Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Final Lap

The starlings have started their fall time murmurations, those lovely flock formations that swoosh across the landscape as one fluid being. They gather in the evening before roosting and mass and twirl in flight to confuse predators. 

There’s a lovely layer of leaves on the ground where the dogs are tied under the cottonwoods. At chore time I’ve had to search around in the leaves to find the dog food dishes.

Mark announced yesterday that he was done irrigating for the year. One by one the canals have shut down. The water slows, then stands, then sinks. It’s sad and it’s beautiful with the leaves layered on top and settling to the canal floor as the water goes away. In a few more days the dogs will have to go to the hydrant for a drink instead of plunging into the canal.

Mark and Jesse have been working in the hills installing and repairing water facilities, fixing fence and upgrading a set of corrals with a crowding alley. I’m so glad they’ve had a chance to do some fall projects that Mark had in mind. He’s got such stamina for the steadiness of ranch work. I’m still hoping he’ll make time for some projects I had on my list, but the calendar is filling and snow is in the forecast.

The calves got to the other side of weaning in fine shape. Thankfully our drinking water foible didn’t bring on any sickness. Anna’s roommate was taken aback when Anna described the weaning process to her. I reminded her that the calves are pretty grown-up kids by now. It’s rather like sending them off to college. It still hurts but we get over it pretty quickly.

I had a fun project visiting some local cover crop farmers and writing news stories about them. The planting of cover crops to enrich the soil after the harvest of the main cash crop is an age-old practice that’s cool again. My friend Sam in Springfield has a lovely crop of turnips, radishes, phacelia (for pollinators), kale and barley. It makes wonderful fall and winter cattle feed and in mid-October was still buzzing with bees.

We have hope that more farmers in our area will adopt the practice and stop the blowing sand that is so aggravating every spring. I look forward to that April day when the wind is crisp and clean and pure. It could happen.

the black willows are extra pretty this year

doing well

Sam showing off  his giant radishes and turnips

bees are loving it


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Weaning Trial

The sun is out today and filtering through the golden quakie out my office window. We have a week of sunny weather in the forecast. It’s now or never for those last minute autumn chores.

We had a hard frost a couple of days ago. I gathered the last of the garden produce just in time. I was sad to find green spots on my potatoes. My fault for not getting the young plants hilled up or covered thoroughly with mulch. I brought in the last of the tomatoes to ripen indoors and gathered the few remaining cabbages, beets and onions.

We’re trying a new weaning method this fall. We set up a portable corral and chute on the range and put nose flaps in the calves to prevent them from sucking. They hang out with Mom but can’t suck so the weaning process is gradual. We’ll truck the calves home after 4 days and leave the cows in the high country. The calves will go right out on stockpiled feed in the green pastures here at home and not miss Mom so much. At least that’s the plan.

We had a big crew to gather the herd, sort the calves off, weigh each one and install the flaps. Every single person had a job. Seth and Alan worked the chute. Leah and Jessica worked the alley. Amy ran the gate to the scales. Mark, Jesse and I kept them coming from the back end. Dave, Gary and Gus gathered and sorted. Danielle recorded the weight of each calf, perching an umbrella over her paperwork during the snow storm.

We took turns eating sandwiches so we could keep the flow going and finished with the calves about 4:30 pm. From there we took the corral apart, loading the 16’ panels one by one in the stock trailer, folding up the portable system and hauling the chute down to where we set the whole thing up again to load out in a few days. By the time we were done it was dark, 8:00 pm, very cold and very windy. I think we froze some of our help. None of us were ready for that. 

I like to get a photo at the end of a day of working cattle. Our morale was pretty low at one point when we thought the snow storm might last all day. But when the clouds broke and we got a couple hours of sun we all felt better. And of course when the job is done everyone can relax and smile for the camera.

Mark has been back to the range every day since. The herd got a gate down one day and had to be put back. The water we were depending on is scant. Strays are coming in on us. I saw one calf who had figured out how to nurse around the nose apparatus. We’ll know in a couple of weeks whether we got them weaned without any sickness.  

Mark and I talk about this a lot. One just has to accept that things are seldom ideal. It’s hard for things to go smoothly. It happens once in a while but usually we have a hiccup, or more commonly a stumble, along the way. We need to remember that it's a good ranch and we do our best for our cows. 

Seth texted me a link to an article from Harvard University. A professor of psychology, Daniel Gilbert, has been researching our changing perception of problems. He says, “when problems become rare, we count more things as problems . . .  when the world gets better, we become harsher critics of it.” Oh, how true this is.  

It’s like the advice a rancher in our marketing cooperative gave the other day. He was talking about cowboys who dreaded going to the city to hand out beef samples to our customers. “Lower your expectations,” he said. Good advice for all kinds of ranching endeavors.

in good spirits

 Leah keeps them coming 

a new squeeze chute finally made the top spot in ranch improvements

only slightly annoyed

Monday, October 1, 2018

Picking Pairs

It’s the first of October and I’m none too happy about it. September lasted only a minute. I resolve to be lazy in October because I hear that’s how you stretch time.

The fruit trees are bearing heavily this year. The old apple tree in the pasture was loaded with handful sized fruit that made into applesauce in a jiffy. The apples were so big they didn’t fit in my handy dandy apple slicer/corer. We have pears as well from a tree out by an irrigation ditch. There must have been an old orchard there. Usually Mark comes home with a few fruit barely big enough to bother with. This year he picked two 5-gallon buckets of grocery store quality pears.

I rode with Mark to the hills today to deliver our portable corral and check on a heifer that was separated from her calf and in the wrong place when he left yesterday. He didn’t get home until 9:30 last night. He’s traveled that road, up and down and up and down this summer, until he has every washboard memorized.

Seth and Leah have finally set a wedding date after 5 years of varying degrees of togetherness. We’re all pleased as punch. We took a quick trip to the Tetons to take engagement photos. What a spectacular backdrop! Leah turned her phone camera on Mark and me, and after eight years of writing, our photo finally made the ranch blog.

Eight years of herding cows, pulling weeds, feeding dogs, gardening, saddling horses, making meals, making amends and making do. I lost my Mom and Dad in those eight years. Our kids turned into adults. Mark and I got older.

I used to write almost weekly, now it’s once or twice a month. The blog might be losing some of its zest for me, might peter out completely. But for now it still compels me to sit (drawing blood Mark says) and attempt this coalescing of a life. I don’t know why really, other than to help me process the passage of time. I’m supposed to have a higher purpose, inform consumers, promote the beef industry, etc., but in the end my main audience is my husband. He suggested the title to this piece. A play on words I guess. He proofreads every post. Once in a while I catch him listening to Pandora and paging through old entries. If he ever stops reading, I quit.

one of my favorites

we only got one pose so it had to be good

picking pears

apples and stockpiled grass, yum

the range in fall