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Across the fence: What farm was he on?

Marci Whitehurst for Progressive Cattle Published on 25 April 2022

Ranchers are never bored, but some weeks are fuller than others. This was one. About the time we thought we were caught up, nope – a tractor needed tinkering, my painting project took longer than I anticipated, etc.

This morning my hubby said, “You know John Denver’s song, ‘Thank God I’m a Country Boy’? It starts out: ‘Well, life on the farm is kinda laid back.’” My hubby paused and I knew what he was going to say – it is a perk of being married for almost two-and-a-half decades. “I’d really like to know what kind of farm he was on. I’d really like to go there.”

We had a good laugh and guessed about how few cows there were on that farm, or how many acres he actually farmed, and how maybe we just needed to take up the fiddle and everything would be laid back, kind of like the Pied Piper for cows.

We often laugh at movies too. I’m sure you do it with us: horses that never get tired, guns that never run out of ammo, sunsets on horseback.

Sometimes ranching is romanticized by those who don’t ranch. And we see people moving here like crazy. We’ve heard of people buying a house on a half acre in a subdivision called something like Cattle Crossing, and then they call home saying they are living on a ranch. It may feel that way compared to what they are used to, but it is very different from our version of a ranch.

However, even as ranchers, we seem to classify ourselves by how many cows we have, acres we own, how long it has been in the family, even down to whether we rope or use a table at branding. We each have our own answers, and some think to themselves, “You’re a real rancher if…”

  • You have at least 400 cows.
  • The ranch has been in your family since before Columbus.
  • You rope and drag.
  • You wear pearl snap shirts and cowboy cut jeans.

The list could go on and on, but the real question we are asking ourselves is: What do we each think the ranch should look like? (By the way, we would not have qualified as ranchers if these were the qualifications.)

I love the ranch, and I love talking about life on the ranch, but I also love kids. My educational background includes a degree in elementary education (although I am not teaching anymore), and one of my side gigs off the ranch the last several years has been coaching speech and drama.

Theater is not much different than cows: If you get one student to really run with an idea, the rest tend to follow. I don’t mean this in a bad way – kids need to be individuals. What I mean is: If one student starts to imagine their character and what the final show will look like, the whole trajectory of practice changes. Their imagination becomes contagious.

So when my hubby said, “What farm was John Denver on?” and we laughed, it did also make me think seriously about what we could do differently. We work hard, but we don’t need to overwork. Let’s be honest, ranch friends: Do you all see the prevalence of the mantra of lists ranchers like to say to each other? For example, let’s say I see my neighbor at the grocery store. They ask how I am or maybe what’s new. My response?

Well, we were moving cows, checking fence, fixing fence, taking hay samples, doing drama practice, laundry, dinner…I don’t know, whatever comes to mind that happened recently, I tend to say so I don’t sound lazy.

A show of hands – how many are worried about sounding lazy?

I think it is a regular issue. But when I have friends that take a trip, do something fun, etc., I am truly happy for them – so why do I not want to sound lazy? I don’t think others are lazy.

Even when I am talking to a friend and I say, “I’m doing laundry,” and she says, “Me too,” I think, “I’m talking laundry! Do you hose yours off outside first?” (Although, my dad was a mechanic, and I remember his laundry growing up was tough – grease is hard to get out and you can’t wash them with everyone else’s clothes.)

We all know it takes hard work to run a ranch. You can’t be a rancher and not be motivated and work hard. Well, I suppose you can, but that’s not who we are talking about.

What if we cut ourselves and each other some slack? I don’t know about you, but summer always has plenty to do, plenty of lists. Maybe we should find some time to “have life on the farm [be] kinda laid back.”   end mark

Marci Whitehurst is a freelance writer, ranch wife and the mother of three children. You can follow her on her blog (Cowboy Wife).

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