Sunday, February 26, 2012


Two days had gone by since the big wind storm. I awake at midnight to a roaring in my ears. I heard the wind howling through the trees and whooshing through the window in the bathroom. Nothing in this little rock house is air tight and when the wind blows hard like that, it whistles loudly through the cracks. I thought about EmmaLou. She only just got the courage to use her shelter again. I climbed out of bed and grabbed a flashlight. As I open the back door, I am surprised to see both the Maremmas crowding to get inside nearly knocking me over in their haste.  The wind is worse than the other night, the gusts much more forceful. I can feel the dirt sandblasting my face through the open door, even though the wind is blowing from the West, in the opposite direction. It seems to whirlpool through places in the yard. I grab a flashlight and a jacket off the hook and step into some tennis shoes and go to check on EmmaLou in the howling wind and dark.
I find her cowering in the far corner of the corral again. I shine the light on myself, as I startled her and she cannot see that it’s me. With the roaring of the wind she couldn’t hear me approach. 
I take her by the halter and lead her towards the shelter to the second gate, which opens into our yard. She doesn’t want to go. I pull harder and she bolts fearfully through the gate, terrified of the shelter and the huge, heavy gate panel that stands next to it, which has already moved further than it had through the entire storm the other night, even though we had replaced it and propped another panel up against it as a brace. 
I turn the corner with her and open the door to the lambing shed. It’s small and it’s not windproof, as the door is made of heavy wire and the wind roars through it, but she will be safe from flying debris in there and there are no heavy panels to fall on her. She comes in with me, but she is fearful. As the roof has not been replaced on the shed, I have put up a small tent shelter inside to keep the sheep dry, should it rain or snow while lambing. The tarp on top of it rattles and the little shelter vibrates with the turbulent air. Emma snorts and jumps back. I pet her and try to reassure her. The wind is blowing against my back as I lean against the door to keep it shut. It requires a chain from the outside, there is no way to latch it from within. I find it difficult to keep my feet as the wind is blowing so strongly now. I move what I can out of Emma’s way, next to the goat stanchion. She continues her explorations. I step out and latch the gate. I look around the corner to see if the sheep are faring ok, and I’m horrified to see the heavy door panel laying down across Emma’s shelter, which I had just replaced. I wonder what the windspeed is, but I know its blowing harder than the other night. Much harder. 
I work my way back to the house, unseen things blowing past me and I can hear them as they batter themselves up on the rock wall, the fence and other objects of solidity. It’s a fearful night and there is little else I can do. I can only pray the animals will be safe, that the big trees in front will not fall upon our house and I content myself with the second half of a verse “...having done all, to stand.” It’s really about putting on the whole armor of God, and standing in spiritual battles, but I can feel it apply to me tonight, in my faith. 
The storm is not the real danger, the battle is in me. It is whether I will choose trust, or fear. Even as EmmaLou stands in the shed, with the wind blowing about her, she is safe there. Any missiles launched and aimed at her by this wind, will bounce off the walls of the shed that enclose her without doing her harm. If she can control her fear, she will be all right, as I have done what is necessary to her protection without halting the storm. The same is true in my life. If I control my fear and place my faith well, I too, will weather the storms. Whatever my circumstances, winning the inner battle is what will keep me safe. 
Groping through the darkness and against the gale, I finally arrive at the house, where the pups are happy to see me. Randyman is up, making sure I got back in safely. Amazingly, the electric is still on once again. I make a cup of hot chocolate and sit down at the laptop to record my thoughts. I sit warm, and cozy as the wind screams its threats outside. I know tomorrow it will be calm again, and for now, my heart is calm too. Any anxiety has blown away on the storm and the battle is won.

Once more dawn broke quietly. The violence of the night almost forgotten until we stepped outside. The large gate panel was all the way down on the ground, the enormous 24’  and 8’ high double gate panel also had been blown to the wall. Large trees had snapped at the base and horse trailers had been slammed into one another. The mirrors or our truck had been blown back and Randyman made the observation “How fast does the wind have to go to do that? I can drive 100 mph and not have that happen”.

you can see where this fence line USED to be...posts were taken right out of the ground

you can see where this used to sit

A 2-story building that was being carefully dismantled is now just debris

surveying the damage

Who knows? There were definitely hurricane force winds last nite, much more powerful than the previous storm a couple of nights ago.
No one was injured, animal nor human. Even the large trees that fell on the house closest to ours do not look as though they penetrated the roof. The couple who has been staying there is gone this week, so they didn’t even have to experience the terror of hearing the wind and tremendous noise of trees snapping and coming down on a metal roof .
My confidence was well placed, as I knew it was. 
However, I have had enough life experience to know, that even in the face of devastating loss and perhaps death, He is still good. But this time, He lets us celebrate.

The Scoop on Grit

Herein lies an exercise in writing. A challenge from's 5 minute Friday. About Grit.
Give it a try!

