Friday, December 30, 2011

The China Cabinet

At the prompting (ok, it was mentioned) of a couple family and friends, I wanted to continue the story of the house and add the story of the china cabinet that is now in the corner of my living room.

Granny Cline was thrifty.  Dad says she was so tight she squeaked.  I can't say I ever actually heard the squeaking, but I remember it was pretty well known that Granny watched her pennies.  But there were a few things Granny thought worth spending a little extra on.  She believed in buying good shoes and I found a beautiful wool coat with a mink collar (not protected from moths) in the attic.  Dad said she was really proud of that coat.  I can see why.  I'm sure it was gorgeous.

But apparently, Granny also believed in dishing out a little extra for a good set of furniture.  Maybe it was something she'd always wanted.  I don't know for sure, but I do remember the matching cherry wood set she had at her house.  There was a lovely dining room set, buffet and china hutch. There may have been other pieces, but I just can't remember for sure.  At any rate, when she passed away in 1978, my grand dad insisted that the set be sold at the estate auction.  I think I know where all the pieces ended up, but I am certain that a lady named Esther Smith bought the china hutch.  Ironically, Esther Smith was Matt's maternal grandmother.

So all of Matt's childhood, he remembered the lovely china hutch in the corner of his grandmother's living room.  It displayed (among other things) his Grandad Fred's pocket watch.  And when Matt's Grandma Esther passed away nearly seven years ago now, there was again an estate auction.  And since it had meaning to both of us, Matt bought it ......for us.  We were not yet married and Matt had a home in town.  The hutch lived there until we moved to our new "house"......Granny Cline's old home.

So now, after many years, the old china hutch is back in it's original home and practically in as good of condition as when it left so long ago.  Funny how things sometime come full circle, isn't it?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

This Old House

I always wanted a house that faced the east so I could watch the sunrise from my living room window.   And truthfully, for a long while, I questioned whether or not that would happen.  You see, I lived in a "mobile home" for many years and didn't really see the likelihood of being able to move or build something more to my liking.  The trailer house had, for the most part, very small windows and only one that faced the east in a small bedroom on the far end of the house.  This left it, to me anyway, quite dark and dreary.  While it was quite modern and as trailer houses go, cozy and nice, it just wasn't a "house" to me and it definitely did not face the east.

But a few years ago, when we were able to purchase family ground which had been owned by my great grandmother, Jennie Calkins Doyle Cline, there was a glimmer of hope that I just might have that house facing the east.  The original house on the place was built about 1910 or there abouts.  Later, in about 1950, the house was added onto and a basement added.  Interestingly enough, my dad, who was a young whippersnapper at the time, helped mix the cement for the basement and the stairs leading to it.  Over the years, quite a few family members had called this house home.....but no one had lived in the house for at least 7 or 8 years and it had not received much attention in the years prior to that.  The living room ceiling was falling in, leaving a huge damaged area on the floor underneath, there were several vital stays that were completely rotten from moisture, the house had settled tremendously and we questioned whether or not the foundation, built of "sandstone" (native Sandhill sand rather than gravel) would have held up over the years.  We considered bulldozing it into a pile, burning it and starting over.

But I'm so glad we didn't do that.  After having a carpenter who sort of specializes in remodels of older homes (that's putting it lightly what he actually does to some of these old houses), we decided to "bite the bullet" and have the house rebuilt.

There were a lot of good things about the house also.  With the exception of the damaged area in the living room, the original hardwood floor there, many years before covered in carpet, was in pretty good shape.  The interior walls had much better lumber in them that what you can buy today.  The house had character.  It had family history.  And I really, really liked that.  I can remember being a tiny little girl and visiting "Granny Cline"  at her house.  It wasn't until we were redoing the floor that I remembered the sound her shoes made as she shuffled her poor arthritic feet across the hardwoods. faces the east.

We had several walls removed to make the house more cohesive, changed and added two bathrooms and utility as well as adding a two car garage.  Where once there were two windows facing the east, there is now a large sliding glass door, allowing lot's of sunlight in..........and..... I.... can.... see.... the sunrise!!!

Each morning as I look to the east, the shadow of the old farmstyle barn comes into view right in front of my sunrise.  Several old timers have told stories of the barn dances held in that old hayloft.  I think of the family members who have lived here and what that means to me.  There is family history here, joy and sadness, hard work and happy times.  And I think to myself that I got just what I thought I had wanted all these years.  And while many times a person finally gets that thing they'd longed for and it isn't what they'd thought it would be, that isn't the case for me.  It's all I'd hoped for and then some. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Beef....In the News

Ok, Ok....sensitive subject here.  For me and my fellow ranchers.  Beef safety.  It's a sensitive subject because for some crazy reason, one tiny little blurb in the news can send the cattle market into complete and "udder" chaos.  And that spells disaster for us and our livelihood.

A few years ago, the great and powerful, "Oprah" made the comment, "I know I'll never eat another hamburger again."  And the beef industry went into a tailspin.  Every so often, there will be an outbreak of e-coli or someone will see a cow down at the salebarn (which nowadays can't even be sold) and "mad cow" disease is the first thing that comes to mind. 

A few months ago, in "Prevention" magazine, I read an article about a morning talk show host who recently battled cancer.  She said in the article, she was "certain".....CERTAIN....the reason she "got" cancer was because she ate so much red meat.  Pardon me, but that is one of the most irresponsible statements I have ever heard.  If the wrong person got ahold of that statement, all hell could break loose in the beef industry.  Because, for some reason, this is what the media likes to do.  They seldom report on the nutritional benefits of beef, only picking up on the negative things someone who is absolutely uninformed says.  That makes me so mad.

It isn't really just the beef industry either.  But it does seem that beef gets a terrible rap more often, just because it's beef.

A few bad producers can spoil things for many of us.  I admit, there are a few who don't care about public safety and are driven by the almighty dollar. The fact is, MOST beef producers work hard to grow good cattle who will someday contribute to the world's beef supply.  It makes sense that we would put out the best product possible, if for no other reason, than to have more customers, more people consuming our product, more return customers.  And I truly believe those "bad" producers will get theirs in the end.

We raise "Certified" All Natural, Hormone Free, Aged and Sourced cattle.  What this means is that we go to a lot more work than most producers to verify what we are doing. This certification tells buyers the cattle were raised on our place and only our place.  It tells them we have never given them growth hormones or treated them with antibiotics. There is a ton of paperwork and audits by trained professionals to make sure we are selling what we say we are.  It's a pain in the butt, to be honest, but something I feel strongly about.  I don't want to consume hormones or antibiotics unless I absolutely have to and I don't want to sell that product to someone else that way.  And honestly, the buyers pay a premium for the extra work that we do.  So to me, it's a win-win situation.   

But so much of the safety of beef is completely out of the hands of the producer.  I can sell the absolute best product available (which I do) but after it leaves our place, I can't control what happens any longer. Proper storage, preparation and cooking techniques are imperative, as with any meat.  But if some (pardon me...) DUMB ASS  (thank you) can't wash their hands before they throw a hamburger on the grill at McDonald's and someone gets e-coli, suddenly it's my problem.  Seriously.  Even though I did everything I could to deliver the safest, best product I can.  And I'm not sure a lot of people understand that.

So, for those of you that EAT BEEF, thank you.  Thank you very much.  Please don't believe everything the media tells you.  Beef is a safe product.  It's a healthy product.  As with most everything in life, common sense is necessary.  Thank you.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Memories

Well, it's the Christmas season.  Since I don't get out much, it's sometimes difficult for me to grasp that it actually is almost Christmas.  Not that I miss the way retail has made this time of year something to dread for many.  I, of course, choose to focus on the birth of our Lord, Jesus and peace, joy and love that are here for our taking.  But I do enjoy thinking about my memories of Christmas' past.

Dad used to go out when I was really little and cut down a nice cedar for our Christmas tree.  One year, he went horseback and chopped it down and drug it in.  I was really little and I think my memory of that is more just from my folks telling me about it than me actually remembering.  But I do have memories of going to North Platte and picking out a tree and bringing it home and decorating!  I loved the lights!  My Mom was a HUGE Christmas decorator.  Everything in her house got changed around for Christmas......and she loved garland.  Silver garland and shiny red Christmas balls everywhere!!

As a little kid, I remember being so excited for Santa to come!  I don't have a lot of memories about gifts that I either wanted or that I received.  I just remember the "feeling" of magic and excitement of getting to open presents and waiting for Santa. We always left a thermos of coffee and usually cookies, but one year, I thought maybe Santa got enough cookies and should have a sandwich.  So I talked Mom into letting me leave that instead.  I think I was about 6 or 7 the year I begged Dad to bring a bale of hay up to the house for the reindeer.  And for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why he wouldn't put it up on top of the house and just left it on the west side. 

Music has always been an important part of my life, especially at Christmas time. I have great memories of going caroling when I was a little kid.  My first memories of that are with the Ringgold Church group, who would organize and go around to the local ranches and sing the traditional carols.  My mom was a very talented musician and while she didn't attend church every Sunday, she wouldn't have missed something like that for anything.  It seemed like a lot of people would gather together and load up cars and pickups and convoy to our neighbor's homes.  Afterward, there was always hot chocolate and cookies either at the church or at our place (another thing my mom loved.....baking and entertaining!). 

