Ranching is a tough lifestyle to explain without walking a mile in our boots. So slip on my extra set of boots and take a walk with me, please. Make sure you pull your hat down tight.
It’s 2 am and the wind is howling as the snow swirls around the edge of the barn. You have various layers of clothes on but the cold still seems to camp out in your bones! A shower or clean hair seems like a distant memory at this point.
There is a thick layer of dried lamb slime on your coat and your gloves are crunchy from it. Trust me, you’re oblivious to it. There is work that needs to be done and no time to think about it anyway.
It feels like a lifetime since you’ve had a full night's sleep yet it’s only been three weeks but who’s counting?
You move as quiet as possible through the barn, speaking softly as you go. You try to reassure the girls it's just you again as you make the hourly check for new babies. One has dropped twins in the back corner and is talking to them as she gently licks them off. You’ve seen it countless times and even in this tired stupor, you pause for a minute to thank the good Lord above for strong, healthy babies and a good mama.
As you step closer to open the nearest empty pen the ewe picks her head up and is hyper-aware of your every movement. She’s worked hard for these babies and is on high alert even with those she knows and trusts.
You reach in and grab a back leg on each baby. Then slide the lambs along the ground so mama will follow as calm as possible into the pen. This time it worked. The next time it might take more convincing for her. Either way, she will spend time alone with her babies. If the weather was better she’d be free to do this out in the pasture without interference. For their safety in this weather, we’re all camped out in the barn together.
You straw down a few more pens while you have a few minutes. As you finish up you hear the wind pick up outside and step out to find its darned near a blizzard by now.
So trudging through the snow and wind you climb the hill behind the barn to check on the older pairs. You’re praying they’re all still safely tucked behind the windbreak. The girls startle a bit at your flashlight so they quickly call their babies.
One lamb’s not been growing as well as his brother so you’ve been giving him a little extra help with some milk replacer. Somehow he got through the fence and is out in the wind and brutal cold. It’s not good!
So you scoop him up quick and stuff him down in your coat, hoping to give him what little warmth you have left. As you hustle back to the barn with him you say another little prayer. There is no chance you’re thinking about the “bottom line” at this point. You’re time, heart and energy are invested in this baby. You were entrusted to steward these animals and you’ll go down swinging for each one of them!
Not because of any kind of payout. You can’t get paid enough for this life!
Your teeth are chattering as you get him into the house and into your homemade warming box. In other words, a cardboard box and your hairdryer. Grabbing what you assume is an old towel, but knowing they all get mixed together anyway, you set to work trying to rub life back into this baby.
Tonight, this one doesn’t make it. You sit slumped on the bathroom floor as that sick feeling fills your stomach. The one where you wonder what you could have done different.
You feel because you don’t have a choice but you also pick yourself up and move forward because of the same reason! There are others that need your attention.
You grab a hot cup of tea to try to warm up as much as possible. You seize those moments when you can as the wind is still howling, the snow is blowing and work is still calling. So out the door, we go again! Are you coming?
This is simply an hour in the life of a rancher during the lambing season. There are almost too many countless hours, days and seasons of stewarding animals to the best of our ability to count. But each one does count. Each hour, day and season is one more living a life you know you’ve been called to do. It’s a part of who you are and what you were made to do.
About our Guest Blogger, Laura:
I've been in the ranching business since the day I was born. My dad had a cattle ranch as well as being a veterinarian before I was a twinkle in his eye. So, you could say I come by the love of animals naturally.
I was horseback long before I could walk. Dad said I took naps better in a saddle than in a crib. Along with my siblings we all grew up rodeoing when time allowed as well.
Along with my husband and two adult sons we ranch way out the sticks of western South Dakota. We run a commercial black Angus cattle herd with a split calving. Half in the spring and half in the fall. We also run a couple of hundred head of commercial white-faced ewes that we breed to Suffolk rams to produce great feeder lambs. I love to train Border Collie’s to work livestock as well.
Most of my time is spent helping with all the day to day necessities. My favorite job is anything to do with being on the south end of a north-facing cow. My least favorite job is fencing! Okay, I take that back. Fencing is still better than cleaning the house!!
I would love to get to know you as well. Connect with me on Instagram (@laura_a_hicks) or my website (www.laurahicks.org)