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.