Great Alaska Adventure: At the Ranch
Linda’s ranch is an 8,000-acre working ranch that has been in her family for nearly 100 years. She lives there by herself, enduring the harsh winters and doing the hard work necessary to make a living from the land. Currently more than 250 head of cattle belonging to someone else graze in her leased pastures, fattening the calves on the short grasses of the Wyoming high prairie. She checks on them every few days to make sure the springs that provide scarce water are running freely and filling the watering tanks. And the cows and their calves have to be moved from time to time to a different pasture to ensure that pastures are not overgrazed, a job done with the help of four-wheelers and a couple of dogs.
But the real work on the ranch in the summer is haying. Linda has several meadows, some of which are carefully irrigated with the precious water of the Little Laramie River that flows behind her house, and several which grow with what little rain falls on these dry lands. When the snows melt in the spring and the brown land turns green, her annual work cycle begins again as she clears ditches, repairs fences and buildings, and services her various tractors, mowers, balers and wagons. The pace picks up in the summer as she begins in July to mow, rake, bale and load the rectangular, 50-pound blocks of hay. These early bales are destined for cow feed, because they come from the unirrigated meadows and have thistles, sticks and other impurities that make them unfit for horse hay. By the end of haying season in August, she hopes to have baled and stored more than 8,500 bales of hay, most of it destined for horses that provide work and pleasure in Wyoming and Colorado, though her hay has been known to go as far as drought-stricken Texas.
I had expected to work in the haying operation yesterday, but, like all ranchers and farmers, Linda is at the mercy of the weather. She needs three consecutive dry days in order to complete all the operations for baling hay and the forecast for yesterday included rain in the afternoon. Not much. Only a quarter of an inch, but even that would be enough to halt haying. She had already gathered several hundred bales the day we arrived and stored them for a buyer, but haying was on hold yesterday.
Work on the ranch doesn’t stop, though. If the cows are happy and the meadows are growing with the help of the additional and badly needed rain (she has only had 3.09 inches of rain this year), other work can always be found that needs to be done.
Today that work involved building a patio and sidewalk. Doug, a friend of Linda’s in Laramie, found himself with several pallets of cement stair risers that he had originally purchased to use on a job at a commercial building. But that job was cancelled and his unwanted 100-pound, 12″ x 41″ cement slabs would become Linda’s new patio and sidewalk. In the morning, Linda drove to town to pick up a couple of pallets of risers. (I used that opportunity to post yesterday’s blog.) In the afternoon Doug and his 18-year old hard-working son Ean came to the ranch and the four of us prepared the ground for the patio and sidewalk and laid the slabs. It only took about three hours and the predicted rain fell during our slab-laying operation, not enough to be a problem but enough to cool us off. Happy with the domestic improvements, Linda declared work for the day done. We had a couple of cold beers on the patio as a quality control check to make sure our work would hold up. So far so good, but we’ll probably have to do a repeat test tomorrow.
It wasn’t hard work, but it felt good to exercise muscles that had been getting a free ride on the motorcycle for the past 50 days. And it was satisfying to see the concrete results of our work.
After a not-so-hard-at-work day, a good ranch dinner and a couple more beers, Marilyn and I retired to the bunk house to listen to the sounds of the Wyoming night and sleep.