Friday, December 31, 2010

Most Popular

I am very surprised, and happily so, that my blog received 458 views in December. I really appreciate everyone who reads my stories and looks at my pictures on here. I have met and emailed a few of you that I didn't know previously, and have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you!

In case you were wondering, the most viewed blog post to date is:
Preg Checking

Number two is:
Going to the Forest

The vast majority of the people reading this are from the United States. But I've had people from Croatia, Brazil, all over Europe, Canada, and a few other places. Hello to you all : )

As we enter 2011 I want to let everyone know I'm open to suggestions, ideas, questions and comments. If there's something I've covered you want to know more about, or didn't understand fully, let me know and I'll be happy to go more in depth.

If you have a general question about agriculture, food, cattle, or anything else you think I might know about ( if I don't, I'll look into it, or find someone who does for you to visit with), email or comment me and we'll figure it out.

Whether you do, or don't, know about agriculture and have a topic you think should be covered on here, let me know about those too, and I'll add them into the mix.

The purpose of this blog remains the same - to show the true story of agriculture, and provide accurate information on ranching and agriculture from the perspective of someone who lives it.

Of course there will be a little personal information mixed in from time to time to keep things interesting and help explain why I'm going here or doing this, and to show you there are a few things that hold my interest outside the world of raising cattle.

It's a wonderful life and I am very blessed! I look forward to sharing more of it with you in 2011!

My email is

Ringing in the New Year

I had a weekend brimming with activities planned, and the bad weather has put a halt to all of them. Originally I was considering going to the Bucking Ball in Gillette tonight, then heading to Cheyenne for Liz's bachelorette party. But, the entire state of Wyoming has slick roads, with some closures and several listed as no unnecessary travel. So I am at my parents tonight, settled in with milk and cookies, preparing to switch to whiskey and partake in a few games of cards. I'm thrilled to be spending more time with my family, but I'm also disappointed I am missing these events, especially Liz's party.

Here's what we did today, before settling in by the pellet stove. We fed more of our grass hay to our calves and yearling heifers.

All that snow on their backs means they are in good shape. The fat on their backs is insulating them against the cold snow, so it sits on their hair, and they stay warm internally. If they are thin, more of their body heat escapes, and melts the snow.

We tucked them in behind this hill, out of the wind.

Then we chopped more ice. It was about zero here this morning. Those railroad ties on the ground prevent the cattle from dragging all the dirt away from the tank.

Now our calves can eat, drink, and be merry as they ring in the new year!

Then we did the same thing for our yearling heifers.

After completing all the outdoor chores, my parents drove into Lusk for a funeral. Holly and I baked cookies and a cherry crisp this afternoon. My brother just left, without much heads up, for the Bucking Ball (I might have gone with him had I known), and the rest of us are sitting around staying warm.
Hope you all have a fun and happy introduction to 2011!

Top 10 of 2010

2010 was a busy, fun, eventful year. Here are the top 10 highlights from the last 12 months.

1. Buying my first house.

2. Trading my truck for a new"er" car, by myself

3. The overall increase in livestock prices

4. Working for one year at the Roundup

5. Booking largest photography job to-date

6. Horse regaining complete soundness in bad foot

7. Traveling to so many new places within Wyoming

8. The people I've met

9. Living with my two dogs, and all the hilarious things they've done this year

10. All of the other things, large and small, that God has done with my life over the past 12 months.

Goodbye 2010, hello 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Digestive preparations

I just mentioned in a recent post that we adjust our feeding schedule based things like bad weather. Today I was busy preparing for what is forecasted to be a nasty winter blizzard starting around midnight tonight.
The radio was saying they expect 30+ mph winds, 6-10 inches of snow, temperatures ranging from zero to 30 below doesn't sound fun.

The first thing I did was gather these 26 cows out of the pasture neighboring where they are supposed to be. After preg checking we just turned the cows into this pasture, and they typically make their way to the next one out of habit. If they don't, most come when you start feeding. The gates between the two pastures are left open, because when we're feeding usually the cows come every day and it isn't an issue.
But the nice weather this year...and the questionable intelligence level of these individuals...resulted in them never coming to feed. This wasn't a big deal with the very nice temperatures we've had so far this winter. The abundant left over grass was more than enough for these cows to thrive on so far.

