Unwavering passion for ag: Andrea Daine shares her life-long passion for cattle and horses
Some women make a visible impact in their career or life’s work and end up in the public spotlight. Others do their jobs quietly behind the scenes.
Andrea Daine is one of a multitude of ranch women whose efforts are not publicized but essential to the success and continuity of the operations they are an integral part of.
Growing up on the ranch
Andrea grew up on a ranch near Baker, Idaho where she is still involved in all aspects of the day-to-day work, including taking care of cattle, calving, irrigating and haying in summer and feeding cattle in winter.
She is a hands-on person who can operate a truck or tractor as well as starting a green horse, pulling a calf, repairing a fence or placing an irrigation dam in a deep, fast-flowing ditch.
As a small child, Andrea’s favorite toy was not a doll but a little plastic cow named Betsy. She and her older brother helped their parents from the time they were very young, going with their dad in the feed truck and “driving” while he fed the cows.
Even before she was big enough to reach the pedals, Andrea became proficient at standing on the seat and steering while her dad threw hay off the back.
As soon as she could ride a horse, Andrea was going with her mom to ride range and check cattle on a dependable horse. At first, Andrea’s mom led the old mare from her own cow horse, until she was big enough to handle the “controls” herself.
Soon Andrea was good help moving cattle, checking fences, gates and water troughs, all while riding a young mare she was training. She and her mom rode range nearly every day, making sure cattle were in the right places and doing well, and occasionally bringing one home to doctor for pinkeye or foot rot.
Andrea knew every cow and calf in their herd of 180 head by name and number. Cattle and horses were her passion.
Calving in January
For many years the herd calved in January, primarily because the ranch depended on summer range pasture in the mountains. In that rugged country it wasn’t ideal to try to have cows calving and re-breeding on the range, so they calved in January and bred in April at home to their own bulls before going out on the range in May.
This was the only way to ensure a short breeding and calving season and to have every cow selectively bred to a chosen bull.
The family raised their own bulls and had five or six different breeding groups each spring, keeping track of the genetics of every calf. This was the best and fastest way to make genetic progress, avoid inbreeding and create the best herd of commercial cows.
They developed a herd of very fertile, crossbred and composite cattle that could winter on native mountain pastures and meadow hay, breed in a 32-day breeding season, ambitiously climb mountains during summer and raise big calves on rugged rangeland.
Calving in January meant keeping track of every calving cow when temperatures dropped below zero. Andrea was a great part of the team when night calving, putting cows into the barn when they went into labor and being there for every birth, which made it possible to save every calf if there was any kind of problem.
In cold weather, the goal was to make sure every calf was up and nursing by the time it was an hour old. The cows were accustomed to calving in the barn and easy to handle.
Andrea became very good at quietly helping a newborn calf onto a teat, and the cows accepted her. She had a lot of patience for young timid heifers and helped many of them suckle their first calves on a cold night.
After high school, Andrea went to college briefly, worked a few jobs elsewhere, and then came back to the ranch where she and her husband Jim lived in a trailer house on the hillside above one of the hayfields. They both helped with the cattle.
Andrea’s first baby was born on a cold January day in 1998, in the middle of calving season. Her dad had to plow deep snow out of the driveway so Jim could drive her to town to the hospital for the delivery of Emily Daine. It wasn’t long before Andrea was back out with the cows, taking some of the night shift while other family members took care of her baby girl.
Life is not without challenges. On July 5, 2000, Andrea was severely burned while trying to help control a range fire near a friend’s home, and nearly lost her life. She spent the rest of the summer in the Intermountain Burn Intensive Care Unit in Salt Lake City, Utah trying to survive.
Family members took turns being there with her, while Emily, age two and a half, stayed home with grandma and helped do chores. Sometimes Emily stayed a few hours with friends and neighbors when grandma and auntie had to ride and move cattle.
Andrea’s will to live was stimulated by her little girl. She didn’t want to leave Emily without a mom.
It was a long slow road to healing with multiple skin grafts and months of physical therapy to recover enough strength to walk. Her goal was to have an active life again, though it was another year before she could ride her horse and help with the cattle.
Gradually, Andrea regained her strength and abilities, though she still has some physical impairments from burn injuries.
It was a life-changing detour and setback, but it didn’t stop Andrea from living life the way she wants to. Remaining impairments and pain hasn’t dampened her unsinkable spirit.
Today, Andrea is a single mom, living in a house on the ranch, with two teenagers in high school. Emily is grown up and has a boy, who is one and a half.
Grandma Andrea takes time out now and then from irrigating, haying, horse training and cattle moving to babysit when Emily is working at a job in town. if Andrea needs to finish an outdoor job, great-grandma and great-grandpa help as alternate babysitters.
This family ranching operation is held together with team effort and love. Andrea, like many unsung heroines in the cattle business, is the main glue holding it together. Women are truly the backbone of American agriculture.
Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.