Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One Day in September

Things have been cooling off considerably. Fall is in the air. Emma Lou has a new suitor. The boss sent an AkaUshi bull over for her, whom we named Mr Miyagi. He was a one night stand. He courted her, piqued her interest and when the sun came up, he was gone. I am sure this did nothing for Emma’s self esteem. She is putting on a brave front though.

The cowboss brought her another beau. This guy was pretty big. He never made it from behind the barn, because he was too snorty and our boss is a great guy and wouldn’t put me in that kind of position. A third bull was delivered, along with 2 of Emma’s heifer friends, Rio and Cholula. They are both orphans that we raised on Emma’s mother, DollyMoo, so they know each other well. They are beef cows and are much larger than  Em’s little Jersey-self, but she doesn’t put on airs.  She is a humble little cow. We figured the two extra cows could feed Lover- boy’s ego while Emma is gone for 15 minutes getting milked. You know how men are.  Miyagi couldn’t handle not being the constant center of attention.

The next morning, I looked out to see Emma Lou, Rio, Cholula, and little Mo, but no bull. I brought Em and Mo in to do the daily milking. I caught Wimpy so I could ride out to find the missing bull again, but before I saddled up, I saw TWO bulls in the big pasture behind the old milk barn. Not two AkaUshis, but beau #3 and  a big old Charolais.

 I was not thrilled to have 2 bulls with my tiny Jersey, and less thrilled to think she could be bred by a Charolais. Lucky for me, he was lame and had a cough, so I summoned the cowboss to look at him and he decided to move him out to the horse pasture until he could be shipped with the cull cows. Back down to one bull and feeling relieved. 

As if we weren't fortunate enough to just be living here on the ranch and having a great boss with a really neat family to work for, we also are blessed that he is letting Em date an AkaUshi bull. This breed is very rare and highly controlled. The only purebred herd in the United States is in Texas. The meat from these cattle is unique in that it actually lowers cholesterol
and is healthier for you than chicken and turkey. It is heavily marbled, however, and extremely tender. It sells for about $95 for a 6 oz filet...unprepared. Ground beef goes for $6 a lb. We are hoping against hope for a heifer because we need a milk cow that will be lower maintenance than Emma and Dolly. Right now, Em gets full time pasture, of course, in addition to alfalfa hay, and 20 lbs a day of grain and supplements! This is just to try and maintain her condition while she makes 6 gallons of milk a day. The milk is awesome but it don't come cheap!
A Jersey/beefer cross would probably produce a lot less milk, but would hopefully maintain condition on hay and pasture. That would be a huge savings for us and the resulting calves would make better freezer calves to boot. Em will always be my special cream cow though. She did do a good job on her first calf, Fat Willy. He's 1/2 Angus and at 3 mo. is almost as big as she is!

He has an affinity for hotdogs.

I really think he just wants to eat anything that is in front of him.

The leppies are in the process of being weaned, as I have got to get everyone more independent. I have a very important and special trip to make. There is a new VIP for me to meet and my little Abster is a big sister now! Kinley Grace arrived last Saturday night. She is gonna help her sister shake up the world. I know they have been shaking up the household as I hear no one there has gotten to sleep before 3 a.m. yet. Personally, I think a couple of chickens and a pet cow would solve the problem, but I'm having a hard time convincing their folks.

I digress.

