Ranch Diaries: Why cowboy life is intense

We have other interests, like art and cooking, that take a backseat to the needs of our land and animals.

 

Ranch Diaries is an hcn.org series highlighting the experiences of Laura Jean Schneider, who gives us a peek into daily life during the first year of Triangle P Cattle Company, a new LLC in southcentral New Mexico. Installments are every other Tuesday.

It’s the time of year when I’m tempted to give up on this ranching business altogether. Since August, when we started weaning, it’s been non-stop cattle work. In early September we drove the calves fifteen miles to the headquarters corrals to load on trucks, headed north to wheat and barley pasture for the winter. Since then, Sam has spent most of his time camping at Lower Elk (on the other side of the lease) gathering steers with our cowboy, Jim. I stayed here at Cow Camp 2, tending the cows, checking calves, fences, and gates while making sure the bulls stayed with the cows. Every time we weighed and shipped the yearlings at Lower Elk, I went to help.

  • A few hours of foraging, clockwise from top-prickly pear cactus tunas, pinon nuts, wild black cherries, more tunas, and black walnuts.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • A letterpress print from a drawing of the author's.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • A writer's lunch, with bread by the author and lettuce from the tiny garden.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • An old concho found in the corrals.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Early breakfast while I work on a literary magazine review.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Homemade pizza with herbs from the garden.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Sam and his brother working on The Unicorn, a sailboat we restored this July.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Sunrise on a sunflower.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • This butterfly is taking advantage of the last flowers.

    Laura Jean Schneider

Now Sam’s back for a few days, but that doesn’t mean time off. We need to catch up on the little things. We have horses to shoe and vehicles to maintain, oil to change and hinges to weld. Last night we unloaded hay bales for the horses and stacked two tons of 50-pound salt blocks that Sam got in town. We still have 250 steers to ship later this month, so Sam will continue to camp and help Jim until the all remnants are gathered.

It’s hard for Sam and me to find time to do anything outside of ranching, but it’s especially challenging during the fall, one of the busiest times of year. While we’re cowboys and ranchers now to most people, we have other interests that take a backseat to the needs of our land and animals. I’m often hesitant to tell other ranchers what I like to do that’s not cattle related. But in addition to being a rancher I’m also an artist. I just started taking a painting class at the community college in Ruidoso on Wednesday afternoons. Next summer, I’ll graduate from Vermont College of Fine Arts with an MFA in Fiction Writing — I’ve been balancing coursework with ranch work for over a year now. I love to cook, garden, and gather wild foods. Recently, I took a few afternoons to harvest piñon nuts, wild cherries, black walnuts and prickly pears. Pulling the last batch of wild black cherry jelly out of the water bath canner yesterday felt so good. I was reconnecting with a long family tradition of preserving food and appreciating the bounty of the landscape I’m part of. I like hiking and printmaking. I love art museums — I’m an Egon Shiele fan — and going to the movies.

My husband draws detailed and beautiful plans that, like his handwriting, reflect his undergraduate degree in architecture. He’s great at math and looking at the big picture, and he loves to sail. He is a master of useful knots, does beautiful, functional leatherwork, and knows more about birds than anyone I know. He likes Bob Dylan and Ian Tyson. He makes a fantastic ranch horse, and his crepes (both savory and sweet) are incredible.

I try not to lose sight of these things — the essential bits of us — when we’re swamped with duties, when it might be a few months until we get a single day together, let alone a chance to go off the ranch for a while. Ranching is a great way to work together most of the time, but we need to remember all of the aspects that make us who we are, individually, and together. We’re realizing it takes a lot of effort to make that happen — but that it ultimately makes us happier people who can do this job better.