Friday, May 27, 2011

Branding in black and white

Here are a few pictures I quickly converted to black and white from yesterday's branding. We will be among the hundreds of ranchers also branding over Memorial Day Weekend this year. God Bless our troops for keeping our country free!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pulling a baby lamb

Here are some pictures from a couple weeks ago I haven't been able to get on here before now. While at Adam's place, he had to get in a ewe with a cold lamb. On the way to the barn Adam stopped and helped her deliver lamb number two, mainly to ease her and the partially born lamb's discomfort. It went like this:

This is another example of the lengths ranchers are willing to go to in order to help their animals, and keep them healthy and safe. After both lambs were born, he promptly picked them up, and took the whole family to the barn, out of the wet, cold outdoor elements.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Spring Growth

Here are a few photos of some pretty flowers and trees that are braving the cool, wet spring we're experiencing in Wyoming this year.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Trailing Yearlings

Last Tuesday we trailed my uncle's yearlings (the term yearlings is a collective term to describe cattle that are between one and two years in age, and is not sexually specific - and in this case is referring to both steers, and some spayed heifers) from their winter pasture to the pasture they will spend the summer in.
Cattle are moved to different pastures throughout the year to maximize the utilization and regrowth potential of grass on the operation. How people graze their pastures varies drastically from place to place depending on the types of grass, weather, terrain, soil and any number of other varying factors present on their land.
The idea with grazing is to provide adequate nutrition to your livestock to meet their growth or maintenance needs, while also maintaining or improving the quality of grass, so you can use it again the following year. If you do a poor job managing your grass, it will directly impact your livestock, because they won't have enough feed to grow or maintain. Ranchers are experts at grass management, due in part because their livelihood depends on it.

This time of year a lot of cattle are being moved to their summer homes, where they will graze pastures that have been untouched since last year in most cases. We started by gathering the steers out of a smaller pasture where they have been for a week, waiting for this day when they will head for their summer home.

Yearlings are very curious, energetic creatures, and this often results in some funny, and sometimes not funny, situations. We often compare them to teenagers, as they have several personality similarities.

As we gathered, my cousin and I held the bunch up near the gate we were heading out. The yearlings promptly surrounded both of us, bucked and kicked, sniffed our horses, and stared at us. Cows generally don't show this behavior, and would be farther away from our horses, and not as interested in us.

Another difference is you follow, or push, cows. But, sometimes with the yearlings being so curious they happily follow you, and that makes them very difficult to push and turn. So, on this day my horse and I became the leaders, and this was taken over my shoulder as we headed for the first gate, and the yearlings eagerly trotted along behind.

Through the first gate we were prepared to stop, or at least slow down and stear, the yearlings if they had taken off. But, this year they simply started grazing, then would jog off a little, then graze again.

Here we go, jogging off. It also started raining right as we came through the gate, and that is why some of these photos have rain spots on them. At this point we all took turns putting on our rain gear. There are leather straps, called saddle strings, on the back of saddles that are designed to hold equipment, such as rain coats, and we all had ours with us.

We all got suited up, while simultaneously heading the yearlings in the right direction.

We headed across a field to the second gate, which took us onto the neighbors. My uncle asked his neighbor's permission to trail across them, and having good neighbors is a great aspect of ranching in both his and my family's locations.

We went across the neighbor's alfalfa field, across the creek, and headed up a hill.

It was a total of 12 miles from start to finish with this trip, and after the first couple miles the yearling settled down and started stringing out. We were very thankful for a cool day, as that makes trailing much easier on the cattle.

Through the next gate we headed into some rougher country, with some trees.

To prevent the yearlings in front from running off down a steep stretch, my uncle and the neighbor, who helped us, rode in front again, leading them at a decent speed.

At the bottom we all resumed positions on either side and at the back to push the yearlings out of the other side.

We headed back out into some relatively flat country, and they strung out and headed down the road. We stuck with the road a while, then continued cross country. While you can't see them in this picture, two people are riding toward the front of the herd, one on either side of the bunch, to steer the cattle. We had to trail this bunch around various reservoirs, through gates and among trees, and turned them different directions when necessary to make the route as easy as possible for them and our horses.

Here we are going through two gates. The top of the horizon in this photo was the halfway point. We stopped there, where there was a corner in the fence to hold the cattle, and my aunt brought out the hot coffee and rolls she brought with her on a 4-wheeler. It was cold and windy, and we appreciated the warm beverages. Had it been hot, the stop would have been to let to yearlings rest and cool off. But on this day it was more for us to warm up.

After a brief coffee break, we all got back on and continued on our way.

All the wonderful rain this spring has resulted in lots of puddles and standing water.

After going 12 miles through alfalfa fields, pine and ceder trees, sage brush, steep hills, flat country and rolling hills, we approached our destination. My uncle rode ahead to open the gate and prepare to count the yearlings in. Counting of livestock is done a lot on ranches - it's important to know how many cattle you have in different places. This knowledge lets you know if you lost any while they were in a pasture or if you missed any gathering, among other things.

We worked at making the steers walk single, or double-file through the gate, so he could get an accurate count on them. A lot of teasing and joking can be associated with counting, and getting the count right, at our place.

Then someone (my cousin in this case) gets off and closes the last gate. We started just this side, and to the right, of the farthest, black hill.

Then we leave the yearlings to gain and grow at their summer home. My uncle has put his steers in here before, and as I mentioned at the beginning, he manages his grass so the pasture will be as good, or better, than the year before. You can see the old (grey) grass from last year that he left. This old grass was allowed to go to seed, and it caught moisture in the winter that soaked in and helped germinate this year's grass. It also provided food to a number of wildlife species, even after he was done grazing it, and provided cover for the land, and discouraged weeds from growing.

