The internship I didn't want

Thursday, October 29, 2015
Michaela Leimkuehler

I stared blankly at my advisor, trying to hide my disappointment. A feedlot? I felt like stomping my feet like a child and holding my breath until he gave me a different option for my summer internship. I didn't want to go to Kansas. I would have to live in Macksville, a microscopic town surrounded by strangers, all summer. This wasn't the glamourous office internship I had been wishing for.

It was 2011 and I barely had four semesters of cattle-handling under my belt. I didn't feel as though I should be trusted to care for 6,000 head of cattle.

What was it going to be like? Would I even like the family I would be staying with? Was I tough enough to ride pens and doctor cattle all day long? The dust, dirt and cow manure of a feedlot was no place for a city girl like me.

Desperate for an internship, I mumbled, "Yeah, sounds great," to my advisor, Dr. Williams. I felt my stomach start to twist as the words left my lips. What did I just get myself into?

Eight hours on the road, four phone calls to my mother and two fast-food meals later, I arrived in Macksville, Kan. It was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of town. The population totaled 550, now that I had arrived. Gary Seibert, owner of the backgrounding feedlot, greeted me eagerly and led me to his home where I would be spending the summer.

My working knowledge of the feedyard grew with every day and every new experience. My summer was filled with an exponential amount of firsts: going to my first cow sale, loading and unloading cattle off of a semi, doctoring cattle and even learning how to drive a four-wheeler. All of these experiences were an ordinary part of working on a feedlot, yet each one was new and intoxicating for me.

In the beginning, I held back shyly as the other cowboys, Tommy and Justin, took lead on nearly every task. I'd come home each evening more tired than the day before. Dusty, dirty and sometimes covered in cow manure. My body ached from the physical demands of standing, running or riding in my Durango boots all day. Somedays I'd even debate what was more important, food or sleep.

After a few short weeks, my delicate hands grew callouses and my wimpy city-girl arms sprouted tiny biceps. My mind quickly reacted when a calf turned the wrong way down an alley, moving my body to correct his movement back in the direction I wanted him to go. I could easily estimate how much hay and oats the hospital calves needed for the day. I could diagnose sick cattle and remember what medicines to give to help assist their recovery. These were all tasks that at the beginning of the summer seemed impossible to fathom.

Near the end of my internship at Seibert Feeding, I was taking initiative. Long gone was the timid college girl, and in her place stood a confident cattlewoman.

I can never thank the Seiberts, Gary, Nina and Dale, enough for taking a chance on a city girl like me, and Tommy, for taking me under his wing and showing me what it's like to be a real cowboy. The encouragement, confidence and love they showed me that summer, I will not quickly forget.

I stared blankly at my feedyard family, trying to hide the tears streaming down my face. I felt like stomping my foot and holding my breath until they let me stay just a little bit longer. I didn't want to go home to Missouri. I would have to go back to the huge University of Missouri, surrounded by city folks all semester. It was not the glamorous office internship I had wished for. It ended up being so much more.

Contact Michaela Leimkuehler at mleimkuehler@marshallnews.com