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School Closures Come In Handy For Ranchers In Wyoming


Millions of American parents are struggling with trying to work from home while kids attend school from home. But for ranch families, having extra hands on call can actually be a big help. Wyoming Public Radio's Cooper McKim reports.

COOPER MCKIM, BYLINE: Ian McGivney is a 21-year-old college student who's supposed to be on a school internship right now. That's canceled, so he's back home on his family's ranch in northern Wyoming. In addition to doing remote schoolwork, he's on call to help any cows giving birth.

IAN MCGIVNEY: It's hard to not be excited to come home, and especially this time of year, you know, all them baby calves and baby lambs running around.

MCKIM: This time of year is calving season. Herds of pregnant cows could give birth at any moment, meaning 24/7 responsibility for ranchers to help any that are having trouble delivering safely.


MCKIM: High school sophomore Kagan Sims is in a similar position. On a calm Wednesday afternoon, he's out feeding pregnant cows, when under normal circumstances, he'd be in English 11. He doesn't mind the work.

KAGAN SIMS: I've been able to be around my family more. And coming home and being on the ranch, it gives me a chance to do what I actually love to do.

MCKIM: Kagan's parents, Shanon and Melinda Sims, say it's been helpful to have him and his sister Jentry, who's in eighth grade, available to help.

MELINDA SIMS: Kagan's been able to take a night watch because he doesn't have to get up for school early the next morning. Jentry's been feeding a bum calf for us. And that just frees Shannon and I up to pay attention to our heifers a little more. And, you know, with them doing those little jobs, it just makes it easier on all of us.

MCKIM: In addition to calving, the Sims are also preparing for a busy summer, when they'll have to move cattle daily, make hay and work on fencing. Still, Melinda says schoolwork comes first and that it's a tough balance with the necessary chores. Jentry's already missed the class Zoom meeting due to helping move cattle.

SIMS: I'm worried about, are the kids getting what they need? Are they getting the support from us that they need? Are we in their business too much? You know, because we're not used to being involved in their day-to-day schoolwork.

MCKIM: Back on his family's ranch in northern Wyoming, college student Ian McGivney says, for him, not too much has changed due to the pandemic other than helping out more.

MCGIVNEY: It's almost been nice because, like, I feel horrible for them people, you know, that are living in these big cities that are trapped in their apartments and whatnot. But, shoot, out here, like, checking cows and stuff, you almost forget that something's even going on.

MCKIM: The forecast in agriculture is for a tough year ahead. But for now, many ranch families are just happy to have their kids close - and a little extra help at home.

For NPR News I'm, Cooper McKim. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cooper McKim (WPR)