Q&A with Britney Jacob, owner of Burnt River Ranch

Britney Jacob, along with husband Cole, daughter Stella and Waylon

The first question is: why become ranchers? You had to start from nothing and work your way up. Why get into this lifestyle?
I guess, to some, it doesn’t make a lot of sense – for us to choose a lifestyle that doesn’t really have a clock-in or clock-out, where the list of projects never seems to end, where you’re always worrying about the weather. Some jobs allow you to leave your work at work, and even take a vacation by simply putting in a request for time-off.

So, why would we choose to become ranchers when we have so many “easier” options? This lifestyle has always been incredibly important to both of us. We wanted to raise our family the same way that I grew up. There are so many values instilled in kids by growing up on a farm – a sense of community, family that helps each other out, kids with a work ethic and knowing responsibility from a young age. Both of us share an entrepreneurial spirit. Hard work doesn’t scare us, and we love the freedom we have on our ranch.

Becoming debt-free has been a huge motivator for us, and this way of life seemed like a logical next step for us. We have control over our destiny, and we see a direct result of our actions. We enjoy having a life with a true purpose. Yes, there are challenges, but we know that every single thing we do is one step closer to a better, more efficient operation. Nothing in life comes easy, so why bother chasing the so-called easy life when we could do more and create something for the future generation.

Where do you think your passion to start this came from?
I grew up on my grandparents’ farm in the Badheart, where they raised a commercial herd of cattle as well as horses, sheep and a few pigs. I was also in various 4-H projects as a kid and young adult. When they retired, unfortunately it wasn’t an option to pass that farm down, but that farm meant absolutely everything to me, and I wasn’t about to let that dream die there. I always knew that somehow, some way we would get our own land and start pursuing that life again. We also have our horses, and even though they aren’t a “homestead” animal, they’re really the original driving force in us acquiring land. To be able to have complete control over their everyday care and training was the first thing, and then the other goals we are pursuing branched off of that. Over the years, Cole and I also had our fair share of nay-sayers and people telling us to bring our goals “back to reality” and settle for less. Those comments were like fuel to our fire, because they pushed us even harder to chase this life. All they did was make us research harder, put in more time, and prove them wrong. Some people are meant to be immersed in numerous things at once, and that describes us perfectly.

You said: “Having grown up in a farming background myself, I knew a lot of farmers and ranchers, but nobody seemed to share the more intimate details of how they got to where they are today.” Do you plan to share your journey with others who wish to embrace the same lifestyle? Maybe become a teaching ranch?
We’ve received a lot of inspiration and learned a lot from other people’s mistakes and experiences. We have also been just as equally overwhelmed and confused too, because many people keep their lives private, which we can also appreciate. However, that can leave people in the dark when they’re searching for answers.

Our goal from the start has always been to share both the good and bad parts that come with this lifestyle, so other people like us can use our story as a sort of survival handbook. We don’t want people to feel awkward or inferior for asking questions or seeking help. Sometimes, it’s as if there’s an unwritten rule in farming that you have to just be born knowing it all. But it’s OK to ask for advice. That’s what our aim is with our social media outlets, but especially our YouTube channel.

I’m not sure if we will ever be a teaching ranch, but the cool thing about pursuing goals and dreams is that they can grow bigger than you’ve ever imagined. So, who knows where the future will take us?

What do you believe is the importance of what you are doing?
We want other people to know that it’s OK to start small or even start over. It’s easy to look at a fourth- or fifth-generation farm and think that you don’t stand a chance or that you can never get to where they are, but you really can’t compare your operation to anyone else’s. All that you can realistically do is continually improve day after day. And if, say, in five years you look back and see that you’ve grown, that’s what matters. There is nothing wrong with being a first-generation farmer, and we want to provide encouragement for anyone who is trying to make this type of life a go.

Of course, we also want to be an agriculture advocate and teach people that aren’t from a farming background what really goes on behind the scenes and maybe debunk some of the myths that exist around the agriculture industry.

