Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fixing a water-gap

This will be another long one-with several pictures-just so you know ahead of time.
With rain comes floods where I'm from. With floods comes fence to fix. A water-gap is where water flows under a fence. There typically isn't any running water where I'm from, but it's been a wet spring, so there has been lots of water and lots of fence to fix as a result.

Here's the water-gap upon arrival. This really isn't a true water-gap, but it will work to demonstrate the procedure. Lots of logs and junk hangs up on the fence and breaks the wires and bends the posts. We use steal posts on this one because this happens relatively often and they're easier to work with in this situation.

Everything that's gathered on the fence has to be removed. All the dirt and dead grass can cake into a type of cement if left too long and be a real pain. The pitchfork helps remove the debris. A couple years ago several severe floods caught rabbits and would bury them in this mixture. When your fixing fence and it's hot and humid and you uncover a week-old rabbit it's not pretty. You will, at the very least, gag.
Floods will also take broken wires and wrap them around sagebrush, logs and other misc. items downstream. You get to unwind, untangle and gather it all up because if you don't a cow or horse can cut their leg on it. The cement mixture can build up around the wires until they're several inches in diameter too. Floods are a bit of a nuisance

You throw everything downstream of the fence so it doesn't just wash right back into it during the next flood. Holly helped with smaller sticks. Some of the larger logs have to be drug with a 4-wheeler and chain in some cases.

The pitchfork, in action.

Then we unclip any wires still attached to the posts. This guy is my "little" brother. He's single, tall, hard working and likes guns-just a little sisterly help there. Anyway, back on subject-another thing to point out at this time is I was actually helping and would just grab my camera periodically to snap the process. I also discovered a crack in the bottom of my mud boots on this morning and could be seen hopping through the deeper puddles in an effort to keep my foot dry-it didn't work.

Next we pull the posts so we can reset them in a more upright, useful position. This is easy with the ground so soft, but you can't just walk up and jerk one of these out the ground on any given day.

Each wire is stretched using the stretchers. Forgive the blurriness here, but it was the best photo I had of the stretchers. The fence stretcher grips the wire on two ends and you ratchet them together. The two ends are then tied together using a very specific "knot" and the stretchers are released to remove the tension, then the wire is removed from each end and you go on to the next wire.

After stretching the top wire we set our posts, using it as a guide of where they need to be. If you stretch all 4 or 5 wires before setting your posts it makes this step harder. The thing he is using to pound the posts is called a post pounder (someone really gave that one thought, I know). It is HEAVY. I mentioned being buff at the end of the summer and this has a lot to do with. I'm guessing its weight at around 50 pounds and we pack it around when building fence and some days pound many many posts.
I would recommend you add that into your exercise program for a core and total upper body workout. Packing it up and down hills when the temp is in the 90s would count as a total body workout too.Once the post is lined up and the pounder is on it, you just go up.....

and THUNK, down. Please repeat until post is at desired height (which is a point between my hip bone and rib bones and at about his hip bone). Again, this takes about two THUNKS when the ground is so wet, but when it's dry and hot out you have to put more effort into it. Think lots of sweat and feeling like you really did something at the end of the, fencing will get you there.

Then we stretch the remaining wires and re-clip each wire at a specific height on the post. Kyle took this of me, I had to show you I did something. Emmie and Pearl were on-site as well (probably hoping for a week-old rabbit)

You can see the post has "bumps" that hold the wire at a certain level. Each wire is spaced by a set number of "bumps" This kind of post is called a T-post. If you look straight down on the top of one it is shaped like a T. We also use wood posts and I know based on points on my hip, thigh, knee, calf and ankle where each wire should be stapled onto those posts. The piece of bright silver wire was added when Kyle was stretching and the "knot" (I just don't know what else to call it, but it's not really a knot) can be seen at either end.

And we're done, with the first one. This is an easy one to fix because:
A) It's right next to the country road, most water-gaps are well off the beaten path and take forever to get to
B) We can use T-posts and they're easy to jerk out of the soft ground and reset
C) This is a nice, flat area. Most water-gaps are in the bottom of steep draws or creeks and you have to be creative sometimes to find a solution that will keep livestock from walking right over or under the fence
D)Kyle and I did it together and we work great together. We rarely have to say anything about the job because we've been doing this with each other for 15+ years. Holly helped too, which was great.

