Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Camera!

 Over a week ago I went to Casper to have my camera cleaned. The night before I went, my camera died a sad, ERROR 99 death. So, in addition to being cleaned, it was sent in for repairs, and has been sorely missed. I am still anxiously awaiting the call that it is ready to be picked up, hopefully before all the brandings and shipping days of this spring are over. What a time of year for the camera to hiccup.
While at the camera store, I got to perusing all the wonderful dream items they have in stock. My plan was to purchase a camera after this year's wedding season to keep for nice, professional photography jobs. This way the old 40D could be solely used as a ranch camera, without worry for keeping it in good working order for professional jobs.
Long story short, a couple hours later I walked out with a new Canon 60D with a 135mm lens attached, a gallery quality photo printer (it was a great deal if you purchased it with a camera), and all the necessary goodies to make the camera ready to go. I am now set for this year's set of weddings too, and a couple other professional jobs coming up in the next couple months.
It has been very hard not to try it out during our brandings, gatherings, etc... but I have managed to hold off, and am maintaining a strict, "no corral" rule with it. I did finally get a chance to test it out on my uncle's place a few days ago when we finished in the early evening. What better way to test the image quality of a new camera than with some macro shots taken in the evening light? Here are a few from the 100 I took during my first outing with my new camera : )   Hope you like them!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Paint Sticks

My camera is broke, and it's been raining around here the past few days! What that means is I don't have much for photos to show you.
In the meantime, here is a story for you. Any young ranch wives may particularly enjoy this tale.
When my parents were first married, my grandfather (my dad's dad) stopped by after gathering supplies in town for a day of fall cattle work, and realized he forgot paint sticks. He was a little frustrated after going all the way to town just for supplies. My mom wasn't sure what he needed paint sticks for when working cattle, but was excited to be able to help, and informed him she had a whole bunch and would bring them along in the morning.
My grandfather gave her an odd look, likely wondering why she had a supply of paint sticks laying around (my mom wasn't raised on a ranch), but agreed and left for home.
The next morning, early I'm sure, my mom dutifully and happily presented my grandfather with about eight paint sticks - as in paint stirring sticks.
To hear my parents tell it, my grandfather just looked at her, dumbfounded. You see, he was referring to cattle marking paint sticks.
"What could you say?" was my dad's laughing remark to how his dad responded to his new daughter-in-law's happy attempt to help him with his odd supply list request.
Good luck to all you ladies who marry into ranching families, especially those who weren't raised in agriculture! After 27 years, I can assure you my mom has learned a lot, and taught a lot, to everyone in the family she married into : )

Monday, May 21, 2012

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

 Lately I've been busy telling you about what I've been up to off the ranch, and covering a few other issues and topics. While I was doing that things certainly didn't stop at home. Among the latest events on the ranch are the following:
We're still feeding, everything. The sight of cows still trailing in for feed in late May isn't something we like to see, or something we had planned to spend a chunk of every morning completing.

We aren't the only ones still feeding, and my dad and brother's hay hauling business is seeing an unheard-of upswing for May. Combined with the usual cattle hauling jobs, they've been exceptionally busy this spring.

 We branded our heifer's calves on Friday, and have three more brandings scheduled between today and Memorial Day. We've also sorted out us kid's pairs and tagged them (most of them so far). Immediately following branding week will be a 10-day marathon of shipping pairs to summer pasture.
We also have pairs to gather out of a couple neighbors prior to branding.

The weight of our yearling steers has been thoroughly evaluated and discussed in preparation for possibly marketing them earlier than usual this year due to the drought.
The new bull I purchased earlier in the year has been branded and turned out with the other bulls and steers you see above.