Grit. It has so many definitions. To grit one’s teeth and face a challenge. To have grit, or courage to face the day. Nitty gritty, right down to the basic dirt. Grit on your counter. Dirt. Bag of grit, something chickens use to help digest their food, thus gaining the nutritional value of what they have taken in.
A life without grit would be weak and lukewarm. Without the exercise of difficulty that builds muscles and breaks down the elements of conflict to its basic form, we wouldn’t grow strong. Like the butterfly who must struggle its way out of the cocoon to push the blood to its wings so it can fly, so we must press on. 
Here’s to a life with its share of grit. Grit can bring hominy to your life.  :)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Through the Storm

The sky is painted in shades of silver, grey and cream, and the shadows of the clouds throw a purple cast upon the mountains which lay on the far side of the valley. The top of the large fault block to the west shimmers white with new snow and deep blue crevasses, the peak pushing up out of the clouds at 10,000 ft while the rest of the mountain is cloaked beneath the haze.

A drizzle falls slowly on the ranch as EmmaLou lays sleepily cudding in the straw under her little shelter. The sheep are out in the back 20 acres nibbling at the young grasses that dare to push their way up out of the soil under the straw colored forage of last season. I pick my way through the downed thistle, following Cletus along the small cattle trail leading down to the grove of trees where the sheep were grazing.
The weather has been taking its toll on me, as well as a wicked chest cold that I can’t seem to get over, so as soon as we reach a spot out of the heavier wind I lay down in the grass to soak up what little sun peeks through the clouds as they scud across the landscape. Cletus comes to make sure I am all right, sticking his great cold nose in my face. I laugh as his lips hang in floppy wrinkles and his big white head hangs down, eyes disappearing and resembling a giant, white Sharpei. His huge fangs are brilliant white, probably from working on the bones and antlers he and Bruno lug home from their nightly patrols, his lips falling away in a grin. He gives me an affectionate nose touch and then goes to check each individual sheep. The lambs follow him around as if he is their hero, which, indeed, he is. 
My nephew and a young lady visiting the ranch are up by the barn in my round pen, working colts. One jumped out of it the other day, crushing one of my panels. I hear their voices on the wind and a wave of sadness rushes over me. I contemplate how many horses I myself, broke and started in that pen before my condition rendered me unable to do what I had spent my whole life loving and doing. I miss it terribly, some days more than others and watching and listening to other people enjoy a life that is lost to me is hard...especially when they are doing it in my space. I wipe a selfish tear from my eye and look back towards Cletus. He seems to sense my sadness and comes to lay down next to me. Burying my face and hands in his fur, I thank God for the life He has preserved for me. If I did not have the animals to keep me company while Randyman is working, I think it would be unbearable. I chide myself for having a bad attitude. I no longer use the roundpen for riding horses, but I could break it down and make smaller pens out of it for my sheep and goats. I decide to see if the boss wants it and if so, maybe we can work something out. At least if its no longer my own, it won’t hurt so much to see it damaged. There was sentimental attachment to it, as it was a gift from someone very important and very dear to me, but that someone is somebody I won’t get to see again. Some memories are better left behind, or they become toxic and eat a hole in your heart like a cancer.
Cider came over with a ‘hand-picked’ cowpie and sets it down next to me, expecting me to throw it. I roll my eyes at him and find a bone, and substitute it instead. He runs and picks it up, then heads off through the grass exploring. He comes back, offering a stick. I throw it and he returns, his body covered in mud. 
I finally pull myself to my feet and head back up the hill to the corral. The sheep and dogs walk slowly with me and we eventually arrive. I leave them behind as I head through the gate with Cider and go back in the house. Still feeling a little desolate and foggy headed, I tell him to stay outside and dry off.
I stumble to the couch to check my email on the laptop,and find that I scored a butterchurn on ebay. That makes me smile, as I have been wanting and needing one for a couple of years. Making butter 3x a week in the Kitchenaid hasn’t been all that bad, but its a good bit of work cleaning up and I also have to use my hands and wrists a lot to wash the butter. I should be able to do a lot more of that in the churn now, so I am excited for it to get here.

I look up and notice Cider is not outside, but laying on my newly cleaned carpet. I jump up and open the back door and tell him he has to go out. He sneaks around the other side of the kitchen table and heads for the bedroom. I growl at him and he stops, turns around and heads for the service porch, sighing dejectedly as he slumps down on the dog bed. 

I can't help but laugh at him, then I think about my new butter churn again.
Even the most lowly days have their high points.

This is the second day in a row of this strange stormy weather. That said, the weather is always a bit strange in this valley anyway. It can be sunny at our house and snowing at the bottom of the pasture. The dark clouds still cover the sky, but today there is a huge rainbow over the range. Bruno accompanies us as Cider and I go out to visit Cletus and the sheep. Cletus is beside himself to have Bruno there to play with again. I sit on the grass and the pups surround me, clowning around and teasing me unmercifully.

 I move down by the big 'octopus tree'. It's a huge tree with several thick trunks growing like tentacles along the ground. It makes for a handy seat to watch the goings ons and the antics of the 'polar bears'. They play chase and tumble and knock one another over at breakneck speeds, flipping and grabbing throats, legs, or whatever it takes to win the battle. The sheep graze on contentedly, not the least bit worried as the two dogs blaze a trail between them.

They finally wear themselves out and take up stations on opposite sides of the sheep. Bruno is watching from above, close to my observation post and Cletus has gone several hundred yards further down the pasture, beyond the sheep. They both sit quietly, eyes scanning the surrounding area. It has been drizzling for awhile and now it has stopped, so I gather up my things and head back up the hill to the house. 

