Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Four States, Seven Days!

Jeff and I recently returned from a week-long road trip to and from an FUE gathering in Bayfield, WI. This post is mostly going to be photos from that trip, with some commentary by yours truly interspersed. If you can't remember what I'm talking about when I say FUE, refer to this post: http://prairieponderingsmt.blogspot.com/2013/06/welcome-to-fue.html, which I wrote just over a year ago after our first FUE engagement. 

It's just over 1000 miles from our farm to Bayfield, WI, which is on the south shore of Lake Superior, east of Duluth, MN. We decided to road trip it this time, rather than fly, which afforded us much quality time together in the car driving through scenic northern Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. We have solved all of the world's problems, or have at least come close to doing so, during this extensive time together. 

One of the real reasons we decided to drive rather than fly to Wisconsin was the opportunities we had to visit the farms of a few of the other couples in our FUE group. A person can learn so much by seeing another person's home, farm, and way of doing things. Most of all, we enjoyed spending quality time with families we have come to know quite well throughout this FUE experience. 

The first farm we stopped at was that of our friends in North Dakota, just south of Rolla, ND. They raise spring wheat, canola, and soybeans. Below is our friend Mark showing Jeff his tremendous spring wheat crop. I couldn't get over how green the landscape was in North Dakota and how tall the crops were compared to what we grow here. I suppose it largely has to do with the fact they receive much more moisture than we do, but they also grow different varieties of wheat and other crops that are well-suited to their environment and local climate. 

Mark is out standing in his field, and Jeff is standing next to him. Har har har... 
What's the old saying? Belly-button high by the 22nd of July? Because that's how high this wheat was on the day we were at their farm! Jeff and I joked that we'll use this photo on our Christmas Card and try to pass it off as our own wheat crop (wheat just does not grow that high here, at least not what I've seen so far) but truly, it is a tremendous wheat crop and our friends are great famers!
 Mark and Mindy and their family were outstanding hosts and we enjoyed our time with them! Below is a photo of a road bordering some of their farmland. Spring wheat on one side, canola on the other. Beautiful, big sky near sunset time. Just lovely.

The next day we continued our drive on to Wisconsin to stay at our friends' place which was actually near Bayfield, close to Maple, WI.  The drive went well and again the hospitality and generosity of our hosts was phenomenal. They took us out to dinner at a great little place right on a lake called the Deep Lake Lodge. Food was fantastic and service was outstanding.
 Bad photo... terrible glare off that car, but at least you can get an idea for the setting. It was peaceful and wonderful, with great food and even better company!
 The next day, Jim and Lisa and their kids took us on a tour of their farm by four-wheeler. I had thought that North Dakota was impossibly green and lush... until I saw their farm! I couldn't believe how many plants and grasses and trees were growing here. It felt like being in a jungle compared to dry north-central Montana!
This is what their pasture looks like. They move their cattle from one field to the next every three or four days! Ours stay in the same pasture for months before they use it up. LOOK AT ALL THAT GRASS!
Corn being raised for silage. 
They have forest bordering and within their pastures.  I have to say that I do not envy them for rounding up their cattle among the thickly wooded sections! 
After visiting the peaceful, beautiful farms of our friends along the way to Bayfield, it was time to get to Bayfield itself. Bayfield, WI is home of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, which is actually part of the U.S. National Park Service.  It was a gorgeous setting for the next two days of FUE meetings. 
This was the view from our meeting space in Bayfield. Pretty rough, right?
Seriously. FUE takes us to some pretty amazing places!
The theme for our meetings this time was on maintaining a balanced life through the sometimes-chaos of farming and all of our many hectic responsibilities. The speaker was great, as always, and gave me a lot to think about. He emphasized writing out your goals as individuals, as a couple, and as a business, which is essentially what farming is. We are in the business of growing food. Jeff and I have talked about it some since returning but I think we'll have to revisit the subject as time goes on. Right now, we're focused on the pre-harvest hubbub. 

