Family Life on the Ranch - Ranch Dad Shares Joys of Raising Rural Kids
Written by Rebecca Colnar. Photos by Mariah Heitzman Photography and Andrew Roberts
Andrew Roberts of Roberts Ranch in Hilger is one ranch dad who takes child care in stride—as well as in his tractor.
With his wife, Pam, being a full-time special-ed teacher at the Garfield School in Lewistown, the parental duty of caring for their young boys when his wife is teaching falls to Andrew. Sons Byron, 4, and Emmott, 2, come along for most of the ranch work—and love it. Until Byron started Head Start this school year, Andrew had both children with him every day; now they both join him on Fridays and Emmott is his constant companion the rest of the week.
“I grew up on a ranch in Suffolk, Montana, which was sold when I was in high school,” said Andrew. Before he and Pam bought their own ranch 10 years ago, he worked in the oil field. “I wanted to come back to ranching before we had kids. I worked with a lot of guys in the oil field who had kids, but because they couldn’t spend much time with their children, they missed everything. Pam and I wanted to enjoy watching our children grow up.”
“They do everything with me, whether it’s moving cows or feeding,” Andrew said. “I built another seat in the tractor so we could all fit when I was feeding the cows.”
Byron especially likes the cows while Emmott thinks everything on the ranch is fascinating. “Byron is more timid than Emmott; not a whole lot scares our younger boy,” said the dad, although he explains the kids understand that safety is paramount.
“In the tractor, they know they may not touch anything if the tractor is running. Emmott is strapped in his seat. They are never outside of the tractor if it’s running. They know these safety rules well. They know to stay on the side-by-side when we’re checking calves. We have a pen beside the chute they can stay in when we’re working cattle in the chute and alley.”
The ranch dad admits that sometimes having to bring the youngsters along can create more work than if he were going solo. Having two kids tagging along will sometimes change his plans – particularly when it comes to the weather. “If the weather is really bad, I will wait until Pam gets home and then feed the cattle. Our boys are pretty tough, though. They’re now at the stage where they can put on their snow pants, boots and hats by themselves. I just have to zip up Emmott’s coat for him.”
People in the area know about Andrew and the kids, and are very understanding. “I’m with the Hilger Fire Department, but if there is a fire call, they know during the week I can’t come because I have the kids. In the long run, even though it’s a little tough now, I wouldn’t change it. We have our daily routine, they know what they’re doing and they’re worth any extra effort.”
Rebecca Colnar is Director of Public Relations for Montana Farm Bureau and a freelance writer from Custer, Montana.