Saturday, December 21, 2013

Potamus and the Patch

That's a Harney County sunrise. It's hard to keep the windshield clean with 35 miles of dirt road between home and the highway.

It was time for my 8 week trip to town again. Our truck has been broke down since the last trip 2 months ago and unbeknownst to me, the boss hauled it in for us some time ago to a shop so it could be repaired. He was also kind enough to loan us his truck so we could hook up our horse trailer and head out to get our errands and shopping done as well. We had to pick up straw for bedding, livestock panels to make feeders with, and a young Nubian buck, as well as replenish the pantry.

We headed out the door at 5:30 in the morning as my first Dr appt was at 12:00. That would give us time to have breakfast and maybe hit the feed store before I had to be at the hospital after our 4 hours of driving. About 20 miles down the road, the truck started to choke up. Randyman managed to get it going again and we continued on. All the way to Burns Junction...about an hour or better from home. There it quit completely. We pulled over and waited about 30 minutes before we realized it was NOT going to come back to life. 
TheMan put in a call to the boss ( a truly awesome guy ) who along with one of his sons ( another truly awesome guy ) hooked up a flatbed trailer and drove 2 trucks to come rescue us. I don’t know too many people who would drive over an hour away to bail someone out early in the morning on a cold, cold day. It was 9 degrees out. It was also 9 degrees inside the truck by the time they arrived.

I looked on as they unhooked the dead truck from our trailer, towed it around and pulled it up on the flatbed,  (really, it was a super impressive feat, the way it was accomplished. ) left us the extra truck so we could hook back up and be on the road again. It was awesome. The only downside was the heater in the extra truck didn’t work, so it was STILL about 9 degrees.

We made it to town 2 minutes before my first appt. Everything was white. 

Every tree, every single thing, was covered with ice and frost. I called the goat guy and told him we’d be there the next day as we’d be totally unable to get any errands done.
My second appt was pretty close to the first so I spent most of the day there. We left the hospital at about 5:30 and went to get something to eat. We then got a room for the night.

Next day, we started going down the list of errands. It was snowing a little and there was ice hanging from the wires underneath the dashboard of the truck. It was NOT a real comfortable situation. Hours later, we found out our own truck was ready to pick up, so we headed that way. When we got the bill we almost had a heart attack. Add to that fact that it was EXTREMELY high, they only accept cash, no credit cards. Again, Randy called the boss, who is unlike anyone we have ever met...he called in to his bank to have them make out a cashiers check so we could pick our truck up. We headed back across town to get it and agreed to split up so we could get the errands done faster. I climbed into my warm truck with the heater on full blast, grateful tears rolling down my face, thinking of how some people really live what they believe, while others only pay lip service to it. Our boss and his family, are of the former.
Later I jumped back into the loaner truck, as it was late and we had no time to switch the trailer before picking up the goat...who was supposed to be about 6 months oldjust barely old enough to maybe get Anniegoat bred this winter. Turns out he is, maybe, 2 months and I suspect he had not been weaned. Slightly misrepresented, but I took him. He is cute, so we tossed him in the trailer. After taking the boss’ loaner truck to a spot we could leave it, we switched the trailer onto our own, grabbed some dinner and headed to the auto parts store to buy another plug for the trailer as we had no lights. It was so COLD!
I bought a big chamois and some tape and taped it around the little guy to make a blanket as it was cold and windy inside the trailer. Randyman arranged the strawbales to make him a little cave and we headed on home.

It was late when we got home so we left the little goat, we named “Patch” in the trailer overnight with some water.

Next morning I took him out to put him in with Annie, who immediately attacked him. I got Potamus to go in the pen where he would live, to protect him. He was TERRIFIED of dogs! Thin, frightened, traumatized, he was reactive and frightened beyond anything I have seen. Potamus went and laid down in the shelter after I had held the goat to try and make introductions. I put feed in the shelter, hoping Patch was hungry enough to approach Potamus. A wise and intuitive guardian, Potamus played dead, but would open his eyes every couple of minutes to make sure Patch was all right. He was determined to win him over. 

* note the open eyeballs when Patch isn't looking...

 I went back to check him a couple of hours later, and this is what I found.

Two goofuses that had to clown around...

It didn't take long for Potamus to win him over. Now Patch is so attached to him, he won't eat unless Potamus is near him.

I put Annie back in with the other critters and am working on a diet that will suit Patch as I don't believe he was fully weaned yet, and he has a few problems from it. Meanwhile, Bruno watches over the little band of sheep and Potamus keeps Patch safe and feeling loved.

Life is good.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ranch Life Reality

My oldest ewe, Madge, has made this year interesting to say the least. She has had problems lambing every year. It looked like she never got rebred and I was agonizing over what to do. I can’t afford to keep a ewe that can’t produce for us, but Madge is so sweet and so sociable, the idea of culling her was really upsetting me. Luckily, I decided to give her a bit more time. Oddly, within just a couple of weeks she went from looking barren to being enormous and bagged up. I put her in the lambing shed with the camera on her so I could observe her, thinking she was ready. Several different nights she carried on, pawing, pacing and acting as if it might be imminent, before barking up a cud to chew and sleep the rest of the night. I finally gave up and kicked her out in the pasture with the others.

Because she was so much bigger than she has ever been before, I was worried about her possibly getting rolled over in the shelter by the other sheep and not being able to get back up. This usually has fatal results as sheep suffocate when this happens. I decided she could stay out by day, and come back in at night, so I could watch her on ‘ewe-tube’ and determine if she was going to go into labor or if I could actually just go to bed. 