Another day went by and I woke up to find TWO BULLS again! This time, Mr Miyagi showed up again and was chumming around with  the Bachelor #3. I have since dubbed the pasture “The Oyster Bar”. It seems to be feast or famine for poor Emma Lou. She’s taking it out on me. This morning she gave me 2 1/2  gallons of milk, and not a drop of cream. Luckily, I still had some from last week, so today I made peppermint ice cream, which is MY favorite.
Our new sheep are here. They are CUTE as buttons. I wanted Katahdin ewes and a Dorper ram, but no Katahdins were to be found. So we have 3 little Dorper ewes and a Dorper ram.  Both breeds are ‘hair sheep’. Instead of having to deal with shearing and tail docking, these sheep will shed in the summer. They are more parasite resistant, better foragers, mature earlier, they are not seasonal breeders and because of the lack of wool and lanolin, they taste sweeter and don’t get that strong muttony flavor so many people dislike. This is all research info, I have yet to know this for myself, but I look forward to finding out. What I do know for certain, is that these guys are cute, really cute. They are not nearly as flighty and silly as my other sheep. They are very courageous for their small size and they are voracious eaters. We tossed them a flake of hay and it was like a feeding frenzy. Piranhas would not have been more focused on their feasting. They took right up with the other 3 sheep and have settled in like old timers. I have no idea when they are due to lamb, but it will be fun and I know the pups will be so excited to have babies to watch over again. They love their critters as much as I do. Maybe even more. Cletus just KNEW there was something special in the trailer when it got here last nite. I had a heck of a time dragging him back to the house so we could unload these guys without them having a panic attack from seeing their first “Polar bear”.

Cletus so wants to be a sheep. He'll do anything to blend in...

Cletus and Bruno introduced themselves at the first opportunity. They got bopped in the nose by one little ewe, but undeterred, they checked each one out, did a perimeter patrol and went to take their morning naps.
Time for me to clean up the house, and turn the cheeses. We have 2 more wheels of Pepper-Jack and a Parmesan curing. The Pepper-Jack is ready in another month. The first one I made tasted pretty darn good. The Parmesan has to cure for 10 months, so I hope it turns out well, as I need to keep making it so its always on hand. Darn its great having a cow. But I do still miss DollyMoo so very much.
I peeked out after doing the dishes and found a large snail trail on the porch. Looking down, I found the culprit.

He keeps climbing in the whiskey barrel waterfall and using it as his personal spa. I’m not sure why, but it makes him smell like stinky feet. I wonder if they make “Odor Eaters” for dogs....

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Back In The Saddle

Due to advancing age, illness, lots of orphan calves, goats, sheep and the daily  mundane chores of laundry, meals and housecleaning, I have been able to do very little riding this year. I had a very good day, however. My chores were mostly done, things were pretty organized in the milk/feed/tackroom and the cowboys just happened to bring the horses back up from the field in the afternoon. I ambled out to the corral and captured Wimpy, with a little difficulty, as he thought maybe weaving in and out of the other 40 horses in the  corral might result in his not being seen. I asked the guys if they were going far, or riding hard and they said “not too hard and not too far,” so I invited myself along. They were kind enough to take the horse trailer and save us several miles of long-trotting right off the bat.
We agreed I would ride with them until I got tired then I would ride back alone and drive the truck and trailer back to the ranch headquarters.
All the riders from the ranch (except me) spent a week on the mountain bringing cow/calf pairs down from the summer range. They gathered them, pushing them to the bottom of the long and winding road down the mountain back to the valley and now over the next week, the cows make the 20 mile trek home on the road themselves. Cows are good that way, if they know where home is and they do this every year at this time. So good, in fact, that 2 years ago, the boss had to truck the cows out to the desert in the winter, because they kept coming home on their own, 3 months early. That was interesting, as we were unloading on a moonless night, in the pitch dark and following them to water with flashlights on horseback.
We drove  down the road to the pasture we were going to start riding in, pulled over and unloaded the horses, climbed up and headed off. We found a bunch of pairs waiting in a corner outside the fence we so opened a few gates and let them drift in. We spent the rest of the afternoon riding across the ranch through several different pastures, checking feed and gates and having good conversation. Usually we don’t ride close enough to one another talk to visit, but since we weren’t looking for cows, we were able to converse a little now and then.

