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It’s 6:50 a.m. and we’re off to the catch the bus. Listening to Tim Lorenz and the Morning Brew on KASL radio out of Newcastle, it’s a fairly calm and quiet commute. The boys might have a morning wrestling match or duke it out over who gets to ride in the front seat, but it’s a pretty even routine.
    Heading back home once they’re dropped off, it’s time for me to feed the heifers and the few remaining calves. While listening to the remainder of the KASL morning program, I catch the news, hear what’s for sale on tradio and sometimes hear the livestock markets. I even hear about “important” research taking place across our country. Just this morning, as a matter of fact, I learned that you’re more likely to die in an accident if you wander around the world with headphones hanging out of your ears. They know this because when they arrive at the scene of some wrecks, the deceased sometimes still has headphones hanging out of his or her ears. Hating to miss an opportunity to put this newfound wisdom to use, I shared it with Bryce when he arrived home from school. I felt it was important for him to know that the risks to his health from earphones reach far beyond the immediate threats from his parents.
    He doesn’t listen to headphones much these days, and we’ve always kept it to a minimum since it drives us both crazy. Bryce is instead opting for the pickup radio, or is that “sound system?” At 3:30 p.m. the calm morning routine for the ranch pickup comes to a screeching halt. It quickly morphs into a three-quarter ton, fire engine red, radio-thumping pasture-cruising machine, complete with a Hydrabed toting a round bale. The once empty and dust collecting CD player is loaded with bass-thumping CDs like “Jock Rock.” I turned it on the other morning and looked around wondering if I was at a pep rally instead of in our yard.
    Folding the back seat up, Bryce puts his dog Bailey in the back and rolls the window down so she can catch a little breeze. And, they’re off! As “off!” as you can be in second gear that is. He uses every last ounce of daylight before returning to the buildings. If he wasn’t less than a mile from the house, I might fret about the diesel he’s burning.
    Being able to hear Bryce feeding the cows, whether it’s the hum of the engine or the thump of the radio, from a pasture away does provide some peace of mind while he’s learning to drive. Plus, the cows seem to like Bryce’s noisy approach and the time he spends scratching their heads and prolonging the chore. I think they look forward to seeing him for more reasons than hay, perhaps the shear entertainment value.
    Joshua opts to stay in the yard and play with the dogs, having not yet acquired a taste for cruising the pasture while listening to loud music. His day will come, and a decade from now Chris and I will be out in the pasture wondering why the cows no longer come when we honk the horn or yell, “Come boss.”
    We’ll have to expand our musical collection, remembering they’re more in tune to the thump of the bass these days.
    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.
With Christmas just a few days away, we’re settling into our winter routine. The cows are sorted into their wintertime pastures, the snow moving equipment is on standby and the horses are fuzzy with winter hair. The Womack boys have a sled tied to the four-wheeler, noisily making their way across the ice and sagebrush. With Joshua perched atop a pile of manure freshly raked from the barn and heaped in the sled, they’re multi-tasking.
    While some Wyomingites may be busy dreaming of a white Christmas, I’m perfectly okay with Christmas sunshine. You definitely won’t find me wishing for a Christmas rain like the one we had in 2010. Whatever weather Wyoming brings our way, the Cowboy State is no doubt a great place to spend the holiday.
    Like many ranching families across Wyoming, our Christmas day will begin with a family trip out to check water and feed the cows. We’ll throw our ice skates in the back seat of the pickup and stop for a little fun along the way. The ice is particularly good on our ice skating pond (also known as the stock tank overflow) this year. The boys and I tried it out just yesterday and found we have more room to skate and it’s a little smoother than last year. One still must dodge the clumps of grass and an occasional piece of driftwood. If Joshua ever gets to skate on groomed ice, he’ll probably be an instant Olympian. This is his second year on ice skates and he somehow manages to laugh while recovering from his numerous spills.
    This is also Bryce’s second year ice-skating, but he had a bit of an advantage. When he was younger we lived closer to smooth concrete surfaces and he and I decided to teach ourselves to rollerblade when he was about seven. That, too, was a painful, yet memorable, experience.
    While we were skating yesterday the boys asked where I learned to skate. I never really learned to skate, but managed the art of standing up while wearing ice skates. To Joshua, who spends most of his ice skating time lying flat on his back on the ice, standing equates to pure talent. Throw in a stop and a turn and he can’t believe our audience is limited to a few curious cows peering over the bank.
