Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It snowed here last week. Or maybe it was the week before. It’s hard to remember as one day runs into another here. There are no real weekends to mark the days by so I often lose track. Anyway, it snowed one day.

Cider sat outside the milk room waiting for me and he got snowed on.

Emma came out of her tent and got snowed on.

The next morning was sunny again and all the snow had melted.

The 'boys' came and waited for me to finish milking and escort me back to the house.

After milking, I took the milk can into the house and strained the milk into jars. I then put them outside in the ice chest with ice water to quickly cool them. Then I tried to find room in the refrigerator for another 3 gallons of milk.

Then we all took a nap.

After a long and productive day, EmmaLou wanted to eat some dinner.

Bruno also wanted dinner.

 Randy and I had an outrageously delicious dinner. Best I ever tasted. Much better than crackers.

And I discovered that if you use homemade butter to make sugar cookies, and cut them out with a heart shaped cookie cutter....

...they look like "butt-crack" cookies. If I knew any plumbers, I would make more to hang them on his tree. As it is, I guess we will just have to eat them.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In Good Company

It’s quiet this morning, here in the little rock house far from everything. Randyman has gone to work up in the shop and it’s just me and Cider. He is always happy to see me, whether I am waking up, or just stepping out of the bathroom. A separation of a few seconds brings the same joy over being reunited as a  week or a month would.
Most of the time, the majority of my life, I spend without much human interaction. The ranch family are all busy doing what they have to do and staying very busy and unless I am up to riding, or go visit or volunteer to help out with some of the many chores, I am alone in this funny little stone and concrete house. I never feel alone, however. I feel God’s presence everywhere on this ranch, stronger than I ever did anywhere else and He has provided me with very good company and companionship.
I put the milker together while Cider happily wags his tail at my side. Armed with a bucket of warm water, we step out onto the back porch to be greeted by the Maremma pups. Cletus stretches his big ol’, tall, lanky frame with an audible yawn and undulates like a fish, asking for his customary good morning rub. Bruno watches from his perch on the wicker loveseat, then sort of oozes and slides onto his feet to bump my hand while the 3 of us work our way to the wagon. As I drag the milker into the wagon and grab the handle, our little entourage moseys its way to the back corral to prepare for milking EmmaLouMoo. She’s behind her tent eating the hay that Randyman will have given her before he left. The little sheep are already spread out across the pasture, nibbling on whatever looks tasty to them. The bull broke into their pasture again last night and the pups decided it wasn’t a big problem since we didn’t rush to move him last time, so they didn’t fuss about it much last night.
Emma hears me and rushes to the gate, anxious to be let into the milk room. I open it wide and she gallops down the little lane and hurries into her stanchion. I quickly dump her grain in the feeder to appease her and make my preparations while the dogs investigate the back corral and check to make sure all is well.