During my early college years, a local fellow, Jim Gragg, would bring his team of belgians and his wagon into Tryon and a lot of us would gather to go caroling.  That is indeed a great memory.  We had so much fun riding in the wagon and going around town!

As an adult, I'm sorry to say, for many years my Christmas memories are not terribly wonderful or memorable.  I have spent several years fighting snow, trying to get cows fed, missing sitting down with family for Christmas dinner. 

A reasonably new (for me anyway) Christmas tradition is going to the Eclipse Church Christmas Candlelight Service.  I have been attending and singing a song for  8 or 9 years now, I think.  Eclipse is a beautiful little one room, hardwood floor, no electricity, country church in the west end of the county.   Actually, I think technically it is in Hooker county, which is to the north of us...... It is surrounded by giant Sandhills and a tiny old cemetery,  literally out in the middle of nowhere.  One of the most peaceful places I have ever been  in my life.  Matt and I were married at Eclipse, so besides the fact that it is just a very neat place to go, it has a pretty special place in my heart.  Every year, it's a packed house for the candlelight church service and music.  I can't tell you how much I look forward to going every year.

I don't send out Christmas cards anymore and I don't get out to see folks much this time of year.  But I do hold this season as one of the most special times of year.  I know it becomes hectic for many and sad for others too.  This is the time of year I think most of my mom, so I'm sure there are others who find this a difficult time of year for that reason alone.  But I think if we focus our thoughts on what Christmas really is....the birth of Jesus.....and the love of our Savior.  If we think of the peace He can place in our hearts and joy of being with those we love, or those we miss, it can truly be a wonderful time of year.

Merry Christmas, every one.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Just So You Know.....

In my effort to be upbeat and grateful as much of the time as possible, I think I have committed a major error.  I'm afraid I have over romanticized ranching and what I do.  Please do not misunderstand.  I LOVE my job.  Truly.  However, I may have allowed you to think I spend most of my time galloping horseback over the hills into the sunset without a care in the world.....

For the most part, that couldn't be further from the truth.

I am the secretary, book keeper, decision maker, dinner cooker, laundress, floor sweeper (when it gets done), dishwasher, ice chopper, poop scooper, posthole digger, wire stretcher, windmill fixer (sorta), shot giver, phone call maker, cow feeder, calf puller.....and the list goes on and on.

I spend a good share of my time in the cold months so layered up I can barely move my arms and legs.  My fingers are usually so cold from gripping a 4 wheeler grip or ice bar that I can often cannot feel the ends of my fingers.  I am generally covered from head to toe with cottoncake dust and while I like the smell of it, it is gritty and dirty.  Which reminds me, most of the time, my face is dirty.  Really dirty.  Like sucking on a pig dirty.  Like my husband and Dad make fun of me dirty. 

In the summer time, I am usually sweaty, sticky and stinky and my ears are very often sunburned.  OR I wear an extremely flattering straw hat and ride the 4 wheeler down the road with the brim flopping up and down. 

There are many days that lunch comes at 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon.  And we are crabby when we haven't eaten. 

I spend a lot of time alone.  And I stay home A LOT.  There is always something that needs done and more often than not, I'm the one who has to do it.  I miss out on a lot of things with friends and family because I either need to work or am just too darn tired to go.

I have no control over the weather.  And weather has a  tremendous effect on my work.  It isn't much fun to work outside in the rain or snow or gale force winds.  And unfortunately, when the weather is the worst, well, that's when I need to be out taking care of things the most.  Things need done when they need done.  That's just how it is.  Moving cows in the pouring rain, slicker or not, is miserable.  Somehow a little puddle always manages to form right in the seat of your uncomfortable.  It feels like you've peed your pants.  For hours.  The snow pelts your face like little needles when you have to ride into the wind.  And speaking of the wind.....yes, we need it to pump the windmills, but, oh my goodness....I HATE riding in the wind.  Your horse, no matter how agreeable, needs to spook at everything and it seems like nothing goes very smoothly when it's windy.  Cows don't cooperate as well in the wind, either.  And in summer when it's hot....well, it's just hot.  Since cows don't sweat, they get hot really easily.  A nice day for me moving cows is generally way too hot for a cow.  So you have to start as early as possible and hope to get there before the critters get too hot.

And believe it or not.....I CAN get enough of riding a horse.  As Dad says, "my saddle can get tired."  After 6, 8, 10 hours in the saddle moving yearlings or trying to keep baby calves from going back where you started because they can't find their mama in the herd, a person can get enough.  Trust me on this.

Sometimes I have to make decisions that I would rather not make.  A cow that has lived here all her life, from birth, has done her job for many years, never left Doyle ground, raised a calf, kept her weight up and been cooperative....eventually gets old and lame.  She doesn't have a calf in her anymore.  She has to go to the salebarn.  It is a business, after all.  Much better than not being able to get to feed and getting weak when it gets real cold.  But it still isn't a decision I like to make. 

Critters die.  Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, critters still die.  That's one of the things I will never get completely used to in this business.  I have pulled calves and tried giving them CPR, getting all that icky "just born gunk" in my mouth, and they still die.  I have drenched scoury calves, given antibiotics to pneumonia-sick yearlings, tried my darnedest to make sure I haven't missed an old cow in the fall......and they still die. 

There are days when things just don't go right.  Moving cows, working in the hayfield ( that's a whole other story completely), checking water, whatever.  There will be days when it seems like NOTHING goes right.  Calves stampede into the neighbor's and we have to go sort on a day when we had other things planned, bulls decide they don't want to stay with our cows, they like the neighbor's better, equipment breaks down and you can't get things done, getting stuck in snow or sand and having to walk home to get something or someone to help......I could go on but I think you get the picture.

My point is this.  Don't fool yourself into thinking that ranching is always the romantic, happy pastime that is often portrayed in the movies.  A person has to really want to do this and there are a lot of things about this business that are most definitely NOT romantic.  Many days it is a very physically demanding, emotionally draining, stressful, heartbreaking job.  But it is a job I wouldn't trade for the world....mostly because the good days and all the rewards DO outweigh the negatives.  But.....I just wanted you to know.

Monday, December 5, 2011


One of my dearest friends on this earth is a lady named Margaret Hawkins.  She is a gem.  In a couple of weeks, she'll be 84 years old and I truly love her to death.  Margaret is a cowgirl and has been all of her life.  And I admire the things she has done in and with her life.  But that isn't the reason I love her so much.....she is one of the kindest and most genuine people I have ever met.  Truly, she is the salt-of-the-earth.

Margaret's dad raised horses from remount stallions back when Margaret was just a girl.  My dad remembers seeing those horses they raised.  He said they were better than anything anybody else had around here.  That was the start of a lifetime of raising horses for Margaret.  Some of the horses she raises today go back to some of those old remount studs.  Impressive........ 

She was an integral part of getting barrel racing introduced into the sport of rodeo.  We take that for granted now....barrel racing was not always a rodeo event.  But women like Margaret wanted to be able to show their stuff.  And they did something about it.  Up until just a few years ago, Margaret was still running barrels.  She has run and raised some awesome barrel horses.  She raised a stallion named Tiger Brazilius, aka "Brazilius" who took her to the Mountain States WPRA Championships as well as placing her at the acclaimed Cheyenne Frontier Days and other big PRCA rodeos.  Margaret's daughter, Virgilene, also one of my dear friends, has run some of those great horses too and been very successful. 

When Margaret was about 30 years old, she married a man named Virgil Hawkins.  I wish I'd had the pleasure of meeting Virgil.  I'm sure he was quite the man.  He passed away when Margaret was about 40 and left her a pretty big ranch to take care of.  Not one to shirk her task, Margaret took on the challenge and not only did she keep the place together, she added to it and did some pretty great things over the years.  Also pretty impressive..........

I don't get to go visit the Figure 2 Ranch very often anymore.  I used to go pretty often.  Let me tell you, it was an experience. Margaret and Virgilene would always take me out to look at the colts.  They can both tell you the lineage of every colt and tell you what that colt's relatives did.  They can quote speed indexes of the running horses and tell you how much money a lot of them have won.  They aren't bragging.  They're just stating facts. Another of the things I love about both of these women.  Regardless of how much success they have had in their lives, they are not braggers.  Both are extremely humble.  And grateful.  And Margaret  bakes a pretty mean pecan pie.  Almost every time I'd go up for a visit, she'd bake one....just for me.

Many times when I talk to Margaret on the phone she will tell me how grateful they are for the good things in their lives.  Virgilene often says to me, " we're busy or we're doing this or that.....BUT THE IMPORTANT THINGS ARE GOOD."  I love that.  I love it so much that I borrow it from time to time.  And almost always when we are ready to hang up the phone, Margaret will say to me, "Good talkin' to ya.  Love you dearly."  I love you dearly, too, Margaret.  Me, and about a million others.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sometimes It's Just "Time".

Old Virg isn't doing very good.  He's 24 now and has had a good run for a ranch horse.  He's made the rounds from my ranch horse, to almost everybody on the place, to Dad's branding horse and finally was Cash and Grace's kid horse.  But despite best efforts to keep him going, sometimes it's just "time".