The current cowboss has a new baby boy. At one point, the discussion turned to baby-spit which the other cowboy has an aversion to. He started gagging during the conversation so he resorted to plugging his ears and sing la-la’s until we we changed the topic. It’s good to know these guys are not overly tough and they still have some weaknesses. Riding through blizzards, wind, rain and blazing heat doesn’t insulate one from baby spit or diapers.

My nephew’s cellphone rang. Phones don’t work here on the ranch because of the mountain we sit under which blocks the signal, but once you get far enough out on the range, you are likely to get reception somewhere. It’s just not very convenient to saddle up and ride 5 miles or so to make a call, unless you happen to be doing that anyway.
It was the boss asking about the truck and trailer we left back in the road. We always leave the trucks and trailers in the road, because there is 50 miles of dirt road from ranch to highway and not much traffic. The boss had Randy with him so offered to drive it back for us, saving us having to backtrack or drive down there later for it, as I was holding up fine and didn’t have to stop riding early.
It turned dark on us while we were only a few miles from home and as we came through the last gate, the cowboss’ horse started acting up again, as he had been doing all day and some schooling commenced. The cellphone rang once again and I found out Randy didn’t realize I had ridden out with the guys. I assumed he knew as he saw me saddling Wimpy. Nevertheless, he called to make sure I wasn’t laying dead somewhere else on the ranch and satisfied with Logan’s answer, he hung up. I trotted on home in the nearly pitch dark, Wimpy picking his way, as I had no idea where we were, or where the fence or open gate was. I long trotted the last mile up the lane and into the back corral. EmmaLou had been bawling without ceasing and I was able to hear her all the way down in the horse pasture, which is a good long ways away.
I yanked off Wimpy’s bridle, saddle and sweaty blankets and drug them into the milking room where everything is kept. As I filled up Emma’s feeder with her grain, I noticed Wimpy was still standing in the middle of the dark corral where I had left him, in spite of the open gates. Normally he is not a very social fellow, so I figured I would reward him for not taking off back to the pasture just because he was loose, although that had been what I intended for him to do. I got him a scoop of grain and gave it to him in a bucket. He ate and then trotted off into the darkness. It left a warm feeling in my belly that he'd waited.
I brought Emmalou into the dark milk-room and got her belly-strap on by braille then went to get fat Willy, her calf, and bring him in to nurse. He kept spooking and refused to go in the milkroom. I hollered at him, chided him for his foolishness and being afraid of the dark and finally managed to chase him in. As I went to follow him, Randyman quickly jumped out from around the corner and I sucked up nearly all the oxygen in Harney county. Now it makes sense why Willy didn’t want to go in, because there was a big, old hulk of a man hiding in there. 
I guess I had it coming as I forgot to tell him I was going with the guys and didn’t get back until so late. 
Instead of griping about my not leaving a note, he brought the milker and a light out and helped me bottle feed calves. He also nuked us a dinner. I appreciated it, as after riding 6 hours, I didn't really want to cook. What a guy!

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Cletus, who answers to the name 'Potamus', has claustrophobia. He is 110 lb of quivering white fur when it comes to going through a doorway. It took some real creativity to get him inside of a 4-horse stocktrailer when we had to take him to the vet. He won’t even step inside the workshop which is open and has a high ceiling and a 15-foot wide, open doorway. Seriously, he has a problem. Or should I say, “had”. He cured himself.

Bruno has taken to coming into the house during the day and sleeping. It’s cool in here and no big deal, since Cletus has always been outside on chicken duty.

Once or twice Cletus has stuck his head through the door only to fly backwards at the slightest hint of noise or movement. We have caught him looking in at us, but the moment he sees us looking his way, he instantly disappears. No way is he going to get caught where he could be reeled in.

The other night we barbecued a couple of rib steaks. They smelled amazing. So amazing, that Cletus had to get a closer look. There is a magnetic screen on the door right now, so the other dogs can go in and out at will. His nose appeared through the screen. Then a pair of eyes…some ears…pretty soon there was an entire dog's front-end standing inside, with a big, white, pointy muzzle laying on the table next to Randy's plate. If power of the mind was capable, that dog's eyes would have levitated that steak right into his mouth. If a 110 lb dog is able to put on a cute face, Potamus did.