Rosemary sees me and comes running from way down where the sheep are grazing. She continues to follow on my heels all the way to the corral, across the back yard, up on the porch and into the kitchen. She stands at my side and DEMANDS  a bottle. It's not time for her evening bottle yet, but I can't resist her so I heat up her bottle and allow her to have 1/3 of it early. I hear a vehicle race past the front of the house and as I look out I see both Maremma's racing past. They think I have left. I call their names and they stop, spinning around in surprise to see me behind them. We return to the pasture and resume our places in the grass.

As we lay in the gentle drizzle, I could hear a roaring coming from far away. Living in this valley, under the 10,000 ft. faultblock, our weather can become very turbulent, very quickly. The wind blows often, and blows strongly, but every now and then, it tunnels up the valley, contained by the mountains and charges through like a freight train, and that is exactly what it sounded like.
Cider and I made it to the house just before the first strong gust hit. I could hear it whistling around the little rock house we live in, through the gaps in the doorways and past the rock wall as dirt, tumbleweeds, tin from a building and other things went whirling past. I saw Emma’s shelter begin to heave as if breathing heavily as she stood at her feeder and watched. The wind continued to build and blow. The sheep ran into the corral with the dogs, but I didn’t see Stewie and his mother Madge. I ran out to find them, dirt blinding me temporarily as it blew and scratched its way into my eyes and my long hair whipped about painfully. I fought my way through the dead orchard but didn’t find them. Returning to the corral, I found she had already taken Stewie to shelter under the big cattle panels. EmmaLouMoo continued standing at her feeder, watching her own shelter blowing chaotically in the wind. Normally she takes cover in there every time it rains or snows, or anything disagreeable is taking place.  I drug out what hay I could find and stuffed it down deep into feeders, hoping it would stay long enough for the animals to get some sustenance from it. When I was finished, Emma’s shelter was gone. She was standing in the ruins of it, with her eyes agog, and her tongue hanging out. She was making awful noises, as though she was gagging or choking, and was breathing heavily. The heavy gate panel doorway to the milking shed was bending towards us, the wind beating against the backside of it unrelentingly. I made my way to Em with a halter, and once getting it on her, I realized she wasn’t choking at all, but was just terrified. The tarp which had once protected her was wrapped around her legs, whipping her madly and she had no sanctuary left to turn to. Bruno accompanied me as I led her through the large corrals and out to the old orchard where she and Dolly used to take cover. She ran to the back corner, seeming to find solace there. There is no longer any fence down the side of the orchard but I didn’t think she would be going anyplace, anytime soon. I cried a little for her, knowing how scared and lonesome she felt without Dolly here. As I returned, Randyman had shown up and together we tried to brace up the heavy panels that threatened to blow down and crush anything in their path. It took two of us to close the door after opening it to see if it would let off some of the pressure. It didn’t. We came back to the house, bringing the dogs in with us, as there was nothing they could do out there and having more animals in danger of being hit with flying debris just didn’t make much sense. Surprisingly, we never lost power. Randyman said it was gusting 70-80 mph.
I prayed for Emma and the animals and we settled down for the night, with popcorn, 4 big dogs in the house, and the wind howling outside.
I woke up at midnite to a sudden stillness. The wind had finally spent its fury. I let the dogs out and donning a sweatshirt and flashlight went to the orchard to find Em. I moved her into the big hay corral where she could safely spend the rest of the night, and let the dogs patrol. All the sheep seemed fine, as did the goats. Grateful for no injuries and minimum damage I headed back to the house.

The sun rose high and the air was crisp with a blue sky. After milking EmmaLou, I put the calves in the hay corral and set about to rebuilding and repairing her little tent shelter. I sandwiched the big tarp between cattle panels which I then wired together so the next time the wind blows, there is nowhere for the tarps to go. Of course, the likely scenerio is that everything will flip over but in a wind as strong as last night's there just isn’t a defense. This will do for normal weather.
I let the goats in with the sheep but Peebody the buck and Ray the Ram got into a terrible tussle and as Peebody has horns, he was not just butting, but hooking. I got ahold of his horns and front legs and with his front legs on either side of me, I towed him back to the goat pen alone. Ray felt the two doe goats were intruders and has been valiantly defending his little flock from them. They are fairly evenly matched weight wise, all weighing about 150 lb each so I let them be. As they butted heads at the top of the pasture, the pups were down with the ewes and lambs by the Octopus tree. I looked up and saw one of the visitor’s dogs in the pasture by the corral. Bruno and Cletus saw it too. They took off running and stopped, about 100 ft apart and 100 ft short of it. There was no way it was going to be able to get past them to the sheep. The dog paid little attention to them, so they advanced again, this time with a warning bark. This time the dog looked at them. Not seeming to be of a disposition to leave, they charged the dog a third time and the dog turned tail and ran, taking the shortest route back into the horse corral. The pups stopped where they were, satisfied that justice had been served and after checking the area where the dog had been thoroughly, they went back to the sheep. I hugged them and told them how proud I was of them, as they not only removed the intruder, but they didn’t  use anymore force than was necessary. They ramped it up each time they had to, but they used good discretion. I laid down in the sun, with my arms around Bruno, and I thought I felt Cletus laying on the other side of me. Now and then he would nuzzle me, but I was too weary to roll over yet. Finally, I turned my head and saw that it wasn’t Cletus at all, but Rosemary. She had snuggled up with us and stretched her neck out in ecstasy as I scratched her under the chin.
I looked up to see Randyman at the fence. He was laughing at the antics of Ray and the goats. Prissy, the evil doe, bit Ray and came up with a mouth full of wool. That’s what she gets for biting a hair sheep, it comes out!!
We headed back to the house with Rosemary at our heels and I made her a bottle while Randyman made lunch.

