Oprah’s Ralph Lauren Interview Was … Odd!

I really do like Oprah, and I appreciate soft, feature news as much as anyone. But I found Oprah’s interview aired today with Ralph Lauren on his RRL Ranch outside of Telluride, CO, to be a bit corny.

The ranch landscape is incredibly gorgeous, but how many ranch owners can afford miles and miles of peeled log teak fence?

Lauren has several large hand-painted teepees on his ranch, which are also amazingly beautiful and create an incredible scene against the sharp mountain backdrop. But inside these teepees are fully furnished and better decorated than my home, so how authentic can they really be? The Indians certainly didn’t live like that when they lived in teepees, and, sadly, even today many on the reservations still don’t live in anything nearly that nice.

I also found it odd that Oprah was so awe struck over a working cattle ranch. Oprah has spoken out against beef consumption on more than one occasion during the past 25 seasons of her television show.

And here’s the most absurd part of the actual interview. Oprah’s hardest hitting question to Ralph Lauren was, “Where did the idea for the polo shirt come from?”

Lauren didn’t really answer it other than to say that the polo shirt is a representation of the brand.

Hilarious! Yet I’ll bet this Oprah episode, being one of her last on network television, had more viewers than any hard news program of the day. That’s both odd and sad.

Prodigal Cat Comes Home

Actually, the headline on this post is a bit misleading. It should probably read “Bringing Home Traitor Cat.”

We have to go get Snowball from the neighbors to bring her home. And when we do, George keeps a close eye on her. George wants to play, but Snowball just growls and hisses at him.

That’s because Snowball the cat didn’t come home of her own accord, and she isn’t “wasteful” as is the definition of “prodigal.” Rather, she is a bit of a “Benedict Arnold” cat. She has willfully abandoned the comforts of our home and taken up residence as an outdoor cat living under the neighbor’s deck.

We periodically stop on the county road at the neighbor’s driveway and beckon the usual “Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty!” And almost without fail, Snowball comes walking and meowing towards us. With continued enthusiastic calling we can get her to come to us, and we get her into the vehicle to bring her home.

We did this a few days ago. Once we got her home, she filled her belly with cat food and fresh water and took a long nap on the chair in the living room. Then in the middle of the night she woke my husband with her vocal pleas to be let outside, and she promptly returned to the neighbor’s place.

Snowball was a stray kitten at our county fair shortly after we moved to the country six years ago. After letting Horse Lover drag her around the fairgrounds for the better part of a day with the cat not fleeing, I decided to bring the cat home. And I didn’t even treat her like your average country cat; I let her live in the house complete with cat food, water dish and litter box!

She still snubbed us – although not right away. At first when we let Snowball outside, she would always return later that same day or the next day for sure. But then the dynamics changed around here. Within the first year of Snowball’s life we also added a Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppy to our family. The next year we added a second Corgi puppy. And the year after that we added a baby girl to our life … Busy Toddler … that’s about the time she started extending her outings to weeks, then months, then to only returning when we go get her and bring her home. It got worse when we brought home our second cat, Ginger, shortly thereafter to be renamed George. So I suppose her betrayal shouldn’t entirely be a shock to us.

The truly ironic thing is that the neighbors don’t really want her around, but we can’t get her to stay home! We try not to take her shunning personally, but the fact that she continues to leave sure makes going to get her less of a priority for us.

Unfortunately, Handsome Hubby is getting tired of being woken in the night by a howling cat. He’s also tired of her shedding all over our furniture as she naps, and of her jumping on our countertops searching to satisfy her sweet tooth. She is the first and only cat I’ve known who will eat the sugar off of a powdered donut and leave the rest in tact!

Anyway, Handsome Hubby would really rather we just left Snowball alone at her residence of choice – the neighbor’s place. And we might just have to do that since bringing her home obviously isn’t making much of a difference to her anyway.

On a side note, if I had I been blogging back when we first got Snowball, I probably would have called my middle daughter “Cat Girl” or something similar as she was as crazy about cats at the time as she is about horses now. After attending her first circus, Horse Lover announced that she wanted to be a cat trainer when she grew up, and then decided she wanted to be a cat wizard. That decision hung around for quite some time. She doesn’t appreciate being reminded of that whimsical time of her life, but we sure enjoy remembering her sweet innocence!

