Five Generations of Cowboys
It’s the break of dawn, and it’s time to saddle up! The first thing to do after putting your cowboy boots on is to round up the horses. You’ll find them in the horse pasture, usually not in any mood to work. However, they understand why you’re there and make for the pins. You saddle up your co-worker, your ride, your loyal companion, and load the horse trailer.
It’s a tough day of work you have ahead of yourself; mainly, you will be rounding up and pinning cows for a working. You will also be tending to the young ones. You must push every cow through the shoots to do the necessary work. This process means mud, manure, dust, flies, and all the other fun goodies are rained upon you in the process. However, seeing your herd healthy and happy is well worth it. After gaining even more calluses on your already leathery hands, you’re about to call it a day. As the sun goes down, the boss man comes over to give you a pat on the back and says, “well-done cowboy.” There is no way to describe yourself other than a cowboy.
Cowboys are, though, and there is no other way to describe it. You have to be prepared to take a beating. Sometimes the cows do a little herding of their own, resulting in bruises, sprains, pulled muscles, gnarly cuts, and sometimes broken bones. You also better be ready to work with barbed wire, shovels, axes, chainsaws, large farming equipment, and other things that no buttercup would ever approach. Also, forget about having days off from the weather. If it is cold, be prepared to brace for those negative temperatures. Be ready to work through three feet of snow, an inch of hail, or rain. These attributes give the cowboy their reputation, and there is no other name to call them besides cowboy.
Due to the term cowboy being defined in this way, we also give the name cowboy to our women hands. It is out of respect for their hard day-in and day-out work. They deserve the same recognition as any of our hands who are men. Plus, when you use the term cowgirl, often we are referring to buckle bunnies. So this means when you see my sister-in-law Faith, we refer to her as being a cowboy, and that is because she is hard as nails.
Faith was born in 2000 to bossman Sam and boss woman Mary. She came into this world filled with a spark that has not left her to this day. She has a smile that will warm the coldest of hearts and eyes that can cut like a knife. She is charismatic, always letting you know exactly how she feels and that can be a good or not-so-good thing depending on the day. Don’t let her fool you; she may be a cowboy, but she is a woman. Her feminine demeanor is evident in her ways. Makeup, fashion, a soft touch, and a great soon-to-be wife for her rugged man. I said don’t let her fool you, though, didn’t I? She also rides horses, shoots guns, puts up barbed wire fences, and spits and cusses. She ain’t no princess… or wait, is she? I don’t know, maybe she has me fooled. She is a woman, after all.
Her interest in ranching developed at quite a young age. I think it was because of her relationship with her father. She spent most of her days on the ranch as a homeschooled girl. It wasn’t long before she had more interest in heading out with her father on his daily excursions than putting her head in books. With her excellent grades, there were times when she was able to go after she did her schoolwork. Those moments formed her into the cowboy she was soon to become.
It was around the time Faith turned twelve that she started having some real responsibilities around the ranch. One of those responsibilities was taking an ATV and checking on the pregnant cattle down by the pins. Her duty was to make sure that all the cattle were behaving. For instance, the cows who were supposed to be pinned were pinned.
Faith, around this time, had also broken a leg, but this would not stop her from performing her duties. She would continue to ride the ATV to the pins, which one day led to an ironic scenario. A mother cow had also broken her leg, just like Faith. Now, this does not happen very often to cattle, but just like us, animals are prone to accidents with painful consequences. However, Faith noticed something that made this situation even rarer. The mother cow was giving birth!
Like the wind, she moved quickly to relay her findings to her father. Sam is wise and compassionate towards his livestock, and his reaction came with years of experience. Both he and Faith went to find the mother with the goal of saving the calf. A challenging and dangerous task.
Once on site, Faith could help a little, but being twelve and having a broken leg, she mainly watched her father work to save the calf. She saw her father’s compassion towards the animals as he did everything in his power to make the mom comfortable. He would make sure the young calf would be born healthy. After a bit of a struggle, Sam was able to pull the new one into the world as healthy as could be.
Faith, at this moment, realized what she would want to be when she was old enough. She knew she would want to continue this line of compassion on Harrell ranch and love for all the animals. As I’ve said in other newsletters, cowboys are hard people with soft hearts. Faith is no different than the rest. I admire her hard work ethic and love for the land, livestock, and cowboy culture she grew up alongside.
Weaning is a yearly activity for any ranch that is raising cattle. It always takes place at the end of September and the start of October. Weaning is critical for keeping our cattle healthy and preparing the moms to have another calf. Like humans, cattle need to be weaned from their mothers and learn about new foods.
I have heard that people don’t like to think about calves being weaned from their mothers. I believe this perspective comes from a misunderstanding. Before I came to the ranch, I didn’t understand weaning and its purposes. Here is what most people are thinking about: the initial separation of the mother from her calf. Almost no one thinks about the results. The truth is that this is a win-win result for both the mother and her calf. The mother can focus on her next calf being born without having to milk the current one, and the calf can learn about some new foods.
Being weaned from your mother is hopefully not an experience that you remember. However, it was an essential part of growing up. These experiences probably resulted in less dependency on your mother, and that is a tough few months. However, there is a lot of good in your new foods. These are foods that are going to support your now rapidly growing body. The same is true for calves. Calves may separate them from mom, but now they can indulge in hay and grains and finally rely on eating grass while leaving mom alone, which for its reason, is a benefit to the mother. Mom will spend all her efforts on the calf on the ground. If pregnant, she is negligent and focuses on the calf already born. This scenario means she will lack the nutrition she needs while pregnant and the nutrition her calf needs. If the calf she has is weaned, she can focus on herself while pregnant.
Not only do the calf and mom win in the weaning process, but so does the rancher. Having the calf gain weight early on is crucial to producing a quality product. It helps the calves in the winter when it is harder for them to graze the grass. It also helps them grow in a very developmental phase of their life. You add all of these things together, and you set up a calf for success in their life which makes life easier for the rancher.
As you can see, the weaning process is essential. Raising a calf properly and caring for the mom is crucial. The idea that weaning is somehow cruel is very far from the truth of the matter. Weaning is necessary and beneficial for both the rancher and the cattle.