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Typical Day

It's Saturday morning. While adults all over America are sleeping in, you're up at the buttcrack of dawn, shoveling down a hearty breakfast, and dressed to spend a day working under the Texas sun. You're a rancher, and the term "weekend" doesn't mean much to you, because you're on call 24/7/365.

By 7am, you're in your heavy-duty Ford pickup with your dad, the Rancher Supreme at T Cross Cattle Company. You negotiate winding gravel roads and the narrow highway that takes you from your family's ranch to the pastureland near the Gulf of Mexico that your dad likes to use for his herd during the winter. When you pull up to the pens, you hop out and greet your two uncles (also ranchers) and your two cousins (wannabe ranchers) who will be helping out today.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to castrate 50 calves so they can fatten up and eventually be sold for their meat (mmm, steak). It's hard work and you can sympathize with the calves, but raising and selling cattle is the primary way the T Cross Cattle Company makes money.

By 8am, you're on the job. Your younger cousins are responsible for herding the calves, one at a time, in and out of the chute. You, your dad, and your two uncles do the actual castrating.

The process you use on these particular calves is called banding. Basically, you put a rubber band around each calf's testicles, and the testicles shrivel up and fall off. We'll give you a minute.

The calves are young enough that your uncles can hold them in place during banding, and you and your dad alternate getting up close and personal with calf nuts. You've seen banding done many times over the years, but you've rarely had to…grab the bull by the horns, so to speak. Your dad supervises your work, and is clearly pleased when you don't screw up.

By early afternoon, all of the calves are banded. They aren't happy about having rubber bands around their testicles, but over the next few weeks the testicles will fall off on their own. You and your dad will make several visits to the pasture in the days ahead to check that each calf's testicles don't get infected as a result of the banding procedure.

You, your dad, your uncles, and your cousins saddle up and herd the calves out of the pens and back out into the grass. It may be winter here along the Gulf Coast, but you're hot and sweaty from working with the calves. Thankfully, there aren't any snakes out at this time of year: You put a bullet through a rattler last spring that was almost as long as you are tall.

By 4pm, your uncles and cousins are headed home with the horses. You and your dad, however, have a stop to make.

The Jones' is a piece of land your dad bought 20 years ago to cultivate as a rice paddy. About 15 years ago, your dad got the brilliant idea to use the rice paddy in the off-season to grow crawfish. While your dad managed to turn a profit on crawfish for several years (you've seen him raise mudbugs the size of a baby's head), this year's crawfish crop isn't looking so hot. Worse yet, Texas is in the middle of a bad drought, and the Lower Colorado River Authority has refused to supply the water your dad needs to grow rice this season. If he can't grow rice in the paddy, then he probably won't be able to do crawfish next year, either. This doesn't necessarily spell trouble for the ranch, but your little sister will probably have to forego the Garth Brooks impersonator at her wedding this fall.

At the Jones', you and your dad stop and have a walk around the paddy. You drop in on Manuel, the guy your dad hired to live on the property and keep an eye on things. After a brief conversation, Manuel and your dad decide to start the crawfish harvest in a couple of weeks; that'll give the crawfish a little more time to increase in size.

At 5:30pm, you and your dad roll up to your house. You hop in the shower while your mom cooks dinner. She's had a busy day, too; as the accountant for the ranch, she spent the morning reconciling the books, and then had a Junior League event to attend in the afternoon.

After dinner, you and your folks settle down to watch TV. You have to turn the volume up in order to drown out the sound of the oil well that's being drilled 50 yards behind your house. The income from this particular project (another idea of your dad's) has helped to keep the ranch in the black over the last couple of years of bad drought.

There isn't much on the agenda tomorrow, other than church first thing in the morning and lunch with your grandparents and taking a look at that tractor that broke down the other day…but you never can tell when something will pop up that you have to deal with immediately.

By 9pm, you're snoring in bed, wiped out but proud that you're carrying on the ranching tradition that's been your family's life blood for better than a century.