A ranch animal's Christmas

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For this author, Christmas means caring about others. We do this by helping those in need, purchasing and wrapping gifts for people, and sending out greeting cards. We cook up plates of goodies and give them to friends and business associates to say "thanks" for being there.

But caring for others isn't limited to humans. Animals are there all year long, too.

Take the ranchers, for example. They take pride in their cattle, horses, sheep and other domesticated animals (even ranch cats and dogs). Christmas is a time for the animals' owners to reflect on how much they care for and appreciate the animals.

When I was a young girl growing up on the family cattle ranch, Christmas morning festivities started before daylight. (It was years before I opened a Christmas gift in the light of day.) I suppose the tradition got started because there were lots of ranch chores to do once it turned light. Indeed, it was almost noon before the cattle were fed.

So we enjoyed opening all of our gifts in the dark. And then it was time for breakfast. Even the ranch dog ate his breakfast then because he tagged along when we did the chores. Because it was Christmas, he got a special treat with his breakfast - maybe some extra meat scraps or a piece of bacon.

After breakfast, we kids bundled up and headed for the corral.

"Merry Christmas" greeted the animals. Most of them got a pat or hug. The greeting might have seemed silly because animals don't understand words (not many, anyway), but it was our way of sharing the magical day with them. We were letting them know that we cared.

The milk cow got a little extra grain and hay, and after Dad finished milking, the waiting barn cats got a little extra warm milk in their pan. Likewise, all of the other animals got a little extra treat.

After the milk was taken to the house and the chickens fed, Dad hitched the team (who had finished their grain and some hay) to the big feed sled and left for the feed ground to put off hay for the cows. Sometimes we kids went along.

The feed ground was a couple of fields away from the house. First stop was at the haystack, where Dad pitched loose hay onto the sled. Our father, Kenneth Osborn (who is now 91 years old), remembers how he put a little extra hay on the sled for the cows each Christmas.

By the time the hay arrived on the feed ground, the cows were just coming up from their tree shelter where they'd spent the night.

It wasn't until all the animals were fed and ice broken on all of the water holes that we could enjoy our Christmas dinner.

Later, after I was married and we had sons, our family continued the Christmas tradition of feeding animals a little extra on Christmas Day. The boys got up before daybreak then, too. After they found the Santa gifts and opened up their stockings, we left all the other gifts under the tree and bundled up to go outdoors and feed the cattle.

Believe it or not, none of us minded leaving Christmas at the house. In fact our son, Jody, says feeding the cows on Christmas morning is still his favorite part of the day.

Instead of using a sled, we loaded the pickup with hay bales, a little more than usual, and drove to the feedlot. As we put the hay off the truck we called out "Merry Christmas" to the cows.

After opening up the water hole, we returned to the house and resumed our holiday festivities. This usually included giving the housecat a wrapped catnip mouse that the cat tossed around, getting us involved in his silliness.

The dog enjoyed special T-bone steaks following our traditional Christmas T-bone dinner.

At Christmas, we have always had the tradition of caring for all of the animals first, before enjoying it ourselves.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Copyright Diane Prather, 2008.

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