A moment in the plans we’ve made


This week’s column is a little reflection triggered by branding day at the ranch a few weekends back.

It really is something to take a breath in the middle of this crazy life and realize that the crazy was actually your intention and what you’re doing is a little piece of a dream coming true.


Oh, and for those of you who don’t reside in Western North Dakota, a slushburger is a sloppy joe.

Thanks for all the words of encouragement. In six months or so I’ll be calling you at 3 am wondering what we were thinking.


Coming Home: Taking time to appreciate moments as ranch, family expands

I rushed to get the slushburger in the slow cooker, the chip dip layered and the watermelon cut and mixed with the cantaloupe from the fridge. It was 7:30 a.m., and one of our friends was already sitting at the counter with a cup of coffee, boots and hat waiting in the entry. He’s more of a cattle expert, but it turns out he had some tips on cantaloupe slicing before heading out the door with my husband to gather gear and saddle horses.

The neighbors would be here in an hour or so to help ride, and I had to get Edie and my niece dressed and down the road to gramma’s with the burger, melon and grocery bags full of paper plates and potato chips so I could climb on a horse of my own.

It was branding day at the ranch, and the sun was quickly warming up the world as I finally made it to the barnyard, buckling my belt as I ran past the neighbors and the guys already saddled and waiting to take off over the green hills together, splitting off at the corrals up top to gather cattle in the corners, search the brush and trees and meet up at the flat to take them home.

It’s one of the best views in my world, to see the cowboys and cowgirls you trust most riding together on our land, connected by generations, friendships and blood, dedicating a Sunday to getting a familiar and time-honored job done. I loped my horse across the flat to catch up and watched a trail of black and red animals form a jagged line across the crick and up the road, kicking up dust and bellaring to their babies as our crew gently coaxed them along.


My husband and I have dreamed about the days we could figure out a way to own our own cattle out here, a goal we began to realize last winter with the help and partnership of my dad. We branded a handful of our own calves last year and worked this year to crunch numbers and build plans. And it’s been scary, exciting and challenging to say the least, balancing full time work and family while helping to take care of this place and the animals on it.

But last Sunday we sorted and doctored those animals together while the neighbor kids sipped juice boxes and waved sorting sticks outside the fence, my grandparents sat watching in the shade, my sisters standing together, my little sister arching her back against the weight of her pregnancy while my mom and aunt opened the door of the car to let out my fresh-from-her nap daughter, and I willed myself to take a moment to appreciate that I could stretch out my arms and nearly touch all of the most important things in this world to us.


And then I reached down to loosen the belt on my jeans that are growing tighter each day as my belly swells with the newest member of the crew, due to arrive in December to these grateful arms.


6 thoughts on “A moment in the plans we’ve made

  1. Thanks for sharing the wonderful pictures of moving the cattle and the roundup and the people in your life. I enjoy hearing the details and seeing the pictures of your ranch. Congratulatons to you and your husband as you await child No. 2. Edie is so precious–keep the stories and photos coming!

  2. Decades ago, when I was ten or eleven years old, my mother’s cousin asked me to help work his herd one year. I always wanted to be a cowboy, but after I staggered home that first night, my enthusiasm had waned considerably. My job was to keep the fire going, branding irons hot, knives sharp, needles filled, dehorning tools clean, and everything organized….and to come running and help whenever someone yelled. As I sat down that night, smelling like wood smoke and burned hair, covered with blood, sweat, slobber, manure, urine and dirt, and the bellowing of mad cows and hurting calves still ringing in my ears, my life’s goals changed. My body was bruised and aching from being kicked, stepped on and butted, and exhausted didn’t begin to describe my condition…to say nothing about how I smelled! Suddenly wheat farming began to look more attractive than riding the range. I managed to make it through a much shorter and easier second day, but after that the cowboy life for me was something to be enjoyed from a distance. Your wonderful post really dredged up some powerful memories!

    Modern knowledge, technique and equipment might make the job easier today, but branding time has to be one of the most difficult jobs humans ever invented!

  3. Hey all, what fun. Ill never remember/forget how cool it is to drag a calf into their castration or next part of life when branded. My heart went with the calves and their moms. But every time Mom found calf and all was well. Long days but those of Big Stories!!! Love it all!!! Thanks Jess and company!!!Keep the life alive!!!

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