Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Lets go shopping: the 2014 holiday gift guide

Where has November gone?! With Thanksgiving mere days away, the holiday season is upon us, which means holiday shopping has also arrive with a bang.
I love the idea of shopping locally as much as possible for holiday gifts, and the concept of Small Business Saturday. Helping hardworking people who work full or part time to support their primary occupation, which is often farming or ranching with the folks I know, makes me happy. Plus, I love the unique, high quality items I'm able to round up. I am also thrilled that the Internet now allows me to shop "locally" with small business owners from all over the country and world.
In celebration of Small Business Saturday, I've compiled some of my favorite people and places to buy gifts, or that I have recently found and plan to shop at in the near future.

1. The local Christmas Bazaar. Do you have one of these in your or a nearby community? If you do, go! My hometown has an annual Christmas Bazaar that features everything from homemade soaps and jewelry, fashion and food to local reps for companies like Pampered Chef and Norwex. I have done some serious shopping there in the past, and always try to make the now three hour drive back whenever possible.

2. Everything By Erin. This gal is from my hometown, population 1,000-1,500 people. She can sew pretty much anything, with her specialty being the cutest custom stick horses! What kid doesn't want a horse in their favorite color, or that looks just like dads? Whatever their wish, she can make it happen. Erin also makes a variety of other sewn items, many with a western touch, and can outfit your entire household with custom items.

3. Millar Soap Company, LLC. Ok, this may get confusing, but when I said hometown, with Erin I meant where I went to school. With Millar Soap, I mean the town that is closest to the ranch I was raised on. Located in Lance Creek, WY, population about 30, Millar Soap makes everything from bar soap to foaming hand soap to shaving soap, all available in a variety of great scents! She has a variety of other bath and body products to choose from as well. Even men like her soap products - my husband and brother are both fans.

4. Cowgirl Crush and The Spicy Cowgirl. While I must admit I have never made a purchase at either of these places, it is only because I am not a big online clothes shopper for fear something will arrive and not fit. But, if you have no such qualms both of these ladies carry some seriously awesome items, and both run specials from time to time that will make splurging all the easier : )

5. Children's books by ranch ladies. I don't think it gets any better - you can buy the little people in your life an agriculture themed book written by someone that actually lives in agriculture. Two of my favorites are "Levi's Lost Calf" By Amanda Radke and Michelle Weber and "Charlie the Ranch Dog" By Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman).

6. Just Plain Punchy. This is a very recent discovery of mine, but with numerous friends expecting, I am looking forward to ordering some of the super cute onsies and other baby items in the near future. Very cute baby clothes that to me (not a mom) appear to be practical items that would work great for daily wear and tear.

7. The South Dakota Cowgirl's horse themed items. From calendars to prints to Christmas cards, you can cover the horse lover on your list with ease by heading over to fellow South Dakotan Jen's website. She does an awesome job photographing horses and providing high quality gift options made from her images.

8. A newspaper or magazine subscription. Here comes my pitch for the papers I work for - many weekly agriculture newspapers run awesome holiday specials, often it's the cheapest time of year to buy or renew subscriptions. Plus, everyone from grandpa to family across the country likes to read and keep up on the latest news, market reports and bull sale results. Also, while some publications are not owned locally, the newspaper staff are likely members of your community, and subscriptions and advertising are what write their paychecks.

9. Old West Cedarmill. Touching quotes, poems and images burned on cowhides or leather, and ready to be hung in your home. One of their "Tradition" pieces hangs in my living room. My husband and I bought it before our wedding, showcased it at our reception, and still love it today. If you happen to attend the National Western Stockshow, you can also find this great company there.

10. Last Loop Rope Art and Wyo. Skies Wild Rags. This lady and her daughter are both incredibly talented at all sorts of things, but I particularly like her colored rope décor. Plus, where I'm from everyone wears wild rags in the winter, and having someone to purchase them from is a necessity.

11.The Peterson Farm Brothers merchandise. Surely you have heard of these guys and their ag parody's? Well, if you haven't, go to YouTube and search for them. If you have, I'm sure one of their t-shirts, posters or other items is on your Christmas list as it is on mine. They do a wonderful job promoting the agriculture way of life, and the items they sell would make great gifts for just about anyone.

