Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ranch Life Lessons

I think we all saw the Super Bowl commercial with Paul Harvey talking about how God made a farmer. I grew up on ranch in the central part of Oregon. I loved it and I miss it but when I share some of my childhood stories or lessons learned either people look at me funny or they gasp in horror or laugh uncontrollably  You may have already read my post about barbie dolls here.

First thing, we didn't have cable and it was long distance to call anyone. I grew up for a short time with party lines. If you don't know what that is google it or ask your grandparents. I grew up listening to an AM radio station that you listened to for Home Town News, the Tradin' Post and on Friday nights- the high school football game. I use to play outside a lot. I had play clothes and school clothes because when you live out in the country there isn't any concrete (except in the shop or in the neighbor's garage) so it's mostly dirt and you will get dirty. We climbed trees, played in old trucks that didn't run anymore and swung from ropes in the barn. You also learned to drive at an early age because on Saturdays if you helped your dad feed you usually ended up driving the truck because you were too slow feeding the bales of hay.

My dad and I on our tractor.
My dad tried to teach me to drive a tractor when I was in the 6th or 7th grade. It was a horrible experience that caused me to wait till I was a freshman in ag class and was required to drive a tractor to earn a grade. I got past the traumatic experience and went on to drive our small old tractor through out high school and in college I worked as a raker  for a custom haying company. For my non-ag friends I spent the summer going around and around in fields pulling the cut hay into rows that the kids driving the balers (the equipment that puts hay into square bales) could bale the hay. That was the first time I drove a brand new tractor. Our tractor was an old one- A 1958 65 Massey Ferguson to be exact. We still own it and I love it!

There's something to be said about a metal tractor seat and the old knob on the steering wheel.

And I know the photo is bad for farm safety (one of my many duties at Farm Bureau) because it doesn't have a roll over bar and I am a passenger on the tractor but it's still one of my favorite photos from when I was a kid.

As a kid, I loved it when it rained because you could make mud pies, when there wasn't rain you used the garden hose to make mud pies. We learned at an early age that you don't play with matches. That if you continue to irrigate the hill next to the house through the fall when it freezes you can sled down it and the more you sled the faster and farther you go. Then the fun begins because you then try and wait till the last second to bail off your sled before hitting the barbed wire fence.

I also learned to ice skate in the cow pasture with my friend Dawn. It wasn't anything like when you ice skate in town on a real rink because a real rink is smooth it doesn't have bumps from the frozen cow pies that are under the ice. I also learned that if you have a flat tire on your bike and you hit a rock (which is likely) you will fly over the front and possibly scar your leg. (And if you didn't learn that lesson the first time by the third you have evenly spaced scars on you leg that wouldn't go away till high school.)

When you live on a gravel road you learn at an early age that riding in a wagon is rough and that if you lose a shoe the older girls pulling you might not hear you wanting to stop and that your thumb does not make a great break for the wagon and that forevermore you will have an "L" shaped scar on your thumb that will blend in as you get older and your skin gets a little wrinkled.

You also learn that running across the icy playground in your cowboy boots may cause you to slip, fall and tear you knee up leaving a scar. (I promise there isn't a pattern here).

I also remember that when people were in need because they are new to the area, someone is sick, hurt or in the hospital that you jumped in and helped them. It could be feeding or checking on their animals, giving them a ride to town or home from town, or picking up parts from either the equipment dealer or the local motor supply store.

When you live out in the country some town people who don't want their dogs or cats anymore but want them to be free drop them off. Not at your house with your permission but in the vicinity of houses hoping someone will take them in. We had a few of them and one summer one of those stray dogs ended up earning us ice cream for the summer. We had a little poodle thing dropped off and a few weeks later the ice cream man came by to see if we wanted anything. He ran over and killed the dog and felt so bad we got ice cream for free from him.

As I got older there were chores. Those chores taught me responsibility and respect. I wish I would have done more chore type things growing up. (I promise I don't have a fever). But it would have given me more skills and experience now. I knew that the cows and horses always got fed before any other work was done and that they were fed before we went to town or relaxed. There wasn't really a vacation unless there were people willing to feed the animals, change the sprinkler pipe, or what ever may be happening during the season. But there's something to feeding the cows in the winter and you learn a little bit about society by watching the cattle. There's always a lead cow (the one all the older cattle will follow, usually an older cow) and if you put out range cubes or molasses tubs look out because it's like free samples at Costco during winter visitor season or black Friday shopping at Walmart- you want to drop it and get to high ground (or the pick up truck.
Feeding cattle in one of the meadows in December.
I loved it in college when I would come home and be able to take the really early (2-3 a.m.) slot for checking heifers. (This means we were like the maternity nurse and a heifer might have problems her having her first calf so we would check them about every 4-5 hours).It would suck when you worked in below freezing temps for hours to try and keep a calf (baby cow) alive that had gotten stuck in the birth canal and you massage it's tongue with ice water hoping the swelling would go down just to have it die in the morning. But the upside of calving is when you get to see a cow or horse birth it's baby and watch it take stand up and take its first steps along with its first breathe. There's nothing better! I miss it and would love to freeze my butt of again checking them or spending a warm summer day in a tractor haying or even better riding all day on the mountain gather cattle. I've always said the smell of a hot saddle and a sweaty horse is one of the best smells in the world.

There's a lot of lessons you learn about life growing up on a ranch that sometimes I think our city counterparts don't learn at an early age or at least don't have the funny stories to share later in life.