Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Rocky Point fall gather

 Way back on Oct. 20, we converged on the WY/MT border for our annual fall gather/wean/work calves/ship home day at the Rocky Point Grazing Association.

The weather was beautiful, the calves were big, the cows were showing that the grass was gone. It was time to head home for the winter.

 The cows were in agreement.

 The corrals were muddy for our 4-way sort - my dad's cow, my uncle's cows, my dad's calves, my uncles calves. Momma H snapped this photo of almost the entire crew.

Oh, and my sibling's cattle too, including this heifer of my sister's, which has been a crowd favorite all year. 
My dad's trucks arrived, and we loaded his calves.

Then we vaccinated my uncle's calves to help keep them healthy as they adjust to life without mama around. They were also poured to keep any bugs from bothering them over the winter months.

It didn't bother them much.

Then, the second round of trucks arrived and we loaded my uncle's calves.

Home they go. The cows are left for 3-4 days to wean, then also hauled home for the winter.

Just when we thought the day was over, excitingly enough the axle broke on our trailer. But, we happened to have a few experts on hand, and another horse trailer we could put our horses in. While we arrived home later than planned, we all made it safe and sound. I am also happy to report my parent's were able to trade this trailer off for a new one - their second new "vehicle" purchase in almost 30 years of marriage. I'm thrilled for them, but never miss a chance to tease them about all the improvements that happen after the kids leave.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Highs and Lows

One month ago tomorrow is the day the Atlas blizzard began. While many have moved beyond it, those in my community continue to deal with it daily. It has been a bittersweet mix of highs and lows, and there is much to share with all of you.
First is my refreshed faith in humanity. I cannot believe the human kindness, outreach, concern, help and fortitude shown by people I know and have never met. Just today I am finishing an article for Tri-State Livestock News detailing the group Heifers for South Dakota's first donation of 20 head of bred cattle and 3 replacement-quality heifer calves to a young family who suffered a tremendous loss following the storm. This donation will likely be the tipping point that allows them to stay in the ranching business, and to hear the stories of all involved would warm anyone's heart.
There are also the ladies of my hometown, who are working to make Christmas baskets and get people to "adopt" impacted families to help them have a wonderful holiday season. They are meeting tonight to work out details and have been asking me daily for information to help them.
The random people who have emailed asking if I know a young person who lost a horse and would like a 4-H project, or who know of church groups looking to help or donate funds are another outstanding example of the true caliber of people and presence of God in rural America today.
I would also like to share that when the cards all fell, we were extremely blessed to not lose a single calf. Not only that, but they tipped the scales at 622 on sale day and brought an astounding price, knocking our recovery period down from a decade to (hopefully) closer to about five years.
However, the weight of those lost is still heavy on hearts. Everyone deals with such losses differently, and I seem to struggle daily with the loss of my husband and I's cattle, and especially my two cows.
One was the last calf of my first 4-H heifer, Sassy. I bought that 4-H heifer at 8-years-old from the family ranch, and my cow that died had over 100 years of Hamilton breeding behind her. Then there is the fact that her only daughter, and the last cow in that string of cattle, looks to be open. While I pray looks are deceiving in this case, I am also struggling to prepare myself to deal with what may be the end of the line of cows that started me in the business. I never imagined I would not have a cow that went back to Sassy, and now in the space of four months it appears that is not only a possibility, but likely a soon-to-be reality.
Trying to get caught up has been another constant struggle. Major weather events take time to recover from. There are still tree limbs to remove from fences, deceased cattle in one of our pastures too muddy to travel in, a lot of fence to fix, meetings to attend regarding the blizzard, paperwork and phone calls to make, all mixed in with the usual fall workload. While we're making headway, there is still so much to do that it can be overwhelming at times.
But, day after tomorrow marks my husband and I's four month anniversary. Yes, you count and celebrate months when your marriage starts out like ours has. And, while if we had it all to do over again we might have left my cows in Wyoming for the summer, other than that we are both so grateful to be married and have each other as we go through all these challenges.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Atlas Blizzard in photos

A week ago we were dealing with the images below firsthand. Tuesday was the day of riding, searching, counting the living and tallying the dead. It was awful. One week later we are doing better. The initial emotional shock is wearing off, my husband and I are both holding colds fairly at bay and everyone is making headway toward recovering from this disaster, with full knowledge that we still have a long road ahead of us.

