Howdy! This marks my second blog and the first one on living the life of a rancher’s wife…
Marrying into a fourth generation cattle ranch was a jump of sizable proportion for this gal! I was not raised in a rural community, although I was raised in a family that had some roots in farming (on my mother's side). I met my bull riding cowboy husband while at college; it was a romance that, more than anything, could be described as a whirlwind affair. He is still a man of “few” words, but he was definitely a man of “fewer” words then! He was silent, rugged, rather serious, and I was intrigued.... I simply couldn't get him off my mind. What I didn’t know for many months, was that he was so tongue-tied and nervous after our first few dates, that he would return to his apartment and throw up…..yikes!
Regardless, I threw caution to the wind as we moved quickly into a serious relationship. He asked me to marry him and I said yes, without hesitation. Forty-two years later, I'm still enamored.
Coming “home” to the ranch -- after our wedding -- actually felt like coming home to me. It was an old farmhouse, the original family ranch house, and had been rented out for years so it was in pretty poor shape. In fact, in one 24 hour period that first year, we trapped 29 mice in our old pantry!
The ranch was established in the early 1870s, but part of the family (on the maternal side) had established their ranch in the 1850s. My husband’s family immigrated from England (on one side) and Germany (on the other) during the gold rush, so his roots here in our valley go back to the original settlement period. This area is home to a number of tribes and the conflict in those early days was harsh; California miners were not kind to the tribes at all. Today the tribes are still an active and vital part of our community, but like all of America’s settlement history, there are scars that will never heal.
Living in a northern California mountain valley, only 40 miles from Oregon, our seasons are short; elevation starts at 2800 feet. As ranchers, however, that works to our benefit because this creates a higher nutrient content for the hay we produce each summer and feed out in winter. Many people do not understand that this climate (with four distinct seasons, including long cold and snowy winters -- though lacking this year) -- is not conducive to growing commercial crops, but is ideal for cattle and hay.
In the summer our cows remain on the ranch grazing on our own pastures, many of which are native grass, having never been farmed at all. The cattle live their entire lives on this ranch. We used to assist our in-laws in taking cattle into the mountains on horseback (which I loved) to graze – a practice today sadly misunderstood. Cattle co-habitate with wildlife beautifully and these wonderful bovines have the ability to convert dry, fire-kindling matter into feed, protecting the forests and mountain regions from fire. Would that California encourage more grazing – perhaps some of the recent grass and forest fires could be reduced significantly. But that’s another issue!
Our ranch has a historic natural wildlife area, which we preserve, and have for over a hundred years. That means we have an abundance of waterfowl and bird and animal life that thrives here: ducks, geese, eagles (including bald eagles and golden eagles), heron, blackbirds, etc., along with mink, otters, fish, and even a few stubborn beaver! Another interesting fact that few understand is that we are not unique; more than 75% of migrating waterfowl, for instance, are protected by ranches and farms, not by public lands. The view from where I'm seated right now, in fact, looks out over several hundred Canadian geese, busily and happily "grazing" on the remnant of hay the guys scattered out earlier for the cows. Their frequent honking is music in the stillness of the frosty morning air.
Life here is idyllic in so many ways. It’s been an ideal place to raise children, and now 2 of our 3 children have returned to work the ranch, with children of their own. There is a tradeoff, of course; as I’ve told my two daughters-in-law: you will always have security, a great place to raise a family, and an unending supply of great food <g>, but if you’re looking to get rich or to take long extended vacations, this is not the life for you. Vacations are few and far between. I’ve likened ranching to being a MOM. Once you sign on, the job is almost 24/7 – or at least it feels like it much of the year. But, again, the rewards are worth the “sacrifice!” Just this year, all of the women of the ranch, including daughters who are not "on" the ranch (that is 7 women all together!), have started our own business, Jenner Family Beef. We have been asked so often over the years about purchasing our meat, that we have entered into marketing it. We do raise 100% natural Angus cross beef, with no hormones, no antibiotics, grass-fed, and are excited about the direction the business is headed. For those who may be interested, our new website is: www.jennerfamilybeef.com. We do ship all over...
I love this life of mine and thank God daily for the beautiful valley where we live and for having the space and opportunity to live alongside cattle, our horses, the mountains, the wildlife, and my rugged, hard-working cowboy husband! I hope to share a more about life on a cattle ranch in weeks to come…and if you have questions, please respond. I'll be happy to answer whatever I can. And if you want to know more about me, check my Author page out on Prairie Rose or www.gailjenner.com. And I'll see you in two weeks -- on the first Monday of February...
|My husband on far left; one of our two sons, in the center, working calves...with over 900 calves each year, it's a job!|