Branding Time

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“Who said this was gonna be fun?” .

Springtime means branding time.  Wyoming cowboys and cowgirls gather and travel from ranch to ranch to help get a job done that takes lots of hands.  They can always count on a cold beer, a hot lunch and lots of hard work as hundreds of calves are branded, castrated, vaccinated, ear tagged and returned to their anxious mother cows for sympathy and a little something to eat.

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Gridlock in the barnyard . . . .

The day starts early with lots of riders to gather cattle from the range and herd them into corrals or holding pens.  Calves are separated into separate pens and the fun begins.

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Who’s going to be first? . . . .

The wranglers drop a loop and try to catch a heel, then drag the calves to the open arms of a vast array of helpers, each with a specific task.  The dust flies, the sun climbs in the sky, and the work goes on.

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Hold ’em . . . .

Calves are sometimes branded with different brands, reflecting ownership and tagged as to male and female.  In this instance, the guys get the bad breaks and are castrated to become steers to be fattened and sent to market to become burgers and steaks.

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These gals can handle the job . . . .

Ranching has no clearly defined roles.  Women build fence, ride horseback, gather cattle, brand calves, irrigate meadows, help with cutting and baling hay, run combines and tractors, tend baby calves and lambs in their laundry rooms to keep them alive in a blizzard, raise poultry, plant vegetable gardens, and at summer’s end, preserve fruit and vegetables for the winter.  That is in addition to running a household and being wife and mother.

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“Oh, no – my turn” . . . .

These black Angus calves are the lifeblood of a ranch.  Some of the females, or heifers, will be held back to add to the herd–and some are sold to other ranchers who are building their herds.   Without the revenue raised from these cattle, ranches would not exist.  Nobody gets rich, but the lucky ones who can maintain the lifestyle of ranching are rich indeed.  (Dad always said the best way for a rancher to get rich was to have an oil well or two!)

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Man and horse – partners . . . .

In spite of all the buggies on four wheels that seem to proliferate on every country road, nothing gets the job done like a horse.  I don’t think they will be replaced any time soon.

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Start ’em young! . . . .

Kids love branding time.  I can remember sneaking my first cold beer from a tub of ice in the back of a pickup and I couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9. All the adults were too busy to notice. Getting old enough to ride on the roundup, even though it meant getting up at 5:00 a.m. and shivering in the cool morning air on horseback, was a thrill and an honor.

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“Don’t let those calves go this way!” . . . .

As the calves are released from the trauma of the branding, they are diverted to another pen.  These young cowpokes make sure they don’t head off in the wrong direction.

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“I want my mama!” . . . .

Cannot help but love these babies.  Their antics as playful calves aren’t any different from puppies, kittens, foals or any other of God’s creatures.  I can remember loving my 4-H lambs so much we brought them home from the fair rather than sell them at the livestock auction.  Dad thought I might forget about them once they were turned out to pasture, but I still remember searching through the herd for their familiar faces.

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“Hey, that’s not my mom!” . . . .

A little chaos makes for a good day’s fun.  Hardest part of the day was grabbing all the action on a camera.  Maybe a videotape would have been easier??

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Ladies in waiting . . . .

Relative calm in this direction, as some of the calves have begun to find their mothers.

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Putting on the brand . . . .

Branding is not for the faint of heart.  The calf bellows and tries to escape and it takes several pairs of hands (and feet) to get the job done.  It is over in a matter of seconds and the brand mark will sting for awhile and heal like any wire cut or scratch from a tree limb.  But at the moment, it is hard not to feel sorry for the calves.

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Boots and red Barnum dirt . . . .

Some say the ranching way of life is threatened and going the way of small farmers. Certainly rising land costs, uncertain cattle markets, inheritance taxes, generational disputes and one-thousand other things can all add up to make things difficult.  But the ranching families with grit and determination will hold on.

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Hang in there, Ethan! . . . .

 

Horse Fence

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Tools of the trade . . . .

We decided to test whether or not frost in the ground had abated enough to dig some post holes.  Plans are to build a paddock where our horse Tilly can have a small pasture to romp in when we are away.  She hates being confined in the small corral attached to her loafing shed and has begun to gnaw on the poles when we don’t turn her out.  Our first step was to plant two ancient cedar posts for a man gate where we will re-use an old gate and some ancient technology.

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Gate anchor–of sorts . . . .

This old aluminum milk pail filled with rocks served the previous gate for as long as I can remember.  The pail was chained on the downside of the gate and the gravitational pull kept the gate closed, even in Wyoming winds!  Since the old path from the barn to the house drops down a steep bank to the creek bottom, the milk pail anchor swung freely whenever the gate was opened, banging the gate shut after you had passed through it.

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Post hole digging made easy . . . .

