Meanwhile, back at the ranch …

So my health has been an interesting situation. One that has kept me distracted since the end of May. I do believe I’m finally on the mend, and I hope to go home from the hospital tomorrow.

In the mean time, many things have happened in our country life. It was time to let the heifers and their calves into the pasture to eat the grass surrounding our home. Unfortunately, we had taken out the barbed wire fence to plant our trees, and we certainly didn’t want the cows trampling the little seedling trees.

We were undecided on what type of permanent fence we wanted to install, and time was critical, so we purchased and installed an electric fence. The heifers and calves were very curious about the fence and I think every one of them must have tested it out at least once. Each instance resulted in a startled critter jumping quickly away and sometimes bellering.  These “tests” would have made some great video – if I had had the energy to capture it. But it probably would have also drawn negative comments from more animal rights activists, so perhaps it’s just as well that I only have memories of the incidents.

A few times the cow or calf jumped the wrong way and went through the fence. They usually made their way back through the fence, but I think we had to help at least one critter out of the enclosed area. Thankfully, these animals seemed to learn fast as after about a week the fence malfunctioned for a couple of days while we were out of town, and yet all of the cows stayed away.

Besides the electric fence, Handsome Hubby planted the grass seed between our newly planted shelterbelt and our home. He and Sports Girl also planted a garden.

A couple of days later it started to rain. And rain. Even though the mud was a real pain to contend with, the moisture should certainly help all of our new vegetation to prosper. We can already see stalks of grass starting to sprout. Now if the temperatures would just warm up a bit.

The cows were moved on to the next pasture almost quicker than they were moved in, and now they are awaiting their ride to the woods in a semi-trailer. Handsome Hubby’s family has a few different permits from the U.S. Forest Service, and they summer the majority of their cattle in the Black Hills National Forest from mid-June until early October. The arrangement isn’t the most convenient, but it provides an additional source of grass while the family farms for next year’s feed.

We’re still using the electric fence to allow our flock of sheep to graze on a little grass while not worrying about them wandering away. At least now I don’t have to disable the fence and open a gate every time I come and go from home. That’s an inconvenience I really dread, but I try to be a good sport about it. I know how valuable that grass is for feeding those cows. And thankfully, I only have to do it a few weeks out of the year.

Barbara Walters Sympathizes With Escaped Cow

Barbara Walters announced on The View yesterday that she was getting closer to becoming a vegetarian. This after the top news story of Wednesday in New York City was a cow escaping from a slaughterhouse and roaming Queens.

The cow was ultimately captured, and sent to the Brooklyn Animal Care and Control facility. There she was named Molly, and the plan was to send her to a farm. Read more about the escaped cow story here.

“I am more and more becoming a vegetarian,” Barbara Walters said in the opening Hot Topics segment of the May 7th episode of The View. “This broke my heart.”

She goes further in her discussion of cows. “When you really start to think of them, you know, as having feelings and stuff, I find it very hard …”

Then in typical The View fashion, another of the ladies cut her off in mid sentence. It’s just as well in this case. Does Walters really think cows have feelings? It’s scary when people start assigning human characteristics to animals.

Walters falls just short of offering this cow a safe haven at her home. “If I had a big back yard, I would have Molly the cow,” she said.

Does she have any idea how awful it would be to keep a cow in her yard? It could never be big enough to serve as a permanent residence for a cow. There would be no grass left, and there would be cow pies/piles of manure and hoof prints everywhere. I have a small flock of sheep roam around my yard from time to time, and they leave their own, albeit smaller, mark on the landscape.

But a couple of the other ladies from The View were more reasonable about Molly and eating meat or beef in general. Sherri Shepherd said she had bacon and eggs for breakfast even after reading the morning’s front-page news. Whoopi Goldberg went the furthest to polarize Walter’s comments.

“If I had a big back yard, I’d be having a barbecue with Molly,” Goldberg said. And she even clarified that she wasn’t talking about inviting the cow as a guest.

