Saturday, March 23, 2013

Calves and Snow

 As we wrap up National Ag Week, here is a sampling of the photos I took last week at my fiancee's, where it snowed without any wind! Be prepared for lots of cute calf pictures  : )

It takes a great man to extend chore time by almost double because I was constantly asking him to stop, back up, let me out, hold on before tagging that calf, wait a minute, etc... and be okay with it.  I've got a good one!

I'm also linking this post up with The View From Right Here's Rurality Blog Hop!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My Favorite Things

Guess what came to feed this morning?! Yep, the first three beautiful, feisty baby calves of 2013. Here comes one with his mom to check things out. Seeing the baby calves of spring is among my favorite things in life. Having three of them to oooh and aaahh over today was a perfect way to celebrate what is a big holiday in my world: National Ag Day. While I have a jam packed day of ag-related tasks that run the gamete from writing about the industry to feeding the cows that comprise it, I wanted to take a few minutes and share a few of my favorite things about agriculture with you in honor of this holiday. I have been trying to narrow them down in my head, so this post doesn't turn into a novel - we'll see how I do.

I love cows. From feeding them to working them to breeding them to excel and be among  the best there are, I have what will be a lifelong fascination with raising exceptional cattle. From watching them trail into feed in the winter and mentally listing the traits they excel at, and what needs done to make them better, to marketing them and watching them exceed your expectations, to days like today, when over a year's worth of work sees its reward in the first new life of the year, there is an unending array of tasks and rewards involved in cattle production that is a key part of my family and I's happiness.

The land. When you're raised on a place, personally involved in improving and upgrading it, and especially when you know what those before you sacrificed, and that they worked harder than you'll ever have to work to give you the chance to have it someday, the land gets in your blood. I have helped build miles of fence that is close to perfect in post and wire spacing, put in numerous tanks and miles of pipeline to provide water and improve grazing, rebuilt corrals after the freshly weaned calves tore them down, bogged a horse down in a snowbank, saved numerous newborn calves lives and watched mother nature at her gentlest and most destructive on this land. You can't buy that, and while it would probably be easier in many ways if the emotional attachment wasn't there from a management standpoint, it's the connection to the land that makes us so good at what we do in many ways.

I love my family. I have the best family out there, and I hope all of you can say that with equal sincerity. They are God fearing, honest, hardworking people who lead by example and do a good job of it. They're perfectionists, and doing a mediocre job because of some excuse like it's a fence no one will see hasn't ever flown, or even flapped its wings, around here. They raised my generation to be nice, sincere and fair, to work hard and help people, to stand up for what we believe in and that no one can take our education away from us. They pray at every meal, and among my favorites is thanking God for putting us so close to his creation and giving us a job on earth that we love so much. It is often said in the middle of a pasture or corral, when we're covered in dust or mud, manure and grime, and it is said from the bottom of our hearts.

The people. In addition to my family, I also get to make my living writing for the people in agriculture. I meet new folks in this industry almost daily on the phone or via email, and they don't come any better. I've interviewed people while feeding cattle, calving heifers, and while stopped along the side of the road while shipping cattle, and have had the folks I'm interviewing take the time to talk to me in many of the same situations. I've sat at tables that hosted famous politicians, celebrities and outlaws, talked to families that can trace their history farther back that you know what to do with, and have been welcomed by all. They are the most gracious people I interview, and almost every one will go above and beyond what I'm asking about to make sure that this reporter that called understands the big picture in relation to whatever specific topic I called for. I love that.

I love the work. I love having the sun rise while driving or riding to gather cows, and I love that it doesn't happen that way every day. I love riding great horses, building good fence, watching it rain and the grass grow, completing annual tasks and having it go smoothly, seeing animals born, caring for an animal and having it make a full recovery, and writing about all the things that make this industry what it is. Even better is that sense of exhausted accomplishment that follows a day spent branding big calves, sheering ewes, installing a tank and watching it fill with no leaks, or riding all day and having your equally exhausted horse step out and stop that cow before she cuts back when you're almost to the barn. Agriculture work is hard work, but it's also the best work.

This is just a glimpse into what I love about this huge, diverse industry that ultimately feeds the world, which is another big perk of the job I do. I am very, very blessed, and very thankful to be a part of the ranching and agriculture industry. Happy National Ag Day!

If you would like to know more about agriculture in my home state, click on this link to get started.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wedding Details, Part 1

Thank you to everyone who left such nice comments and sent emails after I posted about getting engaged! Many of you also asked for wedding details, and I am here to share a few with you today.

First up, the date and location. We will be getting married on July 6, 2013. The ceremony will be on my parent's ranch, with just family in attendance, which means about 40 people. In addition to all the other reasons to pray for rain, I would also really like some so it's nice and green and beautiful for the wedding!

A reception will immediately follow, as soon as we can make the one hour drive, in the beef barn on the fairgrounds in my hometown. The beef barn is a great wooden quonset hut with a cement floor and big doors at either end that we can open for a breeze if it's warm, and it most likely will be. It seems a very fitting location for us, as we were both very active in showing cattle growing up, and this same barn is where I spent 11 fairs housing my 4-H beef projects as a kid.