I plug in the milker and grab the “dipe-wipes” to wash Emma’s udder. I dip them in warm water as they are pretty cold being in the milk room overnight. As I scrub and massage her bag, she lets down and begins squirting milk before I am ready. I wipe her dry and put her little belt on that holds the bucket up, turn on the pump and hook her up. She munches contentedly, as the machine taps out a steady beat. I can feel her warmth and smell her faint cowy scent. It’s nice and I smile and rub her hip, enjoying the feel of her sleek coat. I move up and rub her head around her ears and she happily chews and sweeps up another mouthful of grain with her long pointy tongue.
Cletus comes in to sit with me. The milking is almost finished. I turn the machine off and reach for the bucket. I can barely lift it as it is full of milk. I manage to wrassle it into the wagon, tidy up the milk room and unlock Emma’s headcatch. She breathes heavily and works hard to make sure there isn’t a grain wasted or left behind. I rub her eyes and wrap my arm around her muzzle to get her to back out of the stanchion. She coyly pretends to head out the door then bends her neck around to steal some hay off the pallet by the front wall. I coax and threaten and she slowly oozes her way through the door.
Bruno and Cider show up and precede me out the gate and back to the house. They know the routine and they can forecast my every move. Emma moves slowly on the way back and I have to lean into her hip and shove her to get her out the gate. She lollygags, relaxed and sated now and I give her a hug and a headrub before pulling my wagon out the gate. She heads to the water trough and takes in a long, satisfying drink.
Cider comes back and walks with me as I pull the wagon past the chicken pen, where the hens are taking their turns in the nesting boxes. There are 6 boxes, but they only choose to share 3 of them. I will come back at noon and gather eggs and bring them treats. If everyone has donated and no hawks or owls have been haunting the grounds, I might let them out to play for the afternoon as they love to run around and look for bugs and peck at the lawn or see what Emma may have dropped out in the corral.
The pups have already taken their places on their dog beds on the porch, as they have been out patrolling all night and this is when they finally get to rest. They re-think this as I muscle the big bucket up onto the porch and into the house. They all follow me in to watch the procedure. I rinse out the  warm-water bucket and fill it with hot soapy water this time. I pull the inflations off of the claw on the milker and take it all apart. I drop the pieces into the hot soapy water to soak while I wash the lid.
I grab 3 glass gallon jars and set one in the sink. Grabbing the strainer, I set it on top of the jar and with both hands and a loud huff, I hoist the bucket up and start straining the milk into the jars. It's steamy warm and  clean, as no hay, dirt, or manure can easily fall into it with the machine. I feel strangely wealthy, as the creamy white liquid rises to the top of the jar. I cover the tops with plastic wrap and a rubber band, write today’s date on it and whisk them out to a cooler full of ice water on the porch where the milk can quickly chill. There is still a half gallon left in the bucket, so I split it between the dogs.
After cleaning everything up, I collapse on the couch and Cletus comes over and buries his big furry head In my lap. I hug him, taking in his doggy smell and bury my fingers in his thick coat, noting the firmness of his strong, powerful neck and I feel his heartbeat mingle with my own. Bruno and Cider come up on either side of him, vying for my attention and I am overwhelmed by the affection of a loving God, manifested through my animals. I can almost feel His arms around me, hear His heartbeat, as I reach for the intangible and take hold of the tangible.
I hear the little ram blatting outside and my eyes settle on EmmaLou, nosing around in the hay she has nudged up by the tent. My arms are around two of the dogs while the third sets his foot upon my knee. My husband is only a couple hundred yards away, doing what he loves. I wipe away a grateful tear as I take in a million undeserved blessings. Life itself is a gift. I could never earn the divine affection I have been the recipient of. I thank Him audibly, for once again reminding me that He is present always, understanding that all of this is from His hand, but best of all, is the gift of Himself.
My knees unfold painfully as I stand up, my shoulder throbs with pain of past injuries, irritated by the cold, but my heart is light and full and I meet the rest of the day with enthusiasm.
I take the 4 wheeler and ride up the road to the boss’ house. I am going to help clean the guest house, so their folks can spend Thanksgiving weekend here. As I bustle around, inside, I look out through the big window to find an errant Cletus staring back at me. He managed to get out and as usual, worried about me until I could be located. He waits outside for several hours until I am finished, then keeping pace, escorts me home where Bruno and Cider are beside themselves to see me again. Randy will be home soon.

I am truly blessed.
“Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” Matt 28:20

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Almost Winter

Dark clouds, pregnant with a coming storm roll over the ranch early this morning when I go out to milk EmmaLouMoo.

I saddle Wimpy and we wait by the horse trailer while they fix two flat tires, from the sharp rocks on the 50 miles of dirt road leading to the ranch.

Every fall, all the cows get processed and counted and at the end of it all, about 1500-2000 of them are pushed out to the desert to spend the winter. The rest of the cows will stay at the ranch. The cowboys bring a calf who had gotten separated, back to its mother.

The second rainbow of the day shimmers over the ranch as we unload horses to gather cows out of the field to take out to the desert.

We ride through willows and brush in one of the large pastures, in heavy winds, gathering the 1400 cows we will begin pushing to the desert. Today, we plan to take them to a large basin just past one of the hot springs before heading back. The wind howls and I feel raindrops randomly spattering on my oilskin duster.

One of the cowboys was crossing a bog. His horse lunged, in an effort to avoid sinking, but missed the bank and fell back, rolling over on his rider in the mud. Neither were injured, but both were mud soaked . Its all in a day's work for them.

The dust obscures our vision as we continue to drive the cows across the range, through sagebrush and greasewood.

The cows finally line out in a ribbon  nearly two miles long. One rider is at the head of the procession, ensuring the lead cows don't head in the wrong direction. The other 3 of us space out down the line to keep them all moving and tucked in. Some of these cows have been this way before and it makes our job easy, as they deliberately travel towards the respite they know they will find in the the little valley basin tonight.

A storm is rolling in off the Steens, hiding the 10,000 ft. peaks. You can barely see the line of cattle to the right with a rider barely visible in the back ground. Tonight it is supposed to snow as low as the ranch. So far, its been fairly nice. Clad in long johns, "wild rags" and layers of clothing, wearing gloves and jackets or dusters, we remain fairly comfortable even, at times too warm, after heading off errant cows in the brush and pushing them back into line.

The sky has been decorated with rainbows all day.

