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The ranchers wife

This past month has been particularly exciting in our household. We welcomed our first daughter on the 24th of June and then proceeded to go on a wild week long welcome home tour that included a ride in a jet, a helicopter, and two ambulances, along with a stay in three different hospitals. Baby girl is doing fine now, our 3-year-old boy is proud as can be of his new sister, dad has enough gray hair to last a lifetime, and mama proved once again she can be the toughest member of this household.

Throughout this whole process I was reminded of how blessed I am by the woman I call my wife, and I am sure that many of you readers out there would agree that we ranchers and farmers are married to a rare breed of woman. Those crazy feminists that lead marches on the capitol wearing hardly any clothing, and using language that would make most sailors blush cannot hold a candle to the women who make the homes here in rural America.

God cut the women of the heartland from a special cloth. He made them so that they could be tough as a rattlesnake when they needed to be, but also soft enough to soothe a crying baby at three in the morning. He made them show their love in the things they do, like cook huge meals for a branding or a harvest crew. They’ll patch wranglers long past their prime, keep the ranch books in order, and pinch every dime. The lady of the house will saddle up and go all day long, but it will be Dad’s job to catch a stray mouse in the house.

The rancher’s wife puts up with calves in the kitchen when it’s a blizzard outside, she keeps a garden and cans the harvest to enjoy this winter. She works harder than we realize, and if I’m being truly honest, I don’t think I could do her job even half as well as she does. She’ll take a supper to a neighbor when they’ve had an accident or lost a loved one, and sit and talk for hours when someone needs a shoulder to cry on.

These women out here won’t back down from a fight, and you can bet they will stand for what they think is right. I see the crazies out there on the television and I’m fairly certain if they ever decided to venture out of the big city, there would be an army of these country girls ready to wash their mouths out with soap and correct their behavior with a rolling pin or skillet. By the time the army of ranchers’ wives was through with them, they would be sitting in the front pew at church and know how to say please, thank you, yes sir and ma’am.

When you think about it, we cowboys and farmers can be kinda hard to get along with. We’re not always the cleanest sort, usually our cologne is a mixture of horse sweat, ninety weight gear lube and cow manure. Our wives put up with a lot, from being the gate girl to the official parts runner, they cover all the bases. Often times I think we kind of take them for granted once in a while. I know for a fact that while I may wear the pants in our family, my wife is definitely the one making sure they are patched, pressed and presentable.

Next time you think that you have a rough job, just ask yourself if you would want to trade shoes with your wife for a day. I don’t think I’m man enough to do that. Give your bride a squeeze and be sure to tell her how much you appreciate all she does to make your house a home. Until next time God bless and keep tabs on your side of the barbed wire. ❖

Prairie fire

This year is shaping up to be a very difficult one for those of us in the ranching industry. The year started with great promise, and producers were very optimistic after facing a year of floods, low market prices and difficult trade negotiations. That promise was quickly shattered with the outbreak of Covid-19. Though the markets are slowly beginning to recover, and our country is beginning to open back up, we are faced with a new problem through a vast area of the Great Plains. Drought, all the land in the world is useless unless it rains, or has some form of irrigation to produce. When the word drought comes to mind, many folks think of 2012 and the record heat, multiple fires and lost production that was caused that year. For me I think a little further back, 18 years to be exact to 2002 when I was an eager ranch kid on the hi plains of eastern Colorado. I watched as my family, our friends and neighbors, all struggled to make a living off the land.

For many of us that year, we never stopped feeding hay that summer. Because there was none available locally, numerous truckloads came from Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas. Everyone culled hard, first with cows that were marginal producers, then later with cows that were older, and finally in some cases, the entire herd went to town. One neighbor who had ranched his entire life actually had a heart attack as the last bunch of cows pulled off his place headed for town, a lifetime of blood, sweat and tears all loaded into a 53’ pot headed for the sale barn. While I remember feeding cows, praying for rain and helping ship cows, my most vivid memory came one afternoon in July that year when a thunderstorm appeared on the horizon. By the time that storm had passed, we had fought 40 some odd prairie fires, and spotted several more that burned themselves out. The following is the story of that memory.

It was sure a scorcher that day, nearly 105 in the shade. By 10 in the morning the cows were fed, the last bunch of hay for which we had overpaid. Weatherman said there’s a chance today, we could sure use a drink, last we had was a half tenth in May.

We broke for lunch around noon, there’s clouds in the west and maybe it’ll storm soon! We’ve prayed for rain long and hard, but time and again the sky won’t let down her guard. Ten minutes after lunch we were out in the shop, it was then when we heard the first thunder pop. We peered outside to see the lightning strike, it was then we heard the tones that gave us all a fright.

