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.


  1. It sure does sound like a great way to live. Incredibly hard, but I am sure very satisfying.

    Even though I know absolutely nothing about ranch life, I long to work on a ranch someday, even if it is just for a day. (I have to confess though that I am kind of afraid of horses :o) I just have never really been around them.

    Sometimes I just want a more simple life with nature. Thank you for your blog. It allows me to dream once in a while.

  2. Yes, thank you from me, too. Your writing, and your wonderful life allows me to imagine myself on the drive with you all. It's been a while since I've been on horseback, but they say it's like riding a bicycle - it all comes back. It seems so magical. I am sure that's not always the case, but what a blessed life you have.

  3. It is a more perfect life than I ever could have imagined for myself. Even though its been nearly 6 years, I have to still pinch myself to believe we are here...and more than that, the people we work for are like family to us. It just doesn't get any better this side of heaven. :)

  4. As usual, love the pictures.....One of these days I must visit your neck of the woods :)

  5. Oh you should. You really, really should. :)

  6. I love reading about your days. Thank you. I've made soap once. I have one more bar left, and then I will be out. So, I guess I'll be doing it again. Most folks here think I'm crazy. Why not just buy it?? Why make all this from scratch?? Nice to find like minds. Can you talk about how you make cheese?? That's something I'd like to try, but haven't.

  7. making cheese is a lot of fun. The softer cheeses are pretty easy. I am TRYING to master the hard cheeses, like cheddar, colby and jack this winter. I'm having a little trouble with my temperatures tho.