Life on the ranch during COVID-19

The COVID pandemic has altered our semi-retirement plans.

Many of our retired friends and family are trying to find meaningful ways of spending their time. Some are relieved that they will be able to golf in a socially distanced way. Here on the ranch we’re not searching for meaning. We seem to be filling important roles. Our son, Wade, has even said so.

There is a lot involved with calving 350 head of cows. Wade tags the newborns daily while my husband Ralph does the daily feeding. As the cows calve they are moved out of one field and into a new field, so feeding means moving the feed operation to various fields. I spend a lot of time with the grandkids, Jayden and Tristan, on the days when their mom, Jaimie, works in town. She will be cutting back to two days a week once tax season is past so this may change.

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The grandkids and I have a lot of fun together.

Jayden is seven and Tristan is five, and they often are off in an imaginary world of wild horses and unicorns and dragons. Sometimes I’m the wild horse catcher and in my aged way, I chase after them wildly swinging a lariat.

They tear through the pastures and climb the hills dodging cow-pies and gopher holes. I do my best to keep them in sight. They may not be honing their soccer or swimming skills, but they are definitely getting their daily physical education and so am I. (There’s no ‘sit and be fit’ for me and there does not seem to be time for ‘restorative yoga.’)

The work never ends on a ranch but there’s been considerably more play at Highwood Valley Ranch since the pandemic ended school for Jayden and Tristan.
photo: Highwood Valley Ranch

Some days we ride bikes between their house and ours, bumping over the gravel, dodging the puddles. I get off at the cattle guards and carry Tristan’s bike. His little two-wheel bike has a hard time bumpity bumping over the cattle guards.

They were a big help planting the garden.

Jayden drew a “map” of the garden, arduously labelling all the rows while Tristan ran his Tonka truck up and down between the rows ensuring the pathways were smooth. Their little fingers were excellent at pinching the tiny carrot seeds and Jayden’s reading skills were stretched deciphering the backs of the seed packets. Tristan loved using the tape measure to make sure we placed our rows 30 centimetres apart.

Jayden has learned to knead bread dough and read recipes. Tristan is very compliant at washing his hands now if there is baking he can help with. I haven’t heard complaints about missing their playmates but they do pretend to talk to friends on their imaginary phones. (Tristan is especially humorous to watch as he paces around talking to Travis or Mark imitating his dad to a T.) Jayden is often setting up dates for imaginary riding lessons or horse shows she will attend.

Jayden has school work to complete and her parents are diligent in ensuring this is done. She participates in Zoom meetings with her teacher and classmates, which keeps her in touch with a social circle. I have them registered in a weekly Zoom music class which they seem to enjoy. All in all, I think their education is pretty well rounded.

I have been avoiding any serious cowboying. I’m not confident on my new horse. She and I have definitely not bonded. Our neighbour Deb has a line on a gelding that may work out. If he does, I’ll be happy to really get back in the saddle.

Jaimie seems to handle my mare pretty well so I’m fine staying with the kids so she can help with sorting out pairs or moving various bunches to new fields. Our neighbours often come to help as well. All this is done at a safe social distance.

Grandparents Ralph and Jacqueline Nelson.
photo: Highwood Valley Ranch

Each day brings a variety of interesting situations. We’ve had to assist very few cows in delivery of their calves. For the most part they seem to get it done on their own. If a cow does lose her calf, we try to get her to take an orphan or a twin. Sometimes an older cow needs to be milked out.

There is always fencing to be done and machinery to be repaired. The pandemic has grounded Uncle Ted, who is a corporate pilot and an ace mechanic. We’re so fortunate to have him attending to most of our machinery repairs and maintenance.

The bulk of the farming is done by a custom operator who has all the latest high-tech equipment. Ralph has been harrowing the fields where the cows have been fed and there is cultivating and hayfield rolling to do. Then there are the ongoing tasks of bookkeeping, bill paying, grocery shopping, housekeeping and yard work. We’ve had phone business meetings and email correspondence with accountants, lawyers and government officials. Zoom has enabled Ralph to attend Rotary if he is in the house at the right time, and I’ve enjoyed my book club in the same way.

When our heads hit the pillow at night we are exhausted and glad to be here on the ranch.

How did we ever fit community and social commitments in before? Retirement is a very fuzzy future concept.

Highwood Valley Ranch is located near High River. This article was written in the second half of May.

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