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Coexisting with Country Life

By Neelley Armes
Wrangling my family’s life on the farm might be like saddling a tornado, but the payoff is greater than any rodeo purse.

Multitasking my family’s schedules and the responsibilities that come with farm life can be a whirlwind—often leaving me feeling like I’m riding a tornado, my blonde hair tied up in a ball cap, waiting for the flagger to call “time.” My daily reality might get some funny looks from others from time to time, but I know there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than raising my family on our beautiful ranch.

For the last five years, my husband, Bray, has been chasing the rodeo road as a professional steer wrestler, qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas three times and being crowned Elite Rodeo Athlete world champion in 2016. Recently, though, we decided to take a hiatus from the run-run-run world of rodeo and move to a 300-acre farm in the Texas Panhandle, where we farm more than 5,000 acres. This isn’t a completely new venture for Bray—his family has farmed for the last 100 years—but it’s been his dream to farm his own land and raise his family in his tiny hometown. So almost a year ago in January 2017, we put down roots in Gruver, Texas: population 1,200.

I’ve been a country girl all of my life, but it’s mainly revolved around horses and rodeo. The farming life is still relatively new to me, so I’m learning as we go. I very quickly learned that there isn’t a harder worker than a farmer. I laugh when rodeo friends ask me how our new way of life is going; I say, “It’s been a lot like rodeoing … I don’t see Bray much, but the plus side is we sleep in the same bed every night.”

Bray calls winter his “off” months—our cotton is harvested and the winter wheat is in the ground by late October. When I first heard that, angels started singing in my mind. It was music to my ears! “I get to see my husband again,” I thought. Visions of family vacations, a couple’s getaway or maybe just spending the day relaxing and catching up with each other flashed through my mind. When I asked about spending that quality time together, imagine my surprise at his response: “Yes, we get to doctor wheat pasture cattle together all winter.” SCREEEEECH. What was that? I couldn’t break it to him that that riding across fields in the freezing cold, with frostbite setting in to my nose and toes, trying to rope a yearling calf in 40-mph West Texas winds aboard a horse that’s feeling fresh in the chilly morning air isn’t quite the romantic day I was picturing. But I guess I’ll take what I can get.

Bray’s usually out the door before sunrise, so my weekday mornings start by rousing my bear cubs: daughter Breely, 10, and son Drake, 8. Simply put, they are not morning people.

Waking Drake is like talking to a brick wall; he inherited his daddy’s “sleep like a rock” syndrome. After about the 50th time of calling his name—”Drake. Drake. DRAAAAAKE. Oh Drakey. DRAKE!”—he finally starts to grumble. That’s when you slowly back away and let the bear rise. I can be a little subtler with Breely, though I have to deftly sidestep the landmines of excuses about why she doesn’t need to go to school to avoid getting into an early morning debate. Usually it goes pretty smoothly, but I have been known to resort to throwing on all the lights, opening all the windows and loudly singing “School days, school days … reading, writing, arithmetic,” a song I recall from my childhood and my daddy’s own jolting wake-up routine.

I would love to paint a perfect picture of mornings in our house with bacon sizzling on the stove, biscuits rising in the oven, eggs cracking into a skillet and freshly squeezed orange juice in a pitcher just waiting to be poured over ice … but that’s not reality. Most mornings, my kids are lucky to make it out the door with toast and a kiss. But don’t feel sorry for them. Saturdays and Sundays are my mornings of redemption in the kitchen, and I make a mean pancake with a secret recipe, shaped just about any way imagined.

Even though I’m not a morning person myself—maybe that’s where the bear cubs get it from—I still love morning time. I live for the smell of freshly roasted coffee wafting from the kitchen, simultaneously bringing me a rush of peace and motivation. I love the cool morning air hitting my skin, refreshing me and filling me with fuel for the day ahead.

Each morning feeding chores fall to me; as soon as the bear cubs are out the front door, I scurry out the back to tend to our stock.

I try to soak in mother nature’s music during my early-morning strolls: song birds singing, the breeze rustling through dried grass and, of course, the sound of the impatient animals waiting to be fed—high-pitched whinnies mingling with long, drawn-out bellowing hollers of the steers telling me it’s time to eat. The sounds are food for my soul—a reminder of how blessed I am to live out a childhood dream of owning a farm full of animals alongside my family.

With my pack of farm dogs patrolling the area (they truly believe they’re helping), I start my barn-backdrop workout: 10 feed buckets for the show steers, four filled with horse feed and one for each our baby calves and menagerie of goats—the only thing missing might be a partridge in a pear tree. The feed room is a beautiful system of organized chaos—daunting to an outsider but perfectly logical to me, full of plastic buckets in red, blue, lime green, orange, pink, turquoise, black and white. These rainbow-colored vessels, filled to the brim, are better than any set of weights I’d be lifting in the gym: P90X has nothing on feeding time. And I do it twice a day!

This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Winter 2017 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.