Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Crazy Days of Preg Checking

 Anyone can imagine that three days of preg checking 1514 cows would be kinda crazy.  This year certainly didn’t disappoint, that’s for sure!  But even as crazy as it gets, it is such a fun weekend.  Getting this crew of Curlew cowboys together always means a good time.  They can’t go more than just a few minutes without giving somebody a hard time about something- teasing them with the hot shot, giving some sage marital advice, or telling them to pick up the slack.   They try to share WAY too much candy to my kids but only because they love them.  My favorite cowboy always searches out The Ranch Princess to say hello and give her a kiss.  They are a hard working bunch, never forgetting that they have a job to do but never letting the work stop them from keeping things fun.

We preg check these cows out to Black Pine- WAY out on the desert in the middle of nowhere on some corrals built there permanently for days like these.   Keeping the cows in the corrals for the long three days means that they get hot and raunchy and make any tough cowboy ready to crawl up the fence.  In fact we had a few intense moments that will go down in the books.

Let me set the stage…

Imagine, if you will, some old (but well built) corrals- big enough to hold 500 cows.  There are two or three cowboys on horses pushing cows through to the back of the ally.  There is a guy or two at the ally keeping the ally full of cows and running the back gate to keep from losing any.  The ally is lined with a few guys on each side with hot shots ready to zap (responsibly, I promise) any cow into gear.  (And when they’re not busy getting the cows, they pretend to shock each other… or steal their chair or something else to give some grief.)   

Staying with me?  Good- there’s more!

At the chute we have the vet up to his shoulder in cow- obviously… he’s like the man of the hour.  There is also a man running the chute, one marking the cows with hair bleach according to their gestation, and one replacing any tags that have been lost over the last year.  Next to the chute is a flatbed truck where we have ranchers taking numbers, doing shots, taking pictures (actually, that’s just me!) and my awesome kids.  When the cows are done being tested, they are sorted one of three ways- to go home now, to go to Locomotive, or to come home in a week.  What makes our sorting work despite the fact that there are no fences is the row of trucks and trailers that make a big ally to the field for the Locomotive cows. 

Are you thoroughly confused?

That’s ok.  Just understand lots of cowboys and lots of cows.  Now let me take you to the afternoon of day two.  Work is going along nicely, nothing out of the ordinary. That means we’ve had some great lunch, the chute has been cleaned out of a good sox inches of poop and at least one cow has attempted to jump over the fence.  I make the kids play close to the truck in the event some crazy manages to get over- something that really hasn’t happened in a while.  Until this day.  I’m not sure if the girl was nervous about her time in the chute or just ready to be free (I’m going with the latter) but whatever her reason, she was ready to get out. 

I was standing next to the flatbed, looking over the shoulder of my rancher’s wife double (we share the exact same name!) as she was teaching me about her record keeping program when all of the sudden we hear, “She’s coming over! She’s coming over!”  And then “Get the kids!”  I don’t even remember actually seeing the cow as she started teetering over ally just behind the chute, but I understood enough that we needed to move- FAST!  I swung The Rancher’s Sidekick up on to the truck quickly, but just as fast I realized there wasn’t enough time to get The Ranch Princess and climb up behind everyone else.  There wasn’t really even enough time to grab my girl and run.  I scooped up my baby and pressed up to the truck, turning her out of the way as best I could.  Just as we got there, one of those tough cowboys came to stand between us and that crazy, ornery cow.  He figured better a guy with a hot shot than a cowgirl with a kid if there were to be any type of face off. 

Are you on the edge of your seat?  Not really, I’m sure, but for us in the moment it was slightly intense because we were standing exactly in front of that cow and could surely have taken the brunt of her nasty attitude.  However… she went a different way.  We must have made enough commotion or looked like such a crazy site that in her tantrum she wasn’t willing to put up with us.  She just kicked up her heels and took off for the desert (a good place for her for the next five months).

Oh, the crazy days of preg checking.  We love them and are happy to be done with them for the year.  The cows are bred up, pregged up, and turned out for the winter.  We’re all alive and well and have decided to put up a few more poles on the ally next year!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Wanted: Good Fall Pasture

Have I mentioned how thankful we are for rain?  We are so thankful for the rain!  Its been incredible what the rain has done for us this fall.  The most recent realization of its awesomeness is that with all of the growth that has come from the rain we have found ourselves in some what of a dilemma.  OK, not a dilemma really, but more of an interesting situation that we haven't seen...

Every fall when the calves are weaned and we are done with the summer pasture we look for fall pasture.  The more fall pasture means that we can leave our cows out longer and not have to feed them at the home ranch.  Really, that never happens but some years finding enough pasture has been a slight issue.

