By Elaine Rohse • Columnist • 

Farmers, ranchers wear many hats

The “hats” required by farmers and ranchers for their many diverse jobs is downright mindboggling.

On our ranch, my stepfather, Lynn, wore those hats, and wore them well — including that of veterinarian.

When spring lambing was underway and temperatures dropped to freezing, Lynn made early-morning rounds to check the newborns.

Often he found an inert lamb, almost frozen, and, gathering up that immobile little body, carried it to the house. There, on gunny sacks, on the open oven door of the kitchen stove, he placed that seemingly dead body, and down its throat forced a few swallows of our medicinal whiskey. Usually, after just a few minutes, we’d see one of its legs jerk, and then another. A lamb had been brought back to life.

Lynn knew, too, when to let the bulls in with the cows, and when to end that visitation. That knowledge was quite necessary so that all of our milk cows did not freshen at the same time.

And Lynn, who grew up in Eastern Oregon, also wore the hat of an M.D. During spring tick infestation, we kids often discovered ticks imbedded on our bodies. Lynn knew how to remove them without leaving the tick’s head imbedded. His method was to light a wooden match, let it burn until the tip of the match was hot, blow it out, and place the tip of the hot match against the tick’s body. That tick, with head still on, then backed out in a hurry.

Lynn knew, too, about the symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever caused by tick bites: chills, fever, red and purple spots. My sister had this dreaded disease, but luckily, not a severe case.

Lynn also could “build” a haystack that won approval even from old-timers. For ranchers, a tidy, nicely shaped haystack was an ego thing. Lynn’s stacks were never shaggy on the sides, but neat, trim and shaped so precisely they appeared to be have been molded.

And perhaps it seems unusual that a rancher should wear a cobbler’s hat, but Lynn did so with aplomb. He bought sheets of sturdy leather, resoled our shoes and also replaced heel lifts. His equipment for this included a heavy metal stand on which was mounted the shape of a foot. The shoe that was to be repaired was placed, sole up, on the stand, and Lynn then traced the new sole on the leather, cut it out, and tacked the leather in place.

It was also vital for ranchers to be proficient carpenters. Lynn built fences, corrals, gates, cattle guards, sheds, chicken houses, even the house we lived in — with the help of friends.

He donned also the hat of “shake maker,” with special tools he had for that job. When shakes on the shed or chicken house had to be replaced or repaired, he made the replacements — exactly the right thickness for a perfect match.

There were no roads on the ranch when he bought it, so he had to become a road builder. He rented a Cat and gouged out a road from the county highway to our house site, some half-mile in distance.

And he wore well the hat of “ice man.” Lacking electricity for refrigerators, when the John Day River at Monument froze over, Lynn and a group of ranchers were on hand for the harvest. With saws, they cut from the ice square foot cubes, and hauled them by team and wagon to the ice house — which almost every ranch had.

Ours was a log structure, about 12-feet square, with peaked roof, filled with sawdust. The sawdust was hauled by team and wagon from the nearest mill, up on Top, a little community several miles away. Those giant cubes, that were then buried in the sawdust, kept surprisingly well and we often celebrated the last of the supply with hand-cranked ice cream on the Fourth of July.

In that era before we had a tractor, Lynn had learned well how to harness a team, and I am sure he could have done so with eyes shut. Never, even with eyes wide open, did Mother or I learn how to do that complicated job.

Likewise, Lynn could persuade any obdurate saddle horse, when he approached with a bridle, to readily accept that bit.

He was a marksman extraordinaire — a very necessary skill on the ranch. With his trusty .30-.30, despite canted site, he could bring down a moving deer at distances that astounded the novice.

Likewise, he dressed a deer with finesse, meticulously keeping skin and hair from touching the meat, so that our venison had no off-flavors.

He also had to be a hydrologist. Before he and mother bought the ranch near Monument he scouted that prospective purchase for a household water source. He found a spring, with good flow, on a hill, and sited the house at the bottom of that hill.

He cleaned out the spring, dug a little reservoir, stuck a pipe, with screen over the end, into the side of the reservoir, connected more pipe to it, thence on down to the house — with gravity doing the rest.

And, oh, how necessary were the mechanical skills he had to use almost daily: repairing the horse-pulled binder, the harrow, the door on the chicken house. Plus the other skills he had to master, pertaining to our huge garden, the hay crops he planted each year, determination of how much hay he must have for wintering the cattle, and the decisions with regard to their marketing.

Today, we’re amazed at the knowledge and skills of modern day geniuses and their technical and electronic achievements. Likewise, the complexities of farming and ranching have greatly increased. One marvels at how our farmers and ranchers can don all these hats and expeditiously and expertly get those many jobs done.

Elaine Rohse can be reached at

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