 One of my husband's cows that didn't make it as well as a couple calves belonging to a neighbor. Beyond them are some of the cattle that survived the storm.

 The scene on the fence line to the pasture our cattle were in prior to the storm. The majority of these animals are not ours, and our living cattle can be seen trailing up the road and back to their pasture. There is one of my cows in this area though, dead because she would not crawl through the fence with the rest of our herd.

 Everyone helped everyone, and shown are some of our neighbor's calves, which we put with our cattle and fed this week. The poor guy crawling through the fence was not all there mentally after his experience in the storm.

 My sister-in-law and I rode in search of our yearling heifers, counting and trailing everyone we found back home. These got out when a power line pole fell on the fence and they drifted over it. As you can see the ground didn't freeze and dealing with the deep mud was a big problem in getting around to check on animals, as was the deep snow on top of the mud.

The guilty power line pole. If not for it, we may not have lost any yearlings. Or, what we did lose may have been in a pile on this fence along with all you see alive in this picture.

This heifer was alone, stuck in the corner of a pasture by a winding creek filled with snow. Every time we drove her out to this corner, she headed back into the trees to stand in the same spot on the creek bank.

When my sister-in-law finally got off her horse to walk the heifer out, she found the reason behind her returning to the same location. All her buddies, and our missing count, were in the bottom of the creek.
This is a heifer we found buried in snow, but still alive! She is basically sitting on her butt, to give you an idea of how deep the snow was in this location.

These were not as fortunate.

 The gardener snake we also found partially buried, but alive.

 My father-in-law headed to the trees and creek where the buried alive heifer was located to help pull her out. Then she was carried in the tractor bucket to higher, dryer ground and propped up against a hay bale.

Carefully loading her up.

 My parents brought their feed pickup. loaded with food, water, a generator and a 4-wheeler, and helped us for two days. We are so blessed to have such amazing parents and families!

 Me, taking pictures for insurance and work purposes. This is next to the creek where our missing yearling heifers were found, including the one still alive.

At the end of the day, we were all worn out, including my sister-in-law and I, but it helped knowing for ourselves where we stood, what shape the livestock were in, and being able to move beyond the worry and concern of not knowing.
For those interested in learning more about the blizzard, who have questions regarding why we lost so many cattle, or who want to contribute toward helping those impacted, here are some additional links.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Facing the Atlas Blizzard