But not this year!  We have had calls from so many farmers and ranchers saying that they have great regrowth after their last cutting and would have plenty of feed for our cattle to go through the fall on.  In fact, there are some farmers with wheat fields with winter wheat in that may be growing too much (so much it might not make it through the winter!) and want us to knock it down a little.  Can you say blessed?!  Oh, how we love the rain!

So a week after weaning the calves off, we gathered off 150 cows of the forest group and hauled them out for some good fall pasture.  And honestly, we hope not to make the return trip with them for a good long time!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Chicken Fiasco

I had to buy eggs today. It's the first time in like five years because we always had our own chickens. Even when we were poor-starving-college-students we had a few hens that provided "golden" eggs. Moving to the ranch only meant more eggs for us because when you have 18 hens and three families the eggs get shared around fast.

But it seems that every fall we have some sort of chicken drama. It was this time a year ago that the calves found their way into the chicken coop and scattered those crazy chickens all over the ranch yard. We spent all day gathering up those darn critters to try and keep them from the drooling dog that stalked them from the shed to the shop to the tractor...  This year, though, we couldn't save them from such an end. 

Yep, you heard right. The chickens are gone, dead, no longer laying eggs!  Fortunately for the dog, he wasn't the one to get them (I'm pretty sure he would be done for too!) and it wasn't because the calves crashed down the door. The intruder was much more stealthy- coming in the night and nabbing a few at a time. After the first couple nights of losing a few hens we guessed there was a weasel or racoon that had tunneled into the coop and moved the hens. 

But it didn't stop that ninja critter. 

We tried to get one step ahead of the hunter to save the few chickens we had left- the four remaining chickens. We put them in the horse trailer and left them there for days. The Ranch Boss set traps hoping to nab the intruder and let us feel safe to put the chickies back. But we never caught him. For weeks we didn't catch him. By this point we figured he had gotten frustrated and moved on. 

So we put the chickens back. They were happy and we were happy to have the few eggs they were laying. The kids and I were stalwart in doing the nightly egg gather and chicken lock up, always careful make sure there was no way a chicken could escape or a creeper to get in. 

But one morning we heard the bad news- the last of the chickens had been attacked and killed. We felt defeated. We lost all 18 chickens. And all this boiled down to one conclusion- no more fresh eggs. 

To appease your curiosity, we did find what got the chickens.  There was a mink that had escaped the mink farm in town and trekked down to our chicken coop. 

Now we know that we need to beef up our chicken coop to prevent any unwelcome visitors for getting their dinner. And until next spring when the next batch of chickens comes in we will buy eggs, coloring eggs as The Rancher's Sidekick calls them (apparently white store eggs have only one purpose!). 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Deer Hunt up Quaken Asp

Our quiet little valley has suddenly come alive this last week.  Our quaint little roads have become a bustling highway for hunters.  The deer hunting season is open and everyone has come to try and pull a big one out of our mountains.  We see hunters of all kinds- on horse back, hauling ATVs, old ones. young ones, smart ones, and ... ones that think that they are too cool for orange.  If you don't wear orange, you deserve to be shot.  Ok, I didn't say that, but really, why would you NOT be smart and wear something so the other hunter wouldn't shoot at you?!

Opening morning The Rancher and I decided to join the hunting crowd and head up to our private property in the heart of those mountains.  I guess we went up for two reasons- 1, to see if we couldn't find something big and 2, to keep everyone else off of our property.  And I guess a fun morning date is a good third reason for going!

We get a lot of mixed reactions when we post "No Hunting" on our private property.  With so many hunters coming in (we can usually count about 15- 20 opening morning!) we try to give the deer a little bit of refuge on our property.  Over the last ten years when the hunt opened up from a draw, the area has really picked through and it seems that only the young bucks are all that's left.  So we post our few acres and hope that people will respect our wishes and just move on.  There is enough land and game around that it isn't worth their fight.  At least that is what I am going to believe that they are saying, as we haven't had a problem yet.

On our hunt this year, we didn't see much at all.  Day one there was one little two point that popped up with a few doe... and that was it.  We sat for a while and watched them before moving on... kinda fun.  On day two we saw the same little buck, but this time in distress- he was being chased by a coyote!  Poor bugger to have two different kind of hunters after him that day!

Even though we didn't see much game, it has still been a fun deer hunt.  I definitely deserve the award for the most "shots" taken, although mine are fired from my trusty Nikon instead of The Rancher's rifle.  The morning sunrises were beautliful, the fall leaves were colorful, and the company was great!

