This Montana rancher saddles up every day, snow or shine, to take care of yearling calves.

Monique Miller and her husband, David, make their living running stocker calves on their ranch near Hardin, Montana. They begin receiving hundreds of calves in January and spend the rest of the winter feeding, doctoring and monitoring the yearlings day after day. David and ranch hand Tom Mattingly deliver hay and feed with horse-drawn wagons, and Monique rides through the pens and pastures, driving calves to feed and sorting out any sick ones.

The couple has worked together their entire 20 years of marriage. With poor cell phone reception, a small crew and no children, life on the plains of eastern Montana has few distractions. Monique wouldn’t have it any other way.

Monique Miller horseback in the snow.

MY HORSE, SOLDADO, He doesn’t get frazzled about anything. And he’s cowy enough that I can get the job done, but not overly cowy that I have to pull on him a lot.

IF I HAVE TO SORT a cow out of a pasture, it’s a completely different strategy in the winter than in the summertime. It’s because of the ice. [Soldado] takes care of me. He goes slow and knows his job. He watches the cattle, but won’t take off after them. He’s a great little horse. He’s 13 years old and out of a Cheno Pep horse.

I FEEL BETTER being out in the cattle every day because if something gets sick and I didn’t ride the day before, I feel like maybe I dropped the ball.

HOLLERING AND YELLING and hitting cattle with hotshots isn’t the way to go. I think it’s terrible. You don’t have to make a big commotion. If you have to move something or sort something, you can do it on your own. Just don’t get in a hurry, be quiet, and watch them.

IT’S THE SAME with horses. I like to be quiet and gentle with them. Then that’s how they’ll be with you.

I CAN’T IMAGINE having a separate job from my husband. We’re around one another all the time, but that’s how our business works. Fortunately, we get along. There are not a lot of [couples] that can do that.

I GREW UP north of Castle Rock [Colorado] on a little ranch. I’ve always been around cattle and horses. My parents had Arabs. I was really involved in the United States Pony Club, and I always rode English and loved jumping.

RANCHING HAS ALWAYS been in my family. My maternal grandfather was from Brussels. He came to visit a dude ranch in Sheridan [Wyoming], and then ended up working there. He eventually bought a little place there and ran cows. And that blossomed into another little ranch in Las Vegas, New Mexico. My grandfather on my other side was a storekeeper, but he always had land and cows.

I LIKE TO WEAR a hat every day, unless it’s really cold. Then it’s a [wool] Scotch cap. In the summer, I definitely wear a straw hat all the time because of the heat, the sun … and my dermatologist. I don’t like getting scolded. He gets onto David and me all the time.

I WOULDN’T CALL MYSELF a cowgirl. I’d just say I’m a rancher or a cowboy. I think “cowgirl” sounds like a Hollywood thing. I usually just say we’re in the cattle business.

I SEE MYSELF doing the same thing for the next 20 years, but maybe not so busy. But not retiring or going south for the winter. I don’t know how people do that.

WHEN TAKING CARE of livestock, it’s every day. I know people who say, “Oh, just throw feed out for them. They’ll fend for themselves for a few days.” I think in some places you can feed your cows just a couple of times a week. But you can’t do that here in the winter when they’re covered up [in snow]. You have to feed them.

WE HAD A FIRE last summer, and that burned up a lot of our grass. We couldn’t keep our cows out as long. Another reason you’ve got to stay home is because of fire from lightning strikes. You have to keep an eye out, not only for your place, but for your neighbors’.

I DON’T THINK we’ve ever not fed on a day. We had a pretty bad snowstorm that knocked our power out for about a week. But we fed everything. We had to go out in the snowdrifts and find the calves.

I’M SO GLAD I don’t have cell phone service. People would be calling me all the time about nothing. I love technology. You need it, and it’s cool posting photos and blogging about ranch stuff. But I don’t want to live my life around it.

I AM THINKING about buying one of those GoPro [mini] cameras and want to have David wear it when he ropes.

IT SOUNDS SO CORNY, but David really is my hero. He has taught me a lot about the cattle business and working cattle with horses. I wouldn’t be doing this if I’d never met him. My parents are, too. They brought me up well and gave me so many opportunities.

ONE OF THE REASONS we don’t have children is I really like working this job with my husband, and I don’t think it would be fair to our children. I would want them to have the opportunity to do other things. Really, I never was interested in having children

This article was originally published in the December 2013 issue of Western Horseman.

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2 Comments

  1. Ted Simmerman Reply

    Ever since I retired I’ve worked 60 hours/week training horses, giving riding lessons, or moving cattle.
    I really enjoyed your articles as well as the photos.
    Thank you for sharing your story.
    Ted

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