Fence Lines: Is ranching the career we really want for our offspring?
A while back, another rancher down the road wrote a letter to The Record-Courier explaining his predicament with trying to move cattle and practice agriculture in Carson Valley.
During the following weeks, a lot of people wrote letters sympathetic to the rancher’s situation and even offered to tar and feather anyone caught harassing him.
I appreciated those responses. They have motivated me to tell my predicament. How did I get out of my 3-inch heels and dry cleaned suits and into these coveralls and boots?
It all starts with my husband, Kent. He loves engineering and cattle. His ancestors have been buried for over 100 years up on a hill that overlooks our place. He knows how hard it is to raise cattle. He sees back pain and sweat in a stack of hay, not neat yellow bales. Yet, he could no more give up ranching than he could stop breathing. Maybe for a minute or two, he could go without, but after too long he’d turn blue in the face and get dizzy until he could work cows again.
Before marriage and children, I was a successful investment broker, no previous ranching experience. Ignorance was bliss. After a few years of marriage though, things got complicated. Two baby boys showed up whom I desperately wanted to “stay home” with and raise. But I also wanted to “work,” to feel useful, not just needed. My husband, at the end of his day as an engineer, was still trying to run a ranch, fixing machinery, irrigating fields and caring for cattle. He was constantly exhausted. He had little time for me or the kids.
So, for a solution, I put our boys in the old, blue pickup truck, used it as a mobile playpen and started learning “chores” – feeding, irrigating, dragging – then moved up to cow doctoring and finally calving.
I’ve been with the cows full-time for seven years now. My husband is still the brains of our operation. I’m just the hand. I’m still learning about the animals, water, grass and people. I see things as an outsider, not a born-to rancher, but I’m starting to understand my husband’s feelings. I rest on my shovel and smile as bubbles come out of the dry spring ground when a sheet of irrigation water covers a field. I’m as proud as he is at the rump on our calves at weaning. But things just get more complicated because there is talk in the house about selling the cows and it makes me dizzy.
Like every other rancher, we keep considering our options. Is this the life one wants to encourage their offspring to aspire to – hard work, sacrifice, bad press and ridicule? Do we want to put all our hopes and dreams on girls that have four stomachs when most folks have trouble with females with just one? Are my cows destroying the environment my children will inherit?
Those questions plus the mistakes I make while learning how to do this cow stuff is my dilemma. Still, my 6- and 9-year-old boys help me feed and enjoy looking through the bunched herd for the cows their father says belong to them.
If you have a comment or question, you can reach me through the paper. Giving out my phone number is no good; I’m never in the house.
Marie Johnson is a Fredericksburg, Calif., resident and is married to Kent Neddenriep. They have two sons, Kyle, 9, and Brandley, 6. Her column, “Fence Lines,” will appear once a month.
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