Saturday, April 24, 2010

In the blink of an eye

I spend a lot of time alone. It suits me, I guess. For a majority of my life, I have either played alone, worked alone, lived alone or driven alone. One good thing about being alone is that you always get your own way....and if you talk to anyone, that person generally agrees with you.

While I am feeding cows or out horseback, I have a lot of time to think. And lately, I have been thinking about how quickly things can change in a person's life. Accidents happen so quickly, so do marriage break ups and other life altering events.

Recently, there have been several people I know seriously hurt while doing something with horses. My dad always says if you're gonna be around horses you're gonna get hurt. It happens. I have been kicked and bucked off and fallen with and bit. I've been knocked down, run over and had the be-Jiggers scared out of me. And while I have more aches and pains than what I imagine most women my age have, mostly due to wrecks on horses, none have been life threatening. But they could have been.

A girl I know got kicked at a barrel race a few weeks ago. She was life-flighted to Denver where she had an operation to repair a laceration to her pancreas. As far as I know, she is on the mend but still hospitalized. Many years ago, I got kicked in the chest as I was walking behind a horse at a rodeo. Threw me back into the horse trailer parked beside us. I'm not saying it didn't hurt, but apparently not seriously. Another lady I know had a horse fall end over end with her last summer. It killed her. I had the same thing happen two summers ago. I don't know how I got out of that situation. But I came out totally unscathed, other than my hair being full of dirt and my entire body feeling a lot like a bowl of jello.

My point is two-fold, I guess. One is that I have been incredibly lucky or (and this would be my guess) Somebody up there is a'lookin' out for me. And two, you just never know when something will happen, in the blink of an eye, that will literally change life as you know it. I believe with all my heart, that God in heaven is watching out for me, guiding my steps and making my crooked places straight. I believe that He has a big plan for me and is taking care of me and doing things to keep that plan in motion. To be honest, if I didn't think and feel this way, I'd be scared to death to go outside the door everyday, not to mention some of the things I end up getting myself into on a daily basis. I don't know what the future holds, and despite what some people try to say, no one does. So I think there must be a reason I am still here and still pretty much in one piece. But I also know the path I am on can change, literally, in the blink of an eye. My life could be turned upside down five minutes from now. What's that saying? If you want to see God laugh, tell him your plans? I'm grateful that He has kept me safe when bad things could have been much worse. And I'm grateful every night when I go to bed knowing Matt and Dad and I are all safe for one more day. Everything else is just gravy, I think.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

His Blessings are new each morning

I am always amazed how much better things seem in the morning. Yesterday the wind blew with such ferocity that many folks were concerned for the roofs on their houses and much other personal property. I can't remember the last time I have witnessed the wind blowing that hard for that long.

The people of the county seat of McPherson County had other concerns yesterday. They were concerned for their entire homes. You see, a week or so ago, the old dump (aka landfill) was started on fire by a few kids playing with matches. Since there wasn't much wind, only a few acres of pasture land burned that day. Naughty boys....but not much harm done. But since that time, some people had put more trash out at the dump. And apparently, the first fire was still smoldering just a bit. The high winds from yesterday reignited the fire. With a vengeance.

My brother lives maybe a half mile north of the dump. Behind his house is a very nice cedar windbreak and lining the road further north is a windbreak that attaches to his. Beyond that to the north lies the town of Tryon.

With the wind blowing so hard the fire burned very rapidly. So rapidly, in fact, that by the time anyone noticed it, it had already burned almost to Randy's place. He had what was left of his winter hay stored literally feet( approx. 200) from the south and west of his home. It caught fire. Bales catching on fire are difficult to put out. There will be hot spots all through the bale, so it has to be torn apart, mostly with tractors but then with pitchforks. Water needs to be sprayed on it to put out anything burning or that might burn. Besides the fire department, who are all volunteers, many, many ranchers and towns folk came to help. It was touch and go for a little while. Quite literally, the entire town of Tryon could have gone up. All of Randy's hay was lost and maybe a few other small pieces of equipment and a few fenceposts. But for the most part, things turned out pretty darned good.

The wind continued to blow like the dickens after we left the fire. Most likely, Randy was out babysitting it until the rains came. I don't think I have ever been any dirtier than I was yesterday.....

There were several other fires in the area yesterday. I only know the cause of one. Branches were blown onto old power lines which fell onto a shed and started it on fire. The quick work of the owners and volunteer firefighters kept this fire from being a much worse one also.

And then the rain came. It was a powerful, heavy rain that brought great moisture to our hills. I am very thankful for the moisture and for the rain putting an end to the fires.