12. Your local photographer. No matter who they are, they will appreciate the business and pictures make great gifts. Schedule a family photo session and give them to parents and grandparents framed, purchase prints, ask about having landscapes of your operation done, or inquire about other photo ideas you've been wanting to complete for years. The sky is the limit. Many also do calendars, myself included, and I would love to sell you one as much as your local photographer would like to : )

Where do you like to shop locally? Who did I miss? Comment and let me know your favorite place to shop for gifts, or what you make that people should know about while doing their holiday shopping.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The calves of fall

Last week I grabbed my camera and headed out to check the cow's water, with the goal of getting some nice photos of our whopping steer calves. It proved as easy as getting a photo of a group of elementary school-aged human males where they're all looking at you and smiling, but the beautiful day did lend itself nicely to capturing other members of the bunch.
I just love this old, falling down windmill!


One of the "pinkies," whose mother came with me from Wyoming.

There they are - the best I could do of multiple steer calves.

The heifer calves were much happier to pose.

These calves are out of our first-calf heifers, three-year olds, and a handful of my older cows. Some are AI bred (the lower numbers), and some are bull bred. We are very excited and nervous to sell the big end of the steers in the next couple weeks in what has been a record breaking calf market all year. The money they make us will have to last us an entire year, until we sell next year's calf crop.
Part of the reason for taking their picture is to remember the (hopefully) highest priced calves we've ever sold. We have been blessed with an awesome year in western South Dakota, and that in combination with the high cattle prices has us and our cattle in excellent spirits going into fall.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The haters

Last year this week I was busy. Very busy. We were in the middle of facing the exhausting aftermath of winter storm Atlas, and in addition to my responsibilities as a rancher, I was also faced with multiple media outlets wanting articles, interviews, statements and photos from the blizzard. I responded to as many inquiries as fast as I could, and those photos, statements, interviews and firsthand accounts made their way into the public's eye.
It's a known fact that there are people who dislike agriculture, ranching, farming, and ultimately me. While I find that to be a shortsighted opinion on their part, considering any such people that I have communicated with have never been on a farm or ranch, met a farmer or rancher, or had an firsthand interaction with agriculture at all, it is nevertheless their right to dislike me. While I do take an interest in providing truthful information about myself, my occupation and my lifestyle to any and everyone, I am also typically okay with those people who feel the need to respond in an accusatory, hateful manner. I've done my best, and if they are so hate filled that they cannot, at the very least, take into consideration what I say, then I don't need to waste my time worrying about their thought processes.
But, things are different sometimes. Like when my favorite old baldy cow - the one whose mom was first 4-H heifer lay dead because she would not crawl through a fence to save her life, and I was holding myself together by a thread in between phone calls, Skype interviews and article submissions. Reminding myself that we did everything we could do, despite feeling completely responsible for the loss of life experienced in our herd. When immediately after hitting send on the latest email, I was out the door to help in clean up efforts, caring for the living, hauling the deceased away, and ensuring all the other daily tasks that are involved in our life were completed.
And when, in the midst of that, comments came back to me calling me a sickening disgrace to humanity, and especially women. Others called me a murderer, someone only saddened by my economic loss, a liar, incapable of real emotion. The list goes, and was often posted by "anonymous" sources.
Normally these comments roll of my back easily - I would so much rather discuss farming and ranching topics in a respectful manner with folks who don't always agree with my lifestyle or choices, and I am not usually bothered by those who simply attack instead of seek to know. But, this time the comments struck a chord, and they still do.
Not one person outside the immediate ranching community, their immediate friends and family showed up to help with immediate recovery efforts. No animal rights activists were found out in the cold, then the mud, then the flood waters, and it infuriates me that a human could be so dense that they truly believe themselves to know and actually be carrying out actions from behind a computer screen that are better for animals than someone who is out braving the elements to physically, financially and emotionally do everything they possibly can for them. There is no comparison, and no question in my mind who the true environmentalists were in this instance.
I am also frustrated that in any other occupation, people with firsthand experience are considered experts in their field. Most of the people facing this blizzard had 100-plus years of family experience backing the decisions they made prior, during and after the storm. Multiple generations of families have risked everything they had to make a go at this job out of love for it, and most have thrived, yet we are still classified as idiots by many who have zero experience in this occupation.
You do not make it in farming or ranching without putting your land and livestock first, every single day. Each person who faced that storm took the available weather information, and compared it against generations of raising cattle in those same pastures and centuries of surviving storms without loss, and they put all that together into the most likely management strategy to result in every animal coming through alive and with as little stress as possible.
Every single one of those strategies was wrong - we were all wrong. Not because there was a right answer that every person missed, but because there was no way to prevent the deaths. Cattle died in pastures and locations where livestock have never before been lost in a storm. Cattle in barns and sheds died - this was often the worst place to have them because the weight of the snow caused roofs to collapse and kill entire herds. Cattle behind windbreaks, in corrals and tucked into other forms of manmade protection died. Cattle put in garages died. Cattle died in every single scenario in the areas hit hardest by the storm died. There was no right answer that could have saved them.
To blame the rancher for this, to blame me for this, is the equivalent of blaming your neighbor for the house or business you lost in Hurricane Sandy, or stating a parent was responsible for the death of their child at Plaza Tower or Briarwood Elementary school in Oklahoma following the twister that destroyed much of town of Moore. Just as those people did all they could, but were incapable of saving anything more in the face of such catastrophic weather events, so did we. Those people did what was right when a tornado siren went off, or a Hurricane was predicted, and so did we. We had no more control of the weather last October than they did in Oklahoma or New Orleans those fateful days, and we wish as hard as they do that we did.
Imagine how they would feel if their actions were questioned, if people left them random comments taunting them over the death of a loved one or the loss of their entire life's work. That is what we faced in the days and weeks following winter storm Atlas, and it was crippling at times. It also did absolutely no good in any way - it did not help a cause, a human or an animal impacted by the storm.
If you disagree with our methods, or our lifestyle at times, that is alright. But to attack us based on a lack of understanding and conscience, no matter if it's done in person or the anonymity of the Internet, is wrong. I would happily meet you in person, take you out to where our cattle were, and explain what happened. You can look me in the eye and decide for yourself if I cared, if I tried, and if I was emotionally attached to those animals. We can talk about any other cattle, ranching, farming or agriculture topic you would like. On the other hand, all your degrading, cruel comments will do is infuriate me and build my resolve to continue sharing the truth about my life - the good, bad and unimaginable, so that every single person has the opportunity to hear my perspective of what being a rancher is all about.

