Shane started it. Something in that 1953 Alan Ladd movie about a worn out gunfighter who finds himself in the middle of a “settlers v. ranchers” war tugged at young Bessie Bell’s heart. And even though the film separated the good guys (the settlers) from the bad guys (the cattle ranchers who want the settlers’ land) Bessie couldn’t help but feel for the cattlemen. And when Oprah Winfrey was sued by a group of Texas cattle ranchers because of a comment she made about never wanting to eat another hamburger, Bessie began watching Ellen instead.
Move along, little doggies… because twenty-five years have passed since Bessie spent her last summer of college as a ranch hand. With her ranch management degree from Colorado Mountain College in hand and four years’ worth of actual experience at four different cattle ranches, Bessie set out to accomplish her childhood dream: Owning a ranch of her own. She wrote up a business plan, got some loans as well as federal grants and, with a lot of hard work, ambition and knowledge, she’s now the proud owner of one of the most well-respected, environmentally sustainable ranches in Colorado: The Green Cow Pancake Corral.
Bessie’s days may seem like they’re all the same to an uninterested observer—rising before the rooster, performing what seem like never-ending daily chores, and finally spending some time in in her office working on the business end of the ranch.
But look more closely and you’ll get an idea of what daily life on a cattle ranch is like.
Yes, Bessie and her two hired ranch hands (as well as her two children and husband) rise well before dawn. After a hearty breakfast, everyone knows what they’re supposed to do: Bessie’s older girl, Daisy, is in charge of mucking out the stalls and then feeding and saddling up the horses. On the weekends she assists her dad with ear-marking calves—a good way to keep track of inventory.
The job for Hoss, Flossie’s younger brother, is to head out to the pasture on his horse and count the heads of cattle to make sure the cows are grazing where they should be and not trying to knock down or escape through holes in the fence.
Four of the ranch’s cows are scheduled to give birth any day, and they’ve been kept safe and warm in one of the four shelters that Bessie and her husband built. Bessie heads out to check on them. No one seems to be ready yet, so she heads to the barn to grab a horse and take a look at the herd out in the pasture. Once in the barn, Bessie notices that the horse barn is looking pretty shabby, so she asks Lucky, one of the ranch hands, to spend the day giving it a fresh coat of paint.
Then Bessie saddles up her favorite horse, Savage, and heads out to the large pasture to take her own count of the calves that are just about weaned and ready to go to market next week. While riding, she takes note that Savage has been sluggish the past few days and today he is downright unwilling to move beyond a slow meander. It’s time to call in the vet. She hops off Savage and walks him back to the horse barn. After Savage is safely tucked away and the doctor has been summoned, Bessie hops into her truck to finally head out and see the cows. Last year she started cross breeding Brahman-Brangus cattle, and in a few weeks this group will be ready to head to market. Twice a year the ranch brings several heads to the market and it’s a job for every available hand on the ranch.
Today is vaccination day, so after lunch every available helper is put to work. It will take the four adults to round up the 500 head of cattle and move them to a semi-enclosed area. The adult cows sometimes receive different vaccinations from the young calves, and the not-yet-weaned calves receive something different from both of them. Everyone gets the vaccines designed to prevent Clostridial disease and botulism. Only the mature females get the Leptospirosis vaccine. As well, Bessie’s vet recommended that expectant mothers as well as young calves be vaccinated for a couple of specific diseases - Escherichia coli (E. coli) and salmonella due to last year’s contamination of the cows’ water supply.
Vaccinating the cows takes all day and, while the rest of the crew is finishing up, Bessie heads to her home office to do some business-related work. She knows that keeping sound financial records for everything from the cost of machinery to how much she pays her ranch hands is the only way to know what’s working, what isn’t, and where to make improvements in the business.
It’s suppertime and Bessie takes care of feeding her family, as well as Lucky and Ford, the two ranch hands who are like family.
And tomorrow morning… they’ll do it all again. Maybe the fence repair will happen. Maybe the cows will go into labor. And maybe Savage will be feeling up to his old self and everyone can saddle up their horses and on go on a picnic by the river at The Green Cow Pancake Corral.