My family is among the western South Dakota ranchers who were directly in the path of winter storm Atlas. While many have heard there was a storm, many have not heard about the devastating loss of livestock, despite ranchers taking every precaution to prevent sickness and death.
This is our Katrina, our Sandy, our extremely rare and deadly tornado. The western plains are dotted with dead animals, some of them my own. Our lifestyle makes us independent, self sufficient people, and while we may not look it on the outside, we are crippled and heartbroken on the inside. This natural disaster has torn people's lives and livelihoods apart.
I cannot fully explain the feelings mixed within me that were almost physically sickening as my family and I rode in the blizzard's aftermath, searching for live cattle and identifying the dead. I did cover some aspects in a firsthand account I wrote for BEEF Magazine that can be read here.
Our animals, both those that lived and those that did not, are our pride and joy, what we have invested our entire financial means into, and what we have happily chosen to spend all our years caring for. There were countless tears as we worked to even make it to our cattle to see how they fared the storm, and many more as we worked through the heartbreaking process of finding animals that didn't survive, and still more here and there as we continue picking up the pieces and working to get past the initial shock, emotional and physical exhaustion so that we can continue to care our cattle that survived.
The thing that is shocking me most is the backlash of people blaming the ranchers, blaming me, for these losses. I cannot comprehend there being a separation between ranchers and animal lovers, as to me they are synonymous, but many feel those two words are on opposite ends of the spectrum. This is not true.
Shame on you for sitting behind the anonymity of a computer screen, in the comfort of your home or business, and slamming me, my friends and my neighbors who are too busy working through this natural disaster to take the time to reply to you, because we are out physically caring for our animals and those belonging to anyone else we happen to find.
I have yet to see one self proclaimed animal lover/hater of ranchers here physically helping and contributing to the welfare of animals, looking us in the eye, and knowing for themselves if their claims against us are justified or misguided.
Just as it is impossible to understand the aftermath of something like Katrina or Sandy, it is also impossible to understand how this natural disaster played out if you weren't front and center for it. My family, and all the people around us, did everything we ever learned in the course of multiple lifetimes in this business to prepare our cattle for the storm. Myself and my friends and neighbors all understand that an animal's needs are different than a humans in weather related situations, and that was also taken into consideration when determining what to do in preparation.
Many commenters have asked why we didn't have all the cattle in barns. There are a few reasons for this. One is that cattle, like wildlife, have the hair coats, hide and internal organs designed for the outdoors, and almost always survive weather events better in areas of natural protection instead of in barns. Another is that it is unfeasible to have the scale of barn it would require to house entire herds, and a huge barn would prevent the area from growing grass, which the cattle need more than a barn 99.9 percent of the time. A third reason is that while barns provide protection from some weather events, there is also increased concern of trampling or sickness when cattle are grouped that close together for an extended period of time, which is often more deadly than the weather event. Lastly, this being what it was, it didn't matter where the cattle were, and I feel very fortunate mine weren't in or near a barn as that is where many people suffered their greatest losses.
Another complaint I've seen in more than one place is this is just another way for us ranchers to get in line for a bailout, government subsidy, or other form of free money and federal help. Excuse me?! First, I have never, in my life, received any form of livestock related government subsidy and have no reason to believe that will change in light of this storm. Secondly, there is no government bailout that I've heard of. My husband and I had insurance, but were informed it will likely not cover our losses. We, and we alone, are financially responsible for our loss. To be perfectly clear, there is no federal government assistance occurring at all, no red cross, no army corps of engineers, and no money being dolled out to us. That is fine, and I am not complaining, simply setting the record straight on this misunderstanding.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking comment was made on the article I linked to above, where a person said that this was a better death than what the animals would have suffered at the hands of us murderous ranchers who take them to slaughter.
That person is wrong for many reasons. Yes, myself and the other ranchers of the area do raise livestock to provide meat to feed people. I understand that some people don't like or understand that concept, and that is their right. The issue I have is the belief of some that because we raise animals to feed people, those animals must be treated poorly their entire lives. That is not correct. I, and everyone else in the ranching industry invest our lives in providing the best care for our animals that we are physically, financially and emotionally able to do. If you can't comprehend or understand that, it's okay, but it is not okay for you to believe the worst of me and my efforts to provide a better lifestyle for my livestock than I do for myself simply because you don't know one way or the other.
I live in a house older than all the barns, working facilities and vehicles used to feed, work and care for our animals. I got my first pedicure for my wedding because every extra dollar I make goes into animal care. I loved that pedicure, but feel extreme guilt pampering myself instead of buying things like hay to feed our cows in the winter months, heat lamp bulbs to keep baby pigs warm or tires for the pickup we use to feed our cattle all winter, so it's unlikely I'll have another anytime soon. My cattle have the best available healthcare plan that is personalized and paid for out of my pocket, and I have the bones basic Aflac injury insurance plan and that is it. I don't do these things in a bid for sympathy, empathy or to "make it look like I care." I do them because I love my animals, and have the opportunity to make my living caring for them while they're alive. To me that opportunity is one of the greatest gifts God has given me.
However, yes, they will die in order to provide beef, and I am not a vicious person who relishes in that fact. If we could just do things as we wanted, just because, in life, I wouldn't ever have an animal die. But that's not reality, and when an animal does die to provide beef, it is done in such a way that it is instant and painless to the animal. Yes, they die, but they do not suffer, and I say that as someone who has done my own research and watched it happen. Decades of research by top universities and animal welfare individuals have created methods that make sure there is no pain for the animal.
So, to say that the animal was better off slowly freezing to death rather than going through an instantaneous, painless death was not correct in any way. It makes me irate that someone would accuse me of purposely harming and abusing an animal in any way, and especially beyond what mother nature does at her absolute worst.
It's fine if you don't know a lot about cattle, ranching, blizzards, western South Dakota or various other factors that were part of this massive natural disaster. But, that does not give you the right to attack and blame me and my friends and neighbors who are on the ground doing the hard labor picking up the pieces of what generations of our families have dedicated themselves to creating because this turned into a catastrophic weather event that resulted in loss of animals.
We did all we could before and during, and are continuing to do all we can after this storm, just as I'm sure people do when facing any major weather event. No one, not a single person, wanted this to happen, and the feelings of what it is like to look out over land your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents worked their entire lives on, and see it ravaged and dotted with deceased animals you've spent your life caring for is unimaginable.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Taking Responsbility for the Government Shutdown

