Thursday, September 30, 2010

Selling Out

We sold our sheep. All of them. This was due to a variety of factors, the largest being that coyotes have killed over half of our lambs since they were born. To reduce such losses we have historically used guard dogs, but our neighbors don't like guard dogs and shoot that obviously doesn't work anymore. Buying $800 plus dogs just have your neighbor kill them gets pretty spendy.
A guy I recently interviewed for the paper summed it up best when he said, "it's completely demoralizing to gather your sheep a week before selling your lambs and to find a bunch of dead lambs from coyotes. There is an entire year's worth of your work, laying there with its throat cut, completely useless. It wears you down, I don't blame people for getting out of the sheep business."
That's what happened in our case. We finally had enough. We like our livestock, and we cannot find an effective method of protecting our sheep from the predators - we semi-jokingly say our local trapper couldn't find a coyote in his kitchen, and without guard dogs it's crazy the amount of killing they do.
So when the sheep market peaked this summer we sold out.
It was sad, I helped load the first truck last weekend. We all (with the exception of my mom) have always commented on how much we dislike sheep, but in reality they were a very useful way of diversifying our operation and we are all aware of the benefits of having them around.

We counted specific numbers to put in each compartment of the truck. One thing I've learned over the last 12 years or so of raising sheep is that if you think you're a livestock person (which we all thought we had a pretty good grip on that) go work some sheep. They will keep you humble. They are completely different to work than cattle, and will really improve your livestock handling skills....or injure you to the point you're out of the way anyway.

They jump, run, stop, turn, run over you, and continue on as one massive woolly unit usually. I have been hurt much worse and with a much greater frequency working sheep than working cattle. It takes practice to get working them down...and I don't think anyone ever gets it completely perfected. The people we bought them from originally would come to help us, and they're as close having it perfected as anyone, and they would just stare at us as we ran around in a chaotic mess the first couple years.

Up to the loading dock they go...

And into the cattle pot. Loading sheep is another adventure and sometimes you get to load each one individually. It was that bad this time...but they didn't just run on every time either. This ewe is on the top deck of the pot...

And these are on the bottom deck. The door in the upper left corner of the photo is where the single ewe was standing in the previous photo. Cattle pots are very efficient in their space utilization. A specific number of cows, calves or sheep are put in each compartment based on weight and space. You don't want to crowd sheep too much, especially on a long haul. It's also very important to take them off water the night before. If you don't several will die during transit...I can't remember why, but it's not good. We also take ours off feed the night before because it makes them haul better too, it's easier on them to not have a full stomach.

This really isn't as full as it looks. You can see some space on the top right, and there is space at the back on the left and right sides too. While I mentioned you don't want a compartment too full, you also don't want it too empty. If there aren't enough sheep they get bumped around more. The right number allows them to cushion each other, but they don't suffocate either.

The rest will be shipped off this weekend. My dad said he doubts we will ever have sheep again, which is too bad. We live in some of the best sheep country in the world...if you can control the predators.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Work and Play

Work: Last weekend I took Tyler and Liz's engagement pictures in Wheatland. What a great couple! It was so much fun photographing them around Tyler's farm! I've known Liz since college and just met Tyler the day of pictures. This was one of the last shots of the day and more of a "just for fun" setting. Those are always the best! I will try to get more up here when I'm done editing them.

Play: Here are a few recent shots taken during my trip home last weekend.

I recently purchased a new macro lens, and have just started playing with it. I haven't even read the manual yet, but these photos are a few examples of what I've done with it so far.

These also represent some of the very last shots I took stopped in the middle of road in my truck. I will report back on how the car does in such situations, but I am optimistic...especially since it's not a diesel and therefore has a much smoother running engine. I may not have to turn it off to prevent the engine vibrations from making my pictures blurry!

And of course there's a cow picture!

The weekend!

At my house we're all pretty excited to get out of town and do a little work this weekend. I've sensed some household members are also looking forward to rolling in disgusting dead things and chasing rabbits. I try to discourage such behavior with threats of a no avail.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


