I took the leap.
After debating if I wanted to be away from home for the summer and getting lots of, “Well, why do you want to go all the way across the country, Bailey?”, I took the leap and went to Colorado for the summer to work on a beef cattle ranch. I’m not going to lie, it was a big and slightly scary jump, but one that I am extremely proud of and grateful for.
When I filled out my application to be an intern at Silver Spur Ranches, I had no clue about their operation, nor could I find anyone who was familiar with them. All I knew is that when I searched “Beef Cattle Ranch Internships” they popped up. After two rounds of interviews, one virtual and one in-person in Wyoming, they offered me a position in Colorado. Quite honestly, at first, I was not excited about being placed in Colorado. I interviewed and toured the Wyoming ranch, and that is the one I was comfortable with. However, I believe God placed me exactly where I needed to be, and I could not ask for a better experience than the one I had in Colorado.
A little background on Silver Spur Ranches…
Silver Spur has four different divisions: Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Nebraska. The Colorado division raises purebred Red Angus, Angus, Charolais, and Rangefire (Charolais/Red Angus cross) cattle. The bulls and heifers that excel above the rest are then placed on the other divisions’ commercial herds. Again, with my background raising purebred beef cattle, I was placed exactly where I belonged.
If I wrote about all of my experiences or about everything I learned, this blog post would be more like reading a book. And this post may still be like reading a book. So instead, I am going to talk about some of the things that stood out to me the most.
Ranching and farming are two different things, which is one reason I wanted to take this opportunity…to see and experience the difference between the two. From the people I was around, I gathered that ranching involves livestock and cowboys, and farming involves more of the crop aspect of things. However, on the East Coast, we all call ourselves “farmers”, so it can get a little confusing to beef producers out West. The real truth is, while there are some differences, we all are agriculturalists striving for the same goal…feeding the world.
My family runs our cattle operation part-time, and I have come to love being a part-time farmer. When a market crashes, we still have salary pay from my parents’ full-time jobs to lean back on for income. Additionally, I enjoy having something to do in our free time. Some people question why we would want to work on the farm in our free time, but my family enjoys staying busy and having something that keeps us motivated. This summer, I got a taste of what full-time ranching/farming is like and gained a newfound respect for it. Talk about early mornings, long days, unexpected events, and LOTS of physical labor. Many mornings, I would wake up at 3:30, be out helping catch and saddle horses at about 4:30, and leave at 5:00 to go move cattle. I enjoy hard work, but I would be lying if I told you these long days didn’t kick my tail. But these ranchers, they do it every day and still maintain a great work ethic and love what they do.
But what did I do every day?
Well, I did a lot of things. Things some people may think I am crazy for enjoying.
I guess what stood out to me the most, and what stands out to others the most, is working cattle on horseback. Although I have experience handling cattle, working and moving them on horseback is a totally different game. Thankfully I had an understanding of cattle flight zones, but it still took me a while to understand the best way to move them using horses. Not to mention, you have to know how to work with other people. The cowboys have done this for a long time, so I was a little intimidated to mess up their routine. However, they were very understanding and did a great job of teaching me. They taught me a lot of the “cowboy rules” such as always returning to the spot you started even if you had to go chase a calf, what a jig line was, not to leave someone at a gate alone so their horse doesn’t want to be with the other horses, and many other “rules of the cowboy”.
While we are on cowboying, let me just remind y’all that it is not a scene from Yellowstone. While I love Yellowstone, and I do think it is one of the most realistic ranching/farming series out there, it is still not spot-on. Cowboying is not just wearing a hat or sitting on horseback, it truly is a way of life. It is having work ethic and passion for what you are doing. It is being mannerly and respectful. It is living with cowboy ethics, such as shaking hands every day before work or taking off your hat when you meet a lady. While I am glad to be home, I sure do miss the mannerisms of the cowboys that I worked with on the ranch, and I would like to thank them for still maintaining the western heritage.
I fixed a lot of fence because the elk often tear it down. There were sooo many pastures I went around, but quite honestly, I enjoyed it. I would turn on my music, get to work, and just enjoy being outside. Not to mention my Dad is pretty happy that I got more practice to fix fence at home.
Colorado does not have the water we do here in Virginia. While it was AMAZING not having to deal with humidity, no water can really become a challenge for hay crops, pastures, and even water tanks for the cattle. We ran irrigation systems every day on the hayfield which was a new experience for me. We hauled water for cattle to places where wells had gone dry. I have been in discussion groups where we have discussed the water issues in the West, and I have never been able to do a great job contributing to the discussion because of my ignorance on the topic. However, being able to experience the issues firsthand provided me some insight into how much of a struggle it is. It also made me appreciate what God has granted us here in Virginia to raise crops and cattle on. I told my parents I would not complain about not getting enough rain again because there are ranchers and farmers who have it way worse than we do.
And the skills I learned…
Man, I could go on and on! I think I now know how to hook up any trailer known to mankind, haha. I ran hay equipment I never had ran before. I gained a ton of cattle experience, especially when it comes to the Red Angus and Charolais breeds. I learned new AI techniques to use on our personal herd. I, very slowly, learned how to better navigate by directions such as East, West, North, and South while in a pasture. I learned how to treat health issues that we don’t see as often on the East Coast. I even learned how to fix a dang windmill if we ever used them to pump water from a well!
And I didn’t just learn skills to use in agriculture. I discovered more about myself.
As much as I missed my family and friends, I learned I was capable of being alone. I learned more about how I can contribute as a woman in production agriculture. I learned to set down my phone and listen and take in all the knowledge you can. I learned more about myself than I ever thought I would.
But the ranch didn’t just give me life lessons, it gave me an extended family. Everyone took me in with open arms and made me feel at home. I learned so much from everyone that I will never forget. I will forever be grateful for their generous hospitality and their willingness to teach me.
So, to my friends, especially the ones who are in college looking for internships…TAKE THE LEAP!
Listen to what your mentors and professors tell you. Go do something out of your comfort zone. Do something while you’re young and not tied down to a family. Take the opportunity to learn and explore; see different aspects of the agriculture industry. It can only make you a better agriculturalist.
To my Silver Spur crew, thank you for a summer I will never forget. Colorado will forever hold a special place in my heart.