Sounds tasty to me.

My First Trip to the Ranch

This is the scene from the car window these days as we drive through the pasture to get to the in-laws house.

This is the scene from the car window these days as we drive through the pasture to get to the in-laws house.

Handsome Hubby and I became engaged while we were attending South Dakota’s land grant institution East River. I had never met his parents, so the first long weekend we had, we took the long trip across the state to his home and family ranch.

East River is predominantly farm country, and I was about to visit a ranch. At the time, I don’t think I considered the differences to be much more than subtleties. But after nearly 18 years of marriage to a rancher’s son, I have certainly come to understand that there are almost as many differences as similarities between farmers and ranchers. I noticed one difference right away on that first trip.

As we edged closer to the ranch as an engaged couple, it seemed as though Handsome Fiancé was somehow trying to prepare me for the visit. “This is a ranch,” he said. “It’s nothing fancy and there are cattle around.”

After a few statements like that, I said something like, “Well, it’s not like you keep the cattle in your front yard, is it?!”

As it turns out, the answer to that question depends on exactly what you consider the front yard.

It was spring – calving season – and we turned into the driveway of the ranch, crossed a cattle guard, and proceeded to make our way through a herd of cows and baby calves. About a quarter mile later we crossed another cattle guard, leaving the pasture, and made our way towards the house.

I sat speechless. Technically, I suppose, the pasture wasn’t exactly the front yard, but I had sure never driven through someone’s pasture on the way to their house. East River you drive up to the house first and the barn and cattle (if there are any) are generally behind the house.

I’ve gotten used to the concept now. In fact, for a few weeks at certain times of the year our visitors must drive through a herd of cattle before reaching our house, as well. I’m sure some of them think it’s strange. But now I just wish that we had a second cattle guard at our place – because that sure would save on having to get out and open the gate!

Meet Calf “Red 100”

meetcalfred100Sports Girls shot this photo for me as we were leaving my in-laws place yesterday morning. It seems they are using red tags on the calves again this year. (See my previous post entitled, “How to Tell One Cow From Another.”)

Handsome Hubby’s family calves in February, so this little calf is probably about 2 months old.

February is a bit early for calving in South Dakota, but our family was sure thankful to be done calving by the time all the winter storms hit later in March. My father-in-law said all he had time for during those blizzards was to feed. He wouldn’t have had time or been able to get around well enough to check and sort cows who were about to calve.

The calves learned to stick close to their mothers during these storms, and thankfully it was never really that cold. So all faired well.

They were busy branding, castrating, vaccinating, etc. But I think they are about done, and I didn’t get any pictures of any of that (probably for the best). Maybe next year.

Speaking of next year, it’s almost time to start the cycle over again. The bulls get let out into the cow pasture May 1.

How to Tell One Cow From Another

In my previous post I mention “Purple 44.” This is the method Handsome Hubby’s family uses to identify beef cattle.

Each year a different colored ear tag is used for that year’s crop, and each calf is labeled with the same number as his or her mother. So if Purple 44 had had a calf, it may have had a blue or yellow ear tag, but it would have also had the number 44 on it.

I wish I had understood this about 10 years ago. On one rare occasion, I was on horseback up in the woods helping check the cattle. For some reason and I honestly can’t remember what it was (although it probably had something to do with pairing up a cow and a calf), we were looking for the cow “Red 39.” I’m unsure of the exact number of the cow, and it’s really not relevant, but the color was definitely red.

At the time the cattle herd was mostly black, but there were some red ones intermingled. I checked every red cow I came across, but none had the number we were looking for on its ear tag. Actually, no one found the cow, and we gave up after much searching.

It wasn’t until after the horses were loaded into the trailer and we were seated in the cab of the pickup headed down the hill that somehow I came to realize we were looking for the cow with the red ear tag; the cow itself wasn’t necessarily red. In fact, odds were that she was black.

