Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fire Pictures

That's my brother, and the other guy on the hose is part of the family whose place the fire was on when I took this. Water was sometimes hard to come by (they ran all the cisterns on this ranch dry).

We topped the hill to this sight - flames around six feet tall. Unfortunately this grader was pushing the dirt the wrong way, you want the pile to the outside of the flames, but he still slowed things down. There were multiple blades and dozers on this fire to help contain it.

There goes our neighbor in a county six-by-six. We followed him across the fire line and went to work spraying water on the flames.

The guy you see here is another member of the family whose place was on fire. While the majority of the outside help was problematic and unhelpful, our local/county fire fighters and ranchers attacked the flames whole heartedly, as they have been doing all week on dozens of fires across the county.

A heat cyclone.

A flame being sucked up in the heat cyclone.

Monday, August 29, 2011

One Hot Situation

We have experienced an onslaught of range fires in my part of Wyoming over the last week. So many fires were blazing at once that our county's resources couldn't keep up with them. So, the fire district made the decision to call in paid resources (not our local paid people that were helping all they could), and relinquish control of the fires to the state of Wyoming.

The result was a disastrous loss of grass, endangerment of people, and frustration to local landowners.

See that guy in the picture? See him watching the Niobrara County guys and local ranchers do all the cleanup work? He was parked in that very spot when the fire was being put out also. His pickup had a sticker on the door that said, "Wyoming Forestry," and he was getting paid to stand there, watching a rancher's land burn up before him, offering no assistance when his very job was to help extinguish the flames.

That was a much too common sight over the last week. We learned today that these paid resources make at or above $28/hour, and their pickups are paid between $60 and $170 an hour. Why would they want the fire to go out?

We heard there were over 200 of them swarming around our county. How much money is that over a three-day period?!!?

It became apparent early on in when they entered our county that they had no intention of extinguishing any flames very fast. No, that burning grass was making them a nice, fat paycheck. They would park in the black and sleep and drive along fire-lines and watch the fire creep over it without even stopping. They would watch local ranchers and fire fighters almost burn up and not even bat an eye, let alone help. They would refuse to share water, and ask everyone to give theirs up to them.

Then they get to leave, collect that nice, fat paycheck, and move on to encourage the destruction of someone else livelihood. Meanwhile, the people left in their wake are faced with a financial crisis. Their grass is gone, fences gone, and they aren't getting a paycheck to fix it. They have to live with, and correct, this disaster brought on by human mismanagement.

This is wrong, and infuriating. Getting rich off the destruction of someone else's livelihood, when you were specifically hired to stop the destruction, is sick and wrong.

I personally witnessed numerous incidents that left me speechless over the last few days in regard to these paid resources. Their absolute negligence in doing their job was astounding, and resulted in losses that might even outweigh their paychecks.

When you're sitting in the dark, watching your next door neighbor's land burn up in flames that are 6-8 feet tall, and you see headlights on the next ridge, you assume that person will be there to stop the fire in that direction. What we've all learned in Niobrara County this week is you better radio and see if it's someone you know, and if it's not, you better assume he's going to do everything he can to fan the flames instead of extinguish them, regardless of the resulting loss in grass, homes, life or anything else.

When you call in additional resources, it's because you truly need them, not because you want to make the situation worse. Those that did aid in the efforts were truly appreciated, but they were far and few between.
What is our country coming to?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

My Week

This is what I look like right now, and this picture was taken just a couple hours ago. I am only on my computer because I am thawing out hamburger, so I can take hamburgers back to the fire when I go (people fight fire round the clock, and get hungry. Local ranch wives do the majority of the feeding.)
Multiple fires have kept everyone where I'm from extremely busy and tired this week. The one in the above photo has burned on at least four rancher's land that I'm aware of. Thursday night my brother and I left at 9:00 p.m., and got home at 6:00 a.m. from fighting fire. This morning we put one out before eating breakfast. Prayers for everyone's safety would be greatly appreciated!

To make things even more exciting/nerve wracking, several funnels came across one of the larger blazes this afternoon, sucking the flames up into it. Made for an interesting photo if nothing else.

