Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Mayan Forecast

We had three days of warm temps that made mush of the snow. The cattle felt good enough to buck and play when we arrived with the feed truck. And though today is still warmish, it's snowing again and the wind is picking up.

I asked Mark what I should blog about this week. The elk he and Clyde hazed off the stockpiled feed? The recent wedding ceremony he performed for our nephew? Or maybe just these quiet cherished evenings before calving starts. We have a date tonight to watch Downton Abby on public TV. I told Anna, “we might even shower!”

Actually Mark said I should write about the real truth behind the end of the Mayan calendar. According to Alberto Villoldo, as reported by Jurriaan Kemp and Elleke Bal in The Intelligent Optimist, the date of  December 21, 2012, never meant the end of humanity, but the end of one way of thinking and the beginning of a new world view, a tipping point, the beginning of a new cycle. In this new universe, you “only change the world by changing your inner life.” There will be challenges, but they’ll be outweighed by immense opportunities for those willing to step into a new era of consciousness.

And how does a rancher move into this new consciousness? Mark’s first response though he really liked the article was, “I don’t know.” We discussed what it might mean. Surely it will be taking the lessons from the past and using them in new ways to address ecosystem health while at the same time achieving sustainable profit. It will involve our young people and fresh ways of looking at managing the land and animals. It will be about producing food with the eater front and center, more of a collaboration than separate activities. It will focus on relationships - with plants and animals above and below the soil, and with people, our families and the consuming public. Collaborative groups will march ahead, leaving extremists behind to fight it out in an old and dying approach to managing resources. It will involve humility, vulnerability, and real courage. Who’s with us?    


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Big Beef?

We’re in a warming trend. It got to 20 degrees today. The difference between 20 and zero is ALOT. I may even forego the wool pants this week. I absconded with a pair that Seth purchased at the surplus store - heavy, tightly woven and army green. Just the ticket.

The Idaho Statesman ran back to back front page articles recently on what they deemed “Big Beef.” The message was solid and needs discussed, 1- the use (overuse?) of antibiotics in beef production and 2- the questionable use of mechanical tenderization on cuts of meat from older animals. I’m okay with the message and believe the beef industry needs to engage in open dialogue on both topics. What I object to is the assumption that “big beef” is bad. As if food production shouldn’t ever get big. The beef business is not unlike other industries that have consolidated to address economies of scale. It’s unrealistic to expect that just because we eat it, food is exempt from the squeezing of margins evident in other industries.  

And just because business is big doesn’t mean it’s bad. The methods that big agriculture employs mean a wider availability of affordable food for you and your neighbors. And for the most part, animals receive excellent care on the largest of operations. Their standard operating procedures can out pace smaller farms and ranches in lots of positive ways.

Besides that, in beef production, big beef and family ranches work hand in hand. It’s still the cow-calf man that provides the raw material. Big Beef might finish, slaughter, and market our animals, but there’s nothing big about Mom and Dad feeding cows every day in a ’68 Ford 2-ton. Nothing big about discussing expenses under a wool quilt or strategizing at coffee time with the crew.

I’m all for addressing the real issues - safety, integrity, sustainability. Let’s leave rhetoric behind and get started!   

clad in their winter coats

morning routine 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Deep Freeze

It’s cold. We’ve had such mild winters lately, that it shocks a body. Still, I keep thinking how familiar it is.  This is more like it. The snow is piling up and that’s good for the snowpack in the mountains which, in turn, means only good things for summer.

It only got to zero by noon today. I walked home from ranch headquarters and had to hold my gloves up to shield my cheeks from a biting breeze. I baked spaghetti squash and potatoes served with ground beef stroganoff for lunch.  All products of Pratt ranch, all “real food.” Then Mark went to a water meeting and I took some firewood up to my Dad’s. My sis had fresh chocolate chip cookies. I ate three, and, no, they’re not real food, but they’re soul food.

Some of our neighbors are calving and I’m feeling sorry for them. Our babies are safe and warm inside their moms for now. Thank goodness.

We went to the annual meeting of our grazing association this weekend. It was a milestone year. We lost 4 good cattlemen, lifetime members of our co-op, during 2012. It’s sobering and makes you look at the folks who gather to discuss business with new appreciation. After we had gone over the range report, elected new directors, argued over bull testing, visited about endangered species concerns and discussed finances, my 97-year-old aunt spoke up. She told us about her honeymoon in 1936. She and her sweetheart camped in a tent in a grazing allotment along Horse Creek, managed then as now in conjunction with other co-op lands. They stayed a week and had a wonderful time; had the world to themselves except for a bull or two.

My aunt Gwen is a role model to us all. She attends the grazing meeting each year when wives half her age can’t seem to make it. She cooks every day, stays engaged with life, finds positivity in the simplest of activities and shares her enthusiasm for life every chance she gets. When I grow up I want to be just like her.  


Thursday, January 3, 2013

The "Get To" Season

We walked the mature cows to their last pasture of stockpiled grass. It’s been wonderful having them feed themselves, but the hay stack is ready and waiting. I’ve been reading God Never Blinks by Regina Brett. She talks about using the phrase “get to” instead of “have to.” That’s a good way to look at feeding cows. I’m healthy and strong enough to ride a feed truck. The stackyard is full of home grown high dollar feed. We have a beautiful herd of paid for cows. We “get to” feed them!

The heifers have been on partial stored feed for about a week now. Anna and I bundled up to take them a load this morning at 8 degrees below zero. Everything is brittle and moves with hesitation on mornings like this. Every water tank needs broken. The snow crunches loud at every disturbance and the vehicles are sluggish - if you can get them to start at all. 

If the ranch has a slow season, it’s now. I love the long winter evenings, especially when Christmas is over and we get a fresh start on a new year. Last night we put together a puzzle, the night before it was Scrabble, and the night before that we watched It’s a Wonderful Life. We go to bed early and sleep a little later in the mornings. It’s much needed winter “hibernation” for Mark, a respite from his work schedule the rest of the year.

I finished my year-end review. I've done it for a few years now, just to get my bearings. I look back at my weekly planner, recording for posterity the highlights, challenges, and milestones of our ranch and personal and family life. Am I headed in the rough direction of true north? What do I need to think about in 2013 to make it a great year? How am I tending my spiritual, emotional, and physical life? Good questions for each of us to ponder.

the gather

treading carefully

dawn of a new year