instilled in me. My love for our ranch is something that is tangible. And I look forward to many days working beside my brother, facing the inevitable opportunities and challenges that will come, as we continue to build upon our 100-year legacy.