Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Salebarn Day

Last week I volunteered to take the open cows (those who are not pregnant) and our cull bulls to the sale barn. This was for a variety of reasons: get out of the house, I love going to the salebarn, it was a beautiful day, I wanted to see if they would let me take pictures to go with future articles on relevant topics.
So away I went, with a 28-foot trailer loaded to the hilt. I happen to know the manager at St. Onge, as most people in this area do, and he happened to be at the trailer chute area when I arrived. I asked about taking pictures, and he graciously gave me free rein, and let his crew know I would be wandering around.
Photographer heaven ensued, and here are a handful of favorites from the hour or so of shooting I enjoyed before stopping for a bacon cheeseburger in the barn's café.


I love sale barns (they prefer to be called livestock auctions). You can see the entire scope of the cattle industry while sitting through a sale. Where it's been and where it's going, the confidence and optimism of the area's ranchers, the quality of the year at hand, beef demand, and so many other things are displayed and determined as the various lots are weighed, bid on and sold.

On this particular day, as has been the case in recent weeks, the sale primarily consisted of open heifers, cull bulls, and a few cull cows. The majority of running age cows in this part of the country have not been preg checked yet, and are still out on summer grass. They will pick up in weeks to come, and continue through the fall run and early winter months, before trickling off again as calving season nears.

Most sale barns around here go to one sale a week during the slower summer months, but increase that number to two or three sales during the peak fall and early winter marketing months. When they go to multiple sales per week, one will be focused on dry and open cows, or "weigh-ups," and another will be for calves and yearlings. Bred heifers and cows may also warrant their own sale day, or be combined with one of the other two categories.
This was my personal favorite photo of the day. While still a few weeks away, the sheer volume of pens on the load-out side of the ring speak to the fact that the fall run is coming, and that thousands of calves and yearlings will soon make their way through this and other barns across country, resulting in their owners one major paycheck for the year. While you can't tell in black and white, the pens are sporting several new boards, are clean and ready for the rush that will soon descend upon them.
The cattle business is a beautiful business.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Foggy morning calf sightings

It hasn't been the best calving weather in western South Dakota for us thus far, and by that I mean it has been awful. Multiple nights at -30 degrees with windchill and multiple days where it struggled to reach 0. But, our mama cows came through it like champs, and everyone is loving the warming temperatures we're experiencing this week.
The only calf that hasn't thrived this year was this red guys twin, who was huge for a twin. He got cold before we found him, and despite five hours of rubbing and blowing him dry with a hair dryer and multiple space heaters in the middle of my bathroom, he didn't make it. I wonder if he didn't have some additional issues we weren't aware of, and while that was a frustrating way to start, we have been blessed with very few issues since.
Yesterday we had a great fog before the sun came out and turned us from white to brown, causing a general rise in spirits along the way. I tagged along for morning feeding chores with my new 7D camera to get some photos of all our new arrivals before the cool, foggy atmosphere disappeared.

 This little gal has aspirations of being a model someday. Keep your eye out for her in western ag publications.

While I think our multiple red babies are cute, and photogenic, the boss man is less than impressed that all his work to breed homozygous black cattle has resulted in more red babies than he's had in years. I can see his point of view too, but again, how cute is this guy?!

 Baldies are the best : )

"What do you mean I have freakishly big ears, and who is 'Dumbo'?"

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Purchasing a camera for ranch use