I hoped that I hadn’t been the one to miss the cow on our search that day. But now that the years have passed, I can laugh at my ignorance of ranch ways.

We Ate Purple 44 Tonight

I made a nice pot roast from the crock pot for supper tonight — complete with carrots, celery, onions and seasonings. As we were enjoying the savory meat, I informed everyone that we were eating Purple 44. In other words, we were eating the cow with the purple ear tag emblazed with the number 44.

We had looked this cow in the eye – more than once – but no one was upset about eating her. In fact, Sports Girl thought it was great.

Purple 44 actually spent most of last summer in the corrals just over the hill from our house. She ended up not calving or else she lost her calf last spring, and so she was being fattened to be butchered along with two steers Sports Girl has selected to “finish” and show in the county fair for 4-H. Handsome Hubby and Sports Girl provided the cow and two steers with thousands of pounds of corn and alfalfa hay – one five-gallon bucket and pitch-fork full at a time.

Unfortunately the steers never did get halter broke and weren’t tame enough to show. Handsome Hubby and Sports Girl attempted to get close to the steers, but Purple 44 actually seemed to interfere with the process. She must have been the “alpha cow” in the herd, if there is such a thing with beef cattle.

As the week of the fair eminently loomed, Sports Girl’s aunt came to help try to halter the steers one day. All the activity that ensued resulted in the ornery cow bashing through the panels that surrounded her pen and running off into the next field.

Purple 44 was missing for quite some time. In the fall a neighbor found her amongst their herd; the family brand on her left hip showed to whom she belonged. After this she was kept in a corral at the home ranch to be finished again, and then she was taken to the meat shop in February. We picked half of her up in three boxes a few weeks ago and now she’s in our freezer.

She doesn’t provide the most tender meat, and it is strange to know which critter we are actually eating. But at least no one’s too upset to stomach the meat.

The steers ended up in someone else’s freezer. We had spent too much money buying feed for them, and we needed to recoup some of our expenses. Besides, their meat was much too tender; we simply couldn’t enjoy such a guilty pleasure. I keep telling myself that a smart business owner never keeps his best products for himself.

So now I’ll be spending the next six months trying to tenderize the wild cow meat, and we can think of her ornery behavior every time we eat beef!

Little Lamb Lost

If you watched the videos and did the math from yesterday’s post on our five lambs, you might have figured out that we have four ewes, but I only mentioned three of them lambing.

All four ewes actually did lamb. Unfortunately, the last one lambed at the start of the first blizzard two weeks ago, and her lamb did not survive. It was our first sheep loss since Sports Girls first started showing in 4-H almost six years ago. And while that’s a respectable survival rate, it didn’t make the loss any easier for us.

Handsome Hubby said the ewe, Cocoa, was acting strangely when he went out to feed the sheep at 7:30 a.m. But by the time Sports Girl went to check her again later that morning, she had given birth and the lamb was dead. It was Cocoa’s first lamb, so we really don’t know if she experienced any complications giving birth or if the lamb died as a result of exposure to the cold, snowy weather.

Sports Girl said Cocoa was nudging at her dead baby; that’s how she knew the lamb was there under a light dusting of freshly fallen snow. Sports Girl carried the lamb up to the house, but it was already cold to the touch and certainly wasn’t savable. It was heart breaking to watch Cocoa continue to sniff all around her pen for most of the day looking for her baby. She was new to this lambing stuff, but she knew things hadn’t worked out right.

Sports Girl said she felt a little guilty about not checking on Cocoa sooner, and I even felt guilty over not telling her to check on the ewe sooner. Who knows if it would have made a difference, but I’m sure next year we’ll all be more attentive when the sheep are due to lamb

And while I didn’t actually see Sports Girl cry, I think she probably did shed a few tears over losing the lamb. It’s certainly reasonable to think a 13-year-old girl would be affected by such a close encounter with death. I know I would have been at her age – it was actually still difficult for me at 38!

