Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy Campers

Christmas is past, our company has begun the long trip home. We are having popcorn for dinner, as we overdosed on good food. I think this is a fabulous idea for two reasons…#1 no dishes #2 Randyman is the popcorn chef in the house.

It was slightly above freezing today and the snow was starting to melt off, when the wind picked up and it started blowing a wet snow from the south, right into the animal shelters. I ‘suited up’ and went out to fix Miss Dolly Moo and Emma Lou their grain and take it to them. They were hiding inside their little tent shelter and stared at me through the crack in the fence, refusing to come out, even for their favorite treats. Dolly, being the appreciative little cow she is, reached out to me, touched her precious little cold nose to mine, then blew an enormous burp in my face. Not everyone gets to enjoy something like that.

I came back to the house and made soap, biding the time, until they were willing to eat. A really nice milk and honey soap, “Honeymoo’ is the order of the day, as it has become my most popular and I am almost out of ‘Dolly-milk’ to make it with. The goats will freshen in a few more weeks and I will start using goat's milk to make soap with. I will just have to find a new name, as it won't really be ‘moo’ soap then. Any recommendations would be appreciated. 'Honey-baa' just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Eventually, hunger drove Dolly and Emma out of their tent-shelter and Cider and I went out, to give them their grain. I gave the bottle calves their dinner, and fed the chickens, sheep and goats and filled their icy troughs with fresh water. Meantime, Cider pulled rank and stole a big leg bone from the Maremmas. He likes the puppies much more, now that they have grown up enough to go on patrol, because they bring back nifty treasure in the form of leg bones and other unidentifiable parts. Bruno comes in our house on occasion and heads straight to Cider’s toy box. What once was full of stuffed animals, balls and chewy toys, now houses only a lonely rubber bone and a Kong ball. Its former residents are now outside, buried under a foot and a half of snow. But Cider doesn’t mind, because he can just steal bones from the boys. His teeth have never looked so good.

Temperatures are forecasted to be in the single digits and will dip below zero with the wind chill. This means a bale of new straw needs to go into my cows’ shelter, so they will be up off of the frozen ground and stay warm. It’s hard keeping weight on a Jersey cow. The 8000 plus beef cows and calves on the ranch do just fine out on the range, but my little boney framed girls just aren’t that thrifty. They are also lousy housekeepers, so I am forced to take the pitchfork and clean in the dark, as Randyman has already brought the straw bale and it sits in front of the shelter in the snow. I duck and sneak in, raking up old wet straw and cow flop, when in came Dolly and Emma. The tent shelter is small, it can barely accommodate the two cows and is DEFINITELY too small for the three of us.

Emma is a joyful cow. Just waking up in the morning excites her and the idea of a whole bale of new straw, apparently sent her into paroxysms of glee. She began bucking and kicking inside the tent, whilst Dolly and I pinned ourselves up against the sides, trying to dodge her flying feet. I decided their standards for clean were lower than mine and made a hasty exit. It was challenging running in and out with handfuls of straw to spread, working around Emma, but I eventually got it done. Tomorrow I have to take the old wet hay from the feed bunk where they eat, and spread it down the path they walk on, back and forth from the ‘tent’, to prevent them from slipping on the ice and injuring themselves.

I am sure they appreciate it and love me. I mean, why else would a cow belch in your face?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Weekend

It was a fine weekend. We made an unscheduled trip to town for a few more supplies, as family was coming for Christmas. A foot or more of fresh snow had fallen, and the road was icy for the 110 mile drive into town, but there was no traffic as usual, which makes things a lot less tense.

The landscape looks entirely different when covered with snow. It is like seeing things so differently. The visual analogy of everything covered in white, all clean and new, to herald in Christmas, seemed entirely appropriate.

The following evening brought high winds, and knocked out our power…BEFORE I made dinner. So groping in the dark, I managed to locate a lighter and some kerosene lamps. We had dinner by lamplight. It was really quite nice, and stirred my imagination of how many others had dined in this little 100 yr old rock house, without electricity, as power came late to the ranch, and folks here had to do things without all the modern conveniences. It seems they did just fine, and I wonder if we could ever return to a time of self sufficiency, as so few people have any idea how to actually take care of themselves without utilities, grocery stores, and pharmacies. I, myself, would be extremely challenged by it. A few hours is one thing, but a lifestyle is quite another. Its something I would sure like to feel better about. I even cheat and use an electric milking machine, as hand-milking is too tough for MY hands.