HOR$E$ Are Expensive to Keep & Show

Horse Lover shows Sadie on halter in an English class. We also borrowed her attire.

Horse Lover competes on Sadie in a Western riding class. We borrowed saddles for the show.

I made arrangements in June to board our experienced, 19-year-old show horse, Sadie, at a barn where Horse Lover could also take riding lessons. After just four or five weeks of lessons, Sadie was tuned up, and Horse Lover had made significant gains in her horsemanship skills.

I’ve written before about Horse Lover’s lack of opportunity to ride. So this effort was generous on my part, and it meant the world to my daughter.

Horse Lover wanted to leave Sadie at the barn to take lessons much longer, but unfortunately we just couldn’t work that extra expense into our regular family budget.

You see, one thing has become painfully obvious to me as I’ve tried to make Horse Lover’s dream of becoming a seasoned horsewoman a reality – horses are extremely expensive to keep, and are even more expensive to show.

A friend of ours once had a bumper sticker on her SUV that read simply, “HOR$E$.” I now have a complete and total appreciation for the profound and true statement that one-word bumper sticker made.

All winter Horse Lover begged us to take riding lessons. She wanted nothing more than to ride her horse. But with frigid temperatures outside and things like school occupying the bulk of her time inside, we just couldn’t make it happen. There was also the challenge that we still didn’t have a horse trailer to transport the animal, and riding lessons were expensive enough without also having to pay to board the horse.

But somehow as the weather warmed and school let out for summer, we managed to make lessons work for our pre-teen daughter, and she was in heaven. I took her to the barn a few times each week and waited and waited and waited while she learned to brush, halter, bridle, saddle, ride and put away the horse.

As a result of this time (and money) spent, Horse Lover and Sadie earned several blue ribbons at our 4-H county horse show at the end of June, and she is now ready and eager for more riding experiences. So instead of satisfying one of her desires, we simply wetted her appetite, it seems.

While she is no longer incessantly begging us for riding lessons, she is begging us for LOTS of other things including a new western saddle, an English saddle, a horse trailer, an outdoor riding arena, a barn and even a new horse. She’s worried Sadie might be a little too old and too arthritic to lope or gallop.

Just last week we found a used western saddle in good condition in Horse Lover’s size, and we paid $600 for it. She had outgrown the youth saddle she was using and so the need for a saddle was imminent if she was going to continue riding the horse. The other items she wants aren’t needed as urgently, at least not according to Handsome Hubby or myself, and that’s good. Because every one of them would cost considerably more than $600.

As a parent of three, I’m used to buying my kids one thing and then having to buy more to go with it. Think Nintendo DS, iPod or even small toys like the Littlest Pet Shops. Each item requires additional game cartridges, headphones and cases or houses and additional animals.

I did a quick count just the other day and Horse Lover has more than 25 cases for Nintendo DS games on her bookshelf. So including the game system, we’ve probably spent almost $1,000 on this system over the past several years. That’s crazy, but it wouldn’t even come close to how much we’ve spent on this horse obsession in just the last few months!

Besides the big-ticket items I’ve already mentioned, we regularly buy feed and fly spray for the horses. We also pay the farrier to trim hooves and the vet for vaccinations.

We have free access to a pen and pasture in which to board the horses right by our house, and we get ample hay from Handsome Hubby’s father and brother on the ranch. I couldn’t imagine having to pay for these items, as well. I can honestly say that if we did, we wouldn’t have horses.

But since we do have the set up and we already have the horses, I’m sure we’ll continue to invest in Horse Lover’s obsession as much as we can. I hope she can be happy with what we are able to do and doesn’t always just want for more.

Our Sheep Are Baaack and Having Babies!

Black-Faced Ewe With Twin Lambs

With everything going on with Sports Girl and her knee surgery and recovery, I haven’t mentioned that our sheep came back to the ranch sometime around the first of the year.

The ewes had spent the last three months of 2009 at my brother- and sister-in-law’s place a few miles away getting bred. And then in the last week or so, they started lambing. Three of our five ewes have had babies so far – and all three have had twins.

Unfortunately, we did lose one lamb just 24 hours after it was born. Cocoa, the mother, was the ewe who lost her first lamb after giving birth in a snow storm last spring; I don’t think she really wanted to deal with two lambs for her mothering experience as I don’t believe she was letting the second lamb nurse at all. By the time we realized this, it was too late to save the poor little thing. Just another sad fact of nature, I guess. My girls didn’t cry, although there was certainly a feeling of sadness hanging over all of us.

