If someone were to ask me what experience has shaped my life and personality the most, I would say, without hesitation, growing up on a farm. There is a certain sense of pride and credibility that comes with being raised on a place where all your daddy does all day long is play cowboy and all your mama does is take care of the family. I would trade nothing for the lessons I have learned while trying to help my family support itself with the only title my daddy has ever used to fill the occupation line: self-employed cattle rancher.
As far back as I can recall, we've had just enough cattle to get us into trouble and just enough horses and pickup trucks to get us out. There are certain things you learn at a very early age not to do around livestock, or you will get a serious cussing. There are other things you are expected to know when you leave the womb. I have never known the difference between the two, but here's a taste of what I've learned during my 21 years on a cattle ranch.
Treat your cows like they're your babies and your horses even better. Never get between a Brahma-crossed mama cow and her baby calf, and never get behind an Angus bull. Never yell when working with cattle, and never leave the gate open. Never use a pickup truck to chase a fence-jumping Charolais bull pursuing a cow in heat. Know how to read a pregnant cow. Know how to work the calf jack blindfolded with no hands for a 3 a.m. calf-pulling, and know where all the flashlights and batteries are for that same event. Know how to read cow buyers at an auction. Know how to read bull EPDs. Be able to work the broken head catch on a Powder River chute. Never forget to check first-calf heifers, and know what bull they're bred to. Be able to count cattle even when they're bunched up in an impossible wad at the troughs.
You were born knowing how to drive a truck and tractor and ride a horse. Learn to pull a 24-foot gooseneck stock trailer, and learn to back it up. Know what a “wedge” is and where to find one. Never choke down a truck, tractor or anything else. Don't get anything stuck in the mud. You should know how deep it is before you cross it.
Know how to pick out a socket wrench, an open-ended wrench, an adjustable wrench, a washer, and “this size bolt” from a five-gallon bucket of rusty tools at any time. Always have lots of duct tape and WD 40 on hand. Be ready to fix the fence at any time. Don't have a smart mouth.
Don't forget to record the weather report. Don't take an hour lunch break when you're cutting hay, ever. If there's rain in the forecast, don't take a break at all. Know the different sounds the hay equipment makes: which ones are normal, which ones mean you're tearing something up.
Go to bed early so you'll be able to saddle up in the moonlight for an early-morning cow gathering. Never turn your back to a cow, especially when you're working horseback. Never step in front of a two-year-old colt. Know the best route to the creek. Let company ride the nice horses. Know where the best dewberries are. Know what plants horses shouldn't eat. If you get bucked off, get right back on.
Family stories are part of your heritage. Daddy can fix anything, and mama is an angel. Habit of years is as strong as life itself. You are a part of the land you work. Pray a lot and go to church because you are at the mercy of the good Lord. Respect God's creation because you have never been so close to it as you are on a farm.
No other experiences this world can offer even come close to watching the sun set over the forest, smelling bay blooms as they drift up from the creek bottom or saving a calf from sure death. These are things you can't appreciate until you've experienced them. These are the things life on a farm is made of.
Rebecca Bearden is a senior at Auburn University majoring in agricultural communications. She is completing her internship with Farm Press.