I set about to making a few items in advance of our planned meal. I cubed some bread and cornbread and dried it in the oven to stuff the turkey with, and made some ‘twice baked’ potatoes. Red cabbage was sliced up and set in the refrigerator to marinate for salad. I took a short break and as I closed my eyes, I had the uneasy feeling that I was being spied upon, and indeed I was.

Our company showed up about an hour after dark on Thursday, pulling a long horsetrailer over the icy road. They said the roads were great, except for the last 30 miles of ranch road, which is not unusual.

Christmas Eve was celebrated with a fabulous Prime Rib roast, brought up by Randy’s family, along with the potatoes, salad, and creamed corn. I made my first attempt at Yorkshire puddings, which didn’t turn out as planned, but the dogs did beg for an encore.

We polished off the meal with a peppermint cheesecake in a chocolate cookie crust. It was perfect.

Christmas day, 3 of us rode out to move some cows while Randyman and his brother in law drove the feed trucks to deliver hay and distillers grain to the many pastures where the cows, calves and pairs are being kept.

The valley looked pristine with the fallen snow, and the far away mountains were powdered blue and white. It was a stunning view. The crust of the snow was covered with ice crystals from a freezing fog that had come in the morning. It crunched under our horses hooves, as we sank through and wound our way through partially covered sagebrush and willows, looking for strays. The brilliance of the reflective sun on snow shocked the eyes, and I marveled at how the animals can manage not just the weather extremes, but the bright and burning light of the snow. We crossed several small streams, cracking through the ice into the cold water below. It was a fantastic day. I was bummed out that I had no camera. It showed batteries dead as I was saddling in the barn, and it never occurred to me to replace them when I dropped it at the house. I guess I wasn’t fully functional. We’ll chalk that up to the Mimosa I had at breakfast…even though its not that unusual for me to be scatterbrained!

I left the group early, as I had to get back and put the turkey in the oven.
There should be enough left over food to keep the ranch crew going for at least another week,
As for me… I am profoundly grateful for the provision, but I’m not sure I ever want to eat again.

Cider got a new “kong ball” for Christmas. He opted to take it outside with me when I went to feed the critters. He asked me to throw it for him, but in his excitement, he took off before he saw which direction I was sending it. The pups, who think he is odd anyway, for retrieving things just to have me throw them again, sat beside me, and noted the flight and landing of said kong ball, while Cider raced madly in the other direction. As he searched in a frenzy, Cletus calmly strode over and plucked it out of the snowbank, after which, he and Bruno, like typical brothers, gleefully trotted it past the dismayed Cider and laid guard over it.
Being in a hurry, I went in the house without waiting for Cider to catch up.

An hour later, I opened the door to find him pouting and moping on the porch. Cletus and Bruno jumped up to greet me, and Cider found his opportunity. Like a red rocket, he flashed past them to regain his prize, and Cletus realized his mistake too late.  

Round 2 goes to Cider.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Light in the Darkness

The moonrise was fantastic here last nite. We made an extra trip yesterday, to pick up parts and a few things at the drugstore in Burns. That is the closest town to us, and is only 110 miles away, but it took nearly 3 hours to get there because of all the snow. We left in the morning and got back just after the sun went down.

We turned on the news, listening to stories of flooding, and economic meltdowns, bad legislation being passed and a myriad of other things that bring despair to even the most cheerful heart. I wondered if there is any such thing as good news.

Being the lunar eclipse and winter solstice, I decided to stay up and see the event, as I understand it won’t happen again for another 350 years, and I will probably be busy. With all the snow we have, it was as bright as daylight outside, from the moons reflection. At the appointed time, I saw a small dark spot on the bottom edge suddenly appear. It was only 20 degrees outside, so I kept running in and out to check. I tried to take pictures, but with no lens filter, the camera just couldn’t do it. Too bad about that.

