Six generations of ranchers

By April Hall

In the last 150 years, not all that much has changed in ranch life. The Snedden family knows that because they’ve been raising cattle on the same land in Maricopa, Calif., since the 1860s.

“My great-great-grandfather came out west as a gold miner,” says Austin Snedden, who represents the sixth generation of his family to work at Snedden Ranch. Once she saw the land, his great-great-grandmother suggested the family go into cattle instead of gold.

Snedden, 34, lives on the ranch with his wife, their four children and his parents. No one working there has a formal title, he says.

“One day I’m a plumber, the next the fence builder, the next a veterinarian,” Snedden says with a laugh. “I couldn’t say I have a role different from my mom or dad or wife because we work together, depending on the need.”

He is a businessman, though. Although he started working on the ranch as a child -- “I wasn’t real useful until a certain point” -- he left home for college to pursue a business degree.

“Almost all the hands-on experience came from my dad and my grandpa and my mother, but I did go to college,” he says. “I learned more in the first year of being in the business than I did during four years in college.”

Snedden says the industry doesn’t see much growth because of several challenges facing ranchers. One, Snedden says, is government regulation.

The biggest challenge, however, comes from Mother Nature.

“We’re in dry country,” Snedden says. “Drought is more of a regularity than an abnormality where we are, and we have to count on it. We need to manage the ranch as if a drought could happen at any time.”

So they do. And the Snedden Ranch continues to not only survive, but thrive. Snedden says he wouldn’t be surprised if one or two of his children, now ages 5 through 11, became the seventh generation running the ranch, working as hard as his great-great-grandparents did.

“I’d say rural life in general, and ranching in particular, has everyone very involved,” Snedden says. “You live so remotely, it makes it a lot more functional if we have everyone’s help.”

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