Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Yoga of Feeding Cows

We arrive each day at the same time. They trust us.  

I’ve had days, weeks, even whole seasons where I fought the daily ritual of feeding cows in my mind. I know it needs done, but surely there are better things to do with my time. Feeding cows, the labor part, is monotonous, often difficult for a woman as she ages, and mostly just plain COLD.

I don’t have to do it. We could find someone else to help. I go because I want the exercise and know that hiring another person this time of year is a waste of money. So I keep my complaints to myself. It is a mind game, like much of life. To acknowledge and accept the difficulties of life and to feel joy anyway. That is feeding cows. It also, as it turns out, is yoga.

Callie is studying this ancient practice and is teaching me little by little. We talked about how yoga applies to the whole of life, including ranch work. We Americans think of it as a form of exercise. Get a mat, sign up for a class and “go to yoga.” But it really is a mindset. In its purest form it means "connection," a variation of the word “yoke.” This connection is with your higher self, with the universe, even with cows. Callie will say “my yoga” meaning “my lesson” or “my path.” It’s all about controlling the mind.

So on the feed ground one can practice yoga. With clear intent, flake the hay off without fighting the bale. Breathe in, breathe out. Bend your knees, use fluid movements and the leverage of your whole body. It might be windy, and hay leaves and straw chaff swirl down your neck and up your nose. Breathe in, breathe out. Stay calm.

There are other annoyances. Cows crowd around the truck and one or two will insist on walking right next to the bed so you can’t slide the hay off. Don’t get mad. They’re good at being cows – so accept that. If there’s snow, plan on getting stuck on a dyke from time to time. No worries. You can usually rock your way out with a little ingenuity. If not, a tractor and chain can be brought from ranch headquarters. 

I've been learning on my own too. In my research, one style of yoga is defined as “the cessation of the perturbations of the mind.” That’s a good one - to cease being perturbed. Love it.   

Callie and Anna and the '73 International

King Dancer Pose
 or in Sanskrit, Natarajasana 

Friday, January 10, 2014


We’re taking feed to the older cows every morning. The heifers are still grazing.

We finally got some snow today, much of it sideways. It coated the sagebrush and plastered the trunks of the trees along the driveway.  

Anna and Callie are still home on vacation. Though they’re the best of friends and spend most of their time together, they’re not very similar. They share the same set of values, but have different personality characteristics. Cal is serious, thoughtful, driven. Anna is fun-loving, engaging, and happy. They say they're good for each other. Callie helps Anna think deeper. Anna helps Callie lighten up.

Callie is alternative everything. She makes roasted kale to go with our squash, is deep into yoga, analyzes every situation for fun and wants to live in a city for the arts. Anna is more mainstream. She eats whatever I cook (and likes it!), goes with the flow and wouldn't mind ending up back home on the ranch. But what they share trumps any differences they have - a passion for family, a love of the outdoors and animals, an adventurous spirit and a determination to pursue their dreams. Their common history and a brother they both adore cements them together. 

Anna lives in a crowded sorority and with finals behind her, coming home brought peace and quiet reflection. Callie is used to independent living in New York. For her, home presents a challenge to dovetail her schedule with family time and ranch work. They both said the first couple of days, though fun, were an adjustment. By now after nearly three weeks together, we've done our head butting, made-up and settled into a pleasant routine.

Anita, always looking to hone her photography skills, suggested a photo shoot just two days before the snow came. It was a gorgeous evening with honey-colored light. The girls put on make-up, curled their hair, pulled out the pseudo Ralph Lauren jackets and the cowboy wear and had a great time in spite of the cold.

The next day it was back to work moving heifers to a new field and feeding cows. When we got done they were still laughing together in spite of cold fingers.   

That our kids are good friends is the sweetest of parenting rewards. They like nothing better than time together, preferably deep in conversation. I just overheard from the front room as Callie sank into one of the chairs in front of the wood stove, “Anna, come sit across from me!” 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Year of the Family Farmer

Have you heard - 2014 has been tagged as the International Year of Family Farming. Beginning in Spain and now picked up by the United Nations, many organizations in the U.S. are coming on board.  According to an article in The Capital Press, the effort is designed to: 1) support the development of policies conducive to sustainable family farming, 2) increase knowledge, communication and public awareness of family farming, and 3) attain a better understanding of family farming needs. All sounds good to me. It’s how we live day in and day out around here. 

Seth had visitors from back east over the holiday break. East (to us) meaning Indiana, and way east, as in Germany. The visitors were headed to the bright lights of Vegas and Hollywood, but detoured along the way for a western ranching experience. We gathered up all the outdoor gear we could find and outfitted them for ranch chores. They moved cattle on horseback one morning and then drove to nearby Wolverine Canyon for a climbing adventure.  Their boots are still drying in the mud room, though I see photos of them on Facebook under city lights.

We have lots of kids come and go on the ranch. Some work for pay, others just want to volunteer and learn. I always worry that we'll wear them out, and some we do. Some decide the romance was ill-founded. Others develop real staying power and learn like a sponge. 

There’s a passage in the FFA Creed that goes like this:

I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words, but of deeds. For I know the joys and discomforts of agricultural life and hold an inborn fondness for those associations which, even in hours of discouragement, I cannot deny.

Today our own kids helped Mark vaccinate calves and finished up by washing out the stock trailer. Seth told his friend Leah, also visiting the ranch, that scrubbing manure was one of those “discomforts” they talk about in the Creed.

They seemed to be having fun, though. I think it has everything to do with WHO you’re working with and WHAT attitude you decide to employ.

So as you raise your glass at midnight tonight, say one for us, "here’s to family farming!"

Easterners having an Idaho cowboying experience 

working together