Sunday, May 18, 2008

Snake Season Begins

Well, we saw the first evidence of snakes here yesterday when we trailed cows. We saw three bull snakes. They are big and icky to be sure, but they are harmless and do their part in the ecosystem. We leave them alone.

Today, a friend of the Cowgirls from church came home with us. We had warned her that we'd started to see snakes out. I was in the horse barn with the Rancher when I heard her yell. She said she thought she'd heard a rattle. I went to where she pointed and sure enough, there was a BIG rattlesnake in the path that we all take from the house to the barn. I had come armed with a horse brush, but suddenly that felt like not quite enough! I grabbed a big stick and as I approached, that too seemed not quite long enough! The Rancher was taking a long time to show up, so I went and got my pistol. A 9mm round put me at a safe distance and did the job. The Rancher finished him with some very large rocks and then removed the rattles and awarded them to the girl from church. There were nine buttons! It was a good sized snake.

The picture seems a bit blurry, but I may have still been shaking a bit! The nail is two inches long, for reference.

Now it may be agrued that rattlesnakes do their part in the ecosystem as well. But they are not allowed to do it in my yard, around my kids, friends, dogs, horses, etc... So here's the official warning to rattlesnakes on this ranch... don't mess with this ranchwife!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Calving Update: Or You Win Some You Lose Some

Heifer calving is... well, it's a challenge, at best. Heifers are female cattle that are awaiting their first calf. Thing is, they don't all read the book, What to Expect When You're Expecting (a calf!) and they sometimes do stupid things. I've come across one heifer this season that was lying over the bank of a dry irrigation ditch while calving.... Hard to deliver a calf when you have a large hump in the middle of your belly. I got her up and she moved off a ways and then lay down with her head downhill. Ummmm, physics say that gravity is a GOOD thing during childbirth! We ended up taking her to the barn and pulling the calf. All was well.

Another heifer tried the push-the-calf-out-up-the-hill method. She couldn't get up. It was about 6:30 am so I enlisted the help of The Rancher, and my trusty horse. By the time I had saddled my horse and returned to the scene, The Rancher had succesfully delivered the calf. He then rolled the heifer over so she could get up. Once she was up she didn't appreciate what he had done for her and she decided to leave the scene. With my horse, I tried to push her back to her newborn calf. She was more concerned with being "bossed around" than taking care of her calf. She tried to leave the country. Although The Rancher was afoot, he had in hand the rope he had used during the delivery. He roped the heifer and handed me the rope to dally off to my saddle horn. We got the heifer stopped, and The Rancher retrieved the calf and brought it to the heifer. She was still being obstinate and would not mother her calf. So, I took her to the corral on the end of my rope and locked her in a pen. While The Rancher removed the rope I went with the old 77 Ford pickup to get the calf and bring him to his mama. He was big, and slippery and resented being lifted to the floorboard of the truck. I'm sure it was a commical sight! Once he was delivered to his mom in the corral and we penned them together and were able to back off quite a ways, the heifer decided motherhood wasn't so bad after all. I love a happy ending!

Last Monday, was a MONDAY! It rained most of the day. We had three heifers decide to calve. We had to pull ALL THREE! We were able to take all three to the barn for a reasonably dry environment. The first one was a tough pull but made it and was happily nursing in a relatively short time. The second one was a big calf, in a small heifer who had not dialated properly. It took both The Rancher and I pulling with all our might on the calf chains. (These are small chains looped like a bracelet around the ankles of the calf and attached to a handle to facilitate delivery.) We were able to deliver the head and shoulders of the calf. On large calves, it is espcecially important at this point to "twist" the calf in the birth canal so that his hips do not get stuck and pulling him the rest of the way out is easier. We twisted, but since this was our second calf in a short amount of time, we were tired, and I don't think we twisted quite far enough. We continued to pull. The calves hips then "locked" with the pelvis of the heifer and we were unable to pull the calf out completely. We attached a rope to the handles, and pulled with the horse, and still were unable to deliver the calf. The Rancher drove to the neighbors to borrow the "calf-puller". We had lost the calf, but now had to work fast to save the heifer. With the calf puller, (a pole with a hand winch, and a brace that goes against the hind end of the heifer) we were able to deliver the rest of the calf. The story may have been different if we had the puller on hand earlier... but you live and learn, and you can't save them all no matter what you do. About an hour later, we pulled the third calf of the day. We went straight for the puller, and delviered a live calf. Our record was 2-1 for the day. It was dark by then and we went to the house wet, and exhausted.