I will be back with regular posts when life returns to a normal, smoke and fire free status around here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Miscellany Monday

I'm just linking up like crazy on this post, with both Miscellany Monday, at lowercase letters, and the Homestead Barn Hop, through The Prairie Homestead

Miss Anna, over at Life Be Delicious (I told you I would be linking like crazy) does Miscellany Monday - I always enjoy her posts, and thought it would be a great way to catch you up on what's been happening around here lately.

(one) My mom and dad returned home after my dad had surgery to remove part of his intestine (he had diverticulitis) last Tuesday. He's doing great, and we're praying his recovery continues to go well!

(two) My brother and I gathered the last of our bulls out of our cows today, and can check that task off our summer to-do list!

(three) I really have the best boyfriend in the world! Case in point - he spent several days at our place last week to help out while my dad was in the hospital. By help out, I mean he helped set railroad tie braces in a new fence, gather and sort cattle, take my sister and I to the state fair for a day of fun, and on top of all that put up with me while I was stressing to the max over my dad and all the summer projects we had going on. Beyond a great guy!

(four) I have a lot of office/writing work to dive into tomorrow, and if it's as hot outside as it has been, I won't mind typing away in the air conditioned house at all!

(five) Despite several summer storms rolling by, we haven't fought anymore fire since this one, and feel blessed to say that.

(six) The piglet picture has nothing to do with anything, so it fits the "miscellaneous" theme perfectly! I took it at Adam's house a couple weeks ago. He has new puppies and piglets at his place right now, and they're all very cute and photogenic.

Hope your week is starting off great for you!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Big Horn Sunset

I snapped this on Adam and I's way off the Big Horns the other night. It's been super busy around here lately, but that also means we're getting a lot accomplished!

Hope you're having a fun and relaxing weekend!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Thus far today I have accomplished the following:

Made a white chocolate/caramel latte (priorities are important when you're busy)

Watered, "The Forest," (the windbreak) and my mother's lawn while drinking the latte

Made about 20 phone calls

Planned the rest of the week

Sold our steers, by myself, for the first time ever. (A rancher basically gets one paycheck a year from his cattle, and the money you make on that one day is it for the next 12 months. The price you receive determines how big the check, this was a huge deal) I did have a lot of coaching from my dad, who is in the hospital recovering from surgery.

Talked to my dad. His surgery was to take out part of his intestine. He had diverticulosis (sp?) He's doing very well.

Typed two articles

Edited an article for the largest publication my work will be published in yet.

Watched a livestock video auction, while typing.

Made a to-go lunch for my brother and sister, who are hauling hay today

Confirmed a photo order

Baked cookies, and ate a lot of the batter (Comfort food!)

Did lots of laundry

Accidentally put too much detergent in one load (still waiting to see how that turns out)

Cleaned kitchen

Plunked down in a chair with a cup of iced tea, and typed this.

Hope everyone else is having a wonderful, productive Wednesday!

Fighting Fire

We fought fire for the first time last week, which is amazingly late for our area. There have been other fires, but none were within the vicinity that warrants us helping.
The first thing I think of when I think of fighting fire is community. When there's a grass fire in our area, everyone combines their efforts, and works tirelessly until it's done in an effort to minimize losses. One of my huge pet peeves is to see the government fire fighters only fight fire from 9-5, or 8-5 (soap box moment).

This fire was during the day, which is less common than fires occurring at night. The vast majority of grass fires are started by lightning. So, whenever you see a summer storm moving over Eastern Wyoming, you can guess we're sitting on the tallest hill, watching for smoke during the day or an eerie glow at night.

That is how we spotted this fire. Almost every rancher has a homemade fire fighting rig they've put on a ranch pickup, and are ready 24-7 to help their friends and neighbors in the event of a fire. Everyone also has CB radios, which are used to relay information on lightning strikes, fires that have been spotted, how to get to a fire (you can't drive a pickup across much of this area, and it gets really hard at night), if the county fire fighting trucks are on the way, etc...

We gathered enough information, and deemed it safe to leave our area (you don't want to drive 20-40 miles to a fire, then have one start on your place behind you), and raced to help our neighbors.

We cruised down a county road, turned onto a two-track trail, crossed a creek, and jostled across a pasture and over a hill to be greeted by this sight. The great grass year we're having in Wyoming means there's a lot more fuel for a fire, and a greater potential for large fires that will devastate range lands.