Our federal government is shut down, thousands are on work furlough, our president is spitting mad, pointing fingers and continuing to blatantly show how under qualified he is to run our nation.
My husband and I are about to sell our calves, which means we will be getting our single livestock related paycheck for the year - the one we pay all our annual bills with. Due to having young rancher loans, my husband has to have the signature of a government worker that has been ordered not to work on his check before he can deposit it. If we cannot deposit that check, we will be unable to make our land, insurance and operating loan payments, along with numerous other smaller payments that are coming due before the end of the year.
We are definitely affected, and I tell you this first so you understand that my opinion is not that of someone who is in no way impacted by this shutdown, but as someone whose home and business are completely in question if things are not rectified in a timely manner.
The thing that makes me maddest is the general public's cry for a fix by Congress, their outrage against the other party, and the general mindset that Congress is solely responsible for this mess and consequently for fixing it.
Who elected Congress? I did, and you did. Without the American voter they would not be in a position to make decisions, or refuse to make decisions. We as citizens are the only reason each and every elected official, at any level of government, has a job/position.
This is our problem. The people responsible for this mess we're in is you and I, for our ignorance, lack of research, and/or refusal to show up and vote. For the general, lazy mindset in this country today that someone should fix it and take care of it for you, and for making Congress the latest responsible party for fixing what we should have fixed as citizens before it ever got to this point.
Now, I'm not saying that every single member of Congress is against working for the people, reaching solid solutions, or that every single American citizen made poor voting decisions. Based on what I've heard and read so far, the members I voted for that were elected are acting in ways I support the majority of the time. I have met with them in person and communicated with them in other ways to let my opinion, as a voting constituent known, in an effort to provide them insight as to what myself and my family, friends and neighbors expect of them.
What this also means is that going forward, we this citizens are responsible for helping to rectify this current mess and prevent a similar one in the future. That is done by knowing the issues, forming an opinion based on facts, communicating with your elected officials on your opinion and reasons for it, following future campaigns, and showing up to vote for the person who will work best on behalf of your community, occupation, religious beliefs, money management viewpoints, etc...
It is not accomplished by whining, spouting opinions that are based on nothing, pointing fingers everywhere but at yourself, and electing government officials on their looks, race or social status instead of on their ability to effectively run our country in a way that will make you proud to be an American.
You better believe that as a citizen of a new state I fully intend to do my research and vote as a well informed citizen in the next election, and continue to do my part to bring a stop to the current nonsense happening daily in our nations capital. I hope you will as well.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

They grow so fast

 Growing fast is part of the plan with cattle, and my husband's (and mine too now I suppose) calves have really put on the pounds this summer, making us both very happy. Here are a few photos from last week, after we moved them to fresh pasture.
Much as it pains me to say this out loud, Simmental/Angus crosses may not be that bad : )

It was a little brisk when this guy arrived in early spring!

 Here's the difference between a high percentage Simmental heifer ( on the left), and a high percentage Angus heifer (on the right). My husband just loves the one on the left, while my dad immediately commented on how much he liked the nice head on the one on the right.

 This is most likely an AI calf. My husband AI's his heifers and some of his cows each year.

As you can see, it turned out to be a great grass year in western S.D.
 Which also means an excellent milk year!

 These cows are mostly our first calf heifers and coming three's, in other words the young mothers. They're going to make a positive impact on the cowherd based on the number raising calves like this one. That's baby on the left and momma on the right. Oh, and one of my Wyoming transplants sporting a pink ear tag.

Here are the mothers, or "The Beef Council" as one lady commented on my Double H Facebook page. Hope you've enjoyed a good grass year in your area as well!