We ran to the fire truck we had on loan, Dad hit the starter and she fired with a groan. “3841 on route” Dad called back to dispatch, our “crew of three” was Dad, Jake and me. We headed west towards the smoke we could see, the first flames we got to were on part of the old Box T. I was good help, or so I had been told, as good as could be for a boy who was just 11 years old. Dad drove the truck while Jake rode on the back, I helped navigate, being sure to stay in the back.

Mutual aid was called and there was a truck from Tri-County, they were short a man, so that job went to me. They were 60 miles from their district, and didn’t know the country, I was a local and new every fence, well and tree. We fought fire after fire, and heard tone after tone, I’m sure dispatch thought they were glued to the phone.

We ended up on the Eden ranch down by Highland, when all was told there were thousands of acres of scorched land. Just when we thought we were done for the night and had pulled the trucks in the barn tight, a lightning shriek got the Sandhills to the west of Grandpa Gieck’s.

At four in the morning we pulled the trucks in for the final time, a hefty loss paid for by the rancher’s dime. I’ll never forget that fire filled day, and every time I see lightning I start to pray. So whenever possible I’ll pay my fee, and do my best to support the local V.F.D.

That’s all I’ve got for this time folks. Please pray for rain and do your best to support your local fire department. Until next time God bless and keep tabs on your side of the barbed wire. ❖


Without a doubt in my mind, there is one creature here on God’s green earth that is the single most destructive critter alive. That critter is the herd bull on the ranch. When you purchase that fancy new bovine Romeo with the intent of him producing powerful new and exciting progeny within your herd, you usually forget the hidden costs of owning this 1,800-pound hunk of love. I’m not talking about the cost of feed, vaccine, pour on and all the other costs necessary to care for Fabio, I’m talking about the cost of the fence he tore down because he thought the neighbors replacement heifers needed male companionship, or the dent in the side of the pickup where he scratched an itch on his head while you were putting out salt.

Bulls are very much needed for 45-65 days out of the year depending on your operation, but the remainder of the year they seem to only have destruction on their mind. It’s funny to me how they can be the very best of friends for months on end, but the minute you need to move them a quarter mile to a different pasture, it becomes a pay per view fight worthy of the MGM Grand in Vegas. For three days they will fight, dig new holes for you to find with the four wheeler or pick-up all over the pasture, and talk smack that should be the envy of professional athletes. Taking bulls to cows at the start of the breeding season is likely the easiest task in ranching, they know where they are going and have no problem making their way to the cows in a hurry. When you pull those same bulls in the fall, you better have a big horse, couple of ropes, a half rabid dog, life insurance and a crazed old man that drives his pick-up like a demolition derby car.

Through all this hassle, I believe that I have come up with the perfect solution for breeding cows without all the other hassle. Bulls should be inflatable. Testing them for breeding season would be as easy and pulling them down from their storage spot in the tack room in the barn, hosing the dust off, hook up the air compressor, and check for leaks. Checking them in the summer would simply require the use of a tire pressure gauge and a portable air compressor. If one decided it would be okay to visit the neighbor’s cows, a simple shot from your kid’s bb gun would deflate the problem. When it came time to pull bulls at the end of the season, simply pull the plug and let all the air out, fold them back up and put them back in the barn.

These inflatable bulls would revolutionize the cattle industry, heck they might even draw big corporate sponsors at all the national cattle shows. Until the perfect bull comes along, I guess I will continue to stretch wires, field phone calls from neighbors with fancy replacement heifers, and reward athletic fence jumping ability with nylon necklaces and trips to the sale barn. One thing to remember, no matter how hard they may try, I have never in my life seen a bull that could jump out of a freezer.

As all of you out there are testing bulls, turning them out, and handling these massive beasts, please be safe. Do your work in the cool of the morning and don’t try to handle one on the fight. That’s all for this time, pray for rain and keep tabs on your side of the barbed wire. ❖

Hide stamping

It’s that time of year again here on the ranch, two months of new calves, some sleepless nights, a few lessons of Mommy 101 with maternally challenged bovine, have all come down to this day. That’s right, it’s branding time. The time of year that cowboys and cowgirls get as giddy as children on Christmas as they jingle in the ponies before the sun peeks over the horizon. Some say that it’s an outdated tradition that ranchers cling to out of stubborn pride, but for those of us who still like to do things with a little tradition, it’s more than just a day of working calves. Branding day is a celebration, a party of sorts, where we gather with our friends and neighbors in gratefulness that another calf crop is here on the ground.

This year looks a little different in the branding corral. The fear of a virus means there may be a few things we should be mindful of. I decided that it might be easiest if I put together a guide to help us all with our branding tasks.