    When I was in school, each fall students at Sundance Elementary School looked forward to a visit from the local fire department. Their appearance at our school meant temperatures had dipped low enough to create our annual ice skating rink. They’d spray the large smooth area with water from a fire hose and benches would be placed at the rink’s edge. Come recess time, we’d all race out to the playground to strap on our skates. I recall the skating rink being filled primarily with girls while the boys raced down a nearby hill on inner tubes from the local tire shop. As spring rolled around we’d make our way indoors looking more like we’d been to the swimming pool than the ice-skating rink and the teachers would call an end to our slippery fun.
    Fast forward 20 years, and I know the Womack boys won’t remember what was in their stockings on Christmas morning 2011. They will, however, remember the trip to the ice skating pond, a short break from feeding cows. I hope they remember it fondly enough that they bring their own children and grandchildren here for a similar Christmas tradition. Just in case, I think I’ll save our growing collection of ice skates in various sizes and maintain a steady supply of hot cocoa in the kitchen cupboard.
    May your Christmas 2011 be laced with memories and your 2012 filled with countless blessings.
    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.
Thanksgiving ranks among my favorite holidays. It includes the focus on family and the traditions, but it’s among the holidays we’ve managed to keep a little simpler. Over the past month many of my Facebook friends have been recounting things for which they’re thankful. Their words have served as an inspiration leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday.
    I haven’t recounted all of the things in life for which I’m thankful on the social media mega site, but thought I might recount a few of them here. I call them “things” for lack of a better term, but most of them really can’t be categorized as assets in any modern accounting program.
    I’m thankful for family, both here in northeast Wyoming and in other parts of Wyoming and beyond. I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful husband and two great boys. My parents and my sister live nearby and I still enjoy the company of three of my four grandparents. How wonderful is that?
    I’m thankful I get to call Wyoming home and am convinced it is the best state in the nation. Each time I leave the state, whether traveling for business or pleasure, I’m quickly reminded what a great place it is. I only hope we can protect those amenities that make it special for future generations. While we’re not perfect, I sometimes wonder if D.C. could learn a thing or two from Wyoming’s approaches to some very important issues.
    I’m thankful for ranch living and the opportunity it’s providing us to raise our kids in a setting that teaches work ethic, responsibility, compassion and an appreciation for life. I love our twice-a-day trips to and from the school bus, working together, playing together and building something together. I appreciate the opportunity our lifestyle provides to apply my dad’s rule of “make what’s wrong hard and what’s right easy,” whether talking about horses or kids.
    I’m thankful for our freedoms to speak and be heard, whether we agree with the majority or find ourselves questioning the current path. More and more often I find myself questioning the direction our nation is headed, but I still hold true to the belief that the citizens of this country will steer America back in the right direction. Special mention of thankfulness goes out to those men and women who have served or are serving our great nation to ensure those freedoms remain intact.
    Friends and neighbors in Weston County give us a great deal for which to be thankful. We moved to northeast Wyoming a little over a year ago and it quickly felt like home, due in large part to the great people who make up this unique community.
    I’m thankful for the dedicated folks who make up the Wyoming FFA Foundation board of directors. It’s due in large part to them, and the students who belong to the program we support, that I feel so optimistic about this country’s future. We continually, with help from program supporters, invest in students who are on the right track to career success, which will help our economy, and quality leadership, which will take us in the direction we need to go.
    I’m thankful for the countless opportunities in life we enjoy. Whether it’s writing this column or other pieces, our involvement with the FFA Foundation or the life we live in northeast Wyoming, we truly have been blessed.
    It’s those blessings on which we’ll be reflecting this Thanksgiving. We’ll think of family and friends, freedoms and opportunities and all of life’s meaningful gifts.
    Jennifer Vineyard Wo-mack 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.
Bryce is taking an increasing interest in 4-H, looking over the project list more carefully and considering taking on the role of junior leader. Joshua, with just one year to wait, is counting down the days until he can graduate from the “Tumbleweed” division to full-fledged 4-H member.
    Last summer Bryce pointed out the catch-a-calf opportunity highlighted in the 4-H newsletter. After Chris and I talked it over, we agreed to let him apply. While he could pick a heifer from the herd here at the ranch, the expectations and responsibilities associated with the 4-H catch-a-calf project would provide a good learning experience. We also welcomed the opportunity for him to visit with the donor, send updates and thank you notes when appropriate, prepare the heifer for county fair and much more. He also had additional plans. The cow he raised from a bottle calf had a heifer this spring. Rather than taking a calf check for his college fund this year, he decided to keep the heifer, growing his cowherd to three head. He says it’s all part of his “corporate takeover” plan.