Thursday, September 5, 2013


I have started this post numerous times the last couple weeks. I am determined to press "publish" when finished typing this time, overcome my writer's block and get back to blogging.
The first two months of married life have flown by, and have been crazy. No one really told me about the crash landing that occurs when your honeymoon is over. How, about three days after being home, you're exhausted from sharing a bed the size of one you comfortably occupied alone prior to being married. How you have both been able to go to bathroom, start your car, run errands and accomplish countless other everyday tasks just fine for years, even decades, without this new spouse unceasingly telling you how to do every little thing. I naïvely believed we would float on bliss for a couple months at least until we started to deal with this sort of thing. Not so!
Then there are dealing with all the life events that don't stop, slow down, or have any consideration at all to the fact that you have been slammed into a whole new world, feel permanently separated from anything resembling a comfort zone, and are not finding anything lie is throwing at you the least bit amusing.
When your life involves being responsible for hundreds of other living things, all the feed to keep them full and happy during the upcoming winter and a return on investment ratio that would make a "real" businessman run for the hills, and when you're both use to being in charge of the day to day operations of such a place, it adds a whole new level to the adjustment period and the stress included in building the foundation of a strong marriage.
This has been our life for the last two months. We are incredibly happy one moment, and ready to attack the other with the closest blunt object the next (I mean that figuratively for the most part). We're completely worn out, very much still in love, determined to make this work in a way that includes us both getting some sleep, and actually starting to make a little headway some days.
We've discussed all this, and both believed, again naïvely, that seeing as how we are both responsible adults who maintain super busy schedules and multiple businesses, that blending our lives together would go fairly well. Oh I'm sure God got a good chuckle out of that thought.
Truth is, he has presented us with challenges right out of the gate that would be incredibly difficult at any point in life for one or the other, or both, of us to deal with right. For example, we had pinkeye sweep through our cows not once, but twice this summer. Every one of my cows but one has had it so far, and that was devastating to me. Seeing an animal, my animal especially, hurting or otherwise unhealthy or unhappy will put me in the worst mood, and has been very hard at times.
There have been other serious animal and crop issues. Our house was a complete disaster for well over a month after moving my stuff here, and you really did not want to attempt a trip through to the bathroom in the dark if you valued your toes. We have had multiple vehicle issues and breakdowns, I missed recording a couple checks in my register at one point (you can imagine the rest) and a raccoon pooped on the roof of my car!
But, through it all we have been working steadily on building the cornerstone of our relationship with Christ, as the man who married us explained was so important prior to and during our wedding. We feel stronger as a couple, are getting much better at running full-tilt with little to no sleep and have worked some things into our routine to make it easier for both of us. We've started to learned how to compromise, to enjoy the fact that we both love our lifestyle and have all these ideas on how things should be done, and to realize how much the other is trying to make this go as well as possible.
We're to the point where we very cautiously say "bring it on" with tired determination and a sincere hope it won't be brought on right away.
I can't wait to share it with you, as soon as I get my camera repaired and the memory card with everything from the last few weeks and our honeymoon on it to a tech person so they can hopefully recover all the images. I wasn't kidding when I said we were hit with challenges from every direction.
Here's to starting month three of marriage, farming, ranching and writing in Western South Dakota.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

One Month Down

 Today is the one month mark for my husband and I. We are happy, completely exhausted, busy and did I mention worn out? Our wedding day was beyond perfect, and we loved and enjoyed every minute. Our honeymoon consisted of more than 1,500 miles in 6 days and we had a blast. Upon our return home, the honeymoon immediately ended, and we've been scrambling ever since. We also snapped a few photos along the way...

Flaming Gorge Reservoir. One of three reservoirs we checked out on the first two days of our honeymoon. This one offers tours every 30 minutes too! But, alas, no sooner did we make it through security for our tour than a lightning strike was spotted, which puts a halt to tours for half an hour. Considering that we had a lot of miles to cover and it looked like a storm was brewing, we sadly left without seeing things up close.

Jackson Hole. We spent a day and a half walking around Jackson, enjoying dinner and a live show at the Jackson Theater, eating at the Two Merry Piglets, and loving a 13 miles scenic float down the Snake River. I wanted to do a white water rafting trip, but my husband turned green at the mere mention, so this was our compromise. Considering I got this picture on the scenic float, it was worth it!

 Yellowstone National Park. This is actually two miles south of Yellowstone, where we stayed in a cabin with a back porch, complete with two rocking chairs and this view. While in Yellowstone, we checked out Yellowstone Lake, the famous Yellowstone Falls, Old Faithful and various other sites. Wildlife count included buffalo, a grizzly bear, elk and deer.

Montana. From Yellowstone we stayed in Cooke City, then went over 11,000 feet up, up, up over a pass on our way to Red Lodge. It was a gorgeous drive. From there we drove along the Yellowstone River and checked out the crops (I did marry a farmer/rancher). This hay picture was taken just north of Alzada, where it appears they are having an excellent hay year.
From Montana we came home, excited to dive into married life together.