On to the next one!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ranchers and the weather

I am at my parents house tonight. This photo was taken on my way home this evening. Normally there isn't any water in this location.
Weather is a big deal to everyone, but I truly believe there is no one that discusses it to the degree farmers and ranchers do. There are meteorologist who don't think about the weather to the extent agriculturalists do.
Let me put it to you this way- My parents know every person on the weather channel by their first name, and they each have their favorites.
This level of interest is because it impacts every action taken on a farm or ranch. For instance, this spring branding and shipping cattle and plowing fields and planting crops are all being delayed in this part of the country because of amount of rain we've had. When there's rain and mud roads become impassable and working cattle becomes difficult with muddy corrals and wet livestock. More work is created when fences are washed out or fields need to be re-worked.
While the weather may cause most peoples morning drive to take longer or make one wish they had remembered their umbrella, it can bring everything to a grinding halt on a farm and ranch. Then, when it stops everything has to be caught up.
So, when there's nothing to but watch it rain, farmers and ranchers talk about the rain. They talk about the weather regardless of the conditions.
No one dares to curse the rain, because we all know it will stop. The recent drought in this part of the country makes people extra cautious to say anything negative about moisture in almost any form. We know hundred plus degree days are looming in coming months and that we should enjoy these much needed inches of moisture.
But at the same time getting cattle worked and crops in the ground is necessary to our livelihood and has far-reaching consequences. Everything you eat, most of your clothes and countless other items you use, need and enjoy daily come from an agriculture beginning. For example, if cotton isn't planted that has a huge impact on the clothing industry. Yes, there is global trading, but U.S. agriculture is top of the line in almost all products, both in quality and level of production.
So we fuss and stew and discuss the weather almost constantly. But it's still raining, so for now everyone will continue to talk and thank God for the moisture.
If it stops we will work cattle tomorrow-and I will be taking my little camera for the first time, so we'll see how that turns out.

When I grow up...

This conversation with my parents a few days ago was pretty good. It made me think too.
My dad: Well, he's still trying to decide what he wants to be (in reference to my brother)
Me: Yeah, I think I'm going to be a writer, maybe take some pictures on the side.
Dad: Laughs, You know, you might be on to something there. Tells my mom in the background what I said
Mom: Maybe you could even get a job at a newspaper
We all laugh

Writing for a newspaper was never on my list of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Being a photographer in any capacity didn't make the list until college either.
In my younger years I was convinced I would be the next Shania Twain or Leann Rimes-sad but true.
Then I switched to a vet, until I found out vets have to euthanize pets for people. That was the end of that job aspiration.
After that, at about the ripe old age of 10, I started thinking something involving cattle genetics was more my style.
That one stuck. At about 12 I started buying bulls for our operation and selecting our replacement heifers. This led to researching genetics, meeting great seedstock producers and learning a lot about what can be accomplished through genetic selection.
I did take rolls and rolls of cattle pictures throughout my childhood and teen years, but beyond the fact that it was fun I didn't think anything of it.
Then I went to college and realized that most people my age hadn't known for eight years what they wanted to do with their life. Friends switched majors like they changed socks, others selected degrees that would result in a job that would pay well and provide adequate vacation.
I stuck with animal science-and learned some lessons. For instance, it's a whole different world when your job is to teach and you sit behind a desk and get paid every two weeks as compared to when you're out in the real world trying to make cattle pay the bills.
I did learn some important things during my college experience, but overall it wasn't as wonderfully fulfilling educationally as I had hoped.
Halfway through I decided to pursue a double major half-way through and added ag communications. This was a whole new world and I learned a lot about all aspects of communications. It was a bit of a let-down when I found out my double major was actually a double minor-after I graduated- but that's alright. I did learn a lot from my communications classes, and they came in very handy when I got my current job.
College was also when I started working for the Branding Iron Newspaper as a photographer and later as the photo editor. This is also when photography really took off for me. The job led to my first wedding and the start of my business. Today I take wedding and senior pictures and have the opportunity to see several of my photos published in the Roundup and a few other publications from time to time.
And now here I am, writing away for an ag newspaper. It's so fun an interesting to see where God takes my life. It's rarely in a direction I have planned, but that's half the fun. I do love that my job allows me to spend time on my cattle genetics and photography interests and that I get the opportunity to write about topics I enjoy.
It's also very interesting how so many of the seemingly little things I have experienced fit together and aid me in my current position. All those opportunities, conversations, people met, classes taken and places visited have converged into a history that is constantly benefiting me in the present.
I wonder whats next...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Back where I come from

Welcome to the closest thing I have to a hometown-Lance Creek. I actually grew up 25 miles north of this bustling metropolis, but it is the closest town of any kind. There is a gas station, post office, bar, elementary school, church and some oil industry stuff-basically everything necessary for life.

