My first guest-blog was recently published in the Progressive Cattleman e-Newsletter, September edition. You can read it here!
Let’s talk cows. Bulls and heifers, to be more exact. Obviously these animals are a necessary evil on any working ranch, because it is pretty hard to keep your herd numbers up without them. Unless you AI everything, you are bound to have a bull or two hanging around, being obnoxious and just waiting to tear stuff up. Being only of any real use about 60 days out of the year, the trick is trying to figure out how to keep them out of trouble the other three hundred and five. One is bad enough, but rarely is there just one bull residing on the place at any given time. Like any man, they have to constantly prove they are worthy contenders for the attention from the female species. Unlike men though, they don’t have fists to pound the crap out of the other guys sniffing around their girls; but I suspect that is why the good Lord made them so massive. If you think two thousand pounds of beef can’t move very quickly, just try cutting one out of a herd of cows. Not only are they fast, but they know they are big and they will take the shortest route from point A to B, regardless of who or what is in their way. When two or more bulls decide they want to fight, they can brawl better than any drunk football players; you just have to hope you are out of the way and there is a lot of room between them and the fence. Not necessarily ones to appreciate a horse trying to crawl up their butt to keep them moving either, if given the opportunity, a bull will brush up in the trees faster than the takeoff of a 747 jet airliner. And, like most men, they take their sweet-ass time to go everywhere except where you want them to go. Typical.
God has a funny sense of humor, therefore he also created the heifer. Like any young group of girls, heifers are curious and full of sass… while cute at first, they become a major pain in the ass anytime you are trying to accomplish something while they are around. Like a band of sheep, if you have one heifer that finds a hole in the fence, the rest will shortly follow her. Instead of moving out when you and your trusty steed try to round them up and push them into another field, they circle around and soon you find yourself with a nice little string of little shits that would rather play ring around the rosy with your horse than go where you have intended for them to go. As long as you aren’t trying to move them around, chances are they could be a mile away and the minute you ride into the field, they will flock to you like gulls in a dumpster. But beware that if you try to push them to do anything, they will probably scatter like shotgun pellets in a tornado.
The measure of a cowboy or cowgirl is not always how well they ride; it is, more or less, how well they can think like a bull or a heifer. How you can prevent a catastrophic event by being at the right place at the right time, being able to read their irritating little minds, and how well you can coerce your livestock into thinking it is their choice to move to greener pastures. No matter what, you can bet that working with either critter is going to make for an interesting day.
May your bulls be satisfied and your heifers pregnant,
Branding. The final big hoo-rah of calving season. The coming together of family, friends, and neighbors to work together for a common goal- vaccinate and pour the cattle, brand and vaccinate the calves, drink a lot of beer and eat a lot of really good food. I grew up only ever really going to a couple brandings every year- ours, my uncle's, and the occasional random one that my mom decided to go to. I really enjoyed the riding & gathering part- the actual wrestling and socialization parts were my weakest areas. My favorite part of branding is when it is all over- the calves are branded, and returned to their mommas in the field; the horses are brushed out and turned out; and everyone is dog-tired and sits down to a good, belly-filling meal. An honest day's work, full of laughter and good conversation. If you've never been to one, and you don't mind getting dirty, smelly, and harassed about everything from your clothes to your technique, check one out. You are bound to find something you can appreciate; for example:
- Excellent horsemanship. There is no room for bad horses or bad riders; if you can't keep in the saddle you better get out of the field. Things move at a breakneck pace on branding day.
- Cows. Lots of cows. Obviously the entire point of a branding; enjoy the view.
- Little kids learning the ropes. This was the first year our girls were old enough to really enjoy being down at the corrals, and it was so fun to watch them take it all in. From the first few tears spilled over "Baby fall down! Mommy, baby fall down!" to my oldest packing the rattle stick down the alley and helping Gramma push cows up the chute, it makes me proud that our girls get to be involved in this life.
-Lots of BS. From the cowboys standing around waiting for the work to begin, to the smart remarks made by husbands and other well meaning but often crude wrestling help, shit starts to get deep awful quick. Not to mention what comes out of the calves, cows, and horses!
Brandings are the strangest form of organized chaos you will ever experience in your life. I consider myself pretty lucky that my dad runs a pretty tight ship, and that the help we have is always awesome. It is a good feeling once all the calves are branded; calving is pretty much over for another year and it is time to move on to the next thing. It definitely beats sitting in a cubicle any day.
Until next time,
may your irons be hot, your beer cold, and your horses sound.
Mom and Dad said, “Go out and experience something new”.
So I left home, got my college degree,
Spent all that time away, in between seeing the world and
Wishing to go back,
To the way things used to be.
But then I went back home, and nothing was the same;
My eyes had been opened to a whole new world.
Trying to teach mom and dad something new is harder than I thought,
I was stuck between wondering if I made the right choice
And running out and never coming back
And wishing life wasn’t such a skating rink
Then I got married, and my husband agreed
That helping out at home, wouldn’t be so bad.
So we moved home for good, but we still had to work
In town to make ends meet; caught between 40 hours there
And another 40 with dad.
