Life of a Ranch Wife

(Photo by Lanna Mills)

By Lanna Mills

Recently we traveled across the state line into Texas for a ranch rodeo that my husband Gary and some of his cowboy buddies were participating in. This particular event was a benefit ranch rodeo along with an open ranch bronc riding, an auction and a dance. The proceeds were given to the families of the young people who tragically lost their lives in the wildfires that swept through the Texas Panhandle while trying to save their cattle.

It was said that more than $15,000 was raised at this event alone. It is wonderful to see cowboys and ranchers come together to help each other in a time of crisis, knowing that it could have very well been themselves who were struck by this horrific disaster.

Ranch rodeos are unlike ordinary rodeos. The events are based off of the duties of cowboys on real working ranches. They promote ranching heritage and western lifestyle. Ranch rodeos are probably the only time you will see someone pay to do what they do all day for a living. It gives them the opportunity to compete against others and showcase their skills. If they are lucky they may even collect some prize money and belt buckles.

Each ranch rodeo is different and offers an assortment of events including sorting, doctoring, branding, trailer loading, stray gathering, wild cow milking or ranch bronc riding. Rules will vary rodeo to rodeo. Events may vary on time limits, loop limits on certain events and some may allow cowboys to tie their ropes on while others will not.

Before the rodeo begins, there will be a “grand entry.”  This is where the teams will ride into the arena and will be introduced by the announcer. Someone will ride in carrying the American Flag. The teams will line up and the cowboys will remove their hats. At every rodeo, someone will sing the national anthem and another will say a prayer. It makes one feel patriotic to see the red, white and blue flag representing our great nation blow in the breeze.


Sorting is an event where the cattle are held in a certain area of the arena marked with a line. The cattle are numbered and the team will be drawn a designated number.

One cowboy will sort out the team’s designated number, and push them across the line. The other cowboys will hold the line and try to turn back any unwanted cattle from crossing. If any unwanted cattle cross the line the team will be given a “no time.”

The objective is to get your cattle across the line in the least amount of time. There is usually a time limit on this event of about two minutes, and if the team exceeds the time limit it will result in a “no time.” On the ranch, cowboys may be required to sort calves off the cows when time to wean or sort cattle to be sold or moved to another pasture.


Similar to sorting, doctoring is where one calf is sorted from the herd. When the calf crosses the line, the cowboys head and heel and mark it with chalk or paint stick. This event is also based on fastest time and will usually have a time limit and possibly a rope limit-meaning that the cowboys may only throw their ropes a certain number of times. If the cowboys exceed the time or rope limit, the team will be given a “no time.”

On the ranch at times it is necessary for the cowboys to rope a sick wheat pasture calf or a cow with hoof rot and give him or her a shot.


Branding consists of calves placed in a designated area of the arena. Sometimes there will be cows with the calves. One member of the team will be horseback, while two will flank and one will brand. Members of other teams will hold the line and not allow the calves to scatter. The man horseback will ride into the herd, rope and drag a calf out.

Once the calf is received by the flankers, he will ride back in to catch his next calf. Rules usually state that the man horseback is not allowed to lope in the herd. Some events insist on only legal catch being two back feet while others will allow you to catch the calf by the neck or a single back foot.

Branding is a regular occurrence on the ranch. Branding allows ranchers to keep track of their cattle and deter potential thieves as well as administer proper vaccinations and cut any bull calves. Long ago, when cattle from many ranches grazed together, the cattle were branded so at roundup, ranchers knew which cattle belonged to which.

Trailer Loading

Trailer loading is made up of an empty trailer placed in the arena. A yearling is turned out and the team must rope it and drag it into the trailer.

Once the yearling is shut in the front of the trailer and the rope has been removed, the cowboys must load one of their horses in the back and shut and latch the trailer gate. After cowboys must hurry to the hood of the pickup or get in the truck, which so ever the rules read. This event is also based on the fastest time and may have a time or loop limit.

Like other events, cowboys use this technique on the ranch. Sometimes cattle cannot be penned or one may get on the neighbor’s and cowboys must rope it in the pasture and transport it to the appropriate location whether it be a set of pens, to the sale barn or turned back out to pasture.

Stray Gathering

Stray gathering is where the team is on one end of the arena. Two head of cattle are turned out, and the cowboys must rope and tie down both head. Once again the fastest time is the objective, and there is most often a limit on loops thrown and time.

Stray gathering and trailer loading go hand in hand on the ranch. Cattle must be roped and tied town until someone can bring the truck and trailer to load them.

Wild Cow Milking

Wild cow milking is probably the most exciting event and is a real thrill to watch. One cow is turned out and one cowboy is to rope her. The other team members are a-foot and run to her once she is roped and begin to try to milk her. Usually one cowboy will get her by the head and one by the tail and try to hold her still while the other collects the milk in a bottle. One team member then runs the milk to the judge where he makes sure the milk was, in fact, collected.

Like other events, wild cow milking usually has a time limit and a loop limit and fastest time wins. This event can get chaotic, as the momma cows doesn’t take to kindly to being roped and milked.

It is unlikely that you will see this exact thing happening on the ranch. However, sometimes a cow’s teats will be too large for a newborn calf to suck, and she will have to be milked so that the calf can latch on.

Ranch Bronc Riding

Ranch bronc riding is similar to saddle bronc riding but the cowboy uses his everyday ranch saddle. The chute opens and the cowboy must stay on for eight seconds, and will receive a “no time” if he is bucked off before. Some ranch rodeos allow the cowboy to use a night latch, allowing the cowboy to hold on with his free hand.

The cowboy is given a score based on how well he rides. This event represents working ranch cowboys breaking colts. When in the pasture a horse may start bucking and the cowboy must try his hardest to stay on. If he is bucked off he may have a long walk back to the house or pickup.

Watching the cowboys compete in a ranch rodeo is extremely entertaining and you will gain a great respect for just how hard these cowboys work.