Another week went by and her udder enlarged to proportions I have never seen on any of my sheep before. She looked more like she had the endowment of a Jersey cow. Appalled, I checked her over thoroughly and figured it was a good bet this would be the night.

Around 9:30 she was showing some definite signs of impending labor. I watched alone, unable to nap, in case she got in trouble while I slept. Around midnite I woke up my partner in crime who has never seen an animal give birth. I headed out to the lambing shed with my bag of tricks while she got dressed. Bruno, who usually attends all the birthings with me came in and we sat in the back of the shed. Madge was a little unsettled when our 'Roomie' stepped in, but being a very social ewe who was familiar with her, she settled after a few minutes and hard labor began. 

The water bag presented with a lamb's head close behind. No front legs. Again. As soon as Madge went down pushing hard, I put on latex gloves, lubed my hand up good with lube as warm as I could keep it in the 14 degree air under my coat and slipped my hand inside. It took a minute or two to find a front leg and hook it with my finger, bringing it up carefully. The lamb was small enough that with a little twist he popped right out. A ram lamb. Again. No bother, he will be a freezer lamb, but I was so hoping for a ewe lamb from her as she is my only purebred ewe.

As she babied and bonded with #1, #2 made its appearance without any sign of contractions or pushing. I figured this one was gonna be a breeze and for once, she could deliver one by herself. Then things went bad. Another head unaccompanied by legs. A much larger head. I reached in and attempted to push the lamb back but Madge started pushing so I had to wait. With my arm caught inside. The lamb was not going to go back any further than its ears. I managed, again, to find a front leg after much probing and searching, and feeling so badly for Madge who by now was very uncomfortable. With a lot of work I managed to get it straightened out, but the lamb wasn’t coming. It was stuck. The other leg and shoulder were caught underneath Madge’s pelvic bone. No matter how many times I tried to push the lamb back, there was no getting it unstuck. I couldn’t get my hand underneath there as there was not enough room and my hand couldn’t bend back to scoop it anyway. I kept trying to rotate the lamb sideways which is easier, as there is more room side to side than top to bottom, but the shoulder was still below the rim of the pelvis. I continually twisted, lubed, probed, and despaired of either of them surviving. I didn’t think I was gonna be able to get that lamb delivered. FINALLY it’s body turned enough I was able to press the shoulders up with my fingertips and the front half of the lamb was out...hanging up behind, but easily fixed as it slid back enough for me to straighten the legs out as it slid into the world and #2 was born. 

I had to check to make sure there were no more lambs and there weren’t. Surprised a little at the small size of the two lambs in regard to how huge Madge was this pregnancy, I watched her. Knowing she had to have experienced unbearable pain during the delivery of these lambs I felt a little sickened. The lambs were fine and healthy. #2 lamb was a little traumatized and Madge was busy with #1, trying to lick him more while he tried to find the cafeteria. I brought #2 into the house at about 2:30 and dried him off well, grabbed a bottle and lamb nipple and headed out to the shed. The rubbing had stimulated him enough that he was now wanting to nurse so I got him underneath her and he found what he was looking for. I grabbed up all the rest of the supplies, shot a bit of antibiotic infusion to her to help discourage infection and headed back to the house. Sleep didn’t come until 5 a.m.

TheMan said goodbye at 8:30 and I  dragged myself up to join our Roomie and feed critters. NO small task as the bales are 1600 lb bales and a very small flake is 4x5 feet and very heavy. Even with two of us, I usually have more alfalfa leaf in my hair than I leave behind in the feeder.

When I checked on Madge and the lambs she still had not passed the afterbirth. She dove into her hay, just happy with the world and her new lambs to whom she was very attentive. 

I went to the house, found my oxytocin that helps start contractions, another tube of antibiotic and dropped a note online in the sheep section of TheFamilyCow. Her contractions started on their own, so I didn’t have to administer a shot or do anything but check on her. She would lay down and push hard, the lambs would beg her to get up and she would stand and let them nurse. This went on all day. Some progress was made, but she still had not cleaned by nightfall. Not unusual or particularly alarming, from my understanding. After feeding cows, horse, sheep and chickens again we turned off Madge's light so she could sleep better at night.
Come morning,  Roomie and I were up again and headed out to feed. I looked in the lambing shed and two hungry lambs were bleating and nudging their mother trying to raise her up. 
She had died in the night.
 My hurt lurched up into my throat as tears threatened to overflow. She was the friendliest ewe in the flock. I had agonized over what to do with her just weeks earlier, when I thought she was unbreedable. We can’t afford to keep a sheep that doesn’t produce as it costs too much to hay feed them in the winter. I would have to cull her or feed her to the dogs. Either way, selling her or using her ourselves, she’d be butchered. I suppose this made things easier as I knew she would eventually die lambing if I continued to breed her, because she had problems like this every time. She was likely to pass on whatever was wrong with her if she gave me a ewe lamb. I managed to get my emotions under control by the time Roomie caught up.

Madge had looked so good the morning after. Happy and eating and making much over her newest lambs. I mixed some painkiller in with applesauce and grain for her hoping she would eat it and it would make her more comfortable. She didn’t seem to want to eat or drink. The contractions were coming more often. I was concerned, but hoped the afterbirth would pass quickly and she’d be fine. It was not the way things turned out.  

In God's grace, He made the decision for me and gave me two more lambs before He took Madge. For that, I am grateful.

The orphan lambs are in the house now as they cannot regulate their body temperature yet. We are bottle feeding them some more colostrum I saved from one of the goats, as it has a little more fat to it. They will have to adjust to powdered milk replacer in the morning. I hope they do okay on it, as nothing is better for them than real raw milk. They have taken some solace in the Maremmas who will protect them throughout their lives, and are settling into their temporary spot in the house as they get their routine established.

