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 boys....as 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 fences...new 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 anything....to 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.