Am I sad about it?  You darned right I am.  But I'd sure rather him put down humanely than try to go through the winter and get down and suffer until someone can get there to put him out of his misery.  That's our responsibility as do what's best for our critters.

I paid $1100 for Virg when he was a started three year old, over twenty years ago now.  I'd only planned on paying $1000, but my last bid was $900 so it was $1100 to me.  I shook my head no when the auctioneer pointed at me and my dad said, "You're afoot.  You'd better buy him."  So I did.  I'm pretty sure I got my $1100 out of him.

I can remember several pretty long cattle drives that first year on him.  I think I must have ridden all the excitement out of him that first year.  Like Dad had said, I was afoot and he was the only horse I had at a time when we did a lot of riding.  By the end of that first year, he was pretty well broke and he acted like a lazy kid's horse. Which at the time, drove me crazy.  So I bought another young horse and only rode Virg for things like snowstorms and other bad weather and when my other horse needed a rest.  Pretty soon, Dad and my brother and anybody else who came needing something to ride got Virg.  That's about the time Dad learned that despite the fact that he was lazy and may or may not turn a cow, Virg would pull a house.  He wasn't a very big horse, but man....he would get down on his butt and pull.  So that was his calling in life for many years if Dad had to rope something.  Also when we needed a bull moved that wasn't too cooperative, Dad took a pitchfork and Virg and the bull "gladly" went where he was told.  Eventually, Virg started to get stoved up in his front end, so we turned him out to pasture with several other retirees.

A couple years later, when my friend and neighbor, Rusty asked if I knew of anybody with a kid's horse for sale, I thought of Virg.  He did have one bad habit that made me not make any guarantees, but I told Rusty if they'd like to try him for his little boy, Cash, he was welcomed to him.  But I didn't sell Virg to them.  He was on loan.....And Virg was great for Cash.  Rusty could lead him and Cash could go with Dad just about anywhere.  When Cash got a little older, Virg was good to him....except when they came to our branding.  Virg knew he was "home" and would try to go to the barn.  Whichever direction they went, Virg knew the way to the barn.  And when Cash outgrew him, Rusty and his neighbor Bob, traded horses so Grace could have an old kid's horse for a little while too.

But now it's Virg's "time".  He's been a good quite a few different people.  And even though he hasn't been here for several years, I'll still miss him.  He's part of my history, part of several people's history.  God Speed, My Old Friend.  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mama Cows

While we were bringing home the last bunch of pairs to wean the other day, I observed the mothering styles of the cows at the back of the herd.  In many ways, cows are not so different from humans.....

There was one brockle faced cow who was obviously a great mom.  Every few minutes, she would lovingly look over, sniff the calf next to her and make sure it was hers.  She really seemed "motherly" about it.  And she did not let that calf out of her sight....."Super Mom."

An older cow, who had probably made this same trip at least ten times in her life, would stop every so often and just beller as loud as her lungs would allow.  Then just walk on as if nothing had happened.  Apparently, her calf was buried in the herd somewhere and wasn't too worried about her either....."Experienced, Mom."

Another cow that was obviously lame, was just doing her best to keep moving with the herd.  I'm sure she was  a good mom by the looks of her calf.  Junior waited for her.  It was sweet to watch the calf jog on ahead for a minute or two and then stop until Mom caught up......"Mom Has a Disability, But We Make It Work."

Quite a few cows walk along with their calf in sight or very close by, always knowing where Junior is and checking on him every little bit, but giving him a little freedom too......"Stay At Home, Mom."

And some will plod along and all of a sudden "remember" they have a calf.  Frantic, they beller and make a fuss, maybe hurrying back through the herd sniffing every calf until they finally find the right one....."Drama Queens."

But the most irritating of cows are the ones that take off as fast as they can walk, heading for who-knows-where-but-they're-dang-sure-goin'-somewhere.....and their calves are back at the back lookin' for Mom the entire time.  Mom doesn't think about her calf until she's gotten where she's goin' and got her belly full......   "I-Can't-Believe-God-Let-You-Reproduce, Mom."

Maybe I spend too much time around cows and not enough around humans....

Monday, November 14, 2011

It's the LITTLE Things

Today was like a bad movie.  It had a not-so-great beginning and middle and a great ending.  OK, now that I think of it, I haven't seen any movies that were like that.  But read on, please.

We pregged (pregnancy checked) a little bunch of cows this morning.  The cows pregged up great, but were sure not very cooperative otherwise.  It made for a pretty long morning/afternoon.  When we were finally done pregging and had the cows out to pasture and fed, Matt and I ran home for a quick bite to eat.  And then I was on to feed three other bunches of cows that are pretty far from the house.  I was also planning to gather up an old, lame bull that has needed to go to the sale barn for quite a while when I got back from feeding those cows.  With this time change, daylight was not on my side so things were going to have to go pretty darn good for all of this to work.

Here's how the gathering of that bull needed to go to be perfect...I needed to know exactly where the bull was and it better not be very far from the pen.  He needed to cooperate and literally walk straight into the pen from the pasture.  There needed to be enough daylight for me to be able to see to back the trailer into where we load and I needed to back in perfectly the first try.  And the bull needed to load without much prodding.

Let me also tell you that I was loading this bull from our place, not Dad's.  We have only lived here a year and the pens and facilities leave a little (ok, a lot) to be desired.  We're working on it, but it takes time and money. We do not have an abundance of either.

So there were a lot of things that could go wrong.  But nothing and I mean NOTHING did.  It went perfectly.  PER-FECT-LY.  That does not happen in my world.  Things sometimes go pretty well or not so bad or "at least we got it done".  But things never go perfectly.  But today, something did.  Hallelujah!!! 

It really is the little things that make me happy...

Monday, October 31, 2011

"You're not working on your horse, you're working on yourself"

" You're not working on your horse.  You're working on yourself."  The great horseman, Ray Hunt, said these words.  I heard him say it at a clinic I attended many years ago, but I was no more prepared to hear that from him on that day, than I would be to hear the sun isn't coming up tomorrow.  I really had no idea what it meant.  But thanks to a friend sending a photo with that quote on it to me, I have had time to reflect on those words and what they mean to me.

I've been fortunate throughout my life to ride some pretty good horses.  I've also had the misfortune to ride some "not so good horses".  But....and I'm just coming to realize this from the aforementioned quote, I've learned something from all of them....the good ones and the bad ones.  I hope that with each horse I've grown as a horseman.  That each horse I ride I can make a little better than the last one.  But moreover that I'm better because I've learned something from each horse. 

Riding young horses is what really does it for me.  Seeing the progress, knowing I taught that horse something.  That's what floats my boat.  I don't have anything against someone buying a horse already trained.....there may come a day when time or some other obstacle prohibits me from riding the young ones.....and I'll have to buy a trained horse.  But for now, my satisfaction comes from teaching a young horse all I can, making him or her a good horse and learning something myself.  It's very rewarding.

I'll be honest though, I'm more scared than I used to be.  I can't afford to get hurt.  I have too much responsibility to be laid up and I think about that more than I probably should.  Horses sense much of what we are thinking and feeling ,which can make me not as effective as a horseman. At times anyway, I'm not as aggressive as I used to be or probably should be.  That's partly because when I was younger, I hadn't had all the wrecks I've had since then.  And I think we all reach a point in our lives, whatever we do, when we realize we are not invincible......What I've come to realize is the ground hurts.  I know this for a fact.  And it hurts more now than it did fifteen or twenty years ago.  So I'm more cautious, maybe too cautious sometimes.  Down right chicken on occasion if you want the absolute truth.  I don't think it's all bad, though.  Because with caution also has come knowledge.  Or maybe with knowledge has come caution.   I'm a little smarter about what can happen so I take extra steps to avoid it.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I know that I'm a better horseman today than I was even one year ago.  That's not to say that I'm the horseman I want to be or aspire to be.  That's not even saying that I consider myself that good of a hand. I've said a lot of times that I know a LOT more than I did twenty years ago and now I just realize how little I know now. There is always, always something more to learn.  Ways to improve for both me and my horses.  I look forward to what I will learn in the years to come and with the horses in my future.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just Another Day in Paradise

Today was not unlike most other days here.  I gathered weaned calves and fed cows.  I hauled salt and looked through the newly weaned calves.  But this evening, as I rode Maggie through those new "weaners", I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

It was a beautiful evening for a ride.  Maggie and I trotted out north of Dad's house up into the big rough hills where the calves like to stay.  Then we walked through them.  The sun was making its way down in the west and the sky had a bright pink glow.  A tiny breeze was blowing....just enough to tussle Maggie's mane when we rode into it and keep the windmill turning.  The air literally smelled like cotton candy and the temperature was a perfect 65 degrees. Maggie kept a nice walk on a loose rein.  For me anyway, it doesn't get much better than that.  As Dad would say, "No better seat on the ranch."

And there's just something that comes over me when I ride through those big, soggy calves.  Maybe it's kind of like what a parent feels when his kid scores a touchdown.  It's pride, for sure, but more than that.  It's gratitude.  I know that I work at what I do and I do try to do my best.  But I also know I'm very blessed.  There is so much that goes into getting those calves to this point.....feed, genetics, weather, and a whole bunch of something else.  Some might call it luck.  I call it blessings.