Today, I happened to be at the right place at the right time. I noticed a heifer out in the pasture behaving as though she had just calved and was looking down at her baby. But things weren't just right. So I stopped the truck and walked out to the heifer. She had chosen to calve right next to an irrigation ditch full of water. Her calf was alive and standing up in the ditch with it's head just barely above the water. The sides of the ditch were too steep for it to get out... being a complete newborn. I jumped in the ditch and grabbed the calf, pulled him out, and drug him as far from the ditch as I could (without provoking this good mama to fight!). Mama came over to him, licked him to dry him, and I saw him up and nursing when I went back to check a while later. Phew! Another happy ending!

We are down to about 30 head of heifers left to calve... the grandma cows are calving on their own in the North Pasture... as it should be!

Our first cattle drive at the Duncan Ranch

Well, today is a gloomy cloudy day, so why not reminisce about a sunny day about a week ago when we had our first trail drive since we have lived here at the Duncan Ranch. We moved our old grandma cows and the heifers that had already calved to the North Pasture. The crew was just the Rancher, the three cowgirls and myself.

The Littlest Cowgirl exclaimed as we left the gate of the Hogback Pasture, "Let's take 'em to the North Pasture!"

So we headed down the road. There was a bit of "goofing-off" by two of the cowgirls.

The Rancher always likes to count 'em through the gate. Not my favorite job! I usually lose track, or at least worry that I am going to lose track!

Since we have just moved here, the cows are all "new-to-us" and had to be re-branded with our "Bar Double L" brand. We think it looks very nice!

I really enjoy watching the Rancher and the Cowgirls work together... That's the Redheaded Cowgirl there.

And for now, I have my Littlest Cowgirl close by for company... but it won't last long, as she keeps asking if she can ride by herself! Oi!

Once we got them through the gate, we weren't done... The Rancher rode around the fence to be sure gates were closed and to fix any holes, and us girls still had to take the cows to the windmill so they would know where to find water. Since I am still leading the Littlest Cowgirl on her pony, "Polly", I really depend on the other cowgirls to get the job done...

They do a good job, too...

Here's the view from the back of my horse....

And this is a picture of a happy cow...

And the Littlest Cowgirl, still smiling at the end of the trail...

Friday, May 2, 2008

Got ELK?

We've got elk! The plan was to do a blog post on the wildlife here at the ranch...someday. But the elk pictures I have taken in the last few days are worthy of their own post. It started yesterday before dinner when we checked the heifers we noticed some elk in the next pasture. So I went to the house, grabbed the camera and sneaked up over the hill to get close.

Tonight we saw them from the dining room window coming over the fence... so I sneaked some more....

When I had been back in the house for awhile I walked around the corner into the dining room and my jaw dropped. There were about 200 head of head right outside the window!!!! So these pictures were taken from the warmth of the dining room... no sneaking necessary.

As you can see, our May blizzard is over and the sun is out. It'll be a COLD night, but the high should be 55 tomorrow! Gotta love spring!

Blizzard - in May

The calf didn't make it. It was a hard one to take, especially for The Rancher.

It continues to snow. And blow. The drifts are getting bigger. The icicles hang from the cows and the horses. The weather report that just this morning said it would snow until noon, now says it will snow until 4:00 pm. It says total snow accumulation will be 1-3 inches.... we passed that long ago.

Definition of a Ranchwife (part two) - Spring Storm

Now remember, it was Tuesday when the Three Cowgirls were "swimming" in the irrigation ditch. I was sweating from shoveling the take outs and walking around the pastures. The forecast for Wednesday evening, Thursday and Friday was a spring storm with snow and blowing snow. Hard to believe when it's still 60+ degrees late Wednesday afternoon. But we prepared anyway. We gathered the cattle we are running for another rancher and brought them in to a meadow with lots of trees for protection. One was acting sick, so we took her to the corral to doctor her. While The Rancher played doctor, I went to gather our heifers into the barn yard so they would have shelter and be closer for us to watch as they continued to calve. That's when the weather arrived. Within minutes it was raining, sleeting and blowing. Just so you know, it's VERY hard to tell a horse to trot into the pelting rain/sleet. As a matter of fact, it made my mare down right mad. We went to the far corner of the pasture and found a heifer that had just calved and had a cute little bald faced bull calf. He was very wobbley, but followed mama all the way to the barnyard. The Rancher joined me and we got everything in, but we were soaked to the skin! We stopped in the barn to check on a calf that we had pulled earlier in the day and then took the horses to the horse barn.

I had put a pot roast in the oven earlier and had asked the Biggest Cowgirl to cut up some potatoes and carrots to throw in with it. When we walked through the door the Three Cowgirls made us close our eyes and they led us into the living room and made us hold hands.... then the music started to play, our favorite cd of classical dinner music, called Wine Country Classics, they let us open our eyes, and then they said, okay start... "Start what?" "Dancing", they all cried. We'll it's great music, but not real great dance music... but they were so cute we had to oblige.