Friday, October 3, 2014

One year ago: Winter Storm Atlas

One year ago the Atlas blizzard hit. I was fortunate to be a part of extensive coverage of the devastating weather event in between helping gather and care for the living and laying the dead to rest. I am incredibly grateful for the coverage the storm got on agriculture news outlets, and for the opportunity to be a voice for myself, my friends and neighbors. I still find it hard to believe that one of my biggest successes as a journalist was the result of a blizzard, but I am thankful as well. God works in mysterious, wonderful ways. However, he also doesn't stop time, and we have had to stay on our toes to keep ahead the past year.
With that same mindset, I am also grateful for the surge of attention the storm is receiving on its one-year anniversary, but hope it is somewhat laid to rest after this anniversary. It's one of those things where you wish you didn't have to read anything else about it, but that you're simultaneously grateful for the support and desire and explain what has happened to those impacted by the storm.
With that said, here is an article I wrote in the days following the blizzard.
Here is a second link to a special edition I was honored to be a part of that details the storm, those affected and those who helped. It just came out this week in the tri-sate area (SD, WY, NE).
And, here is a thank-you piece circulating the web that states how those impacted by the storm feel a year later which does a wonderful job explaining everyone's mindset one year later.
I hope you take the time to read at least the first and last links, and they clearly show the changes that have occurred in our mentality over a year's time, as well as the impact everyone who helped us has had.
Below are photos from the days after the storm, many never before seen, of what we found, how we lived without electricity for nearly a week, and of the storm itself. While initially among the most heartbreaking and difficult experiences I have ever been through, over the past year the good Lord has turned this event into a truly amazing showcase of this love, grace and kindness poured out through those who believe in Him. Thank you to any and everyone who helped those impacted by Winter Storm Atlas in any way. It was so humbling and incredible to be on the receiving end, and the gifts people sent made all the difference in the world as we faced the storm's impacts over the long, bitterly cold winter that followed. We are forever changed for the better by your generosity and selflessness, and we are going to make it just fine. May God Bless you and American agriculture!

Gathering the living, and the electric pole that let them out of their pasture during the storm.

Trying to save a yearling heifer.

Our yearling heifers. The hardest site we came upon in our search.

How we kept our food cold without electricity for days following the storm.

How we cooked.

