Author Archives: Harmony Cox





“Who will stay with the sheep?”

It’s Christmas time in our small, mountain town. The trees are flocked and you can see the breath of our horses as you drive by, their coats warm and thick against the cold. Just last night our little town performed a Christmas pageant celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. My Mom and I were the directors, she in charge of the narration and I the music. It was a chaotic event with Mary, Joseph, angels and of course the beloved shepherds. They, along with their woolly counterparts brought back memories of a Christmas not too many years past. A Christmas that I will never forget, not because of the presents or the lights or the caroling, but a Christmas remembered because of a simple story.

Who Will Stay with the Sheep - Photo 1

It was a Sunday, and like all Sundays we attended church in our little town. My friend had been asked to speak this Sunday, and she shared a personal story by Sheralee Bills Hardy. Sheralee told of taking her four young sons to watch the dress rehearsal of the area production of “Savior of the World: His Birth.” Her husband was playing the important role of Joseph, and he had spent months preparing for the performance. The weeks leading up to Christmas had been intensely involved for her husband, and the family had felt the absence of their husband and father. Sheralee told how, as she watched her husband perform, she felt envious of his important role. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” she thought, “to be in the spotlight rather than the designated behind-the-scenes babysitter?”

Not proud of her feelings, Sheralee had prayed for strength to overcome her self-pity and the desire for a more glamorous and visible role. The play continued, the shepherds hastening to meet The Messiah. The shepherds had waited all their lives, dreaming of the day when The Savior would appear. Now the Angel of The Lord had come, hastening them to Bethlehem to behold the wondrous event. The shepherds hurried from the stage, all but one, an old man remained motionless. A young boy, his grandson, returned to the stage and asked, “Grandfather, aren’t you coming?” In his reply, was the answer to Sheralee’s prayer, and a great lesson to us all: “I’ll stay with the sheep.”

Sheralee felt the love of the Savior at that moment, and she now understood. Her role as mother had seemed menial, but now it took on a greater significance. She would care for the spirits entrusted her. While bedtime stories didn’t end with an applause, she knew her role was important. She would “stay with the sheep” so others could see the babe in Bethlehem.

This story has stayed with me and I have thought of it often since. At the time of hearing the story, I had a three-week-old baby, and Dustin and I were newly-elected as our state’s Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) Commitee chair. Although the position is filled as a couple, only one serves on the board of directors. So, often times I would stay home and take care of our five daughters and the ranch while he was traveling for board meetings. Dustin and I are partners in every sense of the word. We ranch together, we run our hay business together. Dustin is the best dish-doer in the business! He really does more than his share of housework. The Utah Farm Bureau Board of Directors was really the first time in our married life that we were, in a sense, going our separate ways. Ashamed, I admit, there were times I was envious of his “spotlight.”

YFR Orientation

Being involved in Farm Bureau, I often get the opportunity to attend various conferences. More than once, when a keynote speaker has been addressing the audience, have I wondered, “Who stays with their sheep?”

I have looked at the past and present national YF&R Committee chairs. The current chair, Zach Hunnicutt, has an amazing wife. Just recently, he attended the National FFA Convention with the rest of the committee while his wife, Anna, stayed home with their three children, one of them a new baby. She stayed with the sheep. Past YF&R Chairwoman Chris Chinn has really taken ag advocacy to a new level. She has children and a hog farm at home. Is her husband the sheep tender? What about AFBF President Bob Stallman, who tends his sheep while he is away? Our state Farm Bureau president is very good to recognize his brother and partner as the reason he is able to serve in that capacity. I have never met his brother and wouldn’t recognize him if I saw him on the street, but my hat goes off to him.

All of us have people we need to thank – husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, partners, parents, men and women – who stay with the sheep so we have the opportunity to be in the spotlight from time to time. We know that having good agricultural people in positions of leadership is important, but crops don’t water themselves and livestock need daily care. Make sure this Christmas you remember to thank the one who stays with your sheep.

As we say in the West: From our Outfit to Yours, Merry Christmas and may you have a prosperous New Year!

Whatever You Do…Don’t Milk The Cow!

I have always loved the fall time, but the past 12 years have been especially wonderful. You see, my husband, Dustin, and I fell in love in the fall. I remember the beautiful fall leaves, crisp apples, harvest time and freshly weaned calves bawling, their foggy breath making white clouds on the crisp mornings. All of it led up to the best move I ever made. I said “yes” on that snowy December day to the man I thought only existed in fairy tales, and forever looks better every day.

Life back then was happy, simple and exciting! Little did I know it would soon get more challenging – still wonderful – but more difficult in ways I didn’t anticipate.

