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Ag Entrepreneur: Enterprising ranchers

Ryan and Nikki Taylor gave up climbing the corporate ladder to raise 3 children and ranch full time near Towner, North Dakota.

"The simple pleasures we find on the ranch in our daily activities far outweigh the perks of working off the ranch," says Nikki. "Right now, while our kids are so young, I wouldn't go back to the corporate life for anything."

Doing so, though, has required them to weave a web of enterprises centering on cattle, writing, and Ryan's service as a state legislator. A herd of 200 beef cows is at the heart of the Taylor Ranch. Ryan, 39, and Nikki, 38, are the fourth generation of Taylors to manage the cattle operation. Their children are Marshall, 5; Olav, 3; and Sylvia, 1.

Searching for ways to add value to their calves led them to Country Natural Beef, an Oregon-based beef cooperative that sells natural beef to U.S. retailers and wholesalers. As prospective members, the Taylors have sold cattle through the co-op for the last 3 years. They retain ownership through processing and earn a premium for their beef.

To diversify income and to give voice to the story of ranching, Ryan writes and markets a column. "Cowboy Logic" appears in publications across North America. Speaking engagements spin from his subject material, as do sales of his books, A Collection of Cowboy Logic and Cowboy Logic Continues.

"I often write about everyday things that really happen, like a wheel falling off of a tractor -- the common experiences shared by rural people or at least those with my kind of luck!" he says. "I hope urban readers learn from my words that ranching is a business involving people who care deeply about what they do."

As a legislator, Ryan aims to help shape a nurturing business climate for young entrepreneurs. He backs laws ensuring services needed by young rural families.

"Being a young agricultural producer in a public role, I hope to show by example that young people can go back to the ranch; they can continue with agricultural careers on family operations," he says. "You have to look for entrepreneurial opportunities, and you have to work for them. These may be directly related to what you produce on the farm, or they may be the providing of a service or a product. Some people might take up welding and manufacture steel panels, for instance. I don't think our opportunities are always obvious until we start trying to put our interests and skills to work."

When he first started writing, Ryan never dreamed he would be invited to speak to audiences in states as far flung as California or that his columns would appear across North America.

"When I plopped myself down and decided to start writing, that's when I had to figure out how to make things work," he says. "A little hunger helps, too! From the effort, I found a niche that is financially and personally rewarding."

Weaving their enterprises web has sometimes required living outside their comfort zone. But it's worth it. "The trade-off is that we're doing what we love to do," says Nikki. "You can't put a price tag on that."

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