My name is McKenzie Molsbee, wife to Jason for 10 years and mom to two boys, Easton (9) and Cavin (7). I grew up on my family ranch in northeastern Nevada. I am the 5th generation. We live in O’Neil Basin at the base of the Jarbidge Mountains. We are 2 ½ hrs from our closet shopping town which is tied between Twin Falls, ID or Elko, NV but because of Costco we go to Twin Falls. Our shopping days, similar to most other ranching families, are long, long, long days always involving a stroll to Costco. We try to limit our town runs to once a month. We are fortunate to have my folks and grandma living at the ranch also. When the kiddos were little, they would stay with my folks while we made the run. Now, we try to make every other trip where we stay the night and give the kids a chance to swim in the hotel pool. When I was growing up my parents made sure we did the same thing which has always stuck with me. Yes, we have irrigation ditches, head gates, and the creek but the water is still barely above the “snow melt” feel and it’s nice breaking up the town run trip with a special night in the pool.
I went to elementary school in a one room school house in Jarbidge. My mom was the school teacher. When my brother went to high school we moved to Wells where my mom got a teaching job at the elementary school and we finished high school there. Growing up we weren’t the typical cattle operation. We also have a lodge and guests were a big part of the ranch. My grandparents also raised horses and we ran a stud bunch throughout all of my childhood. I remember having to pack a stick every time we had to ride through the pasture where they were kept. When I was about twelve, the ranch entered in Holistic Management. Riding changed at that time. We needed to move the cows around in a rotational grazing system which included more animal numbers. When we first started there were not as many allotment divisions as we have now so riding happened every day. Part of the grazing allotments run up onto the Jarbidge Wilderness where there is no back-boundary fencing. The wilderness is rugged, big, and well watered. Cows and riding are in my blood. My parents let me ride at a young age with the cowboys who were working for us. I would be the pesky kid tagging along, I’m sure they thought, but I would quiz them or my dad constantly to learn the country. I wanted to know it like my dad and grandpa knew it and be able to go everywhere I was sent.
I went to several educational workshops with my dad throughout my high school years; Holistic Management, Bud Williams Low Stress Stockmanship School, several horse clinics, and Livestock Marketing Class. We had pressure from an environmental group trying to stop livestock grazing within an allotment but I was seeing the positive change on the land that was happening from grazing with more numbers and shorter duration. That made my decision to go to college for a range management degree from Utah State. I originally wanted to be a private consultant to ranchers to help combat those environmental activist groups that were wanting livestock removed from the West. However, I discovered that I did not enjoy monitoring although I did love the knowledge behind it. I was always pulled back to cows, land, and horses.
Before Jason and I got married we attended a Ranching for Profit class which set the spark to eventually dive into our own livestock enterprise and more knowledge in the think tank for coming into the family operation. In 2009, we had the opportunity to come back to the ranch to manage the cattle operation. We moved onto my family’s ranch, Cottonwood, the year we were married. At the time we were living in Crescent Valley where Jason was working for the Dean Ranch. Being owned by Barrick Mines meant the typical ranch lifestyle was very much altered to comply with their safety regulations. I was not allowed to ride in the pickup truck with Jason even to run out and check the pivots. We knew it just wasn’t going to be the long-term lifestyle we were wanting going into marriage and eventually starting a family.
When Jason and I came to the ranch they were running a cow/calf operation and retaining calves to run as yearlings. The ranch had room for more livestock during the growing season and it had always been a goal of ours to own our own livestock so in the fall of 2009 we bought into 500 head of calves. We went through Farm Service Agency for the funding. When we pitched them our proposal, they thought we were a little crazy and they had never funded a business proposal for buying calves to run as yearlings but somehow, they accepted. This was the beginning. We had to buy them late that fall and carry them through the winter but O’Neil Basin was not the ideal spot for running sick, pieced together calves coming from all different places. We needed a more accessible and affordable winter spot. We spent that first winter in a borrowed 5th wheel outside of Winnemucca along the Humboldt River. I was pregnant with our first son. We continued down that path of buying calves in the fall and selling as yearlings the following year for about 3 years. Every winter we had to find new winter pasture and live away from the ranch where our calves were. If we weren’t doing that we were driving back and forth and after Cavin was born we decided we wanted to stay home at the ranch during the winter months. We changed out of the yearling operation and bought into cows. Currently, we own and run a cow/calf operation at the ranch and an A.I. program on the heifers. In 2017, we went into partnership with Jason’s parents and started a registered Red Angus program. We wanted to supply our commercial side with part of the bull inventory. We still have a long way to go to get our Red Angus program exactly how we want it but it’s been a fun side enterprise to tinker on. Eventually we would like to private treaty a few bulls every year. We have learned to work livestock together better. Communication is key and a few walks out of the corral and “leave you to your onesies” moments never hurt either. Making sure we value each other’s game plan and at least hearing each other out helps.