Sometimes life hurts. But it also has its rewards.

And yes, that really is a hideously ugly, old, turquoise linoleum. It goes with the territory.

Monday, December 2, 2013

...And So Forth...

The heaters are plugged in on the water troughs, the shelters are up the hay has arrived and we are pretty much ready for winter. I was worried about Madge, the last of my original original Dorper ewes. It has been a year since she lambed and I thought maybe she wasn’t able to have anymore as she has had trouble lambing every time and I have had to intervene. I was glad to notice her little lopsided udder suddenly evened out. In less than two weeks time she went from looking not bred at all to absolutely enormous. She is currently in the lambing shed, lonely and uncomfortable. She’s taking her sweet time too, but I am glad because she is a sweet thing and I didn’t want to cull her.  In fact, night after night I have been watching her, although she doesn’t have the classical signs I usually am able to pick up on, such as hollow flank, tight, shiny bag and going ‘slab sided’. No, instead, her Madge-esty simply enjoys eating copious amounts of hay day and night and rocking back and forth in her attempts to get up and get down. She backs up to the wire grill door, with her ever so itchy derrier just out of sight of the camera and does the mambo, as I sit on my perch in the warm living room rocking with laughter at the sight.

The cougar still haunts the houses up above us, walking around the ranch compound without fear. He is still spotted in broad daylight, often not far from where the guys are loudly working in the shop. He avoids capture or destruction time after time. The cowdogs sound off at him as they back their way to safety, one reason I think he is so bold. The LGD’s would not be so easily intimidated, but as they cover much ground on their perimeter patrols, they still risk being caught in one of the traps the cougar has NOT stepped in. I’ve heard some of them could be lethal. At least one trapper will be here until January. It’s going to be a long, long 6 weeks, regardless of how very much we like him and enjoy his company.

EmmaLouMoo is about 4 1/2 months pregnant now and should calve in March. I was hoping to have SushiMoo bred but there wasn’t a bull in at the right time. Then they brought a bull up with some calves for some reason and had them in the back pasture. I asked the boss if I could put her out with him and he said “sure, but he leaves in 10 days.”  I watched everyday to see if she was in heat. She was coming in the morning they came for the bull. I just hope she got far enough along to be bred before they moved him. I hate having to wait over another year to see what kind of milk cow she is going to be for me.

Meanwhile, I’ve been making lots of soap. In addition to my normal inventory I have added Jasmine, which is fast becoming one of my new favorites. I have also made a couple of batches of Salt Soap which is exceedingly nice. It has incredible lather and I love the way my skin feels after using it. It gets things really clean without drying my skin out and the Himalayan Sea Salt in it does its work detoxifying and nurturing. I think it’s going to be a pretty popular soap. There are tons of different varieties cured and ready to go for Christmas gifts. They make great stocking stuffers! If anyone cares to order, please remember our pony express here is a little slow, so get your orders in soon if you are wanting them in time for Xmas. Soap is currently 3 bars for $12 but prices will be going up after the 1st of the year due to the rise in shipping and supplies. Salt soap is currently $5.50 a bar. They are very large and very heavy bars.

Health issues have kept me indoors much more than I would like lately, so I went out into the small sheep pasture  to visit with the Maremmas. Bruno is getting stir crazy and REAL crabby. He was complaining at the ram so badly I had to yell at him to stop. I had just fed everyone, and as usual, when I went to toss the hay over the fence, the sheep made sure to all be right in the landing zone. I watched as Annie-goat’s baby “Shugar” grazed all the leaf off the backs of her lamby companions. The dogs left their food bowls to visit with me and to keep the neighbor dogs at bay, as one Border Collie was taunting them with the famous BC ‘evil eye’. Next thing I knew, one of the young wethers had snuk over to their dogbowls and was helping himself. Now the Maremmas work hard at disciplining the sheep to leave their food alone. They roar and charge and run them off, which is okay, as they would otherwise starve. They never injure the animals so I see no reason to put a stop to it. The sheep know better...even this guy. I was curious to watch, as instead of running along the fence to run him off, they instead circled around at top speed through the middle of the flock. Instead of scattering in terror (because none of them are afraid of the Maremmas, instead they run TO them when frightened) they all watched as the dogs ran between them with the look on their faces of “Oh boy, Joey is REALLY gonna get it!” And he did.

The dogs clown around, wrestling and knocking each other down until someone gets mad...

Then, of course, Potamus wants to kiss and make up, much to Bruno's humiliation.

Next up on the entertainment list was Cowboy the rooster. He has adopted the sheep as his ‘flock’, grazing and foraging with them by day and sleeping with, or in many cases on them by night. He particularly enjoys riding around on Thyme’s back. She was waltzing across the pasture to the water trough when he hitched a ride and apparently he’s due for a pedicure because she took to pitching and bucking until she unseated him. He landed gracefully behind her and picked someone else to sit on. It’s funny to actually watch as the sheep stretch out their necks and sniff his face while he stands and allows it.