So we have five baby lambs frolicking around our sheep pens. And they are really cute. Busy Toddler got the biggest belly laugh out of watching the little lambs when she went down to help feed this afternoon with Handsome Hubby.

My father-in-law has been very busy calving for the past month, as well. The winter weather here hasn’t really been very friendly for newborn calves and sheep, but somehow things are going all right.

In my naïve, younger years, I always pictured tiny baby lambs and calves laying with their mothers on a bed of bright green grass with the sun shining brightly down on them. I suppose that scenario would be more realistic if these critters were born in May rather than February and early March, but that schedule doesn’t work well for us.

My father-in-law calves in February and March so he has more time for farming later in the spring; we have to lamb as early as possible so the babies will be as close to grown/finished as possible when it’s time to show them at the county fair. So our babies have been born amidst snow, sleet, rain, fog and mud. If the critters themselves weren’t so cute, it would be anything but a pretty sight.

We’re still watching the other two ewes, hoping to keep our lamb crop ratio as close to 200 percent as we can. And we’re hoping for warmer, drier weather.

Horse Lover Struggles To Get Time on Horse Back

Horse Lover's passion revealed itself early. Here she is at 3 years of age using our Welsh Corgi as her trusty steed. Note the saddle blanket and lead line. I'm sure she would have had a halter around the dog's nose if she would have allowed it.

Sometimes I think Horse Lover was born into the wrong family. While we do live in the country, and we actually have two horses at our disposal, Horse Lover doesn’t get to ride them near as often as she would like.

Honestly, she hardly ever gets to ride at all. That’s because Handsome Hubby is gone a lot for work, and my horsemanship skills are seriously lacking. Horse Lover actually knows a lot more about horses than I do, but unfortunately horses are just too large and potentially dangerous for a pre-teen to ride without some experienced help and supervision.

Even if Handsome Hubby was around more, I don’t know if Horse Lover would get to ride any more often. Handsome Hubby grew up riding horseback while working cattle, not for leisure. He might not admit it, but he really doesn’t get the intricacies of showing horses in shows or even understand the importance of certain skills such as proper “posting” techniques.

But Handsome Hubby does respect the knowledge Horse Lover has accumulated through reading and watching. He might even admit that Horse Lover may already know more about horsemanship and equitation than he knows.

I’m Not Interested in Horse Back Riding

Meanwhile, I must confess that I really don’t want to add horsemanship to my list of lifetime skills. I feel bad about that sometimes, but I have absolutely no interest in riding horses. That probably makes me a bad parent, but at least I’m honest!

I do feel some pressure to take up horseback riding for my middle daughter’s sake, but I don’t know when I would do it. As the old saying goes, “There are only so many hours in the day,” and I believe I am already trying to cram too many things into those hours.

Thankfully, Horse Lover is somewhat cautious in her horseback riding approach. So we don’t have to worry about her going off and trying to ride horseback without help. Yet her apprehension does have its drawbacks as it keeps her from improving her skills very quickly.

Horse Lover would like to compete in our county 4-H horse show this summer, but she is scared to ride Sadie, our horse with show experience. The horse is well trained, but she likes to test her riders, and she is a bit rusty. Both Horse Lover and Sadie need some training help, but that presents another problem – we don’t have a horse trailer to transport the horse nor do we have the extra hundreds of dollars at our disposal to pay for these services.

Would It Be Easier If We Didn’t Even Have a Horse?

Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier on Horse Lover if we didn’t have a horse at all. Wouldn’t it be easier for her to handle NOT riding if she didn’t even have a horse to ride?

The winter weather has given Handsome Hubby and I a bit of a break from Horse Lover’s pleas for lessons and to ride. After all, even the most dedicated rider can’t get excited about riding in sub-zero temperatures with 40 mph winds and drifting snow. (Did I mention that we don’t have an indoor riding arena, either?)

What Horse Lover lacks in experience, she makes up for in desire. And while I admire her passion and diligence, Handsome Hubby and I may well go crazy when spring arrives and Horse Lover resumes her begging. I’m not sure which will be harder to bear – a long winter with cold, snowy weather or a long spring with a pre-teen daughter persisting to ride her horses. I should know the answer to that question in a few months …

A Tom Cat Named Ginger (Or, Gender Confusion on the Ranch)

Back in August, Busy Toddler and Sports Girl bamboozled Handsome Hubby into adopting a kitten from their cousins. She was a sweet little orange kitten the cousins had already named Ginger.

