Cowboy Farmer

It’s Epic

Story and Photo by Diana Hooley

On a recent trip out of state I met a friendly couple who inevitably asked, “What do you do in Idaho?” The short answer is my husband and I are farmers, but I often hesitate to tell people this. I fight the urge to say instead, “We’re ranchers.” Actually, we both farm and ranch but currently our “herd” consists of exactly three-point-five cows (the fraction is a calf). People just seem more impressed when you tell them you live on a ranch. It must be the Yellowstone effect.

In that popular TV western, the main character, John Dutton, is a powerful rancher who rides a beautiful horse. On the farm, we ride deer—John Deere, to be exact. Ranchers wear cool-looking cowboy hats, but the only hats farmers wear are caps with fertilizer company logos emblazoned on them. Though I’m proud we’re farmers, the look and lifestyle of ranching just seems more epic and appealing.

When we were younger, my husband Dale and I owned a substantially larger herd of cattle that we worked every spring before turning them out to pasture. Working the cows basically meant branding and castrating them. First, we rode dirt bikes or four-wheelers to herd them into the corral. Next, we prodded the calves into a metal squeeze-chute called a calf table. When the table was turned, the calf lay on its side, ready for branding and castration.

This is the easy, modern way to work cattle, using motorized vehicles instead of horses to herd them, and calf tables instead of roping to immobilize them. Some ranchers today even employ high-tech gadgets like drones to locate their pairs, cows and calves, on the range.

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Diana Hooley

About Diana Hooley

Diana Hooley spent several years as a professor at Idaho State University before returning to journalism and freelance writing. She has written recently for the Idaho Statesman and the Twin Falls Times-News as a guest commentator on environmental and agricultural issues. Visit her at

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