The first thing we always do is get on the black. You can't get burned up where the fire's already consumed all the grass. The above picture shows a county fire fighting pickup. The county has various fire fighting pickups, trucks and tankers scattered across the county with various ranchers. This is because the nearest town is 56 miles away, so the rancher's are always who spot the fires and are the first ones on them. The county maximizes its resources through keeping some of their fire fighting units in areas of high concern, with persons who will most likely be at a fire in the most time efficient manner.

The other half of the equation are the ranchers. This is our fire fighting rig, housed on our winter feed pickup. My mom was the driver on this particular day. You will see all sorts of pickups/water tanks/pumps/motors/hose combinations on these homemade, rancher rigs. The important thing is they all spray water, and they're all ready to go the moment a fire needs fought.

Here I am "cleaning up" behind a country truck that can spray more water than I can. He is moving quickly, knocking down the flames before they can consume any more grass. My job in this instance is to follow behind and put out any areas that flare back up behind him, and to spray more water on things like smoldering sagebrush that are near the fire line.
You also never know what may go wrong. On this particular day the reason I'm not spraying much water is because the filter on our rig plugged with an algea type plant that sometimes grows in our tank. It will make you very excited if your fire fighting rig stops spraying water at a critical moment!

This was the view from the pickup, where my mom was. The driver has to pay attention to where they drive, and make sure they don't stop on top of a burning sagebrush, drive into a hole or draw they can't get out of, and work with the person spraying to ensure they're reaching the flames.

Here I am again. You also want to work forward, ensuring there is no fire left behind you. I was practicing this, despite what the photo looks like. Here I skipped over a couple inches of flames to douse a sagebrush. The fire can smolder in a sagebrush, and they are a real concern on the fire line, so I made sure to stop the fire before it reached a sagebrush in this instance.

It may be hard to tell in this smoky picture, but that is a draw you can't drive across with a pickup. We have to navigate around these natural obstacles when fighting fire, and they add an even more exciting/scary aspect in the dark. I have seen a six-by-six tanker (very big) fall into a sink-hole before, and all you could see was the blinking light on top of the truck.

When the fireline has been secured, and no more flames are visible, people congregate to visit and wait to make sure the fire really is out. A change in wind, stray spark, grasshopper that caught on fire, and any number of other things can result in the flames reappearing and blazing forward.

The county tankers may join the group, or refill at the nearest well so they're prepared more action. This is a good time for everyone to make sure they have water. If they're out, additional six-by-six tankers will be available on larger fires to re-fill everyone. Everything gets checked, repaired if necessary and possibler, refilled, etc.. during this down-time.

A few ranchers have air planes around here, and on big fires they may fly, and communicate to fire fighters below if there are any additional flames, areas of concern, etc... This guy circled the fire several times, only a few feet off the ground at times. He would dive his plane in any areas there were flames to alert those of us on the ground where they were. He too had a CB radio, and would also talk to us.

There was also a road grader at this fire, who put in a fireline to stop the flames. This is when he peels a thin layer of dirt, that includes the grass over, creating dirt path several feet wide. The idea is it creates a line with no fuel for the fire to feed itself with. They work well, but aren't a guaranteed method of stopping flames, as a fire will jump the line in some instances.

After a few hours of exhausting, smoke filled work, the fire was out. The smoke you see above are smoldering cow pies (they can smolder for days too) and sagebrush. You may also have noticed the cut fence, which is sometimes a necessity on range fires. Most people make every effort to cut fences as infrequently as possible, because the more you cut them, the more work the owner has to repair his place (he will already have to replace all the burnt wood posts).

After everything has cooled off, most people leave. The owner, and a few other rigs will stay and "babysit" the fire for anywhere from a few more hours to days, depending on the location, how it acts, and several other determining factors. This county tanker is spraying back along the fire line in an effort to prevent any additional flames from flaring up.

To give you an idea of how fast it was burning, that green tub is a thin plastic. These fires can consume prairie at up to over 100 mph. This one wasn't moving nearly that fast, but it's only because of a change in the wind that we got it out when we did.

