Barnyard Basics: A rancher’s time to give thanks

Courtesy of Heather Smith Thomas
Seasonal beauty, like fall colors on the trees, is one of the blessings we enjoy on our ranch.

Heather Smith Thomas

The key to a happy, contented life is to count our blessings daily and not just on Thanksgiving.

It’s a matter of perspective — recognizing the many things to be grateful for, rather than concentrating on things that frustrate us or seem to go wrong. As a rancher, I am thankful every day for the gifts that Mother Nature and the Good Lord provide — grass that grows every chance it gets, mama cows that take good care of their babies, a rainstorm when we desperately need moisture or enough snow in the mountains to provide irrigation water next year. Our livelihoods not only depend on our efforts, but also upon the many blessings provided whether we deserve them or not.

But often we forget gratitude because we are so busy. It’s easy to get caught up in the little things that can go wrong, rather than remembering why we have a Thanksgiving Day. We can be positive and thankful, rather than complaining. People are happier when they are positive rather than whining about every little thing that’s gone wrong. And on a ranch, something always goes wrong, in our view of how we want things to be! But we can also find many things to rejoice about.

Every day, there are a hundred little things that go right, instead of wrong, and a lot of good things we often take for granted. A rancher can list dozens of good things that happen every day, to be thankful for. The sick calf we doctored yesterday is doing better today. The cow that got into the alfalfa field didn’t bloat. Our favorite old cow was pregnant again this year. The orphan we fed all summer looks like he’ll be big enough to sell with the other steers. That young horse we started training is coming along great.

The tree that blew down in yesterday’s storm broke a couple wires on the fence but missed the gate and didn’t smash it. The cows on fall pasture didn’t find the hole in the fence made by a herd of elk, and we didn’t have to ride for days to go find them in the neighbor’s range. The post holes for the new fence on the back pasture were easy to dig. The wind stopped blowing when we were trying to put a tarp over the haystack. The heifer in the fall-calving herd calved without help, and her baby was up and nursing within 20 minutes.

Our old dog barked at the rattlesnake we rode past this summer, but didn’t get bitten. The worn, leather latigo (that we meant to repair on the spare saddle) broke when we tightened the cinch, rather than while we were galloping around sorting out the bulls that got into the neighbor’s place. The old horse carrying the youngest grandkid on our cattle drive this summer didn’t fall down when he stumbled on the steep hillside. The tree branch that slapped back in our face going through the brush after a wayward cow didn’t damage an eye. When the horse hit an icy spot sorting cattle last winter and fell on his side, the rider fell clear and didn’t get smashed. No one got seriously hurt when the four-wheeler tipped over last spring, hauling fence posts around the mountain.

Ranch life is full of challenges, but also full of incidents to be joyous about and grateful. There is always lots of “good” luck along with the bad.

As a rancher, I am thankful for each new day, each sunrise, and the opportunity to work with the land and animals. I am also grateful for each sunset and a chance to rest and regain strength after a day’s work. I am grateful for the beauty around me every day — a rich tapestry of color and scenery, a beauty that is ever-changing with the weather and the seasons, never the same twice. As a rancher, I also enjoy the wildlife that make their home on our place; there are hundreds of God’s creatures that benefit from the habitat we provide, and we enjoy watching them.

I am especially thankful for family, sharing my life with the people I love. My cup of life is overflowing with God’s love and blessings. Humble gratitude is the perfect message for this season of Thanksgiving.

Heather Smith Thomas and her husband raise beef cattle and horses on a ranch in the mountains near Salmon. To contact her or order her books — which include “Horse Tales,” “Cow Tales” and “Ranch Tales” — call 208-756-2841 or email