ALBION, Idaho (AP) — Growing up in a small town in northern Utah, Tom Geary always knew he was made to be a farmer.
As he grew older, all of his friends became farmers, which influenced him even more.
"I thought it would be a pretty good thing to do," he said. And so in the small town of Smithfield, Cache County, where the largest dairy farm was a 24-cow operation, he took steps to make his career happen.
Geary worked as a butcher on a dairy. Starting in the early 1950s when he and his new bride moved to southern Idaho, he became a potato and sugar beet farmer and later a cattle rancher. At 85, he still manages about 140 head of beef cattle on 640 acres — enough to keep him busy every day.
It's a lifestyle he's never regretted, even with its share of growing challenges.
"I'm really into agriculture," he said from his home. "I think if I didn't have something to do, something to watch over, I'd go crazy. Some days I might question my judgment, but the exercise I get from fixing fences, filling water troughs and the like is good for me."
Still, there are times when he needs an extra pair of hands on the ranch that sits in the shade of Pomerelle Mountain. That's when he calls on family or a willing neighbor.
Geary has four sons and two daughters. Their own families like to visit the ranch whenever they can — which for some, like 53-year-old son Rick Geary of St. Anthony, isn't as often as they'd like. He owns a veterinary practice, which brings an added bonus when he does visit the ranch.
"It's always nice to work the ranch," Rick Geary said. "Cows need to be checked and vaccinated and branded. ... Sometimes I go to the ranch by myself if there's just work to be done, otherwise I bring my family."
The ranch is the family gathering spot for celebrations. The family recently gathered to celebrate Tom Geary's 85th birthday.
Another son, Jed Geary of Burley, said his family likes to visit Grandpa's ranch several times a week. Besides getting together to ride four-wheelers and otherwise recreate on the property, there's always some kind of work that needs to be done — mending fences, spraying for weeds, castrating bulls. The ranch has been a good thing for the whole family, he said, because it teaches the younger generation the importance of work and helping out.
"It's dad's operation," he said, "but we're all somewhat involved."
"Times are different, aren't they?" Tom Geary asked as he talked about the ag industry and his personal life. He answered his own question: "Yes, they sure have changed."
The most dramatic change for him occurred in March 2007 when his wife, Connie, died.
"I never expected that to happen," he said, a little teary-eyed. "I'm older than she was. I didn't think she'd leave me here alone like this."
Geary's home still is decorated with the dolls his wife collected over the years and the sitting parlor is pretty much as she left it.
But there are other changes that he points to over his more than eight decades, some personal, some industry-related — like the increasing cost of hay.
He remembers when he could buy hay for $60-$70 a ton. Now he pays around $200 per ton. There are also increased mortgage, interest and equipment costs. When you're a small cattle rancher, he said, you're not bringing in a lot of money. At 140 head, he's considered a small operation.
Geary sells his cattle at auction in Burley every fall, once in a while taking one for himself for hamburger and steak.
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