Saturday, January 23, 2016


It’s quiet on the ranch. We go about caring for the herd every morning just as generations of ranchers have done before us. Each winter day is the same as the one before unless severe weather intervenes. 

This statement is true on a ranch only once a year, the cold season, when nothing grows and snow can cover the ground for weeks at a time. By March we’ll be calving and every day is a wild card. The feeding still needs to happen, but we never know who might need help and how long the days will be. And at the same time spring arrives and the farm goes under irrigation and the cows go to grass and it’s a “hold on to your hat” affair.

But I won’t think about that just now. I’ll just enjoy the quiet.

To make it even better, Seth and Anna are home for a few weeks. Seth is working from home as an analyst for an agricultural consulting firm. He’s on the computer all day and has to stay focused. I’ve learned to be quiet and let him work. Anna is student teaching and putting in long hours in the classroom and planning upcoming lessons in the evening. She debriefs every night and it’s such fun to be in on this phase of her education.   

I get to spoil the kids with homemade meals. They’ve been gone long enough to appreciate Mom’s cooking.  

Mark has arranged extra hired help to feed cows this winter so I have more time to pursue my writing projects. I’m thrilled with the extra time and so thankful to him. His support means the world to me. Sometimes I find him of an evening, buried in the office supposedly doing bookwork, but instead reading old blog posts.

Seth is great to want to explore big topics. He told me about the book, Leading on Empty, and how the author, pastor Wayne Cordeiro, says to think about the time you spend each day on activities that only YOU can do. He says it may be only 5%, but that it determines the validity of the other 95% of your day. Without reading the book, I can only conjecture the author’s meaning within my own life context.

What do I do each day that I can’t hire someone else to do? It’s a great question. I’m the only mother my kids have. I’m Mark’s only wife. And even though I’m not the only woman rancher who must write to scratch an itch, I’m the only one with my unique life experience, a perspective born of that experience, and the will to faceoff with a blank word document.

That's my challenge. What's yours?

sometimes they're frozen

a winter walk with friends

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Money Side

It’s warmed up a little to the twenties and even some thirties in the daytime. We still have a solid snow covering. Seth and Leah’s perfect snowman still smiles at us out the picture window.

Every day now is a feeding cows day. The first day out was a pleasure. Ah yes, I remember this. It was a beautiful morning with a cover of fresh snow. The cows had a dusting of white on their backs.

When it’s really cold, the cows’ hooves make a creaking clamor as they crowd around the truck when we arrive each morning. Between bales I pull my fingers into my gloves and stand for a half-minute to get the blood flowing again. When it warms up, like now, we shed our coats after the first load and risk getting hay chaff down our necks.

Isn’t January grand? I love the feeling of a fresh start on a fresh new year. I finally got my 2016 planner set up today and the pages lay open - crisp and clean and full of promise.

Like every January, Mark and I have been going through ranch finances. I like the business side of the operation. A new year means visits to our accountant and banker and spending evenings sorting options. Actually, Mark does the sorting. I cheer him on and do what I can in the background. My forte is trying to figure out what questions to ask. I love questions. And really, it’s not so much about finding concrete answers, but rather thinking through the myriad of factors that good questions bring to mind. This is where the meat of great decisions lie.       

And we best be comfortable with questions on a ranch. How do we juggle the needs of four generations that have an interest in this business? How do we address a shortage of spring grazing? What is the return on soil amendments this past season?

Ranching is about relationships: cows and grass, employees and family members, older generations and younger generations, soil organisms in concert with above ground flora and fauna, horses and dogs and cows. And in the background, the relationship that keeps the rest of it together, those ever important debits and credits, income and expenses. For if that relationship doesn't work, the others have no chance to.