(Photos courtesy of my mom)

To get to the school you actually need to turn and go past the Lance Creek sign about 5 miles. What you can see in the photo is the gas station on the right with the red roof. The building further back on the right is the bar. Between the two and out of site is a post office.
There ya go, you can get a tank of fuel, mail a letter and grab a beer on your way through town (not that we act like we're from the middle of nowhere or anything)
I much prefer being affiliated with Lance Creek than the larger town (population a whopping 2,000 or so) and country seat, Lusk. There is something unique about Lusk, and after spending so much time there I still can't decide if that is a good, or a bad thing.

Now, before you start thinking Lance Creek has nothing to offer, let me make my case.
First, we have celebrities. This billboard is sitting literally on the side of the road where no one can read it without stopping. In addition to Jason Miller, we have his family, which consists of a Justen Miller, Jeff Miller and about 15 other J names.
Second, we have traffic issues. Right across from this sign is where Rex lives, along with several dozen wild turkeys, some geese, chickens, dogs and additional random bits of wildlife and domestic livestock. Once our bus ran right over one of Rex's geese. It came out the back flapping its feathers and little dirtier, but otherwise fine. The turkeys are the greatest hazard, you need good breaks if you're going to speed around Rex's corner, which most people do.
We don't have a lot of cops this far out, so the speeding thing I mentioned is fairly common. When you live over 50 miles from school you have to be innovative. What takes the non-speeder an hour to cover my brother and I could do in just over 40 minutes. So could the neighbor kids, and their parents.
We have entertainment. No-actually we don't- forget that
We do have excitement. There are floods, prairie fires, theft, people driving through that don't know how to speed properly and wreck or have issues at Rex's corner.
Perhaps topping the list is Moses (not that one, this wasn't during a flood) Moses was little off his rocker and killed a farmer in Nebraska and stole his pickup before arriving in Lusk and driving right through town with every cop in the place on high alert.
He ended up out by Lance Creek on a ranch. A father and son caught him that night. They called the cops, invited him into their home and fed him supper while waiting for the police to arrive.
Another guy (we get a lot of odd folks passing through) went missing clear out north of where I was raised. His van was found on the side a desolate road literally in the middle of nowhere. A search was conducted and he wasn't found. The following spring a rancher found him while riding.
We also have wide-open spaces, livestock, wildlife, bar fights, friendly neighbors and a great church. The school consists of a two-room building and while my brother and I attended there was an average of about 8 students total, grades k-8th.
Definitely a small, agriculture oriented community. But for being so small, the meat, wool, horse and oil products produced in northern Niobrara County are used all over the world in a variety of ways.

Wyoming in May

I've been busy, and I haven't felt like writing. So here are a few photos of northern Niobrara County in May on a year we are getting lots of moisture to tide you over.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Weekend Wildlife

While home this weekend I felt the need to go on a photo circle. I jumped on a 4-wheeler and made a big loop around our place, snapping photos of baby calves, sheep, flowers and the like.

Then, when I'm almost ready to hit the road for home I see what looks like a miniature grizzly bear loping across the pasture. I realize it's a badger, and start snapping pictures since I assume he will go down his hole and I won't get anything better than this...

But I drive closer and he just sits there, watching me. I am across a rough draw from him at this point and decided to go around and see if he is still there.

And he was!! Just sitting there with his head poking out. I approached slowly on my 4-wheeler. Badgers are notoriously grumpy and tough and I didn't want to make him mad, or cause him to go down his hole at this point.

But as I sat there he started sniffing around and slowly emerging from his house.

He wasn't making that weird noise they do when they get mad or stomping his feet, just seemed curious.

But I still got a little nervous as he became more daring, and as I realized that I was tangled up in my camera gear, ipod headphones with my gloves and random other stuff sitting on my lap and only a rubber boot and target sock to protect my left foot if he did get mad. I silently wondered just how fast off the line a mad badger is...I still need to look that up for future reference.

So I moved, just a little, and he immediately scurried down his hole. I sat there for a few minutes silently calling myself a wimp for being concerned about my foot at a time like this! But before he disappeared I was able to snap these and several other great photos.

