Bringing People Together, Sharing a Meal, & Benefitting Ranchers Affected by Atlas



A Senior Project Success:

When our son Myles said he was thinking about putting on a steak feed to benefit the Rancher Relief Fund for his Senior Project (a fairly new requirement for South Dakota high school graduates), I was very proud that he came up with that particular idea all on his own. There was a part of me that considered suggesting a less labor intensive project, knowing that he had no idea what would be involved in order to do something like this, but instead I kept my mouth shut and decided I would support him any way I could.  At Custer High School, Senior Projects have to be community service related. For Myles to come up with a project that would benefit the community and agriculture was something I was even more proud of.

Sr. Project

Getting the word out about Myles’ Senior Project made the front page of our local paper.

Our cattle herd was not affected by the notorious October snowstorm, Atlas, but we knew of others that had been hit by the devastation and I liked the idea of being able to assist our son in raising the bar a notch to help those who took a hit from Atlas. This past Saturday, it all came together when Myles’ steak feed was held in downtown Custer at the VFW. Our whole family plus relatives and family friends volunteered in bringing a community of people together for fellowship, conversation, and an outstanding Dutch oven and open fire steak dinner as a fundraiser for the Rancher Relief Fund.

Fellow ranchers and family friends of ours, Clayton and Rhonda Sander catered the meal.


Behind the scenes: Clayton gets the fire going right in the driveway behind the VFW.



Rhonda and her stepfather preparing ingredients for the beans.


Clayton stirring bacon for the beans 


Sanders run a side business of chuckwagon cooking in the spring and summer months, and Myles arranged to have them prepare the meal for the benefit and with Clayton’s suggestion, Myles set the meal at $15 a plate for RSVP’s and $18 at the door for walk ins. Clayton and Rhonda’s menu is simple and does not change, therefore their meals are cooked exceptionally well. Their menu consists of steak, Dutch oven potatoes with onions and bacon, Dutch oven cowboy beans and bacon, Dutch oven peach cobbler, and a drink (campfire coffee, iced tea, lemonade, or water).


Cooking peaches for peach cobbler. Cowboy coffee, dessert, and bacon gets cooked first, then beans and potatoes, and steaks are done last.

Clayton and Rhonda’s beans are famous around here, and one patron wanted to RSVP just because she loved their beans so much!


A close-up of Sanders’ famous cowboy beans.

The dinner was set for 6-8 pm, which I questioned would be enough time, but I was proven wrong. By 6 pm the VFW’s entire basement was full and other people had to take the upstairs seating. Thanks to the South Dakota Beef Industry Council, we had plenty of brochures and reading material for people to read and/or discuss while waiting, and there was lots of fellowship time for people to get into and enjoy good conversations, which Myles also wanted to promote the steak dinner for. Mealtime and conversations at the table are highly valued aspects of our household as well as many farm and ranch families.


Serving didn’t start until 6:30. Myles stayed up front to be in charge of meeting the people and taking care of the tickets, since he had a specific system for keeping track of everything.


 Myles had assistance from his girlfriend Dani, who also kept him calm when he’d get stressed or worried. LOL. Our family teased Myles a little bit about his extremely organized system, but in reality, it served him well when it got busy.


Proudly, Pringle neighbors and friends were the first of patrons to show for the dinner.

Around 6:15 hot Dutch ovens of beans, potatoes and peach cobbler were brought to the serving line while the steaks were grilled over the open pit outside, fifty steaks at a time. My husband and Bill, a family friend, had to pack all of the Dutch ovens to the food line together, since some weighed as much as 75 pounds, especially the ones containing the beans. While we waited on the steaks, diners were tantalized with the aromas of campfire-cooked food until the first round of steaks finally arrived.


A full dining area of patrons anxiously await the rest of the food to show up for dinner.



Serving began at 6:30. Rhonda served beans and potatoes, Lisa Miller (family friend and Dani’s mom) served steaks, I served peach cobbler in separate bowls that my mom had ready for me with a spoon. My daughter Renee and her friend Leah were in charge of drinks and Art and Bill (family friend and Dani’s dad) brought the Dutch ovens and steaks down to the serving line.


photo by Renee Kirk

By 8 pm we were done serving and it all went fast, but it was an intense hour and a half.  (The adults were ready for a beer by then!) Sander’s streamlined system was slick in getting everyone through the line once so there was less congestion and people backtracking. There was never a lull in waiting for steaks and in total, 186 steak dinners were served.