I am blessed.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Funny How Time Flies

One year ago on this day, I was, I was not physically ill, but I was sick.  You see, one year ago from tomorrow, was without a doubt the worst day of my life, thus far.   

I have gone through a divorce and all the mess that goes along with it.  I have watched my mother's health diminish to nothing over the course of five years and sat at her deathbed for 36 hours, watching her drift away....none of those things compare to what we all went through a year ago tomorrow.

It was the 14th of October, 2010, when the land auction of my paternal grandfather's land took place.  He didn't see fit to leave it to family members (of which Dad and I are the only ones involved in agriculture and we had been using the land all of my life.) or at least allow us to buy it privately the way most families would do.  No, he had one last trick up his more controlling hold on us.  And a public land auction was just that kind of control. 

As per the will, the land had been entrusted to a bank, who in turn, listed with an ag land sale real estate company. The agents from this company were pretty sure "locals" would not bid against family members for the land.  It's not a law, but it is one of those unwritten rules that we Sandhillers usually abide by.  One of those "Golden Rule" type things, I guess you could say.

At any rate, most of our neighbors had called or stopped in to tell us they would like to own it, but would not bid against us if we planned to purchase it.  We felt good knowing our neighbors supported us and understood what a dirty trick my grandad was pulling on us.  However, what we didn't know was who the real estate company had that might bid against us.  We had heard things about this company that made us very untrusting of their methods.  There were practically new roads in "our" pastures where the agents had driven around showing the land, which my dad had cared for so well over the past 40-some years.  It felt like they were trespassing, even though I knew legally they were not.  My heart felt heavy every time I would travel across one of the pastures checking water and looking at the cattle.

We had spent many months beforehand getting finances in order for the purchase of 4,840 acres of the land that linked Dad's land to mine. It was land we needed just to stay in business. And we had set a price that we felt we were able to spend on it. Some of that land we felt we needed more than other, although, truthfully, we needed every inch of it. We had tried to devise a game plan for how we thought things would go and how we would respond to it.  The unknown was terribly stressful.  How could we plan for this?  We had no idea what we would be left with at the end of that day......

The day of the auction was just about like any other fall day.  Dad and I penned calves and doctored a couple sickies.  I remember thinking that it was hard to imagine a day as normal as this started out could end up being so life changing.  

I won't go into all the gory details of the sale, although it was pretty sickening.  Suffice to say, we were bid up a great deal on land.  One of the worst things about this is that at the time the auction was taking place, there wasn't time for me to ask Matt and Dad what they would like for me to do.  I had all of our fates, collectively, in my hands at that moment.  I had to make decisions that greatly affected the three of us in ways we had not yet imagined.  Our game plan was out the was nothing like we had even come close to imagining.

In the end, we were able to purchase all of the land that we had wanted.  We spent a lot more than we had anticipated, but we are able to make it work.  I mourned for several months that I had to do what I had done.  I felt guilty that I had put both of the people I love more than anything in the spot I had.  But finally, I came to terms with it.  As Matt said, "you wouldn't have been able to stand seeing someone else on your land.  We'd have had to move."  And he was right.  It WAS the right decision.

So a year later, I am even more certain than ever that I did the right thing that dreadful day last year.  I feel peace when I drive or ride across those pastures.  My heart swells with pride that I was able to keep the land together as it should have been all along.  And to quote a friend, "Hannah, you proved you have bigger balls than most of the men around here." 

I kinda like that.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Meaningful Places

I suppose everyone has special places.  Places that have a special story or bring about a special memory.  Nearly every inch of our ranch has a special story or memory for me.  I can tell you where a Hereford bull took my little paint mare, Splash and tried to knock her down when I was maybe a nine year old.  And I can also tell you where another bull, many years later did knock down a big bay gelding named Woody.  I can relate stories about carrying baby calves through knee deep snow and riding a scoop shovel down a big snow-packed hill.  I can tell you about being in the right place at the right time to witness some sort of natural phenomena that will never leave my memory.  I call it can call it whatever you wish. 

My dad is the same way.  His stories go back quite a bit further than mine, of course.  Just the other day Dad and I were riding over west of his house, when he told about a little black mare he rode as a very little kid, not yet in school.  No saddle....(I had to learn that way too.  So I didn't get hung up while learning.  Of course, you DO learn to fall off pretty good).  He was about in the spot we were at that time AND he had a new quirt.  You know how little kids are with something new....he could not WAIT to use that new quirt, he said.   Anyway, the mare had been turned out all summer and was full of grass and feeling lazy.  She didn't want to move from her spot and Dad was supposed to bring the milk cow in from pasture.  The perfect chance to use the new quirt!!!  So Dad laced her a good one over and his words, "AND SHE LAUNCHED ME!!"  It was his first experience with a bucking horse.  Apparently, he liked it, because he grew up to ride bareback horses at the rodeos.

Long ago, when Okie was a three year old, we were gathering pairs to bring home from summer pasture. I rode to the top of a big hill to have a look around.  I was riding toward the west looking down toward the next hill and saw one of the most amazing things.  I could see Okie's and my shadow cast perfectly on the next hill.....but surrounding us was what looked like an aura.  All sorts of rainbow like colors radiating off that shadow of Okie and me.  It was beautiful!!  Of course it was the sun coming up behind us, but I took it as a sign from God.  A sign that this horse and I would do great things together.  And, well, maybe it was and maybe it wasn't....but I always believed that's what it was.  And we did end up doing some pretty great things together.

And just the other morning, I was gathering some pairs over west of my house a mile or two.  On the southwest side of that pasture is an old grove of Cottonwoods, still in decent shape, considering they are at least 65 years old.  The sun was just peeking over the east hills and starting to dribble onto those old cottonwoods.  There was just enough breeze that I could hear the leaves of my very favorite sounds on earth.  A few pair were resting in the trees and four old horses turned out for retirement were peacefully grazing there.  It was a beautiful sight! One that most definitely made a new memory for me.  I will be adding it to the childhood memories I have of that particular place.

Maybe I'm just sentimental......well, I know I am.  This place and the land is part of me and who I am.  All the memories that are tied up here are a big part of what makes it so special to me.  I know I talk about being grateful a lot, but I truly am grateful.  Grateful that God saw fit to put me here on this land, doing what I do, having the opportunities to see what I see and create memories that will last me a lifetime......and beyond, I think.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fall Work

I think I have probably mentioned that ranching goes in seasons.  We start out the calendar year with calving, then branding, going to summer pasture and weaning and pregging...Fall is the time for weaning.  It's fall.  It's time to start weaning.

There are different ways to go about weaning.  Some ranches, most in fact, do what is called pre-weaning vaccinations.  The cows and calves are penned a couple weeks before they are to be weaned and start the innoculation process that most ranches feel is so very important in calf health.  We don't pre-wean, instead we give shots the day we pull the calves off the cows and then booster the calves a couple of weeks later.  In my opinion, it isn't as good as pre-weaning.  The reason we don't pre-wean is because our cows are such buggers to pen.  They are good mamas and they know what's coming....and they DON"T want you messing with their babies.  This leads me to the other part of our weaning process...

Pulling the cows off the calves.  Again, there are different preferred methods by different ranches for this process also.  Weaning is considered (and rightly so) a high stress time for the calves.  It's the start of life without mama.  They have to figure out about eating and doing all the things that mama took care of for the first few months of their life.  It's the time in their life they are most likely to get sick...and die.  We like to make this as low stress as possible on Junior, so we lock the cows up in a pen for three days and turn Junior back out in the pasture where he and mama were for several days prior.  It's a place the calf already knows.  He knows where the water is, he knows where mama WAS (the place he last nursed) and he'll go back there to look for her.  So for three days, mama is in a pen and Junior is out in the pasture.  He'll walk back and forth a lot of times in those three days.  And do a lot of bellering.  Hopefully, it isn't too dry and dusty so the calves don't stir up a lot of dust doing all that walking back and forth.  That's very hard on their lungs, breathing in all that dust when they are stressed anyway.  Pneumonia is the biggest illness that we have to battle at weaning.

At the end of the three days, the cows are preg checked (the vet comes and checks them for pregnancy), poured for worms and lice and vaccinated.  By this time, they are sick and tired of being in a pen with pretty much nothing to eat and just a drink of water.  The cows that check to be pregnant will be moved to a pasture a couple of miles away, fed a good meal and have a lot of grass to eat.  They'd still take Junior back if he was there, but they are pretty concerned with taking care of themselves right at this moment. 

On the fourth day, Dad and I start penning the calves.  We go out horseback and bring the calves into a big pen where feed bunks have been placed.  We want them to get started eating out of the bunks as soon as possible, so we usually have bunks sitting outside the pen during the three days when mama was locked up.  The bunks will have a soft cube in them and some of the calves will start eating at them.  They smell kind of sweet and yeasty.  A good smell to calves, I guess.  They are locked up for a few hours to get them looking at the bunks and hopefully eating out of them. 

At day seven, the calves are getting pretty well weaned (not great, but pretty well).  They are figuring out what you want them to do and if they aren't sick, most of them are eating.  We have to keep a close eye on them to make sure they aren't showing signs of getting sick.  Most of those strains of illness act quickly.  One day they look a little droopy and the next.....they are dead.  If we have a majority of healthy calves (which we usually do) day seven or eight is the day they are moved to a new pasture so the process can begin again with the next bunch to be weaned.