A smoke filled sky always makes for a beautiful sunset, made even prettier by the fact that we had contained, and put out, the entire fire before dark in this instance!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

When Being Humane is Hard

Typically being humane to animals involves such activities as feeding, caring and managing them in ways that improves their well-being, and brings feel-good feelings to the person doing the actions. Ranchers are exposed to a lot of these feel-good situations since our lifestyle demands almost constant contact with animals, and we are continuously working to improve their health, performance, environment and anything else that presents itself. We thrive when our animals thrive.

But, not every instance of treating an animal humanely is a feel-good, everything's going to be great for the animal and us, situation. There are times when doing what is best for the animal is difficult, and lots of people shy away from these situations, or don't keep the animal's best interest in mind so they don't have to deal with the attached human emotions.

Ranchers are faced with these same scenarios, when what's best for the animal isn't going to be the easiest emotional choice for them as a person.

I, and later my entire family, was faced with such a situation last night. I was riding a colt, checking water and pairs, when I came upon a down (can't stand up) bull. He most likely got in a fight with another bull, and was shoved off a steep incline.

He was terribly, terribly dehydrated because of the summer heat in Wyoming. I gave him a critical once-over, and couldn't determine what was wrong. There was no swelling, visible broken bones, or other obvious visible signs of what was wrong. I jogged my colt home, grabbed a couple water buckets, and Holly and I immediately returned, and found the bull on his other side.

Can you see his back leg? Something is broken in there, and that's why he can't stand. I knew at that point he would never survive his injuries.

Now, some may rant that we should have a vet look at him, perhaps perform surgery, etc...

We didn't have a vet look at him because the diagnosis was obvious. I honestly do not know if a vet can even perform a surgery to repair a broken leg in a bull. Even if he could, he would never fully recover, and be able to survive in any sort of natural environment. Surgery would also be extremely cost-prohibited and the odds of success are very low. It's just a viable option in this scenario.

Holly and I hauled buckets of water to him by hand, until he had drank his full. Upon returning home I found out that my dad and brother would be home that night, so the responsibility of euthanizing the bull wouldn't fall on my shoulders. No rancher ever wants to put one of their animals down. We realize that we are raising livestock to be harvested for food, but we also care deeply for our animals, and do everything in our power to keep them healthy and thriving during the time we have them. It's also very sobering and sad to see any animal in pain, as this guy was.

I should also clarify that this bull was bought as a breeding animal, which means his primary purpose was not to be harvested for meat. We spent thousands of dollars to purchase him for his physical appearance, genetic potential, and several other criteria we carefully and thoroughly select for in each of our breeding animals. His injury was very expensive to our operation.

But, all emotional and economical investments aside, as the owners of this bull we had to do what was in his best interest. As I previously mentioned, he was not going to survive his injuries, and prolonging the inevitable was only to result in more pain and discomfort for him, and was unfair to him. Putting him down, as quickly and painlessly as possible, was clearly the most humane thing to do, if not the easiest.

So that's what we did. I pondered long and hard whether to share this story, because it isn't an easy one to absorb or understand. But this is the real world of ranching, and I believe people have a right to know the happy and sad aspects of my lifestyle, and the choices we make in order to always do what's in the best interest of the animals we raise, even when they're extremely hard on us.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I'm Back

Hello hello, I have not fallen off the earth. I have been in the Big Horn Basin, celebrating my birthday and partaking in multiple fairs for the last few days.
The above photo is a mugshot for a publication that will be publishing one of my articles in the upcoming months. The key reason for posting it is that necklace, which was part of Adam's birthday present he gave me. I love it, and should have taken a wonderful close-up photo to show you all the details (maybe I'll have a chance to in the next couple days). Those are real stones, and it has a silver chain, and I love it!
He went above and beyond for my birthday, and made it very special. We made a quick trip to Yellowstone National Park one day, which was a surprise to me, and he had a vest and hat embroidered with my photography information. I am very blessed.
I also gave my grandma a ride to her brother and sister-in-laws on the way up there, and we had a great trip and got all caught up. One of my goals upon becoming self-employed again was to be able to spend more time with her, and it's been wonderful fulfilling that goal! She is 89 years old, and acts like she's about 65, and is a blast to spend time with.
Adam was super busy auctioneering county fair market sales, hog wrestling calcuttas and announcing rodeos the entire weekend, which I enjoyed tagging along for. I met a lot of people, saw some great steers, hogs and lambs and enjoyed taking rodeo pictures from the crow's nest.
I also took this week off from writing....kind catch up on other projects, and am diving into those today. Hopefully I'll have time to post more pictures and updates on here too!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Dozer Work

You may have noticed a lack of cattle related posts in recent weeks. That's because our cattle are busy eating, drinking, growing (the calves) and dealing with the summer heat. We aren't working, moving, hauling or doing a whole lot of anything else with them in the summer months. During this time of year we keep ourselves busy with other tasks, which are designed to improve our ranch for our livestock.

