Thursday, August 30, 2012

If you really knew me

I got this idea from The Farmer's Trophy Wife's blog the other day, and thought it was a fun. While this isn't an overly personal blog, it is fun to share a little more about myself from time to time. Plus, I enjoyed reading hers, so hopefully you'll enjoy reading mine.

If you really knew me....

You would know I hate eggs, especially over easy. My dad's version of over easy eggs is warm...and the reason I cannot eat one to this day. I ate plenty of them growing up because we ate what was served, period.

One of my great fears is having someone cook me an over easy egg for breakfast when I'm a guest in their home, and not having the ability to choke it down without gagging. Manners versus gag reflex...scary stuff!

Driving slow drives me nuts

I love coffee, have my own espresso machine, coffee bean grinder, assortment of coffees and flavoring syrups, and make myself a homemade latte almost every morning. Sometimes I make two.

I also love shopping. In the mall, at thrift stores, garage sales, little downtown shops. You name it, I'll shop at it, unless there is a support sign in the window for an anti-ag group, like PETA, Greenpeace, etc... Then you will not get my business.

I have one of the closest families you'll ever meet

If you really knew me...

You would know that I am shy and quiet until I get to know you, then, according to my family, I never shut up. Ok, they're right.

This shyness is more of a one-on-one thing. Speaking in front of crowds, lobbying, discussing agriculture issues with various groups and presenting speeches doesn't bother me. It used to, but doesn't now. However, carrying on a conversation with a single person is an area I can struggle with, and work on.

I largely attribute my ability to speak in front of people without being nervous to giving thousands of sets of livestock oral reasons.

I currently live and work from my childhood bedroom, while renting my own home located 2.5 hours away because I chose to leave a deskjob, return to the family ranch and start my own business over a year ago, and moving back in with the parents is about the only option when they ranch an hour from a town, and rentable house.

I love what I do, all of it (except being a landlord, I just love the check from that), beyond measure, and have never been happier in my life than I am right now.

I am complete home decor and furniture nut, and have tote upon tote of kitchen wares, decorations for every season, bedding, furniture etc... stored all over the ranch, impatiently awaiting the completion of our trailer house repairs so that I can move across the yard from my parents and into my own space again.

And, if you really knew me....

You would know I believe in God, without doubt, and my faith is very important to me.

My family prays together, for each other, at every meal, and at random times when we feel we need to

Being completely covered in dirt/mud/manure doesn't bother me a bit, but I despise getting grease on myself

That I never set out to be a writer, and that the Lord directed my steps to what I do today.

My boyfriend and I were set up by my relative/his friend, and neither of us was excited about being set up at first. We both got over it.

I have a critical eye for livestock, and will see what is wrong with them first

There you have it. Let me know if you decide to do your own, "if you really knew me." I would love to read it!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A heifer in the basement

Weaning is a stressful time. It is also an excellent time to locate, tear out, and immediately rebuild the weakest part of your corral some years. Freshly weaned calves are experts at the locating and tearing out part, and a stressed, mad rancher can really replace torn down corral fast.
The above photo is the result of one such experience a couple years ago. Weaned calves can be spooky, and just about anything can set off the right bunch. One morning we woke up to the sound of peaceful quiet, which is never a good thing on the second day of weaning, and also probably why we were all actually sleeping well.
The corral was empty. This is a rancher's worst weaning nightmare. If calves don't know where their mothers are, they will just poof in every direction like a dropped bag of flour. Locating, gathering, and temporarily securing them until you rebuild the corral can be a lengthy and frustrating process. It can take months to find them all in some instances.
But, not this time. Our calves had gone half a mile, settled down, and were eating. We easily gathered them up, locked them up, fixed the corral, and considered ourselves lucky to only be short one head. I spent the next two days searching high and low, near and far, for the missing one. I eventually assumed she had met up with a neighbor's cows, and we would eventually get a call to retrieve her.
Then I saw what you see above while putting garbage in our burn barrel, and immediately took a picture so everyone would believe me when I informed them of where the missing one had been hiding for almost three days.
This old basement is just a junk collector, as you can see (with the exception of the heifer of course). How she fell in there is beyond me, and how to get her out was also beyond me at the time. She was not happy, to say the least, about her predicament. I pondered, thought, weighed options, and eventually gathered up what I thought I needed to assist her in jumping out of the lowest part of the wall, which is in the top left hand corner of the photo.
I loaded a 4-wheeler trailer of railroad tie chunks and cinder blocks and dumped a few into the basement to begin constructing a temporary set of steps. The heifer began lapping the basement, and I stepped over to the opposite side, just in case she managed to jump out. To my surprise, she lined herself out and leaped out of the basement with ease. After three days of searching, some heavy lifting and mental planning, that's all it took to get her out and back with her buddies. She was shrunk out, hungry and thirsty, but otherwise none the worse for wear as a result of her stay in the basement.
When I came across this picture again today, I thought it was fitting to share with you on day two of weaning our first bunch this year.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Photo update