Below, Rhonda and I visit after the dinner crowd rush and wait for any latecomers, which we had a few, but there was not food much left!


photo by Renee Kirk

The Aftermath:



This pan and another partially filled pan of steaks were all that was left. Myles and Clayton’s estimates were pretty close.


In addition to raising funds with the meal, extra donations were offered and a raffle for a hand-carved walking stick raised additional funds as well. In the end, $3581.00 was raised to donate to the Rancher Relief Fund. Myles and everyone present considered it a huge success, and our whole family is so grateful for the outpouring of support and volunteers who helped serve for  Myles’ Senior Project event.

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The Tack Room “Museum”

The last week in February we started calving and had a bad cold snap. Calving was just starting for us, and it was while Art and I were regrouping in the tack room recording some eartag numbers of new pairs in the barn, digging out last year’s record book to make some calving season comparisons, and assessing what our morning’s priorities were that I noticed all the strange things that are collected and saved in our tack room.

Some of our odd collections are on display in the window sill. Many are absurd but do make interesting conversation pieces. The items I re-discovered compelled me to write a column about some of the findings in our tack room and later took pictures to blog about.  I likened the things that have been saved there, to a “museum” of anomalies.

The exhibit that triggered a column idea was staring at the collection of toenails belonging to one of our kids’ cows.


I also talked about some of the eartags that get saved and found these old eartags still hanging on a nail in the old milking shed from before Art and I were married.


Then I remembered my husband’s unusual key chain that he had saved and the story that went along with it. Its story had to be a part of my column also.  It was one of a pocketful of bull calf scrotums that were discarded after castrating at a branding. This particular one dried into hard leather so he drilled a hole to put on a keychain. He attempted to save all the others (NOTE: this was back in his young bachelor days…before I knew him and his eccentric past), explaining that they could be sold as fur-lined pasties but forgot about them in his shirt pocket until he pulled the shirt out of the washing machine smelling rather stinky.



This is not just an ordinary stick sitting in another of our tack room window sills. This is the stick that had been found stuck inside one of our gelding’s buttocks one late spring morning a few years back. Our best guess was that somehow during the night he’d run through a pile of tree branches beneath our willow tree and one got rammed into one of his butt cheeks. It’s had a lot of show-and-tells, so much that the blood that coated it has all worn off.


As I mentioned in my column the most gasp-worthy part of this stick story/show-and-tell is that the bluntest end was the end that was stuck in the horse’s butt.


This is one of our cow horses Bean, whom we found a stick protruding from the inside of his butt cheek. We managed to load him into a trailer and have a vet remove the stick. His wound healed but eventually we had to take him back because the spot would fester again every few weeks. It turned out there was another chunk of the stick still trying to surface which had to be removed. The trauma did not change him. We still call him Bean Dip once in a while but he also remains to be the the saddle horse of choice when getting a cow in.


Just to prove that there is such a thing, this is the collar found on a prairie dog that had been eradicated on one of our pastures–one of our rarest “museum pieces.”

pd collar

pd collar-2

pd collar-3

The only thing I couldn’t dig up but Art said does exist and is in a box somewhere in one of the outbuildings is saved teeth from old cows.

Sometimes I pick up rocks or old glass bottles I like for one reason or another and Art wants to know why I keep bringing them in the house. I ended my column talking about how I shouldn’t get any more flak from my husband the next time I bring home a rock or antique bottle I found to display in the window sill of my kitchen or mudroom.



So, now that you’ve seen what’s in our tack room “museum” what kinds of oddities are in yours (or your shop, garage, etc.)?

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A Mudroom Made of Old and New

(Note: I tidied up our mudroom just for you. Normally it does not look nearly this neat, or is the floor swept up and clean. Knowing that I cleaned the place up a bit don’t you feel special?)

mudroomMud, dirt, manure, and bits of grain, hay, and gravel are all part of living on a farm or ranch and are bound to find their way into the entrance of every farm and ranch home, especially for places that don’t have garages for vehicles and dirty gear.