This evening, as usual, I fed the horses, captured my recalcitrant milk cows, fed them, fed the sheep, then in turn, fed the dogs. Once again, they had to run sheep away from their bowls. As I was heading for the house I noticed them return and with confused and forlorn looks on their faces, they looked at one another then just sat down, staring in the direction of their dog bowls without eating. Curious, I walked back to find the rooster and a friend had decided to help themselves, and gobbled up kibble unimpeded while the Maremmas looked on sadly. The LGD’s sense of honor is beyond fault.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Don't Fence Me In

In spite of my efforts, Bruno continues to climb out of the pasture when he deems it necessary. I totally understand his intentions as there have been so many dogs as well as  predators around due to his having been confined and unable to patrol and repel them. A lot of the ranch dogs have now figured out that the Maremmas can’t enforce anything through a fence, so they stroll through my backyard and terrorize the chickens with impunity. One of my Jersey Giant roosters has found he feels safer staying with the flock...that is, the sheep flock. He often perches on the back of one of my ewes, they don't seem to mind much.

Little more than a week after Bruno was stopped from patrolling, a cougar has moved in and is lurking around the houses. It was in the boss’ back yard, in spite of all the cowdogs they have, so close to the house that his wife could hear it growl. Now it has been eating the dog and cat food out of her shed. She has called in the state trapper. It was then spotted one morning behind the house closest to us, which is next to my sheep pen. It apparently was strolling along, unphased by the 16 barking dogs on chains just feet away from it. I’ve been told multiple times it is not afraid of dogs, but I feel it begs the question, why is it not eating my sheep and the rooster that lives with the flock?  I suspect it is because the smaller dogs, even in packs, barking and posturing, are not as intimidating as 2 dogs equal in size to him, that would seriously take him on. Instinctively the Maremmas use only as much force as is necessary to achieve their objective, which works well for me, as I don’t have to worry much about them injuring the working dogs on the ranch, but they will use lethal force if necessary. I’m reasonably sure they have held cougars at bay here before as there were those nights they were barking all night when I went out and found them wayyyyy out in the back, and pondered what on earth was willing to face off with over 200 lb of angry dog...only to hear there were cougar tracks at the pond nearby, the next morning. Their dam brought a dead cougar home for the pups to chew on before they were 3 months old, so it isn’t that unusual for the breed kill even a mountain lion, if it is called for.

The only way I could keep Bruno safe from being caught in a trap, was to lock him in the house with me. That had me up all night as I had to let him in, and out, and in, and out as he barked or had other needs.

The fence in the little pasture the sheep have been living in, is only 4’ high and the cougar has been down where he could easily spot them. He’s been spotted 5 times, usually in the daylight, so far. He has not successfully been trapped or treed in spite of everyone’s best efforts.  Cletapotamus was guarding alone as he doesn’t force his way out of the pasture. It’s not a good situation as it would be risky for him to protect the flock AND combat a cougar should it decide to try its luck. Bruno is the better combatant of the two dogs and is normally the perimeter guard but giving him access to the sheep also puts him in danger of escaping and being caught in a trap, so there was my dilemma.

Normally, the Maremmas are free to pursue a predator. This has been a huge game changer and the ‘bad guys’ keep coming in closer and closer all the time. One of the trappers who is our friend has gotten 59 coyotes in just a couple of weeks. Great for the trappers, but not good at all for me, my dogs or my livestock. I will be glad when either the cat or the state trapper are gone for good. 

My friend and I proceeded to drag home t-posts and all my insulator posts and wire. We pulled field fence off of the old line that is falling down and attached it to posts we pounded in the ground, making our teeth rattle. All 4 sides of the pasture were hotwired. The last two mornings I have awakened to a beautiful sight, that is, TWO dogs in my sheep pen. It’s good to know that both the sheep and the Maremmas are safe now that Bruno is back to work, even if he's locked up in a small pasture with them. At least between the two dogs, nothing can breach their defenses and the sheep are secure.

Madge was so happy to see him, she spent the morning laying near him in lieu of joining the rest of the flock. 

All the sheep and Cletapotamus welcomed him back. It’s always good to see the ‘kids’ getting along.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Angst and the Guardian Angel

It was a fine day, so we saddled up and decided to go for a long ride. Heading across several large pastures (large being of a size in keeping with a 250,000 acre ranch) we picked our way through miles of grassland, past rock jacks, around sloughs, through willows and across fields then weaved our way back to one of my favorite places, an old willow corral. It has decayed to the point of being pretty much unusable now, but was one of the prettiest places on the ranch, in my opinion, with the willow reed fencing and the wild roses growing on it. My camera went dead which was pretty disappointing because I want to get some good pictures of what little is left of it, before it's too late. We rode on by and headed for the far side of the valley, determined to make a long, long ride today.We were several hours out and I happened to glance behind me and with mixed feelings I turned my horse around. 

Bruno, my self appointed body guard/Livestock Guardian/nursemaid/Maremma/100+ lb Guardian Angel, who is certain that I am not capable or safe anywhere on the ranch without his presence, was galloping towards us. He had apparently managed to scale the fence of the only 'dog-proof' pasture we have, in which I had contained him and he tracked us several miles across the ranch. He is built for speed and power, not for distance and his heavy coat made it even more challenging for him to and catch us in the warmth of a sunny fall day. He was obviously greatly relieved to have found me, clearly proud of himself and so strongly convinced in his own mind that he was doing a most excellent job, I couldn't reprimand him. He had a look on his face of absolute joy and accomplishment and looked at me as if to say “I am SO glad I finally found you! It’s not safe out here, there are ________ “(coyotes, cougars, field mice)" fill in the blank.

 We turned and headed back home, Bruno happily riding drag and occasionally trotting alongside, ever watchful for predators.  He had overheated himself and I chuckled because he hates water but continued to immerse himself in every irrigation ditch we passed.

The thing about dogs...they can be trusted. They are never judgmental, or malicious. They are faithful, sincere, devoted. Honest. Loving. Dependable. Exasperating.

