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Ranching with Children

Nikala and Jed Smith are raising their son, and enjoying simple living on a ranch in rural Montana!


They raise angus breeding bulls, have a milk cow and have a giant garden!

When I first married my husband, and moved to his family ranch, I immediately jumped in and helped out as needed. I quickly learned that there’s no such thing as ‘too much help’ on a ranch. I found a job that needed doing,  and I took it over. Extra hands are always needed during ranching, so I know my help is appreciated. 
For 6 years, I worked alongside my husband and  father in law when we worked cattle. We needed the help, so naturally, I was out with them all the time.  I was also able to pull the ‘wife card’ and come in to make meals, because a nice hot meal is utmost importance!  

We welcomed our son Angus in the fall of 2019. When he was 2 weeks old, he slept through weaning calves, all cozy in a carrier. When it came time for the spring cow work, he’d fall asleep to the sound of all the cows bellering, he would fall asleep on the bumpy four wheeler, or was content in a play pen or stroller watching all the action. There’s definitely been some harder stages/ages where we’ve all   had to adjust just what we do.

Now he is 2, and while it’s much easier in some ways, working cattle with a toddler comes with it’s own set of challenges. He isn’t content in a stroller, playpen or carrier anymore,  but we can’t exactly have him free roaming around the cattle either.  We make it work, weather permitting. I want to help and they need my help, but it is a new challenge trying to keep track of cattle and a toddler at the same time.
While we are outside a lot, Angus spends lots  of time in the tractor, skid steer, or feed trucks. He is with us when we work cows, but he does only last so long. 

I respect his help and perseverance, but more importantly, I respect when he is done.  

Another challenge is the weather. Lots of times it’s too cold or too hot for him to be out for long periods of time. However, I secretly don’t mind having to pull the ‘mom card’ on those hot/windy/cold days and go inside!  
I have had to let go of my own love to help, because priorities have shifted. 
Instead, I’ve learned to focus on my new role of ranch mom, raising our little rancher. While we would both love to be outside helping, and know that they need our help, my most important job is our son, and I’m not going to make him be outside in 20 below weather or 100 degree weather for long periods of time.
Each year brings new changes and challenges  ranching with a toddler, but each season has so many stages we all get to experience together. 
I’m able to have more of my own free time (read: clean the house, prep a meal without a toddler in tow!!) while Angus and my husband are in the tractor. Angus is constantly learning so many new words and phrases, and my husband Jed gets to watch him learn the language of his rancher world. Angus gets to see new calves born everyday during calving. He gets to live a life that I am so proud to be raising him in. He’s learning where his food comes from, and that no matter the weather, we have outside chores that need to be done. He’s learning how to work hard, and just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you can quit. 
We are All learning to compromise. For me, it’s been an adjustment not being able to help as much as I used to. However, I’ve learned that sometimes just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should, and there are many times with ranching and cattle work, that it simply is not smart or safe to be involved with a toddler in tow. 
There are other ways I help, and while it may not be helping with the cattle, I’m helping in other ways which are just as important. 
I may not be able to help for a full day, but help is help, whether it be for 2 or 8 hours.  I’m not able to help gather cows at 6am on a brisk May morning, but I am able to stay inside and have a quiet morning with our son while the men get all the cows ready for working. 
I’m not able to help process cattle all day, but I am able to make the guys a nice hot lunch, and not be running into the house in between cows, to check on food. 

I’m not able to go out at midnight to help my husband pull a calf, but I am able to take the 6am check and let my husband and son sleep in. 
I’m able to teach him that there will be days where we aren’t comfortable; too hot, too cold, but there’s a hot meal or air conditioned house waiting for us at the end of the day. I’m able to teach him that just because we could do something, doesn’t mean we should; its so important to know and respect our limits, but also know that some things will just be harder to accomplish, even if it takes longer. I’m able to teach him that ranching is Hard work, but if you go at it with a smile and positive attitude, it will feel less like work and more like fun.
I’m able to teach him where our food comes from and that it takes a Lot of hard work raising our food.  I’m so fortunate that while I may be watching the ranch work from the sidelines with our son,  he has an incredibly hard working dad and grandpa working outside in the extreme weather, pulling long days. 
It’s been a big shift, but a good compromise for everyone involved. Ranching is hard work. Ranching with kids is another challenge in itself, but we do it because we love it, and all that we are learning from it.
If we change our own perspectives and expectations of ourselves as ranch moms, then we will see that we have the most important job in the world; raising future ranchers that tend to the land we love and help feed the world!


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