But the impending blizzard, and the fact that we want these cows to come to feed along with everyone else, meant I gathered and trailed them through this gate to the proper pasture. Then I closed the gate, trailed them down to water, and fed everyone a double ration to get their energy levels up before the cold weather hits.
As I also mentioned the linked post, we feed our cows every other day. I just fed these cows yesterday, but gave them more hay today so they'll be ready for the wind, snow and cold.

Here they are trailing into feed.

I also briefly mentioned that a cow has a ruminant stomach, which allows them to utilize forages, or feedstuffs, over 24, or 48, hour periods.
This ruminant stomach is separated into four compartments.

When the cow swallows a mouth full of hay, it has two choices. Heavy, or big, pieces of hay will drop into the Reticulum. From this compartment the cow can regurgitate the feed and chew on it again. This is called chewing her cud, and is something cows do regularly, and is typically done when they're calm and relaxed. This unique ability allows a cow to eat a whole bunch in one sitting, like when I'm feeding a bale of hay, then regurgitate it later and chew it more thoroughly before digesting it. It's like a built in storage/recycling system for food, and is one reason you can feed them a couple days apart.
Smaller, and lighter, pieces of feed go into the Omasum. While the picture doesn't really show it, the cow's stomach will sort the bigger and heavier pieces of feed from the lighter, smaller pieces at the junction of Omasum and Reticulum.
From that point the feed goes on through the Abomasum, to the Rumen, then into the intestines.
Another key aspect of ruminant digestion are the microbes, which are just microscopic bugs, present in a ruminant's stomach. Most of these microbes are in the Rumen compartment. These microbes are what allow the animal to digest feedstuffs. For example, one group of microbes found in the Rumen are called Cellulolytics, and they break down Cellulose, which is the primary component in forages.
Humans and other single-stomached creatures lack the efficiency, and often the ability, to break down roughage's, specifically Cellulose, into a usable energy source. This is why cattle, sheep, and other ruminants are so vital to society. They take the forages found all over the country, and world, that we cannot utilize as humans, and they eat it, and because of their unique stomachs, they are able to convert it to energy to grow and produce a usable food for humans - meat.

Here's what it looks like from the outside. The other thing all this digesting creates is heat. The coarser the forage they're eating, the longer it takes the microbes, or bugs, to eat and process it. The longer it takes the microbes to break it down, the more heat they generate during the process.

So for those reasons I fed the cows a couple older, coarser bales. This means it was forage with bigger stems. While not the highest quality hay we feed, it has a definite place when we want to keep our cows warm.
Grass hay is an example coarser hay, that takes longer to digest. Alfalfa hay, is finer, and microbes can attack and process it faster. So Alfalfa creates energy faster, but it is much shorter lived, while grass is a slower starting, longer lasting form of energy.
We also feed hay that is a combination of the two, to maximize to the benefits of both.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Before the gifts... feeding at our outfit. Christmas Eve morning everyone was busy feeding so we didn't have to feed Christmas day.
Cattle have a ruminant stomach that is separated into four compartments and is designed to maximize the utilization of the conversion of forages and grains to energy. A ruminant's stomach contains bacteria that allows them to adjust to digesting feed over a 24, or 48 hour period.
We feed our cattle every other day, and that allows us to dedicate one day to feeding, and one day to something else. It's a matter of time economics, and the cattle are used the routine and it meets their energy needs.
If it gets cold we will adjust our feeding schedule accordingly to ensure our livestock have enough additional energy to stay warm and maintain their body condition in the colder weather.
Where my family lives there is rarely enough snow to cover all the grass, and they can fill up on the old grass. We are responsible for providing them with the nutrients the dead grass is lacking, and that's why we feed a lot of cake. It's a good way to provide that energy in a way that is easy to feed.
But, where my uncle lives in the black hills, the grass is almost always under snow this time of year, so he feeds them hay to both fill them up and meet their energy requirements.
There is a lot of science, economics, humanities, weather watching and dietitian aspects to feeding cattle. We have to make sure their energy and nutrient requirements are met, they stay healthy, and we don't go broke feeding them.
We feed our cattle on this schedule no matter what, and Christmas is no exception. We feed before we eat our Christmas dinner, open presents, or play games.

Christmas Eve morning I went with my uncle to feed his calves and yearling heifers hay. We pull out to the feed ground, where the snow is packed down, after loading two round bales of hay onto the pickup.