Afterwards, Rosemary followed us back out to the corral and Randy put all the huge gates back where they had been before the wind. He left and I went to check on Emma, who was laying down, sunning herself. She’s been very itchy lately, so I found a stiff brush, and laying with her, scratched her neck and chin for her. She lolled her head with her eyes closed and then wrapped her neck back around me as if to show her appreciation.
It was really my pleasure.
It always seems so serene after a storm. 

I think the rest of the day, we will all just rest in the quiet warmth of the sun, under the watchful eye of our Protector.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Rearrangement Derangement

There was once a time in my life, when I constantly moved furniture. Everything would feel homey and inviting until one day I was sure it all needed to be rearranged and after a back-wrenching day I would fall back, satisfied and watch as the family staggered and groped their way through the new changes. (Always funny until I came back from vacation to find my visiting mother had rearranged my kitchen) I finally outgrew the furniture moving phase of my life and began rearranging barns, arenas and kennels. Randyman, fine fellow that he is, always obliged me as I reconfigured everything to accommodate my teaching and training. The arena was stretched to accommodate the jumping horses, mare motels were moved from the ranch to the residence and back, gates were changed, new gates were made, things were squeezed to contain the horses for special needs riders, split to accommodate the trail obstacles and so on and so forth. Oh the good old days!
These days things are a little bit simpler. Well..sort of. Changes are always in motion as I try on different combinations to see what is going to best work in the future. Now that Cletapotamus and Bruno are with us, protecting the stock, the chickens get to free range. We have 30 more meatie chicks arriving in April for Cletus to raise and they, of course, will be outside again, as they are enormous, pooping machines. EmmaLouMoo will have to be dried up around that time, so they will get to inherit her small corral and shelter.
There are plans for a really big production vegetable garden this year, new fruit trees have been planted, along with a grape and I THINK I have a currant bush on the way...perennial flowers have been planted and I have already got seedlings started so the chickens and dogs had to all be evicted from the back yard. The pups love to run through everything and Cletus has a hole digging fetish. Their first year, I fell into many bottomless pits as the snow gave way above them when I  passed over on the way to feed the critters.
There is a low fence by the chicken/lambing shed one one side of the yard, but the other has only pipe corral  panels which both chickens and dogs negotiate without too much problem. My plan was to put wire there and effectively lock the chickens out, let Bruno or Cletus chicken spend  their days in the new ‘chicken corral’, while the other goes out in the back pasture with the sheep. Randyman took the 6’ high heavy duty chain link kennel panels and gate and used those to wall off that side of the yard. It was perfect. I could access the chicken pen, use the alley to run goats or sheep through, and lock everyone in, or out, as I choose.
Triumphant, I finished milking Emma and headed to the house. A short time later I peeked out the window to see Stickman, the Blue Andalusian rooster, two of the Speckled Hamburg psycho hens and a Rhode Island perusing my yard, digging up flowers and pecking their way through my newly transplanted black berries. Randyman had wondered if they would go over the low 4’ fence or not. They didn’t. They FLEW over the 15’ high roof of the shed!!! As soon as I get an accomplice, we will be sneaking into the hen pen by night and clipping some wings.
I will never accept defeat.
Other than the rebel girls flying into my yard, things went swimmingly well. Bruno had chick duty and Cletus was out in the 'back 40' watching sheep. I thought, with them suitably contained, that I could safely ride the 4 wheeler up to the ‘mail room’ where our mail is delivered. I no sooner arrived, than 2 big Polarbears were at my side. I have NO idea how they got out. Cletus, I know would be able to access holes in the fence as that 20 acre pasture has several, but Bruno was definitely contained. He had to scale SEVERAL fences in order to get out. What was the MOST scary, is that he got to me so quickly! It became clear to me that they are staying where I put them, out of obedience or choice, not because they cannot escape. I guess thats a good thing. I returned them to their posts.  Bruno found a nice spot in Emma’s corral to nap while the chickens pecked through the straw in her shelter and Cletus went halfway down the pasture and laid down with the sheep. Gotta love these dogs!

This morning it was windy and snowing when I got up. I was a little late getting out to milk EmmaLou and Randyman had already fed. Rosemary complained about needing her bottle but her gut was SO distended when I saw her, I was afraid she was bloating like her mama had. I carried her into the house and found a dosing gun. I got some baking soda water and some oil into her and the distention started to go down. As I am sick, and its so cold out, I decided she needs to stay with me for most of the day so I can keep an eye on her. It only took a few minutes for her to stop crying about being removed from the flock. She began to follow me all around the house, through the kitchen, into the pantry, on through the bedroom and bathroom...She is happily settled at my feet, like a dog. I am pretty sure I am creating a monster, but she seems quite content. Cider could surely use some lessons from her on how to heel.