 Each time I looked, a little more of the moon was covered in blood-red. Every time I ventured outside, the world around me grew darker, as the entity that had cast so much light on us was slowly covered in blood red shadow. The last time I stepped out, it was eerily dark outside and the dogs began to bark, an owl began hooting and I could hear coyotes wailing not far in the distance. All the elements of a horror show were present and being a big chicken, I began to shiver more from the spookiness than the cold. I had gone out in the front of our little house, so I was alone with no dogs for company or comfort. Looking at the blood-red moon, surrounded by a discomforting blackness, I thought of another time the world went dark.

I have read all the accounts of the crucifixion and how for 3 hours, the world went dark. It seems such a perfect punctuation mark to the illustration of how dark our hearts can be. I felt a wave of conflicting emotions roll over me. Fear of the evil in the world, the inability to save myself, or undo the wrong things I have done in my life, a heavily burdened heart that my actions caused suffering for the One who came to rescue me, brought first tears of regret, then of gratitude and eventually just plain old joy. 

It is all going to end well. The story is already written and death does not win in the end. Not His death, and not mine. The end of this life, will be the beginning of the best yet. Taking that into consideration, there isn't much to be afraid of.

This week we will celebrate God manifesting His love for us in flesh, coming to be with us, so we could be with Him.

There IS such a thing as good news, after all.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Two Days In Pics

Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
 The pups slept in this morning. They were on duty last nite.
Super Duper Vaccum Saver
 I love this machine. It keeps our food fresh forever and a day!
Making a cover

The stockings were hung...

Ta  dah!!

A Peeping Dolly, the storm is coming....

Checking heifers

Ranch as far as the eye can see

Old Stage Stop in Background of bull pasture

That was a stage stop for the two week trip from Winnemucca to the ranch. I imagine it took another week and a half to make it to Burns. Its all stacked stone, unfortunately, a range fire burned off most of the roof.
Wrangler Butts....
 We got a flat tire on the gravel road, so Randyman is gonna blow it up with the portable air compressor.
Tire still flat and ranch headquarters is still out of sight

 We only have about 7 miles left to go, to get home and we have filled the tire up twice!
making myself look TALL
 I hate to be unproductive while he is working, as you can see.
In view of ranch headquarters 
Day 2-Puppy Attack!!
It snowed.

nurse calves

where is my snowball????

Sunday, December 19, 2010

We Will Remember Ewe

It was a beautiful morning this morning. Several inches of fresh snow blanketed the ranch and the valley floor. The mountain was invisible as the big white cloud completely obscured the view and snow was falling silently. The pups loved it. I felt pretty good, as we had gotten a shelter up for the sheep, the Jersey’s and the leppie calves. The goats were in the barn because they are very pregnant and they are sissys.

I made bottles and headed out to feed the calves, and throw hay to the sheep, while Randyman fed the cows for me. I never noticed who came to eat. The dogs came with me to feed the goats at the barn, and the horses down in the milk pasture.

Upon arriving back, I checked to make sure the animal shelters were dry inside and that was when I saw Ewe-ness.
She was clearly dead and lying on her side inside the shelter. Free Wooly was lying next to her, and Pet-ewe-nea was outside the shelter. The pups came in and when they saw her, they immediately began to lick her face. Surprisingly to me, we were all pretty upset. Ewe-ness was my personal favorite, as she was very friendly and used to follow me all over the pasture. Ranching and farming doesn’t give us immunity to the awful sadness that comes when an animal dies.

Not having a lot of experience with sheep, I could only assume she had bloated. There were no marks on her but she was clearly bloated in death, whether or not that was the cause of her passing. I attempted to move her, but was only able to drag her out of the shelter. Free Wooly stayed with her, as did the pups, who kept licking her face. Cider went to see what was happening and Bruno bared his teeth at him. I was very surprised at that, because the pups are normally submissive to Cider. I had to put collars on the pups and drag them out of the pen. Bruno attempted to run back to Ewe-ness through the back gate and I had to head him off and close that as well.

No one is on the ranch with me today that can help. Randyman is hours away checking the wells on the desert and the cowboys are out rescuing a cow/calf pair, so its just me and the dogs.