Here is the hay feeding pickup. He uses a hydrabed, which will be demonstrated a little further down. Here we are adjusting where the arms are gripping the bale - you want the arms in the center of the bale, because you pull the bale behind the pickup and it unrolls. If you don't grab it in the middle it doesn't unroll well, and causes problems.
The calves arrive and wait patiently for the bales to be unrolled.

First is getting the twine strings off the bales. This is what holds the round bale together. Some bales are also wrapped with net wrap instead of twine.

All the strings are cut, then you pull them out. You want to have the bale picked up off the ground for this step, because trying to drag strings out from under a 1,200 pound bale is difficult at best.

A recent rain storm on top of the all the snow froze some of the strings to the bale. So my uncle used his axe, and pitchfork, to break up the ice, and free the strings.

Here is a chunk that is still caught in the ice. After freeing all string, it's looped and tied in a knot and secured in the pickup. A loose batch of twine string can make an awful mess, and mad ranchers.

Then my uncle gets in, lowers the bale to the ground, and takes off. The other bale just sits on the back of the pickup, and will ride there unless you try to go up a steep hill.

As the bale unrolls, you use manual controls in the cab to lower the hydrabed arms further to keep the bale on the ground and unrolling.
Sometimes you will pick up a bale backwards, and have to back up to unroll it.

Then you drive, and lower the arms as needed, until your bale is completely unwrapped.

Those two knobs are the controls for the hydrabed. One raises and lowers the arms, and the other moves the arms back and forth to grip or release the bale.

He just let the first bale go, and is raising the arms to grab the next one.

Pearl was supervising.

He will set the bale on the ground, get the arms centered on the bale, re-grab it, raise it off the ground, cut the strings, knock all that ice off, pull, loop and tie the strings in a knot, set the bale back down, then unroll the bale.
We fed these calves five bales, and repeated the same process for each one.

The calves fall in behind and eat. After every cow, horse and other creature on the ranch has been feed their ration, we go in the house, eat our dinner, open our presents, and thank the Lord for the birth of his Son, the food, our family, the cows and horses and other creatures we are responsible for, and the gifts we received.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter house tour, Part 2

Here is part of the rest of my house. The bathroom hasn't changed much over the months, and the third bedroom is currently being used to store all my Christmas boxes and paraphernalia, so those two rooms aren't included in this tour...sorry...they are the two doors on the left if you're wondering.

Love the floors in my house, and the fact that it has no carpet!

The other way.

Finally got some pictures up in the hallway, and everyone who stops by enjoys looking at them. More are in the works, and will hopefully be up early next year!

My room really hasn't changed much either. I have one print I am looking everywhere for that I want to get framed for in here. Otherwise it and the spare bedroom are sadly lacking in wall decor.

The closet is still small...and practically bursting at the seems these days : ) Nothing new there either.

This saying is one of my favorite things in my room! The plan is to add the perfect wrought iron headboard in white or the natural metal color....just as soon as I find and procure one!

The guest room is still in progress too. Hopefully if you come to visit the brass lamp my mom loaned me will be gone, and the other lamp will have a shade. I recently bought a shade without paying much attention, and it was way too big for the lamp.
My aunt made me the quilt when I graduated high school, and I've always wanted a place I could use it, but it wouldn't get ruined. This has been the perfect solution, as it doesn't get used all the time, but is out where it can be seen.
Again, I know about the walls, and I have some ideas that include my own photographs for this room, but so far haven't had, or taken, the time to actually get it done.
So there is the house, in case you missed it the first time around.

