Have you ever noticed in ranching that there’s “flow” and “no flow”?

Whitehurst marci
Freelance Writer
Marci Whitehurst is a freelance writer, ranch wife and the mother of three children. You can foll...

The days things click into place are great. Items on the to-do list get crossed off, and people and animals are happy.

When the opposite happens, and everything seems to go haywire, gremlins (or hunters) leave your gates open or water troughs break down. It’s tough.

For me, the problem with ranch stress is the unknown. But isn’t that the problem with all stress? Problems are easier to handle when you know they’re coming.

For example, our very first year of A.I.’ing cows was a learning experience. We were new to the ranch, so we were simultaneously learning the lay of the land. At 20,000 acres, it isn’t a huge place but big enough to take time.


That first year A.I.’ing, we brought the cattle in from a pasture that appeared to be the “right” way to bring them – a straight shot they should just flow through. But they must have had bad memories because they did not want to go through. Surprise! Stress point one of what came to be known as the great A.I. affair.

The corrals needed work to run smoothly, but with other repairs needed, the guys didn’t have time to reroute and rebuild the corrals before that first A.I. session.

The cattle were scared in the chute like they’d had a million dogs at their heels their whole lives. The week was an effort to get cattle to move toward the chute. And then through the chute. Stress point two.

We barely slept the whole week. Stress point three. We expected there to be stress, but it exceeded our expectations. Fortunately, it only took 51 weeks to recover from the mental trauma.

The following year, we were ready. The corrals had been reconfigured and we gathered from a different pasture. It flowed. We anticipated stress, but instead, it was just a few busy days that worked well. I am sure the previous 51 weeks of worry helped. (Just kidding. Well, sort of.)

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and while many of us ranchers like to think this doesn’t apply to us, it may be worth thinking about stress and how we handle it. I’ve heard many ranchers say that if we just do the work, we won’t be stressed. Or that ranchers don’t have stress because we are tough, and we deal with problems.

That’s true; ranchers are tough. The toughest bunch: Hardworking, honest, respectable people. But is it possible we are also prideful? Not wanting help and not wanting people to know what bugs us?

You want to know what bugs me? Several things:

  1. Titles or naming. I’m a rancher’s wife through and through. I’ve done tough things, touched dirty things and stayed awake to help keep animals alive. I’m deeply connected to agriculture. But I do not call myself a cowgirl. I can ride, but I’m better on a four-wheeler. I’m not a cliché “rancher,” but I’ve never claimed to be. There are things I can do and things I can’t. I can’t rope a calf to save my life. But I give shots, move cows, keep records, cook, etc. It bothers me when “the look” of being a cowboy or cowgirl is more important than the love for the land and animals.
  2. Allergies. I mean it. I’ve had two asthma attacks from allergies that were close. It’s hard to live on a ranch and be allergic to hay and horses. I usually don’t whine about it. Do I, hubby? (He said, “Never,” by the way.) Even writing about it feels like a sin. Why? I don’t like people to know my weaknesses.
  3. Not being real about the stresses of ranch life: being on call 24/7, weather, long days, manure laundry … 
  4. I get mad when people say agriculture is ruining the environment when we’ve taken multiple measures to not only protect it, but make it sustainable for generations to come.
  5. I hate it when things die. We have a very low death loss, even during calving, but it still happens occasionally.

According to the American Farm Bureau’s Farm State of Mind, farmers and ranchers have a suicide rate two to five times higher than the national average. That’s significant. All of life is unpredictable, but there are ways to combat stress for ranchers:

  1. Get off the ranch. Whether you’re gone for the day or a weekend or a week, take time away.
  2. Foster hobbies. While ranching is full of opportunities to do things you love, make sure you’re also making art, taking dancing lessons, reading, doing underwater basket weaving or anything that fills you up.
  3. Talk to others. You don’t have to blab it here, but visit with a friend when times are tough.
  4. Know what you can and can’t control. Pro tip: You can’t control other people.

Sure, ranching is one of the best things in the world. But even the best things can be stressful. We need all our minds working together to keep agriculture growing.