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep (& White, Too!)

We have had five baby lambs by three of our ewes this spring – two sets of twins and one singlet. One set of twins is all white, while the other set of twins and the singlet are black-faced lambs. They are as cute as can be and are growing as fast as Aunt Myrtle’s mustache!

Here is some video footage of both sets of twins, which were born on Saturday, Feb. 28. They are only a couple days old here.

Four of the lambs are whethers (males) and one, a white lamb, is a ewe (female). Sports Girl and Horse Lover are now feeding, worming, docking, neutering, vaccinating and taming the lambs – with the help of their dad, of course – all in preparation to show them at our county fair in August.

I’ll keep you posted …

The Pains of Selling 4-H Livestock

Horse Lover watches as another 4-Her wins overall champion black-face lamb. Patrick was the champion feeder black-face lamb.

Horse Lover watches, holding Patrick, as another 4-Her wins overall champion black-face lamb with her market whether. Patrick was the champion feeder black-face lamb at our county fair.

Maybe if the lamb hadn’t been named, it wouldn’t have been as hard. Or maybe if he hadn’t done so well at the county fair. Or maybe if he just hadn’t behaved so well when Horse Lover led him around the fairgrounds.

Then again, it probably would have been emotionally hard for Horse Lover no matter what. Patrick had to be sold at the 4-H county fair livestock auction.

“Why can’t we bring him home,” she lamented, sniffling and wiping at her tear-stained cheeks. No matter how hard I tried to explain it, she just couldn’t understand why her father and I wouldn’t let her keep a whether sheep forever and ever.

“It just doesn’t make business sense,” I explained for the third or fourth time. “We are trying to raise a flock of sheep, and a whether cannot have babies.”

My argument is wasted on this 9-year-old who obviously now also loves sheep. “But I love him, and he’s been so good for me,” she retorts. “And this is the thanks he gets …”

Of course her sister, 12-year-old Sports Girl, is quick to point out that Patrick will likely be killed after arriving at the sale barn. Our only salvation is that he is actually still considered a “feeder” lamb; he isn’t really finished and ready for slaughter, so he most likely won’t be put down right away.

I didn’t personally have a hard time selling Patrick, but then, we don’t eat lamb. I’m not sure I could actually butcher and consume an animal I had been feeding or even one I had looked in the eye. I just kept thinking of all the feed we would save and all the extra time we would have with one less sheep.

I don’t know where my husband stands on the “fed animal” dilemma. I know, however, that he’s not entirely opposed to eating an animal after looking into its eyes, because he has butchered and eaten many animals he has killed while hunting. And my oldest daughter hardly seemed upset about selling her first 4-H sheep five years ago, although she says now it did bother her.

Horse Lover’s angst was truly a surprise to me. Back in May when we selected animals, this girl hadn’t even wanted to show a sheep for her first year in 4-H; she wanted to show a pig. But just like it made better business sense to sell the whether after the fair, it made better business sense for Horse Lover to show a sheep. One of our ewes had had a whether lamb on St. Patrick’s Day (a.k.a. “Patrick”) that would need to be sold anyway, and we were already set up and ready for sheep.

So began Horse Lover’s routine of feeding, watering and walking her sheep through the summer. She gave him baths and broke him to halter. In mid-August, Patrick served as a gentle companion for Horse Lover and her friends as they walked him around and around the county fairgrounds. Ultimately, Horse Lover led him through the 4-H show and sale rings and then had to say goodbye.
Neither the trophy for champion black-face feeder lamb nor the check for $256 eased her pain. These things may have actually made it worse for Horse Lover; each served as a reminder of her dear Patrick.

Next year Horse Lover wants to show another whether, but her father and I plan to have her show a ewe lamb, as well, so she can bring at least one of her animals home. I hope it gets easier for her.