My name is Lynn Conley and I have been married to my husband, Russell, for coming on 12 years. Together we have 3 children – Trent (10), Avery (4), and Chett (3). Our story is a little bit different from most I think because we aren’t living on a long-time family ranch. Shortly after we were married, we teamed up with my husband’s parents to buy a hay farm in Diamond Valley, near Eureka, NV which is where my husband went to high school. We both grew up in ranching and agriculture – him on a ranch his dad managed for 30 years, and me as the 5th generation on my family’s place that is more like a really large homestead. I grew up raising sheep and cattle for mostly 4-H and FFA projects. My parents place was big enough for us to raise lots of animals and always have work to do, but not big enough for them to make a full-time income in traditional agriculture. We live about 15 miles from Eureka where there is a little grocery store that can get you by, but we are about 110 miles from the nearest big sized grocery store and 4.5 hours away from a Costco. Thank goodness for UPS and Amazon!
My roles and responsibilities are constantly changing depending on the seasons, so my days are usually always different. I always start my mornings with coffee and a little bit of self-time before I am bombarded with the joys of motherhood that come with raising 3 wild little monkeys! After feeding my crew and getting the oldest off to school, I always try to make sure my kitchen is clean and I start 1 load of laundry before I head out to do morning chores. By doing those 2 things – it always makes my days run a little bit smoother, because as you know, when you have animals you never know what you might find when you go outside that could end up changing your plans for the day. My morning chores usually consist of taking care of my small animal conglomeration that I have acquired, as well as feeding any calves or butcher animals in the corral, the horses, and also taking care of my milk cow. I got a milk cow to put leppy calves on because I think that bottle feeding calves is one of the absolute worst chores ever! But – who am I kidding – I also like to drink and use fresh milk so I usually milk my cow 3-4 times a week, and the calves get extra on days I don’t have time or don’t want to milk. After those things are done, I move onto whatever tasks I am needed for that day. My roles include wife and mother, bookkeeper, cook, tractor driver, cow work, general “go for” anything, as well as being an avid gardener and photographer. I know my roles aren’t different from most ranch wives. I just try to fill in wherever and however I can based upon what needs done, usually with my kids in tow. In this season of my life I don’t get to do a whole lot of riding, which I miss, however before too long all my kids will be big enough to ride on their own and we will be able to do those kinds of things as a family. For now, I just try to enjoy them being little.
The focus of our ranching industry is a cow/calf operation. Typically, we wean our calves around mid-September and haul them into our farm where they are fed and pastured on the pivot aftermath for at least 45 days before they ship. We are also currently pursuing what it would be like to add a retail/wholesale meat aspect to our cow/calf operation. I truly believe that diversity in some form is always a benefit, so that you basically don’t have all your eggs in one basket. When we started out 12 years ago, we had some haying equipment and about 60 cows between the 4 of us. After 2 years of working full time town jobs, Russell was able to quit to come home and work, and I followed 3 years after that. Over the course of the last 12 years we have grown our cow herd 8-fold and increased our haying operation – we are very proud that all of our growth has been paid for in cash. We currently have a good lease on a ranch about 75 miles away from our hay farm, ironically in the same valley my husband grew up in. My in-laws stay at the ranch with the main cow herd, while we live in at the farm, which is nearer to the school for our children. We all travel back and forth all the time to do the work that needs to be done. While we aren’t living at the ranch, we ALWAYS have cattle at the farm. We use the farm to wean and background calves, develop and breed replacement heifers, calve out first calf heifers, and keep bulls. Out at the ranch our main cow herd spends 10 months out of the year grazing on our BLM permit, only coming home for 2 months in the late winter where we can keep an eye on them during calving.
One of the most unexpected things that has ever happened to us, happened after our first year at the ranch we are leasing. We brought our first calf heifers’ home to calve and just 1 month before calving, we started having abortions of full-term fetuses. You always expect some, but this was like an epidemic. I think we ended up with 20 abortions or weak calves that died within hours of birth that year just in the heifers alone. I don’t remember our exact losses in the cows but it was also bad. It was probably one of the most depressing and scary times we have ever experienced. We sent off countless blood and fluid samples and numerous fetuses to different labs, and spent hours talking to different vets and our vaccine company. We finally received a positive identification that the abortions were caused from the tick that carries Foothill Abortion. Something that we had NO idea was even in our area. We were worried that this tick was going to be the end of our cattle raising business. We found out that California had an experimental vaccine study going on, and we were able to apply and be admitted to the Foothill Abortion Vaccine trial. This vaccine alone has made a huge difference in our operation. We still experience a few abortions, as no vaccine is ever 100% effective, but nothing like the staggering losses we experienced that first year on the ranch.
