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! 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Find It On The Farm! Volume 2: Feeding Time! ANSWER KEY

Here's the answer key to Find It On The Farm! Volume 2: Feeding Time!  Following the answer key is a bunch of other photos I took during feeding the other day. Enjoy!

CLUES:
1. Find JEFF (1pt)
2. Find 2 HAY BALES (1 pt each)
3. Find 4 BLACK COWS (1 pt each)
4. Find a WHITE-FACED COW (1 pt)
5. Find 4 EMPTY BALE FEEDERS (1 pt each)
6. Find 4 CALF EAR TAGS: Pink Tag, Yellow Tag, Green Tag, Orange Tag (1 pt each)
7. Find 2 OLD AUGERS (1 pt each)
Total possible points: 18

So-- How did you do?

Also, what's your opinion of this series? Keep it or bag it? Let me know in the comments! 

And now, enjoy the rest of the photos!

Cows love their hay! 

This little guy has throwback Simmental coloring! 

Black calf is representing the 406.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Find It On The Farm! Volume 2: Feeding Time!

And now, for the second installment of my new series Find It On The Farm!

This photo was taken this morning on my phone while I watched Jeff and Tom feed a few bales of hay to the cows. We're tapering down calving time right now, so the mamas and their babies are in this pen together. For best results and ease of viewing, play Find It On The Farm on your computer where you'll have a bigger screen, or zoom in if you can. Some of the answers are pretty small!  You get one point for each correct find. This time, there is a total of 18 points possible. Have fun!

CLUES:
1. Find JEFF (1pt)
2. Find 2 HAY BALES (1 pt each)
3. Find 4 BLACK COWS (1 pt each)
4. Find a WHITE-FACED COW (1 pt)
5. Find 4 EMPTY BALE FEEDERS (1 pt each)
6. Find 4 CALF EAR TAGS: Pink Tag, Yellow Tag, Green Tag, Orange Tag (1 pt each)
7. Find 2 OLD AUGERS (1 pt each)
Total possible points: 18

Answer Key will post in a day or two in case you get stumped or want to see how you did!

Thanks for playing! :)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March 2014 Roundup!

Did you notice that I included the word *Roundup* in the title of this blog post? Those of you who have been faithful followers of PrairiePonderingsMT for a while have probably noticed that a *Roundup* post typically follows a long drought of posts and allows me to briefly update readers on some of what's been going on lately, why I've been busy and haven't written much. I have heard through the grapevine that one or two of you have been going through withdrawal (KenmoreJim!). Thanks for sticking with me! Enjoy the March 2104 Roundup!

Calving
Calving is actually nearing its end at this point. We're probably about 80% finished and definitely tapering off. Overall, it's gone very well so far. We had one still-born, but had a set of twins to match one up with the baby-less mama so as of yet we're still 100% for calves. Now the calves are mostly out in the large pen where they have room to romp around and hop and play. They're pretty cute. I'll try to get some photos soon. As of now, Jeff and I are still staying over at his folks' place but I think we're nearing the time when we'll be able to stay at home again.

Hoop!
Another reason I love this time of year is that NCAA basketball heats up with tournament play and there tends to be time during calving to spend watching a lot of games in between checks. This year was no different and has been especially thrilling as my hometown Iowa State Cyclones are advancing to the Sweet Sixteen! We have been following them all year and I have definitely converted Jeff and his family into Cyclone fans (works out well because the Bobcats are not exactly a basketball power). We watched Iowa State beat Kansas State, Kansas (Somebody got their Chalk Rocked!), and then Baylor to win the Big 12 Tournament for the first time in many years. Then we watched the Cyclones defeat North Carolina Central and University of North Carolina in the first few matchups of the Big Dance. This Friday they're headed to Madison Square Garden in NYC to take on UConn. I am ecstatic! We have also been following and cheering for Stanford because Josh Huestis has a local connection. Cheer with us! :)