    At this rate I have no idea how long it will take Bryce to push the rest of us out of business, but I suspect there will be a threshold at which someone in the family brings up operating expenses. Plus, he’ll have his brother to compete with. This is difficult when one factors in that Joshua already thinks he owns the place and that we all work for him.
    I don’t know of another business that invests in its young people the way those in agriculture do. We appreciate Jerry and Anita Shepperson donating the heifer that Bryce plans to show at the 2012 Weston County Fair. It’s been fun to watch him work with her, starting her on grain and progressing toward halter breaking her. He’s excited about each milestone they achieve. We can already tell that the countdown to her first calf will seem agonizingly long in the world of a 13-year-old boy.
    While Bryce is focused on the heifer, Chris and I welcome the opportunity for him to learn responsibility, recordkeeping, follow-through, commitment to a project and so much more. We’ve also told him that at some point in the future we expect him to donate a heifer calf back to the program so another young person can receive similar benefits. Whether Bryce grows up to be a rancher or otherwise, the life skills and knowledge of agriculture will serve him well.
    Regardless of whether our young people who’ve grown up in 4-H and FFA pursue an agricultural career, the benefits are far-reaching. There’s the leadership, the responsibility and all of the traits that make them better members of society. I also love the fact that doctors, bankers, teachers, lawyers, businesspeople and those destined for a countless array of career paths graduate from the program. It’s equally important that they understand agriculture.
    Whether the catch-a-calf is the first critter in a long ranching career or a stepping-stone toward a more responsible adulthood, we’re confident she’ll have a lasting impact that stretches beyond the show ring at the county fairgrounds.
    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.
     It seems like just yesterday I was sitting down to write my first article for the Roundup, a news piece on the late 1990s petition to provide Endangered Species Act protections to the prairie dog. Freshly graduated from the University of Wyoming, I was fairly sure I’d landed my dream job. A decade later, I know my original perception was correct.
    While my tenure as the Roundup’s managing editor has come to a close, the memories and friendships I’ve gained will last a lifetime. I’ve come to consider the Roundup team as part of my family. In 1999 Del Tinsley provided me an amazing opportunity, which Dennis continued and broadened when he purchased the publication in 2005. Tracy, Jody, Curt, Denise, Christy, and more recently Paula, have been amazing teammates in our effort to provide quality news and views on a weekly basis. They can rest assured I’ll still be calling a lot, but less frequently to propose projects or talk deadlines. I wish Christy the best as she pursues the countless opportunities that will come her way in the months ahead as she begins her journey as the Roundup’s managing editor.
    There are amazing people who live down Wyoming’s backcountry roads. I’ve been fortunate enough to sit at many of your kitchen tables and listen to multi-generational stories of how your ranches came to be, how the quality of your livestock and your resources have improved and how family partnerships “make it happen.” Nearly every ranch family, when asked to participate in an interview responds, “We don’t have much of a story to tell.” Over the years I hope I’ve helped prove that theory wrong from one end of the state to the other.
    So, as my five-year-old asked me, “Do you have a job anymore?” I’ll be on board with the Roundup through year’s end. I look forward to helping with our Winter Cattlemen’s Edition featuring Goshen County and writing news articles for the final issues of 2009.
    When Jan. 1, 2010 rolls around my attention will turn toward raising funds for and growing the Wyoming FFA Foundation. Through this effort I hope to help broaden and deepen the opportunities available to Wyoming FFA members. I firmly believe the program is our state’s most valuable asset when it comes to raising responsible kids who have marketable skill sets, an ability to set and meet goals and the leadership skills necessary to ensure a positive future for our state and nation.
    In addition to my work with the FFA Foundation, I’ve started a graphic design and freelance writing business called Sagebrush Marketing, LLC. Through this venture I’ll compile some ranch histories, taking photographs and, in many ways, continuing to do what I love best. I hope Dennis and Christy will allow me a by-line every once in a while for old time’s sake.
    Chris and I, along with our sons Bryce and Joshua, are spending an increasing amount of time in northeast Wyoming ranching with my folks. As all of you know, there’s no finer way to spend the day than with three generations of your family horseback and working as a team. Wyoming agriculture provides a premier opportunity to raise great kids and it’s one we want Bryce and Joshua to experience and appreciate.
    I hope to see many of you at the upcoming conventions and at this December’s Range Beef Cow Symposium. Long-term I plan to continue attending these gatherings on behalf of the FFA Foundation and to keep in touch with the many friends I’ve made in Wyoming’s agricultural community.
Jen