 Our first task was dealing with the pinkeye epidemic that swept through our pairs in the week we were gone. Almost all of my cows, several of his and over half the calves were infected. And, for those that don't believe in antibiotic use in livestock, treating problems like pinkeye with antibiotics is not the easy, lazy way out, it's the more time consuming, right thing to do for the animal. We spent an entire day setting up corrals, gathering and trailing in a herd half blind, running each infected animal through the chute, and treating them with a combination of penicillin (to treat the issue) and dexamethasone (to speed up the penicillin's efficacy). We gave the shot in the vein running through the eyelid, because that location ensures the treatment is right where it needs to be (the eye). My sister-in-law, who works for two vets, and her husband were kind enough to help us figure out the best treatment, and help us administer the shots. We also poured everyone for flies, since they are the main carriers of the disease. I am happy to report our treatment was highly effective, and the last two times we've checked, everyone is doing much better and well on the way to recovery. If we hadn't treated with antibiotics, most of my cows and over half our calf crop would be blind for life, which would severely limit their ability to eat, drink, maintain a healthy weight and survive in the large pastures they call home.

Then there were the crops, which ripened in our absence. We checked everything and my husband kept a close eye on them until it was determined the time had come to harvest.
 So, much like spring and fall cattle work, the entire family converged on our fields, making sure the harvest happened in a timely fashion. Here is my father-in-law, racing against a rain storm to finish the first wheat field. A couple crops did get rained on in the truck, and now we are shuffling hot, moist grain back and forth in an effort to dry it.

 Then there was the hog trip. We had to make an overnight trip to get a few extra hogs to fill all our orders because our wonderful customer's orders exceeded our supply. I was driving down the interstate at 80 mph with an empty trailer on our way to Southeastern South Dakota, a 6 hour drive one-way, when the transmission went out of my husband's pickup. I got pulled over to the side of the interstate and slowed down to about 20 mph before everything locked up and lurched us to a stop, barely over the white line.
We called one sister-in-law and she headed our way to help tow us off the road and make a plan. Then, about an hour into waiting and after taking the driveline off, and managing to get the rig a little further off the road with me holding in the clutch and steering while my husband pushed (we were stopped on a hill), my second sister-in-law and her family drove by on their way to a ranch rodeo and helped get us towed off the interstate.
Not to be deterred, we eventually got another pickup hooked to our rig and continued on, arriving at our destination three hours later than planned. We loaded and were home at 3 a.m., then were up and back on the same stretch of road the following morning by 8 a.m. to retrieve our pickup and one sister-in-law that loaned us hers.
But, we did get the hogs, and a new boar. So, it was successful.
There has also been a trip to Wyoming to move me to South Dakota, and as I type this my house is a complete disaster of piles you could lose a small child in. But, thanks to lots of help from both sides of the family in between all these other events, the house is much cleaner and more organized than it was a few days ago.
Did I mention my husband is also the President of the Fair Board, and I am now judging the livestock show and the 4-H photography show next week in addition to starting back up with my writing?
I'm sure you get the point that we have been a little bombarded in our first month of marriage. But there have also been a plethora of blessings mixed in with the trials. For example, my husband has an unlimited miles powertrain warranty on his pickup until January 2014, so everything should be fixed for $100, which is his deductible. We also managed to purchase a very affordable, high quality boar that we hadn't planned on being able to swing right now, and need to keep up with our growing number of sows.
We are very blessed, and keep reminding ourselves and each other that without all our blessings we wouldn't have had to face any of the trials of the last month. Here's to one month down and hundreds more to come!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Wedding planning, lessons learned