Unable to resist, I handed him a bite.  A bit more dog appeared on this side of the curtain. He begged what he could get out of us, then went slinking back outside. The experience was life changing for him. Apparently, as he returned to his outdoor post, it occured to him that life on the INSIDE of the house, held a great deal of promise.

The next day, Cletus began his self-prescribed therapy. Instead of napping on the lawn he laid in front of the door. An hour later, he bravely stuck his head inside the door. I found this very disturbing, as looked a bit like something out of the Godfather. Every hour, a little more of his body was on THIS side of the curtain. Within days he was actually inside the house. I stared at him, dumbfounded as he looked around, turning his head right and left. To the chagrin of all of us, he nosed around and found Cider's food bin, then he hunted down Randy's secret stash of chips by the chair. He wandered into the living room, emboldened by his discoveries of this canine version of the land of milk and honey, searched out a favorite spot and flopped down. The problem is, it was Bruno's favorite spot.  Taking offense at the pre-empting of his piece of rug, Bruno promptly marched over and sat on Cletus the Potamus' head. This started an extremely physical disagreement. Cider and I stood on the couch as there is little room in our tiny rock house for 200+ pounds of arguing dogs.

I was not anxious to have another hairy muddy beast living in our house. Even one is too many, but Randyman and I have been together a long time.

Now I seem to have large white rugs laying in the kitchen or living room most of the day. 

I am preparing to serve them their eviction notice. Someone needs to guard the chickens!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Value of Teamwork

In case I haven’t mentioned it, my Randyman is also a very handy man. He is also a genius. He can do, fix and make anything. We had a little work day this week and it just really awakened me to how much can be accomplished with a little team work.

I have lots and lots of electric fence up, to contain critters where I need them. They are being pretty good now and its okay to let them in different pastures, so we are taking the fencing down for awhile. Most of it is polystring, which, when you buy it, is wound up all pretty on a little roll, like toilet paper…but then I have to find a small tree branch and wrap it all around and it gets bunched up and tangled up and I get gritchy. (That is a combo word. It’s a combination of grouchy and…witchy. Get used to it.) So HandyRandyMan invented a little tool that helped take care of this problem. He got a drill and fitted a piece of pipe and spool on it. I unhooked all the string from the fences and laid it out. All he had to do was push the button and get it started. Too cool!! 1600 yds of string fit beautifully. It also stores much more nicely than tree branches.

We also have quite a lot of high tensile wire from the old electric fence. Samby the lamby got tangled up in it last month at midnite and I had to unwrap it from around his throat and legs in the dark, with a flashlight. It turned into a big scribble. Randyman let me cut that piece off so I didn’t have to untangle it.

All around me, all day, I saw great teamwork being done.

Cletus had apparently set the alarm clock to go off in the after noon and wake him from his nap. Dogs and chickens working together, helping one another. Now isn’t that what life is all about?

My milk room is still not completed, even though it has gotten to the point that EmmaLouMoo and I can use it. HandyRandyman put up some insulated plywood walls, which are most wonderful! He had a little help from an apprentice….Moose. I didn’t really even guess Moose would be interested in construction. I had visualized him  more in appliances…

As the day progressed, I saw more teamwork.

Cider helped Cletus guard the door to the milkroom

The calves helped Cider find his kong ball

The sheep counted one another until they all fell asleep

And Willy helped me milk  EmmaLouMoo.

If we all practice teamwork and put our best foot forward, together, we can accomplish anything!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Who Gives a Cluck?

