Yesterday I had the opportunity to sit on a panel with three other ranch women and answer questions from a group of teachers about our version of Ranch Life. We started out by introducing ourselves and telling a little bit about how we grew up and how we ended up where we are. The moderator for the Q and A would prompt us to share a bit more detail here and there or fill in the gaps relating our answers to things they had worked on during the previous sessions.
We four were an hour long piece of a two day puzzle that prepared the teachers to share our story and set them up for the ag in the classroom event that will follow later this spring.
They had prepared questions for us and the moderator read us the questions and then gave us each a chance to tell our version of the story.
It's been a minute since I've had or taken the opportunity to talk about life here and being part of that group yesterday reminded me that I've neglected sharing. I've asked other women to share their stories and have so enjoyed reading them, that I've let my own remain untold.
The truth is, it feels pretty automatic anymore and some of the minor stories that have come up haven't really felt to me like a reason to share. Talking to the group of teachers yesterday reminded me that my purpose in sharing is to not only reach those who know me, but to also share with those who don't and who are learning about this life we lead.
So, today felt like a good day to try to remember some of the questions we were asked and share them with you...
And you know how it is...I often think of what I could have or should have said after the fact. So, my answers here will probably be better than those I gave yesterday!
What is your typical day like?
There is no such thing. Ha! It depends on the season and the weather. The weather dictates so much of what we do and when we do it, especially in the winter months. This time of year things can be pretty slow still. We have had a pretty mild winter compared to the last few and we are able to get out and about a lot more. I teach for a virtual public school as a substitute. Right now, I am filling a spot for a teacher in South Carolina. My day starts at 4:30 with coffee and a book. I "exercise on purpose" at 5 for about 30 minutes and then get ready to log on. I teach from 8-4 Eastern Time. I actually enjoy that schedule because it means I get the whole afternoon and if it's sunny, I take advantage of that and catch a horse or two. I might even take the dogs for a run...on purpose.
It's still "Feeding Season" so Husbeast feeds in the mornings and on the weekends, I go with him to help. It's my chance to see the cows and I give him feedback on how they are looking since I notice differences after not seeing them for a week. It's kind of like watching your own kids grow up...you don't notice how much they've change in a month or a year, until someone makes a comment. Husbeast sees the cows every day so some of the differences aren't as obvious to him.
These afternoons that I have free also mean I can fill in as needed. We are still feeding small (85-90lb) two twine bales so the cows get 3 loads of 30 - 90 bales a day. Husbeast had to go in for a meeting for ranch stuff the other day, so I filled in for him and loaded and fed hay.
As the days get longer and grow warmer and schedules turn to moving cows to outside grazing pastures, we will do more things horseback and spend more time out and about checking on things. In about a month my question will have an entirely different answer.
"Calving Season" is about a week or so away for us and that adds a new level of entertainment to each day.
What is the most challenging aspect of ranching?
The market and the weather. Both have the power to make or break us. We market and sell our calves once per year. The financial needs of each operation are different. In our case, the calves that we sell have to cover the mortgage we pay annually and the living expenses we incur for the next 12 months. These living expenses include just that...living...food, clothing, necessities, but they also include the mechanical, veterinary, feed, and other operating expenses of the ranch. Sometimes we can budget and plan for these things and other times we have events or breakdowns that take us by surprise and we have to cover those costs.
The market can be predicted in a sense, but until the buyers start bidding and the auctioneer drops the gavel, we never know how we sit. And then, we start mentally penciling out where it leaves us for the year. World events, national events, local events; they all have the power to affect our annual paycheck.
The weather is another, or can be another, challenge. Too much rain, not enough rain, too much snow, not enough snow, fires, floods, wind. Each weather pattern has a different effect on our livestock water, meadow grass, native desert grass and therefore, our cattle and calves. We are constantly making adjustments depending on the weather.
Growing up and living in Nevada, people have asked if we enjoy gambling. Our answer is always no because we do it every day just by being part of the livestock industry.
Do you ever want to keep the cows as pets?
Sure! Especially the leppy calves that are raised in the yard on a bucket. They essentially become pets for the few months that they live around the house. Weebeast is 11 this year and he raised six leppies last year (we had several sets of twins, which is unusual). The day we shipped calves and loaded them on the truck, he wanted to keep his favorites.
We take care of our cows and calves. We strive to give them a good life and care for them. Each one of them gets what she needs to the best of our abilities. Some of them get to where they really stick out in our minds and some of them, for our own amusement, end up with names. Helga? Favorite Cow? Gina? Big Dot Little Dot? There's usually a story that goes along with each name and some reason she's earned it. Without them, we couldn't be part of this lifestyle. We couldn't do the things we love if we didn't have these cows and care for them. Each year at calving and pregging, there are cows who don't make the cut. Some of them don't raise a calf or they don't end up breeding back, and those production culls have to be made. Those are tough times too because you never know what cow it's going to be. That's where the business mindset has to come in and the practical call has to be made. We personally cannot afford to keep those cows around for a second chance. As the favorites get older and have to be sent down the road, the stories surrounding their names and the memories that come with them make us reminisce pretty hard and I'll admit, you might see me shed a tear over a few of those.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating...these are "our girls." We are proud of them and we are pretty damn proud of the calves that get on the trucks every fall. They are the best of what we have to offer and we feel certain we did our best to keep the cows healthy, the calves healthy and to fulfill the contracts we promised.
We serve a purpose as livestock producers, as cow-calf operators....we are the beginning of a chain of production that feeds people.
That's something to be proud of.
Those are only three of several we each got to answer. I told them all that I'm much better at typing than answering on the fly. It was fun to visit with the teachers and to hear the other ladies share their version of the same questions. Another thing we all agreed on was sharing our story to better help others get a feel for and understand what we do. Hopefully they felt more comfortable with the idea of asking us or other producers questions about our operations. We love what we do and we are happy to share,but we don't know what questions you might have unless you ask them.
So, please do...ask away!