As she is having some difficulty negotiating between the sofa and the trunk, I may have to rearrange some furniture...

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Tractor Whisperer

It’s winter again and that means Randyman is brushbeating and mowing down sagebrush. So much of the ranch has been lost to sagebrush in the last 50 years, its remarkable. The fields he has already finished now have lots of grass and feed for the cows, deer and antelope, and some of the grasses are over our heads when we are horseback.
There is a lot of ground to cover and its slow tedious work. Randyman came in and asked if I “wanted to drive tractor”. 
This is not the first time he has asked. I have determined that Randyman is one of those folks that just doesn’t learn very fast. For almost 2 decades, he has known that I have “tractor-phobia” and driving even a small one causes my heart to race, sweat to break out on my brow, the muscles in my neck and shoulders contract like steel and my breathing becomes irregular. I am pretty sure that falls into the phobia category. It’s worse than seeing a spider. At least with one of those, I have the presence of mind to grab a shotgun if its big enough and protect myself. A tractor, I just climb inside and wait to die.
He then asked if I would go down to “High Corner” several miles down the road, to pick him up. He would then drive me home and go back so he had a pick up truck to drive back in when he was done.
I pulled past the cattle guard and down the road to where one big tractor was parked as he drove up in another. He looked pitiful to me...there was so much work to do and it goes so slowly, so in spite of myself I asked.

“Is it scary? Are there ditches? Would I have to go fast?”
Of course he denied all of the above.
“You would have to teach me. None of this ‘here’s the throttle, there’s the bucket’ and jumping out and leaving me like you usually do. You really have to teach me. I want to ride around with you for awhile so I know what its SUPPOSED to feel like. I have no idea what this thing is supposed to do, or feel like, or how to do it, or how to keep it from doing it!”
He agreed and I managed to climb up into the belly of the beast. We took off at a roaring 2 or maybe 3 mph and bounced across the field. There was most certainly a ditch at the other end. I could tell it was big enough to break all of my teeth should we drive the thing into it and imagined all kinds of worse case scenarios.

He turned just in time and we headed another direction, bouncing and shifting around, mowing the large chunks of sagebrush that had been run over with a crusher the winter before. He offered me NO information, so I had to ask. 

I found out that ‘that’s’ the brake, that’s the throttle for the PTO, that’s a gear shift.
Pretty much just the basics...of course there are lots of dials, other levers, and other buttons in the thing which makes it incredibly confusing for me, and not a little un-nerving as I have no idea what they are all for, or what the consequences might be of accidentally hitting one. I’m not one of those people that likes to try it just to find out.

I asked how he knew where to go, which way to turn and was told "You just know. You just do it". 
THAT was a big help.
He insisted we switch places and I drive and he would ride for a lap. I didn’t feel ready but I did it. We were heading for the ditch. I had no idea which way to turn when I got there, only that if I turned too sharp the mower behind would damage the big tire and I couldn't let THAT happen...I began to panic and told him I wanted to stop. (He had yet to TEACH ME HOW). After a small apoplectic fit, he told me to step on the clutch and we stopped. 
He then told me I could drive this big hunk of tin and he would drive the other one. I had merely to drive over the rows he would make and leave behind. 
“NOT until I know I can start and stop without a problem!"

Several starts and stops later...(which comprised of putting in the clutch, popping it in gear, DON’T leave the clutch in too long, put the PTO to 15, but JUMP it UP to a bit over 21 ASAP before  you get going, keep looking back, look for smoke, make sure you are getting both sides mowed, watch out for big rocks, use this lever to raise the mower if you hit one, only put it down to this level above the ground, here is how you raise the wings...yada yada yada.)he climbed down.
I felt I had the starting and stopping down anyway. He left and I took off, spending the next couple of hours mowing away, leaving a clean field behind us as we worked our way to the bottom. My hands, shoulders and arms hurt from  anxiety, but my heart was happy because I felt I had been of some service to both him and the ranch.
I headed home to feed Rosemary her bottle. She is doing quite well and has become very greedy. She knows her name, and in sheep-speak it apparently means “bottle”. She's getting very fat.

I have been putting the Maremma pups out with the sheep during the day as I would like them to pay closer attention to the sheep only. The calves require little protection and if I am worried about the goats, I can always kick them in with the sheep. The dogs were beginning to get too guardy of me and the area around our house. They would prefer to nap on the back porch where they can see more, but I am determined to have my way, so they have been putting up with the sheep by day and patrolling the ranch by night. Cletus doesn't mind much, as he considers them all his pets.

Next morning I fed Rosemary, milked EmmaLouMoo, processed everything, did breakfast dishes, put in laundry and headed out to High Corner again. I climbed up into the ‘belly of the beast’ and took off, mowing down my little rows that had been left by Randyman’s tractor. After a couple of hours, I got into some really big sagebrush and the mower caught a big old gnarly stump and started dragging it. The amps or whatever they are on the PTO meter began to bog down so I stopped, lifted the mower, backed up, re set it, put in my clutch, popped into gear, ran it to 15 then quickly to 21 and took off again. I happily mowed for another hour or so, feeling quite the farmer.
The pattern changed down lower where there was another ditch. Without direction, I had to make a decision where to go, and how to proceed. I managed with a minimum of hyperventilating and continued on my new course. I was pretty sure I had done it all correctly and when I saw Randyman stopped up by the road, I finished my last row and headed over to him.