For more information on the American badger, click here

Friday, May 14, 2010


Yesterday Axel was deported. Well, the process started a few weeks ago, but yesterday he boarded a plane for Germany with a one-way ticket.
Today he would find a way to strangle me if he knew I was writing this, with a photo that includes sheep, but that's just too bad.

Axel was born in Germany, or Austria, he is from right on the boarder somewhere. But for the entire story we need to go back in time even farther.
My grandparents got involved in an ag. exchange program based out of Chicago several decades ago because they knew the guy who started it. The program brought young men from Germany to the U.S. for one to two years to learn about American agriculture.
My family hosted several of these young men and some great friendships were formed. We have some amazing and hilarious stories about our experiences with them.
Axel is the son of one of these original exchange students. Several children of the original students have been to the U.S., either on vacation or to work for a couple years. One man (maybe Axel's father?) requires all of his children to visit America for a period of time.
So, about 10 years ago a young Axel (around 18 at the time) arrived at my grandma's house to work for our family and learn about America. You could barely understand him and as a 14 (or so) year old at the time he was unique, to say the least, to my cousins, siblings and I.
Since then he has become family, that's the easiest way to put it. He's one of us now. He's worked for my uncle for the majority of his time in America. But he also went to college, first in Sheridan, then at the University of Wyoming and has an associates and bachelors degree.
He's worked for a number of other people across the state and knows everyone. He is my grandmother's 5th grandchild and she fusses over him to the point of irritation.
He is everything you think a German would be. Tall, stout, blonde haired, blue eyed and argumentative. He likes to bark orders at people and would run right over you if you allowed it, but he also has a very nice side, so he would probably gruffly apologize afterward. He can also been seen carrying my grandmother's purse, baked goods and dog regularly (obviously he's all bark) Very sharp and opinionated with a face he almost always tries to keep scowling, but he often fails. He eats oatmeal with cold milk (as in uncooked) and yogurt and coffee when he isn't within distance of my grandmother's cooking.
He hates my horse, teases me about my dogs, complains that my grandmother and I are the most stubborn women on the planet and will never see reason. He also started a bible study group while we were in college together, loves his horses and dogs and truck (all of which he had to sell) and gets up at irrationally early hours.
He has always wanted to be a cowboy. This isn't an easy title to get in my family, but he is one today. Since day one he has been thrown into the mix of riding, doctoring, fencing, farming and everything else involved in ranching both in the Black Hills and on the eastern plains of the state. For the last year he has been in charge of several thousand yearlings on the Laramie plains. To me, a winter spent on the Laramie plains qualifies you as a cowboy in most cases. We often say it either qualifies you or cures you from wanting to be one.
He loves America, he pays taxes, is honest, believes in God and is, in my opinion, the perfect candidate for a Greencard.
But he can't get one, and this is at least in part his own fault for not pursuing some options to obtaining one. He made a couple mistakes there. But then I see that these car bombers from Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries that hate America seem to get their Greencards approved by the dozen and it ticks me off.
Here is the type of individual that can positively enhance our country and he is thrown out while at the same time individuals of obviously questionable character are welcomed with seemingly open arms.
I know God is in control and there is a reason for this, but I still find it frustrating.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Shearing photos of choice

It is a chilly 40 degrees and raining here today. Yay for the rain, but wishing the temperature was about 10 degrees warmer. I want to be curled up on my couch today under about 4 blankets, with the dogs and a latte, watching good movie.
I will have to settle for turning up my space heater at work and putting my coat back on.

I thought about spreading these photos out over a few posts. But they were ready to go and I figured you always have the option of leaving, should you get bored. So here are some of my favorite pictures from shearing day, which was week ago today.
This is Pearl at the beginning of the day. This is the "before" photo. The "after" photo can be seen at the bottom, (in case you don't want to see the multitude of sheep pictures in between)

If there is ever a sheep magazine photo contest, this will be my entry. I am ready...I hope there is one someday.

The shearers have a lot of clipper blades, and they go through all of regularly and have to sharpen them.

Holly loves shearing. We aren't sure why, but she really enjoys it.

And this is Pearl at the end of the day. I wanted to do the same thing.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Shearing Day

This will be long, but there are lots of pictures. Just warning you... Monday we finally started shearing. Shearing revolves around weather and getting the shearing crew to show up. After several attempts we finally managed to combine a partly cloudy day with the arrival of the crew...make that half the crew. This post will go through the shearing process for you, in case you haven't had the opportunity to experience it firsthand.

