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! 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Team Beef Montana

So it's been a while (as in over 3 months...) but I'm going to try to give this another go. Thanks to the comments from family and friend saying they have been missing my blog. It means a lot. I just got busy and haven't felt compelled to write in some time. Luckily I had a few of these drafts saved up that I wrote back in April, so all I have to do is tweak a bit, add some photos and links, and post. To be fair, there was also a chunk of time in there where Jeff and I had no computer and I don't like my phone well enough to type out blog posts on it instead.

Anyway, we're back. :)

Here goes!

**********************************************************************

Take a look at this gem of a running top that arrived in the mail for me recently:



It might look tacky to some, but I am super, super excited to announce that I am one of the newest members of Team Beef Montana!  We are beef advocates, many of us ranchers ourselves, who compete in road races, triathlons, etc., and promote beef as a healthy protein source while doing it! Best of all, we get to wear the snazzy jerseys when we run! Who wouldn't want to wear an image of a grill while running? I know if I were following someone who was wearing a steak, I'd be pretty motivated to finish and start planning my evening BBQ.

As a beef rancher, I am already passionate about eating beef and I believe that beef is one of many components to a healthy diet. Did you know there are 29 lean cuts of beef? And when eaten in combination with fruits, vegetables, and grains, beef is part of a heart-healthy diet? See, I'm not saying we should all go out eat eat huge portions of the fattiest cuts of steak and roast every night. What I am saying is that there are plenty of options to eat beef as part of a healthy diet, to fuel your activities.  What are some good choices? Lean ground beef, sirloin steak, chuck roast, are just a few choices that are healthy and also economical at the grocery store. In one serving of beef (one serving is 5-6 ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards), you get loads of essential minerals, especially zinc and iron, as well as amino acids, all of which help build muscle and satisfy hunger cravings.

Team Beef Montana is funded entirely through the Beef Checkoff program, through the Montana Beef Council:  MONTANA BEEF COUNCIL. What this means is that every rancher who has sold any bovine critters has helped pay for Team Beef activities. What this also means for you, Ranchers, is that Team Beef is working for YOU, promoting your product, beef, as a great choice for healthy eating. Team Beef Montana members must apply to be on the team and achieve a passing score on a beef nutrition quiz. The group is actually run by a Registered Dietitian, so you know our information is great, and that our leader is just as passionate about healthy lifestyles as the rest of us are!

So, you'll spot me wearing this jersey at upcoming road races, promoting beef in an optimal lean diet, as part of a pre- or post- workout meal. Possibly even handing out samples of beef jerkey as race fuel. I'll also be posting periodically some healthy beef recipes and meals Jeff and I make with our own home-raised beef that you can incorporate into your own pre- or post- workout meals. If anyone has any questions about Team Beef, our activities, or anything else, please ask!
This was a recent running route I did a few days ago.  Harvey and I did some speed-work up on the Correction Line (about 2.5 miles north of our house), then jogged home. 
As I stated earlier, this post was actually a draft I had written back in April. Since then, I have run in three road races. I actually wore my Team Beef jersey for all three, but the first two were really cold so I had to wear other layers over it. Speaking of awesome apparel, check out some of these race t-shirts:



Let's face it. Part of the reason anyone runs is for the sweet t-shirts, right?
This shirt from the run in Choteau is a particular gem. 
Me and Harvey just before Let Freedom Run in Choteau. This was the most recent race of the season for us, but also the first race I got to run in my Team Beef jersey without any layers over the top. Felt great to represent ranchers! 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Agricultural Calendar Girls

One of a few topics I did NOT mention in the recent March 2014 Roundup post I did recently is the Women in Ag calendar I am going to be in. That's right, I will be a Calendar Girl! This is a project that was the brainchild of the Montana Farmers Union Education Director. The idea is for women agricultural producers from across the state of Montana to be featured on each of the twelve months of the calendar. The photos will be of women doing what they do to contribute to the success of their agricultural operation, whether helping with cattle, picking rock, harvesting wheat, picking cherries, gardening, or anything else ag-related. The aim is to photograph a wide variety of agricultural pursuits to showcase what variety of production we have in Montana, and show that women are involved in all of them. The calendars will be printed and sold to raise funds for educational pursuits for Women in Ag, such as the Women's Conference I attended this past January. 

I had the lucky honor of being the first "model" for the photo shoot recently on March 26. The photographer and the MFU Education Director trekked out to our place in Almost-Canada, MT and we spent a morning walking through the corrals, taking photos. As it was calving time and I love calving time, the theme of my photo shoot was working with cows and calves. We had a great time and a very enjoyable session. Both women who came out to the farm are fantastic people and wonderful advocates for agriculture. We had a blast, and some great conversation! 

Photo taken by and used with permission by Delisa Clampitt, MFU Education Director.
On the day of my photo shoot as I waited for the arrival of the day's guests, I was busy in the kitchen helping to prepare the roast and vegetables we would later have for lunch. I was thinking about the many aspects of being a woman in agriculture and what a typical day might entail.  It is very normal, at least in our house, to go from housework and cooking to helping in the field or corral. Sometimes there is little or no notice before duty strikes outdoors. We have to be ready for plans to change, and even expect that they will. I can't imagine how women with children get anything done on the farm or in the house while juggling both with raising a child.

Something I think about frequently is how I am spending my time. I am sure that many women often think about this very same thing. How should I be spending my time?  Should I be home more? Should I be doing more on the farm? Am I working hard enough?  I do work full time in town in addition to helping on the farm whenever I can or whenever I am needed. Sometimes I feel like I should be home more. I feel like I am missing out on what is happening at home-- activities I could be learning about or helping with. Other times, it's clear that no more than one or two people are needed at home, working on farm activities, and I would not be of help anyway. For now, working in town at a full time job generates extra income for me and Jeff, keeps me busy, and is necessary, but there may come a time when I will need to be at home full-time. Time will tell. 

Ultimately, I am proud of the contributions I make to our household, whether as a helper on the farm or from income from my job. The Women in Ag Calendar celebrates exactly this sense of pride and contribution that women-producers all over the state of Montana share. Calendars are due to release in October, so stay tuned for pricing and availability information as the time approaches!