(I now have a handy place right by the door for aluminum cans, a shelf for the newspapers box, storing notepads, pens, envelopes, and stamps to pay bills, and phone books.)

Most farm and ranch houses are entered through a mudroom—the place where the nitty-gritty of the outdoors that clings to our outerwear is corralled. Since Art and I have been married we’ve never had a mudroom entrance to our home. Finally, after 19 years, last spring we began the process of replacing our old porch with a mudroom.

Being the thrifty people we are, we reused anything we could, including the existing roof and we constructed the mudroom using the old porch’s dimensions for the footings to build our mudroom and made use of any resources we could. For the interior, I wanted to incorporate some of the old Kirk buildings with our new “addition” (technically it wasn’t really an addition since all we did was enclose the area where the porch was). I spent a couple of spring days pulling out barn wood from the burn pile and driving to our different pastures and plucking barn wood from fallen-in buildings.




For Mother’s Day, I made my family drive to each location and help me load my barn wood “piles” and we stacked them by the house so the contractor could create shelving,




_DSC0984(notice how my baskets don’t match–I repurposed old ones I had. It add to the already odd-character of our place. You just don’t find this kind of originality at IKEA or Target.)

floor molding, window trim,




and the entryway step from the barn wood pile and enough barn wood to cover one wall as an eye-catching background.




I think of all the barn wood we gathered my favorite repurposed piece is the bench made out of our old branding corral board branded with three of our four brands and a wooden drawer I found in the old Kirk homestead blacksmith shop.


Instead of buying new paint, I used up leftover paint from painting our bathroom and applied the colors to our mudroom differently. I also used a brand new light fixture that I’d had in storage for several years. Art welded up a bunch of horseshoe coat, coveralls, and cap hooks since we’ve always had an overflow of outerwear that’s been a challenge to find an appropriate place to hang out of the way.



Our mudroom may not be huge, but our freezer is no longer setting outside like it used to on the porch and I have plenty of shelving to keep things organized, handy, and near the door. Repurposing paint, light fixtures and most especially, old barn wood not only saved us some money, but it makes our new space more meaningful and a great conversation piece. All the boards came from places we still frequent, that cows or bulls broke trying to get out, or where we branded every spring back when we still had the old barn.

Mostly, I just love that our dirty life can now be put in its place.

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The Modern Day Ranch

America’s ranches may have gone through some changes over the last 150 years but ranching is still going strong and continues to be a great part of western Americana.

 From the start of most of America’s ranches, hardy women have been a crucial part of the operation and women have contributed in numerous ways. I have seen old photographs of ranch women riding horses and branding cattle in long dresses. Ranch women have also gone through some changes in their appearance but like the ranches themselves, the women of the west have adapted to change, making room for improvements in the way they do things. (Most noticeably is probably the ranch woman’s work attire.)

In order to depict today’s ranch image, it just wouldn’t be accurate without a woman walking to a gate, opening a gate, or struggling to shut a gate. In fact, it’s almost safe to say that should be the first image that comes to mind when talking about the modern day ranch wife. Some gates are easy openers, some are a real bugger but regardless, 99.6% of the time a ranch couple pulls up to a gate in a pickup or on a four-wheeler, the wife gets the gate. Coming to a gate on horseback has mixed results depending on the couple and the ranch…and maybe the number of gates. If kids are involved that can also change the percentage of time a ranch woman has to get the gate.

Ranch women “getting the gate” has become a standard joke in the ranch world. Stories have been written about it (myself included for my column) and cartoons have been drawn about it. If you’ve ever followed the Stampede cartoons by Jerry Palen, a common theme with the ranch wife character Flo is her perpetual battle with gates. Every ranch woman can relate to Flo and her gate struggles.

Even though ranch women see and open and shut a lot of gates in their lifetime, we all have one favorite gate: the one our husbands get.

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It’s A New Year!