Here are a few shots of what's been going on around here the last week.
We weaned yesterday, and it's 101 degrees today. Earliest and hottest round of weaning that I can remember.
We pulled bulls. Not this one, he isn't ours. But I thought he made a nice picture sitting under his own private tree, swatting flies and watching traffic.

 Here are our bulls, getting their pecking order re-established for the winter.

 And here they are about to continue their argument from the previous photo after we showed them where the water is.

 My wonderful grandmother turned 90. Here she is with all her grandchildren. The weekend before her party, we threw a surprise party for my mom. It's been an August of celebrating around here : )

I finally saw a part of the fire that burned to within a half mile of my aunt and uncle's home, and was much closer to some of their neighbors homes and buildings, as you can see here. This fire burned over 63,300 acres in the Black Hills of northeastern Wyoming.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pulling bulls

This week we are pulling our bulls. If you aren't certain what I mean by that, we are not going to physically pull them around (assuming their are no attitude issues), and what I mean by that statement is we are going to take them out of our cows.
Ranchers can manage when they start calving by when they turn their bulls out with their cows. They manage when they stop calving by when they take the bulls out of their cows. This is all assuming the neighbors bull doesn't pitch it before or after your bulls are with your cows. Artificial Insemination (AI) is another very effective way of managing calving, but we don't currently use that method and this will focus on natural breeding.
Managing your calving season is important for several reasons, one being that you want to work around the weather in your area, especially if you don't have adequate protection in case of bad weather. Another is that the closer in age all your calves are, the more uniform they will be their entire lives.Your firstborn calves will also have the competitive, size and age advantage over their younger counterparts for their entire lives. When you will market the calves is another thing to keep in mind when choosing a time to calve.
We strive to have all our calves born as close together as possible each year so they are uniform, easier to manage (think one branding instead of three because calves keep being born for several months), and more marketable (extra big or small calves may be sorted off when you sell).
But, we also want as many cows to calve as possible, and it's not economical to turn a bull out for 10 days, and only get a 50 percent or so calf crop. A cow's estrus cycle lasts 21 days, and gestation length is 280-some days, or about 9 months. So, for each cycle you leave the bulls in, you extend your calvig season by one month. With that in mind, we will typically leave our bulls in for one, two or three estrus cycles (called simply cycles), depending on the group of cows, year, and other factors.
Lots of people also put bulls with their first calf heifers sooner than they put them with their mature cows. This is because calving sooner will give the heifer more time to put on condition post-calving, and before she is turned back out with a bull to breed again. Trying to get a cow to breed back after she's had her first calf is one of the most challenging aspects of livestock reproduction, and a lot of management decisions are geared toward getting her pregnant for a second time.
To put it in perspective, since June 15, when we turned the bulls out with the cows, we have been managing what will be happening on our ranch starting next March, and on through the remainder of next year with our next calf crop. Or, you can think of it the opposite way, in that we have been managing for this year's calf crop that we're about to wean since June, 2011, and actually before when we purchased the bulls that sired them. As in many cases, this is one area of ranching that takes significant planning and investment long before you see the fruits of your labor.
This year we left the bulls in with our yearling heifers, who are those being bred for the first time, for 40 days, or two cycles. This gave every heifer two chances to get bred. If she didn't breed she will be sold, which eliminates the least fertile females from ever entering our mother cow herd. Often times we only leave the bull in with the heifers for one cycle. This ensures we are retaining the most fertile and efficient females into our herd, and makes calving heifers last one month instead of two. The less time spent calving heifers the better in most cases, plus it goes back to having a uniform calf crop and giving each heifer more time to gain condition before she's expected to breed again.
In our mature cows, the bulls are going to be pulled at roughly 60 days, or three cycles. These cows are in much larger pastures, have a calf sucking on them which uses more energy and can make it more difficult for the cow to breed back, and have already had enough money invested in them to make it worthwhile to give them three chances to get bred.
Another key consideration in putting in and pulling bulls is that gestation length in cattle varies, just as it does in humans. Different bulls and different cows will throw calves that are born early, right on time, or late. So, since we turned the bulls in on June 15, we will expect to start calving at least one week early. This is particularly important in our heifers because we use low birthweight bulls, and the way you get a lower birthweight is through a shorter gestation period. Combine that with that fact that we are continuously available to help our first-calf heifer during calving, and it becomes something to pay close attention to.
Some years the bulls aren't pulled, typically because we get so busy with other tasks. We also have cows spread out over a 200 mile area, so it's not like we just spend an hour and they're all gathered. For us, pulling bulls is a big "want to" each year, but not a "absolutely have to" management practice.
If you don't pull bulls the vast majority (over 90 percent) of mature cows will still be bred in 60 days in our place. Very few head will be bred later than that. Big deal you may be thinking, and really it's not a catrastrophe, but it is a pain in the neck. You will have to set up a second day to brand those few head, if they aren't branded they will have to sorted off when you're shipping to summer pasture (and they are always in the way during this), and throughout the entire spring you will spend extra time shuffling, sorting gathering those few head. Plus, those calves you have to spend all that extra time on will be worth less than their larger, more mature siblings for the majority of their lives.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

