I am forever grateful to have my roots planted deep in the backcountry on a working cattle ranch. I may not of been “born in a barn”, but I was certainly raised in one. I have learned so many valuable life lessons from a young age. I think it is imperative to be exposed as a child to the hardships, struggles, triumphs and successes that ranching brings upon a family. Now that I’m a momma to two boys, I plan to do just the same with them and immerse them in the lifestyle. Whether they decide to continue the legacy or not, ranch lessons will mold anyone into a hard working kind soul if exposed in a positive way.
Lesson #1: The Circle of Life
We see literally… all of it. Sex education is done pretty early… Try explaining to a child that momma cow is giving daddy bull a piggy back ride. Or, what about artificial insemination? Let’s be real. It’s got to come out eventually. We may as well be honest with our children so they can always trust us and be comfortable talking about anything with us as parents. Don't be afraid to give the "birds and the bees" talk in a kid tolerant type of way.
Along with the dirty stuff, comes a even messier experience... birth. Calving season is often a stressful time of the year for ranchers. Heifers sometimes struggle with their first born calves and it is up to the rancher to help her out. A set of calf pullers are a must during this time of year. I remember countless times I had to watch my grandpa and dad try to save a momma cow and her calf. There have been a few times I had to go shoulder deep into a heifer to chain the calf’s legs to pull it out (i have smaller hands and arms)... Sometimes it all went perfect, sometimes we lost the calf, or both momma and baby. However, we always strive to save them both.
After we are born, we live! We watch mommas graze on bountiful pastures year round. See babies frolic, kick and dance up and down rolling hills together and bulls fighting. We watch our herds grow and change everyday. The cattle here live the good life. Lots of grass, hay during the snow, and even some apples and grain if they're lucky.
This brings be to the next stage of life, death. As I mentioned previously, we can't save everyone. It is the inevitable, unfortunately. All things that live will pass one day. It is important to teach our children this life lesson with gentle care.
For example, we had a heifer a few weeks ago that we found too late. She had already passed. Her calf was too big and she went to hide in some trees (very common, they like to tuck away from everyone to calve in peace). My dad found her, and had to take her to "the graveyard." We have a little slice of paradise spot for the animals who have passed to rest forever overlooking the ranch. We took all four little boys to watch their papa assess the situation. All four were serious, not quite sure what was going on (they are 3 years old and under.) I kneeled next to them and talked to them as my dad tied the heifer to take her to her final resting place.
I told them "This momma cow had trouble having her baby. Her baby was too big. They both didn't make it. She is not alive like you and me. No more heart beat, no more breathing. She died... This momma and baby are in heaven now."
They stood and watched quietly. I know they are very young, but it's a part of our life here on the ranch. I don't think I should hide it from them. I whole heartedly feel like I needed to be honest with them.
Lesson #2: ALWAYS close the gate!
I don't think I've EVER made this mistake because it was ingrained in me since I could walk. "If you go our riding, shut every gate you are going through. If it's shut, shut it again. Don't forget to SHUT THE GATE!" Anyone who has been raised on a ranch is probably laughing reading this because it is so true. Shutting every gate that you open is important because if cattle get mixed up.... you're in trouble. I have had to give this talk to the SDG&E and Tree Trimmer guys before too.
Not only is it a very literal lesson, but you could even apply this to your everyday life. Shut the gate on negativity. Shut the gate on people who bring you down. Shut the gate on the ugly drama. Shut the gate on toxic relationships. Don't settle for people who bring you in a bad head space. Just shut that damn gate and make sure it's locked, move forward with confidence.
Lesson #3: Responsibility
On a ranch or farm.. There are most likely animals to tend to. Some as small as a chicken, and others as big as a horse. Either way, these ranch critters need us to care for them in order to thrive. My grandma gave each of her grandchildren a horse that was bred on the ranch. Isn't that every little girl's dream? A horse! I got my baby mare when I was 7 years old. She was a beautiful palomino my grandma named "Pie." She was named after a chestnut gelding that stared in a western series from the 50's and 60's. As well, she was the color of a beautiful golden pie crust and we live in pie country. Her name was very fitting. Pie and I did countless trail rides, gatherings, 4H and FFA events. My grandma taught me everything I know about horses. More importantly, she taught me how to be responsible for them.
Pie was my first creature I was truly responsible for. She taught me how to be observant and mindful of her well being.
I joined 4H as a kid and then later FFA raising pigs, rabbits and lambs. That is another experience I am forever grateful for. I learned that feeding your animal before the sun is up and before your own breakfast is normal and expected. I learned that walking my lambs for exercise through out our small town was not only great for my physique, but also great for the lamb’s exposure to all sights sounds and smells. I learned that pigs are very smart, and they can open their pen at my high school easily and go zooming through Main Street... (the cops had my number on speed dial..) I also learned that you can fit a pig in the back of a 4runner pretty easily if you have a bowl of food in there. I learned that all the hard work you put into these animals is worth it in the end.