Shortly after becoming engaged, Dustin and I were visiting his mother’s family in the town of Beaver, Utah. After hearing that we were engaged to be married, a sweet, little, old woman took me aside and (after congratulating me of course) said, “Whatever you do, don’t milk the cow. I’ve been married for 60 years and although I am very good at milking cows, I never once showed my husband I was because as soon as he knew I could milk the cow then guess who would be taking the late night milking, with a baby on each hip, when his church meetings ran late.” She smiled at me and shuffled off.

I remember considering her advice for a while, and on the ride home, I told Dustin about the encounter. I thought her advice a little silly. I was, after all, a strong, independent woman who could handle a milk cow as well as any man, maybe better. I did not think of the old woman again for several years, when I would finally understand what she really meant by “don’t milk the cow.”

My realization came slowly, more and more with the birth of each of our children. I will never forget Valentine’s Day ’06. I had a new baby and the weather outside was bitter, bitter cold; the wind was relentless. Dustin was called away on business and left his very capable wife – me – to take care of two of the range cows who had just calved. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, there was a problem: both cows were “big teat” cows, which means the teats on the cows udders are too large when full of milk for the small calves to be able to nurse. To remedy this problem, the cows must be milked until the teat is small enough that the calf can fit its mouth around it and nurse. Still sounds relatively easy right? Until you do some baby calculations…

First off, I had a new baby. How often does a newborn baby eat? Every few hours, right? Which meant I was spending much of my time feeding her. Then there were the new baby calves. How often do newborn baby calves eat, especially in below freezing temperatures? You guessed it! A lot! Add to all those times the babies needed to eat the fact that these were not milk cows, but beef cows on the range that were not used to being milked by human hands and you can see I had quite the challenge.

So, I would feed my own baby, pile all my kids into the car and then drive my car to the corrals. I turned the heater on full blast for the kids and told my oldest to roll down the window and yell if the baby got fussy. Then I ran the cows into the chute and milked them while managing to dodge the hooves of disgruntled mother cows expressing their displeasure at being milked. It was miserable! I couldn’t concentrate on the task at hand with my little ones in the car.

Was I a capable mother? Yes! Was I completely capable of handling the cows and calves? Well…were Dorothy’s shoes red? Did Moses part the Red Sea? Are John Deere tractors green? Of course I was capable, but when I mixed the two the situations, they were almost more than I could handle. To add hail to my parade that was already being rained on, it was Valentine’s Day! Where were my dozen roses?!?

I laugh now as I remember having the thought, “It’s lucky Dustin was smart enough to take the truck and trailer with him because if he hadn’t I would load those cows up and haul them to the livestock auction!” It was then I remembered the old woman and what she had told me: “Don’t milk the cow!” That wise woman had been trying to spare me this day. She knew how hard farm life could sometimes be for women trying to balance the needs of children, husbands and the farm.

So now the moment of truth: If I could go back to the day the old woman imparted her wisdom, would I still have shown Dustin that I could milk the cow? Would I have ridden right alongside him every day, over rivers and mountains and meadows?

Well…do Dalmatians have spots? Do mules wait 50 years to kick you good and hard in revenge for a long ago mistreatment? Does my husband think the bovine is the most amazing animal God created? The answer is yes! And yes! And yes! Do I understand now how small children can make the work of a farm wife a bit more challenging – more wonderful a hundredfold – but still more challenging? Yes I do! I am so grateful for my five daughters and that they are “milking the cow” on our ranch every day. They have loved to work right alongside their dad from the time they were big enough to toddle to find their boots. I wouldn’t change it. I’d milk the cow again.

So, here is a shout out to all the farm mom’s out there and for all your “late night milkings.” I think of my own mom, a mother of nine, who grew up in urban Phoenix. She adapted and did amazing!

To all you farm husbands out there: remember to treat your farm wife like a princess at least once a day. She may be wearing muck boots, but she deserves a crown of jewels.

And to all you single women in agriculture who are amazing and running the farm as well as any man could: keep a steady eye on the horizon, prince “farming” may be right around the next windrow. He’ll come and carry you off with his 150 “green horses.”

My prince showed up in cowboy boots and rode a horse named Bess. Yes, I’d milk the cow again and again!

Have We Declared War On Work?

Before I delve into my post, I want to give a little background on myself and my family. I grew up on a large cattle ranch in Southern Utah. I am the eighth of nine siblings, all of which grew up working on the ranch alongside my father. My parents raised us to be smart and hard working. All of us graduated with honors, several as valedictorian, and sterling scholar winners. We excelled in athletics and other extracurricular activities. None of us have ever been in jail, tried illegal drugs or been fired from a job. All of my siblings now have families of their own, stable jobs in which they excel or are mothers doing the hardest job of all. My siblings are good and decent contributors to society.