This morning, there was no wind at all. As I walked through the heifer lot when the sun was just peeking up over the horizon, I thought of the bible verse "His blessings are new each morning." I think the context is really a little different than how I have chosen to take it today, but nevertheless, it is so true. The wind has died down, the rains have washed all the sand that blew around away and given new life to the grass trying to work its way out of the earth. The fires that raged yesterday are a thing of the past. It's almost like yesterday never happened in some small way. If only we would always put each day behind us so easily and just say, "His blessings are new each morning".......

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Green Grass

Dad and I had some well work to do this afternoon. Time consuming, but not a bad job. The afternoon was sunny and not much wind.

The pasture we were in is where our yearling steers are for the time being. Yearlings are snoopy to say the least, so every one of them had to come over and watch almost the entire process. Except for the time Lily, my Boston Terrier, was antagonizing them, they stood quietly chewing their cuds and happily burping in the sunshine. Eventually, though, it was time to get to work. For the steers, I mean.

When the temperature gets around 60 degrees and we have had a little moisture like we got this weekend, the green grass starts popping up all over the place. It isn't much yet, but just enough to tantalize the cattle and keep them busy picking those tiny little tendrils of grass that are peeking up through the ground. It must be like eating a candy bar for me....delicious!

Every bovine on the place, other than the cows having calves and the ones locked up in lots were busy making a living this afternoon. Heads down, grazing anywhere there might be a little blade of grass. Those steers scattered out on top of the big hills and down in the little holes, searching for every blade, almost as it peeks up out of the soil.

It won't be long until the cows won't be a bit interested in the hay we are feeding them. They will be much more consumed with eating grass. And that is a wonderful thing, except for grass tetany. When the green grass comes on fast(after cool weather) like it likely will this week, our concern is cows consuming too much and getting the "grass staggers". It can potentially kill a cow so it is something we are all too aware of. Today, Matt and I went to the Feedstore in town and bought a few bags of high magnesium mineral to mix with the cows' salt. That is the preventative for grass tetany, to raise the levels of magnesium the cow has in her body.

I know all of us here are looking forward to not having to feed hay anymore. One of my neighbors told me one of the happiest days of the year for him is the day he can unhook his feed wagon from his tractor!! I know that feeling, not so much about the feeding of the hay, but when the green grass comes it means spring is here. That means no more snow and the beginning of better things to come.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The heifer lot

One of my favorite places this time of year, is the heifer lot. While I have to go down there every couple of hours to see what's going on with the heifers, I find myself going there even when I don't really have to. I like watching the calves running and bucking and chasing each other around. And it's a peaceful place most of the time. Even if the wind is blowing, it is nice down there since there are windbreaks from almost every direction.

My dad and I often end up meeting down there. It isn't a planned meeting, we just both end up down there at the same time. When the weather is good, Dad and I sit in the sunshine and watch the calves together, sometimes not saying a word for a long time. Sometimes, we visit about a particular heifer or a calf, sometimes we talk about work that is needing done. And when the weather isn't particularly good, we both end up down at the heifer lot, too. We stand down there and stew together about the snow and the wind. We can't do anything about it, but we stand there and stew......

My dad and I have a very special relationship. Besides being father and daughter, we are great friends. Dad is one of my dearest friends. We visit. He tells me stories about when he was rodeoing or when he was in the Navy or when he was a kid. I love his stories, even though I have heard quite a few of them on several occasions. It's okay with me. I just like hearing them. We have worked together all of my life, but mostly the last twenty years. We work well together, primarily, I suppose, because he taught me most of what I know. We just know for the most part, what the other one is doing without saying. This gets a little difficult for Matt, I am sure. Dad and I have a tendency to not "say" what we are doing, we just do it.

As my dad gets older, I do my best to take the time to treasure the time we spend together. I know that I am fortunate not only to still have my dad, but also for the relationship we have shared all these years. And while we can visit almost anywhere over a cup of coffee or a beer, there is and always will be, just something special about the time we spend at the heifer lot.


Yesterday the wind blew hard enough most of the day to blow a small dog away which got me to thinking more about it. To be honest, I spend a good share of my time cussing the wind. Either we have too much or not enough. I don't like being horseback when the wind is blowing very hard. For one thing, if you are riding a horse that tends to be on the spooky side (which most of mine are) the wind makes everything look much scarier. That makes whatever I am doing horseback just a little less enjoyable. For another thing, the wind just wears a person out. It doesn't seem to matter what job you're doing, working in a strong wind seems to make it more work. But whether or not I like it, we need the wind. See, those things you see when you are driving down the road out in the middle of nowhere, those big pinwheel looking things turning around up in the air with 20 to 30 foot towers under them? Those are windmills. They water our cows. And boy, do we need them. As my dad often says, "a cow can live without fences, but she can't live without water."