When you show up to help the neighbor brand this year, your attire should be all about function over fashion. Now I know some of you, myself included, have got to punch out in those brand new stovepipe boots, 12-inch brimmed hat held on with a ratchet strap so it doesn’t fly off in the wind while you ride in on a wide-eyed half broke colt who thinks cows eat horsemeat for breakfast, but this year you might need a new wardrobe. For instance, rubber chore boots, ground length slicker, OB gloves, ski goggles, and the air filter you just changed from your wife’s car bungee corded around your nose and ears are perfectly acceptable.

Next, instead of dragging calves to the fire with that new poly rope you’ve been hiding from your wife in the tack room for the last three weeks, think about using one braided from yellow caution tape. Not only will the bright yellow color make you highly visible, the sound of the wind whipping it on your horse’s rump with ensure that he helps all the ground crew keep an appropriate social distance. To top it off when you are all done roping for the day you can simply throw the tape in the burn barrel with the used net wrap.

If you are the ground crew where that social distancing is hard, keep a can of Lysol in your pocket. When the cowboy surgeon comes to gather oysters for the local fire department’s calf fry, you can be sure they are well disinfected. Of course you might want to be careful not to spray the man with the knife while he is watching, for obvious reasons of course.

Finally when the work is all done and you all head off for a bite to eat that the cooks have been laboring over all morning, wash your hands like you just cut up a batch of jalapeños and you have an itch under your eye.

Well I hope that this helps for all of you dear readers out there. Hopefully you got a good laugh out of this and are able to enjoy branding with your crew in the safest way possible this year. Whether you use a table, or drag them to the fire, practice good habits that ensure we keep producing the best beef in the world. Until next time thank God for what he has blessed you with and keep tabs on your side of the barbed wire. ❖

Shop towels and corn husks

This month has proven to me why I like cows better than my fellow man. March 2020 has proven that common sense is far from common, and that fear is the biggest economic driver that there has ever been. To be honest, thus far 2020 has felt like a reality show on a lackluster cable network with marginal ratings that all of a sudden everyone discovered and suddenly jumped on the bandwagon. Never in my life did I think that there would be a shortage of toilet paper. Here in rural America, life continues on. Many of us are still busy calving, preparing equipment for spring fieldwork, or nervously drinking coffee as we hear the morning market reports.

We here in the heartland and in the world of agriculture have been deemed “essential” to America and the economy right now. I know all of you reading this are just blushing red with excitement because your government thinks more of us right now than celebrities or professional ball players, just don’t let all this new-found fame go to your heads. This is a very unique time in American history. It’s a time that some will look back on and cringe thinking it was a very dark period and we just don’t know how we ever survived. Others will look back on this period and admire the way that we adapted, overcame and adjusted to make due. As I watch the chaos unfold around me today, I have more and more respect for a generation that came before me.

We truly do not know how good we have it in America today. Even with things like a two week quarantine, social distancing, closures of public places and functions, we as Americans still have it better than those who witnessed the 1920s through the end of WWII. Those folks truly saw the worst of the hard times. With the economic collapse that was the Great Depression, followed by the Dust Bowl that destroyed American agriculture in the 1930s and the rationing of everything from flour to gasoline during WWII those who lived in that time are truly the greatest generation for a reason. I haven’t seen huge roadside camps filled with families who lost their homes and way of life, or record bank foreclosures because of economic collapse, and I hope I never do.

With all the craziness that is going on today, now might be a good time to look at what is most important in your life. It’s a good time to make adjustments to focus on family, and away from the material things that often consume our lives. It’s not the end of the world right now, despite what some on television might have us believe. Be proud that you are part of an industry that takes pride in doing things the right way the first time, an industry that is striving to keep food in every kitchen, both at home and around the globe. As in times past we will adapt and meet the challenge, just like those who worked the land before us. Be thankful for what the good Lord has provided for you and your family, and give to those who are less fortunate than you.

A year from now we will all sit back and laugh at the chaos that took place this year, by then hopefully we will be able to buy toilet paper in the store again. Until then keep the corn husks and blue shop towels handy, and keep tabs on your side of the barbed wire. ❖

The nightwatch

It’s that time of year again on many ranches, long days spent watching carefully over expecting bovine mothers, playing midwife to adolescent first-time heifers that would rather take the calf that their herd mate has already delivered instead of lying down to have one of their own, and functioning on a diet comprised mostly of coffee.

Calving season is the time of year on the ranch that involves the most work, and biggest reward, but can also be the most emotionally draining. Seeing a newborn calf stand and nurse for the first time is a sight that every rancher takes pride in. On the other side of that coin, watching a calf draw its final breath because it was born in a blizzard and wasn’t found in time tears at the heart strings of those of us who make our living from the land.