I bought a new car today. I realize a photo of the new car would fit wonderfully right about here for you to look at, but I didn't take one...yet. It's an Acura TL, and I like it and will probably love it after driving it a couple more times. It's fast and sporty and economical and has a sunroof and leather seats, and several other very nice features!
In order to get the new car I traded my truck. Again, I know a photo of my truck would be nice, but they're all on my other computer. I will get one for you, so you can compare the two completely, totally different vehicles.
My truck was the last big, tangible, I paid some serious money at the time, thing to go from my life before I went to college (technically I bought it shortly after starting my freshman year of college), moved to Laramie, graduated college, got married, moved to New Mexico, got divorced, moved back to Wyoming, was hired at the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, moved to Casper, bought a house, dated again...and so on.
I loved my truck. Absolutely loved it. But it was getting old and high on miles and the maintenance was starting to add up....what I'm saying is it was probably time to move on.
I bought my truck from a widow, and it belonged to her husband. He was a trailer salesman and drove it to and from Kansas to pick up trailers and had purchased it new. He always really liked me too. It had it's own shed, was washed and waxed regularly, and the oil was probably changed every 3,000 miles.
By the way, we are talking about 1999, Dodge 3/4 ton, 2wd Cummins (24 valve, not 12), with a custom red flatbed with a wooden deck. Now, if that doesn't make me sound like a Wyomingite I don't know what will....
Anyway, it had a slightly harsher existence with me, I didn't own a shed....and moved around too much to keep one. But I did take good care of it.
During our time together I put 120,000 miles on the vehicle, two lift pumps, a couple sets of tires and breaks, and numerous sensors (99 cummins are notorious for their sensors fyi). I did countless funky, stopped in the middle of the road to take a picture moments in it and have driven it in every weather condition known to man. We missed numerous deer, hit a stupid girls Ford Dual because she didn't know how to the parking lot....looonnng story, and made it through 5 Wyoming winters together.
I miss him (yes, it was a him)
And while I know this was a smart move, and I really do like the car a lot, a part of me wants to drive right back to the dealership and demand they give me back MY vehicle (which, by the way, is pretty much worth a fraction of this new vehicle), as I drop THEIR Acura TL back off in the "imports" lot.
Thank goodness tomorrow is Sunday.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My 1,017 pound babies

Have I mentioned I love cattle? I love looking at them, picking them apart visually, and breeding them to make them the best they can be. It's so exhilarating to take a bunch of cows and make them produce a superior product year and year. It's a fun challenge!

Every cow and bull has genetic triats, like people do. People pass traits such as eye color on to their children, and some traits are more heritable than others. Cattle are the same way, and through available information producers can select animals that have specific traits. That's what I do - select specific traits and make sure each bull we buy has the traits we like and doesn't have traits we don't like.

The result of all that time and energy are our cull heifers and steers we market each year, in addition to our replacement heifers we put back in the herd.

I believe you can have a herd that does it all and you can have high enough quality cattle to top any market you choose to sell them in. I think this is possible because there is so much information on the genetics traits cattle posses, and so many cattle to choose from.

My family has marketed our cattle in almost every way possible, with the exception of using the internet. We have sold weaned calves, backgrounded calves, grass fed yearlings, corn fed stockers and fat cattle. We've also sold cattle in the beef and on the grid. Let me know if you want to know more about these marketing options and I'll cover them more in depth or reference someone else who has.

We believe in being flexible, innovative and keeping up with trends, and it's starting to really work for us. Through selling our cattle in these different ways we have acquired a lot of data that tells buyers about the quality of our cattle before they even see them. We also keep a list of bulls we've used, which tells buyers about our cattle's pedigrees.

This year was the first time in about seven years we kept our steers home and put them on grass for the summer.

It worked well. The average weight of the bunch was 1,017 pounds each and they gained 2.64 pounds a day from May through September on just grass. The closest guess on weight was the buyer, who thought they would weigh 990 pounds each.

It's always nice when you're cattle perform better than even the buyer guessed!
The cattle buyer is a guy who has purchased our cattle several times over the last decade. He bought them sight-unseen. It's a wonderful thing when you can work with people you trust, and this was one of those situations.

Here we are loading the trucks. My mom took the first two pictures. Where I'm from is famous for it's gains on grass. Some places south of Lusk boast gains of over 3 pounds a day for yearlings on just grass. I'm ready to increase how much ours gain each day over the next couple years through genetic selection.

Some of the best cattle in the world are from my region of the USA. People work hard every day to produce a high quality, safe and wholesome product. My family is no different and these steers are the result of over a year's worth of work. We have nurtured and fed and doctored them since March of 2009, when they were born.

They will be fattened in a feedlot in central South Dakota and harvested in February of 2011 as black, implant free cattle. We are planning a trip out around Thanksgiving to go hunting and check on them.

