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Across the fence: What I wish I’d known

Marci Whitehurst for Progressive Cattle Published on 25 October 2021

When our kids were little, we carted them around as much as possible when moving cows. We had lease ground we ran cattle on, and we were spread out across a couple of counties. In Montana, that means a lot of traveling.

The tire shop was on our speed dial.

And we were on the tire shop’s speed dial. “Hey, we just got a used tire that is nice that’ll fit your stock trailer. I’ll save it for you. You’ll probably need it next week.”

I spent a lot of time in the Suburban moving cows. Why? The Suburban was a jungle gym for young people.

As our oldest daughter got big enough, she started riding. Eventually, they all did. However, when they were little, we didn’t take them horseback unless it was a quick ride. It was easier to load everyone up in the Suburban. I carried toys and snacks. It already had car seats.

I also moved cows with it. Literally. Yes, it was open fields and down country roads, but I am certain I was better moving cows with my mommy limo than on a horse. I could steer that thing like the reins on a horse. I did pretty well for several years, until one time I got a little too close … a perfect hoofprint landed squarely in the front, denting the license plate a bit. It didn’t hurt anything and I kept trucking along. Using the Suburban, I could easily carry a cooler and a Crock Pot or roaster full of food when we had a crew to feed.

Recently, we went to a barbecue and I showed up with our side dishes and utensils … it didn’t dawn on me that going to someone’s house, I probably didn’t need to bring utensils, but the habit seems to be in my blood at this point. If you have a Crock Pot in tow, you bring a serving spoon.

It reminded me, though, of all the years we spent traveling and hauling food.

One of the places we rented was several sections. It didn’t have cell service, so on days when I brought food to the crew, I sometimes felt like a tracker:

“OK, my hubby said they’d be in this section, around this bend …”

But since I’ve been married long enough to know better, I started watching for clues:

“There are no tire tracks up here; looks like they veered south.”

Sometimes the crew had to change plans and there wasn’t a way to call. However, my hubby was pretty good – if there wasn’t manure showing the way, he’d leave me clues: an open gate, a scarf on a fencepost, something to say, “Hey, over here.”

Most of the time, it wasn’t hard to find each other, but I stressed out more than I wish I would have. If I could tell my yesterday self a few tips, it’d be:

  • Don’t freak out if you can’t find the crew. Keep looking for clues. Worst-case scenario: You stay visible in the general vicinity. After all, you have the food and the drink cooler.

  • The kids are having a good life. Don’t worry about them getting hurt. Teach them to enjoy life.

  • Just because you can’t do it well doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Oh gosh, the number of times I didn’t jump in to help because I figured someone else would do it better.

  • Take pictures. Even though the toddler’s face is snotty, she’s smiling.

  • Practice backing up a trailer without a crowd of guys watching you. (I didn’t grow up backing up trailers, so this was intimidating for me with people watching who could do it in their sleep.)

  • Keep brandings small and simple. Sometimes they just became a production.

  • Don’t worry about what others think – yes, people might be talking about you, but you are at least trying.

  • Do the things you love.

  • Keep track of things you are thankful for – gratitude changes outlooks.

  • You can’t change what someone else chooses. That’s a good thing.

  • Do what works for you. Don’t compare and despair because you aren’t as handy as your amazing ranch wife friends.

I’m sure there are more, but it’s a good reminder on a new place. Fortunately, the new place is mostly contiguous. We don’t have to drive an hour to check cows or figure out a way to keep food hot in the back of a Suburban for long amounts of time. It is nice. You can burn a lot of time and money trying to run across counties for pasture.

When you are first starting out, you often get the pasture no one else wanted. We always did our best to clean things up and leave it better than we found it. Sometimes that backfired. We had landowners say, “Dang, this land looks good. Seems it is worth more in rent,” or “Thanks, now we are going to sell it.”

Life is full of unknowns, but at the end of the day, we are all doing our best and hopefully becoming better versions of ourselves. 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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