Can you find the little deer hiding in this photo?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Checking Out the Calf Crop

Every time we look out towards the fields we see the beautiful green speckled with the black of the calves.  Its a beautiful sight...  Actually, the contrast of the beautiful green with the black really is pretty.  But there is a different beauty.  The beauty of a year's hard work.  The beauty of the rain that has blessed this valley with the feed we desperately need.  The beauty of the healthy calves eating and energetically running through the field. Truly, a beautiful sight.

Throughout the week, we will take several trips through the calves- checking the feed, the mineral and salt, and the overall health.  Its a little routine, but at the same time its a fun little drive we take as a family.  We spend a good part of the time yelling at the dogs to not chase the calves (who invites the dogs anyway?).  That usually follows with them trying to jump on the 4 wheeler, where there is NO room for any extras.  Just picture the Beverly Hillbillies... Now that the calves are really beginning to settle in, they have become quite curious.  They'll follow us around or chase the dogs, but as soon as we make a sudden move they take off to the other end of the pasture, just to turn back around.  Any typical curious child, right? 

These calves have really taken to the mineral and salt that we have been putting out.  We are doing everything we can to supplement their feed so that we can get them all the nutrients they need for healthy growing.  That means that on a lot of our family drives through the calves we are also loaded down with bags and bags of mineral.  How is the picture you are creating in your mind?  No, no one has fallen off...yet...  But do go so far as to imagine that dumping the mineral in the troughs is a highlight for the kids because it is SUPER fun to play in!

This is the time of year we take a little pride in the hard work we have put throughout the year to raise this calf crop.  A little drive through the calves has such a sweet smell of satisfaction!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Vaccinating in the Rain

We gathered... we sorted... we weaned... we hauled... and then we vaccinated.  Not all ranchers do it, but we do.  Its like with kids- not everyone has to, not everyone chooses to but we think its well worth it.  There are two times a year that we have all of the calves gathered up that we can give them their vaccinations- branding and weaning.

In the few years that we have been back to the ranch this is one of those areas that I have really jumped in to help.  Maybe that was because the first year we weaned I was big and pregnant and that was about all I could do.  But there is the nerdy medical side of me (the one that likes to think that I can be part of the at-home-vet crew) that likes to give shots... I don't know why I've settled myself in here, but I did...

Having the new chute was so nice.  So so SO nice!  It was fast, it had an awesome neck bar so I could give shots without my hand potentially getting hurt, and even better we didn't hurt any calves like we have in the past with the old chute.  Thanks Moly Mfg. for the Silencer!

One of our vaccinating days we had to wait for a break in the rain.  Lucky enough we got a few good hours of dry work in before the rain stared again.  But the rain didn't dampen any spirits.  Especially any of our little helpers.  These kids of mine love to come and help and don't mind being hours at the chute with bawling calves.  In fact, they each find a hot shot or a stick and find a place to poke the calves as we go through. 

It was a great few days vaccinating, but its great that its over.  They've had their booster shots and now its time for them to grow, grow, grow!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Integrity in the Middle of Nowhere

I realized something new this fall.  Outside from all of the awesomeness that comes with the riding and gathering on such beautiful fall days there is an incredible bond between the ranching men in this valley.  On one particular morning it was evident what kind of men we are privileged to work with.
All of our cows are run with other ranches, several ranches which means that there is plenty of man power when it is time to work them.  But one large bunch (all the bunches are large when you run nearly 800 cows!) we have only runs with one other ranch.  Most years we have plenty of extra help but this year we felt pretty lucky to not have a disaster with as few guys as we had.  Kids grow up and go to school and others really grow up and go on missions.  Some get other jobs.  Before we know it we are spread far and thin between, but still getting the job done.
When we got to the corrals where we were sorting I noticed that there were a lot more trucks and trailers and cowboys than what we had left.  Cool.  Some help.  But really, I was sure that they were only there to get their few calves that end up in our group.  Strays happen because that saying of the grass being greener on the other side is really true!  So we sort out the strays.  And no one really leaves.  We start weaning the big group of cows and everyone jumps in.  Even as a big storm came in and soaked everyone that didn't bring a rain coat (me... plus a few others) they all stuck around. 
After a while I decided that their time and effort was really a demonstration of their character.  They work until the work is done.  They help their neighbor simply because they know they need help.  They don't expect to be paid and would never hold it over our head.  And because of their willingness to help we turn around and help them whenever we can.  When they say they are coming we know it will happen because these men stay true to their word.
What incredible character, right?  I aspire to keep that kind of legacy alive in the ranch we run, in the family I raise and in the person I strive to become.