Raising Ranch Kids: Ranch moms share advice on raising kids and livestock together
I was blessed to become a mother in June 2014, and having my daughter Scarlett certainly turned my world upside down in so many ways. Admittedly, there were times I struggled to find a balance between my duties as a first-time mom and my responsibilities on the cattle ranch I run with my husband Tyler. I quickly realized that being flexible, prepared and forgiving of myself in what I could accomplish each day were the keys to my success both in raising a baby and getting things done outside.
And Scarlett proved to be very adaptable. In the early months, nursing and baby-wearing were lifesavers, and she spent plenty of time napping in the carseat or stroller while we worked. As she’s gotten older, she wants to be closer to the action, and giving her a safe spot to play and watch what we’re doing has been a great way to get her involved on the ranch from a young age.
We added a fourth member to our family in June, so I’m again trying to find a balance of raising both kids and cattle. I decided to ask other ranch moms for their best advice on how they make things work.
First, I talked to Spring Padden, a mother of two from Ludlow, S.D. Through trial and error, she has found ways to navigate through each developmental stage of her daughters — Kaydy (age 5) and Kaylen (age 8) — while also operating her family’s cow-calf and sheep operation.
“My husband Kely works for Olson Construction, which takes him to the oil fields five days each week,” she said. “That leaves me to do the everyday ranch work alongside my uncle. He tends to the pastures further away from the home place, so I’m responsible for whatever needs to be done around the ranch.”
Although Padden does have the assistance of family to help her out from time to time with the girls, she says for the most part, Kaydy and Kaylen have been right by her side from day one, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The girls will sometimes stay with my grandma, but she’s almost 80, and I don’t expect her to have the kids for long periods of time,” she said. “When they were little, I learned to always pack lunches and snacks because we never quite knew how long a job would take or what else would come up before we could get back to the house. I also relied heavily on carseats and playpens, and when it came time for potty training, a portable ring set on top of a five-gallon pail worked for wherever we happened to be on the ranch.”
Padden said the girls have been able to get involved in the sheep side of things from a very young age. At age four, both girls could bring a ewe in and lamb her out on their own.
“They grew up watching me and going along for the ride, and they have quickly become great help from a young age,” she said. “My five year old sometimes knows more about the ranch than I do. The other day, she realized some ewes were in the wrong spot before I did! Kaylen is great helping outside, but now I’m also able to give her responsibilities inside, as well. She cleans or makes lunches and helps out around the house while I’m outside working, which is great.”
Padden admits it’s not always easy, but she believes raising kids on the ranch is a great way to teach her daughters about responsibility and hard work and to instill in them a passion for production agriculture.
“I feel really privileged to be able to raise our daughters in this lifestyle,” she said. “It takes a lot of patience to teach them the ropes and get them a good start without burning them out. Sometimes they get upset when they miss out on fun things their friends from town are doing, but this is our way of life, and they understand the responsibility of needing to do chores or take care of a calving cow first.”
Her best advice for other first-time ranch moms? Patience.
“It takes a lot of patience, and everything takes a little bit longer to get done with kids in tow,” she said. “I’ve learned to improvise and use whatever resources I have for entertainment. For example, my kids will happily play in the dirt with an empty pop bottle. It’s also important to find a safe spot for them to play while you’re working. Accidents can happen really fast, so I try to plan things out before we do them, and I’ve always taught them to recognize dangerous situations. I’m trying to be proactive about that to keep them safe. I talk to them like adults. I trust them, and they respect me better for it. Awareness is the best policy to keeping kids safe and healthy on the ranch.”
She also reassured me that the baby and toddler years are the toughest, and the older my kids get, the easier it will be to get things accomplished and have extra chore help, too.
I also asked my fellow Tri-State Livestock News writers/ranch moms for advice, and they echoed much of Padden’s sentiments.
Freelance writer Jan Swan Wood of Newell, S.D. said, “I used a backpack and took my son out as early as possible. Just dress ’em warm enough and understand that dirt creates good gut bacteria and that earth worms and manure won’t kill ’em.”
TSLN Editor Carrie Longwood Stadheim of Reeder, N.D. is a mother of six and explained how she has encouraged her kids from a young age to get involved on the ranch.
“By age five or six, kids with a good horse can help gather, sort cattle, or bring cattle up the alley,” said Stadheim. “At that age, they can also help with chores, feed bum calves or lambs and pitch hay or straw. They can feed some pellets or grain, too, with some good direction by that age, and water critters as long as they don’t have to pack buckets (use a hose.) By age six or seven, kids can do a lot with sheep – sorting, bringing in lambs, etc. As far as cattle, I did a lot of riding and moving cattle from age five on up (some kids do it earlier). By age 10, my sisters and I were helping sort cattle in the corral. Obviously, the demeanor of the cattle and your kids’ abilities will help dictate what they are capable of and what is safe.
“At brandings, if we don’t have the little ones on horseback, we put them in the back of a pickup with some toys, a babysitter, and snacks,” she added. “Having snacks and water with you at all times and a few outside-friendly toys is a great help. Dirt and fresh straw are two more things that entertain kids. We have the kids help us bed the lambing barn and if we’d let them, they would play in the fresh straw for hours. As far as chores, my seven-year old twins, at branding last year, were helpful by using a paint stick to mark the calves that had been vaccinated. Kids that age can also carry the “nut bucket,” keep calves from getting out of the branding pen, and help with the snacks, water and coffee for the adults.”
Freelance writer Heather Maude of Scenic, South Dakota is the mom of one-year-old Lyle, and she’s learned how to take him along for the ride and get things done on the ranch.
“I love my jogging stroller with foam filled tires, and I’m also a big believer in taking hand-me-downs of strollers, walkers, and swings, and I keep these older versions in the barn, corral and shop, so they are handy when we need them,” she said. “At 10 months old, Lyle went to feed every morning, check cows most nights, and watched while we worked pigs or cattle. I think showing your kids the life firsthand exposes them to the positives and negatives. Growing up, my parents included my brother and me in everything from the financial and tax discussions, to bull buying and daily work from a young age, and I hope to do the same.”
Without a doubt, no two ranching operations are the same, and no two ranch moms have the same parenting styles; however, it seems to be that patience, getting creative, giving age-appropriate responsibilities, and sharing our passion for agriculture with our kids seems to be a common theme amongst all ranching parents. I’m certainly going to use this advice as my kids grow up, and I can’t wait to teach my kids the ropes of the ranch as they get older.