It was never easy to say goodbye to them when they have been auctioned off. Why?? Some
of them gave me hell and then some (mostly the pigs). Well, I cared for these animals for months and was held responsible for everything that animal required. That responsibility alone molded me to be compassionate and care the extra mile for these creatures. They made me think about others before myself. They made me get up earlier and go to bed later. they had me up thinking in the middle of the night about them. So, thank you piggies, lambies and bunnies for teaching me how to be a responsible human.
Lesson #4: Compassion and Kindness
Along with responsibility comes compassion and kindness. I think it comes naturally because when you become responsible for something, you are more aware of it and it’s well-being.
For example, I started teaching my oldest son that he needs to feed and potty our dogs in the morning before we eat breakfast. Every morning, (if we are up at the same time, because sometimes... the kid sleeps in.) he pops out to the dog’s feeding area and asks to feed them. He’s pretty excited to do it actually. He enjoys making them “sit and wait” while he fills their bowls. After a few seconds he says “OK!” And the dogs rush to their food bowls and inhale their breakfast. My oldest son (3 years old) jumps up and down and claps with excitement. After they finish, he usually gives the dogs a pat on the head or a big hug and whispers things like “You’re the best dogs in the whole world! Good dog, Tonka. Good girl, Critter. I love you guys.” Feeding the dogs isn’t only about teaching my son how to be responsible. It’s also showing him how to care about his pups. Now, my younger son (20 months) loves to join in on the action.
I’ve noticed that my boys are more gentle and kind to the animals around them and even to each other (sometimes.. we try our best). We tend to our solo hen every morning and they love holding her gently and give her snuggles (honestly, chickens aren’t my preference for cuddling purposes, but my older son thinks otherwise). My older son also asks daily when do we need to feed our cattle the left over apples and grain. Both kids like to touch, pet and hold lizards and snakes (under my husband’s supervision because I have zero compassion for creepy crawlies...) As well, I always catch the kids half asleep on our bullet proof dogs.
Makes my heart happy to see it happen before my eyes without me having to say anything at all.
Lesson #4: Be Thankful
Ranch and farm life isn't easy. We have good years, and bad years. The good years typically consist of good rainfall, good growth on pasture, good growth and harvest on our crop yield, and happy healthy cows that have calves without any issues. However, we also find ourselves with uncooperative weather conditions and troubled heifers having issues with their first calving season.
Those good years are every ranchers dream. Even if it had a few bumps in the road (Because I mean... it's life). Those years are the ones we celebrate and talk about for years to come. We are thankful and grateful for the opportunities presented to us because we know what heartache feels like.
It is important for our children to notice and realize what we go through as people involved in agriculture. As I have mentioned before, talking with them and explaining why rain is so important and why heifers need a little extra attention makes them more aware of what to expect. Teach our children that good years bring us good food for our families and for others. In addition, living this lifestyle and providing for other families is an honorable profession and we should be thankful to be a part of it all.
Lesson #5: Respect
Respectful is a word that I would use when describing The American Cowboy. I would consider my grandpa the real deal cowboy and I respected the heck out of him, as he respected many people around him. As well, my grandma was a tenacious and strong women who I also admired and looked up to. Anything they would tell me, I'd listen, soak it in and not question them.
Teaching our children respect is a lesson that they will develop on their own. I believe that becoming a person that children respect evolves from them looking up to you. How handle life's curve balls. How you go about your day. How you treat and speak to people on and off the ranch. You have to become the person they find admirable. You have to be their role model. This keeps me in line everyday because my kids are totally little sponges soaking up everything I say or do. I know that because they often copy me like baby parrots (Which has totally taught me to be mindful of my words and actions.
Respect not only involves people we look up to, but also our land and animals. I have more of an appreciation for the food on my plate because of how much blood, sweat and tears it takes to care for just one steer. If you grow your own produce in your garden, I guarantee you visit that little tomato every day from flowering until it is ready to pick. It is a little extra special. The amount of work and energy it takes to grow our own food is an honor and I respect every protein, grain, dairy product, fruit and vegetable that is on on my dinner plate.
The land that we worship is the center of it all. It provides grass for our cattle to graze on. As well, the wildlife also appreciate good grass and water. It is important for the rancher to recognize the health of the land. Ensuring that there are appropriate pasture rotations in place, clean water and minimal alterations will make a huge difference in the land’s livelihood. Implementing these methods are a form of respect to our resources and protecting property as best as we can.
These five lessons are what has transformed me into the person I am today. I have taken these lessons with me to help my children grow and develop just as I did. Being a ranch kid makes you grow up a little quicker and a little stronger. However, at the end of the day I think it is all worth it. These lessons are earned and not just handed to you. As I have mentioned before, whether my kids decide to continue the ranching business or get a job elsewhere, I think these lessons will help morph them into hard working individuals with a good sense of how to approach life's obstacles.
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