Published on Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Growing up, Jay Smith was always told he could never ranch. Before they met, his wife, Chyenne got an art degree and started a construction company doing decorative concrete floors because it wasn’t possible to make a living riding horses. For years, people said ranching simply wasn’t in their cards.
And all his life, Jay has been determined to prove those people wrong. “To me, there's no finer way to raise a family. I was raised that way, but my mother didn't get a ranch so I was always told that it wasn't for me. So I went out in the world and I tried to do other things, but I just had to find a way to live the life I wanted to live and raise my kids the way I wanted to raise them.” He explains.
One 4th of July, Chyenne came to the Salmon, Idaho area to celebrate with friends. She ended up meeting Jay, and they haven’t stopped talking since, she says with a smile. It didn’t take Chyenne long to fall in love with ranching. She already loved riding, and after working in more urban areas, being back with horses on land seemed like a dream come true.
“When I first met Jay, he had friends that ranched and had cows on this range.” Chyenne explains, driving through the winding mountain roads. “One of the first two things we did together was help a rancher get his cows off of the range because there was a terrible, terrible forest fire. So that was exciting and fun, and I love to ride. And then we helped a different friend take cows up on range. And I, in that instant, fell in love with that part of ranching.”
But since neither of them inherited a ranch, they had to find a place to live out their passion. It took sacrifice, but the couple was committed. While keeping their side jobs, they started small with five acres and 15 cows. “Every time we tried to lease a bigger ranch, so that we could get bigger, something would happen. Somebody's kid would come home, somebody would get a better offer. Leasing a ranch is hard.” Chyenne recalls.
“Eleven years ago, in the summer we took our cows out to range with nowhere to come home with them.” Chyenne continues. Then a man the Smith’s leased from offered to sell them his place. Just two years later, another rancher offered to lease them his ranch.
The Smiths are thankful for the support of friends, family, and a community that helped them get going. “We’ve had so much help. It’s kind of crazy that it all happened as fast as it did, but that's how I got my start.” Chyenne says with a smile.
Now the couple is raising their daughters on the ranch they own. Chyenne cherishes the times they get to spend taking the cattle to and from range as a family. “It's a huge opportunity to be able to grow up so wild with so much freedom.” She beams. “I think just the freedom that they have to be able to go out and be whatever they want to be. They can pretend to be whatever and not have to wear shoes, and I don't have to worry about strangers or traffic or any of those things. It's one of the biggest blessings.”
Someday, the couple hopes one of the girls will come back to the ranch to build upon what they started. For that to happen, the Smiths know they need to be good stewards. They’ve worked hard to rehabilitate the range where wildfires have burned and strive for management that encourages a balance with the native wildlife. From May to November, Chyenne spends about five hours a day on horseback.
Although she can’t imagine living any other way, ranching can be difficult. It’s often too hot or too cold, and even when the weather cooperates, there’s a lot of work to do. But with a positive attitude, the Smiths persevere. “Challenges are fun for us. We enjoy it. It's a lot of work, and it is hard work, but we enjoy it.” Chyenne says.
“We started our ranch from nothing. There's no greater motivator than no matter how much you've accomplished, knowing in the back of your mind that you're just one mistake away from failure. That's what makes you put your boots on in the morning and do what you need to do.” Jay adds.
“It's part of who we are. It becomes part of your personality. I don't want somebody else's cows, these are my cows and we've spent the last 15 growing this herd, perfecting it, changing it, and adding to it. Yeah, it's going to be better tomorrow and it's going to be way better in 10 years, but I don't want to buy better, I want to make mine better. It is a little different mindset.” Chyenne laughs. “We're stubborn maybe, but we're passionate.”
That’s why Jay and Chyenne Smith farm.
Author: Natalina Sents
Categories: Why I Farm, Why I Farm Roadtrip
Tags: Beck's Blog, Why I Farm, Beck's Hybrids, cattle, Natalina Sents, Why I Farm Roadtrip, Beef, Chyenne Smith, JLazyS Angus, Jay Smith, Idaho Rancher