This Industry

I've interviewed 12 people over the last few days, and visited with several more on the route that lead to those interviews. I've heard the personal accounts of how people across the western states are planning, working and striving to make it through this tough year, how they're recovering from the devastating fires that swept so much of the country in recent months and what their strategies are to survive what are sure to be more challenging months, and possibly years, ahead.
On a year that is setting record high temperatures combined with record low moisture, when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes its support of meatless Mondays, when other government agencies including the Forest Service are telling producers in some areas that they won't be able to graze their permits next year either as a result of a fire that burned their permits this year, when corn is shooting through the roof and politicians are continuing to support its use in ethanol production (which costs more to produce than it makes in return...wonder why we're in a budget deficit), when the USDA is reducing meat in school lunch programs, when certain species of wildlife are placed at a higher value than livestock by the public, and when over a million acres have been burned in western states alone, killing thousands of head of livestock, wiping out homes and entire operations in some cases, I saw yet again what makes our agriculture industry so unique, wonderful and powerful in my opinion: God and the farmers and ranchers themselves.
There was resilience, hope, humor and grit surrounded by a solid belief in the Lord amongst the people I spoke to. It's humbling to visit with such people, who in a matter of minutes made my family's situation this year look plumb rosy in multiple instances. There were the stories of help provided by friends, family, acquaintances and in several cases those people who use private lands for recreational and hunting vacations. There were the stories of the sheer workload being taken on by landowners to recover from the effects of 2012, and the fact that I never heard any hesitation, complaints (except for how the government fights fire, which I agree with wholeheartedly) or excuses. Instead, I heard about action, plans, ideas, innovations and answered prayers. I also heard about continued prayers for those who did have to sell out and regroup. People spoke of how good we have it today compared to the 1980's or 1930's. Miraculous moments that occurred during some of the fires were explained, as was how the western cowherd is going to be fed this winter, not if. There was a resigned willingness to dig in and survive, come what may, combined with the ever-present hope you'll always find in agriculture that the weather will become perfect starting tomorrow and the government will back off, and that prices will reach a level we all have in the back of our mind. We are, and always will be the most optimistic pessimists, or most pessimistic optimists, you'll ever meet.
I am proud to not only be a part of this industry, but to be a part of its core; which are the people who raise the food and fiber that feed and clothe the world. The fact that I get to do a part in sharing the stories, ideas and news relevant to agriculture is just a bonus, and this has been a great week on the job for me!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Good Reads

