Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tis the season for romance for the cowboy's wife
Cowgirl Sass & Savvy

By Julie Carter

Romance is all about viewpoint. The level of romance is relative to the amount of time a rancher and his wife spend working together, often making little seem like more.

When you pick up the coffee table photo album, the photos are often of big brandings in a working pen with friends and neighbors hard at it.

That is not all there is to the action and the photo never reveals the endless hours of work that led to that particular Western Currier and Ives pictorial.

First, a date must be selected for a branding, usually a Saturday so the kids can be there to flank calves. All the neighbors and friends are called and the calendars marked.

The requisite vaccines, wormers and implants are ordered and the necessary equipment, i.e. branding irons, vaccine guns, sterilizing solutions, buckets, implant guns, knives for earmarking and castrating, and whetstones will all be checked to make sure they are in working order.

The cattle have to be gathered, sometimes done over a period of days, culminating in the final gathering to the pens on branding day.

The assignments will be well thought out ­ who is going to rope, flank, give shots, brand and turn little bulls into little steers.

A long grocery list for beverages, snacks, coffee breaks, breakfast and lunch meals for a big crew will be written, shopped and stored.

All this is done ahead. By the time the assorted friend/neighbor crew shows up, the work is ready to commence.

A week before a branding can look like this:

Monday: Cattle are gathered from the big, rough, brushy pastures to smaller traps close to the working pens. The head cowboy, being good to his wife, will give her the choice of driving the feed truck with the clutch that slips or riding the green colt to push up the calves at the back of that herd.

At noon the same day, the wife mentions that she needs to go to town to get groceries for feeding the big crew. He will answer,”This afternoon we have to make another drive. We didn¹t gather all the cattle out of that pasture yet.”

Making plans for the next day, the cowboy gives her instruction. “Tomorrow you better ride a broke horse, we¹re going to have to separate the bulls and move them to the back pastures to keep them from fighting and tearing down every fence on the place.”

She recognizes the thoughtful caring in his consideration of the horse she should ride. She again mentions that she is going to need a day to go get groceries, since it¹s only 85 miles to town.

Tuesday: They saddle for the long trip to the back pasture where the bulls will go. He gives her a broke horse and decides he will ride a green colt. That will give the colt the needed miles of riding and guarantee that his wife will have to ride twice as hard doing whatever needs to be done. And, more importantly, with a good solid horse, she will be able to pack their lunches in the saddlebags.
Arriving back home late, it¹s too late to go to town for groceries, but she reminds him again she¹ll need time to do that and that it is 85 miles to town.

Wednesday: The cull cows are separated and driven to a separate trap for shipping later. Her good, broke horse is worn out from yesterday, so she gets her choice of the colts to hold herd on while he cuts the cows.

Today the cowboy will give her lots of free, valuable instruction about how to get that colt to work a cow. When she seems less than appreciative of his wisdom, he lays it off to some hormone fluctuation.

At dark when the routine chores are done, she stands right in front of him and says, “I have to go to town no later than tomorrow to get groceries to feed this mob Saturday. You know it’s 85 miles.”

He replies, “We’ll see. We have to go check waters tomorrow. Haven¹t done that for a couple days, and we should probably go make sure the bulls are staying put.”

The bulls tore down a good stretch of fence to escape, the standpipe on one of the water reserves broke and the water valve that has been needing a little attention decided to finally go bad.

That evening his response to the grocery dilemma was: “Don’t you have anything in the freezer you can just feed them?”

Friday: Bulls re-gathered, fences fixed, water valve patched and at noon, she gathers the checkbook, her list and heads out without saying anything to the other hat in the house. The last and only thing she had said to him since the previous evening was, “pass the butter.”

He realizes she is going the 85 miles to town and to make good use of the effort he tells her, “While you’re in town, pick up 250 doses of IBR and 250 doses of 7-Way, and 250 implants. We have 200 calves to work, but the women will probably give those things and you know they always waste some of the shots. While you are at it, you¹d better get some 14-gauge needles, too. Those women always bend a lot of needles.”


Saturday: Depending on a gal’s viewpoint and her proximity to the skillet, breakfast with 20 or so cowboys around the table can be fun. Funny stories, neighbors not seen through the winter months and plenty of good food start the day off best.

The anticipation of all the cowboy action when the sun comes up makes for a happy crowd. It is a strange but true phenomenon: Cowboys do not always regard cowboy activities as work.

When everyone has their fill of breakfast, the rancher will adjourn the crowd to begin the day¹s work.

At this point, the ranch wife will often stay behind. She deals with the debris left from breakfast and proceeds to prepare coffee break snacks and drinks.

With that lined out, she will start lunch for the same crew that just left the table.

In middle of the morning, one of the neighbors may notice the ranch wife is not around. “Hey, Jim, where’s Karen today?”

Jim’s sincere reply is, “I gave her the day off so she could cook.” Truly, in his mind, that endearing gesture was all about love. Mostly.

More of Julie’s stories and her book are available at

No comments: