Cow Camps & Cowboying Couples
It was the last 24 hours before we moved out to camp and I received a great message.
I’m embarrassed to admit, this person did not receive the kind of detailed response they deserved. Now that I am not weighed down by moving details or stressed out kids and our cows are off the winter range, I would like another go at these important questions. I consider them to be important because I never had anyone to ask!
Before I answer, keep in mind that “cow camp” means something different to everyone. Our camp has a one-bedroom cinder block house, a well for water, and a generator for power. Because electricity is limited, I use a small fridge/freezer combo to feed four of us. The ranch put internet out here, but when we lived here the first time, we had to drive an hour for cell service. Though we are slightly more connected, it is still three hours to the pavement and four to the nearest grocery store. Like many other cow camps across the west, this one has it’s advantages and disadvantages.
Ok, so what is essential to take to cow camp? Again, I think this is different for everyone, but I will share some of our must haves.
If you get seriously hurt, don’t complicate the situation by managing pain with alcohol or prescription meds.
2. Scrap leather, tack repair items and extra tack.
The stupidest things can and will break. They will also mysteriously get lost out in the sage or by some klepto-starved pack rat. Sam just lost the slide for his Blevins buckle last week. Luckily, he had his other saddle to ride while the buckle was shipped to us.
3. Extra shoes and grain.
Cow camps are remote for a reason! Many of them are steep and rocky, hence why they were not settled as a more permanent home. Take care of your horses because they are the only partner you may have when life gets real out there.
4. Food for a week longer than you’re suppose to stay, more in the winter.
Between the boss, the weather, and the cows, your plans will change. Don’t starve because of it!
5. Books and a deck of cards.
Sam and I turned into “an old married couple” at 22 and 23. This was when we were first introduced to the Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon (long before it was the “it” thing) and had some rather unhealthy Gin Rummy games. In fact, Sam refuses to play now because his skewed memory recalls that I won every game. We’re slowly reverting our evenings back towards books, our side businesses and the occasional Netflix movie.
Now for the second question, my advice for a couple that is going to cowboy together. For as many types of camps as exist there are even more cowboying marriages. What makes them tick is all a little different, but here is some of our advice, often learned by doing it the hard way first.
1. Always tell each other where you are going, the route you are taking, and when you expect to be back.
Sam and I both have stories of when this did not happen or did not happen as well as it should. Communication is everything!
2. Moving cows is not an emotional activity!
As soon as it becomes an emotional activity, it is harder on the stock and people you’re working with. When you remain calm you may still like your horses and your partner when you get home that night.
3. Each party needs to be needed.
Gentlemen, we get it. You can tie a cow down by yourself and that’s part of why we love you. Now that we’re out here with you, do you have to? Is the increased chance of injury to you, your horse, or the cow worth it? If your lady can rope, use her. If she wants to learn to rope, teach her. You’ll be glad you did.
Ladies, I know you can saddle your own horse. You saddle his snotty 2 year olds and bring them to him. Don’t take it as a slight when he saddles or unsaddles so you can get after cooking or other chores.
Part of running a successful cow camp is living and getting work done. Some days, cutting fire wood or dealing with a generator issue is more important than moving cows or riding colts. This balance is what makes it work and something our society struggles to understand in a 9-5 world.
4. Discuss action plans in case the unthinkable happens.
Know your fire escape routes and how you will handle extra horses or dogs you can’t haul. Know how your partner would like things handled in the event they are seriously injured, or you receive notification of their family emergency first. You are a team and knowing these things will help you act like one. Sam and I know because we have lived it.
5. Embrace each other’s God-given talents.
We now understand that we each have our own strengths and that we are stronger together because of them. My being better at logistics has absolutely no baring on his ability to handle cows. I will never get by a horse the way he does but with a broke horse, I’ll keep up. My point is don’t fight it, use it!
I hope this small glimpse into what makes our world work helps another couple out there!
P.S. There is never such a thing as too many pictures! Sam and I are both thankful for the few shots we took and those by Sam's dad, Mac. They are treasures we never appreciated until years down the road!