We will wean four bunches of calves this year.  I'll give you more details as they become available...but this will give you an idea of what we're doing.  We're pulling the calves off the first bunch on the 1st of October.  If I have any gumption left after that, I'll let you know how the day goes.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Shipping Yearlings

It's payday in the Sandhills!!  Time to ship yearlings to buyers. Rows and rows of cattle trucks (pots) sitting along the road just waiting to be loaded.  Another time when neighbors gather together to help other neighbors do a job and enjoy not only work, but the fruit of  the last year's labors. 

We used to save all of our calves (except for replacement heifers) over to yearlings.  Like many of our neighbors, that made Fall the only time of year for a payday.  Several years ago now, we lost a lease on some pasture where we used to take a good share of our yearlings, so we started selling heifers and part of our steers as weaned calves in February.  Now we only sell a small bunch as yearlings. 

Some of our neighbors, like us,  raise everything they sell, called "home-raised" cattle (for obvious reasons).  Other neighbors "put together" bunches of weaned calves like we sell in early spring and put them on grass to be sold to buyers with feedlots at this time of year.  Still others raise some of their calves and buy some to add to their bunch. 

Last week, my friend Bill shipped his heifers.  He puts together a really nice bunch of heifers to run over to yearlings.  Bill grew up on a cow-calf/yearling operation much like ours.  His dad and my dad were friends and neighbors.  Still are for that matter.  Bill and I are the same age and quite literally, grew up together.  His mom was gone at the same time mine was, so our dads just toted us along wherever they went.  We ended up being decent hands around yearlings because we grew up working around them.

I always get a little nostalgic whenever I help Bill with his heifers because we have so much history together.  I think about the time Dad and Carl (Bill's dad) were to gather some yearlings for Red Mann, a friend of my dad's.  Bill and I were probably about ten years old at the time.  Since yearlings are not always the easiest cattle to handle,  GOOD help is what you need.  You don't need people getting in the way and you don't need people who don't know what they're doing.  You just need good help.  Dad and Carl both showed up with a little kid...on a horse.  That often means the dad will spend more time making sure either the kid doesn't fall off his horse or making sure the kid is out of the way for the people doing the work.  Red wasn't too thrilled to see our dads bringing us two kids.  I guess now, I don't blame him.  But Bill and I were fairly soggy hands by then.  We helped gather and sort, didn't get in the way and did a good job.  The buyer of the cattle called Bill over and gave him a $20 bill....which he was supposed to share with me.....and never has.  I remind him of that once in a while!!

Bill's heifers came in heavy from the weight he had sold them. I have been giving him a hard time about spending all of his time counting his money. 

The Sandhills have been good to just about everyone grazing cattle this year.  Cattle have gained well and the market has been good, very good.  I think it's safe to say that Sandhills ranchers have a pretty good start on another year. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Just One of the Boys

I grew up in the company of men.  In a group of people, I have always been more comfortable with the boys than visiting with the ladies.  It suits me fine that I can converse with the men about fencing and haying, cattle and feed prices, four wheeler vs. horses, getting bucked off or "took" by a cow and many of the other situations we encounter on the ranch.  But don't get me wrong, I can cook a branding dinner that will rival just about anybody's.  I'm a decent cook, know how to sew and would probably surprise most people that I can even embroider if the situation calls for it.

My dad toted me along almost everywhere with him when I was a little kid.  By the time I was ten years old, I was already a pretty salty hand moving cattle....well, good enough to know how to stay out of the way, at least.  There are a lot of adults that don't know that much!  I could wrestle a calf at branding by that time too.  Not the great big ones, but I knew how to hold one down.  And by that time in my life, my place with the boys had already been established.   

As an adult, I learned how to do all the ground work at brandings.  Not very many women cut the calves (castrate) or for that matter, not that many brand.  You usually see the women at brandings (although not very many at that) either roping or vaccinating.  Truth is, I don't rope.  Not very well anyway.  My dad told me long ago there was never a shortage of people wanting to rope, so I had better learn how to do the ground work.  Sometimes, the ground help works their tails off, just as hard as the calf wrestlers do.....and by the way, I can still throw a calf pretty good too.  Although most places I go to help are nice to the (older) women and don't ask me to.

I can joke with the boys.  And I can drink with them too....ok, I can drink in THEIR PRESENCE.  I cannot hold liquor or any other kind of alcohol nearly as good as my male counterparts.  And fortunately, I am not easily offended by off-color or jokes with extreme sexual content......I have just about heard it all and don't get embarrassed very easily.  I can dish out a hard time and I can take one back.  In college, I used to say I had a sign on my forehead that read, "Please give me sh*t.  I can take it." 

And much to my dad's chagrin, I can cuss with the I've gotten older, I TRY not to use the really bad words and I never (almost anyway) use the Lord's name in vain.  But, yes, I can still cuss with the boys.

But I think one of the things that really makes me "one of the boys" is that over the years the "boys" have seen that I don't expect special treatment because I happen to be " the fairer of the species".  I get in there and pull my weight when it comes time to do a job.  And I also like to play hard when the work is over.  The fellers around here are used to me being at the brandings, shipping day, trailing yearlings, fighting prairie fires or whatever job there is to do.  But I've also noticed that the guys do try to take care of me.  When I let them.  As Matt says, "Well, you ARE still a woman."  Yes, honey, I suppose I am.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Summer Blessings

I like to take time every so often to think about the good things in my life. The Good Lord has truly blessed me with much. No, life isn't perfect. We have debt hanging over our heads and we have many other things going on that if I chose to let it, would drive me to many sleepless nights. But I don't do that.....I don't allow myself even a couple of minutes to wallow in self pity anymore. When it creeps in the front door, I very promptly remind myself of all the wonderful things The Lord has blessed me with.

I have a wonderful husband who works hard and would do anything for me. He loves me and he "gets" what I'm about, where my priorities lie.  That, in itself is truly a blessing.  I've spent a good share of my life being "one of the boys", which, for the most part, has always suited me just fine.  But it is nice to know that someone really understands me....sees past the rough exterior, or at least sees there is more to me than being one of the boys!

I have my dad who has been the one person in my life always there. Steadfast. Teaching me, being my friend, supporting me (in more ways than one). Having him has been a blessing all my life, although sometimes I didn't realize it.
The land God blessed us with is truly a gift. It's His, after all, He's just letting us use it for a while. As well as the miracles of every live cow, calf, horse, dog, etc. When I think of how things might have been or seemed to be just a year ago....I am SO grateful to have been able to purchase the land we did. My heart feels such peace as I ride across the pastures checking water and cows this summer. I did not have that peace last summer at this time.
Friends and family and others who care about me are truly a blessing. Many of them who understand that ranching isn't a 9 to 5 job and that I don't have the time to run to outings all the time....or bring a dish every time I do manage to get there! These people support and love me regardless. Oh, what a blessing that has been! I cherish those who love me anyway!!
Good health is blessing. While I'm not a very big person, I am strong (as Dad would say, "smell isn't everything!") and capable of doing work that most would consider "man's work". I am determined too, which helps, but that also comes from Heaven Above I'm pretty sure. There are times when I think my body is aging and I know it is....I have aches and pains that I assume most women my age don't have. But I also have at my disposal things that people even 20 years ago did not have.....ADVIL! Just kidding....not really.

There are everyday things that are so easy to pass up as we go about our day.  I see beautiful sunrises and sunsets, watch the wind blow through a field of tall rye (which resembles what I imagine the ocean's waves must look like), miles and miles of beautiful rolling hills,  prairie flowers, birds, deer, antelope, turkeys, coyotes, and a host of other wild animals on a daily basis.  I am blessed to hear the silence or the tinkling of the cottonwood leaves on the breeze and to smell the sweet prairie grasses....and I am blessed with the peace I receive from living where I live and knowing I'm doing what I'm meant to do....maybe the biggest blessing of all.   

AAAh Summer!

It's almost fall. The summer has been good to us. There has been adequate rain and decent winds. The calves are getting big and the cows are in good shape. For the most part, the bulls have decided to stay home. Flies haven't plagued the cattle too badly and the yearling steers did well. We've been able to get a good harvest of hay from our pivot so far. We didn't get hail or fires. That's a good summer.

Summer is almost like vacation compared to the rest of the year. The only jobs that HAVE to be done are checking water, putting out salt and mineral, rotating pastures and haying. Keeping wells in working order has been the worst problem this year...that and replacing pivot tires.

But now I'm thinking of fall work that is soon to come. Bringing pairs home from summer pasture, weaning the cows off their moms, vaccinating calves for calfhood diseases, preg checking cows and getting them to winter pasture, feeding.....I can't say I'm dreading the work, just knowing that the easy days of summer are drawing to a close. Quickly.... The cycle begins again.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's About TIME

All my life, Dad has said, "My time isn't worth anything".....but I can see now that is far from the truth. When I look around the ranch and see all the things that his "time" has done, I am grateful that he has put so much time and effort into this place I love so much.

There are miles and miles and miles of fence and old fence, granted some of the fence is a little saggy and in need of a good stretching but there is a lot of fence around here and I know who built it. There are windmills that are watering our cows because Dad set the towers and tanks. Buildings standing, hay put up, crops in the ground, cows with calves at their sides.....all because of Dad's "time" that wasn't worth him. But it surely has been to me.

