I often get comments from my big city friends that go something like this:
“It looks so relaxing and peaceful out there!” “It must be so laid back” “It would be so nice to be my own boss like that” “I’m just about ready to buy a farm or a ranch out in the country and leave all my problems behind”
I never really know what to say to that. I mean sometimes it’s peaceful and relaxing…..like around 4:00 in the morning before Dad gets up and it is beautiful and we do love it but…….
Here’s the thing. I want to be paint an accurate and honest picture and when I hear people say things like that, things that make it sound like some sort of rural utopia where the cowboys are always jolly and carefree and the kids are always content and never have to be told “your over your screen time limit, shut that thing off!”, well….sometimes it makes me wonder if I’m giving a fair representation of what it’s really like.
So here goes….I’m pulling back the curtain, just a little bit. Now, there are stories I could tell. I know things people! But a lot of those stories I will have to take to my grave. It’s either that or go into witness protection program…..which to be honest I’ve considered. There’s also the fact that my sisters are very smart and they could easily break my fingers and make it look like an accident, rendering it impossible for me to ever type again. So, as you can see I can’t divulge everything, for my own safety and also because I’m saving some things in case I need to blackmail people at some point in the future. But I do want to tackle a few misconceptions.
First of all, all the annoying daily chores that everybody dreads still have to happen even out at the ranch. No matter how beautiful the scenery there are still groceries to shop for, meals to prepare, dishes to do, laundry – lots of laundry – floors have to scrubbed and moldy stuff dumped out of the fridge. There is just no escaping all of that.
Then there are the kids. They’re still kids, no matter how far out in the country you take them, they’re still kids. They still fight with their siblings, they still complain about being bored, they still avoid their summer reading, they still get the stomach flu. And they do have the internet in Wyoming, granted it is frustrating slow at times, but they still have it, so those issues don’t get left behind either.
And a majority of your work is outside, rain or shine, or hot or cold, or snowy, sleety, rainy, muddy, dusty, windy. There are times in the winter you have to get off your horse and stomp your feet to get the feeling back in them and times in fall when it’s so dusty you blow dirt out your nose for weeks – sorry, that was probably too much information.
And then there’s the idea that if you move to the country you leave all your problems behind. While it’s true that the problems and worries are very different, they’re definitely not non-existent. Here’s a short list of things that keep farmers and ranchers up at night:
The weather – the weather, something no one can control and we struggle to predict, can literally wipe away your one paycheck for the year, in one fell swoop or in a long drawn out slow and painful years long drought.
Sickness or disease in crops or livestock – sometimes even when you do everything right an illness can hit your crops or livestock and change all your plans and expectations.
Water Rights – in the west you have to have water rights in order to irrigate your land. And whoever has the oldest rights gets first dibs on whatever water is available. Everyone has to pay for the water but whoever has the oldest rights gets first shot at it. In a wet year, when there’s plenty of water to go around, it’s not a big deal, everyone generally comes out ok. In a dry year or during a drought, people live and die by their water rights. Think of it this way, if your next door neighbor has older water rights than you, he gets to water his lawn and you just have to wait……and wait… and see if once he’s done there’s any water left over for your lawn…and if there’s not, well then, you just have to watch your lawn turn brown. Only your probably not counting on your lawn to feed your cattle through the winter or provide your paycheck for the year.
Estate Planning – it’s really hard these days to pass on a farm or ranch to the next generation. Really hard. Estate taxes are in the neighborhood of 40-45% on all cash, land, livestock, equipment. And here’s the thing. Most farms and ranches that I know don’t have cash, they have land and livestock and equipment, which they need to make a living on. But in order to pay the estate taxes they have to sell a big chunk of their land, livestock and equipment, often making the farm or ranch no longer a viable business. It’s true there are ways, through estate planning, to help minimize the hit but it’s expensive, time consuming and complicated. Plus, if people die out of order than everything is messed up. It’s headache inducing.
Trespassers – sometimes there are people who are just disrespectful, even out in the country. And sometimes, people do things like drive through gates marked “No Trespassing” and “Please Shut Gate” and leave the gate open. Then all the cattle that you spent 2 weeks moving to the far side of the summer pasture are now back where they started from and you have to repeat all the work you’ve already done.
Health Insurance – it’s hard to get and keeps getting more expensive (which, I realize, is news to no one). And there’s a really good chance your going to need it at some point.
Cattle markets, corn markets, hay markets, gas prices, grocery prices – yeah all that too.
And then there are “personnel issues”. I mean look at this crew.
They have moods people! Sometimes multiple moods all in one day. And they’re not always good moods or even reasonable moods. I, of course, am always pleasant to be around, just ask them…..on second thought, don’t, don’t ask them. I had a bad moment once back in 1987 and they might still remember it, so just forget I said anything. Let’s just say that my family is wonderful and amazing and talented and also a few bricks shy of a full load, god love ’em. And sometimes they get cranky. Sometimes. Even in the relaxing, peaceful, laid back environment, sometimes people get cranky.
Except for Tarver, he never gets cranky. He has a tendency to get a little whiny if he’s not at least mentioned on the blog every couple of weeks but I have never, ever seen him get cranky.
Luckily, we have these two to remind us what really matters and to not take any of it, or ourselves, too seriously.
And thank goodness for them. They keep us on course.
It’s really not that ranching is harder or easier than any other job. It’s just very different. And possibly not quite as romantic as you might think. And I have heard some ranchers lament about how easy those city folks have it, what with their nine to five jobs with weekends off and all. You know those cushy nine to five jobs that start with a 6:00 am overseas conference call and end with an 8:30 pm overseas conference call. And those weekends off spent traveling for work and then trying to catch up with your family. Yeah, everybody thinks the other guy has it made.
I think that life is messy and hard and exhausting no matter what or where. And if your lucky enough to be doing something you love, surrounded by family and friends you love – even when they get cranky – then it’s also really beautiful and fun and exciting, even if it’s not always peaceful and relaxing.