The fall calves have been weaned. These are smaller, younger calves and have a more difficult time adjusting. Most are currently 3 miles away below the processing corrals. Coyotes have been bad this year and killed a few so there are currently 3 trappers on the ranch trying to eliminate some before the cows start calving again. That puts my Maremmas at risk of being caught in a trap. I’ve had to lock Potamus in a small pen with sheep at night, and keep Bruno in the house. Potamus is the flock guardian and pretty much stays in the pen with the sheep. Bruno is a perimeter guardian and spends each night out patrolling and deterring or confronting predators. It's hard to confine them. They absolutely hate it. I’ve been letting them come in the house to eat because the ranch cats have been stealing their expensive dog food. I wish they would eat the ranch cats, but none the less, since the Maremmas haven’t been free to do their job, the ranch dogs have figured out they have free access to my chickens as well. In great frustration, I have all the chickens and guineas locked in their little henhouse for protection.

This morning in the wee hours, Bruno woke me up because he wanted out. It was all quiet so I figured he was just hot or needed a bathroom break. I opened the door and he quietly slipped through. 

This morning he was gone. He scaled the back fence again and didn’t come when I called. He could have either been guarding and disposing of a coyote kill, or he could have been caught in one of the $@!!*&# traps. I never know until he either shows up, or the trappers check their traps and find him there if he is okay or not.

It’s unbelievable how much damage anxiety can do to your body. He’s often been in the area the traps are set, and a couple of years ago was caught in one of them. I guess until the trappers are all gone, I will just have to deal with the anxiety and watch my hair turn a  lighter shade of gray day by day.

This morning Randyman told me that the cowboss complained Bruno was chasing the calves back from the fence. His sheep are on the other side of the fence so that is why he does what he is doing. Unfortunately, I didn't get to talk to the cowboss myself, but I do know he has disdain for LGD's, as his only real experience with them was a friend who apparently got one and locked it in a barn with a bunch of lambs. It was, of course, a disaster. People seem to overlook the fact that these are still dogs and you can't just throw one out there and leave it and expect great results. It's not like putting an Alka Selter in your water. Anyway, I have moved all the sheep once again so there is no common fence between them and the calves and hope that solves the problem. I don't want any misunderstandings between my dogs and the new cowboss. When it comes to human vs dogs, dogs nearly always lose. Better to play it safe.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Winding up October

October is nearly behind us. There are still a few flowers hanging on, such as the honeysuckle on my archway and the calendulas. No terribly heavy freezes have occurred yet, so it’s not yet time to worm my horses. I had my infusion this week, which normally causes me no discomfort, however, I went in not feeling my best and came out the same. The next morning however, I woke up feeling rough, then soon after found myself  with a full-on migraine and felt as though I was freezing half to death. Twenty-four hours in THAT crucible, then followed another day of just a normal headache. Which makes these days much more appreciated and more fabulous altogether, as I know how bad it COULD be! God bless those poor souls who live with migraines on a regular basis. I could not.

I feel pretty much as close to a normal person now as I ever will, so I’m back to making bucket lists and plans. A few days ago, I had to bring the cows up into the corral as the boss was putting some cull cows out in the pasture until they ship them. I grabbed up Mister and we cruised on down to the bottom of the field. He wanted to rush and was feeling a little snorty so I was hoping we didn’t have to head anyone off or he might get to bucking. The little handful of cows were fresh and froggy so it was best not to hurry. Things went pretty smoothly, only one cow was acting badly and we were able to get around it and head it back the right direction and in through the gate. It was a good little jaunt for my old horse.Today I captured Wimpy and turned him and Mister out to the milk pasture with Emma and Sushi and moved the sheep and Maremmas into the small pasture where Mister had been living.

The dogs are not happy about it, but with a recent parvo outbreak on the ranch as well as the amount of traffic and trappers here at the moment, I feel safer with them being locked in, rather than doing their regular patrolling. I will still have to let them out a couple of nights a week, to keep everything at bay but on those particular nights, I am a bit tied up in knots until they are back home again.

It is a very quiet time for me right now, with no garden to tend and no leppies to feed, for which I am grateful. The new ranch family is taking over charge of the leppie calves which were just getting to be too big a responsibility for me in my condition. The grandkids may still have a bottle calf to feed as I plan to take Em’s next baby and put it on a bottle right away, to avoid the problems I had with Sushi.
I wish Sushi was bred, but will have to wait until spring to borrow another bull from the boss. It’s just too late in the year and we can’t afford to hay feed anything. Better to wait another  year and pray Em’s milk will be ok.

Randyman requested Chicken Divan for dinner. It’s great not having to boil and peel a chicken, as I canned quite a few of the meaties, mostly legs, from which a lot tends to be wasted. The breasts I wrap and freeze for more delectable meals and the legs I can to use for casseroles so all I have to do is grab a jar of already cooked and shredded wholesome homegrown chicken and some broccoli out of the freezer, and make a sauce and some rice. It will go together quickly and I love quick and easy meals whenever possible. Next week will be his birthday so I’ll be making a cake. I’m thinking Boston Cream Pie, but a lot can happen between now and then.