A typical day for us changes with the different seasons. The boys are enrolled in an online public charter school so during school season I spend the majority of the day helping with their school work. I always start my mornings with coffee and catching up on the news before the kids wake and it’s on to breakfast and school. I try hard to have the boys start their school days about 8:30. Fall is a hard time to get a routine down. My friend, Jessica and I do big game pack-outs during the hunting season so sometimes we are both pulled away for that and Jason is gone all season with the guiding business. I also usually help with the cooking in the fall for the hunters staying in the lodge. Throw our main business on top with livestock and the days are usually busy and it is by far my most stressful time of the year. A summer day still consists of coffee in the mornings but then regular ranch chores begin. Days are filled with riding and moving cows to the next allotments, irrigating, fencing, running horses, A.I. heifers, moving electric pasture fences in meadows, and of course our favorite… brandings! My favorite time of year is late spring. We start calving out our heifers in April. I love seeing the new babies hit the ground. Our main cows are outside on a BLM allotment which means feeding is less time consuming. The countryside is greening up and the sun once again holds warmth when it does show its face. Brandings start popping up and getting back in the saddle is always a welcomed soreness. My absolute favorite thing about ranch life is the variety within the days and seasons. Winter will eventually end and change into spring activities and new life. Spring’s crazy schedule will morph into summer must dos intermixed with playtime days. Then there is fall. Riding through the mountains with new crisp fall air and vibrant colors lifts the spirit for the crazed stress filled days ahead. And then winter returns and it’s a sigh of welcomed calmness and a time to recoup. All is experienced surrounded by family and each season brings new understandings and learning opportunities to have with the boys.
It seems like we are always thrown a curve ball from time to time but one sticks out in my mind the most. I am reluctant to share so please don’t judge. I won the “Mom of the Year” award when Cavin was 4. We had gone 6 years since Jason and I returned to the ranch with mild winters. Well the winter of 2016 was one for the record books across the West. We had hay hauled in for the cows but enough for a 90-day feed season not 120 days. Things came tight. We had hay bought in Idaho but semi-trucks were snowed out of the Basin. Every time the county road crews came, wind would blow the road shut again. The snow berm along the road was wide enough for a pickup and as tall. Then the warm up came and it took our piled road snow and made rivers down the county road. Our side of the Basin still held on to the snow but toward Highway 93 the road was gone. It would be a long time until the road was made passable. Without so many of our surrounding neighbors’ support we would have been in lots of trouble. We are very thankful to have such great people around us. That was a long background story but, we had to turn cows out early. The south facing slopes on one of our BLM allotments were bare enough we had to take the cows everyday out across the snow to the exposed feed. Cavin, 7 dogs, and I had that job one morning. We could travel the country road with the ATV while the dogs swung out around the cows in the brush. I parked the four-wheeler on the road with Cavin and was just walking over to where the dogs were moving the cows up the hill. I was focusing on each foot placement as I walked across so wasn’t really paying attention to cows in front until I heard the noise……..All 7 dogs on one mad red angus cow. This cow was looking for anything to mow over in her path. This all sounds like I might have had decent amount of thinking time but I really didn’t. She came at me with me having enough time to put my hands out and jump to the side as she blew snot running by me with her old head bowed like they get when start to get hot blooded in the corral. I had NO idea that Cavin was right behind me just enough that when I stepped to the side as she blew by, she now had a new target. She nailed him straight on, knocking him clean out of his snow boots. Honest to goodness truth, his snow boots stayed in the snow as he was thrown out. She stopped a little way past us and I was worried she was going to come again so I quickly gathered my crying little boy and his boots up and ran to the four-wheeler. He miraculously did not have any life-threatening injuries. He kept saying his “tooth was dulling” so we took him to the dentist and the old red cow did split one of his molar teeth to the root so we had to have that removed. The dentist asked “so you moved out of the way and your son got run over?” “Yes,” was all I could say. We definitely were the first for them. I do not feel too proud that I moved out of the way for my four-year-old to get mucked out but we can all smile about it now.
One of our most memorable times comes during 4th of July celebration… not always celebrated on the exact day of the 4th due to our friends and family who have more fixed work schedules. It really goes back to when my dad was a kid growing up at the ranch. They used to have a big rodeo event with close to 400 people attending until things got a little wild and they decided to take a break from hosting a big 4th of July event. It’s been in the last 10 years or so that we again started picking our old tradition yet in a slightly different way and it grows every year. We have a 4th of July party where everyone coming is required to enter a float in our spectator-less parade. Tractors, ATVs, trucks, trailers, jeeps, go carts, horses, and our VFD fire truck all sporting red, white, and blue decorations file out our main gate to do a loop that ends in our meadows. A water fight is always given with the top victor usually the fire truck. We all stand in a circle for the Pledge of Allegiance, patriotic songs, and salute to our veterans and those still serving. It is very powerful and moving to all be standing together 70 miles from the nearest town to celebrate our country. The parade is following by a potluck dinner, pit cooked pig or lamb and fireworks.
We have to roll with the flow and be flexible for the curve balls thrown at us. And living this far from town we have to have extras of everything; dog food, hay, groceries, etc. especially for the long blustery winter days. Sometimes going “with the flow” is something I struggle with. I have a very planned, organized demeanor and being thrown off my plan always rattles my cage. You just have to ask my husband that one! One fall day when I felt like my world was falling apart and my husband was gone guiding my neighbor/friend told me, “It will all buff out, it always does.” I had no idea how much that little saying would replay itself to get me through the tough times.
I believe ranch life has its own different stress levels. It is the stress factors that we are used in rural life but are very different from urban. Perhaps one difference might be that we don’t have the ability to leave our work at the workplace. It surrounds us daily and at all hours. Sometimes I envy an 8 to 5 job but the thought is always fleeting.
It is important to share our story especially in today’s society. The ranching voice is not loud enough to ride over the dominant influence of the extreme environmental activist groups. We need to show and demonstrate good stewardship of the land and resources done within our industry. It is essential to show the value that livestock and ranching has on the landscape and have that positive picture painted within the minds of the urban communities who see and hear the negative. We are in a unique position to be able to have a positive direct impact on the land and resources surrounding us and to use what we do in our everyday lives to create a positive influence.
If you’re interested in ranch life, go for it! Learn as much as you can. Be progressive and open minded. Remember to cherish the old traditions at the same time as bringing in the new.