My brand new Canon 7D and two kit lenses (aka, personal sacrifices instead of a single L-series lens due to the purchase of a camera body) arrived today!! I am anxiously checking the battery charger every 5 minutes, and it has been doing the whole blink-three-times-in-rapid-succession thing it supposedly does when its nearly charged for over an hour! Ugh.
Outside there is a brand new calf, another soon-to-be brand new calf, and sunshine. And to think, my husband asked me what I was doing this afternoon, and looked at me oddly when I was snappish that the 4-wheeler was nearly out of fuel.
The poor man.
The thing I have learned this time around in buying a camera body is that it's like buying cars, hydraulic chutes or mineral in that every single option on the lot is nearly perfect to hear the sales people tell it.
Uhuh. I have a 1.5 year old Canon 60D camera being sent to Canon for the second time in four months right now that was "the best thing going" a year and a half ago. I don't know if it was the same sales person or not, but when I was explaining my issues the second time they developed - a couple weeks ago, the guy replied, "Oh, well it does have an aluminum body, which is more for hobbyists than professionals. He wasn't rude about it, but put emphasis on the fact that apparently the different materials Canon makes body's out of is a big deal.
So, rewind a year and a half, when I'm explaining to someone in this very shop that while I am not a National Geographic photographer, I use my equipment like one. It is outside, in the weather, occasionally covered in substances that could have come out of either end of a bovine or pig, and needs to stand up to things like moisture, dust, slobber, LA200, etc...
At that time I was told the 60D was the best camera for the money, unless I wanted to jump into the Mark series, which I did not because my budget did not allow for upgrading to an entire set of L-series lenses, which is all you can use on a Mark body.
We discussed thoroughly the advantages and disadvantages of all options before I made my purchase. The sales consultant was confident I would be thrilled with the 60D, and I was, at first, until a year into owning it, the camera began producing grainy and dull images. For something that was by no means cheap, and projected to last years, this was an expected and upsetting development to suddenly discover when reviewing a senior photo shoot.
So, to have someone at the same shop basically say, well duh honey, it has an aluminum body, was a bit irritating.
Then began our conversation on what I should buy as a new body that will hopefully stand up to the elements I shoot in a little better. And, what does this guy tell me. He suggests the latest, greatest, camera-of-the-year 70D, which is constructed of the same hobbyist grade aluminum as the 60D.
Seriously dude?!
We go on to discuss the 6D, Mark iii and 7D as well, and I get the stats on all four options, then agree to call back with my decision. I was this close (- -) to taking the plunge and getting the Mark iii, but again the ability to not use the majority of my lenses in combination with not having several extra thousand laying around to buy new lenses with stopped me. In the end, as I said above, I went with the 7D, which is made of the professional grade magnesium alloy, after emailing someone who is a year and a half into owning and using one the same way I would, with zero issues.
So, while I am tickled pink to have a new camera body, and realize that if they can fix my 60D I will no longer have to rent a backup body for weddings in addition to a few other perks, I am also a little irked that I am not lovingly gazing at a high end, low F-stop lens that I had my heart set on purchasing in 2014.
I should also point out that I am on a bit of a soapbox on this topic at the moment, but as a whole the camera shop I use is tremendous, and incredibly helpful. The people are very knowledgeable and provide top-of-the-line customer service. I have simply come to the realization that much like buying cars, chutes or mineral, buying camera equipment should involve a lot more research than talking to "the experts," and doing online comparisons. They have no idea what to say when you explain that while you take "good care" of your equipment you need to know how it will stand up to being chewed on by a baby pig, licked by a cow, hung on a fence in its bag in light snow, 50 mph blowing dust instead of the tame variety found in studios, and the occasional coating of vaccine. You need to go find a neighbor to ask about such things in order to get a feel for how your potential purchase will work in the real world.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sunny and 25

It's sunny and 25 degrees above zero this morning - the only morning, or day for that matter, expected to get this warm for over a week. We have 19 calves on the ground, my dachshund is rolling around in the sunny spot on the floor, I've had to two homemade lattes, talked to a handful of people on the phone, and am curled up under a blanket telling myself to get with the interviews I need to complete, but am instead thinking a nap sounds oh so much better.
What is it about cold weather, semi-warm wood-heated old homes and the sense of calm that comes with being able to look in one corner of your house and realize it is somewhat clean during calving season that lulls you into wanting to take a day off?
I think it is in part that this is one of my favorite times of year ranching, and mother nature can dampen that enthusiasm with her nastiness, but not eliminate it. A year's planning has gone into these little calves hitting the ground this week. Their mother's survived the worst storm to ever hit a cow in this part of the country, and seeing so many signs of life and renewal after a dismal, tough winter is refreshing, and relaxing.
Perhaps its that today is sure to be the easy day of the upcoming week, what with it being relatively warm, sunny and calm. Weather is such a dictator in our lives, this year more than normal, and today is somewhat of an auto-pilot day compared to those in the near past or immediate future.
Regardless of the reason, this is an excellent day, and a nice glimpse of the fact that sooner rather than later, winter will finally give way to spring after clutching us in its nasty grasp for the last five months and counting.
Here's hoping it's a sunny, nice day in your world as well!