Jet Setting
As part of our FUE leadership training, we were fortunate to travel to Santa Fe, NM for several days to attend the National Farmers Union Convention. The Convention was really interesting and informative and I learned a lot about the organization as a whole. It truly is a grassroots organization, and a good example of democracy in action. Each time I attend a conference or convention I am affirmed that this is a group I want to be in and this was no different. There was a lot of talk about the Farm Bill, how Farmers Union played a role in passing it, and what it means for farmers. We were also very privileged to see U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack as the keynote speaker of the convention. He is a great advocate for rural america and agriculture- his speech was very good. The best part of the convention was getting together with the other FUE couples that are in our group. We have a great group of friends that I know we will keep for many years to come, thanks to this experience!

Track&Field
Track season is underway as we are in our second week of practices. I am an Assistant Coach again this year, working specifically on the hurdle and high jump events again. Our team is returning a lot of leadership and talent this year so I think we will again have a good chance to do well in post-season meets on both the boys and girls squads. Right now, we are practicing indoors and mainly working on good running form mechanics, flexibility, quickness, etc. I can't wait for practice to begin moving outdoors and to begin to dig in to some of our event work. I think it's going to be a really great season!

SUM
We have all been staying busy with Shape Up Montana activities. No more weird green smoothies lately, but we are having fun, getting healthy, and working together. Last week we had a challenge to make a vegetable soup. I have to say it was much tastier than the smoothie.  This week we are competing in a "virtual 5k." Our team is ranked 9 out of 25 teams, so we're doing pretty good!

Seamstress For Hire
With March also comes Prom Season. I have kept very busy with Prom dress alterations this year. Each of the previous two years I had only one dress to alter, but this year I have had three dresses plus a few other projects thrown in, all for friends and neighbors on the hi-line.  It's fun to see the styles of dresses the girls are picking out and I have had some unique problem-solving opportunities in a few cases with some of the dresses. Bejeweled, brightly-hewed poofy princess dresses have been strewn about my house for several weeks now. It looks like an exploded bag of sparkly Skittles in my living room sewing area. Nice to keep up my sewing skills!

So there you have it! Brief blasts about a variety of goings-on in our world right now! Spring will be here before you know it. Well, Calendar Spring has begun, but it's still snowy and wintry around here. We're waiting for days to warm up a bit and I know Jeff is anxious to get out in the field when they dry out. For now, I'm actually thankful for an extended spring skiing season. With record snowfall this year at our nearest ski hill and Jeff starting to get into skiing, we have had a lot of fun and I don't want it to end! All the same, that's all for now, folks! Thanks for reading, everyone!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Lions and Calves

March is in like a Lion in North-Central Montana this year. Our outdoor temperature has not read above -10 in several days and wind chills have been much, much colder than that.

March 1, of course, is our calving due date. Before my time on the ranch the due date used to be in February but they decided to move it back a bit to avoid the below-zero weather that can occur in the depths of winter.  I'll pause to let you consider that for a moment.

----------

I have been sleeping over with Jeff at Tom and Carol's house, functioning as Jeff's fourth alarm clock so he'll be able to rouse in the middle of the night to wander through the cows, checking for calves or signs of imminent calving. Yesterday, it was -17 outside (I didn't look at the windchill because I didn't want to know) and I was out helping Jeff isolate a few cows into the calving barn who looked like they were about ready to go.

We ended up with six in the barn and wouldn't you know, none of them calved over night. Those who did were the ones we left outdoors. Tom had found a calf around 12:30a.m. or so who had been born outside and was, well, it goes without saying, quite cold. Into the warming box in the barn he went.  Later, Jeff was out and the little guy still had frost on his ears and his tail, so Jeff spent some time trying to dry him off with a blow dryer, which he did not like at all. Tom went out again later and despite all of Jeff's drying efforts, the calf's ears and tail were frozen again. More hair drying.

