A couple of cowboys were riding the canyons off the caprock in West Texas before daylight to bring in cows and calves for a full day’s work of branding. As the cowboys sat on top of a hill looking out over the canyon, the sun slowly crept above the horizon. Warm oranges and golds filled the early morning sky.
One cowboy hollered over at the rest, “Isn’t this just beautiful?” When it started to sink in what he was referring to, he said, “You know, there’s not very many people in the world that are doing what we’re doing this morning.”
At that moment, those cowboys realized how fortunate they were to live and love life on the ranch.
The Great American Cowboy
The cowboy way of life can be tough due to the unpredictability of weather patterns, market prices and external parties involved in running a successful ranching operation. The dawn-to-dusk nature of the ranching lifestyle takes a toll on those whose livelihoods depend on it.
Bedford Jones, owner and operator of the Jones Ranch near Spur, Texas, understands the impact and responsibilities associated with this specific lifestyle.
“There’s always a challenge,” he said. “I think adversity is something we put up with, endure, and try to overcome. This isn’t just what we do—it’s our identity. It’s who we are. We’re here 24/7, and that’s not bad, but it sure can be tough on a family.”
The Jones Ranch is a thriving horse and cow-calf operation ranch in the West Texas counties of Borden, Crosby, Dickens and Yoakum, covering over 32,000 acres of rangeland and several thousand acres of wheat pasture. Bedford and his wife, Michele, live on their ranch with their four children, Henry, Ruth, Jettie and Susannah.
Not for the Faint-Hearted
Bedford, 45, said he found his way back home to begin ranching alongside his family after graduating with a master’s degree in 1999. Though he was never pressured or forced to come back home, he said he always felt returning to the ranch was his life’s calling.
“With a family operation, I grew up helping because that’s what we did,” Bedford said. “I always felt like that was my obligation. That was my responsibility to help. And I loved it. This is always what I thought I would do.”
Bedford said his love and passion for his family’s operation and the amount of time and effort invested into their ranches is what keeps them operating today despite the hardships encountered throughout the years.
The persistence of drought over the last two decades has forced ranchers to use all of the creative techniques they can muster to survive. For some, it has meant knowing as much about land management and grass as they know about the bloodlines of their herds. For others, it is knowing the right moment to sell cows and calves.
We’re so blessed, but it’s very slow coming.
Michele, Bedford’s wife of 17 years, grew up showing cattle, but did not come from a ranching background. She said the adjustment of becoming a ranch wife was extremely difficult. The family aspect of the operation proved difficult, too, she said, because things were not just about her anymore. However, nothing could have prepared her for the heartbreaking decision that had to be made when it came to selling some of their cattle.
“We’re so blessed,” Michele said, “but it’s very slow coming.”
Michele said she will never forget in 2011 when they were forced to sell part of their herd due to the drought and lack of water and grass. She was pregnant with Jettie, their second youngest child, as she tagged along with Bedford, Henry and Ruth to take their cows to Caviness Beef Packers.
“I just bawled the whole way,” Michele said, “because you don’t ever expect that you’re going to have to get rid of the majority of your livestock, but we did. We had to do that to survive.”
Bedford said West Texas is currently in a similar situation to 2011. He said the land is extremely dry again, and the absence of rain and vegetation leaves most ranchers questioning what is best for their practices.
“It’s one of those things,” Bedford said, shaking his head. “You just never know from one year to the next.”
Inspiring the Ranching Industry’s Future
Running a successful ranching operation takes a little bit of faith and a little bit of luck, but ultimately, ranchers are at the mercy of Mother Nature. Those families who root their hope and faith in the Lord tend to have a more positive and respectful outlook for this specific way of life.
Though the ranching profession and lifestyle have their fair share of ups and downs, Bedford and Michele love what they do and hope to inspire their four children to feel the same. They said it is their job as parents to make the kids’ daily tasks and chores around the ranch fun and enticing to keep them intrigued and to foster a love within their children for the ranching lifestyle.
“They all have an interest in this,” Bedford said. “They enjoy it. I’ll take the little girls to go feed, and they like it. Henry knows he has responsibilities. We have to be careful because we don’t want chores to become a burden on them, but they need to understand those responsibilities. The way we try to do it is to make it enjoyable for them. As a matter of fact, they all four do all the chores together. It’s a team atmosphere around here. We are Team Jones.”
Michele said one of her major prayers is for her kids to have a passion for the ranching lifestyle and to be close and understand each other enough to incorporate the team atmosphere throughout their lives. She said Bedford and his parents have worked very hard at putting together a whole lot from nothing, and it is her goal for her children to continue running the operation smoothly one day when she and Bedford transfer over ownership.
“We want them to understand how fortunate they are to be in the position they are,” Michele said. “They are all landowners, and it’s scary that anyone can own a piece of land nowadays without knowing how to take care of it.”
Bedford said it is a big responsibility for him and Michele to raise their children this way. He said his family has always felt it necessary to take care of their property and ensure the land is still usable and in good shape for the next generation. In doing this, there comes a great level of satisfaction being able to look back at what has been accomplished while cultivating the land, raising livestock, and raising beautiful children who love the Lord and have a passion for ranching.
“For me, there’s a lot of little things that make it enjoyable and rewarding,” Bedford said. “I think you have to appreciate those things or you wouldn’t do what we do.”