 How we ate while searching.
How we ate at night. Lasagna heated on a wood fire. I made a huge lasagna by chance (at God's silent urging) two days before the blizzard hit. It became our staple meal for nearly a week.

Trying to save a heifer buried alive in the snow. She was sitting on her rump, and was still a foot below the top of the drift when we found her.

 Taking pictures while searching.
 What the storm did to all our trees.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Small town coffee shops

It's National Coffee Day! As an avid creamer-added coffee drinker, I have been celebrating the holiday hard so far. These days the majority of my coffee intake comes from brewing my own 5-cup pot, or whipping up an espresso on my home machine.
But, when in town I have been known to stop at an area coffee shop whenever possible. This morning I was thinking about the difference between big-city coffee shops and those found in smaller towns. I will stand in line along with everyone else at Starbucks for a pumpkin-spice latte (with two pumps of vanilla), have them ask my name, watch half the people behind the register misspell it, pay, wait a little longer and then leave with my delicious drink in hand after the barista attempts to yell my name, success contingent on how well it was spelled. Ten to fifteen minutes on a slow day and you're back out the door.
In small town America the experience is a little different, and may go something like this:
Walk in, great the shop owner/barista/cash register person/often only employee by name, they respond in kind. You make your order while standing next to cutouts from the local paper taped to the wall and often impressive displays from local artists. Small talk fills the time about how long its been since they've seen you, how are your parents doing, their kids, the local high school sports teams and had you both heard about the latest wedding and death in the community. Then your high school computer teacher turns around and also greats you, this turns into another bout of catching up. Your best friend shows up halfway through this, because of course you texted or called her to let her know you were at the coffee shop and it took her all of 10 minutes to change clothes, drive across town, talk to someone outside, then join you. She orders, the owner hands you your coffee, starts on hers, and you begin rehashing whose engaged, pregnant, moving, etc...
As minutes pass two of your former classmates, a 4-H leader, the current high school computer teacher and a group of middle schoolers, one belonging to the store owner show up along with one distinctively non-local tourist. You either know each of these people, sans the tourist, or their parents, and will nod or visit with each of them between the more in-depth conversation you planned for the day.
The coffee shop is swamped with the delicious smells of food and caffination, the lively chatter of people that see each other daily and those who have known each other for lifetimes but not talked in a year. Gossip, weather, sports, current events and tragedy are discussed with more depth and knowledge than 20/20. Outside the rest of the little community moves to and fro, and there is a certain comfort in knowing the vast majority of vehicles and pedestrians that make an appearance.
Long after you had planned, you make your exit, feeling rejuvenated, refreshed and refueled, and knowing that only a portion of that feeling came from the drink you consumed during your stay. Pleasant good-byes are shared all around and people continue in the direction their day takes them.
While not the same, I believe that initial smell and chatter that fills the air when you first crack the door of a coffee shop in a bigger city, where you know not a soul, take you back home for a moment. Even when you look around and take in the fact that these people are rarely clothed almost entirely in jeans and boots, that the barista won't know you or your preferred drink, or that a good friend is likely to appear before you can leave, the shop in general brings back good memories. This is why I love the coffee shop experience any day of the year!

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!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Practical cattle fashion: Calf coats

What do you do when you start calving and the high, without windchill, is somewhere around zero? For my family, one answer has been to bundle up the newborn calves in their own coat. I brought this concept with me to South Dakota this spring, where it has come in very handy. By that I mean the first four calves wore the coat until the next calf was born.
We came across this idea years ago when someone, another family member perhaps, hooked us up with an actual "calf coat." Made of weather-proof material, and designed to allow the calf to stay dry and warm while also being able to go to the bathroom without making a mess, we were instantly impressed. We had used old vests, human coats, etc... for this same purpose, but a coat designed for the shape of a calf and made from weather-proof material was a significant improvement. The not so impressive aspect was the cost - around $50 apiece in most major vet catalogs. I realize that $50 really isn't all that much to spend, but it never hurts to see if there is a better deal to be had. Plus, when you're putting a coat on an animal that has no consideration for what you paid to keep them bundled up and warm, they rudely rub it on barb wire, stomp on it, chew on it, terrorize their buddies with it, and on and on. All made possible because the same coat kept them from chilling down.
So, we got creative, and found the above dog coats at a feed store a couple years ago for $20 apiece. Score! Show is Tough1 coat in a size large on a newborn calf weighing in the mid 70-pound range. It works great for the most part. The only thing I would change about this coat, from a livestock standpoint, is that you have to put it over the calf's head. With past coats, there was a Velcro strap that went across the chest and under the belly. But, considering I can buy 5 of these coats for the cost of 2 with that Velcro option, I'm happy. It also doesn't fit every calf perfectly, and sometimes the back end flies up a little, but again the affordability, ease with which you can put it on and take it off, and the fact that it's weather-proof material keeps the calf dry and warm means it gets the job done.
What does everyone else do to keep newborn calves warm in less than ideal conditions? We also have sheds at our disposal that are often used, and tried duct taping ears on a couple little guys this year. The baby calves were not at all impressed with that idea.
Fortunately today the weather is 45 degrees above zero and sunny, meaning the calves are happy and the coat is hanging in the basement!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Looking at the big picture

