Layla and her friend Buster enjoying an afternoon together © Jolynn Messerly

A Week on the Matador Ranch

I have had the pleasure for most of my life to live in Montana, a beautiful, wild and sometimes harsh place.

Not just in any old city or town though: I’m living smack dab in the middle of my own postcard.

You know the ones that feature breathtaking scenes of the sun rising behind the mountains, or bull elk bugling on a foggy morning? Yep. That’s where I live.

My husband Charlie, our three daughters, Camryn (12), Layla (6) and Janae (3), our two dogs, a cat, and several horses call The Nature Conservancy’s Matador Ranch, home.

The Matador is located on Montana’s Northern Prairie and is nestled at the foot of the Little Rockies Mountains.

We get the best of both worlds here, and we try our best to take advantage of that!

As I write this, the grass is thick, dewy and green, the singing of birds can be heard in the morning, prairie dog puppies are starting to emerge from their holes and the girls are eagerly anticipating their first glimpses of the baby antelope soon to come.

Photo: © Jolynn Messerly
Photo: © Jolynn Messerly

This time of year is so refreshing for us after a long, cold and dark winter being cooped up inside the house.

At the first sign of warm weather we burst outside, in a flurry of activity to expend all the excess energy we have stored up. This week was beautiful, with above average temperatures and lots of sunshine and we stayed busy every moment.

We are lucky here because we get to do things we love and call it work!  All of our girls love to ride horses, either to help move cows, just for the fun of it or in competition.

We took full advantage of the warm spring days, and were horseback at every opportunity.  We took several long rides down by the creek, checking to see if the wild asparagus was up yet and eating most of it on our way home.

Camryn practicing for the upcoming barrel racing season.
Camryn practicing for the upcoming barrel racing season.

Our oldest daughter, Camryn, is working hard to get her horse in shape for her upcoming barrel racing season, and as you can see from the pictures, Layla is content to just spend time with her friend, Buster, either working or playing.

When we weren’t riding, we spent a couple of evenings at some of the area fishing ponds. The ponds are close by, making it an easy activity when we only have a couple of hours to spare, and they are well stocked which the girls love.

Fishing is fun, even if they're too small to keep. © Jolynn Messerly
Fishing is fun, even if they’re too small to keep. © Jolynn Messerly

Fishing isn’t always the most relaxing thing for Charlie and me, as we spend most of the time removing fish from lines, but the girls love to reel the fish in, even if they are too small and have to be thrown back!

While the older girls were at school during the day this week, Janae and I took some time to go exploring in a prairie dog town.  I had to draw her a picture to help explain how the prairie dogs dig holes, and live under the ground.

She was, of course, fascinated, and as is usual for a 3 year old, has not stopped talking about them since!

Exploring prairie dog towns, even though they won't come out and play. © Jolynn Messerly
Exploring prairie dog towns, even though they won’t come out and play. © Jolynn Messerly

She still doesn’t quite understand why they won’t come out to play with her, but she still had fun watching them race from hole to hole, and hearing them bark back and for to each other.

The cow and calf pairs arrived this week and Janae was very excited to see the babies.  We took a trip around the pasture to double check gates and put out mineral tubs and we spied lots of wildlife around the ranch.

Janae’s favorites were the big pelicans on the reservoir, and I always love to spot the antelope (pronghorn) because I’m never sure how the kids will mispronounce it next; cantaloupe, envelope etc…

Photo: © Jolynn Messerly
Photo: © Jolynn Messerly

This time of year brings a lot of work to the families that live in areas like this.  Every minute of the long hours of daylight are used to prepare for winter’s shorter and colder days.

There is a long tradition in these parts of neighbors helping neighbors, so to finish the week, we headed out to help round up cattle and pitch in with the annual calf branding on a neighboring ranch.

Photo: © Jolynn Messerly
Photo: © Jolynn Messerly

Many hands help to make the work load lighter, and I loved seeing the kids roll up their shirtsleeves, get down in the dirt and help get things done.

It’s not always easy living and raising kids in such a remote place.  When the nearest grocery store is over 40 miles away, simply running out of milk can throw a wrench into our whole day.

But we had a busy week filled with work, play and lots of sunshine, and it’s times like these that I am reminded why I wouldn’t trade this place for any amount of convenience!

Opinions expressed on Conservancy Talk and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conservancy.

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  1. This beautiful piece makes me homesick for the northern plains of Montana, where I grew up. As a kid I spent my days on my horse, Missy, checking out the creeks, frogs and turtles, and moving cattle with my Dad. The summers were ample reward for the long, cold winters.

    Thanks Jolynn for taking me back home.

  2. Tana ~ What lovely memories! Thank you for sharing.

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