Ag Men and Their Tractors

by Amy on July 22, 2015


This column was originally published February 5, 2014

Just the mention of the word “tractor” or anything tractor-related piques men’s interest into lengthy conversations. The kind of conversations that allow wives enough time to get their shopping done alone without being rushed.

Men-of-the-tractor are like Southerners and their college football; they’re serious about their machines and oftentimes proudly wear their tractor manufacturer’s colors. If farmers and ranchers aren’t in their tractor working, they’re maintenancing them, buying things for them, showing them off (if it’s one they restored), dragging their wives to dealerships just to look at them, telling stories about them, occasionally cursing them, or talking shop about them.

Last windrow

What farm and ranch women don’t realize about the tractor dealerships they often get dragged to is that these businesses can serve as a very convenient and free playland for husbands on those consolidated husband-and-wife shopping trips when grocery store and department store shopping are necessary. Farm machinery dealerships are always happy to see tractor men and will give them lots of attention. Dealerships also carry parts and implements to keep tractor men occupied looking around and on special days, some dealerships will even feed husbands complimentary cookies and coffee. Ag men can wile away time waiting on their wives by looking at, trying out (aka playing with), talking about, and asking questions about tractors.

pulling the V rake with the 656 North of Pringle

Access to tractors, implements, and related merchandise curbs boredom and grumbling about wives’ lengthy shopping stops.  Such businesses are a great place for men to go who aren’t fond of crowds, shopping beyond five minutes, shopping-and-comparing, or having patience. A non-shopper or non-crowd man is much happier and content waiting on his wife if he’s got tractors he can look at or talk about. The conversations men have about tractors lead to talking about the tractor they’re restoring or currently own, tractor manufacturer comparisons, faults, and of course, men eventually discuss the tractors they remember using growing up that their fathers had.

Men who have been exposed to a tractor at any point in their life I consider to be connoisseurs. Tractor men seem to know everything about all tractors, with their M’s and A’s, H’s, and four-digit numbered tractors. And that’s not including the year of each make and model. Such conversations sound like baby gurgling noises to me, but having been exposed to numerous tractor conversations, I realize men-of-the-tractor speak the same language. One guy will nod in understanding or agreement then reply using the same alphabet and language.

What I’ve noticed about these fine pieces of machinery is that they were no doubt invented by men, for men because all tractor operating instructions are designed with men in mind. There are no words to describe how to operate these machines because all tractor companies clearly mark silhouettes of turtles and rabbits by the lever to indicate “slow” and “fast.” Manufacturers use these simple operating instructions because men prefer brevity and simplicity—which might explain why men don’t understand women as easily. The only reason instruction manuals are provided is because they are a last resort in problem solving issues. From what I’ve observed, ag men enjoy problem-solving and figuring things out for themselves and an operator’s manual is the last thing on their mind when breakdowns occur.

My knowledge of tractors includes the ones I know I can get to start and operate. It’s a good thing tractor companies don’t make operator manuals for women because my husband probably wouldn’t like seeing me take a sledgehammer to any of his tractors.

© Amy Kirk 2014



by Amy on July 20, 2015



Somebody’s Blessing

by Amy on July 15, 2015



Keep Going

by Amy on July 1, 2015




This column was originally published October 9, 2013

One of the most important virtues of ranching is having contortionist-like flexibility (metaphorically, but physical flexibility does come in handy at times). Flexibility is required when a major part of one’s life involves managing numerous animals. They can get out, knock important water tank parts loose or break stuff off that’s needed to ensure they have water, which all has to be taken care of immediately.

When it comes to a lifestyle that revolves around animals, scheduling in extra time helps in the prevention of cancelling plans because cows are just animals doing what animals do: mess up plans. Whether arrangements are made for leisure and enjoyment, appointments are scheduled, meetings are set, or kids’ sporting events are anticipated, it does not matter, animals—especially in large numbers—have a way of sensing plans that don’t pertain to them. We may think we’ve experienced every kind of cow-related setback, but they continue to show us new ways to tamper with our plans. Cows get possessive or jealous of us similar to the way dogs get mad and make a mess of things when left alone too long. The only difference is that cows do their thing right before we carry out our plans so we run late or have to cancel.

For families like us who have a cow herd and no extended family or friends close by or hired help to oversee things when we’re gone, the smart thing to do is to schedule activities with a wide margin for extra time beforehand. Remembering is the problem. Expecting setbacks and the possibility of encountering problems has always been helpful in making any plans. Many of ours have had to be canceled completely on account of getting waylaid by cows, but other times we’ve been lucky and just showed up late.

