“Heya! Can you go close the gate below the barn?” I yelled at my little sister on the other side of the cattle pens. I had a pencil in one mittened hand, a list of numbers in the other, and a sorting stick stuck under my arm. My going-to town-boots had kicked up a fair amount of mud and poop and slushy snow and deposited it right inside of my socks and up the back of my going-to-town-pants as I chased both man and bouvine around the corrals. I had been caught in the wrong outfit as I pulled back into the ranch that morning, bringing two little girls home from preschool.
This wasn’t the timing I was expecting, but there I was…
My little sister was sitting, one butt cheek in the side-by-side and one leg out the door, hanging on to her thirty-pound toddler while her dog bounced and begged to come in and those two little preschoolers sat beside her, one singing an original song about cows at the top of her lungs and the other holding her ears. Take a guess which one was mine…
My poor sister was caught in a “Here, hold my kid, the guys need help,” situation and just like that she was responsible for her children, a niece and a gate.
This wasn’t the timing she was expecting, but there she was…
“Which gate?” she hollered back.
“The brown gate below the barn!” both Dad and my husband chimed in, as if adding the color of the gate was going to be helpful to a woman who had all limbs occupied, forty-seven tabs open in her brain and couldn’t get the music to stop.
But she needed to hurry, we had a couple loads of cows to haul for the sale the next day and the rest of them were quickly headed to that spot where the fence had been down for repair the last few weeks. Should have thought of that earlier probably, but, as you are learning, that’s not necessarily the way we do things around here.
Oh, life on the family ranch—the only thing glamorous about it that day was the cute new sunglasses I was wearing and my good fall coat that wasn’t expecting to work so hard. But that’s the way it goes on a small operation, raising kids and careers and cattle, you must be prepared, at anytime, to step in poop and be fine with it.
Or to open or close a gate, which depending on the status of your fences can determine how the entire rest of your day goes.
And there are plenty of misconceptions about what it means to be a cattle rancher, the one I didn’t pay any attention to growing up was the amount of deadlines and dates you have to pay attention to in order to calve at the right time, sell at the right time and have enough feed and water along the way. And so that explains why it seems we’re always in a bit of a rush. Because on the ranch, if you think it’s going to take a couple hours, it almost always takes a couple more.
And if you think you fixed it, 98% of the time you return to find you only thought you did.
Anyway, little sister got the gate shut and we got the cows loaded and sent the guys on to the highway to get to Dickinson before dark. Because dark is the ultimate deadline and it comes early around here these days. Once they left, my little sister and I took the kids into my house for snacks and whatever crafting project they could scrounge up while I ate a three o’clock lunch of handfuls of Wheat Thins and debated the best ways to get mud and cow poop off wool and leather.
It seemed we pulled it all together then as I cooked up some spaghetti and got the kids fed and bathed and ready for bed on schedule, feeling pretty good about nailing all categories of our life today.
Until my husband walked in the door and told me they arrived to the sale barn to find out there was no sale the next day…
And that’s not the timing they expected but there they were….