The preacher. We are very blessed to have found a man who grew up on a ranch in Wyoming, and who takes marrying a couple very seriously. I really appreciate that he wants to make sure God is at the center of the whole affair, after all God is the most important guest and part of joining two people in marriage, and that he understands and lives the same lifestyle we do. Beyond that, his personality is great, he has a fun family who I hope can attend with him, and I'm thankful that he wants to meet with us a few times prior to the actual wedding.

The photographer. This was a biggie to me, surprise surprise. It was also a big surprise to find out that two other Wyoming photographers are getting married the same day. One of which is a friend of mine, and one of which would have probably been my first choice for a photographer. After learning this, then scouring our (I scoured, he listened to me as I scoured) possibilities, we made a decision.

Three weeks and a couple emails later, I still hadn't received a contract, so I freaked out, scoured more, found someone really good and available, and booked her, at which point the first photographer finally emailed me a contract. I felt really bad, as the first person is someone I am acquainted with, and I really hate having to let someone know that I'm no longer using their services, even if is because of no fault on my part. I still feel bad. I'm also convinced that the new photographer probably thinks I'm a complete basket case because I've changed my mind about four times on what package I want. To blow the budget or not....yes, no, yes, no. This has been my mind the last week Today I finally reached a compromise, and kept things within the original photography budget. Hopefully we can get a contract signed in the next couple days and the whole photographer thing wrapped up until the big day!

So there you have it. There have been countless other ideas, decisions and changes in the last couple months, and I'll be sure to post an update from time to time. There are a lot of things that I want to wait to show you until I can include a photo or two (the dress, meal, decorations...), so those may not show up until afterward.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Calf Adoption Services

This little guy showed up yesterday at my fiancee's place, but unlike most of the calves, he wasn't born here. He was born at the neighbor's, but his mom didn't make it through having him. When that happens, the rancher bottle feeds the calf and cares for it, unless or until a surrogate mother can be found.
The surrogate mother ended up being one of my fiancee's cows, who lost her calf to unknown causes day before yesterday. The idea was to put the calf without a mother with the cow who lost her calf, and create an adopted pair. This process is called grafting in the ranching world.
If a cow loses her calf, there is a brief window of time consisting of a couple days when you can graft another calf onto her. After those few days, she will quit milking, and be unable to raise the calf. Grafting calves onto cows who lose their own baby is sometimes a huge challenge, but usually worth it because it keeps the cow in production.
At our house, if a cow doesn't raise a calf, for any reason, she is sold. Whenever possible, we put in the effort to get a cow another calf if hers doesn't make it, assuming there is another calf who either lost its mother, or who was a twin, somewhere nearby. This also eliminates the chore of bottle feeding a calf multiple times a day, and the calf does better on a cow than on a bottle. If it all works, grafting a calf is a win/win result of whatever circumstances resulted in an extra cow or calf being around during calving season.

 As I mentioned, a successful graft can be a big challenge. A mother cow will bond with her own baby at birth, and trying to get her to accept a different one can be tough, to say the least. Ranchers try a variety of tactics to help get the cow to accept her adopted baby, sometimes with great success, and sometimes with complete failure. A cow and calf can accept each other almost immediately and love one another as if they were biologically related. Or, sometimes a cow will feed a grafted calf, but never really care about it as she would her own. Sometimes it just doesn't work at all and she will kick the calf off continuously until the rancher gives up.
In this instance, the cow is really nice, and desperately wants a baby of her own. Being able to walk around a little pen like this while grafting is rare at my house, but my fiancee said is fairly common at his.
The trouble with this draft is the baby calf has been bottle fed since birth, so he sees a human as his parent and food source. He was perfectly content to suck on fingers, and had no idea what that big black thing was in the pen with him.

 My fiancee worked at getting him to check out the cow.

 The cow was pretty responsive, and more willing to give it a try than most I've seen.

 The calf was less impressed. He informed us both that his milk came in a white jug with a red rubber nipple, delivered to his pen twice a day, and that he had no idea why we expected him to give this big black thing any of his time.

 The look of exasperation, that you all know and understand if you've ever grafted a calf. To have such a willing cow, and such a simple calf, is kind of backwards, and frustrating. Time to switch plans.

 So, he walked the cow into his single-file alleyway, and brought the friendly and confused calf into tighter quarters to help show him what life was all about.

 He was a little reluctant at first, and wanted to run and buck around the pen until his lunch was delivered.

 But, with a little more one-on-one time, guidance, and proper demonstration, he finally caught on that this whole cow thing might be alright.
How about another round of applause for the cow, too! This would not happen like this at my house, but again, my fiancee has really calm cows. She just stood there, off to the side of the alley, and let my fiancee root around behind her until the little calf was in place. Then she continued to just stand there while the calf figured out that her bag was the source of all things great in a baby calf's world. That is a good cow, and most are not like her. Many of my family's would have taken your head off more then once by now if we tried what he is doing here.

After he got everything figured out, we both stepped back to see how the initial run was going to go. The calf got a drink, and the cow didn't kick him. That's about as good as it gets on the first try when grafting a calf!
This morning, my fiancee had to get the cow back in here before she would let the calf suck, but overall, this is a highly successful pairing so far. If the calf knew about getting his meals from a cow instead of a bottle, they would probably be stuck. But, since he is a little unenlightened on how things work in the real world, he isn't really aggressive.
While two of them will likely take some special care and help for the next week or two, my best guess is that they will get it figured out and get along great.