We branded today. Not the best job, not the absolute worst either, but it really isn’t much fun for anyone concerned—us or the calves. The whole thing almost didn’t happen. We’d arranged to hire some help because we no longer have anyone else working for us, and we can’t do labor intensive jobs like that ourselves (there are only three of us after all). We hired one guy from the nearby Hutterite Colony, and, or so we thought, arranged for another who lives in Fort Benton to come out and help. The gentleman from town tends to be late most of the time, but because he’s good at the cattle work we’ve never really minded too much, but when he was supposed to arrive for work at eight and by nine-thirty there was still no sign of him we were getting a little apprehensive about getting the branding done. It turns out that there was a miscommunication between him and his wife about the days he was available—an honest mistake at least. I decided we needed to give it a try anyhow, and with much determination, patience and the occasional swear, we finally got the herd corralled, easily the hardest part. Even if we would have had both hired men we still would’ve had the bare minimum of help, and the loss of a person made the whole thing much more traumatic than it needed to have been. But we did get all the little buggers branded, vaccinated, etc., which is the important thing, and I’m not one to get too uptight about people not showing up if there is an innocent explanation.

What the whole ordeal brought home to me though, is that on our ranch (and countless others just like us) we’re coming into some very hard times. Money is tight, but heck, this is rural Montana, money is always tight, we can live with that. But what I wonder is how do you get by without enough labor? Ranching is so hands on that you can’t automate it or buy bigger machinery to fill the gap like the farmers can. We use every bit of advanced machinery that we can afford, and yet over the winter whenever there is a storm or anything else that increases the workload, we simply don’t have enough people to do everything that needs to be done. I honestly don’t know what will happen when my dad decides to take his well earned retirement in the not at all distant future. I won’t be able to pay a hired man, bit I don’t think Ruth and I can do all the work ourselves either, obviously something will have to give. I hope I’m not coming across as whiney, it isn’t my intention to, I’m merely perplexed as to what options are left to a smallish ranch such as ours. I suppose there are some people we could hire here and there, but finding one that I would trust around our cows (we have on occasion worked with people who were less than humane with the cows, something I do not tolerate), and also reliable, is challenging (most reliable people already have reliable jobs and can’t just take time off to help us). Besides, cattle are hard enough to manage, do I really want to have to start managing a herd of part-time workers too? I don’t know the answers, all I know is that after a hard day of over-work because of understaffing these questions seem pretty pressing.