Out every two hours or so, the guys wander through the cows. With the temperatures such as they are, it would not take long for more than ear or tail tips to freeze, but for the calf itself to be short-lived. Today, on top of the bitter cold, it has snowed all day. Such is the rhythm of calving, combined with Mother Nature's fickle moods, and we're all adapting quite well. We're looking forward to the rest of this week, which promises to be much, much warmer. Temperatures back into the 30's (notice I did NOT put a negative sign in front of that number!) will mean checks less often and fewer night-checks overall, which means more sleep for all.

Even among all the stress, lack of sleep, unexpected realities, we count our blessings that we get to do these things at all. That we get to do what we love in a beautiful place. Bringing new life into the world, of any kind, is a treasure that we as ranchers experience intimately. It's pretty special. This is a lifestyle I wouldn't trade.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Green Machine!

The things we do to *win*... 

For the second time this year, my Montana family and I are participating in a program called Shape Up Montana. We did it last year and really enjoyed it. This year, we had such enthusiasm that we had to break our team up into two teams because so many more people wanted to do it. We participate as a team because Shape Up Montana, or SUM, is actually a team competition. Teams can register from all over the state of Montana and we compete with each other for the most points per person on our team. This year the team I am on consists of me and Jeff, Tom and Carol (my in-laws), Katie and Josh (Jeff's sister and her husband), and Tia. Tia is actually not biologically related to anyone else on our team, but the first time I met her she introduced herself to me as "practically a sister" to Katie and Jeff. Good enough for me! Our Team name is WeBangs! If you're familiar with Ricky Martin songs from the 90's, you'll understand the pun. As I've mentioned, I do so love puns. 

So, as a team, we earn points for activity/exercise we do. This can be anything from walking and running, to cleaning and housework, to farm chores... and many activities in between. The nice thing about SUM is that they have done a great job coming up with many, many ways to give people credit for activity they are already doing in their daily lives.

The competition runs from February through April. At the end of this time period, the teams who have the most points per person win prizes. Most of all, it's a great program to challenge yourself to be more active, live a healthy lifestyle, and just to give yourself credit for what you may already be doing. I also like it because it has been a really fun way to do something as a family, and especially with Jeff, who has taken a very strong interest in the program. He told me yesterday that he is "competing to win this thing!"  

I guess we all have been competing to win this year. SUM has weekly challenges for participants to try. If they do the challenge, they earn 10 bonus points apiece. This past week, the challenge was to make a special smoothie according to a recipe they had on their website. This was no ordinary smoothie and was somewhat of a stretch for our rural Montana taste buds in some cases.  Nevertheless, I am proud of our team members because we ALL gave it a try! 

The smoothie has earned two nicknames in my vernacular: The Weird Green Smoothie, and Green Machine. They can be used interchangeably. The recipe is pretty simple. Throw a big handful of spinach, a chopped head of romaine lettuce, some celery stalks, an apple, a pair, and a banana in blender with a little water and lemon juice. Blend to perfection... or something like it. 

Jeff, Tom and I made the smoothie this past weekend right after spending all of Saturday morning doing cow work outside.  I wouldn't necessarily say we were looking forward to the smoothie or that it was really a "reward" after completing some hard work...but it was fun all the same. Jeff and Tom are such great sports!  We had a little difficulty getting past the look of the smoothie. Might have had something to do with being in the corrals prior to eating them. Calf poo has a certain color to it... 

Anyway, here's some photos of the whole crazy experience!
Some of the ingredients- awaiting their blended fate!
Mmmmmm.... See why we called it the Weird Green Smoothie?
"You want me to drink this?"
Down the hatch!
Part of a healthy post-chores lunch: Tomato soup, multigrain crackers, and Green Machine.
I had already finished my delicious roast beef sandwich.
Carol was in Bozeman visiting Katie and Josh for the weekend. They mixed their smoothie up on Saturday, too. I have to say they were much, much classier about it in their approach than we were. Thanks to Katie for sending me the photos of their experience!
They were missing the celery, but close enough!
Doesn't that make the smoothies look more appetizing?!
Nice work, guys!
I think I see the hint of a smile on her face...
That might be the look of skepticism... 
As if she's saying, "wow... I just ate that!"
I think for the most part the consensus was that the smoothie was not that bad... but not really that good either. It was overall kind of bland. There were more than a few comparisons to the smell of grass. Jeff said it reminded him of the compost heap. Appetizing, right? Maybe next time (if there is a next time!) we should blend in some flavorful herbs or some sweeter fruits or green tea. Or some honey... or yogurt.. ice cream...rum... All the same, great work WeBangs!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Calving Prep

