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Ranch lady knows moody equipment, weather and mishaps part of the job

Alabama ranch lady Rachel Bearden personally addresses each cow and calf daily.
The season is not bad, as long as you keep a healthy supply of starting fluid, screwdrivers, baling twine, hammers, shoelaces and strong faith in God. And good cheesecake.

If you don’t like winter in the South, just wait a couple of days. You’ll be wearing a down coat one day and then wishing you were wearing a straw hat the next.

In Alabama, we rarely get the white Christmas but often get the wet Christmas. Which we gladly take. After such a long drought this year, the straight line winds at least bring rain with their violent overthrows. I suppose it fits perfectly with our Southern propensity for drama and might even contribute to our ability to adapt to our surroundings with grace.

When the storms knock out the power during the most important family meal of the year, we Southern ranch women just break out the candles and smile—our wind-burned faces and hat hair are less noticeable in a dimly-lit dining room.

We are expected to spend all day feeding cows, repairing equipment and fixing fences …and still manage to bring a killer caramel cheesecake to the family Christmas. The standards are high. At least for my sister Rachel.

This lady of livestock knows that it would not be the holiday season without equipment malfunction, barn roof repair and a livestock emergency. Sometimes all in one day.

I am fairly confident that both the John Deere 2030 and 4030 will only run for one woman. I guess the key to success is to form a solid relationship with both, and know exactly what gets them going—even when that involves starting fluid and a screwdriver. The same goes for the F-250, recently modified with a pellet feeder. Rachel constantly reassures the truck that the feeder is a good idea and that whole “it should be on a flatbed” business is just a recommendation.

Thankfully, she extends that same attention to detail to the ranch structures. When the winter wind takes away the barn tin, Rachel is the first one to grab the ladder. I would not want to deprive her of the joy--one of us has to stay on the ground in order to supervise. After all, if we both fall off, no one can drive to the emergency room on Christmas Eve and in the rain. I have never seen a 120 pound woman so eager to climb an unsteady ladder, wield a homemade tool belt of baling twine, and crawl around a wet barn roof ready to hammer.

Even with her impressive mechanical and carpentry skills, her ability to nurture still far outshines the rest. She personally addresses each cow and calf daily. She castrates all of the baby bulls when they are less than a week old to minimize the pain. Even if a prolapsed uterus weighs more than she does, she pushes it back in and gently stitches sweet old Peaches right back up with shoelaces.

Sometimes the outcomes are less than desirable. After tagging a healthy heifer one morning this December, she found her the next morning to be the victim of a rapid internal illness. Rachel did her best to tube-feed the weak heifer until she was certain that God wanted her little baby in heaven more than she needed her on earth. No matter how long you’ve been raising cattle, you still cry when you lose one. My sister’s only solution to such heartache—celebrate and give thanks for the healthy cows and calves you do have.

Somehow, through all of the moody equipment, erratic weather and livestock distress, she manages a genuine holiday-happy attitude. She would probably say that the season is not that bad, as long as you keep a healthy supply of starting fluid, screwdrivers, baling twine, hammers, shoelaces and a strong faith in God. And a good cheesecake recipe.

Here’s to all of the hard-working Southern ranch women.

TAGS: Beef
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