Nebraska is blessed with one of the largest and best sources of underground water in the world. The Ogallala Aquifer. I used to know how many ca-jillion gallons of water the experts estimated were under our precious sandhills, but I don't remember any more. Suffice to say, it's a heck of a lot of water. There are some who will tell you at the rate we are using our water, it will be dried up in my lifetime. I hope not, but we'll have to see.....At any rate, that's where we get our water to water our cows, and us for that matter. And we are blessed to have the best tasting water of anywhere in the world. It's a wonderful elixir our Sandhill water.

Unfortunately, windmills break down and stuff on them wears out. I am not a lover of windmill work, however, it is a necessary evil. Without getting too technical (not my strong suit anyway) with the workings of the windmill, allow me to say, the thing at the top has a fan, a motor and a wheel. The fan turns the wheel into the wind. The wheel turns around(here's where we need the wind) and moves gears that are in the motor. Attached to the motor is a pump rod and lots of rods that go down into the well. Those rods go up and down and bring up the water. Depending upon where you are in the sandhills, even where you are in the county I live in, there is quite a difference as to how many of those rods there will be to get to the water. On our end of the county, a normal well is about seven or eight rods and they are about 20 feet long. On the west end of the county, you might have one or two rods the same length. At the bottom of all of the rods there will be a plunger and on that plunger there will be leathers. Those leathers wear out on occasion (some a lot more often than others) and we have to "pull" the well (pull all the rods up to get to the leathers) to change them. I guess it isn't that bad of a job, except for the fact that most of the time, we do it with a block and tackle or a come-along. Some people have "well rigs" that have a big boom truck and can raise and lower the rods with the truck. We have one, but it is seldom running right so we do it by hand. There are lots of other things that break or wear out, but that is the most common well work we have to do.

Another great thing about windmills is maintenance. In that motor I talked about, there is oil for the gears. Dirty, vile, oil.....I think you are supposed to drain the oil annually and refill. WE usually end up just making sure there is oil in there and refilling. But someone (and that someone isn't me, by the way) has to climb up the tower and stand on a tiny platform (if they are lucky enough to HAVE a platform), open the bonnet and check and refill the oil. This is where the fact that I am short in stature comes in handy. I am too short to do anything up there on that tower. I can't reach the top of the motor....and I hate it too. Not.

In the summer time, we check water in our pastures several times a week. I have heard of people that didn't do this and had cattle die because they didn't have a drink. One time, years ago, Dad and I were in a neighbor's pasture looking for a stray bull and saw that their cows were almost out of water. Dad called the neighbor and told him. The neighbor said there was a puddle the cows could drink out of. They didn't look to us like they were getting a drink....and we heard that he lost several because he didn't do anything. I have thought about what a terrible death that must have been for those poor cows. They didn't understand why they felt so bad and why they were so thirsty. How much they must have suffered.....I have a hard time with animals suffering. They die, that happens, but I just hate the thought of suffering....

I didn't mention that the water pumps into big bottomless tanks. Made of metal and of differing sizes, they hold a lot of water when they are in good condition. We put very heavy plastic on the ground where the tank will go and up the sides of the tank. Then sand is put around the edges to make a seal. Sometimes we use bentonite to make it seal better and to stop any leaks that might occur.

Our water is one of those things that truly makes this God's cattle country. We are blessed with good, clean water underground........ and the wind, no matter how much I cuss it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Night Calving

One of the joys of calving season is night calving. A lot of outfits put all the cows in pens (called lots) and check everything every two hours. We just keep the first calf heifers in a lot. Reason being, you never really know what you are gonna get with heifers. For the most part, these little gals squirt their baby out, jump up and start lickin', stand for him to get up and suck and act like they have done it all their lives. But then there are the others....THAT is the reason we keep them in to check.