Can you find Jeff in this photo?
Also, I'm starting to get to the point where I remember some cows from year to year-- that lighter colored cow with the small white star on her forehead is one of my favorites. 
Yesterday I spent quite a bit of time with Jeff and Tom working with the cows and getting ready for calving to begin in earnest. As of now, we actually have four calves so far. I posted about the first calf two posts ago, and in case you missed it, CLICK HERE to read up on the first newbie of the year. Since that first calf was born on February 13, we have had two more cows give birth. One of them had twins, so we've had four calves out of three cows so far.
That white-faced calf was our first one.
The really small looking calf that's kind of behind her is one of the twins.
We spent several hours yesterday taking care of last minute preparations before calving really begins in earnest. First, we tagged the three calves who hadn't been tagged yet and sent the pairs out to the big pen. This was done primarily so they'd be out of the way of the rest of the herd who has yet to calve. Plus, now they have more space.
Getting ready to give this calf its new tag!  Just like getting an ear pierced.
My favorite photo of the day. This little calf was born most recently. She is my new pal. She let me pet for quite a long time and just leaned into me while I was doing it, like a dog would. She was very sweet, and her mama did not care at all. 
Then we separated the cows into three groups: 1) Older Cows, 2) Young cows and heifers/first-time calvers, and 3) Late-calvers, or those who look like they will be in the second cycle of calving births. This helps with feeding and checking. Generally, the younger cows get a little better feed, and since they are younger or are calving for the first time, they are more likely to need assistance. The Older Cow group will still get walked through regularly (several times a day and once or twice at night, just like the first-timers), but they are a little less likely to need assistance unless the calf comes breach, or something else comes up. Once the cows have had a calf, after that they seem to remember what they're doing. The late-calver pen will still get walked through, but not probably as often as the first two I've mentioned.

Once we separated the cows into groups, we laid out A LOT of straw bedding for the animals to lay down in. With the weather turning cold, they certainly appreciate some extra warm straw!
Cows aren't the only animals who love new straw! Harvey could not stop rolling in it! 
Then it was time to feed bales in each of the pens. Pregnant cows go through hay pretty quickly. I wonder if any of them have any strange cravings?  Peanut butter and pickles? Mayonnaise and chocolate? More likely they want just the right mix of alfalfa and grass in their bale... Who knows. :)
Mmm... tasty, tasty hay! This is the young-cow/heifer pen.
Our official due date is March 1 but there are always some who go early.  Right now, there are some cows that look like they could go at any time. Because of this, and because of the very cold overnight temperatures we've been having lately, last night was the first night Jeff and I stayed at his parents' house so Jeff could go out for night checks. I usually help function as his alarm clock- making sure he gets out of bed the first time it rings. I'll also try to stay at least semi-lucid until he gets back so that if there's a problem, I can be ready to help.
Which of these ladies will be next?!
For now, we'll keep checking and making the rounds through the pens. It may seem like annoying chore or waste to go out at night when we aren't having any calves right at the moment, but with the weather so cold (below zero over night temperatures) we would hate to not check and go out on the morning to find a newborn calf who froze to death. It's a lot of work this time of year, but it's also very fun and very rewarding.

PS- Thank you to everyone who read and enjoyed my previous post-- the 200th Post (Observed)! That post had great response and quickly skyrocketed into the 6th most-viewed post I have done. It's only out of 5th place by one pageview! Thanks, everyone, for being faithful readers! I appreciate it!