Like I said, I love producing quality cattle, and these guys are result of my entire families work and dedication for the last year. Now it's time to move on to the next bunch, who are just about ready to be weaned from their mothers.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Busy fall

I am sitting at a meeting just south of Buffalo right now, taking notes for one or two Roundup articles. I was late to the meeting because I misread my map and thought it was just outside Kaycee...not Buffalo. An extra 40 miles down the road I arrived, and just finished an interview to cover anything I may have missed.
It has been a hectic couple of weeks, with no signs of slowing down. Christy is in Pendleton, OR for meetings and the rodeo. I am so glad this trip has arrived and will soon be over. Originally Christy and I were both going, then it was just me going for several months, then out of the blue Christy told me she was going and I was staying. Her fiancee will be joining her later in the week and I'm sure they will have fun.
Last week I was in Fremont County for two days interviewing people for our Fall Cattlemen's edition. Then I went to Wheatland to take engagement photos Saturday morning. From there I drove to Keeline (which is 60 miles from my parent's house), where I met my dad and brother to gather a couple stray yearling steers. It was good to be on a horse again, riding with the people I enjoy most.
Sunday we did a little more riding and some corral repairs. Bright and early Monday morning the whole family drove back to Keeline and gathered the steers for delivery.
A hectic morning later we finally got everyone loaded and the check written. I found out that when someone stole some of our calves earlier this spring they took two of mine instead of just one, as originally thought.
I left the yearling gather and headed back to Casper. About 10 miles out of Casper I had a rear tire explode and got to change it on the side of the interstate. A very nice man stopped to help, which made it go faster.
I arrived at my little house and noticed it sounded like water was running somewhere. So I crawled under my house and discovered a small hole in my main water pipe. I called my dad and scheduled a repair appointment for today. So last night was spent with no water as I had to turn off the main line into the house...
Which brings us back to this morning. After the next session of this meeting I will leave early and head back to Casper to help my dad with the water line repairs. If we have time I will then take the parents to look at one of the vehicles I recently test drove and am considering buying (in a couple months, since my cattle check is much less than originally anticipated, thanks to the worthless thieves)
Tonight I will be writing some articles for this weeks paper and making several phone calls. Tomorrow will be spent in the office catching up. Thursday I will be driving back to Fremont County and attempting to get 4-5 interviews done for the Fall Cattlemen's Edition. I may also interview someone involved in the Nature Conservancy, which I am less than excited about as that organization does not support production agriculture. I have a very hard time writing about people or organizations that have a negative impact on my industry and who take land out of production. I am hoping all my Fall Cattlemen's people follow through and Christy gets to interview the Nature Conservancy individual.
Sorry, off my soap box and back on track...Friday will be spent in the office making sure the paper gets out without a hitch. This weekend I will either be going home to ship sheep, or transcribing notes and editing both senior and engagement pictures at my house in Casper. I am hoping to be in Casper, as my plan for that option will possibly get me caught up for next week...which I haven't even looked at yet for fear of being overwhelmed.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I'm not talking about Rice Krispies...I'm talking about wildfires.
I went home for Labor Day weekend to rest, relax and just catch up in general....

Then this happened. A thunderstorm with lots of lightning came through Saturday night and started several fires. Did I seriously consider taking my camera with me to a fire on the Wyoming plains...yes...did I actually do!
When a fire occurs on in eastern Wyoming it's very serious and dangerous, especially on years like this when there's a lot of grass. Wind can make the flames travel across the range faster than anyone can drive. Thousands of acres can be scorched before anyone can even arrive on the scene. With rough draws (small canyons) that are impassable on any motorized vehicle people often have to travel several miles out of their way to reach the flames.
Everyone where I'm from has a firefighting rig. These are homemade water sprayers designed specifically for fighting fire. We all have one because the closest fire house is over 50 miles away. It typically falls on the landowners to control blazes since it takes the "real" firefighters over an hour to arrive usually.
We took our sprayer off the morning this fire occured because it's September and my dad didn't want the sprayer to freeze. It's back on now.
One cool thing is that everyone works together and helps their neighbors tirelessly in an effort to save grass, homes, fences and trees when a fire occurs. As in so many areas of agriculture, fires bring people together to work for a common cause.
People will sit on the highest hill near their place on nights there are bad storms and watch for smoke or flames. These storms are common in the summer months, and we have fought fire every night for over two weeks in yeast past. Upon sighting flames and/or smoke we can communicate to each other with CB radios. If a spotted fire is under 10 or 15 miles from their place, ranchers will head in that direction with a sprayer, shovels, gloves and anything else to help put the fire out.
When the fight lasts over-night or for many hours, the women in the community will bring food, water, gaterade, coats and anything else to help those fighting the blaze.

Now that we've covered the general aspects of fighting fire we can get into specifics. There were several (4-6) fires spotted in northern Niobrara County Saturday night. The first was on our neighbors and several people and a couple rural fire rigs arrived and attempted to get to the flames. Finally the owner's daughter showed up and helped us find our way across the creek, through a couple gates and to the flames.
I should also note this was done in the dark, on a cloudy, moonless night.
We took two vehicles and I ended up parking in the neighbors yard and riding in a rural fire fighting six-by-six rig, holding a flashlight and controlling the volume on the CB radio. Upon reaching the flames I got back in with my dad and brother. At this point we were using our weed spraying rig, which can be seen below. Our fire fighting rig has a bigger tank and engine and is much more effective.