Tom Cat Named Ginger

George (aka "Ginger") lounges while Busy Toddler starts the day watching cartoons.

Now, this kitty was born and bred as a “ranch” kitty, but that doesn’t mean anything at our house. It was well understood that this would become a house kitten, mostly because we do not have any outbuildings close by that would enable us to officially have “barn” cats. There’s also the issue of our male Welsh Corgi, Archie, who has already successfully chased off one cat, and then there’s the fact that my girls want their pets to be inside, so they can spend more time with the animals for their own personal comfort and convenience.

But I digress … back to the kitty.

A couple of weeks ago I took Ginger to the vet to be spayed. I opted not to pay extra to see if she might have any issues with the anesthesia, and I left my cell phone number with the receptionist in case of an emergency. A couple of hours later, I got what I thought was the dreaded emergency call from the vet clinic, but the lady sounded far too cheerful for there to have been any crisis.

“Ginger’s fine,” she said. “But Ginger’s a boy.”

That was one strange phone call. I didn’t laugh at the time, but I have gotten a good belly laugh out of the conversation since then and thinking about it even now makes me smile. Turns out both of Ginger’s male protrusions failed to protrude at all and were still up inside his abdomen. The worst part was that getting him neutered actually cost more than a normal spaying would have cost because the vet had to search and dig for the goods. Just my luck …

Before you think we’re all crazy, I should emphasize that even the vet tech that prepared poor Ginger for his eventual castration did not notice the gender mix-up until after the kitten was opened up on the operating table and things didn’t present as they should.

My oldest niece says she noticed Ginger was a boy before we picked him up. After examining dozens of litters of kittens, those lifelong teenage ranch girls don’t miss much. And she thought she told us – she probably did. We acquired this kitten right after the county fair, and who’s thinking straight after helping the girls finish dozens of craft, food and sewing exhibits, helping them prepare and show five sheep, and spending three relatively sleepless nights in a tent in the heat at the fairgrounds?!

Speaking of the fair, we had another funny gender issue come up there – this time with Sports Girl’s mini lop rabbit. She purchased the best overall mini lop doe from another 4-Her at our county fair last year specifically to breed with her buck. Well, we didn’t have any luck getting bunnies and for good reason. Turns out last year’s champion doe is actually a buck! Now, it can be tricky to tell the difference between male and female rabbits, especially when they are younger as this rabbit was last year, but still … more than one set of rabbit expert eyes looked at this critter and didn’t catch the mistake!

It’s really no big deal that Ginger is a boy. After all, he’s officially an “it” now. The hard part is convincing a 2-year-old that Ginger should now be called George. Heck, I’m having a hard enough time getting used to the idea myself. I find myself telling Busy Toddler something like, “Be nice. Ginger just had surgery and she has an owie on his tummy. Just scratch George’s head.”

Who wouldn’t be confused after that?

Buck, Ram, Ewe, Dam and Wether or not we know animal designations

When I was in fourth grade my class did a crossword puzzle and one of the clues was “A female sheep.” Having first cousins as sheep farmers, I was the only who knew this was a “ewe,” and I also knew how to spell it!

The scary thing was that this was 30 years ago and this happened in the heart of farm country in eastern South Dakota! I wonder how many kids in big cities would know this today?

A “ewe” is just one classification of a sheep; the term refers to a female sheep. In fact, the first five capitalized words used in the title of this post are names of types of sheep. A buck and a ram are male, intact sheep. A ewe is a female sheep and a dam is a mother sheep.

Some of you probably thought I spelled “Wether” wrong, but this is a play on words. A wether without the first “h” refers to a male sheep who has been castrated.

Take a look at all of the proper names for different animals at this Enchanted Learning site. So if you want to sound like an animal expert, the next time you are talking about a baby penguin, call it a chick. Or if you are referring to a group of penguins, you could sound really intellectual and worldly if you call it a rookery.

Cow is to Heifer as Ewe is to What?

I did a little research online as I was writing my post about getting the ewes bred. From that time spent surfing, I’ve discovered that there is no special name given to a ewe who has either never had a lamb or who is expecting or has just had her first lamb — at least no name that’s widely known and used.