Last night Mister and Wimpy showed up begging for handouts. Sushi soon materialized with the same greedy expectations, but EmmaLouMoo was no where to be found. It is a bit unusual for her not to be around Sushi  and I could not find her when I walked way out to the Milk Pasture and called for her. I saddled up Mister again and after a short and quick little prayer, that he would behave himself and I would find her quickly and in good health, we headed down the alley and into the big back pasture. This one is huge with lots of hiding places in the willows, across the large rock creek, or any of the several secluded spots on the other side. Wimpy stayed behind in the corral, munching hay, which irritated Mister no end. I also had a bosal on him, which isn’t the best choice as he has a large calcium deposit on his lower jaw from a previous injury that interferes with the action of a bosal or strap from a curb bit, so I usually have to employ a snaffle on him, but I’d left it at the house. After a couple of small disagreements between Mister and myself, we went along our way, and quickly found Emma in the lower alleyway, looking fit and content. As it all turned out, it probably took me longer to saddle Mister, than to ride him. Much as I would have loved to ride longer, I had dinner to make still and it was pretty clear that I’d had a positive answer to our little prayer. You just can’t argue with that.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Horsin' Around

My health is so much better than it was earlier this past year. The constant and intense pain I was living with is very much at bay, so the newest treatment is definitely successful for now. I’m still having a few issues from the cold virus that seized us but I am slowly recovering.

We went riding yesterday. Cider so desperately wanted to come with us. He used to go everywhere with me but his advanced age and the graying of his eyes and muzzle in addition to his recent stroke and weakness made me a little reluctant to think about it. However, seeing the disappointment in his eyes when I shut the gate on him, I considered how unappealing my life was before I started being able to participate in the things I love again. Knowing that like me, he’d rather live a shortened life of quality than a longer life of disappointment, I opened the gate and he bounced past me in great joy and anticipation.

 As neither Chery nor I can mount from the ground (at least not yet) it takes quite a bit of effort to dismount, open and close a barbed wire gate and find a spot to remount. We managed however and were able to chart a path with LOTS  of open gates as they are still working on putting in pivots on the ranch and the trucks are in and out. We moseyed along for about 3 hours, Cider covering at least twice as much ground as we did on horseback. He ran through willows, rolled in creeks, followed bird trails and had an incredible time.

 As always, I appreciated the vista and the vastness of thousands of acres of the ranch as I gazed off at the silhouettes of the mountains in the distance.

We rode under groves of giant trees who have put their fall colors on display. The sheer enormity of them is overwhelming and the thought of what they have seen in their life intrigues me. Indian, cavalryman, cattleman and cowboy, they have seen it all. How I wish they could tell me their stories.

Cider did a great job of keeping track of us and staying close enough not to get lost. Once back, he did collapse next to my horse and I had to work hard to convince him to go into the shed where he couldn’t be stepped on, as he is no faster at getting up than I am and it could be a disaster in waiting. In spite of his initial exhaustion and soreness, he recovered quickly and even has wanted us to throw things for him last nite and this morning. Like me, he has been revitalized by the activity and I think his life has been lengthened by the trip, rather than shortened.

He had fun rolling and splashing in any and every body of water he could find.

And of  course, his trip would not have been complete without a souvenier to bring back, as you can see in the photo above. Of all the millions of sticks that must be on this ranch, I'm pretty sure the one in his mouth is irreplaceable, having just the perfect amount of age and seasoning on it, as well as perfect aerodynamics for throwing. It was well worth carrying miles and miles back to the house.

The other night about 2 a.m. I awoke and could hear the Maremmas barking far away. Then I THOUGHT I heard commotion in the chicken coop, which I had forgotten to close. I was worried that a coon or something had gotten in while the dogs were busy keeping the coyotes and a cougar (that was less than a mile from the corral) at bay. I jumped into some shoes and quietly snuck out to the coop in the moonlight. I could see the dogs way down at the bottom of the pasture. I went inside the coop and quickly flashed a light long enough to see if anything was in there. All the hens were roosting and everyone seemed fine. I turned around to leave only to hear a deep throated growl and see both big dogs charging my way. As they were coming through the last gate they recognized me and met me with bouncy bodies and wagging tails. I was totally shocked they had heard me and how FAST they arrived! No predators would have stood a chance in my coop.I have no idea what I had heard. 

Chery, our ‘roomie’ was riding the 4 wheeler home from the corrals the other night when she spotted a mountain lion. There are a lot of them on the ranch so it was of no surprise, but he is pretty close to the house. It just means the dogs will have to work harder to protect the stock, if said cougar should consider lamb for his menu.

This morning, Potamus came home 4 hours later than usual. One leg had evidence of a great deal of blood having run down it, but not his. He’d licked most of it off but it could still be seen. I considered that perhaps he’d found a carcass and had been disposing of it, but there is none of the telltale smell on breath or body and no blood anywhere else on him. I’ve no idea what he tangled with or why he was gone so late, but other than being exhausted and sore, he is none the worse for wear. I don’t imagine we could make the same statement about whatever creature tangled with him. 

The bucket list for today is cleaning the chicken pen and stripping out Emma's shelter. The horses get a day off, but God willing, we'll be back at it tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Life Goes On

There is frost on the lawn this morning and a chill in the air. I step out to feed the animals. The sheep move out single-file, with the Maremmas leading the way, checking for hazards. I open the gate and watch EmmaLou and Sushi run across the back pasture bucking and playing happily, while the Maremmas race back and forth between them in a game of LGD tag. Tails are wagging furiously with joy and exuberance and I laugh at their antics.

Mister nickers at me, waiting impatiently for his morning hay. He’s alone again as Wimpy is out with the cavvy so I don’t have to hand feed him. Mister would be there too, but for his advanced age and the fact that he doesn’t get along well in a herd situation. He had his tail chewed off and was marked up pretty badly from kicks and bites when just a couple of horses were turned into the pasture with him, so it will have to be a solitary life for him, this winter again.

The veggies droop with frostbite, the last flowers hold out bravely in their fight to survive, but they too will lose the battle soon. Still I appreciate their cheerful colors and their tenacity. 