I've come across some great blogs and posts lately that are telling people about agriculture in various forms. I always enjoy reading what other people have to say, and these people are doing a great job! A couple of these sites have also featured my posts and one featured me as a rancher, which was very nice of them.
So, if you're looking for a good read over the weekend, here's what I've enjoyed reading lately:

Hoosier Farm Babe Tell Tail's post on hog gestation crates, found here.  Hog people are always getting slammed on their use of gestation and farrowing crates by people who have no understanding of raising hogs, and this was a great response to the benefits of using them. Very interesting, and I have no doubt that what I learned reading this post will come in very handy at some point.

High Heels & Shotgun Shells post on educating the misinformed, found here. She shows a response to a CBS article on the drought in Arkansas that was written by someone who obviously dislikes our industry tremendously. It's important to see what these people are saying, what their opinions are, and how they respond to anything ag-affiliated. Check out what this radical commenter said, and her response. Go respond to the article yourself if you're so inclined. She has a link to it included in the post.

Have you seen the Faces of Agriculture blog? I think this is best idea - the ladies running this blog send you some questions, then compile a feature blog post with your answers and photos. The idea is to show a more personal side of the agriculture industry through introducing readers to individuals. They've featured farmers, ranchers and other ag-affiliated folks from all over the country. Here's the link to their post on me. When you're done, be sure to click on home to see all the more recent posts. They are also always looking for new people to feature on their blog, and their contact information is available on their page.

If you're interested in reading more about agriculture in Wyoming, I highly recommend the RealRanchers site.  A good friend of mine heads this project of telling the story of Wyoming agriculturalists through social media, and she does a great job! You'll see a few of my blog posts on the site, in addition to posts from other Wyomingites on numerous topics. Always a great stop

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Summer in photos

In no particular order, here are a few photos of what we've been up to this summer. I hinted at several of these items a week ago, but now you can see what has been happening around here the last couple months.

The weather has been crazy. We are way above normal on average temperature, and number of days over 100 degrees here this summer. Plus, several nasty storms full of lightning, wind and black clouds have rolled over pretty regularly. But, one things these clouds don't have is much rain. For the month of June, average rainfall for Wyoming was .45 inches.

 Our house water pump quit working. Then the line airlocked. So, my dad rigged this system up to pump water back up the more than 2 miles of line to our storage tanks from our house.

 This photo was taken while getting the right shot to accompany one of several writing projects I had going on this summer. From new magazines to my regular work to multiple online projects, it's been fun and busy on the writing front lately!

This is Larry, who is one half of our new Hereford bull duo (the other is Moe) that are going to make us some black baldy calves : ) He has been hard at work.

A wind storm blew the tin off one side of our "new" trailer house. So, instead of finishing prjoects inside so my brother and I can move in, we had to concentrate on this. While move-in won't be for a while now, I am getting my office stuff moved in, which will be a huge help on my work end.

 Lots of time has been spent determining how to best manage our cattle on this very dry year. We've also been diligent in checking their water, grass and how they're holding their condition. We're very thankful that the grazing association where most of our mother cows are located is having a much better year than we are at home.

 We've fought fire, but not nearly as much as the folks east of us.

I watched my first litter of pigs be born, and are they CUTE or what?!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tricks of the Lick Tub Trade

If you've ever fed lick tubs, you probably know what I'm talking about when I say they are a royal pain in the neck to handle. Weighing in at 250 lbs, these short, stout tubs are beyond my ability to manipulate. Perhaps some of you other ladies, or anyone for that matter, have similar gripes about lick tubs.
Here is the solution I have devised, using tools from the ranching version of "duct tape and twine can fix anything" box.
First, I have my dad or brother place a block under one side of a few tubs wherever they are being stored. This gets them in a position so I can tip them over and roll them around. One key point here is not to have the lick tubs tipped over on their side wherever you are storing them if it's hot. This will result in no lick being left in your tub when you go to feed it....
I roll the chosen tub outside. Then, I go get a chain and the hydrabed. Or, this particular pickup is sporting Mr. Hydrabed's great grandfather, but it still gets the job done. While the tub is still on its side, I wrap the chain over the top and around the sides to the bottom. Then I half twist both ends around each other and wrap it back around the tub on the other two sides. This is just like wrapping ribbon on a present as far as technique goes. Once both ends of the chain are back on top, I tip the tub back over so it's upright again, and adjust the chains if they need it.
I then twist/tie the chain again at the top in a highly technical fashion that would have the men (who are not involved in the feeding of this tub and therefore have no input) cringing. Next I back the pickup up, lower the hydrabed, loop one end of the chain over the arm and secure it, then lift.
To help you visualize this procedure, I took photos the other day:

Once set on the pickup, I unhook the chain attached to the arm, and lower it around the top of the tub like so for transit. I haven't had one rattle off yet from this location. I think if you were going on a fairly smooth road you could just let it hang from the arm just off the pickup bed. I am in no way responsible if you decide to try this and it goes very wrong.

Upon arrival, the hydrabed arm is lifted and the tub rolled off the side. A mild struggle to get it tipped upright ensues. Eventually I win, and everyone is happy - me that it will be empty when I pick it up, and the heifers that they have something to eat.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My Second Cow: Lacy

A while ago I share with you how I got started in the cow business with the purchase of my first cow.
Well, Sassy certainly wasn't the last cow I ever bought, and was just the beginning of a long run of heifer and steer projects I showed over my 11-years in the 4-H program.
This being county fair week where I'm from, it seems fitting to introduce my second heifer, and 4-H project, Lacy. Named after my best friend until we moved when I was four, Lacy the cow came from a longtime registered Angus breeder in the Bighorn Basin. My dad purchased several of his 4-H heifers from this same operation, and is who suggested I purchase my first Angus cow from them.

 I do not remember taking this photo, or that we haltered her that day. I do remember that this nice man had several pens of heifers, sorted by price, ready for us when we arrived. We looked through all of them, enjoyed the ones that were too expensive for me, asked if the one that jumped the fence was cheaper since she jumped into a lower priced pen, and eventually selected number 1111.

 I paid for her, received her registration papers, obviously haltered her, and took her home. That's my dad on the right ready to do most of the work on the first attempt at leading.
She proved to be 100% Angus in nature. Where Sassy was mellow, sweet, kind and laid back, Lacy was the opposite. She wasn't wild, but derived particular enjoyment in walking wherever she wanted, dragging me along as I "lead" her. She was also not mellow or very kind. She was quite the eye-opener after my first heifer!

 Despite those attributes, and my sister being born in May of that year, in the middle of a major remodel of our house, I somehow got her as ready for fair as possible when you're 10

 Here we are on show day. By the end of the day that showstick was done from whacking her over the nose every time she tried to drag to me off wherever she pleased.

But, for everything she lacked in her desired show heifer disposition, she more than made up for as a cow. Lacy was a steer maker, and I believe she only had one or two heifers during the roughly 12 years she was in my cowherd. She didn't just raise any ol' steer either, she raised good ones. The people I bought her from were carcass oriented in their program, and her offspring excelled that way. I attempted to show one of her calves as a market steer, but he too lacked the show steer disposition. We ended up having him butchered, and the butcher asked all about him and complimented the carcass extensively. That's high praise if you're a rancher.
Other things I remember about Lacy is that she could flat out walk just about any other cow on our place, and was sneaky. You had to watch her on every gather, but she always had her calf with her. And, while I could always catch, scratch and feed cake to Sassy, it was a rare day to be able to even give Lacy a piece of cake when she was a cow. She was a harder keeping cow, but was always bred and always raised a calf that was among the best each year.
It may not sound like it from this post, but I really appreciate this cow. She was another foundation member of my herd, and she did a lot of good things for me by raising all those good steers. Plus, regardless of her quirks, there is a unique bond when you show an animal, especially when you're young. I loved her.
Just like with Sassy, she eventually got old and lost her teeth and couldn't keep herself in good enough condition. Her gate slowed and her calves started reflecting her age.When the time came I sold my first two cows the same fall, and that was very hard. But, I cared enough for them and what they did for me to do the humane thing and not allow them to suffer through old age in the harsh environment our ranch is located in.