Ranch Rules


New daddy from the rent-a-bull man.

While I’m not much on living by the rules, many of which seem to me to be aimed at getting people to do only what someone else thinks they should/shouldn’t do, there are some ranch rules I do follow. They have less to do with controlling another person and more to do with plain old common sense. They will also – when followed consistently – prevent problems and outright disasters. Here are a few of mine:

The Bull Rule
A bull is dangerous. Period, end of story. This is one of those ranch rules that can also be applied to stallions, rams, boars and roosters. We select our animals based on what we call a good mind. I don’t care how pretty, productive or otherwise desirable an animal is, if he’s mean or aggressive he either goes to the butcher or down the road. But get the testosterone flowing, and even the most gentle, sensible male animal is likely to ram you, walk over you or try to stomp you into the ground. When we’re working in or around the herd or flock, we always keep an eye on the boys.

Father and son; both mild-mannered but still stallions.

The Heat Rule
The females of the animal world are not ruled by testosterone, but when they come into heat, all bets are off. Some mares become absolutely nuts when they’re in heat, which is why a lot of the old-time cowboys preferred geldings. Cows in heat will hump each other, equipment left in the field and you. With the beefers, that’s no big deal in most cases. A milk cow in heat, however, can become a crazy juggernaut. We practice the “shares” system of milking. I milk the cow once a day but she also nurses her calf. In the case of a truly crazy-in-heat milk cow, I just leave the calf in with her to do the milking. In a day or so, when she’s back to her sweet self, I take my share. Luckily, with milk cows we’re usually only dealing with two or three heats a year (cows don’t have heats when they’re bred).

This system makes it easier to close the gate.

The Gate Rule
Gates have a purpose – keeping animals in or out. We also have a gate that keeps people out, but it’s usually only closed when everybody’s gone somewhere. The animal gates, however, make sure the animals are where they are supposed to be and that they have access to food and water. Animal gates also ensure the cows don’t go out to play on the highway or come to visit Mom when she’s working in the garden. The most basic of all ranch rules is LEAVE THE GATE THE WAY YOU FOUND IT. For all you know, Papa is down at the other end of the pasture moving the cows up to that open gate. You close it, he’ll have cows going through the fence or back to where they started. Or he’s opened it because he’s shut down the irrigation system and the cows have to get out on the dam to get a drink.

There are a few other rules, which should be self-evident and need no explanation, like always check the gas tank on the four-wheeler before you go to the far end of the ranch and don’t irrigate with a hole in your rubber boots. Those rules are so basic even city slickers should be able to figure them out…

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