Alena Standley says she and her husband, Todd, specialize in gracefully managing chaos with three tiny humans, cows, lambs, chickens and horses. They live in Cascade where Todd grew up with their daughters: Maysa (4 ½) Madilynn (3) and Meredith (11 months) who are already good helpers on the family ranch. The family not only raises cattle, but club lambs for 4-H projects.
With all of the critters around, it’s a natural for the children to learn about ranch life at an early age. “They don’t see it as work yet, it’s all an adventure to them,” Alena notes. “They love feeding the livestock, tractor rides and days we are working cows or sheep. Their favorite thing is helping with the baby animals. The girls have all been in the barn from a young age and have grown up in the middle of ranch life. They have stood right beside me while I helped pull lambs when a ewe is struggling, coaching me right along and giving the ewe encouragement ‘You can do it, Mama Sheep!’”
The girls help milk ewes, feed the bum lambs a bottle and hold equipment while Alena and Todd tag calves or move the livestock around. “We like to give them a job so they feel important but also so they aren’t getting into something they shouldn’t,” the ranch mom says. “Just like any task with toddlers, their involvement is heavily dependent on their attention span, mood that day and the timing in relation to meal times and naptimes. Every few months they each mature and are able to take on a new task. It’s fun to watch their confidence and knowledge grow in such a short time.”
She explains that kids learn about biology, the life cycle, nutrition and responsibility first hand.
“However, their safety is our top priority,” she adds. “They don’t understand the danger of playing near certain equipment or the risks that livestock can pose if handled incorrectly so we are diligent to teach them which areas aren’t safe. We have to know where they are at all times.”
Alena says that the hard work of winter is rewarded when the young 4-H kids come out and pick their own lambs. “We want to teach them about how their lamb project was started and how to pick a lamb that will do well in the show ring. We’ve enjoyed this aspect of our ranching business immensely and have met some fantastic families. If they come and help us dock tails (we do this for cleanliness and disease prevention), give vitamins and vaccinations, or clean stalls, we give them money off of the price of their lamb. We value good work ethic.”
In addition to caring for her children and helping on the ranch, Alena works full-time as western regional manager for the Montana Farm Bureau Federation—juggling all three takes skillful planning and having a great network.