Women in Ag discuss ranch work during symposiumWritten by Saige Albert
Kirk, a ranch wife, blogger and author from Pringle, S.D., noted that communication is important, and there are a number of issues that have to be overcome to work as a successful team on the ranch.
“When I’m not busy writing, I’m at home on our ranch being a ranch wife, which means I am getting blamed for spooking a calf at the gate, getting the wrong tractor part from town or being the reason the heifers won’t load in the trailer,” said Kirk. “I’ve been married for 18 years, and we have spent our time perfecting the ranch version of gender gap issues. I like to call it ‘spouses in translation.’”
While most couples in the U.S. find money to be the biggest contention in the relationship, Kirk noted that on the ranch, communication seems to be a big issue.
“Our most memorable arguments are over hand signals,” she quipped. “Trying to figure out what his hand signals were intended to mean and what I think they should mean are different.”
She continued, “Every rancher likes to use hand signals, and every rancher has his own ‘dialect,’ so that makes things hard.”
She also noted that the listening aspect of communication differs between men and women.
“My husband prefers to listen in small doses,” she said, “but I can talk all day. It can be frustrating for both of us.”
She also noted that while she prefers to ask lots of questions to get all the information, her husband divulges what he deems the necessary information up front. It is these differences, she said, that can make a ranch marriage difficult.
“Communication is even more important for ranch couples than others,” Kirk noted.
Another difference between women and men, said Kirk, is their ability to talk about problems.
“I don’t need a reason to talk,” Kirk mentioned. “I can talk at length, and that is how I like to solve problems.”
“Men like to think problems out,” she said. “I like to share my problems.”
“We also view detail very differently,” Kirk explained, adding that the amount of detail necessary to reach a solution to a problem also varies between men and women.
Kirk mentioned that the details that women tend to like to share are considered too much information for many men, resulting in overload of what she called the “man circuits.”
“Men like to solve problems,” she said. “There are some problems – those that aren’t cow-related – that I like to call the no-baling-wire-problems.”
Kirk explained that those problems are ones she simply wants to talk about, with no solutions necessary.
“Problem solving is important to men,” Kirk continued, “but men manage information differently in our minds than we do.”
Because of the way we manage information, Kirk added that she has discovered her husband prefers to fix one problem at a time, fix it completely and move on. She, on the other hand, may work on something for a few minutes before storing the problem away to focus on another issue.
A ranch marriage
Ranch marriages involve separate people who view a number of aspects of life very differently, but are bonded together by love for each other and for the land and animals, she said.
“Farm and ranch marriages are different than other marriages,” Kirk commented.
“You might have a ranch marriage if most of your arguments have to do with a calf, a cow or the whole herd,” said Kirk. “Or you might have a ranch marriage if the majority of your fights take place in the corral.”
She continued that ranch marriages involve tasks like opening gates, sorting cows or a husband that recalls more about his first calf than his first date.
On a more serious note, ranch marriages are more complex and involve much more than a typical urban marriage.
Because farm and ranch families are not only sharing a home and family, but also a business, communication and understanding is vital to the success of the marriage and the business.
“We share our work, she share our business and our home,” she commented. “Understanding the way our spouses think can improve communication, but it takes a whole lot more than that to have a harmonious relationship between couples that work cattle.”
Despite the difficulties in marriage on a ranch, operating a business together and raising a family, Kirk says, “Through my personal experience and my observation, there is one key to a successful ranch marriage – a really good set of working corrals.”