Then the kids came along, and now I am a momma
I relate better to the cows and the horses at home
Than to most of the women at work;
But here I am, in between being a mother and a wife,
Wanting to help out home, and the one stuck in town,
and I begin to wonder how I
am going to survive being all these people all of the time.
It is hard to fit in at work, and even harder at home,
Having babies takes me away from what I really want to do
Those horses that used to be my world
Have taken the back seat; riding all day hurts worse than it used to
I forget how to run a gate, and lose my sense of direction,
pulling the horse trailer has become a test
I wonder if I have lost my mind, is this really best?
The people at work, can’t understand
Why I would give up your good- paying job, heat, and a/c
To work with my parents and livestock for pennies
“Girl, you must be crazy!”
But they will never know, the smell of freshly cut hay
Or see a baby calf stand and suckle
They won’t appreciate the manure, the dirt, and the days
spent branding, riding, shipping, and fencing
They can’t feel the pride I take, in riding behind the herd,
And the life we are giving our kids
Ranch life is hard, there’s no place for wanting fortune or fame,
No glory, just good times and bad,
Up early to work late, in the heat and the cold,
The thunder, hail, snow, and rain.
They won’t feel the pain, when I lose that new calf
Or cry the tears I cry
They can’t understand how we keep going in the face
Of drought, fire, wind, ice, small paychecks and bad times
But mostly, it frustrates me that I can’t explain just how much
I love it, and why.
It is hard being caught in between wishing to ranch full time
And being told to wait;
It is hard to be stuck at work when I could be riding a new colt
On a fresh spring day;
To take the kids to daycare when they could be home
With us, learning about the animals and the land,
If wishes were ponies, I would have quite a herd
Things sure haven’t turned out quite the way I planned!
But it isn’t all bad; I am learning how strong I am
How much I can bend, how responsible I can be
Making new friends, relationships, and taking on duties
It is hard to be all these people when I only want to be one
But I know, at the end of the day,
I have the best life, a husband that loves me,
beautiful children that light my way
Parents that are proud, the respect and admiration of others who see
me between ranch wife and city folk, momma and cowgirl
In between leather and horse hair and dresses and pearls
I know that being a rancher is more than a title, more than a job;
It is a destiny, a calling, a gift from above in all of its forms
And the good lord has chosen us, with all our passion and smarts
To be a caretaker of his children, his livestock, his land
And that is something not everyone can do, not everyone gets the chance
I may be in between the rain and the rainbow
The clouds and the shine; the start and end of the dance
But the storms of life always pass and leave a new ray of light and hope for tomorrow.
I stood there watching the vet check her; this little tri-colored cow that I just adore. He kept pushing deep into her hips, into the abyss that is supposed to be holding a tiny little critter, and finally he pulls him arm out and says, “She’s dry”. I feel myself start to tear up; I look at my husband and see the look of disbelief on his face. She makes another of five of our 2 year olds that didn’t breed back. I can see he is taking this a lot harder than I am. He is just starting to feel the reality that things don’t also go perfectly; a hard lesson I learned long ago. Once we run everything through the chute, and look out over at the nine head of cows standing in the dry pen, I start to feel the tears welling up again. It breaks my heart to see such young cows stand there looking so tough; what is even harder to take is that with cattle prices so high, there is no sense in keeping them back to try again next year. I can’t help but feel sorry for these girls; they gave up their entire body to raise some pretty incredible calves; and in turn, this is the thanks they get.
I often wonder what the cows are thinking; and I like to think I am pretty privileged to own some of them. These cows help pay the bills (or perhaps they are the reason for the bills?) Even though they raise my blood pressure, and they piss me off at times, they are still a great stress reliever. I feel like no hour spent around livestock of any kind is time wasted. They have taught me so much in my 28 years. For example:
-Patience: If you are in a hurry, a cow will make sure to take the longest way back home, or the shortest way though the corrals. Either way, you are going to be late.
-Persuasion: it is more than just words, you dummy; actions speak louder anyways.
-Strength: quityerbitchin- those tough old birds popp out a 90 pound calf in three-degree weather and turn around and lick it clean. What did you do today?
-Humility: If you can’t laugh at yourself, well, then you better enjoy watching those old biddies laugh at you (and yes, I am pretty sure cows can indeed laugh).
-And of course, how to be humble: for there is nothing so special about you that will keep a cow from crapping all over you. I am sure they think everyone looks good in a layer of greenish-brown slop.
As hard as some of the other jobs I have had in my life, there is not one tougher than being a livestock producer. It is altogether awesome and gut-wrenching at the same time. I have found it doesn’t matter if you own one old milk cow or fifteen-hundred beef cattle, they are all a part of you. They don’t have to have names to have a personality or to be remembered. There is something about each and everyone of them that is a reflection of each of us; (I suppose it is important to keep that in mind the next time I start calling one a dirty old @!$#%$^#!!). If you are willing to watch them and listen to what they are saying, there is a lot to be learned from those cow-pie machines of the bovine variety. And I thank God everyday that there is.
Hi, I am Richelle. I am a mother to two wild and crazy little cowgirls, a wife and friend to pretty awesome cowboy, and a lover of all things western. This is just my collection of my own observations of life, some of my photos, and a few recipes here and there. I hope you enjoy!