I just sold a picture, of a cow, for more than I ever have sold a picture for before. For some reason, when I saw the price, contingent on how large the photo runs of course, what came to my mind first was my mom asking an 8-or-so-year-old me why I thought I needed to take so many pictures of cows. I had to chuckle at how life turns out.
She was likely looking through the latest order she had picked up from the local drug store, and was gazing upon four of those paper envelope's worth of pictures, 95 percent of them being of cows, all of which I had made sure to get duplicates of. We do all remember what ordering pictures was like in the 1990's, right?
Even back then I would almost always have my camera and extra roll of film on me, and would happily crawl up fences, lay in dusty corrals and get soaking wet while snapping away at cattle, other ranch animals and anything else I found interesting. The sheer volume of cow photos I turned out resulted in a lot of good natured teasing from my family, and the occasional exasperated question similar to the one above from my mom, usually when she got home from picking up photos.

I took them out of my joy for cattle, which hasn't lessoned over the years, and I needed duplicates because I might frame one, and need the second for my 4-H record book, or just to have.
As I grew up, this photographing of cows only intensified. I would proudly show off my latest angle, and be told it looked just like the last 10 I had also proudly showed. There is no tougher critic than a member of my family, which I'm grateful for because they made me strive to come up with something new, different, better.
Over time, the frequency with which I was told my latest image looked just like the last 10 diminished, and more of my photos were given the stamp of family approval. However even today, you can see boredom begin creeping in if I show more than three similar photos in a row.

I also learned with time that no two people look at picture the same way, and that within a single image you will find people who love it and people who dislike it.
After aging out of 4-H, I decided to try entering photos in the county and state fairs. They did surprisingly well. A friend who saw them recommended I apply for a job at the University of Wyoming as a freelance photographer. I did, they hired me, the next year I was the paper's photo editor, then a professor's daughter asked me to photograph her wedding.
I continued entering photos in fairs, and received a "Best of Show" award at the Wyoming State Fair my second year. As my mom congratulated me on the award, she noted how funny life is that I had worked within the 4-H program for 11 years, and never won such a big ribbon at the state fair.
Following college there was more freelance work for an increasing number of publications, both mainstream and agriculture based. Then, I was hired as the assistance editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, which introduced me to editorial writing in addition to photography.

A year and a half later  I left the paper, returned to my family's ranch and began my freelance career in earnest, broadening the list of publication's I wrote and took pictures for, and basically working like a madwoman because I was living my dream. Tucked away in the far reaches of rural Wyoming, surrounded by cattle and enough Internet service to send out an article most days, I was thrilled.

Then I fell in love, got married and moved to western South Dakota this summer. While I planned to just continue on with business as usual for the first few months, God had other plans. In the midst of the craziness that has surrounded us since our July wedding, I have been blessed with increased and new business within both my writing and photography careers.
Then this morning I sold a picture for more than I ever have before. And all this hit me, and I had to call and tell my mom, who was beyond excited for me. I also had to remind her of all those years ago, when she asked me about taking so many cow pictures. She just chuckled and asked me if I wanted them all back.

In moments like this I'm very grateful that God works in mysterious ways, and for my parents. My mom and dad probably wondered why in the world their daughter had such an insatiable urge to both be in the cattle business and document every day of it with photographs, but they were supportive.
As a result, twenty years after she asked, I am finally able to give my mom an answer as to why I need so many cow pictures, and pay her back for all those rolls of film!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Christmas in the Country gift exchange

 Way back in the December I participated in a country blogger gift exchange, which was so much fun! I finally sat myself down this morning and checked out some of the other lady's goodies over at This Uncharted Rhoade, who was one of the gals behind this nationwide exchanging of gifts between agriculture bloggers.

