There is one question I get asked more than any other:
"Do you like living on a ranch?"
followed closely by:
"What is it like? Do you have cows? What do you do with the calves? How many acres do you have?"
Let me tell you about living on a ranch.
This land has been in my husband's family since the 1880's. From what I've been told, although I'm not sure if it is completely accurate or not, the land was purchased for 600 bushels of corn by my husband's great-great grandfather who was a Mormon pioneer sent to settle this part of Arizona. He settled along the river and eventually the river bottom was divided up amongst his children. My husband's great grandfather lived here his whole life. He farmed it, irrigated it, and raised cattle. My husband's grandmother was born in a little house right across the river. When her parents were getting too old to run the ranch by themselves she and and her husband moved down to take over. His grandmother died in 2001 and his grandfather died in 2002. We moved down to the ranch in 1998 and took over the cattle portion of the ranch along with my husband's brother and dad at that time. His brother followed us and moved into his grandparent's house in 2004. Our next nearest neighbor is about a mile up the dirt road on the adjacent property - they moved in last summer. After that, our nearest neighbor is about a mile or so up the river as the crow flies, but about 5 miles by car. We are about 15 miles from the nearest town to the south and about that same distance to the town to the north.
People almost always automatically assume that since we live on a ranch we are "rich". The answer to that is yes and no, but mostly no. We (as in the family trust) are what you would consider land rich / money poor - as is the case with most farmers and ranchers, especially when the land has been in the family for many generations. We constantly have to worry about how inheritance taxes might affect us. We've seen many people lose land that has been in the family for generations because they didn't have enough money to pay the federal government for inheritance taxes. That is where the term, land rich / money poor comes from. It is very sad and should be illegal if you ask me. It's just wrong. It's a fear that never goes away because the laws are always changing.
We are very careful not to overgraze our land or damage it so that it will continue to provide for our cattle for the future. We see ourselves as stewards over the land and it is our duty to maintain it and keep it healthy. We usually run fewer head than what the land will actually support for this reason. We currently have about 70 mother cows and most have calves right now. The majority of the calves will be sold in October. There isn't enough income from the sale of the calves to support a family. In fact, there is usually only enough to maintain the costs of the ranch - taxes, hay, fuel, equipment repairs, fence supplies, and other costs associated with the cattle. That is why my husband and I both work to pay the bills. There isn't much money in cattle ranching unless you have many thousands of acres and several thousand head of cattle.
So back to the first question - "Do you like living down there on the ranch?"
Sometimes my answer is yes and sometimes my answer is no. Generally in the summer time I will answer with a yes and generally in the winter time I answer no. There are pros and cons as there is in any place you live.
-There is usually peace and quiet.
-We have a good measure of privacy.
-I have a porch swing and a great deck overlooking a beautiful view.
-My yard is as big or as small as I want it to be.
-My kids know where their food comes from.
-They understand life, death, and the relationship between predators and prey.
-We see, or other people have seen, wildlife of all varieties at one time or another - bald eagles, hawks, owls, crows, wild geese, ducks, cranes, birds of dozens of species, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, elk, deer, beaver, skunks, raccoons, porcupines, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, mice, prairie dogs, gophers, rattle snakes, bull snakes, water snakes. Also our domesticated animals and livestock - horses, cows, goats, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats. Fish in our ponds or in the river - bass, catfish, crawdads, minnows, etc.
-My kids know how to work and how to work hard.
-They understand an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.
-They have respect and reverence for the land and for the creatures that we share it with.
-We have ponds and a river to fish, swim, and play in.
-I rarely have visitors show up unannounced. They don't want to drive all that way to find out that no one is home when they get there.
-We have lots of visitors in the summer and the teenagers love to come and play in our pond because we have a zip line over it. I love having them.
-The driving - because we live out of town we have to drive a lot. I figured the other day that between all of our vehicles and drivers we drive approximately 45,000 miles per year total for our family. That is a lot of gas and a lot of vehicle repairs and maintenance.
-When my kids were little they rarely got invited to parties or over to a friend's house to play and vice versa. It was just too hard to make it work with the distance. That is a very difficult thing when you have a social child like my daughter. We had to endure many tears as a result. Having her turn 16 and getting that driver's license was the best thing to ever happen to us and her.
-Our cats are not pets. They have jobs - to keep mice, rats, snakes, and other rodents away from my house. They don't have very long lives because they are in the hawks, owls, and coyotes prey category. My kids don't get attached because they know what happens to them.
-The work is never done. There is always a fence that needs fixed, a field that needs irrigated, a sick animal to tend to, hay or grain to be unloaded, problems with the natural springs that give us water to drink, broken down vehicles/equipment/trailers that need to be fixed, calves to be branded, wheened, or taken to the auction. If it isn't one of those things there is always something else. The work is NEVER done. Ever.
-Since we do have an abundance of wildlife on our ranch we have to endure hunters from Labor Day to Christmas. If they have the courtesy enough to come and ask us for permission, it's not usually a problem. It is a problem when they don't care and cut our fences to get where they want to go or drive through our pastures where we don't have a road and ruin the grass for our cattle.
-My husband has spent many hours and lots of money on seed to plant some good hay fields, but it is always a waste of time and money because the elk come in and eat it all before it is ready to be harvested.
-We have the same problem with gardens - the raccoons ate my entire garden this year.
-When it snows in the winter I need 4-wheel drive to get up the hill. Without it I'm stranded. I don't have 4-wheel drive on my current vehicle so I have to drive my husband's Ford F250 crew cab beast when it snows. I hate driving that thing.
-Nobody comes to visit in the winter time. It gets pretty lonely and quiet. The only people who usually see my Christmas tree are my kids or my father-in-law. Sometimes on a rare occasion a visitor or two will come down to visit.
Overall, ranch life has been a blessing for our family. It is not easy, by any stretch of the word. It is a lot of hard work with sweat, blood, and tears to show for it. Sometimes I wish I lived back in town because it would be easier in so many ways. Ranch living isn't for everyone. It is a lifestyle. It requires a measure of sacrifice - a sacrifice of convenience, time, and money - all of which I used to take for granted. I don't take those things for granted anymore. But the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices. My children will be blessed by the knowledge they've gained by our choice to live as we do. They don't think that now, but some day they will. And then - all of the sacrifices we've made to raise them on the ranch will be worth it.