I thought there might be a special term for these young, inexperienced ewes, because in cattle, these are called “heifers” while the more experience mamas are simply called “cows.”

My father- and brother-in-law often refer to the “heifers” or “first-calf heifers,” and these cows are handled differently when they are bred. At our ranch the heifers are generally artificially inseminated with the bull’s “seed” rather than allowed to be bred naturally by the pasture bulls.

The AI-ing is done to increase the likelihood that the heifers will be successfully bred, to shorten the calving season (they all calve closer together when they are all bred on the same day), and to control by exactly which bull they are bred. It’s generally not a good idea to use a bull that has a history of throwing larger birth weights on a heifer. Heifers must also be more closely watched when they are calving as they are at an increased risk of having trouble during delivery.

But enough about cattle. The things is, other than the AI-ing things, first-lamb ewes have many of the same potential issues as heifers. So I wonder why do cattle have a special designation for this situation and sheep don’t?

The Sheep Cycle Starts Again

In mid-June four ewes graze in our little pasture created with electric fence.

In mid-June four ewes graze in our little pasture created with electric fence. The white spots in the middle are plastic shopping bags tied onto the fence wire in between fence posts to help critters (and people) see it better.

We are sheepless at our house right now. But don’t worry — it’s not permanent.

We took the mama sheep to another ranch at the end of September to be bred. We will get them back in a couple of months, and they should be “with lambs” then.

I say lambS, because sheep regularly have twins and triplets aren’t uncommon, especially as the sheep age. And for two of our ewes, next spring will bring their third lamb crop.

Ewes cycle about every 17 days, but in our colder South Dakota climate this will generally only happen in the fall and very early winter as the days get shorter. So leaving our ewes with the ram for 2 months will allow three chances for the ewes to become pregnant as three cycles should occur. Our more mature ewes, especially those who have lambed before, may be bred sooner than the younger lambs who have never been bred.

The average gestation length or length of pregnancy for sheep is about 147 days, give or take a few. So, if our four mature ewes were to be bred today, which is about 3 weeks after we first exposed them to the ram, they should lamb on or around March 11. I used a nifty Lambing Calculator that I found online to figure this out!

Honestly, I am enjoying our brief vacation from feeding sheep. Once school starts, the girls really don’t have time to deal with the sheep in the mornings as the school bus  arrives at the end of our driveway at 7:20 a.m. The girls are also busier in the evenings with school and church activities. Handsome Hubby does most of the work this time of year, but sometimes he asks them to help which usually doesn’t happen without some protest. It’s during these times that I miss those previous years where we sold all of our lambs at the fair and didn’t start over until spring.

But the girls are very good about caring for the sheep during the summer months, and they love having those baby lambs. We should have at least five lambs again come March — so stay tuned!

County Fair Comes and Goes …

Sports Girl and Horse Lover both showed sheep at the county fair in August. Following are some pictures leading up to and of the event:

Horse Lover helped halter break the lambs this summer. I think walking the sheep is her favorite part of showing.

Horse Lover helped halter break the lambs this summer. I think walking the sheep is her favorite part of showing.

Sports Girl briefly reunites the mama white-faced sheep with her two lambs during an evening walk before the fair in August. The lambs were weaned and therefore separated from their mama in early June.

Sports Girl briefly reunites the mama white-faced sheep with her two lambs during an evening walk before the fair in August. The lambs were weaned and therefore separated from their mama in early June.

The lambs must all be sheared just before the show. They are all shown as market or "meat" lambs, and therefore the condition of their carcass is much more important than the quality of their wool.

The lambs must all be sheared just before the show. They are all shown as market or "meat" lambs, and therefore the condition of their carcass is much more important than the quality of their wool.

Handsome Hubby transports the sheep from the ranch to the fair using a rack in back of his pickup.

Handsome Hubby transports the sheep from the ranch to the fair using a rack in back of his pickup.

Sports Girl (far right) shows one of her black-faced lambs at our county fair in August 2009. I believe all of our sheep earned purple ribbons, although none were top finishers in their classes. Oh well ... there's always next year!

Sports Girl (far right) shows one of her black-faced lambs at our county fair in August 2009. I believe all of our sheep earned purple ribbons, although none were top finishers in their classes. Oh well ... there's always next year!