My wedding is fast approaching in 9 days, and I feel both ready and as if there are still a million things to do. This will likely be my last post for a while, so please bear with me until late July or August, when I will be moved, finished writing thank-you's, sleeping regular hours, caught up editing pictures and back to a schedule of some sorts.
In the meantime, and before the wedding day arrives and this all fades into the past, I want to share some of the things I learned during this process. The nitty gritty, drove me crazy or went especially well things. Maybe they'll help you keep your sanity when planning a wedding or other large event some day.
1. Register, even if you don't need anything. Register at a store where you do need a few things, so that you can return unnecessary gifts and put the difference toward something you will use. We did not register because my groom lives in a house previously occupied by his grandparents, and I also lived alone before returning to the ranch. This means we have duplicates or triplicates of just about every kitchen item and about 65 towels. What we do not have between the two of us are new (or even close to new) appliances. Plus, his house is an older home, which means it could use some updating in places. So, we said gifts weren't expected, but if anyone wanted to purchase something for us, gift cards to home improvement stores would be greatly appreciated.
Then, to add to the fire that the no gift announcement sparked with certain invitees, I had a coffee themed shower. Instead of the traditional kitchenware gifts, we asked for recipes and something coffee related, because again, I already have three sets of measuring cups, a stack of pot holders, and so on.
Some people were thrilled with the idea of something different. Some were not. The standard response of the not thrilled folks was they were buying us towels because it was ridiculous to buy someone something like coffee for a shower gift, and we never let them know what we really needed.
So, I reiterate, unless you want to have multiple conversations with the people sporting this attitude, and an even bigger pile of towels, just register. I finally did register prior to the shower and let all the people who were asking know, and not one item has been purchased off the registry, so I'm not sure if it's a solution to these people, but at least it allows you to nicely say you have a registry with a variety of options on it.
2. Everyone doesn't need an answer immediately. While I am very blessed to have a lot of willing and talented people helping me with my wedding, they all have questions, concerns, ideas and thoughts they want to run by me, the bride. There are about a dozen of them, and one of me. My computer literally receives messages almost non-stop, and this is probably due in part to there being no cell phone service where I live. But, whenever I get into service, I usually have a slew of texts and calls about wedding related stuff as well. While it's great that so many people want to help, it can be overwhelming too. To keep up, with both my daily tasks and the questions, I finally stopped replying to everyone immediately, realizing it was the only thing I was going to get done. Now I try to sit down a couple mornings a week and answer wedding related stuff for an hour or so, then get back to my other tasks. Giving everyone the time and attention they need is important when they're helping make your big day perfect, but it can't be at the expense of everything else you have to get done.
3. Try on dresses at more than one store if that store doesn't come highly recommended. I tried on, and subsequently purchased, my dress at a newer David's Bridal store. I just walked in to make an appointment and the store was empty so they let me try on dresses for 2 hours. I came back for a second visit and found my dress. The sales people were fantastic. But, from that point on it has not exactly been smooth sailing. The people have all remained friendly, professional and easy to work with, but I deal with a new person every time I go in. Their suggestion for making my slip fit under my dress was to fold it over, as in they would not alter it. Then, when I went in for my final dress fitting and pickup in mid-June, they had messed up my alterations - alterations that ended up costing double what they quoted me. Fortunately it was just too long and consequently the bustle also didn't work. Again, the guy, yes guy, I dealt with that time was great, but the result is I have to drive 3 hours one way the Wednesday before my wedding for a second final dress fitting.
4. People will come and people will go. There will be people you like and that mean a lot to you and/or the groom that simply will not come, with no good reason for missing your big event. There will be other people who mean a lot to you who will not be able to come for good reason, and who will let you know. There will be people who will rearrange their entire year, drive hundreds of miles, and show up early just to help and be there for you. It's a series of highs and lows as you realize who you mean a lot to and who you don't, and you will be able to tell the difference. Be prepared for a few stings and a few elated moments as folks call to let you know why they won't be able to attend, or that they wouldn't miss it for the world.

Those are some of the biggies we've encountered while planning our big day. At this point we're both really excited to wrap up the planning, be married, enjoy our reception, and leave for a week on our honeymoon.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sorting pairs

All photos courtesy of Mama H, who was riding the 4-wheeler and photographing this task for me to share on here : )
We sorted and shipped the last two loads of pairs to summer pasture yesterday. What always precedes shipping pairs is the task of sorting pairs, and we did that on Saturday. Since these were the last two loads, we gathered the entire pasture, which is 3 miles long and 1/5 miles wide, and sorted everything.
Sorting pairs means sorting out each cow with her baby, and putting them somewhere else. We usually put them through a gate into a new pasture. One pair is one cow and calf that are mother and child. The idea behind sorting pairs is that by doing it successfully you will have everyone matched up when you load them on the trucks headed to summer pasture. It's 200 miles to our summer pasture, and if the wrong cow or calf ends up 200 miles from home, it's a big task to get them matched back up, and you might not get it accomplished. You don't just gather a bunch of cows and calves that you haven't sorted out of a big pasture, load them up and ship them out.
We also sort out any calves that haven't been branded yet, and make sure they don't make the trip. The calves are usually too small still, and you don't want to ship a slick calf 200 miles away without any way for someone to know who it belongs to. He could get lost or stolen very easily.
While we make every effort to get this perfect, it doesn't always happen that way. Cows are like people in that some are super good mothers and you can tell right away which calf is hers. Others still aren't sure they even have a kid "at home", and really don't care what he does, who he hangs out with or what time he gets home. But, we do our best, and it's rare to have a mismatched pair. It's the second type that causes us to scratch our heads sometimes, but we have a trick up our sleeves for them that I'll cover later in the post.