As always, it was so, so good to get together with the other couples in our FUE group. We have some pretty outstanding people in our group and have formed some amazing connections that I feel will be lifelong. This time, the couples who will make up the next group of FUE joined us. It was their first conference together, and for us it was the next-to-last meeting. Our last one will be when we fly in to Washington D.C. in September. The couples in the new group each bring a unique perspective and will offer some interesting viewpoints, I'm sure. 

The new couple from Montana is a couple we had met several years ago at the Montana Department of Ag Young Couples Conference in Helena. We hadn't seen them since then, but remembered the connection we had with them that weekend and thought we'd invite them to do this FUE program. It was really great to reconnect with them and rekindle a friendship. They are not too far away from us in Montana, so we're going to try to do better about NOT waiting 3 years between times we see each other! 

We also reconnected, oddly enough, with the new couple from North Dakota. They are lifelong friends with the couple from Minnesota who is in our group, and got into FUE sort of through them. We had actually met them last fall when we were in Minot for our fall FUE get together. Another pretty awesome couple that Jeff and I seemed to hit it off with right away, and with whom I hope we can keep in touch. 

One evening of our trip to Bayfield, we had an organized cruise of the Apostle Islands. I did manage to take a few photos of the scenery while on the boat. Now, I'm kicking myself for not getting a good photo of me and Jeff while we were out there, or of us with our friends. Next time. 
A little blurry... but still beautiful.
Lighthouse under construction. 
Another lighthouse. Wish I remembered the names of the islands... 
At this point, we are looking forward to our DC fly-in in September. It's actually only about 6 weeks away. In this sense, FUE will book-end harvest for us. I have somewhat mixed emotions about what will be our final experience as an FUE couple. I am looking forward to it as the culmination of our training and gatherings from the past year, and as another chance to spend quality time with people who have become close friends, but I am also sad to see this all come to an end. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Vastness of the Sky and Land

I recently finished a book titled Breakfast With Buddha, by Roland Merullo, which is complicated to describe but is about a man who takes a road trip from NYC to North Dakota with a spiritual guru, by accident. It was a great read and I would recommend it.

When it got to the part of the journey where the protagonist and his Holy Man pal arrived in North Dakota at the man's family farm, I appreciated the description of the land and place, as it reminded me of Montana, and very much of where I live now. Everything that is described in this citation could and has happened on our farm. Here's the excerpt:

"In order to appreciate the place, you have to get out of your car and walk the fields-- say, just after the wheat has been harvested and the hay rolled into bales as tall as a man. You might come upon a prairie rattlesnake under one of those bales, and you might see a scampering cottontail or two, and you'll likely startle a covey of pheasant, partridge, or ruffled grouse in the sagebrush and wild prairie rose near the river. But mostly, if you stand quietly for a time, you'll get a sense of the vastness of the sky and of the land beneath it, a great, rich, untroubled emptiness that feeds a good percentage of the world."

We have been able to drive through a good portion of Montana and North Dakota on our way to Wisconsin for another FUE get-together, this time in Bayfield, WI, home of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. I'll post more about the conference after we get back, but it's always good to get together with our Farmers Union family. :)

At the farm right now, we left behind fields of ripening wheat and barley and hay in bales waiting to be picked up and brought to the yard. When we get back, we'll be readying the combine and the yard for harvest, but it's nice to have this time away right now, before things get crazy at home.

If you're looking for a good book, check out Breakfast With Buddha. You'll find some excellent imagery and descriptions of locales all across the US, some delightful characters and comedic moments, and you might gain deeper insight into your soul's contentment, too. Here in north-central Montana, we'll just keep on considering the vastness of sky and land and revel in our own understanding that there's more here than emptiness. This land feeds the world but also feeds the soul.

Photo by my mom, Penny Adam. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Long Day of Ranch Work

Have you ever begun a day feeling like you'd never finish everything that needed to happen? That's how I felt Friday morning with a long day of cow work ahead and just me and Jeff to do it.