Only a few more miles to go. The boss had someone follow him and he brought the truck and horse trailer out and left it at our destination so we don't have to ride the several miles back. We are all relieved to reach it. We watch the cows spread out to graze and the 4 of us cram into the front seat of the old ranch truck and head back home to unsaddle before dark.

Its been another great day.

I'd love to be spending the next day taking them the rest of the way, but I know my physical condition won't allow it, so I will stay with Cider, making cheese and butter with the 12 gallons of milk Emma has already graced our refrigerator with. She is giving me 3 gallons a day with a ton of heavy cream, on once a day milking. She is proving to be a really great little cow. She's always waiting at the gate at milk time and goes through her routine with rarely a hitch. Cows are like that, little order freaks. It makes life easier.

Today I'll make parmesan, mozzarella and ricotta cheeses and more butter pats for the freezer. I have found it easier to use them in this form than in the log I used to make. To measure it, I put a cup of water in a 2 cup measure and just drop butter pats in until the water mark reaches the necessary mark. The pats are a perfect size for putting on the table for pancakes, waffles and toast and they store nicely. I just take a few out of the freezer every week to soften and meet our needs. It's a nice way to put butter on the table for company too. I purchased the mold for the pats through an old timey catalogue. Just soak the wooden mold in cold water prior to using and the softened butter (not too soft) pops right out onto the baking sheet, then I freeze them to put into ziplocs later.

I will rise some bread in the extra room and bake it. I can't rise bread and make cheese in the same room, as the wild yeast from the bread will inoculate the cheese and give it an off-flavor. They go great together at the END of the process though. If all goes well, I can get some soap wrapped and another batch curing by tonight. That will have me almost caught up on the things I need to get done. I'll start some Christmas sewing next week.

Cheese, butter, bread, soap, laundry and chores, then maybe I can ride again on Saturday.

What a great way to live.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Cry for Freedom

Growing up on a farm or ranch is a blessing few kids get to experience these days.
In an age of single parents, unwed mothers, absentee fathers and the very fabric of the American family under attack and being both demonized and disassembled, these kids get to live within the borders of a close-knit family, mom, dad and siblings living, working, and growing together for their common good.
They are able to absorb the values of their parents and a healthy work ethic as they watch their parents live out and practice what they believe. They don’t fall prey to the insidious ‘peer pressure’ or indoctrination of strangers like most kids.
They spent time outside in the fresh air, watching the everyday miracles most people miss or take for granted, such as the birth of a calf, or the hatching of a chick, or the amazing process of watching a seed become a thriving crop and food on the table. They learn and understand how to nurture these things and appreciate what it takes to provide for their own family as well as countless others along with the charges under their stewardship.

They learn multiple skills such as riding, operating machinery, basic veterinary skills and health, understanding nutrition, as well as how to put in a full day’s work, yet understanding that all things cannot be accomplished in a day and your best is good enough, because tomorrow the work will still be there. These are things that people in the corporate work usually lack and suffer from stress related ailments as a result.
They also learn accountability, responsibility, bookkeeping, finance, salemanship, how to relate to people of all ages and all walks of life. They learn their skills under the watchful eye of a parent, who has their best interest at heart, instead of an employer or instructor. It has been my personal observation that these kids are often much more competent than many adults and seem to develop a greater common sense as well. There is no better teacher than a parent. Our nation was built by men and women who grew up this way.

