Monday, January 26, 2015

Visitors from Down Under

We’ve had fog every morning lately and the road has been super slick. I've been sneaking my way to ranch headquarters on foot until today when I thought to strap on the Yaktrax traction grabbers that Anna gave me for Christmas. VoilĂ ! 

We’ve had an affinity for Australia since the Johnston family from New South Wales came to the ranch in 2006. They stayed for 9 months to let their property recover from a stubborn drought. We so enjoyed our time with them and have kept track of them over the years. Because of that, we were especially happy to meet visitors from Queensland that showed up on our doorstep last week.

We knew that Clyde, Anna’s border collie, had sired not one but two puppies who had found their way to Australia with a woman who showed agility dogs. What a long way for a cattle herding dog from Idaho! But we never expected to meet the owners, Brent and Francisca, who while traveling in the U.S. to pick up another dog, decided to come through Idaho to meet Clyde and visit the ranch. Mark's mom Anita, who breeds border collies and had given Anna her puppy Clyde, had been in contact with Francisca through Facebook and arranged for the meeting.

We met in town and had a lovely supper. While we visited, Francisca determined that feeding cows sounded fun. We assured her she was welcome to tag along and arranged to meet them at the ranch first thing next morning. When Francisca stepped out of their car dressed in a stylish head-to-toe black outfit, complete with leather, fur cuffed gloves, I was skeptical. She was a trooper though and cheerfully stepped into an old pair of coveralls and feeding-friendly gloves.

They met Clyde, who was awfully excited to meet someone who was awfully excited to meet him in return! They told us his offspring, Tessa and Boomer, were smaller but similar in several ways to our large, friendly Clyde.

We ferried two trucks over to the main cow herd and Francisca helped Jesse and I feed the large ton bales while Brent took photos. Quite a change from their home in the subtropics just 15 minutes from the beach.

We have visitors to the ranch from time to time and it’s always interesting to get their perspective on our way of life. Some folks aren't too keen on the whole dirty affair, but Francisca . . . well . . . as she put it as we were standing on the feed truck, “I'm in heaven!”

Monday, January 19, 2015

Continuing Ed

I feel very differently about this time of year than I did when I was a kid. In grade school we wore dresses every day and walking to the school bus up our long lane was a chilly affair. I wore knee socks because I hated tights and I refused to wear a hat. Brrrrrrrr! January and February drug by, the dates ever-so-slowly changing in the upper left hand corner of Mrs. Whitworth’s chalkboard. Spring seemed forever away.

Now I relish every day of January and February. It’s not that I don’t like calving and the start of a new production year; I’m just in no hurry. I like all these hours of darkness, cozied up with a book in front of the woodstove or tackling a project at the computer. It’s the only time of year we have that most precious of commodities – time.

As I write, Mark is cleaning another saddle, his fourth so far this winter. He set a wooden saddle rack on an old flannel sheet in front of the woodstove where he works. Tonight he’s listening to Buck Owens, Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson . . . I think he enjoys it – the results of it anyway, for sure. 

He and his new Border Collie, Nan, attended a two day dog training clinic with master handler Jack Knox, of Butler, Missouri, formerly of Scotland. I watched for a few hours marveling at the spectacle. Jack stands in a ring with three plump sheep. One by one the tentative owners lead their dogs into the ring, then Jack takes over. Attached to their owner they might be, but Jack is in immediate control. He alternately urges the dog on to pressure the sheep, and firmly gives his “lie down” to slow the dog’s pace. Within four lessons he has every dog much more focused, settled a bit, and willing to work.

He admonishes his students, “give your dog the freedom to make mistakes. Correct the wrong and the right will happen.”  He says dogs are just like children, they learn when they make mistakes and they need lots of room to make plenty of them.

We’ve been lucky to learn from some of the greats in the many varied fields that ranching encompasses, cattle handling, horsemanship, soil health, grass management, even economic analysis. I’m ever thankful for a partner in Mark that shares my love of lifelong education. Let’s see, what learning opportunity is next?  

Jack helping Anita's Rob get it right

a mild January morning

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Wrapping up 2014

It’s been hovering around ten degrees below zero every morning for a few days. The cows need fed regardless of the weather and especially so in severe conditions. Mark is finding out the downside of the new used diesel truck we bought which is not wanting to start. The old '73 International and the '77 Ford fired up just fine though! I’ll even forgive the passenger door on the Ford that won’t open from the outside. Actually reaching across the seat to open the door for the feeder person is second nature. 

Callie made her way back to New York City, catching a plane at 5:40 am on New Year’s day. This followed a celebration the night before at her grandpa’s dance barn. I imagine she had quite a culture shock when she arrived back at La Guardia Airport. It was 48 degrees there on the east coast which only scratches the surface of the differences between the two places.

Gary’s dance barn, an old milking facility with a hardwood floor in the free stall area and a bar in the milking parlor, usually hosts a New Year’s Eve party. The dance was a good one this year because of all the young adults that showed up. Someone said dancing is a time honored “safe” way for males and females to come together. There wasn’t much mixing though until our kids got them involved in the Virginia Reel, an old folk dance where the boys line up on one side and the girls on the other. After much do-se-doing and sashaying and “swing your partner” they got mixed up right good.

There were lots of little kids too, young enough to dance freely without all those annoying insecurities that emerge at about 11 years old. We don’t dance enough in our world. Mark’s grandma and grandpa as young marrieds danced every week at one venue or another, changing partners throughout the evening. And you didn’t go home early just because you had little kids. Grandma Bonny says the kids would play until they fell asleep on benches along the edge of the dance floor. And if you ask me, that is much healthier than insisting they go home at 9:00 pm because “it’s their bedtime.”

My favorite part of any dance is watching my family out on the floor together. Seth is good to dance with his sisters and Mark can still cut a rug with Callie and Anna at the western swing. They don’t get dizzy like I do! 

a new year dawns