MATFIELD GREEN, Kan. — Lisa Ribar pulls a long plastic glove over her arm, yanks it in place and looks at the cow standing in the chute.
She slides her arm inside the cow and, gazing upward, listens as the veterinarian tells her to poke around gently and find a spot that responds to her touch.
"Oh! Awesome. I feel it. A baby cow. Awesome."
Ribar, 35, an office worker from Rogers, Ark., paid for the experience as a weekend guest at Prairie Women Adventures and Retreat.
On this clear autumn Saturday, about 40 cows wait to be run through the chute so the vet can learn if they're pregnant. Cattle also will be vaccinated, and some will have their horns cut.
The work is done by the dozen or so guests, three ranch hands, the vet and Jane Koger, who operates the retreat out of her 6,000-acre ranch in the Flint Hills of southeast Kansas.
Koger notes after Ribar does her pregnancy check that the guest has what's called "the prairie woman look."
"That's the look that says, 'I just caught the cow's head as it came through the chute, and I'd never touched a cow before and didn't know what a chute was, and yet I just did this,' " she said.
That's what life is about at Koger's ranch: women feeling courageous and capable, as if there isn't much that can stop them from doing what they want--especially when they're driving a two-ton hay bailer.
It's also what Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Least Heat Moon may have seen in Koger when he wrote about her and the rest of Chase County in his latest book, "PrairieErth."
Koger, 40, a fourth-generation Chase County rancher, left the region briefly for college and returned in 1979 to get into the family business. But she defies the stereotypes of a cattle rancher.
She drives a four-door Mazda, loves Broadway and travels to New York City for the shows. And, although she grew up eating meat twice a day, she now limits that to about two times a week.
"The truth is that I wanted to prove to myself, and to others, that I can play this game of ranching. And I have done that. I can do this, and I can do it well. But what I'm about now is education and women, and the good ol' boys can't do that."
Koger started Prairie Women Adventures and Retreat in 1986 because she felt a need among women to experience ranch life and do chores that meant getting smelly, dirty and sore.
Female-only guests stay in the bunkhouse, which was designed by women and built by an all-woman crew in about two months last year. Guests start the day about 8 a.m. and spend their time herding, branding, castrating and vaccinating cattle--depending on the season. Meals are served in the bunkhouse, which also has a deck and a hot tub, where guests often linger long into the night.
Why only women?
"Men have so many more opportunities in life, and ranching is so traditionally male anyway, that we're here to help women understand ranching and let them take from it what they can, which I happen to think is a lot," Koger said.
Because "PrairieErth" chronicles the past and present of Chase County, Koger said she knew there would be a surge of interest in the area and in her ranch. She was right.
Prairie Women Adventures and Retreat costs about $200 for a weekend and has become a popular draw for women from New York to Kansas City to Washington willing to trade their suits, heels and Volvos for jeans, boots and horses.
"Prairie Women is really about three things, education, environment and empowerment," Koger said. "The women who come here get to do non-traditional jobs, and it is empowering."
Many come not so much for what they can learn about ranching but for what ranching can teach them about themselves.
"I got here and I just felt: 'Ah. At last. A place I can be comfortable,' " said ranch hand Jessica Panko, 24, of Boston.
Panko, who recently graduated from Harvard with a degree in comparative religions, had been working at the ranch for about a month and planned to stay for a year.
"It's so exciting. They come from all walks of life," said Prairie Women director Rhea Miller, a longtime friend of Koger's. "When the ranch hands first see the guests, they think, 'Oh no, they'll never get along or . . . they'll never be able to do this work.' But by the end of two days they are pushing up cattle and getting each other's addresses."