Sharing the Load


Ranch Work
Creative Commons License photo credit: Homini:)

In the last few weeks, for one reason or another, I’ve been holding the fort on my own in many areas. There are always times when several of the adults on the ranch need to be elsewhere; it could be a temporary job or helping a neighbor or relative, or a milling operation some distance away. The chores, of course, don’t go away. The livestock have to eat, the cow must be milked and the eggs gathered. If it’s summer the irrigation sets have to be changed—and if it’s winter, there’s the matter of school for three children. Most of the time I can handle the basics by myself, but sometimes even the simplest thing would be much easier with another adult around.

This morning was an example. My husband was helping a friend, so the oldest granddaughter came to be my right hand assistant in the milking. She went back to her house to eat breakfast and I went down again to take a bale of alfalfa to the old broodmare. These are smaller bales than we have been feeding, thank goodness—only about 80-90 pounds as opposed to 140, so I figured I could woman-handle one onto the four-wheeler and take it out. In that I was correct. What I had not allowed for, however, was that the stallion, milk cow and her calf would all follow me out to the broodmare pen to “help”. Trying to keep them all on one side of the fence while I drove through the gate was an exercise in exasperation. I finally got smart and tossed a chunk of alfalfa to the stud; old Greedy Gut promptly quit bugging me and went off to munch his ill-gotten gains. The cow, bless her stubborn little soul, was bound and determined to come and eat the nice green grass in the broodmare pen. She completely ignored the alfalfa even when I waved it right under her nose. I cussed, smacked and shoved to no avail (of course her halter was clear the other side of the field). So in desperation, I took a bungee cord off the four-wheeler and fastened it around her neck so I could lead her out. Meanwhile, Hershey the calf danced around the edges, trying to come in with Mama but stay out of the big boss lady’s reach so she wouldn’t get smacked, too. Finally getting Maybelle the cow out of the way for a minute, I ran to the four-wheeler and peeled through the gate in a maneuver that would have done Mario Andretti proud. Then I raced the bovines back across the pasture so I could get through the gate onto the road before they came to complicate matters.

Having caught my breath, I spent a little time on the way back to the house considering the advantages of having two families living on the ranch. The first, obviously, is extra people around to make handling animals easier. Another is simple companionship—it’s nice to have someone other than a four-footed creature to converse with. And in the case of the children, working with us is how they learn the skills they will need to manage the property when the day comes that we are unable to do so or no longer around. But I think one of the most important advantages is that among the four of us, someone has the skill that happens to be needed at any given moment. Need to know how to prune a fruit tree or make cottage cheese? I’m your girl. Design a website, perform computer tech support or paint a mural? That would be my daughter. Change the hydraulic hose on the backhoe or butcher a pig? My husband steps to the fore. Run the sawmill or understand real estate law? You want my son-in-law. And we can all do basic tasks like cooking or fence mending.

There are few life tasks as complex and knowledge-intensive as the successful operation of a farm or ranch. The more skills you bring to this work, the more likely you will be to achieve that success. And the more skills you can teach to the others, the more hands there are to help. Working together builds trust and fosters cooperation. Of course, in this family of strongly opinionated and hard-headed people, it can occasionally lead to a shouting match as well.

But that’s another story.

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