Then as we turned and saw into the dinning room, the table was set with a white cloth, our fine china, and silver, and the pot roast and veggies were in the middle of the table. It was beautiful, and I probably don't have to tell you what a relief it was to come in soaking wet and cold and not have to organize the setting of the table and dinner as well! We were so proud and touched by our girls favor to us! They're great kids!

It went on to snow that night, a little, and Thursday was cold... but Friday morning around 8:00am the real blizzard began. Here is the Biggest Cowgirl following The Rancher out to check the heifers.

Now The Rancher called on the cell and said we have to tend to yet another newborn....

The romance never ends!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Definition of a Ranchwife (part one)

Okay, so I said that a ranchwife is like a housewife plus thousands of acres, hundreds of cattle, nine horses, chickens, dogs, cats.... but being a Lutheran the question must be asked, "What does this mean?"
Here is an example from the past couple of days. (part two will be preparing for the spring storm)
Tuesday: The Rancher had to go to Casper to shoe horses. Right now we are heifer calving and irrigating. These things do not stop for the day because one is away. For those who do not know, "heifers" are the bovine equivalent to "girls". When "girls" grow up they become "women", and when "heifers" grow up they become "cows". A heifer has grown up when she has her first calf. So, for better or worse we have stocked our new ranch with about 100 first time mamas and about half that many "grandma cows" who are likely on their last calf, about 13 years old. First time mamas don't always do things like they are supposed to so it takes a bit of babysitting sometimes. So with The Rancher in town I had one calf in the corral who needed assistance entering the world the day before and the stress of the event had left him kindof "dumb" and not very vigorous. He wouldn't get up and nurse on his own so we were trying to get him to nurse from a bottle. We had let the new momma out to get a drink of water and she seemed to have forgotten that she had had a baby. The Biggest Cowgirl and I spent way too much time trying to teach this little guy something that should have been instinct. Later in the day I saddled my horse and went off to find the absent mama and bring her back. We locked them into a smaller pen, and hooray! instinct kicked in... guess that instinct is stronger when it's the real thing instead of a bottle and a couple of humans!

So we still had irrigating to do. We decided to walk rather than use the fuel for the old pickup truck. While I was setting an irrigation tarp the three cowgirls decided it was warm enough to get wet... really wet. After I threatened to make them do their own laundry from now on I saw the fun they were having and decided to take a picture instead.

We had a great walk! And if you are wondering what subjects we covered for school that day... biology, hydrology, physics, P.E. Not bad for pre-school, kindergarten, and second grade!

We also took these pictures from the top of the hill above the house....

The horse barn is the red building to the right, the house sits in the trees to the left. These are the heifers waiting it out to calve....

This hill formation is called a "hog-back"....
This is looking south to the higher pont of the ranch. Yes the skyline is within our boundaries.

Catching up

Well it turns out that last week was a lousy time to start a blog! Life got pretty busy here on the ranch. We had "Anna's second ride", still with no pictures. The Biggest Cowgirl did ride her at a trot and was able to accomplish some nice one-rein stops (essential to have down before I turn loose of the long lead rope!). Anna goosed a few times, keeping things interesting for the Biggest Cowgirl who rode through them quite well. Between life and weather Anna has not had her third ride.

The end of the week was spent preparing for a craft show in Longmont, Colorado. The previous owner of Mary Ann's Beans (why didn't that all get underlined?) took the products to a lot of craft shows on the Front Range of Colorado. She had a great and loyal following of customers that is prudent for me to maintain. So, for a while, we will continue this avenue of marketing. It is a lot of fun to go and meet new and old cutomers face to face, sample the soups, and get wonderful comments back. It's also great for the girls. Since we homeschool it's like mini-society, but in real life. When I was in third grade we had mini-society where we made a product and then had some mini-society bucks that we could buy other peoples products with. So, I pay the girls with beans when they help with a craft show or farmer's market. They can then trade those beans for other vendors' items, or if they don't trade, I will pay them cash when it's over. The Biggest Cowgirl and the Redheaded Cowgirl went with me. They traded shrewdly for a bracelet, and a bunny statue and doll dress respcetively. They also pooled some resources and traded for a pair of earings for me for Mothers Day. They're good kids!

The Rancher kept the Littlest Cowgirl with him for the weekend. Their's was the bigger adventure! They headed out to Meeteetse to buy our final load of heifers to stock the ranch. They made it as far as Casper when the empty bumper pull trailer hit some ice and whipped around and hit the side of the truck, popped off the hitch, and rolled! No other vehicles were hit, The Rancher and his precious passenger were rattled, but fine, and they were able to complete their trip, minus the trailer and the 4 head that it was intended to bring home. The rest of the weekend was uneventful with the Littlest Cowgirl taking good care of The Rancher and helping him irrigate, ride out on her horse to check the heifers, and snuggling up for a good story before bedtime.

We were all reunited late on Monday. And as they say, there's no place like home!