After putting the first fire out we were all watching another blaze gain momentum. It's very difficult to tell distances in the dark. Big fires can look like they're a couple miles away when they're actually 50-70 miles away. Likewise a smaller fire may be much closer than you think it is. After much discussion my dad, brother, the guy and myself decided to head in the direction we thought the fire was. Upon reaching the county road we quickly realized the dark had turned some people around and it was actually much closer to my parent's ranch.
So we raced across gravel county roads in the dark, onto our place, around corners and over hills. Then we popped over another hill and there it was, a unique dark and bright orangish/red blend of smoke and fire right next to the county road on our ranch. My dad quickly gets on the radio and informs people of the fire's location.
He and my brother take off to start spraying and the guy and I park the second pickup (without a sprayer) in the black (where it's already burned). Almost immediately a rural fire pickup arrives and I ask if he need someone to spray (stand in the back and run the water hose while he drives)
He says sure and we hop on. We begin driving on the black around the perimeter, dousing the flames with water. I provide information on draws, ditches and other directions as needed and with as much accuracy as I can.

Just as we get to the last 30 feet of flames between us and my dad and brother we run out of water. We race back to the county road to impatiently wait for a six-by-six that's on its way to fill us up. Meanwhile other ranchers begin showing up and I point them to two-track roads that lead to the blaze. We get filled up and rejoin the efforts. After getting the flames doused, several people drive the perimeter repeatedly, spraying anything that is smoking, glowing red or otherwise suspicious and near the edge of the burn. This is to prevent sparks from blowing into unburned grass and starting the fire again. Then the landowner and one or two larger rigs will "babysit" the burn until it's deemed safe. This depends on a variety of factors including wind and size.
It's a hot, dirty, exhausting job fighting fire. It's also an adrenaline rush, but gets old fast too. The next morning you feel like you're very hung over and spent the previous evening in a very smoky bar.
These pictures are all from our fire the morning after. We watched as the wind picked up and Kyle checked for hot spots on his motorcycle. Anything that was hot or smoking we sprayed with water.
We we were very fortunate that the fire occured in an easily accessible location and there was little to no wind! Fires can easily burn thousands of acres and continue burning for several days. They can also flare back up, which also happened on another fire near our place Sunday.
A big thanks to our friends and neighbors for their assistance!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Ram Sale Edition

This week we put out our annual Ram Sale Edition of the paper.
No big deal...right? Wrong!
My blissful, latte fueled, no dog barking in the middle of last night morning was going fine...until I find out, via two simultaneous phone calls, that we don't have enough editorial, so and so hasn't submitted their information, there are huge holes to be filled, and good luck Heather.
Christy is out of the office today I should note. Out of the office for work.
I suddenly didn't have enough caffeine prior to work and began frantically working to fill these holes by contacting so and so and lengthening other articles to make sure the edition was full.
One twitching eye (it is still twitching and quite annoying), multiple phone conversations, one email and one text that included a cuss word, and a trip to subway for lunch, mainly for chocolate chip cookies and a pop (two big no no's in my lunch eating world) I do believe I have things back under control (knock on wood).
Part of my filling holes technique is always gathering of information and writing of articles...and if I'm very lucky no cutline either.
So here are a few, feel free to scan your Roundup this week to see just how and where they were used. Let me know if you don't get the Roundup but want to (that's it for my plugs for the paper) I also apologize if they seem a little light, that is necessary for printing in our paper, and I wasn't going to re-edit them...again.

This is one of, if not my all-time favorite ram photo. It was a great setting with the clouds.

This one is another all-time favorite and dates back to our very first year with sheep. It was also in my very early days with my first Canon Rebel... It's not perfect and a little fuzzy, and the focus isn't where I would want it, but in all the annual shearings since I have not been able to get anywhere close to replicating it...and I've tried.

OK, so this one wasn't sent for filling holes...but I like it. Maybe this post should be called, "Oldies but Goodies...sheep photos" This is my most successful photo to date that I have entered in a competition. I entered it in color, but also like the black and white version.

Yearling ewes. Another photo from my early days as a photographer and sheep producer.

And there's this guy, who can be seen again at the very bottom of my blog in a photo taken about 3 frames prior to this one. The snow and full-curled horns just work for me.

Next week is the University of Wyoming Edition...I'm not sure how to feel about that at this point.