And I am grateful for Dad's time.

Now, as we grow older, I hope that I can give him the time he deserves of me. Growing up, the happiest childhood memories I have are of just "spending time" with Dad. Falling asleep in the back of a pickup while Dad drove around the wells, sunrise horseback rides as we went to put out bulls....those are the things I remember most about the time I had with Dad as a kid. And pretty much throughout my life. I cherish the fact that Dad and I work together well and are good friends. I am fortunate to have had this relationship with him throughout my life.

So now, if I sit and visit with Dad or sit and watch an old movie in the evening with him, I don't feel guilty. I think he gets lonely sometimes and if I can pay back a little of the "time" he has given to and for me, then that's just great in my book.

Monday, April 25, 2011


It's branding time again here in the Sandhills. One of my favorite times of year, without a doubt. A time to see neighbors that we don't get to see very often, enjoy good work and always have good food to go along with it.

As Dad and I were riding to the second bunch at Ed Steele's branding on Saturday, I looked over and saw a father and daughter riding together, much the same as Dad and I were. They were having a conversation about something and it was obvious they were enjoying each other's company. The difference was this father and daughter were maybe 30 and 10 years of age....not 83 and 46. I said to Dad, "maybe if they're lucky, they'll be like us in a few years." Dad just smiled.

I can only hope for that little girl's sake that her dad will be the dad to her that mine has been to me all these years. Dad has been a good friend to me through quite a few bad times. He has taught me more about ranching than I learned in college by a hundred times. And he has taught me about life....mostly by being an example of what a human being is supposed to be like.

Quite a few years ago I wrote a poem that sums up my dad. I'll share it with you.

The Cowman

He looks out across the Sandhills
and scans them for one more
He pulls the slicker round his neck
cause it's really startin' to pour

The rain drips off his near-shapless black hat
that's seen its better days
And he tries again to find that critter
with his hard and knowing gaze

He is a Cowman. One of the best in these here parts.
The cattle and horses in his blood and these hills are in his heart.
He is a kind and gentle man, of that you can certainly bet,
Honesty and integrity....this man's earned his respect.

I'm proud to say this man's my Dad, wouldn't trade him for the world
And I hope I make him half as proud as I am to be his girl.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Just Ride

I'm pretty sure it was Will James who said, "the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man." I don't know that it's true for everyone, but it sure is for me.

Back when I was in my 20's and we had 2 1/2 more people helping on the ranch (and I wasn't supposed to be "in charge") that's pretty much all I did during calving, ride the couple of young horses I would have through the heavy cows, twice a day. It's a good way to get colts going good and get them looking at cows and lots of other benefits. But truthfully, I had forgotten what riding a HORSE through the cows did for me...

The last few years, as our help dwindled away and my work load got to be more and more, I used the quickest and easiest thing available to get through the heavies. Usually the pickup since I was already feeding out there with it. Of course, there are places out in the hills where we calve out our cows that you have a pretty tough time getting to with a pickup, so those places just didn't get looked at....and when we gathered last spring to go to summer pasture, I found a cow laying dead in one of those "pockets" that I'd missed. Apparently, she'd had trouble calving and since no one saw her, she just laid there and died. I felt sick about that. Chances are, we could have at least saved her if I'd known she was there. So I vowed this year to make a change.

This year calving season started out with frozen ground and light skiffs of snow several mornings. Slick conditions, especially for a horse that hasn't been ridden since December. So the four-wheeler was my mode of transportation to get through the heavies. It's quick and I can go just about anywhere I can with a horse, so I can see all the pockets. However, I promised myself as soon as the ground conditions improved, I was going to try to ride a horse as much as time would allow.

I have four bunches of heavy cows out in big pastures to look through every day so it still takes up a good share of my time. However, the last couple weeks, although hectic, I have ridden both my mares (Sands A Blowin, aka "Sands", my barrel/ranch horse and Sandcherry Magnolia, aka "Maggie", my 4 year old) almost every day. While I can't do like I used to years ago and ride all day long, I can ride each mare through a bunch of heavies in the afternoon and use the four-wheeler in the mornings.

It has been good for both the mares. They are relaxing and getting legged up nicely....I may even make it to a barrel race in a couple weeks if time allows!! Both girls seem to enjoy getting out and moving around through the hills. But oh, what it has done for my outlook on life!!! I can't even begin to tell you how much better life has become. I feel like I can breathe more deeply and my brain is less cluttered. I have a new outlook on life in general.

"A'horseback" has been home to me most of my life and although I still spend a good share of time riding when we are getting cows out to pasture or doing our fall work, this is much different. This is "just riding", not really doing a job, per Se. It's a time that I can allow myself to just feel my horse underneath me, feel how she's moving, feel where her feet are when she's traveling. I had almost forgotten how great it is to "just ride." So I am grateful that I am making the time for myself to do it.

I read an article in a health magazine that said women have a tendency to nurture others and not take care of themselves properly. This article recommended taking time to spend with friends at, perhaps, a day spa. Well, I've never spent time at a day spa. But I think I would probably enjoy it. However, I have to say, I seriously doubt I could get any more enjoyment or therapeutic benefits from anything as I have this spring from "just riding" my little mares through the hills.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Buying Bulls

So far, calving has been going pretty good. The weather has been quite agreeable and our death loss is lower than it has been in a long time. With about 75% of the calf crop on the ground so far, I have to say this has been a very good year.

I believe, besides the weather, there are two main things that I can attribute that to....genetics and nutrition. Now which one of these do I feel most important? Well, that varies on different days. What I can say with quite a bit of certainty is that good nutrition can "cover a multitude of sins" as my Dad would say...."Fat", he says, "makes everything look good." Not sure if he includes women in that statement, but....

At any rate, good nutrition can make a so-so cow look better. It can make her breed faster and it can make her calf stronger. If you feed a cow everything she will possibly hold, you could still have problems, but not the same kind you'll have if you don't feed her. But on the other hand, if we have good genetics, the kind of genetics I'm working on (in my humble opinion, of course) building up in my herd, then we shouldn't HAVE to feed a cow all she'll hold. My cows and calves should become more efficient with less feed, thus making them more profitable for me and for those I inevitably sell them to.

Since we have closed our cow herd for so many years, the only way to make changes in our genetics is from good culling practices and the purchase of good, efficient bulls. We buy only purebred virgin yearling Angus bulls from purebred seedstock producers. There are several ways that bulls can be purchased, through private treaty, where the buyer usually goes to the establishment of the producer; or at an auction, where many ranchers go to bid on the bulls they want to add to their herd. I generally go to auctions, although I have bought a few bulls private treaty.

Before I head to a bull sale, I have received a listing of the bulls from the ranch whose sale I am attending. In this "bull book", there will be information about each bull, his dam and sire's names, his birth weight and a list of his EPD's or expected progeny differences. This gives me a pretty good idea what this bull will pass on to his offspring, based on what the generations that preceeded him have done. I go through that book with a fine tooth comb and mark every bull I think would make a good addition to our herd. Then when I go to the bull sale, I go look through the pens of bulls to see if they meet the "eye appeal" test. Some bulls will have great numbers on paper, but when I look at them in person, they just don't look like something I'd like to have in my herd. So I put a big "X" on that page and move on.

The auction is a lot of "bull" too. And not just the bovine type....there is quite a bit of marketing (I use that term kind of loosely there) that goes into that also. Personally, I'd rather they skipped a lot of the bullshit.....and I'm not talking manure here.....but that seems to be the way it's done. There is almost always a lunch beforehand and cocktails afterward.....I'm using the term cocktails kind of loosely too. (Generally, beer and a whiskey and soda pop poured by someone with about as much poop on their boots as the rest of us have). It's a good time to get to visit with other ranchers, bankers, insurance salesmen and the like. Kind of a "cowboy happy hour" if you will.

I'd have to say that I really do look forward to going to the bull sales every spring. It's good to get away from the place, especially this time of year when I don't get that opportunity very often. And it's always nice to visit with neighbors and friends that I don't get to see very often. But I also have the chance to look at some good cattle, which is truly a joy for me. It's not unlike how many people go to a museum to admire the art, I guess. Just a little different form that I have come to appreciate.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Magic Man

One of the perks of the animal industry is meeting people who share the same interests. It's a time of sharing of ideas and learning (almost always for me). There was a time when I did not appreciate the opportunities of learning from others....I was afraid they would think I didn't know something. Guess what? They already knew.

I have met Troy Brandenburg on two separate occasions now. He specializes in equine sports therapy and has worked with some of the foremost barrel racing horses going today. He has helped some of the greatest horses in the world. But that's his first specialty.... he is VERY talented and very good at what he does with a horse. He can take a horse that is obviously nervous and/or hurting and with a few minutes (sometimes quite a few) of work, he can relax that horse and have him almost asleep. Troy is much more than a sports therapist for horses, however.....