Fortunately, for those not fortunate enough to be born into such a setting, there is often room for an extra, less fortunate youngster who may be from a local town or even farther away, to come and share of the lessons and lifestyle.
I myself was lucky enough to be one of THOSE kids, who lived in the city but ached for the country life. I was blessed to get a job at a training stable, cleaning stalls, feeding and eventually assisting in the training and campaigning of horses.
My husband learned nearly everything he knows now, at his father’s feet, on their family ranch and there is very little he doesn’t know how to do and do well. In addition to that, he loves what he does and when we have a day off or vacation days, that is what he yearns to do.
Where we live now, young people often come to visit and enjoy working alongside the ranch kids who live here. It’s never for as long as they would like. They love coming and helping out here.
This year the Dept of Labor has passed mandates that would make it illegal for any youngster under 18 to enjoy these experiences. They would be allowed to ride a horse, but never help gather cows with them. They could drive their 4-wheeler off a cliff, but not be allowed to help drive a tractor to put up hay. It would cut them off from any opportunity to develop the self confidence and satisfaction that comes from doing something worthy, from having a healthy outlet for their energy, from being a part of something bigger and more important and fun. From living a dream. They would be confined to menial jobs at McDonalds or some other far less satisfying and healthy pursuit. In the name of “protection” government institutions would rob kids and families of something that has been a basic right, freedom, and a way of life in since before the beginning of our country. 
I guess they believe the best place for our kids is in front of the TV, watching lewd advertisements or sitcoms, playing video games or having sex. It is a totally schizophrenic society. They want the kids to be sexually involved as preteens, activities that in my experienced opinion should be reserved for mature adults, but they want to stunt them as people, as members of society, as skilled or responsible. It makes me really angry. I want my grandkids to have the opportunity to grow up strong, both physically and morally. I want them to be able to enjoy the same things in life that we got to. The government trend is to persecute homeschooling advocates. Soon we will be bound like Germany and some other countries to send our kids out for a government run public education where they are indoctrinated, not taught. This bill mandates that kids who WILL be allowed to work on their family farms cannot do so during school hours. This is a serious over reach into the private life and production of families. I cannot accurately describe how vehemently I am opposed to this. Government has no business controlling and micromanaging peoples lives in a free society.
 I also don’t appreciate them legislating our food. People should have the freedom to choose if they want to buy fresh milk, or products not produced by factory farming or big dairy. Our kids should have the option to participate where they want to, to play cowboy, or live a dream of a waning lifestyle. I want them to know freedom and have the freedom to CHOOSE what they will do. I want parents to have the freedom to raise their kids the way they feel is best. They know best what their children are mature enough and capable of. Kids are not all alike and do not all fit in the same mold.
 I didn’t like the style of Nazi Germany’s interference in the lives of its people and I don’t like what is happening here.
Please help fight for our future. Arm yourself with knowledge of what is being brought before our congress and do your part to contact your representatives and stop the decay of our future.
Thanks, and God bless you,


if there are some inaccuracies due to my lack of mental acuity today, i apologize. The Dept of Labor has instituted these policies. Here is a link to better information. http://blog.beefmagazine.com/beef_daily/2011/10/27/new-labor-rules-could-impact-farms-ranchers/ and http://www.farmers-exchange.net/detailPage.aspx?articleID=10464

We have to try to stay informed and keep things like this from being implemented. I totally understand the desire to protect young people, as there are farm accidents, both with youth and adults, but to paint everything with one broad brush stroke will be debilitating not only to farm families, individual kids, but to the nation as a whole.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Free Fall

We left for California with tomatoes beginning to ripen on the vine and squash almost big enough to pick. We came home to frozen water troughs, and vines and flowers blasted from killing frosts. Warm sunny days have turned gray and cloudy and the hands of time have moved forward again. The sheep, goats and cows are busily cleaning up all the fallen pears, apples and apricots out in the pasture orchard. Most of the leaves have turned and fallen. It is a different world we returned to.

I find cloudy days in the city gloomy and oppressive but out here they are wild and beautiful. It’s a rare blessing to be able to go out and ride and take in the beauty of the new season. Soon there will be ice and snow, but for now, there are new colors and patterns all over the ranch. The migratory birds are coming back, passing through on their way south. We are an aviary fly zone in this valley and are visited by many different and unusual types of birds. 
Three of us went to move some cow/calf pairs and ran across migratory Mallards, Canadian Geese and Trumpeter Swans on a pond we rode past. We had to carefully pick our way across the boggy ground, trying to find a way to get to some cows we saw heading towards the desert to escape us. 
The ground changes from bog to alkali and it is spongy underneath our horses' feet. It feels hollow and is hard to travel on, but we keep going as it changes every mile or so. We finally reach our destination and push the cows through the gate into the pasture they will stay in for the night. Tomorrow someone will have to come back and take them the rest of the way, but now its getting too late.

There is a nip in the air but it doesn’t stop my horse from breaking a sweat as we long trot back towards the ranch headquarters after our 5 hours or so of riding. I love the smell. It's earthy and comforting.

The once green grass takes on a tawny hue and looks soft against the blue-green sagebrush.

Where we've been....the grass is golden, the mountains blue-purple and the sky is every shade of blue, grey and white.

Wild geese and swans

The Trumpeter swans take wing as if late for their fairy tale.

Approaching headquarters at dusk, the pastures glow in the last rays of the sun while the ranch houses rest in the shadow of the mountain.

I unsaddle Wimpy and give him a little grain in appreciation of his help, then get the wagon so I can milk EmmaLou and feed the calves. The pups come to keep me company and Cletus' big furry head works its way up under my arm while his tail beats in time to the milking machine. Night settles down around us like a comforter and I turn everyone out for the night and head to the house with my bucket full of warm, steamy milk.

Its a good life.