I was going through all my past columns on New Year’s Eve and came across this column I wrote about the New Year in 2013. Just had to share and thought it could easily apply to every new year.

Wishing You a Happy List of Little Stuff in the New Year


The New Year is upon us and I want to wish you more than the standard clichéd “Happy New Year” line. What I hope for you are things that are possible and realistic and the kinds of wishes that you’d appreciate if they happened to you. There’s a little New Year’s wish for everyone.


  • For starters,  may your pants still fit after the holidays.
  • May you always have a hankie handy when you need to blow your nose—especially when it begins to drip in public.
  • May relatives and friends visit when you have time on your hands and could use some company, and stay away when you’re most busy (calving, haying).
  • May equipment breakdowns occur at convenient times this year.
  • May you make it through the year without leaving your purse some place in public, at a friend’s, or a relative’s who lives far away (for ranch people that could be the next town).
  • May your bathroom time not be disturbed.
  • May your clothes be free of food stains before you get to your destination.
  • May the majority of arguments and decisions between you and your mate be miraculously agreed upon.
  • When unexpected company arrives shortly before supper, may you think of something that’s quick and easy to fix for supper. Or at least have meat      thawed out.
  • May you frequently find more rain in your rain gauge than you expected.
  • May your branding go smoothly and streamlined and may you have good weather for it.
  • May your keys, glasses, cell phone, or shop tools always be right where you go to find them.
  • May your bank or ag loans be small, paid off, or not necessary this year.
  • May three-fourths of the mud, dirt, or dust stay outside instead of camping on
    your kitchen floor.
  • May you open your wallet and find that you still have cash in there.
  • In dealing with loved ones may you be blessed with a lot more patience than last year.
  • May you get your good 9 X 13” cake pan back.
  • May you find an item (or toy if you’re a child) you lost a long time ago and dearly missed AND find what you originally went to look for.
  • May you get credit for your ideas and may you see them implemented.
  • May your spouse correctly read your mind at least once or twice this year.
  • May those questionable laundry stains come out unexpectedly clean.
  • May your big projects get done sooner than anticipated.
  • When he or she says, “I need your help for a sec,” may it really only be for a sec.
  • May you be able to get to your destination without being harped on to stop and ask for directions.
  • May you reveal some money when you could really use it.
  • May you be able to get an undisturbed nap more often than last year.
  • May the number of times you irritate your spouse be a great percentage less than normal in 2013.
  • May the gates you meet open and shut with ease.
  • May you know what you’re getting yourself into.

I have many more but these will get you off to a good start in the new year. They may be just little things but when you add them up they can make a
big difference in a year’s time.

(this column was previously published Dec26-30, 2012)

Amy Kirk © 2012


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A Perfect Afternoon for Book Reading


I caught my husband Art re-reading parts of my book this afternoon after he returned from checking on our cows up at Pringle.

Just wanted to say a quick thank you to everyone who’s shared posts on Facebook, showed an interest in, and purchased my first book, A Ranchwife’s Slant: Cowboys, Kids, and Ranch Life. The support has been wonderful and I am grateful.

As I post this, it’s been a much colder day. (It was 51 degrees yesterday and it’s 17 degrees right now) Snow has been falling all day and tomorrow the family is planning to move our cows to the home place. They’ve been up at Pringle since right before Storm Atlas.

I have book signings scheduled as follows:

  • (pre Christmas purchases) Friday December 20th 5 pm at The Hitchrail Bar and Restaurant, Pringle, SD.
  • (pre Christmas purchases) Monday, December 22nd, 12- 3 pm Custer County Library, Custer SD.
  • Wednesday, January 8th, 4-7 pm Custer County Library, Custer, SD.

I have been trying to be patient, but am anxiously awaiting the UPS driver to get here with my first shipment of books. I have a stack of bubble mailers already addressed and ready to be filled with PayPal customer orders.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

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It’s Officially Released!

It’s been a long haul; spending every free moment when I wasn’t writing, chasing, feeding, or checking cows, to work on this book. It’s been the cause of numerous sleepless nights and mornings up at three or four a.m. to squeeze in extra time, pressure to put forth my absolute best, and the occasional family, hygiene, and suppertime preparation neglect.