Christmas break

Tomorrow I will be heading north, and east, to my grandmas house in the black hills for the start of a week-long vacation. To say I'm excited would be a mild understatement.
We do a family get-together at my grandma's on Christmas Eve day, and have a big lunch and gift exchange. Tomorrow night is another family Christmas party (the Livingston one, in case I forget later), and I will be in attendance for the first time in several years.
I have called my grandma and made reservations to stay with her tomorrow night. She assured my that "my room" would be ready, and she would open the door and let it warm up. Thank goodness! That room is beyond brisk, and would pose serious issues during the winter if there were any water pipes in its walls. Fortunately the pellet stove is right outside the door, and my grandma is a firm believer in electric blankets! Add to that a heavy pair of socks and sweats, a dose of NyQuil, and I'll sleep like a baby...I hope.
Following all that fun and excitement, I will be headed home for Christmas, and a week long reprieve from typing stories, sitting at a desk and making phone calls. Bring on feeding hay and cake, chopping ice, discussing how the cows look, seeing the calves and whatever else comes up!
Wrapping up my vacation will be a bridal shower in Cheyenne, if the weather cooperates!
I'm ready to see this view, these cows, and to drive this road that is almost totally devoid of traffic, beyond that of the bovine variety. I am ready to out of cell service range, away from people, and surrounded by home.
In preparation for my week off, I have been busy freeing up space on memory cards (I have 12 GB of storage cleared up, and my computers are groaning at having all those pictures now saved on them), charging my camera's batteries, gathering up all my winter work gear and wrapping presents. I have added a whole new play list to my ipod, laced heavily with the Scott Wiggins Band, Cory Morrow and other Texas Country artists mixed with a little mainstream country and rock.
Tonight I need to wash my dishes, clean out my fridge (it looks like a science project), wrap one last gift, pack, load the car, and make sure to remember the Apples to Apples game and my old espresso maker!
Whew! So much to do, so much fun!
Hope you all have a Merry Christmas! While I'm sure there be other posts later in the day.. I am siting at my desk this week... I wanted to make sure I told everyone happy holidays! May God bless you and yours as we all celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in a couple days!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The cost

End of the year finances seem to be on everyone's mind these days, and people in agriculture are no different.
I often receive comments from people outside the ag-industry saying I must be very rich, because I have a ranch. A lot of people assume if you have a ranch, or cattle, you must be wealthy, in a monetary sense.
This is not the case, not even close.
Yes, we receive $500+ dollars per calf, or $1,000+ plus dollars per yearling. When you multiply that out by 200, 300, or 600 head, it's a big number.
But the other side of the coin are all the expenses that go into raising a $500 calf, or $1,000 yearling.
First there's the land you're running them on. Most ranchers pay for their land with their livestock. When you look at land prices, especially today, you will quickly see where a big chunk of the money goes.
For example, if you're paying $250 an acre for land, and it takes 30 acres to run one cow and her calf for a year, you just invested $7,500 into enough land for one cow. Now, multiply that by the 200, 300 or 600 cows you're running, and that's also a big number.
There are those that have their ranches paid off, and don't have that expense, but often times those producers expand, and incur another land payment.
Then there are the actual cattle. They aren't free either, and you have to pay for them. Some people inherit their cattle, and some have to buy into the family business. Others have to start from scratch, and cattle cost money for us too.
You're going to be buying heifers or cows, and today that means laying down around $1,000 a head for a young cow. Heifers will be more, and short-term cows less, but that's an idea of what it costs to buy into the cow business.
Then don't forget you have to buy bulls, or add an AI program, and bulls are typically over $2,000 in this part of the world. It takes one bull per 25 cows on average, and a bull will last four years, tops. So if you have 300 cows, you will be spending $24,000 in bulls every four years, minimum.
Then there are what we call "operating costs." These are the costs ranchers have for a year of production. They include everything from feed, vet expenses, transportation, labor, etc...
These aren't cheap expenses. Corn has almost tripled in the past five years due to competition with ethanol demand. Transportation costs are rising for us just like everyone else. Vaccines, and other medicines are also expensive. I just bought a bottle of pour-on to treat some calves for grubs, worms and other parasites. A bottle that will treat 50 head cost $240.00.
We add all these costs up, and divide them by the number of calves, or yearlings we're selling, and that's how much each animal needs to make us to break even.
People in ag know all about breaking even, and not breaking even, and usually know within a few cents what their break even is on a given year.
Cows makes us money through her calves. As I've mentioned previously, it takes about 7 years for a cow to pay off all the expenses she will generate in her lifetime. The average cow lasts about 10 years where I'm from, so that means she is making you money for 3 of her productive years, and the first seven you essentially owe money on her.
Then there's fact that some of your cows, and some of your calves will die. This is listed as deathloss, and included in the calculations. Some cows don't breed back either, and if she is under 7, you probably lost money on her.
Add everything up, do a little division, addition, subtraction, and other basic mathematics until your head is swimming, and the average return on investment in agriculture is 3%. The average return on investment in everything else is closer to 6%.
We take half the average to raise livestock, and live the lifestyle we do.
I am in no way complaining, just showing the way things are.
I wouldn't change to something I could make a 6% percent return on if I was given the chance.
But this is why seemingly large-scale ranchers usually aren't rich, in a dollars and cents way. It takes a lot of cows, or sheep, or hogs to make 3% a large enough number to live off of, let alone expand, or put a kid through college...
Another aspect is we get paid once, or twice a year, and have to budget and make that money last an entire year, regardless of any unexpected expenses. There is no 2 week paycheck in ag. You get a check when you sell your calves, yearlings, or other commodities.
A lot of producers diversify their operations and find ways to market different products at different times of the year to increase the number of times they have income.
But we're still talking about four or five checks a year, and that money has to last through whatever might happen until you sell your livestock the following year.
So, the answer is no, I am not rich because I have a ranch in my family. But, if you get past the money part, then the answer is yes, I am rich to have a ranch. It's really all in how you look at it.
: )