If I had a dollar for every plan, meeting, appointment, fun event, or date with girlfriends I’ve had to scratch or attend late on account of problems regarding livestock, I would have enough money for a new place with good fences, top of the line equipment and a hired man. More than once we’ve had to skip church or go to the late service. I have probably missed more meetings than I’ve attended and have showed up late to pick up kids from practice so much that scheduling setback time is becoming habit-forming. I definitely don’t plan anything for the first six weeks of calving season and after that I check with my husband first before making any committments.

Just to verify, I am not the only ranch woman who experiences such lifestyle problems. Other ranch wives and I have jokingly exchanged different plans we’ve had to cancel or show up late for because of cows. We’ve found ourselves gathering cows out of someone’s yard instead of attending a wedding ceremony, fixing fences and asking friends or family to pick up our kids from school, or pushing cows home spur of the moment and missing a class we paid money to participate in, and the list goes on.

I have spotlighted the negative aspects of having to cancel plans on account of cows, but their antics have come in handy when I would rather be messing with cows than go to a meeting or appointment I wasn’t excited about to begin with.

© Amy Kirk 2013




by Amy on June 24, 2015



My Divine Intervention Moment

by Amy on June 18, 2015

This column was originally published July 2, 2014

The day after our son’s graduation I needed to decompress stresses I’d overcome and sort out all the recent events that happened. After getting through a couple of week’s worth of anxieties, pressing to-dos, and worries I needed a long walk to quiet my mind, replenish my inner peace, and hash out all that I’d survived.

It was a pleasant Sunday evening and I started out walking around our place then hiked along the ridge all the way out to my favorite knob which is an ideal thinking spot that overlooks our home and the valley below. I sat down on my pile of rocks for sitting on and absorbed the view below me.

I spent about five minutes or so just brain dumping and taking great pleasure in knowing that a lot of my worries were now behind me. Once I was satisfied that I’d cleared my mind enough I stood up to head down the hill when I heard a distinctive buzz sound. I looked down at the ground and all I saw was a snake’s body in the shape of an S. I was too freaked out to look for its tail but assumed it was a rattlesnake. An important plot point here—I did notice that the snake was less than a foot from my feet.

I propelled about five feet down the hill to avoid getting struck, then—and don’t ask me why—I turned around to see if what I heard really was a rattlesnake or if I was catapulting to conclusions prematurely. I admit, it was a dumb time to practice facing my fear of all snakes since I didn’t bring a shovel and the only convenient rattler-killing sized rocks available were the big flat ones stacked up that the snake now claimed.

I generally only observe rattlers that are dead and rattleless, so I wasn’t 100% sure that I’d had a close encounter with a rattlesnake since I’ve avoided a live one this long. During my heightened sense of paranoia, I reasoned with myself (mostly to ease my mind) that maybe I was mistaking the buzz for a bull snake mimicking a rattler (or so I’ve been told bull snakes will do). By the time I’d long-jumped downhill and turned around I couldn’t see the snake but could still hear it buzzing, so I decided I probably didn’t need to hang out to verify my hypothesis and concluded that the good Lord had been protecting me and I shouldn’t push my luck. I determined it would be in my best interest to distance myself from the buzz regardless of my curiosity and high-tailed it downhill.

It may sound like I was lingering, but everything actually happened very quickly and it just felt like it unfolded in slow motion. My heart was triple-beating, my hands were shaking, and I was now hypersensitive to what was on the ground and under every rock outcropping.

I tried scanning the ground for other rattlers on my way to the house but I scurried downhill so carelessly that when I felt something round-shaped under my shoe I wasn’t expecting to be snake bit on the back of my left thigh—by a big fat stick. The smack of the tree branch on the back of my leg sent me into rattlesnake striking hypersensitivity orbit.

I’ve always believed in divine intervention, but now I’m a firm believer in the Lord’s sense of humor.

© Amy Kirk 2014


The Things I Prize

by Amy on June 17, 2015



Hand Signals: Synonym for “Confuse”

by Amy on June 12, 2015

This column was originally published February 26, 2014

Whenever Art and I are dealing with cows, machinery, or trailers, he’ll suddenly switch to his native tongue to communicate with me. It’s the language cavemen invented—communicating with hand gestures and sometimes accompanied by loud grunts. Thousands of years later farmers and ranchers still use this language when they get keyed up during critical man moments.

Males understand this native language easily but the opposite sex, not so much. Fortunately, man’s language has evolved to include sounds, vowels, and words —the verbal communication women have adopted as their first language which is universally used today and that most people understand. The unfortunate part is that nowadays man’s hand signal communication leaves too much room for misinterpretation because he also invented homonyms for his hand gestures.

My husband’s hand signals have too many interpretations for me to decipher quickly under pressure when there’s a sudden change in his instructions via a hand signal. An outstretched arm waving across his chest could mean “get out of the way,” “get over here,” “get over there,” or “get away from the gate,” but I’m not sure. I have to adapt to the situation and figure out which meaning he’s referring to.

