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Ranch Lessons

Written by Jennifer Womack
Like most kids, growing up we weren’t allowed to use four-letter words. That list included the traditional cuss words, some add-ons from my mother and one IMPORTANT addendum from my dad – CAN’T. Heaven help you if you looked him in the eye and spoke the word can’t. Any other cuss word on the list would result in less grief (unless my mother heard you).
    Dad’s rule about CAN’T resulted in two scenarios. Before seeking his help we exhausted all other options. I wonder sometimes if he watched from a distance as we wrestled with the scenario or, in some cases, the critter. Second, if we had to get his help we were fairly creative in our alternative presentations…. “We have a challenge…” or “Can you help me?” At times it became fairly dramatic or straight to the point… ”If the pickup is going to have a clutch at this time tomorrow, you might want to come check this out.” I suspect this approach is a multi-generational thing, but I’ll have to ask my grandparents that question.
    As a youngster I didn’t realize my dad was teaching life lessons. With two growing boys of my own, I’m starting to understand the scenario a little more clearly. Those of us in agriculture have a unique means by which to teach our kids try, responsibility, commitment, work ethic and so much more. For us the challenge lies with balancing the push to do more with their safety and our sanity. Quite often the boys provide the push when they say they’re ready to try something they haven’t yet mastered.
    Joshua recently provided this push when he declared he was ready to start tagging calves. He took the saddlebags off of my saddle and moved them to his own. Since he only outweighs the average calf hitting the ground around here by about seven pounds, we felt the need for a middle ground. Despite our cows’ overall good dispositions, at only slightly larger than the calves, it’s hard to look threatening.
    Our middle ground came in the form of delegation of duties. It’s now Joshua’s job, when he’s not at school, to make the eartag and, with supervision, fill the syringe with vaccine. White tags with black marker lettering result in our tags looking like a lot of others across the region. I’d wager, however, that we’re one of few outfits with an eight-year-old making ear tags and carrying his own calving book. It’s Bryce’s job to administer the vaccine and tag the calf. Joshua is responsible for tagging those calves born in the barn, which are fortunately few.
    For both boys the spring’s work provides a sense of accomplishment. They’re both quick to point out calves they tagged, the calf they helped pull or other contributions. They’re learning to try something they haven’t done before and tackle jobs with a commitment to finish them.
    We all have our own approaches, and I see kids learning similar lessons through other outlets. In some ways, it’s a cultural thing. For my family, the lessons are passed from one generation to the next through agriculture. At certain times of the year, they’re bolstered on the football field, in the arena and on the wrestling mat. Long-term it may not matter if the boys can tag a calf, but the associated life lessons will be called upon daily regardless of the course they travel through life.
    I’ve made an effort to keep this column light-hearted, but I’m going to break that rule for one single paragraph. It’s important on many levels that the federal government steers clear of regulating youth involvement in our farms and ranchers. Kudos to Senator Barrasso (3-24-2012 edition of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup) for seeing the bigger picture on this subject and current Department of Labor efforts to intervene where help isn’t needed. Our country needs critical thinkers, hard workers, entrepreneurs and people with so many of the traits learned on Wyoming and the nation’s farm and ranches. It’s my opinion that people with many of these traits are one of the key ingredients needed to steer our country back toward a healthier economy. We’d be remiss to regulate one of our best tools away.
    Jennifer Vineyard Womack is executive director of the Wyoming FFA Foundation and a freelance writer. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 307-351-0730.