The high-heeled cowgirl

Mariah Baumann Shammel traded in her high heeled business career for the life of a rancher in Hilger, Montana. She’s never been happier.

When I recently jumped on the Marie Kondo bandwagon and did my best to tidy up the house by getting rid of everything that didn’t “spark joy,” I was surprised at how easy it was to pick out the things I really had no use for. Until I caught a glimpse of all the high heels neatly lined up along the back wall of our closet, in every color of the rainbow. 

My heart did a little flutter and as I went through the pairs one by one, I couldn’t help but think back to a time when the designer pumps and stilettos were a part of my everyday outfit instead of the boots I currently find myself pulling on every time I head out the door.

 I still roll out of bed every morning at 6 a.m. but that’s about where the similarities between my well-heeled old life with the Montana Farm Bureau Federation and my current existence end. It has been only 10 years since I lived my days on the go, filling my schedule with meetings here and conferences there, constantly traveling from one place to another, but it feels like a lifetime ago. I always wonder what I did with all the time on my hands back then, back before I married Favorite Farmer (husband Lyle). 

Between coordinating our four kids, the crops, animals and the day-to-day operations of our family ranch in the middle of nowhere (Hilger, Montana), it often feels like we run a three-ring circus. Our days start early, end late and sometimes don’t seem to end at all. Whether we’re running the combine late into the night, trying to get that last field of barley in the bin before the rains hit or getting up at the crack of dawn to get the tractors ready for baling up the hay, there’s never a dull moment. No matter how tiring it all seems, nothing compares to the chaos of calving. 

With more than 300 cows to tend to and all of them having babies within a six-week period of time, calving is our most labor-intensive time of year, no pun intended. We go out at all hours of the day and night to check for newly born calves and cows who may be having issues giving birth and are always there to step in and help if a calf is being born backward or a cow is having a hard time delivering twins. 

We pretty much live with the cows this time of year and that means we’re constantly outside, no matter the temperature. This year’s temperatures have been below zero more often than not and the same was true last year. When it’s this cold out, we’re continuously scanning the herd, looking for the smallest signs that a cow may be going into labor so we can get her into the barn as soon as she’s spotted. At below zero temps, a newly born calf can freeze in a matter of seconds and the likelihood of getting some type of respiratory sickness or other malady skyrockets. We check on our bovine beauties at least every hour in these frigid temps. Needless to say, the combined number of hours our heads are actually on a pillow this time of year could be counted on one hand. 

With four kids constantly in tow between the ages of 5 months and 7, the words “calm” and “quiet” aren’t generally used to describe the tornado that constantly surrounds me. I assume the cows, in all their laboring glory, would rather not be subject to all the racket and commotion my tagalongs bring, so I spend way more time outside, tending to the already born calves and their moms and let Favorite Farmer and his parents handle the goings- on inside the calving barn. Every day the kids and I walk through the pastures, making sure the cows have healed sufficiently and that their new bundles of joys are healthy, happy and stay that way. When needed, we step in and try to fix the situation but if everything is OK, we step back and watch the calves play tag with each other, then move on to the next item on our chore list.

The life of a rancher is hard for most people to imagine and if someone had told me 10 years ago that I would someday be able to offer a firsthand look at what it’s like to live in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by miles and miles of fields and cows, I wouldn’t have believed it myself. Now that I’m here, though, I wouldn’t want it any other way and I revel in the position I’m in. Not only do I get to work side by side with my family every day, I also get to show people the ins and outs of the most vital industry in the world — agriculture. There’s nothing glamorous about our way of life but there’s a person and a story behind the steak on your plate and the sweater on your back and I’m lucky enough to be one of the few who gets to tell it. 

I ended up getting rid of most of my high heels, except the ones my 5-year-old daughter laid claim to for her dress-up box, which is fine by me. Who knew boots could look so good?

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