I never much cared for sheep, other than in the culinary sense, Ewe-ness and her buddy changed my attitude. They also love to eat weeds that I desperately want eradicated, which is a big plus. They have been very quiet, and easy to manage. Their personalities are winsome and I became pretty attached. 

I was concerned about how the pups might behave around a dead charge. Often LGD’s will eat the carcass of a dead charge to avoid attracting predators.  I didn’t want to encourage this kind behavior so I locked them on the other side of the corral fence. Normally they have full access to their charges, but tend to watch them from the comfort of our back porch. Today, they laid in the snow all day, to keep Ewe-ness in their direct line of vision. They guarded her body for nearly 6 hours, and wouldn’t allow anyone near her but me.

Randyman finally got home and we agreed Ewe-ness had to be taken out of the corral. He got his helper to assist loading her on a wagon, while I held the pups outside the corral. They left through another gate, while Cletus whined. After they were gone, I let the pups go and they ran and checked where Ewe-ness had been lying, and the shelter, and finally stared out the gate through which she had been taken. I guess they really are going to be Guardian Dogs. Until today, I had not realized how deep their attachment actually went.

Whatever it is they are thinking, they have been spending more time in the sheep corral tonite, with extra vigilance.

Ranching and farming is a wonderful way of life, but sometimes it can be very sad. Here’s hoping that Pet-ewe-nea will have lambs in the spring.

We will remember Ewe…ness.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Its a Dog's Life

Cider is a Golden Retriever, with the heavy emphasis on ‘retriever’.  Being a retriever does not necessarily make one a bird dog, anymore than being old makes one wise. He really only wants to bring things BACK to you, so if you were to, say, throw a bird, that is all right with him.

My son and a good friend went in together and bought Cider for me as a Christmas gift several years ago. This was a response to my suffering ‘empty nest’, so of course, I ruined a perfectly good dog. People do desperate things when they miss their kids. Some women, especially, don’t deal well with it and get little dogs to put little sweaters and things on. Not me. Cider learned table manners. We also got a crew cab pickup, so he didn’t have to sit between us on the seat and as we don't have a swimming pool, we had to buy him one of his own.
Please don’t get the idea that Cider is spoiled. He has chores to do. He has a toy box for his toys and he is responsible for picking them up and putting them away himself. He does get cheese for it, but he still has to do the work. He also does dishes, babysits on occasion, and makes a very good doorbell.

Top Notch BabySitter
having to wait for his order. Poor service

under Duck attack
He knows his place. The problem is, that it is between me and Randyman. Our comforter is of a size that it barely fits over our bed. Late at night when Cider decides it is time to jump in bed, he manages to land in the middle and suck the blankets off of us both. We are looking for a wider comforter.

These fat quail were all over the yard this week.  They know they will not be bothered. I once threw Cider’s ball into a pile of brush. Birds flushed everywhere, and he never lifted his head until he found that ball . They don’t even run for cover when he is around, anymore. I think he has a little Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Why, What IS that spot down there?

Its CIDER, waiting for someone to throw his kong ball

This is the face of OCD
Ever since he was a little puppy, he has brought me a myriad of things to throw. He has brought me toys, paper clips, thumbtacks, money, pieces of dried leaves…anything he can put in his mouth, or make stick to his tongue. Often times what he brings is so small, that only he can see it. He sets them on my leg and if it is big enough for me to hold, I am to throw it, and if it’s too small, I am to flick it. He has me fairly well trained. He is pretty intense, and single minded.

Yesterday, he brought me a dried, red jalapeno. It was very hot. He spit it out on my lap, and kept spitting, and spitting and spitting. I think he might have sprained his tongue. It did not deter him, however, from begging me to flick it across the room for him.

I would just die if someone took a close up like this of my face.
Sometimes dogs just act like they got no sense.


Monday, December 13, 2010

A December Shopping Trip

It was time to replenish supplies and because the only other person able to care for our animals in our absence was leaving for a month to visit family and we wanted to avoid the Christmas rush, we headed out on the 4 ½ hr trip to town.

Randyman hooked up the trailer the night before, and loaded up all the large coolers out of the ranch walk-in. Everything has to go into coolers to either stay frozen on the long trip home or just to keep the dust out of it, as driving the 50 miles of dirt road coming into the ranch tends to push dirt into everything.

