Ah, February.  Not only is it cold and snowy here where I live, out in the middle of nowhere, but it is also the month that ranchers and farmers need to have their income taxes figured out and sent to the IRS. Answering Uncle Sam’s questions really makes you think about how you spent your money in the past year. (And especially when you only get ONE PAYCHECK a year.)

The highest expenses for running a farm or ranch are usually in this order:

#1. Tractors and other machinery necessary to plant and harvest the crops, along with any needed maintenance and repairs for this equipment.

  • Livestock fences – wire and posts purchased and put in the ground, etc.
  • Wells to water the livestock have to be cared for, kept clean etc. and pumps are very expensive.
  • Our cattle, horses, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, and any other kind of animals need attention on a daily basis. Feed and medicines are not free and usually must be paid for at the time of purchase.
  • Vehicles are also a big expense; think how much fuel costs!

#2. Family living is usually at the bottom of the heap as far as expenses go.  This is the one area where living beneath your means is the norm out here. Money is stretched wherever possible.

  • We raise as much of our own food as we possibly can.
  • Doctors and dentists are seen on an ‘as needed’ basis.
  • Entertainment is pretty much homegrown fun, like a dunk in the river or creek versus a trip to ‘town’ to the swimming pool. (Besides, the river or creek doesn’t care when you are wearing ‘holey’ old jeans but the folks in the swimming pool frown on anything but swim suits!)
  • A softball game between neighboring families is great fun – all you need is a ball, some bats, and folks to play and to cheer!

Clothing is an area where there are some misconceptions about country folk. Sometimes ‘town’ people think country folk are ‘rich’ because they are dressed nicely when they come to town. In reality, most farmers here only have one or two good pairs of jeans or shirts to wear when not working. An old neighbor of mine used to say, "We clean up pretty good when we need to be out in public!" This man had ONE pair of ‘new-ish’ jeans, two ‘good shirts’ and one pair of ‘church’ boots!
Most of us country folks wear our old clothes when working around the place. We wear the old stained, ripped and torn shirts and jeans when driving a tractor in the fields, running a combine or steering a truck over to the combine, or taking the loaded truck to the auger so the grain can be put into storage. If you do have to run a truck to the elevator, nobody usually sees you except the grain handler since elevators are usually located at the edge of the town. And one can’t do much shopping driving a semi! 

All of us do ‘get caught’ once in a while, though. I remember a flying trip to town for repairs while in the middle of painting. I had paint in my hair, all over my jeans and shirt as well as my face and arms. Naturally, I ran into a neighbor who stopped in his tracks at the sight of me – and I’ll admit, it was a sight! So, I just said, “What you see is what you get!”
Other tough on clothing jobs include mucking out the barn, cleaning the chicken house, and fixing fences – notorious for ripping holes in shirts and jeans. And also, the body fluids of critters during calving and lambing will soak though coveralls – and every other item of clothing you have on, many times at 3 a.m. during a blizzard.
So, do we really need 20 good pairs of jeans, or 35 shirts or blouses? The money spent on all that new clothing could be put to a better use!

Speaking of blizzards, we’ve been ‘cussed and discussed’ ever since the October blizzard named Atlas that killed so many thousands of cattle, horses and sheep. "Ranchers don’t care about their livestock!" was one remark bandied about.

Well, they DO CARE and the following piece written by a 12-year-old, 4th generation ranch kid says it all. I have known three generations of this young man’s family and they are very dedicated to their animals and the land they live on and love.

What I Learned from a Cow Named Hope
–by Marcus Herber

October 18, 2013, Jed Brown and my family were all forced in to my house by the Atlas Storm. It had been raining and snowing for about a day.  My dad told us that we had dead cattle in a pasture we own down by Belvidere.  My dad, Jed and I all hopped in a pickup and headed out to try to save some cattle.

When we finally turned on the dirt road and saw that Mitchell’s cattle were on CRP land next to the Belvidere Cemetery.  Jed and I hustled to get around them  and chased them into the nearest pasture Mitchell’s owned.  After that, about three o’clock we worked our way to our pasture, stopping to put cows in the correct pasture based on their brands. We stopped to put Roy Brown’s cattle back in his pasture, then to chat and see how everyone was doing with their losses. So far, everyone was doing fine. We broke up and went to find my dad’s cattle.

The next sight we saw was a horrible one.  As we drove down the hill, you could see dead cattle strung out along the fence line of the CRP south of our pasture. There was a pile of dead cattle in the corner right next to the road. I wished they weren’t ours, but I didn’t want to wish that luck on anyone else.  Three dead cows and two big calves were lying dead in the corner. Three other calves were still alive but lying down. The cow in the middle had her head sticking through the fence wires. The two calves were cuddled up to the rears of the cows. The sight made me want to cry.

We used Roy’s tractor to scoop the calves up, put them on the back of a pickup and take them to his barn. I quickly said a silent prayer, asking God if all the cows could go to heaven so I could see them after I die. Jed was put in charge of hauling the cattle back to the barn while my dad and I collected ear tags. We finally waded through the snow to the next corner, but I wish we wouldn’t have. There was at least fifteen dead cattle lying half covered in mud. Standing a few hundred yards away, huddled into a pack, were the rest of the herd still in the pasture. I worried that all the rest were dead for there was only about forty head left. We decided we were going to push them all to Roy’s corrals. We pushed for a while, but then my dad disappeared to go help somewhere else. I couldn’t keep the cows going in the right direction until finally Jed came to help.  After a while we got them headed in the right direction. In the cold hard wind, a big calf fell to weather the storm.  Our group moved on until yet again a Hereford cow couldn’t stand any longer. The look in her eyes was of hopelessness. I felt useless, but there wasn’t anything I could do. We moved on, but there was something about this cow that didn’t make me want to leave.

About dark we got to the corrals and had all the cows to shelter.  We were all relieved but I still couldn’t get my mind off that Hereford cow, so I ran back to find her.  Through the snow I faintly saw the outline of the Hereford down by the three acre pasture next to the corrals. The determined cow got back up and stumbled towards the corral. I ran to take her to the barn but was met by my dad on a four-wheeler. We pushed her closer to the shed and corrals, but she fell a hundred yards short. I was commanded to get hay, so Jed and I came back with our arms full to cover her up. 

We started to walk away and decided that she needed a name. We came up with several, and decided HOPE fit her best. With that we were forced to leave. I said another prayer. With the help of God I knew Hope was going to make it through this, and that she did.

After seeing all those deaths, I decided I wouldn’t take anything for granted like too many people do. I thank God for all I have. Nobody realizes how much we really have to lose.


Paula Vogelgesang, the author of the monthly column "Pennywise", is a monthly contributor to the Farm And Livestock Directory. Email her at [email protected]Please be sure to mention the "Farm And Livestock Directory" when you respond.