First we gather everything the night before and hold them off water and feed. This makes it easier on the shearers and the sheep. You always want to hold sheep off water when you're hauling them, and ideally when you're working them. I can't remember why, but allowing sheep to drink before a long haul will result in several of them dying during the trip. Here they are in the corral, awaiting their turn.

A smaller group is moved into another pen, then into a smaller pen and up the ramp into the shearing trailer (a picture of the trailer is coming up). Those 3 on the left are bait. Sheep like to go places in a bunch and seeing those 3 gets them into the pen easier. When shearing, the ewe's either run up the ramp and it's easy or you have to physically manhandle each and every one at this point. This year they ran right up, but we were prepared with lots of help because it really wears people out pushing, dragging and shoving several hundred 260 lb ewes up a ramp.

Up they go. This is my brother. At the top they enter the shearing trailer.

This is the shearing trailer. Important things: The alley on the right is where the sheep are, the gap below the alley and above the floor is where the fleeces go after they are off the sheep. The doors (bright spots) on the left are were the sheep exit the trailer. They don't always exit there, but that's the idea. In the upper left part of the photo are the motors used to run the clippers. Each shearer has a station positioned betweenof one of the slide-down doors on the alley and an exit door that also includes their own clippers.

Doors in the alley drop down like so, and shearers pull out a ewe.

And shear her. This is much harder than they make it look.

the fleece is shoved under the alley to this side of the trailer, where the wool crew takes over. They grab the fleeces and lay them out on the bench. Then they pick out any pieces of wool that have a lot of mud or manure on them and put those parts in a separate bag. The wool from the bellies goes in another bag. The rest of the fleece is gathered up and put in the wool bagger, which is on the far left in the photo.

This my mom and aunt going through fleeces to get the mud and manure soiled pieces, called tags, out.

Here's how the wool side of the trailer looks. A tarp is laid down in case any wool or fleeces are dropped. The white bag right next to the shearing trailer is what the wool is bagged in. The baler can squish just over 40 fleeces weighing approximately 12 lbs each into one bag. On the far end of the photo you can see another bag standing open. That is where the tags are put. Another bag is beside it and that's where the belly wool from each sheep goes. These lower quality parts of the fleece are separated to reduce sorting and increase the wool value down the line. Wool is marketed on a quality basis, so taking the time to remove lower quality parts makes sense from an economics standpoint.
The semi is parked there to block the wind, which wasn't bad that day but has been blowing up to 45 mph off an on for a couple weeks.

As the fleece is cleaned and bagged, the freshly shorn sheep is going out a door on the other side of the trailer. See the blurry silver ring in the top right corner of the picture? That's the shut-off for the motor that runs the clippers. Each station has one and when they're shearing it hangs down within easy reach. When a sheep gets away or kicks the shearer he can grab that ring and shut off his shearers before they unintentially shear something besides wool.

Here she comes.

From there they enter an alley to be worked. This is my job.

Here are my supplies. An insecticide pour-on is given to kill any lice, ticks or grubs the sheep may have on them and to repel flies. They are branded with paint. Each producer picks a different color and that's usually the easiest way to determine who sheep belong to if they get mixed up. Too much paint and it won't wash out of the wool the following year after shearing and that can create a price reduction in your wool. Too little paint and it doesn't last the entire year and you can't tell whose sheep they are as easily. The little book and pen is to keep a tally. We split our ewes into three bunches, so when we get to the number desired for each bunch we turn them out and start the tally over. It also double checks the shearer's tally.

Here's my dad branding. Our brand is the double bar. You can hot iron brand sheep, but they don't tolerate it very well and ours doesn't show up. One reason to hot iron brand them is it proves ownership if they are stolen, and people like to steal sheep. Most hot iron brands go on the face somewhere. Almost all paint brands go on the back, like ours.

After all that they are counted and turned out. As a ranch that range lambs (lambs out in pastures) we want to shear right before we start lambing. This is because if ewes have all their wool, they are insulated from cold and wet weather (think about wearing a wool coat), and won't protect their babies. Without their wool they lamb in a more protected place and don't subject their babies to cold, windy hilltops. Shearing in the spring also gives ewes several months to grow new wool before cold, winter temperatures return, and provides them a lot of other health benefits.
Wool is sold based on how long the fleece is (staple length) and how fine it is. We have Rambouillet sheep, which are known as wool sheep. That means they have a very high quality fleece. Their wool will be used for things like clothing and upholstery. Some years we make a nice profit on our wool and other years it doesn't even pay to have the sheep shorn.