Corder's Corner

Counting Sheep

All farmers and ranchers have a deep appreciation for mother nature’s nectar in the spring:
precipitation. It’s what makes the rich and fertile soils of Montana come to life and blossom
ultimately allowing us to help provide sustainability for the world. I reflect on one such spring a few years back. We had received a 3-day soaker, the kind of rain that is cause for financial joys and biblical fears all at once. The once dry and cracked land is now muddy, boggy, and sticky.

Knowing that my husband would be out of the field for a few days, I had grand plans of a family
trip or perhaps a date! I should know better as a rancher’s wife. My husband comes to me with
what he calls a “great idea”. This coined phrase is always cause for alarm, but against better
judgement, I played along. His plan was to move our daughter’s small flock of sheep and lambs
to summer grass while she was in school. Sounds simple enough. 

As we approach the corrals, he suggests that he back the trailer up while I get behind the sheep and push them down the alley way and into the trailer. He can then hold the gate of the trailer and close it behind the sheep once loaded. As I make my way through the corrals in my coveralls and muck boots, I soon realize I have been given the much harder job of the two. The gumbo, manure slop mix is something to be reckoned with for my 5’4” frame. I am sinking so far that water is making its way over the tops and into my boots. My coveralls are ladened with mud adding a ridiculous amount of extra weight that I do not need at this moment. However, I have never been one to spend much time contemplating consequences, so I trudge on and once behind the sheep, they filter their way down the alley and towards the open trailer door, a few even load until one old ewe decides that she’s headed back. I tried to step in front of her to no avail and in one second flat my legs have sunk into the mud to my knees, IM STUCK! 

Sheep are a true flock animal, and where one goes, they all go. In my attempt to maneuver a block, I have now gracefully fallen flat on my back flailing like an upside-down cockroach and am slowing sinking into an abyss of wetness. I feel the silty mud seep in and fill my ears. The cold, wet, waterlogged soil penetrates
the fibers of my being down to the hairs of my scalp. What happens next is a blur, literally as a
muddy blur. The sheep, one by one, just as we have told our children to count before going to
sleep, now hurdle my impaled and cemented body of mud. I will never forget seeing the
undercarriage of the muddy sheep flying over my head, splattering my helpless face with mud
and manure. I am covered and drenched in “stuff”. 

Once the sound of sloshing sheep has subsided, I carefully wipe a couple eyeholes so I can see. I attempt to roll out of the precarious position much like a mouse in a glue trap, I presume. As I gain awareness, the unearthing ringing of my husband’s belly laugh and his pearly whites peering from around the trailer gate
has been etched into my memory for his future “great ideas”. I briskly make a heated walk to the house in silence to disrobe and throw all my soiled garments in the trash and take a much- needed shower to cool off. 

That day’s events ultimately brought us closer together as now we can both laugh at the comedy of errors that occurred that nice spring day and know I’m not alone as a rancher’s wife. It’s the trials and tribulations of ranching that solidify bonds of trust and strength that will always connect a rancher and his wife. It’s not the glamourous life of Beth Dutton, although she is dirty. A true rancher’s wife knows what real dirt is. I can also attest to the fact that we should never try to get our children to sleep by counting sheep.  My firsthand account of sheep counting has proven to do just the opposite as it keeps me up at night just thinking about it. I hate sheep!

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