I remembered what he had said about pushing a lever down, and pulling a button out and turning off the key. I did so, and he raced over and in an unusually loud booming voice said “TURN IT BACK ON!!”
I turned it back on.
The man who never speaks and can only be heard by canines with extremely acute eardrums when he DOES, had something to say.
“You wouldn’t turn the pickup off like that when you stop!”
“Yes I would.” said I.
“Well you aren’t supposed to.”
“But you always do. We drive to town, park, and you turn off the pickup”. I answered.
“Well, yes, but its been idling thru traffic.”
“Well, I wasn’t driving fast in the field.” I reminded him.
“IF you were driving a long way on the freeway, and you got a flat tire, you would’t pull over and turn off the engine.”
“Yes, I would.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“I am not a mechanic. I was a horse trainer. I do not know how to take care of your trucks and tractors. I only know what you TAUGHT me, and that was how to turn it on and off. So I turned it off.”
“Well, now you know.”
“Yes. Now I will only have to remember how to turn it on and when I am done, I will climb out and leave it for you to turn off when you think its ready.”
There were one or two other things pointed out to me, such as the small difference in the height of the grass after I had rescued the mower from the gnarly sagebrush.
I came home and ate peanutbutter on sourdough tortillas, followed by buttered popcorn which I think is comfort food.
I don’t think farming is one of my 'gifts'  or is going to be in my future. In fact, I think I have already forgotten how to turn it on.

The Tractor Whisperer is going to have some long days ahead of him. Maybe I will send him with some cookies.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Trials and Triumphs

In spite of some pain I have been living with lately, its been a good week. Our fruit trees and the grapevine I ordered arrived and  Randyman got them planted. I am really looking forward to the garden this year. I got the trees roped off so the pups cannot break them off at the base, like the LAST tree I had. In addition to that, the boss got us a phone that works here on the ranch, that we can actually hear on, not that I want a lot of phone calls. It’s been wonderful not having my day interrupted constantly. It’s just for doctors, emergencies, and family.
I was able to download 30 free books on kindle, which made a difficult night go faster. I woke up ready to face the day, when I saw Randyman walk into the bedroom. I could tell by his face something was terribly wrong.
My stomach lurched as he told me that Rosemary’s mama was dead. He found her laying in the alleyway, looking like she might have bloated. She was fine at dinnertime, in fact, the boss’ wife and I were admiring the sheep and how great they all looked. It was a real shock. It was Stewie’s dam I have been concerned about about, what with the difficult birth and all, not Rosemary’s. She’d had no problems and had lambed almost a month ago.

I had to gather my thoughts and process it. I was grateful I had not lost EmmaLouMoo, or one of the dogs. I am very sorry to have lost this good ewe, but there is always a reason, even if we do not see it. The only way to deal with this kind of heartache is to trust my own Shepherd. He’s walked me through far more difficult places than this, so I know I can trust Him completely. As soon as I wrapped my mind back around this fact, I had my light in the darkness.
At least Rosemary, the little ewe lamb, will become easy to handle after being bottle fed and she did get an excellent beginning to life as she had a very good mama for her first three weeks.

I have to think something in the hay was suspect, as EmmaLou was also sick this week. The other sheep are all fine though, so I cannot be certain of it. Whatever it was, it was very sudden. She was fine in the evening, and gone by morning. Having animals is a great privilege and a joy, but can sometimes be heartbreaking.
Being dam-raised for nearly a month, Rosemary is not terribly social. I spent some time in the morning trying to catch her, but decided not to cause her more stress than she was already going through. Later in the afternoon I saw her napping and was able to stealthily enter the pen and snatch her by a hind leg as she tried to escape. I lifted her into my arms and huffing and puffing, managed to get her through 2 gates and the several hundred feet to the house. My hands, wrists and legs hurt tremendously as there was nowhere to stop and rest and she is incredibly heavy for a month old lamb. I couldn’t put her down anywhere as she would not let me catch her again. The pups followed us in the house, checked her over, then laid down to nap, while I tried to fill a little tub with hot water to put a bottle in. I had made the bottle earlier in the day with fresh milk from EmmaLouMoo and just needed to bring it back up to 100 degrees. Trying to do all this, with my hands hurting and a   solid chunk of a lamb in my arms was exceedingly difficult. Randyman showed up for lunch JUST in time. He helped keep her quiet while I got the bottle in her mouth. She fought a little bit, but after not too very long, she began to suck and she drank all that I was willing to give her.