We hauled in several loads of gravel, put in a sewer system, tore down a fence and cut tree branches to prepare for the arrival of my brother and I's new abode (aka the trailer). The trailer is now here, blocked and leveled on the gravel pad being dumped in the above photo. Cleaning the inside, skirting the outside and treating the roof are all on the immediate to-do list. I have also decided it would be wonderful to paint (I'm crazy I think) at least part of the interior.
Fencing projects, corral chores, repair and maintenance to various vehicles, a birthday part for my sister, a flat tire on the tractor, a sprinkle of rain and numerous other odd ball events here and there have capped off the very busy past few weeks.
Hope spring is going well at your house!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Lusk Ag Expo

Yesterday I was busy manning a station at the Lusk Ag Expo, where the local 3rd grade spent an entire day learning about agriculture. A variety of ag people from our community provided live animal demonstrations, or hosted stations where they taught the students about a specific ag-related topic.
Here are a few highlights from the day:

The kids got to meet "Uggs," a hound owned by a local game warden. Part of his job is predator control on area ranches.

Uggs's owner put on a demonstration where he drug a hide around the fairgrounds, then let his dogs loose to track the "raccoon." The students were able to sit in the grandstands and watch the dogs roam all over the hill you can see in the back of this photo as a they followed the trail to this tree, located right next to the grandstands. The dogs were very interesting to watch, and while they were tracking the owner was explaining various aspects of each dog's personality, and about tracking in general.

 From the hounds, the kids headed to a horse demonstration put on by a great friend of mine I've known since grade school. She is a very talented horse trainer, and brought in the gelding she showed all throughout her 4-H years. She demonstrated various trail activities, and explained how they were also skills desirable in a ranch horse - like being able to open and close a gate while mounted.

Then she answered a lot of questions while "Snipe" stood patiently by. At the end of her session each kid got to pet the horse, which was a highlight for many.

 Up next was my next door neighbor, who is a a renowned stock dog trainer with several sheep and cattle dog trial wins under his belt. He brought his nine year old Border Collie, Shawn, and demonstrated working sheep with a dog.

 He also took the time to explain various commands, then demonstrate them. He can speed up or slow down this dog at any time with a specific whistle command, and was literally having him take the sheep around him in a circle as a talked to the kids.

In between the outside demonstrations were stations where the kids learned about a specific topic. These included making lip balm with honey and beeswax and discussing the role of bees, learning about how wheat is grown and used to make bread, and my station, where we discussed what cows eat and how the rumen works. We also got into how the rumen enables cows to digest and get nutrients from grasses, hays and other feedstuffs that we as humans cannot digest, then convert those feeds into meat or milk, which humans can digest. Furthermore, we talked about what would happen if the rancher didn't feed his cows or make sure they had enough grass (they will starve, die, get sick....), and then what will happen to the rancher? (They will got out of business, have no meat to sell, lose their money, lose their ranch, and my personal favorite answer of the day - they will have no meat to sell and we will have no meat to eat)
I had a blast, and loved the small groups that enabled kids to ask questions, and me to really get the point across of how much ranchers care about their animals, and how important a healthy diet is for livestock, just like it is for kids. It was a great day, and I'm already tossing around ideas in my head for next year.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Calves

For those of you who like the photos on here, I apologize for the lack of them in recent weeks. It is extremely dry in Eastern Wyoming this spring, and that just doesn't inspire me to take a lot of livestock photos. But, I did sure to snap a few the last few days, and here they are. The calves are growing, even if the grass isn't. Hope you have a great Monday!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