We have tried digging post holes in our barnyard by hand and learned that beneath a foot of topsoil is a plate of hard-pan gumbo that will cause your shovel to bounce and your arms to tremble.  We cannot even penetrate it with the tractor-driven post hole digger without filling the hole with water, letting it soak overnight and drilling it out next day.  At this rate, Tilly has a long wait for a paddock fence!

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Progress, at last . . . .

The plan is to re-use the old wooden gate leaning against the fence post.  It is fairly sturdy for a 50-year-old gate, give or take ten to a dozen years, and fits the personality of the old cedar posts, that are likely as old.  The part I don’t remember is how the milk pail gate anchor is chained to the gate, and what was used as a “stop” lever so the pull of the anchor doesn’t drag the gate open on the downside.  This part will require some heavy thinking. Another problem is how to remove the bent rusty nails that hold the hinges onto an old post that needs to be detached.

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If old posts could talk . . . .

The beautiful patina, ancient scars and timeless character of the old cedar posts salvaged from piles of Dad’s abandoned poles and lumber scraps have a story to tell.  It seemed fitting to mount them where the former gate once stood, and swing another old salvaged gate between them.  Now if we can sort out the milk pail anchor technology, we’ll be back in business.

Mother must be looking down on us, remembering how many times she walked that steep path to the barn to milk Nancy and Doodle, our milk cows.  I loved walking to the barn with her and can clearly remember one day after a torrential rain we had to sit on the bank, watching the water rush by and fretting over the bawling of anxious cows waiting to be milked.  All these old memories come to mind as we build Tilly’s fence.

More Fences

Deer proof . . . .

Deer proof . . . . 

It has taken ten years to arrive at this.  Ten years of planting fruit trees only to see them die from freeze and thaw, drought, bugs, hungry deer and finally, a voracious longhorn steer. We built fences around individual trees only to see the deer climb over and the steer climb through, breaking branches and stripping the leaves.  We decided on strong livestock panels below (to stop the steer) and welded wire strung above (to stop the deer).

The east gate . . . .

The east gate . . . .

It took us two summers of digging post holes, installing panels and then rolls of wire.  A few weeks ago we finally finished the project.  Feeling quite triumphant that we had at last banished the deer and the steer forevermore, we took a break from the final installment and went to the house for coffee.  Thirty minutes later we returned to clean up tools and found a doe deer and her fawn inside our deer-proof fence!  We were both slack-jawed with disbelief. After many failed attempts to leap over the fence, the doe and fawn both escaped in a panic by crawling in between the pre-existing old woven wire boundary fence on the north side and the new fence strung above it.  The only thing left for us to do was unroll all the old snow fence we had used previously around a grove of caragana trees and wire it up to cover the 8″ gap between the old fence and the new along the north side of the orchard.  That seemed to do the trick.

Deer lunch? . . . .

Deer lunch? . . . .

I potted 20 lilac trees from bare root twigs and after two years of growth in the garden, they are now tucked into the ground in our orchard.  They will create a grove all along the north side (hopefully they’ll cover the old snow fence) and will provide lots of fragrant blooms for the bees.

Once more, with feeling . . . .

Once more, with feeling . . . .

Two new apple trees will provide cross pollination for our one lonely standard apple tree that has managed to survive through all the trials and tribulation.  In the spring, we will add more apple and plum trees, and then begin the long wait for our very own fruit.  I suppose the deer and the steer will be waiting too, but they’ll be outside the fence.  Now if only Mother Nature will cut us a break!

Who Has Seen The Wind?

looks like a few twigs fell . . . .

looks like a few twigs fell . . . .

“Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you, but when the leaves hang trembling, the wind is passing through.  Who has seen the wind?  Neither you nor I.  But when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by.”  Poem by Christina Rosetti.

New addition? . . . .

New addition? . . . .

Not to belabor weather-related disasters of late, but we recently had wind gusts that lifted the tin roof off Neighbor Tom’s shed and blew down huge limbs from our cottonwoods. Our road was effectively blocked causing some minor disruption, and limbs were down and strewn across the ground in every direction.

looking like wind . . . .

looking like wind . . . .

It took two big burly guys most of a morning with chain saws to clear the road and we will be weeks cleaning up the rest of the mess.  Oh aching backs!  Wyoming is known for its wind and it was estimated gusts up to 80 mph blew across the area.

too big to rake, too small to drag . . . .

too big to rake, too small to drag . . . .

Wonder how many semi truck trailers were left along the Interstate?

Garden Grouch Afflicted With Global Warming!

frost in August? . . . .

frozen green beans, anyone? . . . .

A clear sign of global warming, we just had our first frost August 22nd,  at least 2-3 weeks early!  I awoke early in the a.m. cold and grabbed a wool shawl, muttering to nobody in particular (Michael is at the cabin for a few days) that it certainly seemed cold in the house.  Bleu, the house cat, seemed to agree as he was snugged up next to me in the shawl.  A glance at the thermometer revealed 31 degrees.

end of cucumbers . . . .

end of cucumbers . . . .