Randyman carried her BACK to the sheep pen to be with her friends. He says his back hurts and estimates she already weighs about 45 pounds. She is HUGE for a month old ewe. My bummers didn’t weigh that for several months. I hope we can keep her thriving, without her mother here to feed her. I found an old shepherds hook up in the shop, so I can catch her again without too much work and get some more milk down her. Hopefully the change won’t upset her stomach too much.
Feed time came and I gave the sheep their hay. Rosemary tucked herself in behind the feeder to nibble on alfalfa leaves and I was able to snag her hind leg with my hand and drag her out. My friend “D” showed up and helped steady her while she made quick work of a bottle.
This morning Randyman and I herded all the sheep into a little room and re vaccinated all of them to insure none of them die from clostridium, which may or may not be what killed MamaC. She was boostered in December and should have been ok, but there is no telling if she had been vaccinated before I got her so one shot might not have been sufficient. Better to be safe than sorry. I also gave some anti biotics to Madge and infused her in case of any infection from the difficult birth, where I had to intervene.
I captured Rosemary and once she started on her bottle I was able to set her down and allow her to stand. That is a big improvement from last nite. I hope to give her 4 bottles a day, as close to 32 ounces as I can, as I only have a 10 oz bottle that fits the nipple. So a light feed in the afternoon and a full bottle before bedtime should do her ok.
Rosemary has begun hanging out with little Stewie, who is more than willing to accept her company. 

Still, I would like her to buddy up to the dogs more, as Stewie can't protect her if she gets in trouble and she has no Mama to look out for her now. I reconfigured the sheep pen so I could contain the Maremmas in there. They are almost 2 now and since all the stock is pretty much contained this time of year, I would like them to become more closely bonded to my sheep. My intention is that they will follow them around during the day while they are grazing and not be so concerned about watching every pasture. At night they will be free to patrol their boundaries. They have been spending way too much time at the back door, so its time to put them to work guarding full time, as they are mature and experienced enough now, for all I can tell. They aren’t thrilled about it, but such is life.

“D” came over at noon to help capture Rosemary for her #2 feeding. She had the bottle as I wanted to get a picture of Rosemary so I can compare and make sure she doesn’t lose condition over the next few weeks. We decided to see if she would come to the bottle...and she did. Her suction was so great, “D” was able to drag her all the way to a nice sitting-on stump without losing her.
So far, so good.

I expect in another day or two, she will run to me for her bottles and get over grieving the loss of her mother. I hope I will too. Life is still good.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Even the Sparrow

I find Cletapotamus' sophistication astounding.
He is a never ending source of entertainment, as well as an incredible Livestock Guardian. This is his "Superdog" pose. All he lacks is a cape, a phone booth and the ability to become airborne.

I don’t know if its because it’s winter or if it’s because our friend, the Executive Chef, was here to spend a month, but I am really excited about food. First of all, I know that we could not even afford to EAT dinner at one of the establishments he is qualified to cook for, yet, he comes for a month every year and fixes us dinner every night, plus helps me with special treats. Every year he calls and asks us to think of what we want him to show me how to make. Unbelievable. I wish I was a better student, but perhaps its best that I am not. I am not known for my powers of self control and a person can only endure so much growth, if you get my drift.
Last night's dinner was just stupendous. I took 2 of the meatie chickens we raised, out of the freezer. After picking rosemary, thyme and some garlic I chopped it up and stuffed it under the skin, like he did. I sprinkled kosher salt and some more herbs over the skin, tossed a quartered onion in the cavity with some leafy celery, poured some fresh made, melted butter over it and set it in my well soaked clay baker. This is something that is worth the purchase, even if all you ever do with it is make chicken. It just makes the most amazing, moist and flavorful chicken you ever had and the drippings make an amazingly flavorful chicken stock. Mine is by Romertopf and is a large one, able to easily hold 2 chickens. I dropped some red potatoes in...sadly I was out of carrots, so we had to do without. I will be stocking up on baby carrots next trip to town and canning them, as we will NOT go without again! Next year, I will be canning the carrots out of the garden as well as leaving some in the ground with straw, to store. I have heard leaving them out they get even sweeter. I don’t know this for myself, so I will have to find out. The really wonderful thing about this meal, is that if my garden doesn't fail again this year, I could prepare this without any purchased ingredients. We grew the chickens, the rosemary and thyme and should be able to supply our own onion, carrots and potatoes next year. The butter of course, is my own. This is the kind of eating I would like to do for a lifetime cutting our grocery bill down to an absolute minimum, things like salt and sugar.

Randyman had company for dinner. I think he might be guilty of bribery from time to time.

Setting everything in the pot made for a really easy to prepare supper and gave me 2 hours free to myself as I finished cleaning the cabin across the way today.
During this time, I checked on my apple cider vinegar that I am attempting to make. It has no more bubbles coming up, so its not still fermenting. It smells strong enough to just about knock your hat off, so I think its doing very well. I strained it and covered it again and will wait and see what happens. I can’t wait and I hope it grows a ‘mother’ so I can keep some going. Real raw apple cider is supposed to be really, really good for you.
I threw all the bones and veggies left from last night’s chicken dinner onto a baking sheet with some onions and peeled chicken feet. Yes, chicken feet. They are supposed to be the ultimate in making great chicken stock, and they have lots of good stuff in them, like natural glucosamine chondroitin and collagen. Our friend says they make a fantastic stock and I have read it on the chicken boards as well, so when we had the meaties processed, I told them we wanted the feet. So in they went.