 We started with the gather, which went relatively fast with a 4-wheeler, motorcycle, and three people horseback. The motorized people can do the big circle and check the far corners, and the people horseback can gather the rougher areas of the pasture and start trailing everything to the south end. We really like to use a combination of the two on our place for those reasons.

 Here are those of us horseback, which included my brother's girlfriend, my dad and myself. We had a nice, cool day with a roaring wind for the job. A lot of the time we sort pairs with just two people horseback, or three of us horseback and one person on a 4-wheeler. My brother's girlfriend was a nice added bonus on this day.

 When we reached the south end we stopped the cows on one of two big flats along the fence line near a gate. We hold them in a fairly loose bunch, not letting any get away but providing enough room they can (hopefully) keep their calf with them. This is my brother guarding the back side of the bunch.

Here are my dad and I on the front side, both guarding the gate and sorting pairs. My brother's girlfriend is just to the left of the photo, preventing the cows from heading back north across the pasture instead of through the open gate, into a new pasture without anything in it before we started sorting.

Above is my dad making a sweep, where he rides a little way into the herd, turns and sweeps the cows out and toward the gate. This will usually result in those that are paired trailing out.

 Here I am behind him. On this pass we only got one. You can see how she is trailing out and the others that aren't paired have stopped to look for their calf or mom.

Here's a bigger group, four pair at once this time. We also try to do this in a calm fashion. If you go super fast and get everything stirred up, pretty soon no one can find their calf, everyone is upset, and it doesn't go well at all. It's a lot easier on the livestock and us if do things at a slower pace, plus it's faster when you look at the time it took to complete the entire task.

 You never want to let anyone through the gate unless you're sure they belong together. But, sometimes things happen, like a calf misses the gate and goes back down the wrong side of the fence. In that case you have to go get the cow and bring her back to get her calf again. That's what happened here.

 She knew she didn't have her calf, and jogged right back through the gate to go gather him up. It doesn't always go like this. Sometimes the cow just decides to leave, and you have to convince her to come back. That's when you want to be on a good horse.

But this was a good cow. Dad had her calf stopped, and she mooed at him and off they went again, together.

 Everyone has to work well together for a sorting to go well - both horses and people. This is a more technical ranch job in my opinion. Between keeping the cows grouped, but not too tight, making sure only pairs go through the gate, keeping a count on how many pairs you've sorted, being calm but able to run down a cow who has suddenly decided she's had enough and is leaving, then slowing right back down and go back to sorting, and being able to move to wherever you're needed to accomplish all these things in tandem requires everyone work together.

 Both made it through the gate the second time.

 Then, when we get toward the end, and down to those cows who don't have a clue or care in the world, we unleash "The Crackin." Ok, just kidding, his name is Mister, and this is him and my sister sitting in a low spot. Her job while sorting is to hold him on a leash until he's needed. Sometimes she sits on the 4-wheeler with him, but this was her spot of choice on Saturday.
If you're a mom, and you're in the grocery store, and there's a creepy, dirty guy that keeps eyeing you and your kids, you probably have them all lined up, accounted for and in your sight. Mister is the creepy dirty guy to a bunch of mother cows. He instills bellering, slobbering, chasing after him, and typically a much increased awareness of where a cow's calf is. The cows that don't care are usually much less dramatic in their response to him compared to the cows that do care, much like there are usually still a few screaming kids reaching by the creepy guy to get their favorite sugared cereal while the mom aimlessly looks at pop tarts across the aisle. But he still has some impact, enough on this day.
He helped convince the last few, at least for a few minutes at least, that junior wasn't yet of an age where he could do as he pleased and we got them sorted and through the gate.

When the last few went through the gate, we convened for a brief meeting of how many additional pairs we needed from the next pasture to get the correct number to fill our loads, trailed the slick calves and their moms to where they belonged, and continued on with our day.
Sorting pairs with his family has always been one of my dad's favorite jobs. There are big blow ups (with cows) and mad chases that last a matter of seconds, smooth cuts to bring out a big group that's paired, satisfying cuts and dodges on a horse that finally got it figured out, and a good feeling of having accomplished the task together as a family.