We awoke hours before dawn, threw on some clothes, tossed some essentials into a small bag for emergency and headed to the barn to load a horse. We were to deliver her on the way. She was a mare, and mares aren’t too popular here on the ranch. All the horses need to be working stock and more often than not, mares tend to be moody, kicky and also cause the geldings to fight over her. My little mare is no exception. She was often marked by teeth and hooves across her body as dominant geldings attempted to haze her into their small clan to keep the others away from her.

 It had been snowing and freezing and the dirt road going out was firm and fairly smooth, from the snow but the paved county road was slick and icy.
About an hour and a half into the drive, the sun began to rise, with black, blue and scarlet hues appearing over the small mountains in the distance. Ice crystals covered the brush on the side of the road and the ground sparkled like it was littered with diamonds. Further ahead, low clouds and fog shrouded the desert valleys like an ocean and we could see another set of headlights in the distance, showing we were not alone on the 200 mile stretch of road that snaked along toward our destination.

With a healthy case of nerves, I began to ramble about this or that, hoping to keep us both well awake and to cover my uneasiness with the less-than-ideal conditions and limited vision.

Climbing over a pass, we were jolted by movement, as the horsetrailer began to whip and slide across the ice, yanking the back of the pickup from side to side, while Randyman worked hard to keep us on the road and avoid sailing over the edge into the canyon below. That plummeted me into silence for the next 20 miles or so, as I struggled to regain my composure and fight the tears that followed the ensuing panic. All the hospital stays from my wrecks in recent years kept going through my mind. It was the first time I have ever been HAPPY to arrive in a CITY.

We dropped off the mare and headed to the Livestock Supply. A good deal of our paycheck was laid out for feed and minerals for our personal cows, goats, and sheep. 10 large bags of dogfood were acquired for the Maremmas, Cider and Scottie. Steer panels and tarps were purchased for building a temporary shelter for Dolly and EmmaLou cow. Late that afternoon we finally stopped to eat and made the decision that we would stay in town overnight to avoid an accident going down the icy hills heading to home.

The following morning, we headed to Costco to complete our grocery shopping and head home, hoping for an early start. The boss called needing some errands run, so we got those done and we were clearly going to finish our shopping quite a bit later than we had hoped. We opted to shop the Costco in Boise so we could zip straight home from there.

We don’t have phone service on the ranch, other than a satellite phone, which only works when the spirit moves it. Cell phones will pick up reception occasionally, depending on how far away from the mountain we are. There is a large peak that blocks the signal from us, so the closest place to use the phone is over a mile from the house. Paying $50 a month for a phone we can’t use unless we were in town together seemed pretty foolish to me, so I cancelled the service. We decided getting a ‘track’ or prepaid phone was a better idea, in case Randy got stuck in the desert, running wells. The guy at the kiosk in Costco asked for my license and said he would have a phone ready in 15 minutes.

We did the remainder of our shopping, pushed the carts out to the horse trailer, packed all our goods into the large coolers and headed home. It takes close to an hour to get from Boise to Nampa, and holiday traffic didn’t help matters. We passed the Nampa Costco and realized, my license and phone were still in Boise. That turned us around and added another 2 hours to our trip…which was already behind schedule.

The weather had been warm, ice and snow had melted, so the trip home was uneventful, except for the last 36 miles. I stared off into the expanse of desert searching for the wild horses that are often seen near, and sometimes ON, the road. Highway speeds of 55 to 70 are nice, as there is almost never another vehicle, but it can be deadly when meeting up with livestock or wildlife. Deer, antelope, wild horses, cattle and other critters often amble across the highway, and can wreak havoc on unprepared or unwitting drivers. Dark clouds hovered over us but didn’t unleash their burdens until we were off of the pavement.


Turning off the highway and onto the dirt road leading home, it began to rain and the road was so soupy and slimey, it was nearly sucking us off the road and into a bar ditch and even with 4WD, we had a hard time negotiating any sort of rise in the road.. We made it home nearly 2 hours after dark, 2 days after we started out.

THAT my friends, is why we only grocery shop 4 times a year.