City Girl Turned Rancher's Wife
That's me. I was born in a city in Nebraska to an undeniably suburban family with very little rural American experience. It wasn't very far to rural America from my city, but I was a city girl nonetheless. I grew up going to museums, sporting events, movies and doing city things. My dad was an educator who also played a lot of semi-pro baseball all over the state, so summers were spent traveling to small communities watching my dad play tournament ball. What little contact I had with rural lifestyles usually occurred at county fairs or looking out windows from the backseat of the family car. I remember marveling at how big farm animals were and how other kids had sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, bunnies, ducks, cows (a collective term generally used by city people to identify all cattle) and horses (how wonderful) that they could pet, love on and take care of. I also remember being terrified the first time I saw a sow with piglets at a fair in West Point, Nebraska. She was gigantic and looked nothing like Porky Pig! We would return to the city, to our modest home and family dog, and I would think about how cool it would be to be a farm kid.
High school came along, and my family moved just across the river to Iowa where Dad was the dean of students at Iowa School for the Deaf. We lived on campus and were surrounded by lots of corn and soybeans along the Missouri River bottom. I had a boyfriend who had a horse and ran a detasseling crew in the summers. I realized I was acquiring more information about rural America and started tucking that knowledge away. I graduated high school and followed the boy to the agriculture school at Iowa State University (ISU). Although I graduated with a bachelor's degree in physical education, I went to work as an administrative assistant for the ISU Veterinary Hospital Large Animal Department. That was where I got the bug for agriculture. During breaks or lunch, I would go out and brush horses, talk to the veterinarians, pore over case studies, and read a lot of the medical curriculum. The Merck Manual became my best friend; more information was being stored away. I moved to Missouri, worked in a rural veterinary clinic and gleaned more information. I ran the office but spent a lot of time going on calls, helping with surgeries and gaining more hands-on experiences with livestock. Then, I met "the rancher."
I think his parents had serious doubts of my survival in their world. I was kind of prissy and had a rather rose-colored view of the world with a penchant for naming cows. It was so cool; they had cows all over the place. The ranch was beautiful, horses were their mode of transportation, and they had an endless array of cattle dogs. I was continually amazed by my rancher whose understanding of cattle, horses and dogs was like breathing to the rest of us. It was -truly a gift. I was thrilled, but could I meet the muster? I got the family stamp of approval when a freezing, lethargic newborn calf was delivered to me on the back porch of his parents' home. I was told to "warm it up, wool it around and get it going." The calf was having serious problems breathing, so I jerked him up, wiped the mucus out of his nostrils, blew in his nose, dropped him and started rubbing him. My rancher's dad said, "She'll do." I married the rancher.
They did find me to be a source of amusement. Like the first time I helped butcher chickens, when I noted "that heifer was flouncy behind" (a combination of floppy and bouncy, which to me meant she was getting very close to calving), or the first time I got tangled up in the brush on horseback and proceeded to squall totally unladylike utterances. Or, the time my mother-in-law and I had to dive into a big water tank at the barn (oh, and it was about 10 degrees and windy) to escape a furious heifer mom who took offense to our walking through her pen. I did save my daughters first by tossing them up on the fence. Or, the time the extremely angry cow decided to join us in the cab of the pickup when we were tagging calves, and my rancher thought I should get out. I told him he was crazy. She wasn't hitting me, she was hitting him! And finally, my humiliating experience of getting separated from the ranch crew while gathering cattle in those wild Missouri hills and my rancher having to hooey me in (the sound he used to call in his dogs) with 10 other guys sitting there waiting for me to show up. But really, I loved it all.
I had a knack for saving animals. Several calves, colts, puppies, kittens, squirrels, turtles, birds and other varmits (including a baby buzzard) survived because I cared. I loved the lifestyle more and more. I always felt our girls had the best of both worlds. Lindsay was always doing surgery on eyeballs during the chicken harvesting days, and Haley was best friends with a bright white calf named Allah. They helped Grandma milk Molly the cow, made donut holes, went frogging, rode horses, played in the creek, did chores and saw America by following my rancher to many rodeos. We moved on to western Kansas, where my rancher managed a big ranch in the Sandhills (i.e., unfamiliar territory) and rode pens in their family-owned feedyard. There were no trees but in those wide-open spaces, healthy cows existed in pastures that looked like there was nothing to eat. This was where I discovered the power of grass and the benefits of deep aquifer water. I worked in the office at the feedyard before moving on to becoming the deputy treasurer of the county. More information was being stored.
We moved to southern Oklahoma when our oldest girl graduated high school so we could be closer to my rancher's horse clientele. He continued working with cattle, but his emphasis changed to training quality horses, stock dogs and being a judge for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. I was blessed to join the Noble Research Institute's producer relations activities, which at the time was part of the Noble Foundation's Agricultural Division. Talk about a treasure trove of information. The daily chatter of consultants, calls from producers, endless assortment of educational activities, hands-on experiences, getting to know colleagues from other countries as well as our clientele have made this my dream job. It has reinforced my belief in the importance of taking care of the land, having healthy and productive animals, depending on and helping our neighbors, appreciating God and country, and most importantly, continuing to learn every day. I listened, I read and I experienced.
There is still a city girl in me, but I am a rancher's wife.