I think Troy's biggest gift is his inner self. No, scared and hurting horses don't instantly just start muzzling him for treats, and he doesn't have some "white light aura" surrounding him, but he does gain their trust by making them feel better. It is truly amazing to see the changes in a horse that Troy has worked with. But it is so much more than just a job to Troy. He genuinely wants to help every horse he meets. It isn't an ego thing and it isn't about the money......if he doesn't do anything to your horse (as he puts it),he doesn't charge you. But what I gained from Troy is more valuable than I can really put into words. And worth every penny I have given him....and then some.

You see, besides being able to read most horses, Troy is also good at reading the horses' owners. He is very willing to work with the owners and show each of us the things we can do on a daily basis to help our equine partners. He "talks horse" with me and other owners like me. He teaches about the things that go on in the horse's body, about digestion and circulation. Troy talks to us about the importance of stretching the horse's legs and very importantly (for me) about gaining the trust of our horses. I have been so caught up in the rigors of running a ranch that I had forgotten how important that simple thing is to a

What I took away from my meetings with Troy Brandenburg were some valuable "hands on" type things that I can do to help my horses perform better, to be more relaxed and to feel better in general. I gained some new ideas to ponder and some new techniques. But I think the most important things I took away were some things that I was "reminded of" that I had known all along.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Morning Symphony

While checking the heifers this morning at sun up, I was struck by the Symphony of Nature in the Good Lord's Surround Sound that I was blessed to hear. While I'm sure I've heard it many times before, I was especially pleased to hear it today. It went something like this....

As I walked to the lot from the south I could hear the constant stomping of the prairie chickens to the north. Their background for the symphony is what I would call a low pitched sound like "ah-ooooh, ah-ooooh" with an occasional high pitched "he-HEE, he-HEEE, he-HEE" thrown in. An occasional chirp or twitter from little tree birds is thrown in at various times from all directions. From the west comes in a gobble from one of the seven tom turkeys that live behind Dad's barn, followed closely by a big round of gobbling from the other six. This seems to almost cue the coyotes to the northwest. Starting first as a distant howl from one dog and then the rest of the pack joining in almost as if trying to outdo each other with their yips and barks and a little howling. Then.....almost complete silence as if everything is counting their "rest" just like in a music score. After a few seconds, back comes in the prairie chickens "ah-OOOOH, ah-OOOOH" and so on.

Sometimes, it seems we are so busy with "life" that we fail to acknowledge all the wonderful things God has put on this earth for us to enjoy. Just like my morning symphony, which I have probably heard thousands of times, but never took the time to really listen and enjoy it until today. God wants us to be happy and while I realize it takes different things to please different kinds of people, I believe there is always something that we can take the time to enjoy and be blessed by if we choose..... A child's laugh, a dog wagging its' tail happily to greet us, the warmth of the sunshine on our face, the smell of the air after a rain..... Whatever of God's creations it might be that could bring you joy, try to take a few minutes and allow yourself to find it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Full Circle

Once again my world has come full circle. A year ago at this time, we had selected the heifers we would keep for cows and purchased the bulls we would put with those heifers. Now those heifers are starting to calve. So now I have the opportunity to see whether or not I made the right decisions a year ago.

There are only three calves on the ground just yet. Three very fine, strong, healthy bull calves. Their mothers are making fine cows, being good mothers and spitting their babies out like they'd done it all their lives, protecting the calves from predators (like Lily, my Boston Terrier) and keeping them safe.

This is one of the things I love most about ranching. I have the opportunity to breed good cattle. It's a good feeling when I realize my homework paid off. When I see that the time I spent pouring over EPD's (estimated progeny difference) in the bull books is bringing forth the genetic traits I want in the next generation of calves, when I see the time and money spent is paying off.

To me it's not really about the money. I wish ranching didn't have to be about marketing and strategizing. I would much rather raise good cattle and have the satisfaction in knowing I'm doing that, but unfortunately, it IS about money. Everything costs an arm and a leg (and maybe a couple other body parts too) so I have to work to make our cattle competitive in the marketplace. And a big part of that comes down to genetics.

Not long after I was born, my dad stopped buying females for his cattle herd. That is called "closing the herd". The only outside genetics that comes into our herd now is from the bulls we purchase, so that is the only place for change. There's no law that says we have to stay closed, but I kind of like knowing what we already have and building on that. Dad did a lot of good things with the cows he raised and I have been trying to improve upon that for the last twenty years or so, since I came home from college and he started letting me choose the bulls. I'm proud of what we've accomplished with the last crop of calves that were born in 2010. I'm working toward more efficient calves, both steers and heifers, that will gain better on less feed, making them more desirable for a buyer and for me when I keep heifers to breed for the next generation.

So now, we have already chosen the heifers we will keep for next year. I'm proud of the crop of replacements we have and think they will be a great asset to our herd. I've purchased several new bulls that will be turned out with the cows come June. Again, I think they will do some good things for next years' calf crop. But it's a wait and see thing. I'll let you know how I did come this time next year.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


I have owned a number of horses in my life. Many have been special to me for one reason or another and some.....well, let's just say that some have been "not-so-special". But I don't think there is one that has been more special than Okie.

Okie was born in north central Oklahoma 23 years ago this June. A handsome sorrel with a big blaze and two back stockings, he had not seen much of humans until he was a scared three year old. There were three stud colts, each out of sister mares and the same stallion loaded into that stock trailer that morning. First a stop at the vet clinic to be castrated and then each dropped off at a different colt starting place. So it was absolute chance (or divine intervention as I like to think of it) that Okie came to be at the same place at the same time as me.

I wanted to learn to ride cutting horses and had called a friend of an old boyfriend to ask if he'd teach me. He agreed and I would work for him while I was learning about riding the cutters. One of my jobs was to doctor the cut on the front leg of that sorrel colt with the bald face in the second pen. I had no idea.......I entered the pen and walked over to the colt. His eyes were bigger than saucers and as I got almost close enough to touch him, he whirled around kicking and snorting and headed for the safety of the corner of the pen. The furthest distance from me. After several more attempts, I was able to touch the colt and eventually clean up the cut and bandage it.

The next morning was to be Okie's first ride. These guys didn't have time to mess around with ground work. They did things the old fashioned way. Snub the colt, saddle him and get on and ride. It went pretty much that way. Except for the riding part. He bucked that guy off so quick it would make your head spin. But he did it in such a way that I couldn't help but see his athletic ability and said to my friend, "if you ever get so you can ride that horse, I'd sure like to own him." It took a several months, but own him I did.

In the process before he came to Nebraska, Okie had some rough days ahead. All four feet were tied up with a throw rope to trim his feet. To this day, he has scars on all four legs. Empty Clorox jugs were tied all over him to tire him out so he wouldn't buck anymore. And he is still scared of noises on top of him that sound anything like those Clorox jugs.

But when he came to live with me his life was different. Every time I saddled Okie he was ready to go do a job. He was cowy and really liked to work cattle. He understood a lot of situations we were in and rose to the occasion. He drug calves to the branding fire and he carried me on a lot of long trips moving cattle. Okie was my calf tagging horse, my get-a-cow-in-in-the-middle-of -the-night-during-calving horse. So I decided to start him as a barrel horse.

I'm not really sure which profession Okie was best at. Ask anybody that was barrel racing from these parts in the mid to late 90's and most everyone at least knew of my sorrel horse. He was consistent. He didn't win every time, he didn't even place every time. He was not the best horse that ever stepped into the rodeo arena. But he was the best one I have ridden there.

When Okie was eight, he developed a limp on his right front foot. When it didn't go away after a few weeks off from being ridden, I took him for x-rays. He had an inoperable bone spur on his ankle. We tried several routes from different vets, but it looked like Okie was finished before he started. But I happen to see an ad in a magazine for some all natural products that got some rave reviews. After about 6 months, Okie wasn't limping. I gave him a few more months and decided that if I could even use him as a ranch horse, I would be grateful. It was calving time and we were going to pair out, generally just a lot of walking behind baby calves. But some heavy cows broke in and we had to give chase. Okie was doing his job, jumping gullies and cowing like he'd never had a two year break! I cried tears of joy that day!

Okie trusted me. That trust became evident when my friend, Virgilene and I went back east to some pro rodeos some 10 years ago now. The first rodeo was in a coliseum on a Saturday night. The crowd was loud and the music was louder. I hadn't been to a rodeo like this for quite a while and Okie....well, I'm pretty sure this was louder than weaning time at home. I could feel his heart pounding underneath me. He was scared, but was I. They called my name to run and I really didn't even know if Okie knew we were going to run barrels. But he did. And we did. He ran to first barrel like he'd been rodeoing his entire life and turned it like we were at our arena at home. The ground gave way at back side of the second barrel. He went down on his belly. Just as fast as he'd fallen, he jumped up and was running for third. The crowd loved it! Except for the fall we had a great run and finished a second out of first place....which for barrel racing is a looooong time. But I knew he had what it took to be a barrel horse. That was one of the greatest moments of my life....

I retired Okie from barrel racing about 8 years ago now. I knew he was ready to just be a ranch horse again. Matt rode him several times and Okie was good to him. The last time I rode him, we sorted cows and it was just like the old days.

