Monday, July 27, 2015


Labor is always an issue on a ranch. Our ranch seems especially so since we do a lot of labor-intensive flood irrigating, put up our own hay and run back and forth from our valley operation to tend cows on our summer pasture in the mountains some 45 miles away.

We’ve had a string of hired help. Some good ones that move on to more lucrative positions. Some poor ones that the only thing we gained was an education by hiring them. Some steal from us. Some are sure they’ll love the ranching life and don’t last the summer. Some we hate to see leave.  

One thing we know for sure, there’s lots to be learned from working on a place like ours. Gary says they should pay us for the first six months.

We’re trying an experiment this year. We’ve toyed with the idea of having summer interns, young people that Mark could use his teaching skills on. Mark was a high school agriculture teacher in his other life and excelled at influencing young people. It’s his forte and I’ve always felt badly that he had to choose between that noble occupation and running a ranch.

So with that idea in mind, Seth had a friend in his fraternity that was interested in working here. Word spread and by spring that number had grown to four. They’re not really interns, they get a regular paycheck, but it’s giving us an idea of what an internship project would look like

Hand picked as they were, it was wonderful knowing their character before they set foot on the ranch. Still, it’s been challenging for Mark finding work for them to do every day. And yes, they’re green. You can’t exactly point them at a task and go about your other work. Training has been ongoing, but how reassuring it is to know we have their strong backs and willing attitudes to lean on these few months. 

They like to show up in the evening when Mark and I are sitting outside on our terrace after supper. Like most kids they stay up late, and visiting with Mark about the day’s adventures and what they’re doing tomorrow is a favorite activity. They laugh and sometimes I have to close the bedroom window against their voices and go to bed.

They’re staying in a little rental house where we spent the first 10 years of our marriage. The house is nearing the end of its useful life – having one last fling before a date with a bulldozer.

Summer is waning and soon they'll be gone. Back to school, back to bigger things. We hope they take a little of the ranch with them. Maybe they'll rise a little earlier, work a little harder and be a little sharper in their observation skills at their next job because of their practice here.

They can set a dam in a ditch and not have it blow out. They can haul a load of hay without dumping the bales. They can split wood, identify weeds, handle a horse, install irrigation headgates, set up and move electric fence, build a brace, and they have a good start on reading cattle.

But our best gauge of the success of the summer was given to us by a conversation our neighbor had with Gary. We lease pasture from Leon and Bonnie. They're retired and enjoy walking their property and sitting on the deck during the summer. The boys have become acquainted with Leon and like visiting with him from time to time as they cut weeds and walk the ditches moving water.

Leon said to Gary, “Mark is a good teacher.”

“Oh, why’s that?” asked Gary.

“Well, he strides right out when he irrigates. I always know it’s Mark from a distance just by the way he walks. When the boys first started they walked pretty slow. Now when I see someone out irrigating, I have to look twice to tell if it’s Mark or one of the boys!”

Austin, Morgan, Drew and Daniel

1 comment:

  1. The Fab Four are great guys -- what a pleasure to get to know them a little bit. I predict they will all be a success at whatever path they decide to follow. What a great opportunity to spend a summer working for Pratt Livestock and gaining life skills under Mark's able direction. I know Dan will be around a lot, but I also Hope Austin, Morgan and Drew find their way back on a regular basis!