Friday, November 12, 2010

Processing Food

It’s been a busy week, here at the ranch. Processing is in full swing and the days are COLD and frosty. Everyone is clad in longjohns, silk scarves, gloves and heavy coats. The ground crew is trying to keep warm, but the vet that is here has one arm exposed as he has to preg check all 4000 cows, and you can’t vaccinate or place ear tags with gloves on, so all the guys have slightly blue fingers.

The riders have a better job for about 2% of the time, as we are at least moving around some, pushing cows up the alleyway and into the chutes for a couple of minutes every 15 or so. The waiting period is spent with your back to the wind, aware of how cold your cheeks (all 4) can get.

There are 21 extra people here to help out, as this is a really big job that must be done in time to get the cows out to the desert before the really bad storms hit. That means the boss’ wife has to prepare meals for 28 people 3x a day, as everyone has to stay at the ranch. This far from anywhere, there is nowhere else to stay, so we cleaned up 7 bunkhouses. These are mostly just  small rock cabins with a couple of beds. There is a common bathroom at the “Bullpen”. Our house has its own now, so we are kind of 'uptown'.
As I mentioned before, there is a large “Walk-In” on the ranch, containing several freezers and a walk-in refrigerator. I have also mentioned the boss has 5 kids, including a set of triplets. (yes, 14 yr ago this amazing woman had 5 children under 3 years old, 110 miles from town with no help…and still cooked for branding and processing crews. Feel pampered now?)

The years of feeding crew, cleaning bunkhouses, and various other things has helped her to develop some rather bad habits. I became aware of this as I stayed home today (an ingenious plan, as its warmer inside) to help her.

The walk-in is on the end of the old “cookhouse” which me and Randyman have sort of revamped and made into a home, as with the boss having 5 kids at home to work, the crews are not as big as they used to be, so there is not the need for a cookhouse. They feed 28 people in their small farmhouse, where the table seats 8 people, and somehow it always works. We are just all very polite folks, I think. Hungry, but polite.

It is about, I would guess, a city block uphill to the boss’ house. A long way to carry things, but one feels silly not walking, as you can see it from here. So…the boss’ wife asked me…could you run down to the walk-in and grab the salad you made?

On with the coat and gloves and boots, and off I go. I locate the cabbage salad I had put in to marinate a couple days ago and trek back up to the house. I take off my boots, coat, and gloves, and pour a cup of coffee. Her step-mom and sister in law have both come a distance to help out this week. No sooner do I pour my coffee, than we need sourcream. Back on with the jacket, the boots and the gloves. Then we need cheese. I comply. After several more trips, the chili is done, the cornbread is perfect, the salads are set out, and 2 big pans of dessert sit on the counter. I slog down my cold coffee, and consider how many miles the kids put on daily, going back and forth to the walk-in, and we wait. The boss said they would be in for lunch at noon. It is now 1 pm.

I am sent to the walk-in on yet another errand, this time for a Dr Pepper. I take the 4-wheeler. I run into Randyman on the way to the house and tell him lunch is gonna be at the boss’ house. We head up there and all wait a little longer. We sample the chili. We test the cornbread. We help ourselves to a little salad. Randyman fixes himself a spread and eats so he can get back to work as he is feeding calves today. I know, because I had to help. After several strong boosts he was able to launch my carcass up into the cab of a very large, old, green John Deer tractor so I could pull around a huge feed wagon with an auger in it (a Randy invention) which augers 800 lb bales of hay out the side into the pasture in flakes. But it’s not working right, because this is oat hay and it binds up. So Randyman is in the wagon, trying to push the hay thru whilst I sit up front in the tractor…speeding through the pasture at ½ mph, rolling through ditches, certain the calves won’t move, that I will run over them, that Randyman fell into the auger in back and I can’t see him, and debating whether to stop and check (risking the shame of his rolling his eyes at me), or just keep going until I run thru the fences and out of diesel, as he is not there to tell me where to go. It is an exhausting dilemma, which ended in Randyman climbing up into the cab and driving back with me on his knee. (he has very strong knees.)

The roofing crew, which is here to put a new roof on the 100 yr old, 3-story tall barn, is heading back to civilization until after Thanksgiving. They need a check first. They sample some chili and cornbread waiting for the boss. After all, it is AFTER 1 pm now. We are feeling badly for the crew at the processing chutes. Its cold out and they have been working for 6 hours so far, without a break of any kind. There are cows that were put in the corrals last nite that MUST be processed today, so they don't lack food or water. We bring them in late in the afternoon, the day before, but we don't like to keep them in the corrals longer than is necessary. We can check and  process close to 1000 head a day, but yesterday’s helicopter ride to the emergency room slowed things down a tad.

We begin planning dinner and tomorrows meals. A few more trips to the walk-in and we have assessed what is needed. The clock finally strikes 6 pm, its dark, and here they come. The crew is here for lunch…right on time, as usual.

Randyman and I have come home so I could fix him dinner. Its 8 pm before I get through. There is a knock on the door. It’s the boss. He stopped to say howdy. He’d been sent to the walk-in.


  1. Just found your site a few days ago and am enjoying your account of ranch life. I'm an old cattlewoman - most recently from Paso Robles. Did you know Lawrence Snow from Caliente when you were in the Tehachapi area? I used to go team penning at his place years ago - great fun weekends. One of my cousins, Phil Selby cowboyed in that country also.

  2. Great to meet you Judith! I remember his name, and likely met him, although I don't think I knew him personally.
    My family owned the ranch up at Mountain Park.
    What a great time that was, when Tehachapi was small. I have family in Creston, and our nephew works here as a cowboy now. Small world!