This winter the pain from the bone spur came back. Then pain from where all the rope burns had been. Okie was so sore from arthritis that he didn't want to walk a few yards for a drink of water. My heart was broken. All I could do was try to help him to water and cry ..... he was still trying so hard for me. I knew it wouldn't be fair to make my old friend suffer like this after all he'd done for me. My dad said, "you know what you need to do." But first, I consulted a vet that I trust. We gave him bute for pain every day for several weeks. We also started him on some joint products. The old ankle injury still gives him trouble when it is really cold, but for the most part, he is doing much better. He gets extra grain and a nice blanket to wear. I give him the best alfalfa we have on the place. He has gotten pretty spoiled in his old age.

At the high point of Okie's career, my Dad, my (then)husband and I had gone to North Platte and had taken Okie to be shod. As we were leaving town, my (then) husband said, "Don't forget Okie." To which my dad said, "She might forget you and she might forget me, but she will not forget that horse." Dad was never more right about anything..............

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why I Do What I Do

There are days, moments actually, I guess, when I wonder just why in the hell I do what I do....

I'm pretty sure most of these moments come in winter, when we are up to our elbows in snow, ice and below zero temperatures. When I am stuck tighter than a bull's ass in snow with the feed pickup and no shovel, when it takes several days just to get to a bunch of cows because the snow is so bad or deep I can't get there, when I am gathering calves on a 4-wheeler and my fingers and toes are so cold they burn and hurt, or when I am carrying a newborn baby calf over my shoulder through snow up to my knees trying to convince his mama that I'm trying to help her baby, not steal him. Those are the moments when I use quite a few expletives to describe my job. And wonder if I used the appropriate amount of consideration when choosing my vocation.

The cold and snow require twice as much time to do the same job as when the weather is more agreeable. The cows and weaned calves still need fed. Regardless of the weather, ESPECIALLY IN THE COLD AND SNOW. A cow needs to eat to help keep her warm. If the ground is covered with a foot of snow, what's the cow gonna eat? My dad has often said that anything beats a snowbank when it comes to giving a cow something to eat in bad weather. He's right...... They aren't that picky if they've been huddled behind a hill out of the wind for 24 hours. Whatever you bring them, they'll pretty much eat it. But you have to be able to get there. And that is often no small task.

I'm not a big fan of chopping ice out of stock tanks for the cows to have a drink or stumbling around in 32 layers of clothing (and I DO mean short appendages were not made for layers and marching through snow) just to stay remotely warm, but those are necessary evils. Now lest you think when I say "chopping ice out of stock tanks", I am merely talking an inch or so, please think again. There are times when temperatures remain sub zero for several days that we are chopping through (and pitching with a pitchfork) at least three or four inches of ice several times a day. The hole needs to be big enough for a lot of critters to drink at the same time. It's a pretty big job. If the wind is blowing and the wells with windmills are pumping, we generally don't have to chop and pitch because the moving water keeps a hole open big enough for the cows to drink. But it is always time consuming and physically demanding, makes you pretty dog-gone tired by the end of the day.

Now don't get me wrong......

When the sun comes up and the wind goes down the day after a snow storm, my world is a glorious blanket of white. The sky is a bright turquoise blue and the air is crisp and clean and the cold bites the end of your nose. I look out across the hills and gaze on the beauty of it all. I can see the cedar trees flocked in white and the icicles hanging from the fences and I thank the Good Lord I am there to see it. I have seen frost and ice covering the hillsides, grasses and trees glistening in the sun, that looks like fairy dust covering it all. And when the mule deer are bedded down behind a windbreak in the snow, it's a scene that looks like it should be on the cover of a magazine.

One of my favorite quotes is "There is always, always, always something to be thankful for". And I believe that's true. Yes, there are times when I am so busy that I barely have time to stop and pee during the day, let alone have time to eat. (And if you think I'm kidding, I'm not!) And yes, there are times when I am so tired I can barely make it to the house. And yes, most definitely, there are times when I cuss like a sailor because I'm stuck or something is broke down or I'm so cold I can hardly stand it. And there are those MOMENTS when I think I should have given a lot more thought to my chosen profession.........but the trade off is, well.........worth it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

For the Animal Activist type people

People in my part of the country are not tree huggers. We are not animal activists. We don't belong to PETA or HSUS or any of those type of groups. While we have a love and respect for our land and the animals that probably goes far beyond what any of those people can fathom, we understand one thing (or most of us do)......animals are not people. Animal activists humanize every animal. They believe that animals have the same type of emotions and capabilities for feelings that humans do. And this is a mistake. This makes for a lot of troubles, for animal agriculture and other animal related fields.

Let's take a cow for instance. A cow is not a dumb animal like many people might think. But cows run on instinct. They do what centuries of cows have done. They have the sense to eat, drink, exist......but they don't think like a human and for heaven's sake, they do not FEEL like a person. They feel pain, don't get me wrong, but they don't feel pain in the same capacity as humans do. Thank God He made them that way. I would much rather see a bovine of any size get a quick zap with a hot-shot (probably a brand name for an electric cattle prod) than to see someone stand there beating on one with a stick for ten minutes. And anybody that has ever tried running a cow up a chute for preg checking or running a yearling into a truck to be shipped will tell you, it is far more humane to give them a poke with a hot shot than to beat on them. There are jackasses that don't know how to use one and will just keep buzzing, but in general, most people that have ever been around cattle very much know that you get best results from a quick buzz and that's all you need. FYI, I have been buzzed with a hot shot. Can't say it feels good, but it's not the eye-popping jolt some people would make it out to be.

And then of course, there are those against castration and branding of cattle. Good grief! I'll be honest here, when a calf is really, really a day or two old, I don't like to cut (castrate) or brand them. It makes me feel bad. And if they are mine, I don't. But if I'm at some one's branding and I'm doing the cutting (yes, I cut calves) or the branding, I do what I'm told. Here is exactly what happens to a calf on branding day:

The calves and their mothers are gathered into a pen. Some people like to sort the cows out of the pen and some don't. Then the calf is roped, usually around the back feet, preferably both back feet and drug to the branding fire. There, a team of wrestlers will flip the calf with the help of the horse that is dragging it. They hold the calf for the ground crew to do the work on the calf. Usually, the calf is branded, vaccinated in the neck and castrated if it's a bull. Then the calf is released to go find its mama. Now, I am not saying this isn't painful. I know it is. It has to be. However, the pain is pretty short lived. As quick as the calf finds his mama, he goes to nursing. A sick calf won't eat so that tells me that calf isn't feeling all that bad. A fresh brand stings for a while, as is evident by the calf flipping its tail a lot. And the cutting, if done CLEANLY and properly is not nearly as painful as one might think. A good cutter will keep his (or her) hands and instruments clean and that will keep the pain and swelling to a minimum as will the conditions of the area where the calf will be for the next few days. But in general, a calf is able to travel about as far as it ever could within a day or so of being branded and castrated.

I would also be amiss if I didn't address horses in this post. I love horses. Horses are beautiful animals. They have truly enriched my life and taken me places I would have never had the opportunity to see if I hadn't had them. HOWEVER, they too are not and I repeat, are NOT humans either. They are and always will be, horses. Don't get me wrong....I think more of some horses than I do of a lot of people I know, but I can never forget that horses are horses. Horses think like horses. They do not think like people. When dealing with horses, one has to remember this. A horse does what he has learned and what instinct tells him to do. I do believe horses are much more sensitive than a cow, but that still doesn't make them a human. Horses have a pecking order and if a human doesn't establish himself as a leader to the horse very early on, a horse will assume leadership. And that is where a lot of trouble starts for some people. Without getting into my entire horse training philosophy, suffice to say, I believe a horse must be treated with respect and kindness, but needs guidance and occasionally reprimand.

While I'm at this, I need to say a little something about rodeo stock. I've been around rodeo all of my life. It is a sport that means a lot to me. And when the uninformed come in and try to tell me how cruel the sport of rodeo is, well....that just makes me mad. First of all, everyone knows that you take care of what takes care of you. The rodeo stock contractor makes his living from those horses and bulls that buck. If they don't feel good, they don't perform good. That's all there is to that. Thoses horses and bulls are fed well, treated with respect. The flank strap that seems to be the cause of so much concern goes around their flank....hence the name. If you have taken the time to look at the anatomy of a horse or bull, you will quickly see that it is quite a ways ahead of the genital area. Those big things hanging down on the back end of a bull?? That's quite a distance from where that flank strap is. It really is sad how the animal activists have stuck their uneducated noses into the sport of rodeo.

And last but not least, I will address dogs. Anyone that knows me knows I love my dogs. And while I treat them very well (my Dad often says if there is such thing as reincarnation, he wants to come back as one of my dogs), they too need guidance. I expect my dogs to mind my commands and behave properly. And again, even though Lily wears a coat when it's cold outside, she is still a dog. She eats cow poop and calf cleanings and tries her darndest to clean up if the cat barfs. She is a dog. I love her dearly and she is very, very special to me. But she is a dog.

Just a short word about vegetarians......kind of like being gay in my book. If that's how you feel, ok. But.....WHY???

But finally, I would like to say how much those HSUS ads on tv bug the heck out of me. The ones where Celine Dione sings "In the arms of an angel".......they make me sad. But the little donkey who "saw his mother worked to death" didn't know that's what was happening. If anything, he knew Mama wasn't there when he was ready for dinner. And he was sad about that. And if she really was "worked to death", well I kind of doubt it, but if she was.....well that person is an asshole......