Sunday, January 30, 2011

Feeding the Herd

I hate feeding cows

Straw chaff and hay leaves – up your nose, in your eyes, down your neck 
Cows milling around the truck
Bitter cold in heavy coveralls
Monotonous drudgery and aching backs
Forever ‘til spring.
Frozen bales, frozen strings, and frozen ligaments
Ancient relics for feed trucks, sticky steering, sputtering start and 
                         stuck in the snow . . . again

I like feeding cows

The rhythmic daily ritual of frosty mornings
A cow greeting, admiring their resoluteness
Looking forward to Grandma’s rice pudding at coffee time
Raising kids – our way
Cows milling around the truck
A total body workout, no membership fee required
A warm silk neckerchief, my Stormy Kromer
                         and leather Kincos with “Mom” lettered in permanent marker

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sisterly Advice

My favorite contemporary women authors promote “practice writing,” sometimes called “free writing.” You just put pen to paper and go. The idea is to summon up your first thoughts, not get drug down by second thoughts. To free write is to lube the joints - just like a runner . . . well, runs. It doesn’t have to be perfect or even good. Just write.

Callie was thinking along the same lines when she wrote Anna about facing the big decisions ahead of her. Callie lives in New York City, a dancer by passion if not (yet) by trade. She is also a fine writer; I wish I had her creativity with words. Anna is a senior in high school and wrangling with which college to attend, what to study, what to do next. Callie faces similar confounding questions every day and insightfully wrote, “you have a blank canvas staring you in the face, and you realize you are the one and only painter. Each stroke could mean judgement – failure – success – a bad decision – a good decision. I guess the fact is . . . to just paint.”

What grand advice! I think about that as I go about my days. For, of course, you never get over needing to make big decisions about your life, even at 51. It’s not a bad fall-back philosophy. Just paint. Just write. Just do. For in the doing, you live fully.

Anna hurried home from school on Thursday to help us walk the cows home from the cornstalks. It was great to have her. She always lends a bit of sunshine to the dreariest of days, so much so that we call her our “bright spot.” And as she ventures out into the world, may she paint with abandon, with broad strokes and vibrant colors.

Anna on "Anna" (so named because they share a birthday)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Low-Fat Debacle

We’ve been enjoying a lovely thaw with temperatures reaching 40 degrees; that's a 50 degree change since the minus 10 of last week. I took the opportunity to walk out to the “back forty” to see how the bulls and horses are fairing. They’re sharing a pasture of stockpiled grass and getting along famously.

Last night I finished a second reading of The Schwarzbein Principle, a must read for anyone puzzling over the increase of the average mid-section of our human population. Dr. Schwarzbein lays blame on the low-fat, high-carbohydrate dieting craze. She says people think they’re doing right by shunning culprits like red meat, eggs, butter and mayonnaise, and eating low-fat dairy products, pasta and breakfast cereal, but are getting fatter, sicker and more depressed. Do you disagree? Turns out eating fat doesn’t make us fat. Fat is essential for regeneration of our tissues, it keeps insulin levels in check, which in turn helps prevent cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. 

Other bad habits are familiar - stress, dieting, caffeine, alcohol, aspartame, tobacco, and lack of exercise. In short, our lifestyles are making us sick and aging us quicker than we need to. Schwarzbein says to eat a balanced diet of “real” food, nothing processed. Except for homemade bread, it’s what I was raised on, garden vegetables, pork, beef, and chicken - and everything from scratch.  

I am reminded of Jack LaLanne (remember him in his jumpsuit and ballet slippers?) who said,  “if God didn’t make it, don’t eat it.” Or Dr. Gott’s, “No sugar, No flour” diet. Even Michael Pollan preaches that if Grandma wouldn't recognize it as food, don’t eat it. 

Seth is on board now since he discovered professor Loren Cordain on the web. Cordain hails the virtues of the “paleo diet,” eating as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did and what we are uniquely adapted to. His website,, touting lean meats, seafood, nuts, vegetables and fruit is worth a look.

The way I see it, it’s just more favorable news for good old-fashioned beef. No processing, no additives, nutrient dense, satisfying and wholesome - beef.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

New Company

The snow is heavy in the mountains, so the mule deer are coming down into the valley farms. There is a windbreak near the cows and a group of deer are making it their base camp. This morning we got a real treat when they came right up to where we had stopped in the pickup. We think they partake of the lick we put out for the cows.

The deer have lush healthy coats. They tread quietly on the snow and delicately jump the wheel line or scooch underneath, all the while keeping a sharp eye out for danger. I wish I could run my hand over their warm flanks and touch the smoothness of their antlers. They see us, but don’t seem alarmed as I move to focus my lens out the window. 

They brunched on twigs of a russian olive as we watched. The trees are invasive and we humans mount all kinds of offense to stop their march. The deer don’t care whether they're "invading" or not. It reminds me how barren much of our farm land is.

I regret that Seth wasn’t with us, as he loves hunting mule deer - with or without a gun. We took him and Anna for a drive later to see if we could spot more, but couldn’t get very close. Seth has taught me a lot about a conscientious hunter's wildlife ethic. I used to think hunting was a red-neck waste of time and game, but now I know different. We need more hunters (and cowboys) like Seth that understand and celebrate nature, and value all her residents.   

Seth heads back to northern Idaho for college in a day or two. I'll sure miss his hugs and our heartfelt conversations. God speed son . . . and watch for deer. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Extreme Grazing

It was below zero again today, which makes ranching chores none too fun. It’s hard to put on enough clothes to stay warm. 

We’re renting corn stalks from a neighbor to graze the older cows on this winter. We’ve found that daily fence line moves keep the cows happier and yield the best utilization of the stalks. Mark hung an electric string along the length of a center irrigation pivot so that it can be walked across the field daily. The cows learn quickly to come to fresh feed as the pivot moves. They hope to be first in line to dig out the few remaining ears of corn. It’s a two-person job, Mark drives the 4-wheeler to turn on the pivot and monitor the string, someone else tends the end to keep the string up and keep the cows from going around the pivot.

Cows are diligent and efficient grazers. It’s enjoyable to watch them wrap their tongues around the stems to strip off the tender leaves and yank the stalks to get them out of the snow. They receive a loose mineral/protein supplement too, as corn stalks aren’t a balanced diet on their own. Monitoring the herd’s condition - their body fat - is critical this time of year. They’re holding their own despite the temperature.

This is a new endeavor for our area, corn being a recent addition to the crops of southeast Idaho. This is our third year, and every season is different with many lessons learned. It’s cheaper than feeding expensive hay - not a windfall, just enough to make it worthwhile. 

We see it as a win-win with our farming neighbors. Not only does the farmer receive a daily rental, he gains the benefit of the urine and manure fertilizing his fields, enhanced by the mineral supplement going through the cows. 
We appreciate this neighbor who sees the advantage of cows on the land, using a crop residual, and doing what comes natural. 

Anna and Mark - doling out a fresh "break"