Tom and Carol were away at a wedding, but it was the day for breeding time to end. This meant Jeff and I were responsible for bringing the different breeding groups home to the corrals and sorting out the bulls before returning the herd back to pasture. It was also a home-veterinarian day as we sprayed the herd for flies and also doctored two animals who had encountered porcupines while we had them in the corrals where we could manage them.

In case you'd like a refresher, here's a bit of an explanation on the fly-spraying that I did in a post about a year ago-   Newsflash: Cows get flies. Cows get flies realllllly bad. Bulls get them even worse than cows!  Do you like getting fly bites? Me neither.  I can’t imagine constantly having so many flies swarming around me.  I tend to reach for the bug spray pretty quickly.  Animals can’t apply it to themselves, so that’s where we come in.  They really seem to love the fly spray, which is mixed in with cool water.  On a hot summer day, it probably feels pretty good to get a cool shower and be rid of your bugs all at once! 

The cows were edgy all day long. I think it was the combination of being covered with biting flies, the heat, and the terrible smoke in the air from forest fires in Oregon and Washington. It just seemed like they weren't having anything we wanted them to do all day.

We went out to the pasture and started driving in the first group, which went fine until we joined them up with the second group, who were in another pasture on the way from the first pasture back to the yard. Once the two groups joined up, all they wanted to do was get reacquainted and push each other around for a while. I wish I had taken some photos of that, but what happens is two cows lower their heads down and literally go head-to-head, pushing each other back and forth. It's even more dramatic when two bulls go at it.
The tail-end of the group we drove in from pasture first thing in the morning. 
Of course, while we were out driving these two groups in, the four-wheeler Jeff was using broke down. (This is where all the horseback ranchers out there get their I-Told-You-Sos in). So we had to deal with that at least enough to make sure that fire didn't break out in the dry grass of the pasture before completing our cattle drive.

Getting the first two breeding groups into the yard and secured in the corrals took us about until lunch-time. After lunch, we began the arduous task of loading and hauling the cows who were at pasture at our place-- Jeff and I had a breeding group on the pasture East of our house for the summer, almost 10 miles from our corrals at Tom and Carol's. These animals had to be loaded into the trailer and taken over. As I mentioned, the cows were edgy all day and this was no exception. It took us FOREVER to get all the animals loaded. We had to do four different groups of either 6 or 7 pairs per group, plus the bull. No one wanted to load into the trailer. Eventually, after four trips between our place and Tom and Carol's, we had them all.

Finally, by about 4:00 p.m., we had everyone in the corrals where they were supposed to be. We then went through the process of spraying them with the fly-treat. For this, we took small groups at a time, Jeff sprayed them down, and then shooed them out into the big holding pen. The animals were at times reluctant to go where we wanted them to, or they'd all come at once. Animals be animals. Thankfully, for the most part, we have very gentle cows in our herd.

Earlier in the morning, Jeff had spotted two cows who had porcupine quills in their chins, so when we found each of them, we worked them into the chute to pull out the quills.
Porcupine quills are nearly two inches long, and very sharp with a slight barb on the end. In this picture, you can see less than half of the quills exposed, which means these ones had lodged in pretty deep. They continue to work their way into the flesh and eventually disintegrate, but can cause infection. A cow with quills deep into her chin, or even poking up through the bottom of her mouth, may be reluctant to eat well, which would then mean her milk may not be as good or as prolific, which could make the calf suffer... etc. Most of all, I imagine it would be extremely painful to have quills stuck in your chin. Definitely time for those to be pulled out.

This cow (in photos above and below) was the first of the two with quills that we helped. She was reluctant at first, but seemed to calm down once she realized what we were doing was actually helping her. Once we had her in the chute, Jeff used a special lasso to hold her head still while I pulled out the quills with needle-nose pliers. I'm sure it did not feel good, but I'm also quite certain she feels much better now with them out. After I got them all, she even let me scratch her head a little bit. I took that as her way of saying thank you.
Once we got all the animals sprayed, we then drove the whole group back out to a different pasture. This was the easily the best part of the day. The cows were feeling much better after their fly-treatment and were ready to get back on some grass. We hardly had to push them at all- they mostly went straight where we wanted them to go, thank goodness.

