Women in ag, Darcy Morris on cows, horses and ranching
Meeteetse - “I love that life; living out in a remote cabin with lanterns, hauling water to do dishes and taking a shower under a tree,” explains Darcy Morris of herding 1,000 head of mother cows two months of each summer on one of the largest forest allotments in the United States.
“We stay at a cabin up there from about July 15 to Sept. 15, Monday through Friday, and come down on weekends. Being on the mountain permit isn’t for sissies; you have to be strong, and strong-minded. It’s a big world back in there, and there are a lot of bears. At first, I was afraid of getting lost, but now I’ve learned the landmarks. We move the cows around and watch for predators. And when a cow or calf is killed, we come down off the mountain to call Wildlife Services so they can investigate.”
She continues, “We’ve had grizzly bears come into camp in the middle of the night. My favorite dog spins on the floor and barks to alert us there’s a bear, and she’ll chase them out of camp. One night six or seven years ago, as we were sleeping, eight wolves came into camp and started howling. They were so close the cabin window was vibrating. The dogs hid under the bed,” she explains with a laugh.
Predators don’t just stick to the mountains, however. This year during calving season two 400-pound boar grizzlies came into the ranch, and one killed a bull calf along the Greybull River near the ranch houses.
“Every day when I get up, it’s something new,” Darcy quips about her life on the historic Pitchfork Ranch.
Darcy’s husband Dan Morris is ranch manager at the Pitchfork Ranch. “Dan came to work at the Pitchfork for Jack Turnell in 1979. In 1981 we were married here on the lawn. For the next 18 years we ran the Whit Ranch (a division of the Pitchfork), and the last seven or eight years that Dan worked for Jack, Dan was the cow foreman,” says Darcy.
In January 2009 the Turnells left the Pitchfork Ranch and Pitchfork owners Lennox Baker and Greg Luce promoted Dan to ranch manager. According to Darcy, the Pitchfork Ranch now includes about 100,000 acres of private, Forest Service, BLM and state leases and employs four cowboys in addition to Dan and Darcy.
“This is a big outfit, and it takes a lot to keep it running. The guys are out all day and have a lot to do, and at the end of the day they have lots of little things to do. I can fill the void by doing the little things,” says Darcy.
Darcy is a hands-on kind of ranch woman, and an asset to the operation. The “little things” she mentions include helping take care of the cattle and horses, distributing salt and mineral, helping maintain and fix the ranch’s 400-plus miles of fence, moving and working cattle, spending two months a year on the grazing allotment, riding through the herd twice a day during calving to tag and doctor calves, and night calving up to 300 head of heifers.
Ranch work is nothing new to Darcy. Her parents, Ron and Carla Brown, ran mother cows on their ranch near Grass Creek, between Thermopolis and Meeteetse.
“I’ve been a cowgirl all my life. I grew up on horseback, and did a lot of riding with my grandpa, Nate Brown. I hated school, and skipped as often as I could to help my dad with the cows. My sister, Ronda McLean, is the cook, seamstress and crafter. My mother made me take home economics so I could learn to sew on buttons and cook,” she adds, “But I love ranch life; I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
“In high school, I worked at the hospital part-time, and it was fun. I was an EMT for 13 years in Grass Creek with my dad, and we ran a little ambulance. Then, I was a first responder in Meeteetse for five years. When a person gets clear out here in the hills living on a ranch, and has to drive 60 to 80 miles one way every day to go to work somewhere, they have to weigh that. I thought about it, but I can’t leave ranching; I can’t live without cows and horses and being a part of this beautiful area. I’ve thought about doing something different, but everyday I just can’t wait to do this all over again,” she says.
“My favorite part of the day is being out with cows, and I think maybe being a woman makes me social with a lot of them. Some of these cows we’ve had for years. One of my favorites is named ‘Ugly.’ She’s a big red Saler cow, with a wide homely face, but she’s a very good mother, and she’s raised a graft calf or two. I raise the orphans, and we have a lot of twins, so I end up taking care of them.”
Darcy also takes care of their dogs, tends the ranch cats, has a pet deer named Doesy and cares for numerous injured animals she finds on the ranch, including a Sandhill Crane hit by a car. For several years she also raised Paint horses. The Morris’s are also developing their own cowherd to run in common with the ranch herd.
“This is an awesome thing we get to do, and a great place to work. I like to be part of it, and know what’s going on. Dan knows this place like the back of his hand, and he amazes me some days with all he knows,” notes Darcy.
Dan, however, is fortunate his bride of 29 years loves the ranch life, and is as devoted to it as he is.