Saturday, December 4, 2010


There have been some nasty low temperatures recently, down to -25 F with windchill, and a bit of snow. With the very cold temperatures on the mountain, our snow is scant, as it falls very finely and doesn’t build up to much most of the time, unlike the warm, wet snows we used to get at our  old home in the Tehachapi Mtn range of California where it wasn’t unusual to get 2 foot of fresh snow overnight.

Most of the snow that was here melted off yesterday, so we slogged thru the mud in our boots, moving calves and heavy, pregnant goats into the barn, relocating sheep, filling waters, and piling bedding in the animal shelters before the next storm.
We very NEARLY got a shelter put up for the weaned orphan calves I am keeping as future nurse cows. I had to find the particular 3 calves I wanted, out of 350 that were being moved from the large sheep pasture behind our house to a larger field a couple of miles away.
The three calves were a boogered up from being pushed into the corral with all the others by the cowboys but luckily, they remembered my bottle-feeding them last winter and I was able to pick them out of the herd after 15 or 20 minutes of searching and they followed me into a ‘safe’ corral. The cowboys offered to put eartags on them, so I could leave them with the other calves and find them easily, but the big and unwieldy tags make them all look like Elton John to me, and I am not a fan. I opted to bring them into one of our corrals and care for them by hand again.

 Of the three, one was our first orphan of last February, “Chewy”; another, the calf delivered C-section by the kids with a pocket knife, from a dead cow, “Rio”; and the third was the first leppie (orphan calf) we brought back from last Cowcamp, “Cholula”.

Cowcamp is a two week long affair camping out in the desert in early spring, to find all the cows who have wintered out there and bring them back to the main ranch. It is only 30 miles to Wildcat Canyon, where Cow Camp takes place but it takes 1 ½ hours to drive there as it is pretty rugged. It takes about a month or so to get all the cows pushed back home again, but the bulk of the gathering is done during the 2 weeks we stay there. Last year was tough, we were still bringing cows home in June.

Cowcamp accommodations are extremely rustic, but everyone looks forward to it. It can be hot, dry, windy, wet, or a blinding white blizzard all the same week…in fact on the same day, so lots of layers, gloves, slickers and hats are recommended. It’s ALWAYS cold at night and in the old drafty shacks we sleep in. There is a wooden outhouse that faces away from camp, as it has no door. A semi-trailer has been fashioned as a cook shack and is hauled out there and hooked to a propane tank and a generator and we pile in there after hours of long, hard riding to warm up by a propane stove and eat whatever can be prepared over a burner. There is an absence of luxury items we often take for granted… like showers… but its cold enough not to notice. On a nice day, one can get a 5-gallon bucket of water and warm it up to wash with.

I made soup and French bread yesterday and invited the ranch hands to dinner. I didn’t realize at the time that the work crew from across the state had returned, so I wound up with 9 mouths to feed. I figured there was enough soup…just barely, and I was short on both ingredients and time to increase the batch, so I threw together 2 more loaves of French bread. This should have been easily done, but the oven I use to rise the bread already had bread baking in it, so I carried the bowl of half risen bread into the other room by the new heat stove. It slipped from my hands and with a jarring halt, hit the floor, right-side-up. The dough however, was now flat as a pancake. I turned a small heating fan on it and it eventually re-rose to ¾ of its intended height and I baked it. It came out well, exactly as the 9 walked in the front door. There was 4 ounces of soup left over after everyone had eaten their second helpings and headed home.

Waking up this morning, I looked out the window onto a pristine white snowfall. This little old rock house is cozy when the wind doesn’t blow, and it’s much like living inside one of those little snowglobes. Snow is falling in large, heavy flakes and building on the walls and fences outside. Dolly’s fancy outfit has a 2” covering of white across the top of her back as she and Emma contentedly work the molasses lick. They are predicting 6 inches today.

The pups are off ‘who-knows-where’, likely having a good time. They brought home an enormous leg bone last night. We don’t mind, as they are always from “dead stock” and coyote kills. It helps deter the predators as the pups make their presence known and steal the bounty. We have the biggest bone yard in Harney County, I believe. My pups are diligent workers.

I filled calf bottles and headed to the big barn to feed the two baby calves that are in there, along with the goats. It’s time to start working with the goats on getting into the milking stanchion and allowing me to handle them. Placing grain in a little bucket and letting them out one at a time, they happily pop up onto the platform and I close the head-catch. I slowly rub my hand down their hind legs and around their udder, which they are very ticklish about, kicking and squatting and doing all manner of gymnastics to escape my hand, but the love of sweet feed wins out and they continue eating while arguing with me. I love a greedy animal. It makes life so much easier! Eventually they will settle down and ignore me and milking will be much easier this January, when they finally kid. They are both ‘first fresheners’ so I will be keeping a close eye on them in case they have trouble.

I head back to check the sheep. We nearly took the ram back to town, to the lady we borrowed him from, but I noticed some serious romancing going on, so clearly the girls didn’t conceive after the first breeding. It looks like he will be here through New Years. I am looking forward to spring lambs, baby goats, and calves, but for now, with the warmth of the house, the smell of blackberry vanilla soap curing on my racks and the beauty of the winter white world outside, I am content.

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