After some web surfing, I found an awesome site called GNOWFGLINS with lots of great tips on real food. I was inspired to start using my sourdough again, so I took what I had saved out of the freezer and rehydrated it. I need a new container as it looks just like my jars of buttermilk culture, only with bubbles. It would be a disaster to mix them up.
Later in the afternoon, I went to check on the sheep, as Madge, the only purebred looking Dorper, seems to be preparing to lamb. Her bag doubled in size in one day. All the sheep ran to see me but her...she laid down looking very uncomfortable. Then she acted like she was begining labor.
I went to get my camera.

I came back with my friend “D” and her camera. Madge, the ewe, decided to put things off for a good long while. I conned her into following me into the lambing shed so I could feed the other animals. Just after dark, Randyman showed up and agreed to put the camera in the shed, which meant moving 500’ of cable and walking along the top of the 100 year old 8’ high rockwall with it in the pitch dark, with lose stones, but he survived. We finally got it all hooked up.
With all the commotion going on, I had no time whatsoever to fix some dinner. I am glad I canned all those meals last month, as we pulled some venison stew off the shelf and heated it up. It tasted wonderful and was a lot quicker than if we lived in the city and ordered 'fast food', which was good, cuz we were both hungry from skipping breakfast and lunch. Sometimes we get so busy we can forget to eat, but I don't mind. I can surely live off the 'fat of the land' for awhile.
Randyman and Cider went to bed, I watched Madge. She seemed to be in labor, but nothing was happening. Nothing. She would get up, lay down, push. Nothing. She’d rest. I figured maybe she was just positioning babies. I left messages on all the internet sheep boards I knew of for info. The general consensus was “wait”.  By 10 p.m. She was in obvious distress. She was pushing a LOT and still no signs of a baby, waterbag, or anything else. I was concerned it had just been going on too long, as nothing about her delivery seemed very normal to me. By 11 pm, I had gathered up some surgical gloves, a bottle of betadine and some super lubricant.
I sat with her for awhile before she decided she really would let me help her. I went in with the glove and found a felt like it was in the right position, so I searched around and found another. There isn’t much room in the birth canal of a sheep for a lamb AND a hand. I am used to foaling mares which at this point, it seems to me, is a whole world easier.
 There was a very large head above the front legs, so if this was all one lamb, he was in good position, but much too large to fit through the exit before him. I continued searching around blindly, to make sure the legs didn’t belong to a different lamb that might be trying to exit at the same time, but it was just one. I waited for her to push again and I pulled...and pulled...and got nowhere.

There was no traction and he was not moving. 
I had lubed her up well as she seemed to be having a ‘dry birth’. What helped to dislodge him also made it harder to pull him because it was so slippery.
I kept working on him, finally having to remove the gloves and found some baling twine which I tied around his front feet and pulled some more. It was midnite by the time she and I got him delivered. Bruno had wandered in at some point and was watching from behind me. Surprisingly to me, the lamb was very much alive, even after all the time he had been crammed in the birth canal with no progress. I made sure he didn’t have any fluid in his mouth and lungs and set him in front of her so she could see what a good job she had done. I sat back and waited to see if there was a twin on the way, while she and Bruno set to work drying off the little buttstopper.

It wasn’t long before I was certain there was no twin.
 After a good long time, I also realized she was NOT going to let him nurse. I had to mash her up against the wall and hold her so he could get his first, life giving, immunity boosting colostrum. This carries all the antibodies necessary to protect him for the first few weeks of his life.
I pondered the past couple of weeks and what bad shape I have been in from my RA. I haven’t been able to use my hands much as my wrists and fingers as well as my shoulders have been really weak and painful, but today, I wasn’t having any such problems, even after spending 2 days of cleaning a cabin, mopping floors and such. The timing was perfect, although I hardly think it was coincidence. A lot of praying went on during this labor and I think even though there was a lot of difficulty, I never felt alone. I think Someone who cares about my sheep, as well as myself, Someone who even counts the sparrow, was guiding us through the process.
All was well, so I headed back to the house. As I watched them on the monitor, it was clear she was not only going to keep him from nursing, but was trying to hurt him in doing so. 
Finally at 3 am I thawed out some goat colostrum from last years kidding and brought him to the house to give him a bottle. He drank hungrily, while I argued with Cider not to keep licking him and get him all wet again.
Cider is worse than Cletus. He thinks every baby animal is his to mother. He tends to knock them over and lick the hide and hair clean off of them if we allow him. He’s great for bringing weak calves around, but not so great with the little critters. Bruno doesn’t let him near the lambs or kids, but Bruno he was outside on patrol again, while I tended the lamb.
After he was dry and fed, I took him back to his mother. Bruno and Cletus who had finished their short rounds, came with me and checked him all over throughly and cleaned up the shed. I finally hit the bed at almost 5 a.m.
This morning came pretty early. I got up later than planned, at 7:30, with only a couple hours of sleep. I headed back out with the boys to hold her again while the lamb, whom I have named “Stewie” nursed. She didn’t fight nearly as much.
I got the wagon and the milker and milked EmmaLou, fed the chickens and checked Madge’s water. After I processed the milk, I checked the monitor and saw she is letting Stewie nurse all by herself. It’s beginning to snow and my wrists and hands are getting painful again, but there is no emergency in front of me now.
Life is good.