Ranching Career Trainees

Our kids’ instincts to ranch were evident at an early age. They preferred helping with outside chores over inside ones and recognized a good incentive package.

Each milestone they met meant they were on their way to a ranching career. At one and two, our little rancher trainees wanted to go with dad and be just like him. They had toddler-sized work clothes similar to dad’s, which further created a yearning to be his apprentice. Our cow kids wore cowboy boots, Carhartt coats, coveralls, silk neckerchiefs, scotch caps or cowboy hats, and Wrangler bungee pants (elastic waist band pants that fit over diapers).

Once there was nothing to come between our kids and their dad, namely dirty diapers, they easily ditched mom for a morning with dad. Getting potty trained was the kids’ first big milestone. To our ranchers in training, it meant getting to go with dad and more importantly, stopping for coffee. After helping dad for a little bit, he’d take them to coffee to catch up on the local gossip over a full can of pop and a candy bar the size of a newborn infant. Something mom never offered but was part of dad’s rancher trainee incentive package.

From the ages of three to five, they trained for a career in ranching by helping with chores, checking cows, and having question-and-answer sessions with dad on how tractors, windrowers, and balers worked. Sessions lasted until the trainee got bored or fell asleep on the cab floor.

The end of the nap-taking era was a milestone that meant more independence and less supervision. Our kids didn’t have to ride with mom and take a nap in the pickup anymore while moving cows. On branding days our trainees rode along to help gather and bring in cows instead of watching from the corral fence with mom. They were able to climb up a saddle by themselves, control their horse, and didn’t cry if the horse started to trot off. They could withstand day-long rides pushing cows horseback and didn’t have to have their horse tethered to mom or dad’s saddle horn. They’d feed bottle calves, get gates, fetch tools, and “work” with dad in the shop. This also signified the age at which they could drive a pickup in granny low while the flatbed trailer got loaded with square bales.

When our kids reached double digits (between ten and twelve), it meant they no longer had to stand on their knees in order to see while steering and their feet could reach the pedals. They could handle wrestling the smallest baby calves at branding, lift big forkfuls of hay to the heifers and bulls, and operate equipment in the hayfield instead of riding along.

Becoming a tween last year was our son’s latest milestone which meant he could finally lift, pack, and toss hay bales onto the flatbed trailer and drive a pickup without having to raise his chin in order to see over the dash. He picked out bigger calves to wrestle on branding day and branded his own calves.

Every milestone has emphasized the ins and outs of a competitive ranching career. Dad’s in because he’ll stop for coffee and pays for pop and candy bars. Mom’s out because she hasn’t come up with an incentive package nearly as attractive.

column originally published the week of February 14-20, 2010

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