What it means to be a “Ranch wife”

Host: Mescalero Apache Cattle Growers, New Mexico, USA
Written by Ruth Wold, Managers Assistant

This is part four in a 5-part series about managing a Native American Reservation ranch. Find part one herepart two here and part three here.

Let me state very clearly here that I do not consider myself a cowgirl. I can ride, can’t rope, and I don’t move fast enough to be considered a good hand. I was raised outside the city limits. My mother was the daughter of an Arizona rancher. I grew up raising livestock in 4-H and, yes, I will admit it; I was once-upon-a-time a regional rodeo queen. I wasn’t completely ignorant of ranch life; however, I was still slow to learn that the romance of ranch life fades. I am a reasonable ranch wife. I can run a computer, answer phones and take messages. I am pretty good at running into town for supplies and can help Dusty out at the corral in a pinch. I can take miscellaneous well parts into the hardware store and ask for help with the best of them. I am good to have in the scale house, watching weights on shipping days and I can send emails faster than my husband will. I do cook for the hands when we are branding in the spring and preg-checking cattle in the fall. I am good at ranch public relations and getting what is in my husband’s brain out onto paper for reports. I can keep our schedule somewhat manageable and am able to keep us all running in mostly the same direction. But I am far from being what many Americans want to call a “cowgirl.”

Dusty and I, Summer 2017.

I like the term “Ranch Wife” because of the broad definition that it encompasses. Ranch wives are universally diverse both in abilities and characteristics. I have seen ranch wives that are the best hands I have ever seen and some that rarely see the inside of the corral. There are those that put together full out spreads, complete with tablecloths, on the back of a pick-up in the middle of a dusty, dirty corral and those that can’t boil water. I have some mentors that are the most beautiful women God created, who always look fabulous. I also have some mentors that are the toughest people that have lived. I am neither. When I help in the corral, I look wind-blown, dirt-encrusted and my nose always runs. I can start out with a full face of make-up and really have to wonder, why did I bother? At the end of the day, it didn’t help the situation.

 Exhibit A: Fall 2017, photo credit, Steph Coombes.

I fall somewhere in the middle of the extremes. I cook for the crew at peak seasons, but I only do the one meal and provide snacks. I am there, chute-side, at Fall Works, marking down breds and opens and keeping the vaccine syringes full. In the Spring I am relegated to putting in ear tags and vaccinating. I often question what my value to my husband is on the ranch, like most wives. I have also found that if I have time to ponder that question, I am forgetting to do something and need to get busy. There is too much that needs to be done to ponder why I am here and if I am doing it right.

I suppose one of the stranger things that I ended up being as a ranch wife is also a schoolteacher. In the US, many rural ranch families don’t have a public-school option like School of the Air in Australia. There are alternatives – I could drive my kids out to the nearest paved highway to meet a school bus early in the morning. My own mother lived in the city with her mother and brother during the school year and they spent school vacations at the ranch with my grandfather. Then there is the Homeschooling trend. Homeschooling has taken off in popularity in the US in the last few years and the variety of curriculum available has increased. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. It was important to me that we live this lifestyle as a family, that the boys take part in branding and gathering; that we rode horses and learned to rope; that we learned how things are born and that they die.

The 1.5-hour, one-way trek to the school wasn’t appealing to me as I didn’t want to spend that much time just getting to school. So, for those, among many other reasons we chose to homeschool. This means that our boys all have the same teacher, me. We don’t use a set, state approved or sponsored school curriculum or calendar. I don’t use one publisher for all the boys, each boy has a variety of curriculums for different subjects. My eldest boy is an auditory learner, he learns better by hearing. He uses a computer-based course for his studies. My other three have a variety of workbook-based studies. New Mexico has very relaxed standards for homeschoolers and I don’t have to test every year unless I choose to. Being able to homeschool for us means that our schedule is flexible, we don’t have to school every day and are able to be there to help whenever we can.  I can also teach our boys that learning doesn’t stop at the school door. Every day has new things and opportunities for learning and we take advantage of that.

Family photo shoots are always an adventure. I like the outtakes as well as the perfectly posed. These show the personalities of our kids. 

A common misconception that people have when I say that we homeschool is that they picture our boys never getting out and meeting people or that we don’t socialize with other kids their age much, which I can reassure you isn’t true. Our boys are very active in 4-H, besides raising livestock for exhibition, they participate in Livestock judging contests and also are learning how to weld with other 4-H leaders. We do take them into town to get together with other homeschooling families a couple times a month at least. They also are eager to talk to people about the ranch, whether at church or in the local Wal-Mart. There have been a few awkward conversations regarding where calves come from and how one turns a bull calf into a steer. Little boys have very loose filters when it comes to these subjects. They haven’t shirked yet from making friends in all types of situations and they also know how to be alone. A skill that can be lacking in kids, given today’s always-connected social media world.

I noticed as I searched for pictures for this series that I had very few where I was the subject. This would be because I have learned that if I am taking the pictures, I don’t have to be in them.

I don’t have many pictures, but once in a while, I put down the camera and my husband get the most unflattering shots. Summer 2017, Spring Works

I take many photos for the ranch’s Facebook page. There are times that the page administrator, me, is on the ball and most of the time I have backlog of photos waiting to be posted. Dusty isn’t quite as excited about all the social media and technology. One of the biggest struggles the Beef industry faces in the US is that our consumers have been given much mis-information about the treatment and quality of our product. Grassroots promotion is one of the ways that we are trying to get our message out. A valuable way for those of us who live in the county to speak out is through the internet. I don’t have to be in the city to speak out.

So, I am not a cowgirl. I am the husband’s main hand when he needs reports written or need someone to hold that tail up while he sews a prolapse cow. I am the hand that doesn’t go home. I am the homeschool-mom that is hoping she gets the kids educated well enough that they have the skills to go on past High School and before they turn 30. (Yes, there are days I wonder!) I do the in-house industry promotion and keep the scales when we ship. I love living out here in rural America, but there are days that I dream of pizza delivery. I love working along-side my husband in the corral, but I also love when we get away to the city and I can shop in real life and not on the internet. I love getting to sleep-in and having my bed made for me on occasion. I am the stereo-typical, American ranch-wife. If there really one kind?

These are my reasons why.  Photo credit: Steph Coombes