The Story of a CowBelle

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This story was recently submitted by ANCW President-Elect Gwen Geis.

Meet Verna Ann Gilbertz of Gillette, Wyoming. She’s in her early 80s and shared her story at a Past Presidents’ luncheon for the Wyoming Cattlewomen. It’s a wonderful set of stories from a true cattlewoman and paints a real image of the beef community.

I Rather Enjoyed Being a “Cow-Belle.”

-Verna Ann Gilbertz

When I became a member of this group, fifty-some years ago, we were called Cow-Belles – “Belles” as in Southern Belles – which brought to mind fancy ladies with petticoats, delicate, soft hands, and dainty shoes. I served my years on committees.  I held various offices, including president from 1976-1977. But, today, I’d like to tell you how it really was being a “Belle!”

Wyoming Cattlewoman, Verna Ann Gilbertz.I lived on a family ranch – a cow, calf, yearling, and farming operation. In the early days, during the late 50’s, I had to ride my father-in-law’s horse. (I think that horse was old when Jake came to homestead in 1917!)

Summers were full: branding, then summer fallow, haying, and combining barley (which we ground and fed to the cattle in the winter). Fall found us shipping, stacking the hay and other tasks that helped us get ready for winter. And winter always came — first with a nice white snow, sparkling white, just picture card perfect. Then came the wind and cold.  We all looked forward to spring. Spring was our renewal time:  new calves, green grass (we hoped), and birds singing.  My favorite month is June when the hills are ablaze with red and yellow Indian Paintbrushes.

We truly had a family ranch, with my husband Larry, myself, our two girls and two boys helping out. Things were never boring.



Calving Time

One Spring we had a lot of trouble calving our heifers. Mostly we handled calving ourselves, but late one night a little first time-calf heifer that was having trouble needed a vet.  My husband took her to town, 40 miles away.

I was left to tend the feed, along with my 10 year-old son. As you might expect, another heifer’s time came around.  We worked and worked to get the calf-puller on, but to no avail.

I made a dash to the house to call the vet’s office, “Get home, Larry!  We have another one!”  As it took an hour to get to the ranch, time was heavy on our hands.

Help arrived, but by then we had two in the calving barn.  Needless to say, everyone was pooped out – including the heifers – but we loaded them up and Larry made another trip to town…this time with two heifers.

Branding Lessons

Another summer my husband’s two nephews came to the ranch for a week. They were in their early twenties and this was their first trip back to the ranch in ten years. They asked, “Oh, Uncle Larry, can we get in on some branding?” Larry said, “Well, as a matter of fact you can. We have four late calves I haven’t had time to brand. You boys can help Verna Ann brand them. It would be a big help to me because I have summer fallow to finish.”

The cows and calves were no problem.  We easily got them into the corrals; we sorted them off and put the calves into the holding pen.  The fire was ready, irons hot, and inoculation gun primed.

I told one of the boys to get int he pen and push the calves up to the shoot: “Be sure to get in close or they will kick you.”

Of course, he thought three feet was close…I called to him, “No, put your knee in his butt!” One try and that young man was up on the fence! (Would you believe the calf filled his front pockets with nice green digested grass.)

Ok…into the pen I go, the calf goes in the shoot and I’m yelling like crazy, “SLAM the clamp-down! Tight!” (The boys don’t move). I crawl out of the holding pen, run as fast as I can, and clamp the calf’s neck! Well, it didn’t get better from there.

I said to one of the young men, “Here’s the syringe-give him a shot.”

“Ok, where?”

“Pull up the hide on his neck and push it into the stopper.” (I’ll bet you can guess who had to give the shots.)

Finally: Irons are hot, gloves are on!

‘Oh, dear; first singed hair and the boys were hanging their heads in the corner of the corral. (I worked harder branding those four head than I had branding a whole herd!)

Just as we walked around the barn to go back to the house, Larry drove up in the tractor:  “How’d branding go?”

“Ok,” I said… But don’t think his ears didn’t burn later when I told him, “NEVER again ask me to brand with a couple of tender-feet!”

Shipping Woes

It’s fall and time to ship the yearlings and cows we have culled from the herd. We have the yearlings in the corral, dry-potted. The truck will be here early…Well, it wasn’t… We waited not-too patiently. Finally, an hour late, it arrives.  The driver hurries to make a turn and back up to the chute.  TOO FAST!! TOO FAR!  Well, now the chute is a pile of kindling.

After an hour and half, with the help of a lot of bailing wire and a couple of Powder River panels, all is a go. As the truck pulls out, we are on the phone to the trucking company… “Do not, under any circumstances, send that same driver out the ranch again.”

The next week, standing up bright and sturdy is a nice new chute, ready for loading. Built, of course, by Larry, just in time to ship our old cows.

The truck was there early! With a driver we had worked with before…and everything went smoothly.

Later, as the loaded truck pulled out of the driveway, we stood together – both of us with dirty jeans, grubby hands and manure on our boots.  Larry put his arm around me and said, “That was one hell of a ride.”

I looked up at him, and smiled, and said, “Sure was. Let’s do it again next year.”


And that’s the kind of Belle, we Cow-Belles were!!

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