HSUS Targets Wyoming Pig Farm

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is at it again with another undercover video allegedly shot at a Wheatland, Wyoming pig farm. I just watched it, and there were instances were handling the hogs wasn't done appropriately. I am saying this as a person who just watched an extreme video, not someone who was actually present at the facilities and was involved in the entire situation the video shows quick blurbs of. I'm also not condoning or defending the people and actions shown in the video as they were mistreating the animals in some of the scenes.
I did also notice a few things that I'm guessing are in the animal's best interest. One example is they showed a sow with an iron ring holding her mouth still, and she was naturally squealing. The video then showed her feet being roped, and her being laid on her side while a voice talked about hurrying to pull the piglets (or something like that). It appeared the workers were trying to help that sow deliver her babies, and had her mouth controlled because a sow weighing several hundred pounds knows how to use her head and teeth on humans. Especially when she's in labor, I'm guessing. That wasn't to hurt her, it was to prevent injury to the people who were helping her deliver her litter of piglets, and to keep her piglets alive and her from suffering any health related issues that would arise if she didn't deliver them (like death...)
Furthermore, I noticed several situations that likely occurred despite any management efforts, like a prolapsed sow. Prolapses just happen, and nobody purposely makes them happen, or can do anything in advance to prevent an animal from prolapsing. The video says she was allowed to live like that for several days, but do we really know if that's the case based on a 3 second blip - no.
It also showed a dead baby piglet in the aisle, with the placenta over his head. This means he died at birth because he couldn't get oxygen, not that someone killed him or beat him. Unfortunately that happens within seconds following birth, and can occur even when you're watching things super close.
Then there was the mother pig eating the dead piglet, which is a perfect example of why sows who are about to farrow (have their piglets) are put in small pens (farrowing crates) where they cannot move around a lot. Some sows will kill their young intentionally, and others will accidentally lay on and accidentally suffocate them. As can also be seen in the video, when a sow is in farrowing crate, there are bars on the back and at least one side that are spaced so the piglets can walk under them. They are a certain length so the piglets are born out the back of the pen, and therefore as the sow continues to deliver her young and move about, she doesn't squish those who have already arrived. Through the bars on one side will be a heatlamp and some straw to keep the piglets warm and safe. Then they can move back under the bars to drink their mother's milk. Farrowing crates are carefully designed for the comfort and safety of both mother sow and baby piglets, and are a temporary pen for the sows during late pregnancy and labor.
One blaring question continues to burn in my mind whenever I watch one of these undercover videos: If the person shooting the video truly cares about animals, how can they simply allow mismanagement or neglect to continue while they film? The HSUS folks are all about attacking animal agriculture, not actually helping the few animals and situations they are able to find where everything is not taken care of in a top notch fashion. To me there is no better example of this than the videos they shoot, edit extensively, add music too, then release in dramatic fashion days, weeks, months (does anyone know the turnaround time?) while the same animals may be in need of help. That puts them at the same level as the person doing the actual abuse.

Here is what the attacked farm had to say in response to the video, and the undercover spy:

The video of a Wyoming Premium Farms sow barn posted online this morning by HSUS shows some practices that are not and will not be tolerated. The owners and managers of the farm are investigating the incidents shown in the video and wish to assure everyone we will take action to correct all problems and to deal appropriately with any employees that were involved.

I was first made aware of the situation when I was contacted on Friday by the Wyoming Livestock Board regarding a video the board had received. On Monday, I drove to Cheyenne to meet with the board and to view a video from the HSUS. Evidently, HSUS had placed an undercover spy in our workforce.

I was told that the undercover spy had pointed out certain items that she had noticed while working there to different people at the farm. However, never once did she express any concerns to me, the general manager and the person responsible for hiring her.
The video I saw at the Wyoming Livestock Board yesterday was troubling, but it did not contain some of the disturbing scenes shown in the video HSUS put online this morning. While still sitting at the Livestock Board’s conference table on Monday, I called the farm manager and asked him if he was made aware of comments from the employee we knew as Whitney Warrington. He said because she was new she always seemed to have new-person type of questions. He said he could not recall everything she said, but added he definitely would have remembered if anything about animal abuse had come out of her mouth.
After my meeting in Cheyenne, I contacted the farm managers and instructed them to conduct a meeting immediately to once again stress with our workers the importance of animal welfare. I then contacted our consulting veterinarian and asked him to join me for an unannounced herd visit. That visit occurred this morning. Our veterinarian also suggested we retain an independent 3rd party to review everything we do on our farm to give us comments and recommendations. We are doing that.