My youngest son and his family stayed another week. They bagged 2 deer and cut one up for our freezer which was a greatly appreciated gift as we forgot, once again, to put in for tags. Abby and her little sister get along famously so things went smoothly, even if Kinley wasn't too keen on me, not really knowing us as we live so far away and our time together is so short.

Abby picked the last of the flowers to put on the table for me.

They helped to cheer me up when the inevitable time came.

My little people are all gone and with them, the sounds of laughter and giggles.
While they were here, Thomas' heart began to fail him, as is the fate of turkeys of his ilk. He was a hybrid bird, who gained weight so rapidly that his legs and heart couldn't sustain him. HIs color got bad, his legs began to swell and his breathing became labored so we took the cue and humanely destroyed him. Being as how I had a relationship with him, I could not look on when the deed was initially done. My youngest son picked him up (which he was quite used to as I used to carry him under my arm so it didn't scare him at all for someone to do so). Randyman helped to turn him upside-down and he did like chickens or turkeys tend to do and sort of became dazed/dizzy/catatonic. My friend and daughter in law looked on as they dispatched him and were amazed at how 'humane' it was. They both said he never seemed fearful or in pain. I've done a lot of chickens so I know this to be true. It's just hard to dispatch an old friend, even when it is the kindest thing to do for them.

 R.I. P. Thomas. As one reader on AR hilariously stated, "In this case, it stands for "Roast In Pan".

 I know he doesn't mind. He had a great life and he's out of pain now. For those of you who think it's easy or cruel of us to raise our own meat, allow me to say, it's never easy to kill anything, but this is the purpose for which he existed and his journey through life was sweet, his death untraumatic and painless as possible, and my family is provided with healthy meat, free of all the nasties that come with commercially raised critters and we are satisfied knowing they were well cared for and loved and lived in healthy, happy, sanitary conditions.

He was too big for the enormous tub we bought to scald him in, and too big for the plucker. It dawned on me that the people I had interviewed about these things had 'heritage turkeys' which are much smaller. We finally got the job done and got him processed and put him in a large sink of ice water to chill. He didn't fit so I put a wet cloth over his breast to keep him hydrated. He weighed 46 lb. dressed out. I parted him out a couple of days later and was amazed. I got 5 1/2 qts of dark meat to can off of his legs. The thighs weighed almost 4 lb each. 

This is one thigh, which took up the entire cutting board.
A half breast was 10 lb. 

This is an 18" cutting board. Enormous, I tell you!

 I cut the breast meat into  (4) 5 lb roasts and sent one back to California with Cody and his family. They subsequently smoked it and sent us a pic. He said it was the best turkey they ever had.

The kids' other 'grammy' told me she talked to Abby by phone and was told "I rode Mister and we killed Thomas!"
I asked if she could top THAT for Camp Granma!

 It seems unnaturally quiet now, but I suppose it is best as all three of us are down with a virus. Chills, coughing, runny noses and ears that hurt. Last year it hung on for almost 3 months due to my suppressed immune system. I hope that won’t be the case this time although there is no reason to hope otherwise.

Meanwhile, I wash my hands  a LOT so I can continue canning food for the winter. I’m still getting around so this is the time. Beef dip for sandwiches and pulled pork went on the shelves this morning and 6 quarts of chili are in the canner as I write. There were 7, but Randyman got a taste and begged a jar for lunch so it was pulled back out. It was surely tasty stuff, with a little green onion, cheese and sour cream on top. I had some leftover cornbread with it and it made me a happy camper, even if I am sick.

Lamb stew, burrito meat and meatballs are still on the list for this week and I have to keep soaping for Christmas orders. There is actually quite a lot of soap on the shelves but many are ‘summer scents’ such as Fiesta, Lemongrass, and florals. There are a couple of new fragrances I will be soaping (Vanilla Bean, Jasmine and Caramel Custard) to see how they sell. 

Plans for next year’s garden are already in the works. The basil is in the greenhouse along with the rosemary as I use a LOT of both in my cooking and neither do well in this cold climate. I will have to try yet another variety of tomato to use for canning. Having extra hands here will help to gather the calendula petals for use in both soap and healing oils. One of my little people had perpetually chapped cheeks and nothing helped. Her mommy tried a little of my infused Calendula Oil and the results were nothing short of dramatic. In 1 day, her cheeks were normal, so all my petals went south with them, as she is one of my VIP ‘customers’, of course.

Big plans for the future. For now, I will settle back with a bowl of lamb stew and dumplings, hug on Potamus and relive the precious moments God gave me with my family as I await their eventual return.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Cousins and Other Kinfolk

It had been kind of cold and cloudy all week. I got up Thursday morning and it was beautiful out. Needing to keep myself busy I canned a gallon of stock and cut up a 16 lb turkey and canned that as well, checking my laptop frequently for emails, with eager expectation.

Pacing the floor and double checking that I had everything ready that I could get ready for the weekend, I waited. I had considered having Thomas the turkey as guest of honor at a Saturday night dinner. He misunderstood the invitation and I had to kick him out the back door.

 Taking my eyes off the ranch driveway for just a moment, I turned back to the sound of soft knocking. I scurried to the door and there stood 3 beautiful girls, Shyanne, Kaylee and Hannah, accompanied by my daughter-in-law Laura and oldest son, Matt. An absolute sight for sore eyes, and just what I had been waiting for!

After a quick tour of the barn and cabins, they took the 4 wheelers and went to investigate the processing corrals 3 miles down the ranch road.

 We threw together dinner with some homemade steak fries and BBQ burgers on homemade buns.