This was our first year to raise meat chickens. I have had chickens for years, enough to be too spoiled to eat commercial eggs. Fresh eggs from home raised chickens have a dark orange yolk that stands up and doesn’t break easily, the whites are not runny or watery, and the flavor is outstanding. The only downside is they are very hard to peel when hardboiled unless you let them get old, like store bought eggs. No problem. Fresh eggs keep for a very long time. In fact, ours is the only country that refrigerates them from what I understand.

We used to have to keep the chickens cooped up all the time, because owls and hawks would try to snag them. We had a bobcat trying to break into their coop and there is a rash of raccoons, coyotes, cougars and bull snakes that would love to dine on fresh chicken or at least the eggs. The boss had 30 chickens delivered once and said they were gone within hours, because of the owls…and the hens were hiding in a brush pile!

Enter Cletus and Bruno, our two year old Maremma Livestock Guardian Dogs. Cletus, especially, has always had a great fondness for chickens. Unfortunately it used to manifest itself by running down any loose bird, pinning it between his paws and gleefully undressing it. This resulted in the loss of a couple birds and a dressing down of Cletus himself. He actually couldn't wait to show me his surprise once, as he led me around the corner and through the weeds where he happily presented me with a naked rooster. He was sorely disappointed in my response to his gift. It was just more than he could contain, this fascination and love for chickens. Once he understood the chickens were MINE and not to be molested, he has become our main and most faithful chicken guardian. He makes sure to flop down somewhere he will have a good view of the chickens as they free range. 

He has set up a ‘no fly zone’ around the yard where hawks and owls are not allowed to pass. He and Bruno have run nearly all the way to the horse corral in pursuit of a wayward owl. The hawks, owls and eagles just don’t bother anymore, there must be easier game out there on the ranch. The chickens often nap with him during the day then get locked into their coop at night so he is free to go patrol with Bruno and protect the rest of the critters here. Come morning, Cletus is asleep outside the coop, faithfully keeping watch over his charges.

So we bought some Cornish X chicks. These are a hybrid chicken developed for meat purposes only. They grow incredibly fast, have very meaty breasts and thighs and rarely survive longer than 8-12 weeks due to their massive size. A lot of people don’t like raising them because they are sort of lazy…have leg problems and poop a lot. They also eat a lot. In fact, they will eat themselves to death if you don't ration their food. The first 3 weeks I was not a fan of the breed, but then we put them outside where they could move around and forage a bit. They LOVED it! They started roaming farther and farther across the yard, catching bugs and picking grass. They remained healthy and happy. Knowing they would not survive beyond several weeks of age made it easier to reconcile ourselves to butchering them for the freezer.

As I pondered this, I realized all things will die. We can either give them a good life, a purpose and a quick and humane death, or let them suffer from starvation, disease, the pain of old age, or be eaten alive by predators. It is a service to our  animals to choose the former and by doing so, insuring the quality and safety of the food on our family table.

Unsure if there was going to be any difference in the flavor of the chicken we raised, compared to what we bought, we decided to purchase one and cook them together. There was a definite difference. The home raised meat was flavorful and almost sweet, whereby the store bought chicken was bland and mushy by comparison.

The next chicken-y meal was fried chicken from 2 roosters that were always fighting and crowing and generally driving us crazy. As there were only 2 hens of laying age 3 roosters is WAY too many, so our choice to was put two in the frying pan. It was, by far, the BEST fried chicken I have EVER had. Add buttermilk biscuits made with fresh buttermilk and dripping with homemade butter, some corn on the cob and lemonade and you have a meal fit for a king. The fringe benefit is that we now only have 1 "alarm clock" to deal with, which makes the hens happier too.

The leftovers made great stock too!

I found one of the little 'eggers' practicing today. She was trying on the nesting box for size. Too cute.

Lots of cities now allow backyard chickens, so lots of people can partake of all the good things chickens have to offer. They are great entertainment too, not to mention eating all the bugs that would attack your garden, fly larvae and kitchen scraps. Another "must have" for me. Move over Colonel. Ain't nuthin like the real thing!