I take these allegations seriously. I am disappointed I did not hear them directly from Whitney Warrington while she was working on our farm so we could have addressed any concerns immediately. We take the pork industry’s We Care initiative seriously and are committed to the well-being of all our animals and to the safety of our workers.
Once again, we will swiftly address any problems that are identified.
Doug DeRouchey

Hopefully Mr. DeRouchey takes care of the problems present in his operation immediately and the final result of this is improved handling and management of the hogs, and hopefully HSUS's delight in releasing a shocking video instead of taking immediate action didn't result in any more hogs being mistreated during the interim.
Here is a link where the video can be watched, and additional statements found. 
For those not familiar with HSUS, you can read about how they spend the dollars raised from videos like this one and through other extreme fundraising efforts here

Monday, May 7, 2012

When I grow up...

I have one more great topic that was brought up by an elementary school student during my Ag Books for Kids presentations and activities. A boy in the last class I met with asked how you become a farmer or rancher, and his teacher tagged on what advice I would have for her students to help them succeed if that was their goal. She told me later that she had a few students who wanted to be farmers/ranchers when they grow up.
I was admittedly tired and slightly shell shocked from seeing more young kids in two days than ever before, and my answer wasn't the greatest. When I wrote thank-you's to the class, I included a list of things students could do to help them get a foot in the door of agriculture.
Possibly the wittiest answer I've heard to the question posed is that to have the best chance of becoming a farmer or rancher in today's world is to select your ancestors carefully. But, sardonically true as that answer is, I do believe there are other ways to enter the industry, and am certainly not going to discourage a young person to become in agriculture. Especially when I firmly believe there is no better industry to work in.
Here's a rundown of what I typed up for those interested to consider as they grow up:

1. Consider joining 4-H, which you can do at 9 years old, and FFA when you reach high school. There are numerous animal and crop related projects that will teach you a lot about agriculture. I also feel strongly about joining judging programs, which can be done through both organizations. Plus, 4-H and FFA offer a lot of fun opportunities for kids and in many cases allow them to travel and see agriculture in other parts of the country.

2. When you reach the age where you're looking for a part time or summer job, try to find one with a farmer and/or rancher. They often hire summer help, or extra help for busy days of the year like branding, weaning, shipping, harvest, etc... Nothing will beat the hands-on experience of working within the industry. Plus you'll meet people who can help answer future questions you might have.

3. Attend some meetings. State Farm Bureau and Stockgrowers/Cattlemens, or local weed and pest and predator board meetings. These groups will cover issues that will be what you deal with should you decide to become a farmer/rancher, and they are often very educational. They may not be overly exciting all the time, but they will cover topics that you will be personally faced with as a working part of the industry.

4. Go to college, it's important. You will learn new things, and perhaps more importantly, meet new people. Go into something you enjoy, whether it's an agriculture field, or something totally different. Lots of farmers and ranchers have an additional job on the side in their degree area to supplement their farm/ranch income. This is one thing to consider if you do or don't have a family operation to take over also.

5. Never stop learning. Some people think they've learned it all after college, and this isn't true, especially in agriculture. There's only so much you can learn about gathering cattle, spraying crops and working around weather while sitting behind a desk. Also never stop meeting and learning from successful people you meet along the way.

6. Consider all your talents. As I mentioned above, a lot of farmers and ranchers have an off-farm source of income. One of the great things about agriculture is you often work for yourself, and if you're willing to work that extra job when it fits your schedule, it can help you get started, or pay off the expenses involved in agriculture. It can also allow you to do multiple things you love, which can be fun and rewarding. We didn't discuss that I am a writer and a photographer in addition to having cattle while I visited the class, but I included that in my letter to let them know what I have to do in this stage of my life as a rancher.

I also mentioned that being a farmer/rancher is a lot of hard work (they asked that too), but also very rewarding and a lot of fun. The work never stops, but you get to be outside, working with your family, at a job that is different every day.