My gift came from Janice Person, who blogs here. I knew my gift had arrived when a USPS box emblazoned with a cheery "Merry Christmas!" arrived in my mailbox one day.

Inside was a very carefully wrapped gift that was comprised of more breakable items than not. First, I found out Janice is a cotton lover (really, who isn't). She included this great mouse pad that pays homage to one of her favorite aspects of agriculture.

 This adorable little decorative plate was picked up on her travels to Tiberias, and features the tree of life. Right now it is hanging out on my desk, waiting for its perfect spot and use in my home.

She rounded out the gift with a set of these coasters that you can insert your own photo in! My mother-in-law also received some these recently, and hers look great filled with her favorite images. I can't wait to pick and choose from among my own photo collection and get these completed and ready to use.

A huge thank you to Janice for taking the time to compile and send me such a great gift!

On the other end, I drew Miss Brandi, who blogs at Lipstick and Tractors to send a gift to. The link will take you to her post on my gift, which I had a great time shopping for! This was a wonderful experience, and something I can't wait to be a part of again in 2014. Be sure to follow This Uncharted Rhoade to make sure you get in on all the fun next Christmas.

I was also very pleasantly surprised to receive a thank you card from the creator's of this gift exchange for my participation. It certainly made my day to have someone take the time to do that! Thank you again : )

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hawaii, pinkeye and mini-dachshunds

 Here's a little photographic update of what we've been keeping busy with in 2014.

We rang in the new year in Kauai, Hawaii, and celebrated my brother's wedding on 1-4-14! The trip was my husband's first time on an airplane, to the ocean, and vacation in general aside from our honeymoon. We enjoyed ourselves but were also happy to get back to our operation after a week in the sun.

We arrived home to more pinkeye in our calves. This has been our never-ending health issue of the year. We have been treating pinkeye since JULY, and are sick of it!
 It's been cold off an on so far this year. One day while the tank was frozen, save a little hole, the butcher hogs realized they could jump up, balance themselves, and sip away. It was hilarious, and a big distraction while we were sorting replacement heifers.

Keeping more replacement heifers than usual has been another highlight of the year thus far. Following our sort, we enjoyed an evening stroll through our future mama cows, telling each other the merits and faults of this one or that, pointing out favorites, razzing one another about individuals we didn't particularly care for, and just enjoying our lifestyle and the hard work that resulted in this nice set of calves. It is such a blessing to me that my husband and I both love good cattle, and can enjoy all aspects of raising them together.

 We've been feeding our cows for a while now. They are getting a 30 percent cake, which is a protein supplement that helps cows utilize the available nutrients in winter grass in addition to providing additional nutrients needed to complete her nutritional needs. Making sure the "cake hogs," as my husband calls them, or "cake munchers," as I call them, get their daily extra treat fed to them by hand is always a critical part of feeding.

 The well pump in our yard well slowly faded to the point where, if you turned on hydrant, it would run water for about 5 minutes then stop altogether. With hundreds of animals relying on this water source for the winter, we were naturally alarmed and quickly rooted out the problem. In case anyone is wondering, my husbands next well house will be more accommodating to his height. That was all he talked about the entire time he was crammed in this tiny hole, attempting to unscrew pieces of pvc pipe.

 As you may have noticed, we have doubled the canine department around here with a mini-dachshund named Maggie. She and my husbands English shepherd, Molly, get along great. They play almost non-stop when there is a break in the action. The rest of their days are spent herding butcher hogs that get out, barking at visitors, eating unmentionables, and in Maggie's case, observing chores from the nearest straw pile.

We also Bangs vaccinated our replacement heifers a few days ago, which went very well. All our ladies we are keeping for cows are now sporting the appropriate hardware in their right ear.

Selling our light steers also occurred on Friday. To get to the livestock auction, we drive through Badlands National Park, and were fortunate enough to see some Bighorn sheep on this trip. My mother-in-law is pretty good at roadside photo stops, if I do say so myself!
It was also great to receive an exceptional price for our cattle yet again, which has us both perusing the bull sale catalogs with a slightly higher budget in mind...
Hope everyone else's 2014 is off to a great start!