Sometimes it feels like as we transition the farm and ranch from Jeff's parents down to he and I managing, owning, operating, that we are taking on something monumentally difficult. Especially for me, not having grown up in this lifestyle, it sometimes makes me feel a bit overwhelmed to think about me and Jeff running the show. Are we qualified? Are we capable? Are we strong enough mentally, physically, and in our relationship? Can we do it?

Even though the day was hot, smoky, stressful and trying on me and Jeff at times, it is satisfying to have done it together, just the two of us. It was a big job for two people to manage that many animals and get it all done without incident (other than the four-wheeler). This day was big for me as affirmation that yes, we are qualified, capable, and strong enough. It's not going to be easy, but we can-- and will-- succeed. In the farming and ranching lifestyle, the risks and challenges can be unrelenting, but that makes the rewards that much greater, especially when doing it together with family.

We drove back to our own place late that evening, nearly twelve hours after we began our ranch work that morning, feeling hot, tired, and dirty but satisfied and glad to be done. We celebrated with a beer, some delicious frozen pizza (anything would have tasted gourmet this night!) and some cuddle time with Harvey on the couch. We are lucky to be doing what we doing in a place that we love.
Number one cow-herding dog, he is not. But he sure is handsome!





Montana Magazine Celebrates Centennial Farms

Almost a year ago now, we had a visit to our farm from a photographer who was doing a story on farms and ranches in Montana that had been in the same family for 100 years. Our farm was homesteaded in 1910, so our centennial was celebrated four years ago, but it was still cool to be included in the story, which was printed in this most recent issue of Montana Magazine.

Here's a link:

http://montanamagazine.com/portfolio-century-stories/

The web article isn't as good as the print article, so if you're in Montana, pick up a copy of Montana Magazine at your local independent book store and check it out. The photography is pretty good in the story, even if some of the details aren't 100 % correct. They do mention our involvement in Farmers Union, and that our farm was homesteaded by Jeff's Great-Grandmother (rare for women to homestead!), but then they never mention that we are from Inverness.

Here's another link to a blog post I did a few years ago that talks about our farm being homesteaded: https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8925967694042657102#editor/target=post;postID=3473278006020582098;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=135;src=postname

All the same, it's cool to be featured and even more cool to be part of this great family tradition of farming and ranching. This is a unique lifestyle and each and every farm is unique. We are lucky to carry on the family business in this beautiful place!

This photo was taken back in May I think. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

BICYCLE!

NOW BRINGING YOU BACKWARDS IN TIME! 

This is another post I wrote back in Oh... probably April... that's been sitting on the Drafts shelf collecting dust. Time to resurrect it, polish it off, and get it posted! Original text will be in black (below) and anywhere I've added or changed will be in this lovely rusty red color. 

Without further ado... 

BICYCLES!

I love being active in the country!  Now, I have yet another way I can do just that, thanks to the super-cool, totally awesome birthday present from my husband! He got me... A NEW BIKE! Wahoo!!

It's so pretty...and shiny... and blue... and it WORKS GREAT! It has nice, fat tires to accommodate gravel and dirt roads. We can ride on the road, or through the pasture, or in the Lost River WMA... wherever we want! 

I haven't biked in years because my old bike is plum worn out. Jeff had tried to fix it, but well, we found in the end it wasn't worth fixing. It did come from WalMart, after all, so it wasn't anything fancy, but it got me through all of college and beyond.  I used to ride my bike to and from class daily. Yes, I was definitely the only Fashion Major who did that. Plus, I would go for 20 mile bike rides around town about once a week. 

