Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cold weather cattle ranching can be rough, but satisfying


We woke yesterday to three inches of snow and temperatures in the teens in central Kansas, with more snow predicted for the rest of the day.  This storm was not a surprise, it had been predicted for nearly a week, and we were ready. We had fed up cattle and bedded down the bulls with fresh straw, but with the coming of snow there was much to be done again.

Cattle are like kids, I guess. They need fed every day...some days I would just rather snuggle on the couch with a blanket, a book and a cup of hot tea, but that can't happen until the cattle (and kids) are taken care of.  So early yesterday when I saw the snow, I turned on the tv news and crossed my fingers that school was canceled so that I would have help with chores! Finally, our school district number rolled across the bottom of the screen and I alerted the kids that they could sleep in a bit.

Luckily, even though my kids are all teenagers, they do not sleep in much. So by 8:00 a.m. I had kids fed a warm breakfast and ready to head outside to help me take care of the cattle.  Being a cattle rancher is often romanticized...you see a work-worn, yet handsome cowboy in boots, hat and chaps riding a horse behind a cow herd into the sunset and think that cattle ranching is a beautiful experience! Well.....one of my goals is to allow my kids to make their own life choices, and if they chose to ranch, they need to know the realities of it...and it is hard to measure up to that picture of ranching.

So while we dressed for cold weather with long johns, hooded sweatshirts, coveralls, gloves, scarves and hats, there was none of the romance of the sunset scene. We dressed for warmth and work!


Cattle are amazing creatures--they are born outside, live outside and can stay warm in frigid weather. They need food for energy to keep warm, and water, and they are very excited about a bit of straw for bedding! As my kids and I spread out a few big round bales of straw, the bulls butted the bales and jumped around like puppies in it, spreading it around the area! After a bit of play, one or two will pick a choice spot and lie down in the midst of the pile and the rest will soon join them.


Throughout the day, as we worked to provide food and water for all the cattle on our ranch, we checked to make sure all were healthy and handling the weather well.  They all really looked great and needed very little extra attention. The rest of the week is to be cold, with temperatures in the teens, but slowly rising to the mid-30s by the end of the week.  I will continue to make sure they all have enough food for energy to keep them warm and replenish their bedding as needed.


Ranching is not the easiest job, but it is the most rewarding that I've ever done! Last night as my kids and I finished evening chores and headed toward the house for dry clothes and a bowl of soup that I had left simmering all day, we decided to make a quick detour.  We hopped in the truck and headed to a small patch of cedar trees in a back pasture. We looked and looked and found the perfect one for a Christmas tree. A couple of kids threw themselves down on the ground and expertly cut it down and we brought it to the house. Today, after we do the chores and all the livestock are fed and happy, we will bring the tree in to the living room and decorate it, drink hot chocolate and pop some pocorn. Then when we're done and the house is decorated, we'll head back outside for evening chores so the cattle can continue to enjoy the season too!

11 comments:

  1. Great pics and a good educational piece for those not in the livestock industry! Thanks!

    Nick
    St. Louis

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  2. Thanks for sharing your story. You are obviously doing a great job raising both kids & cattle!

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  3. Great insight into life on the ranch. I hope to see more posts like this! Keep up the great work.

    Sabrina
    Fastline

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  4. Try feeding cattle in a blizzard and you'll quickly understand why ranchers like Debbie don't get enough credit for the care they give their livestock.

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  5. Your cattle look really good!

    Hope your kids enjoyed the snow day. I loved when we got snow days and were able to spend the morning helping my dad feed rather than go to school. I know I learned a lot more at the ranch than I did in the classroom. (:

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  6. A great story about what goes on at a Kansas cattle ranch during rough winter weather. This is our second winter without cattle. I miss having them to care for, but I don't miss the work that was required in extreme cold weather. Seems like there was always a water problem.

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  7. Ok so I guess I will stop complaining about the weather here! Wow I have to say my hat is off to you. Fun post!
    Getting the kids something warm in the morning is really important at our house. We have started to use these instant pancakes in a can, called Batter Blaster. Not as good as scratch but much better than frozen or cold cereal. Organic too which is nice.
    Stay warm everybody!

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  8. Thanks so much for blogging! I'll visit again. I'm working on a novel set on a cattle ranch. Your musings on your day-to-day life are very helpful.
    Happy holidays!

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  9. Nice story - I googled "where do cows go at night ranch" and got your story. Sounds wonderful and it amazes me that a "mom" with kids tends the ranch and the "dad" helps on the week-ends. Don't think you will find a "stay at home mom in CA" doing this - their loss. Great Job!!

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  10. Ranchers just do what they have to do to get the job done! It doesn't matter to the cows whether a woman or a man runs the tractor to feed them. :o) I was raised by a strong woman who was a rancher, and my dad worked in town. When that ended up the situation with my husband and me, we realized it was okay! It wasn't the plan, but it is how things work for us. It allowed me to stay home with the kids
    AND make sure the cattle were well cared for. His job provides steady income and health insurance. Great trade off! I am the lucky one...but don't tell him! I love my job!! Thanks for your comments.

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  11. I respect the work that goes into raising cattle. It's incredible the level of commitment and dedication required.
    I live on a farm and have families raising cattle as neighbors. Below zero temperatures or wind or snow don't stop anything, it only increases the required workload.
    They earn every penny.
    However, it's hard to see a long term future for beef as the planet rockets toward adding another 3 billion people (to the current 6+ billion by 2050) before our children retire, making efficiency and every acre count.
    Add to that the health problems of eating more than a tiny amount of beef and this will be an industry in peril over the long run.
    When all is said and done, profitable meat production will depend on what products can produce the most pounds of meat per input, whether that input is measured by acres, bushel, or gallons.
    Central Kansas beef may well survive compared to areas that rely on heavy corn feeding and government subsidized ethanol plant by-products.
    Yes... government subsidized ethanol distillers grains are providing an indirect, but huge financial boost for producers around here.
    Add to all this the end of cheap oil and it's an industry with more roots in the 20th century than future in the 21st century.
    Please do not misunderstand... there will always be beef production and consumption, but my comments are best described as the industry's future will see massive contraction and more of a niche product than a mainstream, every table, every meal product.

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