I had started some cinnamon roll dough in the morning so after some quick instructions, the girls rolled it out, buttered it and put on the cinnamon/sugar mix, I helped roll it up and they cut and placed the rolls in the pans to rise overnight. A batch of dough for our early Thanksgiving dinner rolls the following evening was also put together.

We had fun and after the kids went to bed, their folks kept me company, laughing and sharing memories until midnite. Sleeping didn’t come easily, as my other son  Cody, and Krystal, Abby and Kinley his family, were on the way up as well. I fitfully tossed and turned and wondered where on their 12 hour journey they might be, hyped up and excited to see them and before I knew it, Randyman shook me awake saying “They just pulled up”. 

We spent a most excellent weekend. The little ones played a rousing game of hide and seek and asked my friend if they could hide in her bedroom. She agreed and they took cover while Shyanne counted down. Their mom happened by and asked the little ones

 “Did you ask before you went to hide in Chery's room?” to which we all answered “yes” and I told her “You aren’t very good at this game are you?” amid laughter.

After a cinnamon roll,  sausage and fresh ranch eggs breakfast cooked by the Randyman, we headed out for some pokin' around. I double checked my list...I had already made 2 Butterbrickle Carmel Pecan Cheesecakes, had candied yams in the fridge ready to be baked,  bread and cornbread had been baked and cubed and seasoned to use for the cranberry cornbread stuffing in the 21 lb turkey, (NOT THOMAS) it was assessed that all I had to do was get the bird in the oven about 2 pm, and make the potatoes, gravy, creamed corn and bake the butterhorn rolls. That gave me 3 or more hours to play and there were plenty of hands to help out making dinner.

The old barn is the PERFECT place to stop and enjoy a sippy cup!
Abby and Kinley have fun playing with cousin Hannah.

Kids scampered up to the top story of the barn, way up, dizzyingly high in the air for pictures, happily gathered around the old wagon and various places for pictures, in between treks out to visit the critters.

Don't be fooled by this one's girly looks. She wanted to catch a live snake and go shooting!

(pictures courtesy of Krystal Plank)

One a trip out to the pasture to visit horses and cows, Laura vaulted to the other side of me at light speed, unable to exclaim anything other than...


The little guy slithered a ways off, only as far as his terribly startled and rapidly beating heart would allow, as the kids all clamored to see.
Mister enjoyed lots of skritching and petting, as did EmmaLouMoo. Even Wimpy stood long enough to allow Hannah to walk up to him and rub his forehead, something he never lets ANYone do when he’s out in the open! Mister was pretty attached to Kaylee and was content to just lay his head on her shoulder.

Somehow the conversation came up “Where did last nite’s hamburger come from?” And the information was passed along that it was from one of our former steers. I jokingly asked where they thought chicken strips came from and they guessed rightly, then when someone asked where did ham come from, Kaylee shot back “HAMsters, of course!” We all found that pretty funny.

On the way back, I invited the kids to see “EmmaLouMoo’s Secret Clubhouse”. It is a path thru the huge willows by the creek where the cows and horses like to hang out in the shade by day or sleep at night. I told them “you have to know the secret password to gain entrance though...”

One of them asked me “What is the password?”

And I bent down carefully and whispered in her ear so as not to compromise security,   
“It's 'moooooooo'.”

They had a great time exploring in the willows and dashing across the rocky creek and doing whatever they did while they were out of OUR sight, but still under the watchful eyes of the Polar Bears. On the way back, they picked apples off the trees and munched on them.

The turkey was stuffed and placed in his cooking bag, the yams pulled out to come to room temperature, the rolls shaped and set out to rise. I took the kids out to dig potatoes and we got a pretty hefty basketful. 

Dinner turned out great. Everyone had a full plate in front of them. Seeing as how it has been just Randyman and I for the past several  years, we are short on serving ware. My nephew, the former cowboss, donated the last 4 dishes we required, but I didn’t have enough glassware, so I grabbed some handy Mason jars. Setting them in front of the teenagers, Kaylee piped up with 
“Oh sure! She gives US the ones that say “WIDE mouth!”

 I’m not sure, but I am suspicious that there might be a class clown in the group....

We had a vote on the elements BEFORE the cheesecake, as I knew that would skew the polls. 

Kitchen chaos=sign of a successful family dinner!

It all turned out better than I had hoped and after another night of chatting until our eyes would no longer stay open we retired.

After we all cleaned up I wandered through my darkened bedroom towards the bathroom. Hannah stepped in and asked if I knew where Abby was. I told her 
"I really don't know, she's not in here..."
Hannah thanked me, turned and continued her search. 

Suddenly a little voice from out of a dark corner startled me as it said 
"Good job Gramma!"

Apparently, I AM good at this game.

At about 6 am I awoke to 2 little bundles being carried into the living room as I had happily agreed to watch the wee ones while they went hunting with the boss’ oldest son. I found I was unable to utter a word or even whisper to them due to a very swollen and painful throat. It continued all day and into the night. Little Kinley wept for her Mommy and Daddy while Abby slept through several showings of Nemo. Hannah showed up and Kinley immediately brightened up and felt better. They are all truly something special. I've never seen kids get along so well as the 5 of them...especially not GIRLS.

Sadly, half of our little group had to leave for home,but not before Cody and Krystal came back with a nice 4x4 buck in the back of their pickup. Abby entertained everyone with a ‘puppet show’.

After a final quad ride, half the family packed up, along with some raspberry starts, jam, recipes and sourdough starter and began the long trek back to California, until the next visit. The other half will stay a bit longer and hopefully bag one more buck.

It was a great weekend. I couldn't ask for anything better. There's nothing that can compare to family.