In Kansas, even the cowgirls need cojones

It's a ranch holiday designed for women, not wimps. Anne Kostalas takes the bull by the, er, horns

I'm staring at the back end of a bull. Everyone's waiting for me to move. Like a typical city girl I'm asking if it's going to kick me. "I can't tell you that, honey," says the ranch owner, but did I sign the waiver about the risks of injury or death? We laugh. Undaunted I brace myself and cup the bull's testicles in my hand while slipping a thick elastic band around them. So far so good; they're warm and furry and my bull isn't objecting. I think he might be enjoying it. Next, I attach the metal banding device and start ratcheting up the tightness of the band. He doesn't like this quite so much and starts to kick big-style. A quick flick of the knife and everything's securely in place – my bull has a smart new band around his balls and in a couple of weeks the whole lot will drop off.

I'm staring at the back end of a bull. Everyone's waiting for me to move. Like a typical city girl I'm asking if it's going to kick me. "I can't tell you that, honey," says the ranch owner, but did I sign the waiver about the risks of injury or death? We laugh. Undaunted I brace myself and cup the bull's testicles in my hand while slipping a thick elastic band around them. So far so good; they're warm and furry and my bull isn't objecting. I think he might be enjoying it. Next, I attach the metal banding device and start ratcheting up the tightness of the band. He doesn't like this quite so much and starts to kick big-style. A quick flick of the knife and everything's securely in place – my bull has a smart new band around his balls and in a couple of weeks the whole lot will drop off.

A round of applause. I've just performed my first castration, on a cowgirl ranch in Kansas. This banding technique seems cruel to me but apparently it's a lot kinder than the old way, which left the practitioner covered in blood and the bull parted from his testicles a lot sooner. Among my fellow cowgirls are Karen, a bank analyst from Wichita, and Jeanette, a lawyer from Indiana. We were at one of the few ranches in the States owned and run by a woman. Jane Kroger, a gritty, weather-beaten rancher in her late forties, is the fifth generation in her family to work this land in the Flint Hills of Kansas. She runs Prairie Women Adventures. Housewives, police officers, lawyers and nurses spend weekends here doing ranch work. I've come for the branding weekend.

"I've gotten to meet women from everywhere. It's been a way for me to stay here but not limit the size of my world," says Jane.

Our day started with cow sorting. Two enclosures were allocated and the animals sent our way via a T-shaped run. I was on gate duty; I had to open the gate when Jane shouted "Cow!", and when she shouted "Calf!" I was to close my gate and Jeanette open hers. Suddenly, three large cows were running towards me through the dust with a calf trotting alongside. "Calf! Close the gate!" yelled Jane but it was too late – a black calf had sneaked in with its mum into the cow pen.

I was wiser next time. When a calf tried to get in, I slammed the gate shut in front of him and the ranchers whooped with approval. I was beginning to feel like I might have a natural aptitude for cow sorting.

Next came the real work down at the squeeze chute, a sort of car assembly line for bulls and heifers in which we each had our own tasks. As well as taking away their manhood, we were branding and inoculating the calves – skills we never knew we had. It was a bumpy start: needles were bent, misshapen patches were shaved on their rump, but once we got going we were a finely honed production line. Mary and Ginifer led the cattle into the squeeze chute; Jeanette the attorney gave them their shots; I was the whiz at shaving and Elaine pressed down the freeze-dried brand for exactly 55 seconds. Karen, happy to be away from her desk at the bank, was lying in wait with the elastic bands.

There's a certain kind of humour that comes with castrating bulls. We compared our stroking technique when it came to putting them at their ease as the band was applied.

"If only I had this effect on men."

"It's weird how they're all different sizes."

"But size doesn't matter, right?"

"This one reminds me of my husband."

I asked why we had to do this.

"If you didn't, all your heifers would end up pregnant," said Jane. Makes sense, I suppose.

All the adventure holidays here include a stay at the bunkhouse, which is fully stocked with books about cowgirls. You can soak your saddlesore limbs in a hot-tub while your dinner is being cooked for you and – if you can bring yourself to eat your new friends – the ranch beef is heavenly.

Back at the squeeze chute the atmosphere was so much more supportive without men around. Every one of the 44 brands would elicit a "Nice work, beautiful" when you finished. There was a certain female approach to the animals, too. I can't imagine men stroking the bulls' heads and talking to them while someone is tying a band around them at the other end. And when the jabs produced some blood, someone would always give the wound a little rub, as if it were a child's scraped knee.

Rancher Jane has a relaxed approach to tending her 75 beef cattle: "I don't want to sound too Buddhist, but the local folks here don't believe that animals have a soul. They use an electric prod to move the cattle. If any stray, they round them up, rope them and drag them into the field. We're not in a hurry – we open a couple of bales of hay and get the cattle to just walk in. It's not a power thing with me. I don't regard them as dumb animals." Far from intolerant of our city ways, she wanted us to enjoy the experience. After all, as she put it, we were paying for the privilege of doing her ranch work.

No cowgirl weekend is complete without some time in the saddle. Luckily we had an opportunity to spend a few wonderful hours riding round the property with horse expert Ginifer, who once met Elvis Presley.

Kansas is prairie country, the most endangered ecosystem in the States. Only 1 per cent survives of an area that used to cover a million square miles. Out here you're likely to see hawks, jack rabbits, white-tailed deer and meadow larks, and at night in the bunkhouse a cowgirl can hear the call of coyotes. Out in the fields we were too busy to check out the wildlife. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

It was the end of the day and our work was almost done. We were all looking a lot more dishevelled and a little dirtier than when we started. The final calf entered the chute, urged on by Ginifer. "We saved the prettiest till last," she told us. Now no cowboy would have said that.

The Facts

Getting there

Return flights from Heathrow to Kansas City with KLM (0870 507 4074; www.klm.com) cost from around £420.

Trailfinders (020-7937 5400) is offering return flights to Kansas on British Airways and American Airways via Dallas from £305 return from 1 January until 31 March.

Being there

Prairie Women Adventures (00 1 620 753 3416; www.guestranches.com/homestead) run for three to four days from April to October on set dates. They include branding, riding, wildflower weekends, pasture burning and a working cow horse rodeo. Prices start from $162 (£100) per night.

Alamo (0870 599 4000) offers car hire in Kansas from £179 per week.

Further information

Kansas travel and tourism division (00 1 785 296 2009; www.travelks.com).

Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Automotive Service Advisor - Franchised Main Dealer

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful, family owned m...

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable