A barn full of personality

Every so often an animal will have a certain glint in their eye that farmers and ranchers recognize as pure orneriness. Marisa Betts, a farmer and rancher from near Dorrance, Kansas, found just such an animal in Ringo, a black, white-face steer that came to be her bucket calf several years ago.

It’s common for bucket calves to head butt and fling slobber around but Ringo took things to the next level.

Betts would wrap Ringo’s bottle in a towel to keep it warm as she carried it to the barn, stuffing the towel in her back pocket while he ate.

“Keep in mind this was about 6 in the morning because I had to be at work by 7,” Betts said. “About halfway back to the house, I realize my towel was gone. So I go back in there and he has it dangling out of his mouth.”

Her gloves would often suffer the same fate. Her reaction times also had to be very sharp or Ringo would dart out of his stall after he was finished. Clad in coveralls and cowboy boots, Betts knew she wasn’t going to catch him on foot. Luckily, waving a bottle or shaking a feed sack at him would bring him back to her in short order.

When Betts got tired of Ringo sucking on her coveralls while she was trying to clean his stall, he would spend his time chasing the family’s chickens or turn his attention to the cats that hung around the barn.

“All the cats had cowlicks on them,” Betts said.

Ringo’s larger than life personality gathered quite a following as Betts shared his adventures on her Facebook page using the hashtag #LifewithRingo. It wasn’t until Betts and her husband, Jake, were expecting her first baby that she was inspired to put Ringo’s escapades down on paper.

“I noticed that there was not a large amount of children’s farm or accurate agriculture literature to get kids excited about agriculture,” Betts said. “I felt that this was an opportunity to share my stories of my silly bucket calves.”

Those stories have now become the Cow Tales series that includes the first “Rowdy Ringo” book, “Goodnight Moo,” which Betts wrote about another special bucket calf that her daughter named “Moo,” and “Rowdy Ringo and the Cowboys,” which is expected to be published fall 2023.

Ringo’s adventures continued to thrive on social media too. As friends shared her stories on their Facebook pages, they added that Betts would be happy to visit with school children about agriculture if any teachers were interested. Those posts brought Ringo to Kansas City’s urban students virtually just last year.

Betts had lived in Kansas City briefly for her job with Purina Animal Nutrition and she was amazed how far people had drifted from farms and agriculture. Many students hadn’t even seen a cow before. It was an eye-opening experience for Betts.

“I read the story and then we had question and answer time,” Betts said. “A bucket calf is a novelty to [urban] children and I’m thinking, ‘Man, I grew up with these on my back porch when it got cold out.’”

Others who grew up taking care of bucket calves have started using Betts’s stories to tell of their own farmyard adventures.

“I think it gives parents and grandparents a special way to connect with their kids and grandkids and share their own stories,” Betts said.

Betts learned to tell stories from her dad and used that ability through English classes, 4-H, and FFA projects. As a busy mom with two small children and a third baby due in March, Betts is often asked when she finds the time to write.

“I tell them that I spend entirely way too much time in the cab of the combine or tractor,” she said.

That time behind the wheel gives her time to reflect on all the experiences she’s had because of agriculture and all that she wants to share with her children and all those who read her books.

Sign up for HPJ Insights

Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

“I believe that the future of agriculture starts with our children,” Betts said.

Betts says she took the FFA Creed to heart when she started her Cow Tales series, “I believe in the future of agriculture.”

Jennifer Theurer can be reached at 620-227-1858 or [email protected].