Tuesday, June 18, 2013

C'est La Vie

It has been a month of ups and downs, which I guess is fairly typical of life these days. The grass is a soft emerald green, red and white climbing roses are intertwined on the rock wall, butterflies waft lazily along the currents to land on brightly colored blooms, looking for nectar. Most of the hummingbirds have moved on, as they don’t stay here in this valley, but merely stop in, during their migration north. In 24 hours I went from filling their feeder 3x a day to not needing to fill it at all. Only one little hanger-on stops by for a sip now and then. He’s a welcome sight, even if  he lacks the colorful brilliance of his cousins who visited me in California.

Pain has been a frequent companion, so the weeds have gotten ahead of me. I was doing so well and had a handle on the garden but pain pretty much became an obstacle impossible to overcome. Nevertheless, I did get the corn in and it’s peeking out of the soil now, potatoes are needing to be covered and there are plenty of peppers on the jalapeno plants. Cider sat down on the big tomatillo plant I have been babying since March and snapped it off at the base, so although I put in two more, they are much smaller and probably won’t have time for fruit to mature this year.

I am making some progress with the rest of the yard, as far as flowers and plants go. It's so nice to have something that makes my eyes and soul happy to gaze at, instead of dirt and thistle. The boss' wife is extremely talented and has made their home a little Eden with parklike lawns and flowers, shrubs and trees of all kinds, surrounding the houses, an oasis in the high desert. She would drive the backhoe building burms and moving enormous rocks to anchor everything. As one afflicted with  "tractorphobia", I go about armed with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. Eventually, I will succeed in doing my part on ranch beautification.

Em is being treated for an infection so we have no dairy. No milk, no cream, no sour cream, ice cream, cream cheese, yogurt...she contributes so much. We picked up two lambs from the butcher and a steer is being processed as we speak. I've been trying to make more room in the freezers before we bring him home. I canned some of the best beef stock of my life, as well as several quarts of chicken stock. More 'mexi-meat' and ' beef dip' went on the shelves as they have been so handy and are among our favorites, even in summer. I made a couple batches of jerky that were well recieved, and a couple that I incinerated but make great treats for the dogs. Nothing wasted here.

The meatie chickens were doing well, happy and very healthy, and I was thrilled that in 5 weeks I have not lost even one to heart or leg problems. They were active and thriving, until an owl decided to interfere. Bruno was guarding from outside the pen when the owl beheaded two chicks one night. I put Bruno INSIDE the pen, and 10 chicks went totally missing. We eventually found a couple of little bodies outside the electric fence. The following night I moved all the chickens into the lambing shed, far beyond the other side of the pasture. Five chicks refused to come, so we waited for dusk when they would roost to capture them. We were too late. As we were opening the gate, the owl swooped down and snatched the last of them. I was amazed at how incredibly fast and silent this killer was. Cletus was trying hard to catch it but this bird was too quick, and too stealthy for the dogs to compete with. There is a family of owls in the barn next to the house and this is "Owl Central", multiple kinds from Great Horned Owls on down to the smaller barn owls. The dogs have always been successful keeping them out of the yard, but there are lots of places for the chicks to hide in here and the owls can only approach from one direction, giving the dogs the advantage in security. Not so in the orchard where the owl can just sit in the tree and wait for the dog to move out of his way before swooping down and nabbing a chicken, with no danger of being caught.
 I’ll have to bring the survivors back into the yard and lock them in the lambing shed at night. The good news is, they don't care. They just like to eat. 
I have lost 40% of my flock. That is upsetting.

The boss (someone we really appreciate, because he and his family treat us like we are family too) sent another bull to woo EmmaLou. He’s not a very friendly hunk of bovine though.  As Randyman was trying to move Em thru the gate, the bull, whom I will refer to as Kamikaze,  clobbered him. Reports say the bull launched him 10 feet into the air and he came down hard on the rocks. At that point the beast was satisfied and left him alone, in lieu of crushing him with his head. It could have been much more serious, as even very experienced cowmen are frequently killed by these unpredictable and hormonal animals that weight in excess of 1000 lb of pure raging muscle. They intimidate me if I am not horseback. Randyman does everything on foot, usually with adequate caution. Not this time. I am grateful his life was spared and he sustained no injuries more serious than a badly bruised posterior and damaged pride, although the latter is insignificant because he is a very humble man.

He says he currently has “buns of steel’ as his ‘cheeks’ are badly bruised, swollen and hard. They are even the steely blue-black of a gun barrel. 

I would think he has buns of lead and aluminum, but who am I to say?

Initially, the Maremmas did not want Kamikaze near EmmaLou as they know he is not MY bull. After a bit of convincing that he was indeed, a guest of hers, they escorted him over and left him alone. They've clearly not been happy with the couple's behavior so far, however.

There are only 4 bottle calves this year so far, which is fortunate for me as I struggle to get their bottles out there twice a day to feed them, dragging the heavy wagon. I am grateful to have them all behind a panel with the bottle rack Randyman bult me last year, to avoid the bumps and bruises that come from their abuse. They are cute for the first 3 days then they become aggressive, and for someone like me, kinda risky, even. This year they are all getting eartags and a file so I can keep track of who has had what, as far as veterinary care. Last year found several getting sick. We pulled them all through but it was tough. This year, I lost one in 24 hours from renal failure, and Beastly,the next calf to come in, (and the calf who sprained my back) had to be fed by stomach tube for several days before we got her to take a bottle. They are all doing well at the moment.

On the days I have enough mobility, I am again trying to tame down SushiMoo. She is just not a people friendly cow, but luckily she is greedy, so day by day, I lure her into the stanchion with grain. We haven’t made it all the way yet, but at least she is becoming consistent about responding to her name and following me. Once I can get her locked in the headgate, I can start to brush her and show her that it’s a happy thing to be touched and handled. She has carefully taken inventory of everything on the way in, and is very aware of changes. She’s too smart for my own good.

My 5 Jersey Giant chicks are finally out of the brooder and hanging out with the flock, learning to forage. The guineas took them under their wings, figuratively speaking, which I thought was pretty magnanimous of them. So Thomas, the guineas, and all the regular chickens have their routines now. They love hanging out in EmmaLou's wintertime tent during the day. I hope these new birds don’t fly over fences as I am tired of chasing laying hens out of the yard, and I wish they were tired of being pinged with BB’s from my little air gun. They seem to figure the destruction of my plants is worth the bruise.

Only once recently, was I able to bring Mister in to ride him. It’s the best therapy for me, as it gently stretches muscles and flexes joints without impact. I usually feel energized and more flexible after riding and the more I do, the greater my physical improvement. Randyman even noticed. Unfortunately, most days I cannot make it down to his pasture and back to get my horses, or lift a saddle and there is no one to help. That is a very frustrating situation for me, when I spent my whole life throwing saddles on colts and riding all day long.

I head back to the hospital in early July for 3rd infusion. Maybe this time it will make a difference and I can get back to life again. It would be great to have all my challenges set aside for awhile. I have some really great days in between the bad ones at least. I miss riding after cows and spending the day out on the hundreds of thousands of acres of range across the ranch. I won’t count it out...not yet.

Meanwhile, this is as good a place as any, to do anything or nothing at all.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Feast for the Eyes

"When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it.  If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant."~unknown

It’s an astonishing morning. After days and days of dreary gloom and drizzle, the sun came up this morning to a breathtaking array of colors.  The cobalt, powder blue, burgundy&cream and butter yellow iris all stand high above the boulder in the back yard surrounded by sky blue flax. The pansies in my water trough/planters are now peeking above the rim with the white alyssum and bacopa starting their spill over the side. The shrubs and creepers against the rock wall stand out in contrasting hues from wine colored barberry to lime green trumpet vine. The smell of newly  mowed lawn wafts around my head as the hummingbirds zip in and out around their feeder on the end of the porch.

Even the most simple of combinations make me happy when they are in a pot or basket. There is something special that flowers do.

 Beyond, I can see Thomas, his bright white feathers setting off the red, buff and purple blacks of the laying hens. Buffy struts around proudly, in motherly fashion around her lone chick.

The sheep are grazing in the corral with the Maremmas laying about keeping an eye on all and the seedlings in the vegetable garden are stretching and muscling their way up toward the sun and out across the ground with a promise for tomorrow.

I prepare to put bread in the oven and make some notations of additional seeds I want to buy to start in the greenhouse for next summer. Iceland poppies and petunias are two I would like to get established earlier next year than this. It’s a good day to be alive.

Still recovering from over 2 weeks of being incapacitated with a back injury, I try to keep my bucket list small. Having mowed the lawn already, I add weeding around the corner of the house so my morning glories don’t get choked out before they have a chance to take hold. 

We moved the meatie chickens out of the brooder. They have outgrown it in just 3 weeks. There was hardly room for them to move around in there anymore. We put up a "Club Meatie" with 6000 sq feet of pasture and a 120 sq ft of shelter for them in the orchard. Bruno is currently living with them to provide security from any hawks or owls who may think of making a quick meal of them day or night.

 There are tomatoes and peppers, potatoes and cabbage, brocolli, lettuce and cauliflower up in the garden and the corn and green beans go in this week. Two lambs are ready to come home from freezer camp, a steer is on his way in and the chickens will be ready to process this summer.

Nourishment for our bodies is pretty much assured, but for now, I will continue to marvel at creation, and revel in the flowers and let them feed my soul.