Have We Declared War on Work - Photo 1

My husband and I have five daughters. Our oldest daughter is 10 and our youngest is going on two. The fact that our children are girls hasn’t relieved them of responsibilities on the ranch. Their Dad works them as he would any son, and they have proven themselves as tough and capable of any cowboy twice their age. From the time our girls were conceived, they have been on horseback riding in the saddle riding with me. Upon turning three they get to go on our 10-day cattle drive on their own horse. I am generally close by, but it’s completely up to them to make their horse do exactly what they want them to while moving the cattle. I love to see how much their confidence improves over those 10 days. It is amazing! They have ridden alone before that trip, but never so long and for so many days uninterrupted. It’s 1,200 pounds of horse against 30 pounds of little girl and the little girl wins! Who would have bet on those odds?

Have We Declared War on Work - Photo 2

The thought process around this post came many years ago when speaking to my Dad’s cousin. He had grown up on the ranch with my Dad, but had chosen to go into construction. He had commented on how much he loved watching my girls work right alongside my husband and I. The way he talked about it spurred me into questioning why he didn’t do the same with his own children. He replied, “I am not allowed to take my kids on the job site with me. It is illegal.” He went on, “We have become so afraid of hurting our children, that we are hurting our children!” As the conversation continued he explained to me how he had watched his son grow and not find direction in his life. He was a good and smart kid, but his grades in school suffered, and he didn’t excel like his family knew he was capable. His father was convinced that it was simply because he didn’t know how to work. He hadn’t worked side-by-side with his father in order to learn the skills he needed to really succeed in life. His story didn’t end there, he went on to say, “I just want my son to work alongside me, to learn as I did at my fathers knee. But that will never happen. Politicians were afraid of hurting America’s kids, and now that the kids are ‘safe,’ they have entitlement issues that may be irreversible! We as a society have declared war on work.”

The recent event that brought this conversation to my mind occurred with a group of friends and fellow YF&R Committee members. We were viewing self-made YouTube video’s, asking for feedback and comments. I had done my video on branding in the West. It was full of pictures and live footage of my husband, our girls and I and working the cattle. One comment was that if I posted the video, I needed to be prepared for a bombardment of people saying that my children had no business being on horses and working that young.

Further illustrating the point I will eventually make (a bit of humor if you didn’t catch it), America’s Heartland came to my family’s ranch and did a special episode on our three-day cattle drive. I spoke to the rep from the studio several times explaining that for the first day there would be no vehicle access on the drive. So whatever equipment the cameramen needed would have to be taken on horseback. The trail was not an easy ride and I wanted to make sure they understood that this “shouldn’t be their first rodeo.” They assured me they had “taken riding lessons” and that they would be fine. I had my doubts.

So, the evening before the drive was to begin, I took the cameramen and their head man to the base of the mountain we were to climb. I pointed to the beautiful pink cliffs thousands of feet above us and said, “That’s where we are going. Are you ready?” They had never seen anything like it in their life! They quickly explained that they were not experienced enough riders to handle the unfamiliar horses and their gear, and asked if there was another option. I told them we would put the camera and sound equipment on with my oldest daughter. I could see the wheels turning in the leader’s eyes. I didn’t look very old so how OLD can this oldest daughter possibly be? I explained that she was seven. Those wheels turning again…he’s counting the thousands of dollars he is about to hand over to a seven-year-old…estimating how he could word it on the insurance claim…realizing that he has no other option. He agreed.

Rachel during the drive

We sent our oldest daughter ahead of the cattle up the hill with one cameraman. The rest of the crew stayed behind to follow the cattle up. Our other children were also on horses. Our daughter, Rachel, was three at the time. She rode next to the lead man for America’s Heartland. When we finally arrived at the summit he rode over to talk to me. He said, “You have no idea how many times I wanted to get off, to turn back and walk off that mountain! But every time I got the urge I would just look at your three-year-old daughter riding that big horse all by herself, never afraid, never questioning what she was doing there. She was just herding those cows up the mountain with a big smile on her face.”

And so I ask you. Why would we take that away? Why would we deprive children of such amazing opportunities? Can work be dangerous? Can injuries occur? Absolutely! Do we, as parents, have to be careful and use wisdom? Of course we do! But do I believe that the government has the right to tell me that I can’t take my child to work with me? Not on your life!

Have We Declared War on Work - Photo 3

America’s Heartland went on to do an additional episode on our kids working on the ranch. Their lead man said he was sure he would have viewers who would see our kids riding, and just like he did, they would misjudge the situation. His intent on the mini clip was to open the minds of viewers to our way of life. Help them understand and see that sure, this life is hard and perhaps at times can be risky, but the benefits so far outweigh the risks that it should be a non-issue.

Recently farmers and ranchers won a huge battle with Congress about child labor laws in agriculture. I am grateful every day that my children are still able to to work alongside my husband and I. But often I see my girls working and laughing and wonder if we should have stopped at agricultural child labor. Shouldn’t my Dad’s cousin be able to take his boy to work too? Shouldn’t he, as a parent, be able to decide how best to raise his child?

Some food for thought. Thanks for reading!