Every so often you get a heifer that thinks it would be much easier to just take the calf somebody else just had. Can't say that I blame her for wanting to do that, but it makes my life a little more complicated. In this case, we need to get new mama and expectant mama separated as quickly as possible. On other occasions, childbirth is just too hard, so she quits pushing. Again, I have not ever given birth either to a calf or a human, so I can't blame her for this either. But it is in this case that I have to get her in the calving shed and "assist". (pull the calf...more on that later). Sometimes the birthing process goes as expected, but the rest of the agenda gets messed up. Maybe mama has a little too much "mama" in her and starts hitting the calf with her head every time he tries to get up. Sometimes they will pert near kill a calf like that. And in other cases, mama just says "to hell with it. I'm tired." and doesn't get up and take the calf at all. So Junior is up and looking for breakfast and mama hasn't fixed it yet. Then I have to get mama and Junior both in and help Junior nurse. Some cows really get touchy about you fondling those swollen "teats" (I call 'em tits, but I am trying to be politically correct here....) and Junior gets all stubborn and doesn't want you to hold his head up there where it goes. Fun for the whole family!!!

There are the times when something goes wrong with the birthing process. Calves can come backward, (tail first or feet first), have a foot back or down, or anything else you could probably imagine. We have to again, get the cow in and try to get the calf alive. If we catch them soon enough, we usually save them, but not always. It's part of the game, I guess. And then....there are prolapses. Without going into gory detail, suffice to say, it's messy. And a good share of the time the cow doesn't survive. Fortunately, prolapses are few and far between for us these days. Thank the Lord for that!!

On the nights when the wind is howling 30 mph(or worse) and the snow is hitting your face so hard it feels like needles piercing you and there are drifts knee deep or higher, or it is so dad-blamed cold that your eyelashes freeze together before you even get to the heifer lot....those are the nights when I try to talk myself into just staying in the house. Those nights when the herd is standing all bunched up, covered with so much snow you can't tell one cow from the next, the little babies scrunched in as close to mama as they can, just hangin' on til morning.....well, it isn't much fun for anybody, I guess.

But then there are the nights when it is calm and warm and the moon is glistening on the straw the cows and baby calves are bedded on. Everybody is sleeping peacefully or calmly chewing their cuds and nursing. I look up at the heavens and see all those beautiful stars twinkling in the sky. Those are the nights when I am thankful, grateful for my life and I feel a peace like no other time.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Nice Weather!

The weather this week has been particularly agreeable. I'm mighty glad to see it. Winter was tough on everybody. For the cows, that hard frozen ground caused a lot of sore feet. For me, that hard ground made driving over frozen gopher mounds particularly unappealing. Besides the fact that the cold weather requires a lot more feed just to maintain a cow. But the really cold weather, below zero, should be behind us now and we can look forward to the grass greening up and the leaves coming on the trees and flowers starting to bloom.

The cows have been having calves without any problems and we have had the opportunity to enjoy life a little. There are few things better than getting to ride a good horse out through the heavies (cows that have not had a calf yet) and look at all the new babies. Watching the week old calves running and bucking and chasing each other around is like watching kids on a playground....only much more enjoyable.... for me anyway.

I spent a little time fixing fence yesterday. Good diggin'. I didn't get too carried away, set 5 or 6 posts and stretched up a little wire. But when the ground has enough moisture in it to allow for easy digging, I don't mind that job at all.

There is a variety of critters, especially now that spring is upon us. Today I saw Sandhill cranes flying overhead on their migration to the north country and a mallard duck floating on the tank in the bull pasture this morning when I went up to feed. I don't know how many mule deer are out on our rye but I would venture to guess around 40. Antelope are often on the rye also. Wild turkeys that came last spring and left in the fall are back the last week or so too. Probably about 25 or so, hens and toms. Some sort of little blackbirds have found our squirrel feeders these last couple of days. And we have a few pheasants again this spring. They have been pretty sparse the last several years. Every morning when I check the heifers, I hear the prairie chickens stomping. When I was a kid, I used to think they sounded like witches laughing and carrying on. They are quite a site to watch, however. The males strut around and puff out their orange bulbous necks. They scratch and "stomp" and show off. Sometimes, they get so caught up in their stomping, they don't even realize no one is there to watch anymore and all the hens have flown away.

Of course, spring brings the skunks out of their nests, too. Not nearly as glad to see them as the aforementioned critters. Although, they are cute little buggers too. As long as they don't feel threatened, they won't spray and you can watch them bumble around. They like to eat cow afterbirth so I often see them in the heifer lot. Occasionally, a lot closer than I might like. I have seen them stand up to a dog for "cleanings" (afterbirth) and I have seen them drag the cleanings out of the calving shed if I haven't gotten it cleaned out. My dad says they have no enemies and I would guess that to be correct...with the exception of humans and a gun. I have not ever shot one, but have threatened to after my dogs got sprayed.

The weather guessers are calling for a cool down for the weekend and the possibility of some moisture. That wouldn't be all bad, I guess. It's April now. April showers bring May flowers...What do Mayflowers bring? Pilgrims, of course.