The main reason men and women in agriculture have trouble understanding each other while working outside together is that they’re trying to communicate using two different languages. I call this “Spouses in Translation.” Instances where this occurs include, livestock handling, backing up machinery, vehicles, and/or trailers, or instructions indicating when to “start it” (equipment or vehicles) during a guy’s mechanical problem assessment.

One language involves hand gestures and/or occasional hollering (interpreted as loud grunts), and the other includes speaking rhetorical statements and questions in English. Regardless of the distance a farmer or rancher is from his wife, he always seems to want to use his centuries-old native language to communicate: the hand signal.

This column was originally published February 26, 2014

I am fairly certain using hand signals is due to the fact that men are hard of hearing, meaning they’ve taught their brain that listening to their wife is not necessary if her conversations are irrelevant to his thoughts, plans, and ideas; therefore rendered worthy of ignoring.  Thus, men have trained themselves to tune out their wives’ voice much of the time, causing men to be misdiagnosed as “hard of hearing.”

Problems stem from men preferring to use hand signals to communicate and women preferring to talking about it. Talking is in a woman’s nature, similarly to the way it’s in men’s nature to hand-signal what he’s trying to convey.  Talking is how a woman processes information. She likes to talk it out, discuss it, rephrase it, recap it, analyze it, confirm it, question it, and ask lots and lots of (in a man’s opinion, annoying) questions about it, or bring it up later. Men and women perceive, interpret, and process information differently, and any woman who’s been married to a farmer or rancher long enough knows the importance of making sure she’s covered every angle of his instructions for her before the task is carried out to avoid being at fault should the plan fail.  Talking helps her establish confidence in understanding what’s expected of her or what her instructions are.

Wives may not be fluent in communicating using hand signals but they do a fair job talking about what their husband’s hand signals are supposed mean.

© Amy Kirk 2014


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The Loathesome Gate Job

by Amy on March 20, 2015


This column was originally published May 21, 2014

I’ve never viewed any job involving a gate as being a coveted one. Stubborn gates always seem to require more muscle, squeezing, and grunting to shut than to open. I do not enjoy being watched while straining to get a tight wire gate open or getting perfectly good, intact clothes ripped, but getting gates is not as troublesome as being one.

Sufficing as a gate means risking getting run over and not appearing intimidating enough to keep cattle from getting past. During church service, I gained a new appreciation for being the gate person, which refers mostly to being the stand-in gate wherein animals are not supposed to pass through unless the human “gate” allows it, but it includes opening and shutting the gate also.

I have read the gospel of John before, but I didn’t remember chapter 10 verse 9:“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” As the text was read then talked about in the sermon, that verse spoke to me and it said, “Stop grumbling about being the gate person.” I couldn’t help but notice that Jesus and I have something in common—we’ve both been considered a human barricade. If Jesus views being a gate a duty of great value, maybe being the gate gal is not so lowly after all.

Jesus talks about being a gate person, as in THE gate, much like the way I am designated sometimes. Opening, closing, getting, or being the gate, it does not matter—it’s all the same job to me. Granted, I am by no means categorized as the same kind of gate as Jesus the Gate, but I was reassured that as God’s CEO, Jesus regards being The Gate as a prestigious position. It made me feel better to consider that maybe this has something to do with the reason why women are oftentimes chosen to be the gate, especially since there’s usually no one else around.

Husbands don’t realize how much pressure we sometimes feel when they holler nonchalantly with high expectation, “DON’T LET ‘EM GET THROUGH THAT HOLE!” but at the same time expect us not to spook anything away from the desired destination. (A hole is referred here as any size of open space the wife is expected to block with her body between permanent barricades.)

I know what the proper interpretation of the verse that says, “Whoever goes through Him will be saved,” but since Bible scripture can be interpreted differently to everyone and at different times in our lives, I plan to take advantage of that. When I am asked to go to block a hole, I will definitely interpret the text as “saved from being run over” because that’ll be my prayer if necessary.

Although Jesus’ job as The Gate is way more important than mine, it is reassuring that a job I’ve accepted begrudgingly and always worried about not succeeding at is a job Jesus embraces with high regard.

I think I know now why women are naturally picked to be the “gate.” It’s likely because we’re more apt to pray before taking our stance to block a hole: “God, PLEASE don’t let (fill in the quantity and gender of cattle here) get past me when he (husband) brings them in.”

I don’t mind being a gate now that I know someone in a position much higher than myself is also. I just don’t want to be standing there if any animal decides to jump over or blast through me. I’ve seen the damage of some of our metal gates and they usually aren’t worth saving.

© Amy Kirk 2014