Sunday, May 15, 2011

Electrifying Work


Ranch life is hard work and the people who do it, do so because they love the lifestyle, because there sure ain’t a lot of money to be made. There is much fun and excitement to be had, and there is also much risk.

In the past couple of years here on the ranch there have been a fractured collarbone, (me) broken shoulder (me) broken ribs (me) a badly broken nose (a guy working the chutes) a severe spiral fracture of the leg (a cowboy) broken ribs, collarbone and clavicle (cowboy) badly bruised spleen and kidneys from being pinned by a tractor (cowboy), as well as a variety of bumps, bruises, lacerations and concussions. Since we have been here, there has been one Heli-vac, one ambulance and several back-of-the-truck trips to the hospital which is 2-4 hours on the road, depending if one goes to Burns, Bend or Boise. Those are the only choices.

A horse broke a leg 2 years ago in a freak roping accident; another died on his feet after having a horned cow pierce his heart. It’s always hardest to have your ‘partner’ die like that, but this is what they live for as well. It would be wrong to deny them such a life in the name of safety. Besides, just as many overly coddled horses die of colic and other maladies in their show barns.

It’s a place where kids and parents can still work together and children learn early on, that they have great value. They develop a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility for family and for nature. Everyone works together for the good of all. There is no room for a “that is not part of my job description” attitude on a ranch. Everyone pitches in, and if you don’t know how, then you will soon learn. A wife may not be amenable to driving a tractor, but if her husband gets hurt, she’s got to do it. A ten-year old may not have a license, but if someone’s truck breaks down, or their horse goes lame, she’s gonna have to drive that truck and trailer out to where they are at. It’s a great life, with lots of challenges and many rewards, some intangible. Just knowing that a calf is alive because you saved it, or the ranch is in the black this year, because we all helped get it there, these are things worth living for.

Currently, there are summer ranch ‘tours’ here. A well known horse trainer gives ‘ranch schools’ in the summer, where some of his clients come spend a month learning how to work cows, increase their riding skills and improve their horses. This means that on top of all the regular work, cabins must be cleaned and prepared for visitors. Walls are washed, floors mopped, windows cleaned, beds changed, rugs shampooed, etc. Acres of grass have to be quickly mowed, weed-eating accomplished, and food stores brought in, on top of the regular work that is done, which for me is feeding leppies, lambs, goats, milk cows, chickens and Randyman…somewhere in there is laundry and on a good day, a housecleaning. (Well…now that about choked me to say ‘housecleaning’ and ‘good’ in the same sentence…) Everyone else has a much heavier workload, but we all manage to get it done.

These tours are advertised as teaching “every facet of being a ranch cowboy”, but that is not really true. They teach them to do the fun stuff, like roping, branding and cutting cows out from a herd, but they don’t teach them anything about how to build or fix fence, run heavy equipment, irrigate, doctor, ship cattle, drive a semi truck, mechanics, welding, horseshoeing, cooking for a crowd, doing bookwork, or any of the other things that are vital skills required of real ranching. Being on tour wouldn't be so bad! But then, we DO get to live here all the time.

Currently, there are 11 leppies (orphan calves) that I take care of. They are orphaned for various reasons, either the cow has a ‘bad bag’ or died, or left it. Most of them do pretty well, as long as I can get some nutrition in them. There are occasional colds, scours, pneumonia, etc. but those are usually easily handled with medication.
milk replacer can

Last weekend, the kids brought in one that was pretty sick. She has what is known as “Navel, or Joint Ill”. That means that bacteria traveled up the umbilical cord and went septic in her bloodstream. The infection has settled into her joints, so one ankle is the size of a cantaloupe, one knee is very swollen as well as one hock. She has a high fever, and cannot stand up, or eat.  Per phone consultation with the vet, I give her daily injections of anti-inflammatories and every other day, a very powerful and expensive ($600 a bottle) antibiotic, in hopes it will improve her. Her prognosis is poor, at best.

Today they brought in 2 more leppies, bringing the total to 13 now.  There are 3 in the barn, and the rest are outside. I filled up 10 half  gallon calf  bottles and got them in the wagon.  A visitor to the ranch wanted to come help feed them so we decided she could stand behind the barrier fence and place the bottles and I would go in with the leppies and guide the ones who had trouble into their little ‘feeding chutes’.


The leppie pen is currently divided into 3 spaces by electric fence. It is only 2 strands, and keeps them behind the barrier, and splits the herd in half so they are easier to feed. I went to step over the first electric fence and didn’t quite get my leg up as high as I THOUGHT I did...consequently, I got a WHALE of a shock and hit the ground. My leg got tangled up in the wires and as I continued on with my self electrocution, wanting like blazes to pull my leg out and roll, but unable to because I was still being shocked, I tried grabbing the wire to extract myself, (not a good idea). I was sure my heart would stop before I ever got undone. Finally, I extricated myself and laid on the ground, breathless. It’s a cinch why they don’t want me to do the more hazardous work on the ranch!

I hope to quit vibrating before I go feed the 3 in the barn.

1 comment:

  1. Annie from IllinoisMay 16, 2011 at 2:14 PM

    That SO sounds like something I would do. I'm sorry for your pain!
    But keep the stories coming, I'm addicted.....

    ReplyDelete