2019 proved to be the hardest calving season that I have ever experienced. Two blizzards, record cold, chilled calves and countless hours spent packing calves into the barn made it an extremely difficult season. Even with all of the hardship, the reward of seeing all our hard work being turned out on summer grass made all of us smile from ear to ear. It has been said that ranchers are forever the optimists, frankly we have to be or we would never turn bulls out in the summer so we could lose sleep next spring.

Anyone that has ever calved out heifers knows that they are a whole different creature from any other animal on earth. They will claim calves that aren’t theirs, beat newborn calves for no apparent reason, neglect to claim their own calf, and do their level best to make you pull your hair out. I am fairly convinced that in the dictionary if you look up hormonal it says see heifer. The following poem is dedicated to all my fellow ranchers, veterinarians and hired men out there playing midwife to these creatures.

Frost hangs on the whiskers of my ol sorrel horse, we’re prowling through heavies, it’s calving season of course

She’s a cold one tonight here in the heifer lot, kinda wish I had some more coffee in that old worn out pot.

The snow’s a falling, and the wind’s starting to blow, boy some of these girls are really starting to show.

About 2 in the morning we find one looking pretty calvy, better get to the barn, or at the end of a rope you’ll savvy.

Something ain’t quite right about this adolescent mother, I see one foot, but where is the other?

She’s got a leg back and that just won’t do, but she’s in luck, cause I’m the midwife on this night crew.

With the leg popped forward and the chains pulled tight, mama better push or we’ll lose this fight.

A little push and a little pull, the shoulders come free and now there’s a lull. One more push and we’re in the clear, thanks for the help Mama dear.

A pen full of straw will do for tonight, both mama and calf are snuggled in tight, now it’s back in the saddle for the rest of the night.

Daylight dawns and we can loosen the cinch a notch, so ends another shift on the night watch.

With calving season underway, I wish all of you reading this a safe and prosperous calving season. Be safe out there and remember that no critter is worth a trip to the hospital for you or your family. That’s all for this time, may God bless you with kind mamas, or fast feet! Until next time remember to take care of your side of the barbed wire. ❖

Flowers, candy and horse sales

Valentine’s Day tends to look a little bit different for those of us here in the ag world.

For some it is spent hauling corn to the elevator to fill contracts. To others, it might be spent inventorying the vet room in the calving barn, making sure that everything is in order before those sleepless nights of calving season are in full swing. Sure you might have time to run into town and buy your sweetheart a box of chocolates or a bouquet of flowers, but more often than not it comes down to you taking the time to fix supper so Mom can have the night off or giving the kids a bath and putting them to bed so the lady of the house can enjoy a few minutes to herself.

In the years that I have been married, my wife and I have found a different tradition all together. See since we have been married, we have always been at least a hundred miles from the nearest “big” town. We always tried to make Valentine’s Day the last little weekend getaway before it was all hands on deck for the next two months during calving season.

Oddly enough, there always seems to be a horse sale about this time of year. While the only thing we usually ever buy is our lunch, it’s still fun for us to go and see good horse flesh and hear the auctioneer cry us a chant while we visit with friends and others within the industry. This year I decided to commemorate the tradition with verse and rhyme.

“Don’t forget the checkbook!” I hollered from the car, “There’s a Playgun gelding I want to bid on!” My bride is not amused, and tells me to wish upon a star, “We’re going to watch, and besides you don’t need another horse.” I frown and have to agree, the woman is right of course.

It’s the last hurrah before two months of being up all night, that makes leaving the ranch a welcome sight. The neighbor agreed to come and chore, rich folks would go vacation on a sandy shore! Two hundred miles to go and we’ll be in the Black Hills, if we get there early we can look over the sale bill.

With the preview over and the horses all in full groom, we better go find a chair before there isn’t any room. One by one they lead the mounts in, bays and sorrels, roans and even a gray, all go to those who are willing to pay. They bid a while, then all goes quiet as a man reads the pedigree and tries to start a bidding riot!

There’s a horse here for everyone, ranchers, ropers and if you don’t like your mother-in-law, there’s a feller in the stables trying to sell a regular outlaw. I go grab us a bite to eat, while the Mrs. saves our seat. The gelding I like comes into the ring, he sells before I can even wave my hand, guess I’ll ride the ones I’ve already got this spring.

Well the sale is over and we’re on the way home, if we hurry we’ll beat the snow that’s supposed to come. It was short and it was sweet, but that’s all we needed for our Valentine’s Day retreat.

That’s all for this time! Take your sweetheart out for a date this month and remember to take care of your side of the barbed wire. ❖