When I moved to Wyoming, I biked to work when my schedule and the weather allowed. Sometime after moving to Montana, my bike bit the dust for good, however, and has since been in the garage, literally collecting dust. Jeff renewed interest in biking recently and tuned his up. I was sad because I wanted to join him but with my unrideable old junker, I was left behind. 

Until now! Now, I can join Jeff and Harvey on some gravel road bike excursions! Spring and summer are upon us and I have great plans for this bike! Let the biking adventures begin!! ( Cue the Queen song... I want to ride my bicycle! I want to ride my bike! I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it when I like!)


Interestingly, after I got my new bike, Jeff realized how old and worn out his actually was, so shortly after my birthday, we got Jeff a new bike, too. We're calling it an Anniversary gift. :) Truly, it was worth it for both of us! 

This photo was taken on Fathers Day, shortly after Tom also got a new bike. The four of us rode "around the block," which is actually a ten mile loop by Tom and Carol's place. We've also done a nice ride on the River's Edge Trail in Great Falls. Jeff and I take our bikes out once or twice a week and are finding it's great exercise for the dog, too. We'd love to try them out on the cow and game paths in our pastures since they look like they'd make perfect single-track style riding, but now that it's snake season, we'll probably give that idea  rest for a while. All in all, the bikes have been a wonderful investment in our health and have created another way for us to be outside and enjoy the beautiful countryside we live in. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Plows, Cows, and Snake #2

Lately, Jeff and I have been feeling a little bit like we've been running in every direction. It seems like everything has been happening, or needs to be happening at the same time. I decided the best way to organize things into a blog post would be to just put up a bunch of photos and then try to narrate in between.

OK.

Go.

Photo #1: Fix the Plow
 We have a piece of ground that came out of CRP last year, so we seeded it to winter wheat last fall. And... it didn't come up. We got it 100% adjusted out, which meant that we have had to control weeds in it all summer and get it ready to try and plant again. We have used a combination of methods to do this. First, we sprayed it out. Then, Jeff has been going over the land again and again with the plow to try to level it out a bit more. We have come to the conclusion that plows were built for the purpose of breaking down as it seems like nearly every evening we are out there fixing the dang thing.

Beyond that, I actually really like this photo for the repetition of line and form, and contrast of metal on rough earth. Also for the implied vanishing point.

Moving on.

With the heat, Harvey spends most of the day indoors or lounging in the shade. We go for walks, runs, or bike rides early in the morning or late in the evening when it's cool. The neighboring crop fields have reached their fullest height, which is just high enough to really obscure view of the dog. See Photo #2. If you read my previous post (and keep reading to the bottom of this one!) you know that rattlesnakes are in season around her, so the limited visibility of my dog makes me walking him feel a little more stressful, but as long as he doesn't get to far away and I can keep my eye on him relatively well, I feel better.

Photo #2: Who's Tail is That?

The next set of photos references our cow herd. We are nearing the end of the breeding season for the cows. The bull is still with them, but will be extricated later this week. On Monday, Jeff moved the group we have at our place from the farther-away pasture up to the one close to the house. I like seeing them every day as they explore this pasture. They look pretty good-- the summer has been good to them!

Photo #3: Hello, Cow!

Photo #4: Preparing to Bolt
They saw me walking toward them, so they all stood up and got ready to run... 

Photo #5: On the Run
The image looks blurry because they were moving and kicking up dust.
And because I took the photo on my phone. 
Last night was another exciting night around here that ties in a couple of the aforementioned subjects. Once again the blow was broke down. Jeff had called and informed me that he'd be coming back to the yard to get me and some supplies so we could go back up to the field and work on it. 