This 185 page book has been a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed choosing the photos to include with certain essays, and most especially picking out the quotes from my collection of our kids’ quotes over the years. It took a lot of time but I think you’ll enjoy the bonus material in the book.

       In deciding whether or not whether this book is right for you, consider the following to help you in your decision:

  • You’re fresh out of good bathroom reading material.
  • You need some humor in your day.
  • You’re desperate for a gift for the company gift exchange.
  • You’re a mom.
  • You’ve always wondered what ranch life is REALLY like.
  • You need something to read while sitting in the waiting room for your appointment.
  • You’ve always wanted to know what my husband looks like (for my column readers).
  • You enjoy hearing about someone else’s problems because it makes your own not seem so bad.
  • You’re curious what A Redneck Mother’s Day entails.
  • You’re a farm or ranch wife who never seems to understand what your husband’s hand signals mean.
  • You’re a parent.
  • You have a farmer or rancher in your family or on your gift list.
  • You’re married.
  • You prefer books with pictures.
  • You like books with interesting characters.
  • You need something to read when you can’t sleep.
  • You’re an animal lover. 

Get your copy of “A Ranchwife’s Slant”  $19.95 (plus shipping)



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A Simple Alternative Christmas Gift-Giving Idea

Photo credit: Reneé Kirk

The time to do Christmas shopping is upon us. Are you ready? I know I’m not. I’m one of those people who dread Christmas shopping. I dislike how this annual holiday has become “Retail Christmas,” whereas the true meaning of Christmas is hard to find amid all the merchandise beckoning me to buy for the people on my list. I hate how I get caught up in impulse buying out of desperation for a great gift.

I’m sure we all have one on our Christmas list this year: the hard-to-shop-and-buy-a-gift-for person. These types might be the kind of persons that have everything, or if they don’t, they’ll just go get it themselves (my husband is one of these characters).

Maybe he or she is the type of person who lives a simplified life and doesn’t need or have the space for another “thing” or clothing item, tool, or gadget. Perhaps you have a farmer or rancher, farm wife or ranch wife on your list this year and you’re stumped on figuring out what to get him or her.

The people that challenge my gift-giving confidence, trip me up and cause me undo gift-giving anxiety. I go to great efforts to give gifts that people like, will actually use, will enhance their joy, and most importantly, that the recipient won’t re-gift to someone else! Every year I try in vain to figure out something special, something meaningful, or something useful, for the people on my Christmas list whom I have a hard time getting the perfect gift for.

This year, I think I’ve eliminated a lot of unnecessary holiday shopping stress because I’ve found the best gift idea that can be given to anyone and it has the spirit of true giving in it: donating the amount of money that I would’ve spent on a material gift for the recipient to the Rancher Relief Fund in the recipient’s honor.  You can donate a couple of ways; through (also where ranchers can apply for assistance) or on the AgChat Foundation Inc.’s Rancher Relief Fund found on Razoo:

I have given alternative gifts like this before–donating to a cause in honor of someone on my list, but this one is closer to home for me. Atlas affected people in my state (and neighboring states), county, and neighboring towns, who are in the same industry as my family, who have the same livelihood as my family and I do.

If you’re like me, you too, are already seeing the brilliance in this Christmas gift idea:

  • I don’t have to spend extra money on gas to drive anywhere and get this gift.
  • I don’t have to dodge traffic or fight crowds of people to get this gift.
  • I don’t have to comb my hair, put makeup on, or put on presentable townish-looking clothes to get this gift.
  • I don’t have to worry about sizes, colors, or styles.
  • I don’t have to keep track of the receipt for this gift.
  • I don’t have to hurry through chores, try to keep my clothes and shoes clean and worry about finding hay in my hair or clothes in order to get this gift.
  • I don’t have to be gone all day to get this gift!
  • There’s no wrapping paper, boxes, bags, plastic ties or packaging waste to deal with after this gift is opened.
  • This gift will eliminate the awkwardness that I got him or her something he/she doesn’t like.
  • Nobody has to keep track of and pack this gift when it’s time to go home.
  • Nobody has to dust it, hide it, or figure out where to put it after they receive it.
  • This gift benefits the giver, the recipient, and the people affected by Storm Atlas.
  • Recipients are going think I am so clever and creative.
  • This gift will restore the true meaning of what it means to celebrate Christmas: bringing cheer to others and demonstrating acts of humanity.
  • The effort it takes to get this gift will not leave me with a headache and being a crab afterwards.
  • This is a gift that will keep on giving. After the recipient receives it, others affected by Storm Atlas benefit from it. It’s a “pay-it-forward” kind of gift.
  • This is a thoughtful, meaningful, and useful gift.
  • This gift doesn’t require extra batteries or accessories to be put into use.
  • This gift does not take a long time to find, purchase, and take home.
  • This gift does not come in one more plastic sack to deal with.
  • This gift does not need to be hidden until Christmas.
  • A donation to the RRF is a positive reflection of gift-giving for Christmas.
  • And the best part about donating money to the Rancher’s Relief Fund in someone’s honor is that nobody can re-gift this gift! Yay!

This holiday season, I encourage you to consider giving a donation to the Rancher Relief Fund in honor of the people on your Christmas list  and spread some country help, hope, and cheer this year!


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Preserving a Favorite Summertime Tradition

Having my coffee in our front yard with toast and wild currant jelly that I made is one of my favorite summer pleasures.

One of the greatest pleasures of living in the country is picking berries and preserving them in jams and jellies to savor all year.

 Nothing says a country summer like a therapeutic couple of hours walking around on sticky floors from making batches of wild berry jams. And there’s nothing more gratifying than opening a jar of raspberry, chokecherry, or currant jelly in the dead of winter to brighten up a cold morning.

 I picked raspberries as a kid and remember jams my mother made, but as an adult it was my friend Carol who got me hooked on the summer tradition of berry picking and making preserves as an adult. Every time I see chokecherry bushes or raspberries ripening, I think of her and I and our daughters berry picking and making preserves together.

 Last Sunday while our family was out checking cows, salt, and water tanks, we took a seldom-used trail and drove past some wild currant bushes loaded with big, ripe burgundy berries. I knew the berries couldn’t wait much longer to be picked and decided to go back in the evening to pick them once we were done getting our square bales out of the road ditch. I convinced my family to come along for company and promised them they could take a nap if they didn’t want to pick berries. Nothing beats a Sunday more than being immersed in Mother Nature’s kind of noise: birds and squirrels chattering close by, wind blowing through the trees, and my currant berries hitting the ice cream bucket. I had the family dog lying beside me and while my family napped, I was deep in thought while picking away.

 Currant bushes have lots of little thorns and are very prickly, but while my family dozed in the pickup, I picked frantically to get as many berries as I could. The next night I made two batches of the tart-sweet jelly. My jelly making session snowballed from there. I had other berries I had frozen from last year and two years ago that I never got made into preserves, but have since filled just about every jelly jar I have.

 Enjoying homemade jams and jellies on toast or dinner rolls is pure country delight, but what I love most when I open up a new jar of a berry jam is opening up the summer memories. Remembering the day I picked them, the spot I picked the berries, the sounds that the birds and nature provided that day, the people that were with me, the kind of day it was, the conversations we had, and the unexpected things that happened. Making homemade jams and jellies from berries that I picked is preserving one of my favorite summertime memories.

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Haying Lessons

 At the start of haying our son left on an international trip with a group of other teens and it was the ideal opportunity to teach our daughter how to run the windrower and rake hay. The Ford tractor has proven to be a good fit for her to use with the rake (but not so much of a good fit for me riding along). Art rode with her first, to get her started, then I rode with her to show her how to make turns and not miss any hay on the turn around.


Art and I also showed her the finer points of windrowing. Making rounds in the windrower with my daughter has made the job more enjoyable and helpful for me in making sure rocks aren’t getting dragged along and passing the time. She’s enjoyed learning something new and having a new job to do has made her feel included. We get plenty of conversation time while in the cab taking turns at the wheel.


Our son is good help but I must say that my husband, daughter and I make a darn good haying team. Putting up hay as a family is what you call family time–ranch style.

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