Did I miss anything? What advice would you give a second or third grader who asked you this question? I would love to hear your thoughts before I go back into the classrooms next year, so that I can do a better job of encouraging young people to go after being a farmer/rancher if it's what they want to do.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Speaking in Front of People

During my Ag Books for Kids presentations, I had a young lady in one second grade classroom shyly ask me if I was nervous standing up in front of all of them and talking. I replied that I wasn't, and she asked why. I told her that a lot of it was because I started talking in front of people at her age, through livestock judging. You could tell she was having a hard time grasping not being nervous when speaking in front of other people, and it reminded me of myself at that age.
I was eight years old, and very shy, when I attended my first local 4-H livestock judging practice. I didn't know what to expect, and was quite taken with this form of comparing and judging pens of four heifers, bulls, lambs, hogs, etc... I soaked up the lessons taught that day like a sponge.
To provide a little insight, when you judge livestock, there are four head in a class. There are beef, sheep and swine classes. You place each class from best to worst, based on physical quality, and genetic potential in some instances. You are given 12-15 minutes to judge each class, then you hand in a card with your placing and name. Each class is worth a maximum of 50 points, depending on how you placed it compared the official.
Then came my first set of oral reasons. Reasons are just as they sound, you tell an official a practiced verbal speech on why you placed the class you did. There is a specific guideline in how you tell the speech, but each set primarily comprised of unique details and comparisons from that particular class. During your 12-15 minutes of judging, you also need to take notes for any classes you're giving reasons on, so you can prepare an accurate set. You will judge all the classes, then at our local judgings we would break for lunch, then come back for reasons. By the time you've judged 10 classes, you will want your notes to remember individual animals from hours ago, Especially since there is no going back to look at them again.
Prior to giving your reasons, you will be provided 10-20 minutes to prepare, depending on where your name falls in the order that people are giving them. Each set of reasons is also worth a maximum 50 points, and the official will score a person on their ability to communicate their decision, how well they saw each animal in the class, how smooth their speaking is, how long the set was, and how well they picked up on all the various comparable facets of the four animals.
So, you can score very low on a class and very high on a set of reasons on the same class, or vice versa, depending on how well you speak and how well you saw things. If you saw the class correctly, and placed it very differently from the official, and can effectively explain why you placed it that way, reasons may be a good way to help offset blowing the placing.
Some people teach kids to give what are called "canned reasons," where they just memorize one set of reasons, and say it for every set, only changing what species of livestock they're talking about. I despise canned reasons because they don't actually teach you to verbally defend your judging choice, and have scored kids very very low for giving them to me.
Sorry, off my soapbox, and back to my first set of oral reasons. I had done my very best placing this class of Hereford bulls, and was having fun. I practiced hard, but was pretty confused by all the guidelines you're supposed to follow when giving reasons. Then I had to walk into a room, all by myself, and tell my reasons to none other than the owner of the bull (I didn't know that at the time). Alone, just me and him. Talk about pressure. I made it through, and the man spent several minutes helping me improve for future sets afterward.
Long story short, I went on to judge livestock for 11 years in the 4-H program , then in college, and have probably given thousands of sets of reasons over the years. Judging paid for half my college, and allowed me to see over half of the U.S. while traveling to various judging contests. It also enabled me to overcome my shyness and nervousness when speaking in front of people. It's done the same for thousands of other people as well.
I can still clearly remember how scared stiff and nervous I was that first day, during that first set. It's hard at eight years to make what is considered a big decision when judging a class in 12 minutes, write down correct and accurate notes, then review those notes hours later and prepare a speech on them in another 12 minutes.
But, I can confidently say that learning how to make a good decision based on the big picture and the little details, then be able to verbally back it in a clear, concise and accurate manner, are skills that have greatly impacted my life, and will continue to do so. After a while it becomes habit, and something you can do with almost any decision in life.
I recommend getting young kids involved in livestock meat, vegetable and/or wool judging often when people ask me about helping improve kids confidence, speaking ability, future college choices and their decision making abilities (not that I'm asked every day, but it happens from time to time). I do fully realize that a good deal of my judging based success is directly related to the quality of the program I was involved in, which was superb. But, there are quality teachers in numerous 4-H programs and FFA chapters across the country, and exposing kids to 4-H and/or FFA, and to judging livestock, meats, wool or other things, is a great way to help them learn critical life skills that will give them a leg up their entire life. It's also fun : )