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter house tour, Part 1

I love my little house, especially the inside! The past year has been spent furnishing it, and I thought I would provide a little update on it. This is partially because I'm running a little low on new ranch pictures, and partially to document how it looks over time.

Right now things are a little cramped in the living room due to my Christmas tree. This tree will not be living in my house next year, I plan to upgrade to a real tree that's more than 2' in diameter.
The windows on the wall are a work in progress. I personally think they would have looked better if I had gone all out and hung ribbon, or lights...or something around them. But I wanted to try filling the panes with wrapping paper for the holidays, so I can check that off the list now.

I bought my Charles Russell prints at the Charles Russell museum in MT, and had them custom framed at Hobby Lobby. I forgot to take a close-up, but love how they turned out. I would like to get a third one framed the same way to add to these two.
My leather rocking/reclining chair was a huge find for me too! I should mention I'm a big thrift store shopper, especially with furniture. A lot of my items came from such shops in Casper and Rapid City, including the black leather chair, windows, coffee tables, all the lamps and white shelf by couch.

This shelf came from Target.

Those are actually bright red Christmas balls hanging from my candle holders. I was using my little hand-held camera for this photo project. I also chose this one to give you an idea of what really goes on at my house (imagine fierce growling and a general ruckus to accompany the fighting dogs). Getting them in the picture was a complete accident.
Anyway, the black shelf was from another re-purposing shop in Casper, and my mom found the bench the TV is sitting on. All the wall hangings and the cross tree came from Hobby Lobby (there is reasoning behind asking for a Hobby Lobby gift card for Christmas)
I typically decorate under the bench for the season at hand, and had it filled with fall leaf garlands earlier in the year. I was a little late on my Christmas decor shopping this year, and will hopefully find something I like more to put under there next year. I like to not see any cords or the outlet when I'm done!

The desk is perfect for holding sunscreen, gloves and other odds and ends that you need as you head out the door. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm not very happy with my tree, and am planning an upgrade for next year!
Should you ever visit, you will likely be greeted by a growling Pearl, standing right where she is here.

Those wire circle things came from Ross, surprisingly. The chair and ottoman I found at Big Lots, and I bought the couch in Rapid City.
When decorating, I'm the sort that waits until I find just what I want, then rarely move it once I've found the perfect spot for it. So it's this mentality that has resulted in random pieces of furniture and decor being picked up at so many different shops, towns and states.

My parents are not fans of the windows hanging on the wall, even without the wrapping paper.

The kitchen is one of my least favorite parts of the house. I still like it, but compared to everything else it ranks pretty low. While it has plenty of cupboard space, it is seriously lacking in counter space, and I like to cook and bake.

The door in the back leads to the garage, and is also the laundry/dog food area.

The table was found at a furniture store in Casper. The idea is to eventually put a glass door where the window is on the left, and build a deck in the back yard. Right now I have to go through the garage to get to my yard, and I'm pretty excited about the idea of having a deck off the eating area!

I thought about cleaning it off, but this gives a more realistic view of things, especially in recent weeks. There are two computers because my work laptop (the Mac) won't read CD's, so if I'm doing anything that involves a CD I have to resort to my personal Dell. I also usually have my personal computer on because it's where a lot of my pictures are stored, and I always seem to need something off it when I'm doing anything photo-related.
I love the picture, and found it in an ugly frame at guessed it...thrift store. I had it re-framed at Hobby Lobby, and am still looking for the perfect accompanying pieces for either side of it.