Hi, I’m Raney. If you haven’t met me yet knee-deep in farm show mud, on the road with camera in hand, over the phone or with a few brief internet clicks, then you certainly will get a more thorough picture through the lines of this column.
I’m a Texas born and raised (please don’t hold it against me), Oklahoma-educated transplant Kansan and have been proudly gracing your mail boxes and emails with Farm Talk content for almost six years now. I grew up on a small cow-calf operation as the daughter of an ag teacher and the granddaughter of a dairyman and a farrier, so I’ve had a wide variety of ag influences in my past life, although most of the stories I write here will revolve around the present — namely my small grazing-pig enterprise and our family’s farm endeavors with my Southwest Missouri in-laws.
So, if I have so many stories to share, why now? Well, I made the grand mistake of telling some of these tales to our new-to-ag publisher in an effort to share with him the joys and discomforts of agricultural life, like any proud ag teacher’s daughter knows to do. And the result was repeated requests for a column by me, month after month for almost a year before I finally gave in.
Agricultural columnists worth reading are few and far between these days. And, while I can’t replace the cowboy common sense of Baxter Black or the words of wisdom of Lavon Hightower Lewis, I can hope to fill a little bit of the hole they left in your enjoyable weekly readership of our paper. (Hopefully)
But, what does all of that have to do with cows on Christmas? Most years I spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my in-laws, who have a large extended family, and my immediate Texas family all gets together for a trip to celebrate after the fact.
This year, family Christmas was a little different than most because we spent almost all of Christmas morning working cows — much to the delight of our trailer house-residing next-door neighbors who sat out on the porch and got a heck of a show in between opening presents.
Picture this: 80 cows, 80 acres, one half-derelict but still functioning corral, a small fleet of souped-up gas-guzzling golf carts and a whole lot of unrealistic expectations about just how quickly it can all be done.
Our cast of characters is just my mother-in-law, father-in-law, husband and me. (I either count for 0.5 or 1.5 workers depending on whether I get docked or additional points for being relegated to staying on the golf cart and handing over new ear tags because I’m over seven months pregnant. I think I get extra for carrying the first grandchild despite not being as much of a usual hand on the chute.)
While most people would be appalled at sacrificing Christmas morning to something as dirty and labor-intensive as working every cow, calf and weanling in the herd, to a true cattleman it all makes sense. Good weather and extra hands make for lighter work, regardless of what day of the year they fall on.
For the four of us, there’s a pretty easy groove after working cattle together for a good few years. My husband and I have been married five years and dating another four, so I’ve spent many a weekend busting through fescue and rounding up heifers.
We accomplished our goal in around two hours, with nobody injured, no wormer shot into anyone’s face or calves run through the fence, which are all frequent enough occurrences to be wary of.
Watching us work, however, is a little bit like watching Oklahoma State’s football defense, only up against cows. Which, in hindsight, is probably what kept our neighbors so entertained.
There’s a lot of head-on standoffs, some occasional from the four-wheeler tackling and this time only one man left behind in the back field when a trusty old golf cart gave out after being pushed to its limits.
It’s rarely low-stress for anyone involved and yet it’s a quick efficient process that works for us.
After we packed it in for the day, I jokingly told my Catholic sister-in-law, who typically stays behind to work cattle with us, that there should be a post-working drinking game where we indulge for every time my father-in-law’s name gets called out in anger, or when the same expletive gets hurled at a calf more than once, or when I get told for the thousandth time to get back on the golf cart and stay away from the cows.
(I could boldly suggest this without fear because I have a real good reason to be a spectator and not a participant.)
Her response was: “We want to have a good time, not die.”