By Amanda Kishpaugh
Twenty miles off of the highway, down a winding sand road that most people would fail to notice, the Merrill Ranch is tucked away, deep in the heart of south central Kansas. The ranch is comprised of 17,000 acres of grassy rolling hills and red-dirt valleys, and is home to 800 head of cattle. Jamie Miller runs the ranch where he and his wife Tina are raising their three kids.
The ranch hires local cowboys to help with most of the branding and doctoring. Last spring Jamie held back a group of 75 calves for his boys Jaxon (11) and Bo (10) to process with some of their friends. On a Saturday morning in May, pickup trucks loaded with kids drug stock trailers down the muddy sand road. The previous night’s thunderstorms had dropped enough rain on the ranch to tame the dust and paint trucks with a fresh coat of mud.
Jamie started off the morning with introductions, then prayed over the safety of the kids, their families, and the livestock. He gave orders for the day and explained that he hoped to make sure each kid got the opportunity to participate in every step of the processing. Usually, at a big branding, kids might get to help with some of the smaller calves and then the big guys take over and get the job done. On this day, the kids did it all; they rounded up the cattle, sorted, roped, branded, vaccinated, castrated, inserted implants, and moved the cattle to new pasture when the work was done.
What impressed me the most on that particular day was the way that these cowboy dads really looked at the whole day as a teaching session. It was time they had set aside to work with their kids. They weren’t in a rush to get on to other things. That day, training the next generation of cowboys and cowgirls was the only thing scheduled. The anonymous quote, “Children are not a distraction from more important work, they are the most important work,” came to mind. The men were right there directing and guiding with careful instruction, but I never saw any of them bark at the kids. It takes a lot of patience to teach kids and teenagers how to do something the right way. These men did it though, from explaining how to safely drag a calf and set the Nordfork properly, to cutting the bull calves; they carefully explained the hows and the whys until all fourteen kids had a good understanding of each job.
By lunch time the under-aged crew had worked though half of the calves, and hopped into the big stock trailer for a ride to the ranch house where Tina had a feast waiting. Parents ate in the air-conditioned house, while most of the kids had moved outdoors to practice on the roping dummy in the yard, before catching a ride back out to the pens to finish up. Once all the calves had been processed the kids pushed the pairs on to the next pasture, before heading home.
It was a great day; the kind where you sweat and work hard, but you see the instant fruits of your labor; the kind where you get to appreciate the sun, and the rain, and the land, and the livestock; the kind where you see that the new ranch horse you bought for your kids was worth every penny; the kind where you get to glimpse into the future and see your kids grow up a little, before your very eyes.
I truly believe that the time, training, and patience put into those kids that weekend will impact their futures in a big way, from the way they handle livestock, to the way they raise their own kids one day. My kids were blessed by the experience, and as a parent I am grateful for them to have had the opportunity to learn under the training of these great men. Every kid should be so lucky! It was truly one of the greatest things I have seen.