I don’t know if there is really anyway to prepare for complications that change your plans. I think that mostly you just have to learn to roll with the punches, be flexible, and trust that God has other plans. I think this gets easier for us the older and maybe “wiser” we become. It was definitely a huge struggle for my husband and me in our early twenties. That being said, I also always try to make sure that there are lots of leftovers in the fridge or some easy freezer or home canned meals that can be prepared quickly. Around my crew, everyone gets “hangry” easily and as long as I have something good to feed them with, it seems to help keep spirits up more.
The ranching lifestyle I think is definitely less stressful than those who live the fast-paced urban life. They are constantly beholden to other people and surrounded by the drama that comes with living in close proximities with lots of people every day. Ranching is not without its serious stresses, but it is a different kind of stress.
I have several favorite things about ranch life. I love that every day we get to experience animals, fresh air, and wide-open spaces. Even on days that I have to drag myself out to do chores, once I am out, there is something so peaceful and refreshing about being out in that every single day. I also love that there are seasons and the jobs change.Just about the time I think that I can’t stand checking heifers anymore, or if I have to spend one more day on a tractor, then it turns into a different season and the jobs change. That was one thing I hated about working in town behind a desk – it was the same thing every day, all year long. I am not sure if I could pick just one season that is my favorite. They all have their plusses and minuses. I think if I had to choose though it would be a combination of calving and branding season. Spring has always been my absolute favorite season. The weather is starting to warm up and in Nevada, it’s about the only time it is really green. I love calving because of the gift of seeing new life brought to us. I also do love the stories that come from those hormone crazed cows that chased you or someone else up the fence. It makes me laugh later and provides hours of storytelling!I also love branding season too because it is one of the few times during the year that we end up getting to spend time with some of our closest friends. We all have an excuse to carve out time to help each other get everyone’s calves branded and get time around camp fires and back porches, making memories and strengthening friendships.
One memorable event that stands out to me is when we were calving heifers last year. The weather turned horribly snowy and cold as soon as calving started so Russell and I were constantly out checking. We kind of felt like walking zombies for 2 months. Anyway – this particular day we had cleaned out the corrals because the mud just kept getting deeper. It was so soupy that you couldn’t even scoop it with the backhoe, you had to just kind of push and roll it out of the corrals into a pile. The consistency reminded me of slow-moving lava. It was awful to work in. One morning we had 3 new pairs to let out and when we opened the gate, instead of going around the gooey pile, they all ran straight into it. The heifers managed to muddle their way out of it and 2 of the calves stopped a few steps in and we were able to get them out. One calf though just wouldn’t stop until he was in the very center, buried up to his ribs and stuck. Russell got a rope and threw it around him and when we started pulling on the calf his head went straight down into the mud and stuck. I panicked and said – “he is going to suffocate!” so Russell stopped pulling and started trudging out to grab him by the ears and pull his head out. Looking back, we probably should have just pulled really fast the last 6 feet and gotten him out… but Russell waded out and grabbed the calf to get his face out of the mud. As he started to pull him though, Russell’s legs got kind of stuck and crossed at the same time and he ended up face planting with his wool coat and warm clothes in this gooey pile of mud and poo. He was pretty disgusted and I may or may not have fallen over laughing! Sometimes, even when it should be simple, cow work can take a weird turn and there’s a chance someone will end up discouraged. I don’t know why? Cows will be cows and sure enough one of them is not going to do what they are supposed to, or they won’t live up to our expectations in some way – typically in a way out of our control… the older I get I notice that I just try to ignore it when someone gets their drawers in a wad. But – bring beer! Beer always helps ease the stress of cow work!
I definitely think it is important for ranchers to share their story! In today’s society – especially with the “gift” of social media I believe there are so many negative thoughts and misconceptions about agriculture in general! Even some that pit agriculturists against each other, such as the smaller family operation digging on the larger family operations. Most everyone in agriculture is here because they have a love for land and animals and hard work. Nearly all are working hard to feed the world and leave behind a place for their children to grow up and work hard on as well. There is never a one size fits all method for anything in life and agriculture is no different. Everyone finds what works for them with their specific situations and beliefs, with the end goal all being the same: To be good stewards of the land and animals, and to raise good quality and healthy food for the world.
Before Russell and I were married I had several people, who I very much respect in the cattle industry, tell me that if I wanted a ranch someday, I should probably marry someone who already had a ranch. While we don’t yet own our own ranch, we still feel that this goal is definitely closer to our grasp than ever before!I attribute that to not only hard work and sacrifice, but our dedication (very hard at times) to living a frugal and debt free lifestyle and only paying cash for our growth. I think it would be so hard to try and make a living with both a land and a cattle payment. If ranching or agriculture is the lifestyle or career you want to pursue – make sure you are passionate about it. The hours stink and the pay is usually pretty lousy but if it is your passion – none of that will really matter. I encourage everyone to follow your dreams. I still believe that hard work, passion, and sacrifice will get you just about anywhere you want to go!