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Gaining skills and building confidence on the ranch

Bailey Jones

Bailey Jones

It’s been a tough week sending this girl back off to North Carolina for another semester of college. She was a great addition to the crew and will be sorely missed. We met when I was speaking this spring in Lincoln at the National Block and Bridle Convention, and before I made it back to the hotel, she had emailed me about an internship. The future of agriculture is pretty bright with students like Bailey Jones. She shares a bit of her experience in this column take-over.

“Where are you from?” That has to be the question I’ve been asked the most this summer, and probably one of my favorites to answer. My name is Bailey Jones, I’m from a small town in North Carolina called Pittsboro, and I am the Wilson ranch’s most recent intern.

Like all the Lakeside locals, I’m sure you’re asking yourself how a girl from NC ended up in western Nebraska for the summer. Well, it’s a long story so I’ll save you most of the details, but I can confidently say I am beyond grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to spend my summer with Wilson Flying Diamond Ranch.

When I started my internship on the ranch at the beginning of May, I wasted no time getting in on all the fun, as it was mid-calving season and there was lots of excitement. From moving pairs, tagging, banding, searching for lost calves, and of course, we can’t forget planting 2,500 trees, there was no shortage of work around the ranch.

Jaclyn and the Boss Man do a great job of getting all the interns involved in just about every aspect of ranch life. One thing I learned very quickly was that if you want to try something, all you have to do is ask.

This took a little getting used to. I come from a small cow-calf operation where everybody pretty much sticks to the jobs they’ve always done. But, as many people say, you don’t learn where you’re comfortable. Those have become some words to live by for the summer, as I have had the opportunity to try all kinds of new things including branding, banding and tagging calves in the pasture, tattooing, pulling (and backing!) stock trailers, changing ATV tires, repairing windmills, fencing in the middle of lakes, and even “driving” the semi once.

While all the new physical ranching skills I’ve learned this summer have been amazing, and definitely things I will take back home with me, I would say my two biggest takeaways from my summer on the ranch are to always keep an open mind, and that sometimes you have to fake it ‘til you make it.

Keeping an open mind about jobs on the ranch can go a long way. I’m an animal science major, so naturally, I loved checking pastures, helping with calving and working the cows. I was much less excited about jobs like fencing, planting trees, and working on the tractors, that was until I had the chance to do those jobs myself.

It turned out that I actually learned a lot more doing those “less fun” jobs since I didn’t have much experience with them before coming to the ranch. I also learned that those jobs are a lot more fun if you go into them with a good attitude. Being able to focus on what you’re learning from doing something new, or just joking around with whoever you’re working with can make just about any job more fun.

In the same way that every job on the ranch won’t be your favorite, every job on the ranch isn’t predictable. From cows tearing up water tanks to diesel pumps breaking and needing to be replaced, things are bound to go wrong, and sometimes you have to be able to think on your feet.

For someone that is just learning their way around the ranch, and even for someone that’s been ranching for years, there will always be a time that you come across a new and unfamiliar situation. This was something that challenged me when I first started working at the ranch. I usually prefer to get clear instructions before beginning a new task, and I quickly learned that wasn’t always possible. This is where the whole “fake it ‘til you make it” phrase comes in.

You’re not always going to have someone around that has experience with the situation you’re in, and sometimes you have to have enough confidence in yourself to just try something and see if it works.

Adopting this mindset really allowed me to build confidence in myself this summer. It proved to me that you don’t have to know everything about a problem to try to tackle it yourself, and sometimes the best way to learn is to struggle a little and figure it out on your own. You might make some mistakes, but it’s all part of the learning experience and you just have to hope whatever you mess up isn’t too hard to fix. Lucky for me, most of the things I messed up were only one quick fix away with Boss Man’s help, not counting that time I broke Jaclyn’s AC, of course.

So I challenge you, the next time you come across a problem, don’t immediately go ask for help. Give yourself the chance to puzzle through it on your own a little. You might surprise yourself with what you can do and what you learn!

Jaclyn Wilson is more than a rancher, raising Red Angus cattle at Wilson Ranch near Lakeside, Nebraska. She’s an artist with a welder’s torch. She holds leadership positions with several agriculture organizations. She can be reached at This column represents the views of one person and are not necessarily the opinion of the Midwest Messenger.   

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Jaclyn Wilson raises Red Angus cattle at Wilson Ranch near Lakeside, Nebraska. Send comments to her at

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