A hasty trip to the garden was enough to make this gardener grouchy.  Fortunately, I had picked a great deal the night before this disaster and had I any warning of frost, would have done much more.  The vines are toast, but the cucumbers, green beans and summer squash were not harmed, thank goodness!

fried green tomatoes? . . . .

fried green tomatoes? . . . .

The question mark is how will the tomatoes fare?  The vines were about 50% destroyed and I am hoping enough of the vines close to the ground remain to see them through to ripening.  The kale, beets and carrots will be even better after frost, and the lettuce didn’t seem to be affected.  I guess we should be thankful we didn’t lose everything.  Perhaps my woman’s intuition told me to stay home from a trip to the cabin, or I would have been in a pickle, so to speak.  Speaking of pickles . . . .

dill pickles galore . . . .

dill pickles galore . . . .

The frost didn’t get all my cucumbers!!!

Misery in May

My heart bleeds . . . .

My heart bleeds . . . .

On the twentieth day of May, this is what the flower garden looks like!  This delicate Bleeding Heart looks a bit bedraggled after several days of rain, cold and now snow!  We love the moisture and know we are assured a tremendous grass crop this spring, but oh the mud.  The barnyard is impassable, Tilly’s corral is a lake and as we approach Memorial Day, I am beginning to rethink my annual tradition of pots of fresh flowers on family graves at the cemetery is a fool’s errand.

"Help!" . . . .

“Can we check out of here?” . . . .

With the outside temperature of 25 degrees last night, I am glad we hauled them into the dining room. They were in a corner on the front porch, covered with burlap against the cold, but Rosie found it an irresistible location to make a warm bed.  The flowers were flattened, and if that wasn’t enough injury, the kittens decided these pots were a nice litter box and dug up a few plants before I waved a broom to shoo them away.  Determined not to give in to plastic flowers, I will somehow deliver these pots to honor three generations of my family buried nearby, but the challenges presented this year are a bit exasperating.

The in-house greenhouse . . . .

The in-house greenhouse . . . .

Tomato plants, geraniums for hanging baskets, pots of morning glory seeds fill the counter top in the dining room.  At the rate we are going, it will be July 4 before any of this gets safely planted outdoors!  The garden is covered with snow and the early crops of peas, spinach, beets, kale and lettuce are barely visible.  The weatherman keeps talking about “cool Canadian air” and I am beginning to wish it would stay in Canada.

Looks like snow . . . .

Looks like snow . . . .

The trees have young leaves that collected lots of snow which is now falling in clumps, making a thudding sound on the roof of the house that at first sounded like distant thunder. Egad.

Tomato Wars

the ripening room . . . .

the ripening room . . . .

Is this a bountiful crop, a mere over-abundance of tomatoes, or a disaster?  Forty pounds of tomatoes have already been processed into marinara sauce, salsa and plain preserved tomatoes in quart jars.  I am running out of storage room, jars, ideas, and patience.

a new batch arrives . . . .

a new batch arrives . . . .

These were picked October 19th and will need to ripen awhile, which means I have to move a load out of the “ripening room” to open up storage space.  Have given sacks of tomatoes away to friends, neighbors, and relatives.  When we pick one with a bite out (slugs, birds, whatever else resides in the garden) we toss them to the little flock of chickens next door. They love them and race to compete for the first bite!  At this rate, we’ll have red eggs.

My first attempt mid-May with three small tomato plants met with disaster.  The temperature dropped to 23 degrees and even though they were under a row cover, with a light bulb to add a little warmth, they froze.  I reasoned the ground had not yet warmed enough to sustain them.  We checked with local nurseries and could not find the plants we desired, so relied on a friend to pick up three plants we found in a Colorado nursery.  Got those in the ground the end of May and decided to go online for six additional plants from Burpee.  They arrived early June and we finished planting the rest of the garden shortly after.   Who knew?  Everything we planted in the garden did very well, but the tomatoes exceeded our expectations.

We were still waiting for the last batch of green tomatoes to ripen when the floor fell out and the temperature dropped to 17 the night of October 25.  I forgot to plug in the light bulb (was this a conscious or unconscious decision?) and most of them were lost to the freezing nighttime temperature.  We cleaned up the garden a couple of days ago except for the carrots, beets, Swiss chard, kale, spinach and lettuce, which are still producing.  It seemed so wasteful to scoop all the frozen tomatoes into the trash, and my granny would be clucking at the disgrace of throwing away food!  Ah well, I’m still re-learning some of the old lessons.

Next year, I think we’ll cut back from 9 plants to just 6.  Who knows what will happen?