One of these tasks is referred to at our place as, "dozer work." This includes such tasks as putting in new water tanks, repairing old water tanks, moving dirt to prevent washouts, blading trails for new fencelines, and repairing pipelines.

We have around 15 miles of underground PVC pipe on our ranch. This pipe is used to transport water to all our water tanks (we have around 30), from water wells. We strategically place our tanks in areas where they will be add the most benefit to our cattle and grass. A general rule with livestock is you should never make a cow walk more than one mile to water. We try to follow this idea, and also put water tanks in additional areas to encourage cattle to graze there. Cattle tend to graze hardest in areas nearest a water source, and in our semi-arid part of the world, we can control our grazing by turning water tanks on and off, and consequently moving cattle from area of a pasture to the next. Wildlife also utilize these tanks.

Water is a huge deal in Eastern Wyoming, and we don't like to haul it, and run the risk of running out on a hot day, so we installed all the pipe to ensure a continual water source for our livestock, no matter how hot and dry, or cold, it gets.

Here is one such dozer project. My dad and brother put a 1,500 gallon (which is small in ranch/livestock terms) above-ground water storage tank in this location. They did this because on down this line is a tank, and the well pumps water into it at a rate of five gallons a minute. This isn't enough water to keep up with a bunch of thirsty cows or calves.

The storage tank will fix this issue.

It will work like this: when the water tank down the line is full, water will flow on by and fill the storage tank. Then, when all the livestock come and drink a large volume of water out of the tank in a short period of time, water from the storage tank will gravity-flow back down the line at a rate of 30 gallons a minute, keeping the tank full, and ensuring every thirsty creature gets a drink. When everything is done drinking, and the tank is full again, the well will pump more water up the line and re-fill the storage tank.

I stopped by to briefly help with this project, and grab some pictures. Here is my brother sawing a piece of pipe to length. He uses different angled, end, valve and other pieces to maneuver the straight pieces of pipe the direction he needs it to go.

Each piece is cleaned, then glued together. If you don't clean each piece well, the glue may not adhere to the surface, and it will leak. When you're talking about a pipeline that's five feet underground, you don't want to dig it up and redo it any more than is absolutely necessary. Pictured above is the jar of pipe cleaner he used.

He thoroughly cleans each piece he is gluing together with the solution.

See the difference cleaning it makes?

Then he cleans the cap he glued to the top of each pipe, which were plumbed into the storage tank later. He temporarily glued these caps on so they could pressure up the line and make sure nothing was leaking before they filled the hole you see in the first picture. Like I said, it's hard to fix a leak that's five feet underground.

Here's the glue he used.

First you have to get the lid off - it's a can of glue, it seals up, and you don't want to run the risk of it leaking all over, so the lid is securely replaced after each use. You apply the glue to both pieces immediately after cleaning - you don't want dust to get it dirty again.

You need to be fast and efficient at this point, so your glue doesn't set up before you shove the pieces together. You also don't want any dust or other matter to get on the glue and potentally prevent it from adhering.

He securely holds each piece in place for several seconds.

Then cleans off the excess glue.

Here it is, all ready to be pressured up and tested.

Kyle gathers up the dozer, and heads to the next job, which was a washed out side hill where another pipeline is located. Without the five feet of dirt over it, these lines would freeze in the winter months, so it was important to get it covered back up this summer.

Since I took these pictures, they pressure tested the line for a couple days, installed the tank and filled the hole back up.

Now all our livestock, and any resident wildlife, will have a sufficient water at any time at the tank located down the line from this location.

Ranchers all over the west are busy this summer, on similar projects that will benefit their livestock year-round.