Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Softening

Winter has loosened her grip. We’ve had three mild days and the sun on my cheek this morning was decidedly warm.The wind, which goes hand in hand with warmer temperatures, finally stopped, feeding was a lark and the red-wing blackbirds are chatting amiably. 

But it’s not only a warm cheek and birdsong. It “feels” like calving time, like March. Yes it’s mud and it’s puddles of standing water over sheets of ice – treacherous for man and beast. But more than that, it is a change of mindset, a “switching over.” Not to spring, for that’s a way off yet, but to late winter. It’s a subtle change that those who live on the land understand in a way that folks who work indoors only give a mild nod to. They wait for it to warm up enough to play outdoors on the weekend. We’re just looking for 15 degrees to shed one layer of clothing; 15 degrees to dry a sidehill for a calf to stand and suck.

My indoor, feminine side hates to see the snow leave. I like fireside reading and long evenings. I like the placid feel of pregnant cows burrowing their heads in hay. I like Mark having some down time. Farewell to that.  

The gals are starting to show their condition. We have a cow that develops a pinched nerve when she’s heavy with calf. She was on the back end as we walked the herd to ranch headquarters this week. I brought her along slowly as she was in obvious discomfort.

We're back to just one kid again. Seth will be working out of North Carolina for a few months. He hated to leave the West, the family and the ranch. I told him it, and us, will still be here when he finds his way back home again. I drove him to the airport and as we headed out the driveway he asked to stop in to great-grandmas for one last hug. He has always faced up to his goodbyes. Me, I hurry through them, not wanting to cry. Crying is for sissies. Yeah, right.         

the gate on Weeding Lane

needs a lift


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Unplanned Pregnancies

We weren’t expecting any calves this soon, but there are three on the ground right now. We think the neighbor’s bull went on a walk-about.

There’s a herd of elk marauding the neighborhood. They spent one night in our stackyard munching on third-crop alfalfa bales. Then they went out in the pasture and dug holes in the snow, eating our stockpiled feed we were saving ‘til spring. They drug the electric fencing wires hither and yon. Apparently they've moved on because we haven't seen them for a few days.   

I walked home after chores through our backgrounding feedlot this morning. There is a wide alley between pens to allow hay to be delivered to opposing feed bunks. The calves look happy. Jesse is doing a good job of tending them. He feeds them twice a day and delivers large straw bales into the pens every few days so they have a clean, dry place to lie down. It’s a pleasant, congenial spot to spend a cold winter day.  

The cow herd is divided into two herds this time of year. One for the older cows and one for the younger cows that are expecting their first or second calf. We can take our best hay to the young cows and not expect them to compete with the old gals for feed.  

There’s one baby in the young cows, the heifers. She was born to a “second-calver,” which is a good thing because heifers are so excited about the newcomer they can overwhelm a neophyte mother. They crowd around, sniffing the baby, and can interfere with the bonding so critical to the calf’s health. This mother, wise from doing it once before, knew to keep her newborn away from the herd, under wraps for a bit. She was keeping a tight rein on her baby, bunting away an interloper as we watched. Once a few calves arrive the herd becomes accustomed to the process and it's not a problem. 

Early or not, we’ll take every healthy calf we get. We have a bit of experience in unplanned pregnancies ourselves. Sometimes surprises produce the best outcomes!   

Mom is wary but standing guard

Monday, February 8, 2016

Staying Power

We still have our solid snow covering. It’s packed hard. Venturing off the feedground into fresh territory takes chains and bravado. We’ve gotten stuck a few times which keeps us humble. Truth told, smooth sailing doesn’t show one’s true character does it? Wallowing around in the snow securing tire chains does. I let Mark do the wallowing of course. It’s so unfair.

I read to Mark out of my 2015 diary. It was 63 degrees on this date. What? The forecast for today is a high of 26!   

It’s a new year. Some things are the same. Red meat and raising cows in general is still being vilified. We’re still ignoring nutrition commonsense and refusing to raise the conversation around climate issues. And some things are different. After several years of sky-high beef industry profits, calf prices have plummeted to nearly one-half the high of a few short months ago.

The agricultural world is rife with boom and bust net returns. Of course any economic sector (oil for instance) can fluctuate wildly, and keeping our wits about us when prices are strong is always good advice.

Mark and I have asked ourselves more than once, “Were high cattle prices good for the industry?” On one hand, ranchers finally had enough money to build the shop, buy the new Ford tractor, remodel the house or put a handsome down payment into a coveted piece of real estate. On the other hand, grazing rental rates went through the roof because of competition for grass. And if you were trying to expand, cow prices were (and still are in our opinion) too high to cash flow. Seems the ride up is easy, the ride down stilted and begrudging. Hopefully the new equipment was paid for in cash and any real estate debt comes with a payment that can be covered when profits are squeezed. 

The high prices put a shot of adrenaline into the beef industry. Many ranching families brought on the next generation during this upswing. This was positive in so many ways, but now it's time to dig into the finances and help the youngsters understand the figure at the end of the spreadsheet. Then work together to keep it in the black. Knowledge is power, and respectful debate and collaboration, golden. 

beauty in my world