Above all else, we want to leave something good for the next generations. Hopefully, when our farm is handed down to our great-grandkids, it will have grown larger than we could have dreamed of.

You refer to yourself as a homesteader. What, in your mind, gives you an advantage homesteading today compared to when the first homesteaders arrived here?
I think technology is the obvious advantage. The original homesteaders didn’t have dishwashers, washing machines, dryers or even running water or electricity. So, we have a huge advantage in that regard.

Another thing is access to the Internet. Nowadays, we can do a quick Google search, ask a question on a related Facebook group, or order a book and find our answer. You can even do tele-health conferences with your veterinarian. Information is constantly being updated, and we have almost instant access to it.

I have heard some people say that we have it easier these days because of the things I just mentioned, but now we are pursuing way more things at once, and feeding way more than just our own families. Back then it was about simply surviving, and now it’s about more.

Just because we use a microwave or a dishwasher doesn’t mean we aren’t homesteaders. I happen to think it’s really cool that we can combine an old school way of life with more modern technologies.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions you think people have about your way of life?
Farming is romanticized. People often forget about the time and money put in. I swear some people think we sit around all day petting cute animals and taking pictures.

They forget that getting animals is the easy part. Building the shelters, putting in power, hauling home feed, charting breeding cycles, hauling water, changing bedding, pounding posts . . . it never ends. Then you also have to account for the skills and knowledge. It takes a lot of time and effort to learn how to do stuff yourself. Framing a building, trenching in water lines, how to do an H-brace, caring for a sick animal, fixing vehicles . . . you have to take that into consideration as well. Hanging out petting chickens is fun, but there’s a lot you have to do before you get to enjoy the fruits of your labour. We spend about 90% of our time working, and only about 10% actually enjoying what we’ve created.

And farming isn’t free. Raising your own meat, eggs and produce is costly if you account for building facilities, feeds, vet costs and all the labour put in. But, of course, it’s so incredibly worth it to know that you’ve raised your own food in a way that fits your morals.

How do you deal with challenges that come up that you had not expected?
Though it’s really hard in the moment, we try to remember that when you’re living an intentional life, it won’t come without hardships and sacrifice. We expect the path to success to be a straight line, when in reality it goes up and down and all around constantly.

As an example, we have lived the past few years without a tractor when we really needed one. Our previous house wouldn’t sell, so we have had to do without. As I already mentioned, we try to avoid debt so instead of going and financing a tractor, we have had to get pretty creative, do a lot of manual labour that took a hundred times longer than if we had machinery to help us out. And, most of all, we have had to rely on our neighbours, friends and family. We are incredibly lucky to have moved into such a welcoming and helpful community.

Things don’t always go as planned, but you do the best you can with what you have.

What has been the best reward thus far?
There are so many rewards, but I think some of the best ones are:

Becoming more connected with our neighbours. We all rely on each other in some way, and each of us have something to offer one another. We would all drop anything at the drop of the hat and inconvenience our own lives to offer aid.

Being told that we inspire other people. We are so thrilled to have people follow us on our journey, and all we ever want is for people to feel like it’s possible to go against society’s norms and pursue their greatest passions.

Seeing a bare hay field become an actual working homestead. Sometimes we forget how far we have actually taken our property in the past few years.

Where do you hope to see yourself in five years or so?
In five years, I’d love to see us add more efficiency to our homestead and expand our current endeavours – things like adding a better system for watering animals in the winter, working on creating better breeding lines in our pigs and chickens, maybe building some more horse training areas. I really hope that by then we will have a tractor. In an ideal world, I know my husband would love to have a shop as well, as he is often fixing things. We would also love to expand into breeding quality horses, beef cattle and possibly have a family dairy cow.

I think by now we have learned that things don’t always end up looking the way you’ve planned, so we will see. But, for now, that’s what the vision looks like.

Is there downtime and, if so, what do you enjoy during that downtime?
I really enjoy leatherworking, and riding/training horses, and my husband Cole loves woodworking. We both love visiting with friends and family as well. Honestly, we love what we do, so a lot of our downtime is still spent doing farm-related activities or being in nature.