Gwen Peterson: Flipping through the pages of a ranch woman’s calendar
How do ranch women keep track?
They do it with calendars. You get new ones every year from banks, groceries, feed stores—every location is happy to supply you with a calendar. Which is a good thing. You can use a few in the house — kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, office — and in the barn.
On a ranch, activities carried out in each of four seasons — winter, spring, summer and fall—are noted on the year’s calendar, logged into a “daybook” and frequently recorded on the edges of newspapers and backs of envelopes.
January: Time to start obsessing about tax time so you’ll know how broke you are this year as compared to last. Time to turn Beauregard, the boar hog, in with the sow pigs to ensure a future supply of bacon, ham and pork chops.
February: Midnight trips to check the heifers. In your nightgown. A midnight dip in the ditch if you miss the plank crossover in the dark because of a spring snow is apt to make your nightgown shrink.
Sheep shearing in late February. Your job is to shag the ewes from the holding pens through the chute to the shearer. Be careful. Last year a whole passel of woolies spooked right over the top of you and for a month you had more bruises than spots on an Appaloosa.
March: Seed catalogs, spring thaws, wet late snows. Sow pigs farrow. You are the midwife. Take a book with you. Several pregnant swine may choose to give birth this night. Sometimes new mothers become downright testy before delivering multiple offspring. Stay out of reach.
April: Pile on more chores. Keep pig pens clean. Care for 150 piglets and their mamas. Vaccinate and cut. To cut means changing a boy piglet’s mind about his future.
May: Cottonwoods burst with minty green leaves. New grass is like frosting on an Irish wedding cake. Sheep bucks are shut in the No-No-Not-Yet pasture. Harrow the fields to spread around money-in-the-bank cowpies. Turn out Cecil, the bull, with his cow harem.
June: Time to make sure sows are bred again. Beauregard, the boar, has no objection to this job.
Get a head start on weeding the garden. Early June is good as mosquitoes are not out in force…yet. Drop to the prayer bones and destroy tiny weeds before they become jungle monsters.
Haying starts end of June and your saddle mare crosses the river and introduces herself to the neighbor’s stud.
July: Ride for cattle, trail ride, ride for any reason you can think of just to enjoy the pleasure of topping a good willing horse. Haul a pickup load of lambs to market in the city.
August: Cull the ewes and take them and the last of the lambs to market. Harvest mountains and bushel and baskets and sacks of garden produce you’ve been silly enough to plant last May. Spend hours canning, pickling and freezing.
September: If it turns too cold at night, swaddle tomatoes with blankets and sheets — which is a headache — better to pick all and place them in boxes in the spare bedroom and on window sills to ripen. Turn the bucks in with the ewes. (Makes everybody happy). Another round of farrowing.
October: Extra riding to find the bull who decided to see the world via neighboring pastures. Cut and vaccinate the fall crop of piglets. Get in, and saw into chunks, winter wood for fireplace and coal stove. Stack chunks or give up and just throw them on the wood pile.
November: Property taxes due, thereby once again depleting savings. Clean chicken house. Butcher young roosters and put in the freezer. For two months refuse to cook one, as by now, you’re sick of fowl.
December: Last page of calendar. Land payment due. Learn that the year’s scrimping, saving and juggling has let you make it once again — and with no genuinely major disasters — which is the day the engine falls out of the pickup.
Get a new calendar and start all over again.❖