I also mentioned that different places grow different kinds of grasses, which provide more or less nutrition to cattle. This area will result in good quality yearlings gaining over two pounds a day. To give a comparison, yearlings on grass an hour south of were my family lives will gain over three pounds a day in some cases.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fencing, Part One

Our first big summer project this year is rebuilding an electric fence that separates our creek bottom from the rest of a pasture. If left unfenced, the cattle hang on the creek bottom, overgrazing it, and not utilizing the grass in the rest of the pasture. They do this because the grass on the creek bottom is more lush and stays green longer, and it's easier for them to fill up in a small area - they find it very convenient.
This fence allows us to be better managers of our grass, and prevents the overgrazing and under grazing of different parts of our ranch. As I've mentioned before, efficiency is a big deal, and we want to utilize our available resources, grass in this case, in the best way possible across our entire ranch.
Upon completion, we will allow our cattle to graze the creek bottom early, when it greens up. Then we will move them off the creek bottom and allow that grass to grow untouched through the summer months, and then return back and graze it again in the fall.

The first part of this job was tearing out the old electric fence. A hired man built this fence several years ago, and didn't do the best job. We opted to start completely over with it, saving the two wires, pulling the wood posts and replacing them with fiberglass posts, and straightening it out.

This is what most of it looked like. The wood posts weren't set deep enough, and popped up. Several insulators were also missing, and without those an electric fence will short out, and become ineffective.
One advantage to using fiberglass posts is they eliminate the need for washers, as the wire won't short out when they touch fiberglass. One disadvantage is fiberglass gives awful slivers, and you don't want to grab a fiberglass post without your gloves on.

We used this tractor to pull the wood posts, and drill holes for our deadmen, which are a type of post designed to hold a fence down in a low spot without coming out of the ground.

After we had the wires off all the posts, someone would drive the tractor down the fenceline, and someone else (me) would walk along.

As the person walking along, I would form a half-hitch with the chain, and slide it over the post. Then the person in the tractor would pull it straight up, and out of the ground. We repeated this process on every post that hadn't come out the ground on its own, until they were all pulled.

We will recycle these posts in another fence on our place.

Then we used the same tractor to drill the deadmen holes, and set them. The top wire was strung to use as a guide, and keep our fence straight. A straight fence looks nicer and is easier to maintain, and my brother is especially good at making a fence straight.

Here is the wire, and the hole for the deadman.

To make a deadman out of a fiberglass post, my dad would drill a hole through the post near the bottom...

Then slide a washer onto the post, and insert a nail into the hole he drilled. Once in the hole, and covered with dirt, the washer will prevent the otherwise cylindrical post from coming out of the ground when the wire is pulled down and attached to it.

In high places the wire pushes down the posts, so they will stay in the ground on their own. These deadmen are only necessary in low spots, where the wire pulls up on posts instead of pushing down.

Once inserted into the hole, another person walks up the fenceline, and lines the post up with the wire and other posts.

Once everything is lined up, dirt is kicked back into the hole...

And this heavy, steel pole is used to tamp the dirt around the post, securing it into place. You have to alternate adding dirt to the hole, and tamping it, until the hole is filled. Then you add a little more dirt, and tap it down with your foot. If the amount of dirt in the drilled hole isn't level or above the ground around it, water can run in and erode the dirt out of the hole, basically taking you back to where you started.

Once all the old posts are tore out, the deadmen and corners set, the wires untangled, and the gates are rebuilt, you enter Part Two of the fence rebuilding process, which will be coming soon!

Friday, May 13, 2011

An Update

Well, my blog, or Internet connection, won't let me upload pictures, so the vast majority of what I've been trying to post for the last couple days will have to wait (some more).

On a more personal front, things in my life are going extremely well! The transition from desk/town/career (I use that term very loosely) to outdoors/ranch/self employed has gone smoothly, and I am a very blessed and happy girl.

Professionaly I just completed my first photography job since leaving the paper, and am working on my first writing assignment as well. When not working in those two areas, I've been helping build fence, picking up bulls, branding and keeping the guys fed and clothed in my moms absence. I am also helping some family and neighbors with their ranch work over the next few months, and have scheduled that through the end of May.

Other highlights in the work area include finally being able to learn how to AI (artificially inseminate) cattle this June. Adam's (he did not like being referred to as "the guy," and requested a change) mom AI's, and will be teaching me. Getting to spend some quality time with my grandma while working at my uncle's place is another thing I am really looking forward too.

Adam and I (as in mostly him, and I get to go along) also have some traveling planned for the summer, and I'm thrilled to have a schedule that allows me to participate in such things again. Traveling and being able to attend events, and see places, of interest to me were things I've really missed.

This week Adam also surprised me with dinner at my favorite Casper restaurant, and floor level tickets to Riverdance when they performed in Casper. Next weekend we are planning a night out in Deadwood, and after that is a week of AI'ing together. If you couldn't tell, things are going extremely well in the relationship area too, and I am a very lucky girl in that area as well!

Hope all is well with everyone who reads this, and as soon as possible I'll get caught up on posts that include pictures!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

This Week

This was a busy week, full of springtime activities, including the following...

Spending time at my guy's place, lambing and just helping out and seeing him.

Tearing out an electric fence we're rebuilding to seperate our creek and improve our ability to utillize our grass on one part of our ranch. Hopefully there will be a more indepth post on that to come.

Two trips to pick up bulls - one to LaGrange, south of Torrington, and one to western South Dakota. We also branded and moved the bulls to their spring pasture, located behind a very hot electic fence.

The usual feeding and chores. I learned that this is Kyle's favorite calf, who he has turned into a true cake muncher, and who loves to be scratched daily.

Hope you all had a wonderful and blessed Mother's Day!