I started getting ready to go when I caught glimpse of Harvey out the window of our house-- looking like he was dodging away from something. I looked out the window and saw that he was about 6-8 feet away from a LARGE coiled rattlesnake, just behind one of our parked cars. I yelled to Harvey, "Harvey, NO! LEAVE IT!" And he cautiously trotted to the front door of the house, taking a very wide berth around the snake, and I let him in, making sure he hadn't been bit. Then, I called Jeff back and reported that we had another snake, this time very close to the house, then I went out and watched him until Jeff arrived and dispatched him. 
Not the world's greatest photo, but I wasn't interested in getting too much closer. 
This time, we kept the rattle, shown here with a fencing staple and a small rock. The rattle is about two inches long and includes eight rings, or whatever you want to call them. Needless to say, this was a big one. 
 So that's what's been happening around here. Second snake in less than a week right in the yard. I'm reasonably convinced that Harvey has learned to be very, very cautions around snakes and I feel fairly confident that he won't get bit again unless he is caught by surprise.

We continue to make progress in farming and ranching operations and are looking ahead to the start of Harvest, which will likely begin in a few weeks. :)


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Puddles and Pests

We are definitely in the throes of summer heat these days with temperatures in the upper 80s and low 90s and nary a breeze to be felt or cloud to provide a moment of shady refuge. The heat certainly puts stress on the crops, especially our spring wheat, which was seeded later in the spring. 

Because of this heat stress, we were especially glad to drive up the road Friday morning and see this:

(This and all subsequent photos were taken by Jeff on his phone.)
Puddles!
 We had a little rain event on Thursday at about Midnight that gave the wheat a quenching shower and vastly improved our outlook for the success of our crop. Jeff and I spent some time walking down the road, checking the rain gauge, and walking through the spring wheat.


 

It was a pleasant 60 degree morning with cloud cover-- a much welcomed change from the recent heat-- and nice weather for a crop tour. The wheat liked it, too!

There is one particular creature that always seems to be more abundant in heat, however, and that would be rattlesnakes. We hadn't seen any in the yard yet this year, but had seen a few on the roads among our fields, and had just been discussing that it would only be a matter of time before we encountered one up close and personal.  

That afternoon, as the day warmed to around 80 degrees, we spent some time doing yard work-- mowing, weedeating, eradicating weeds, and getting some of our grain bins ready for harvest. I was up near the house working on weeds when I heard Jeff yell from one of the back bins on the other end of the yard. Based on what I knew he was doing, and where he was, I figured one of two things had happened:

1) He needed some help with machinery

or...

2) He had an encounter with a rattlesnake. 

If you guessed option 2, you are correct! Jeff had been cautious approaching the bin, but we hadn't quite trimmed the weeds around it's opening yet and as he reached down into the grass to look for something, he heard the telltale, unmistakable warning of a snake's rattle. If he had been 18 inches closer to the snake, he would have had his hand right on him. That's when he backed away slowly and started yelling for me to come over. 

The snake was hard to see at first. Natural selection creates some excellent camouflage. But once I found him, coiled, milky-eyed, and angry, I stayed and kept an eye on him (from a safe distance!) while Jeff went after the shotgun. 

Shortly thereafter, the snake met his untimely end:
(Warning: Somewhat gruesome photo to follow!)
 Since he was coiled when Jeff shot, the snake lost his head, his rattle, and a few chunks of his midsection. Needless to say, he wouldn't be bothering us anymore.

We talk all the time about how rattlesnakes are part of the ecosystem here and are actually quite good at keeping gophers, mice, and other small rodents from overpopulating and becoming a nuisance. But. BUT. A person can't allow a dangerous rattlesnake to be living near a grain bin in their yard. Especially when that person has a curious farm dog and with harvest approaching. Our general rule is that snakes in a field or pasture will probably be left alone, but in or near the yard and they should probably be toasted. 

So, now we know for sure they're out there. Time to make sure the yard and surrounding environs stay nicely mowed and trimmed, keep a cautious eye and ear out, maintain eye contact on the dog as much as possible, wear close-toed shoes, watch where you're walking or running, etc. Trying to keep close encounters of the rattling kind at bay until fall. 

To read more about snakes in the yard, check out this post I did from about a year ago-- one of my most popular ever! http://www.prairieponderingsmt.blogspot.com/2013/07/snakes-on-plains.html.

Until next time, readers!