A Rancher’s Valentine..

Image result for cowboy valentines

Happy Valentine’s Day!

On Valentine’s Day, you might be surprised by a box of chocolates or a rose…which are wonderful. If you’ve ever dated a cowboy though, you know Valentine’s gifts may not be ordinary . Cowboys are hardworking. Many a cowboy remembers Valentine’s Day because it is usually when he puts in a fuel order. Cowboy Valentine’s might look a little different:

You may get a new shot gun–as in the vaccine kind.

He may give you a swig of his favorite drink.

Your cowboy may try to get you to touch his hat–which means you owe him a kiss.

Men in boots sometimes present poems… That they wrote themselves:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Your eyes glisten more,

Than dew on cow’s poo poo.

 

Really girls, there are many ways a cowboy will love you…but I’m telling you this: if a cowboy gives you his time, he’s giving you one of his most precious commodities. The movies may show ranching as romantic, but we know it is a lot of work. A lot. So when your cowboy moves things around in his schedule, when he doesn’t jump to the computer to check the market reports or read a good article, when he includes you and makes time for you…that’s a Valentine’s gift.

Friendship, love, relationships…they aren’t made in the wrapped present. (Although they are nice!) Authentic connection happens in the small moments: sharing the newspaper, playing a game, walking out to check the heifers…trust happens in the details that revolve around each day. Maybe you watch the sunset, maybe you commiserate after a loss, perhaps you watch a movie because you’re tired…

However you share your Valentine’s Day, be thankful for time together. If you’re lucky, your cowboy may even let you drive the feed truck and you know what that means!!!—He’ll have to open the gates!

**Just a shout out to my cowboy…who remembered Valentine’s Day and got me a nice gift! I’m thankful!

winter feeding, cows, January calf 032
I’m in the driver’s seat…looking at a new calf. He’s quite a bit early for us, but he’s healthy!

 

 

 

Time Drainer… How to hold on to time

pexels-photo-211758.jpeg

I’m in the kitchen cooking supper and I’m wondering where my day went.

Sure seemed busy.

Things were accomplished: laundry, cleaning, phone calls, writing, feeding cows, chores, but where did the time really go?

If it were an object gone missing, like my son’s pocket knife, I’d look under couch cushions, stick my hands in coat pockets, and poke my head in odd places–like behind the commode or inside a the dog food sack.

Time hasn’t gone missing though–it’s there, it just passes quickly when I’m not looking. Even when I’m conscious of it, it slips through my fingers. In years past, I’ve been angry about it. Frustrated. Where did my hours go? I’m trying to get my to-do list done!

Yesterday I’m sitting at the computer getting ready to write and the Lord’s voice whispers, “Time isn’t an enemy. It’s a gift.” I pause. I’m not sure what to say… Or do. I don’t do anything and my muscles relax.

I breathe that in like the aroma of coffee or tea and let it sink it. Time is a gift.

A GIFT.

pexels-photo-697224.jpeg

 

Here I’d been trying to lasso it, wrangle it, or run it into a corral to keep it locked up. I’d been trying to wrestle time and instead it’s been wrestling me.

Here’s my new plan:

*Take the first moments I’m awake to be thankful for the day and pray.

*Make a to-do list and proceed in an order that fits around scheduled blocks of time in my day, but be flexible.

*Be present. I’m trying to be in the moment, rather than jumping ahead in my brain to the next thing that has to be done before my body even gets there.

*Stop. When things aren’t working, stop and go to something else.

*Make time for truly important adventures. Time with kids. Date nights with my cowboy.

*Countdown. I need time to decompress after the day and relax before heading to bed.

compressed view 2

 

Each of us will find different ways to make our days precious. However that happens, it’s a delight to know that time is not against us, it is a gift.

Top 7 Ranch Resolutions

Photo by Katie Whitehurst
We started the new year with some hiking! Ok, we were checking cows, but still we hiked.

Welcome 2017 and the month of New Year’s Resolutions! According to a recent news release, the top seven resolutions for 2017, compiled via Google searches, are:

  1. Get healthy.
  2. Get organized.
  3. Live life to the fullest.
  4. Learn new hobbies.
  5. Spend less/save more.
  6. Travel.
  7. Read more.

I usually look forward to the New Year. However, I’m not one to make resolutions. Perhaps it is because they rarely seem to fit our lifestyle. Maybe what we need are Resolutions, Ranch Style.

Top 7 Resolutions, Ranch-a-fied:

  1. Get more healthy=Get more zzz’s. Sleep equates to getting healthy for ranchers because we know cattle producers get exercise: forking hay, moving snow, running fence lines, riding horses, moving pipe, just to name a few. (My friend refers to her lifestyle as “rancherobics”.) We eat what we produce, so our diets are fine. BUT, we could use a few more minutes of shut-eye. Black-out dates include calving season, planting season, harvest time, summer grazing, and most major holidays. (See number four.)
  2. Get organized=Remember where we left supplies. Ranch families tend to be “organized”. Tools are in the shop, tack is in the barn, files are in the house–what I could benefit from is remembering what truck I left the wire cutters in, which kid used the wrench last, and what pasture I left my favorite shovel in. I try to stick to the adage of put it back where you found it, but sometimes it seems better to leave them where you used them because you’ll probably need them there again.
  3. Live life to the fullest= Live life. I feel like ag folks live life to the fullest. After all, what other profession and lifestyle allows you to witness the miracle of birth, the wonder of seeds producing crops, and has you connected to animals and nature on a regular basis?
  4. Learn new hobbies=Rekindle past hobbies. Ranch work often moves around the clock leaving little free time. Yet, past generations knew how to pick up a fiddle or guitar, or throw a neighborhood shindig. We tend to be too tired at the end of our day to feel like picking up an instrument or inviting the neighbors over. I know I tend to click on the TV or browse Facebook before dusting my piano or even cranking up the tunes. I need to remember what I loved to do as kid and make time for those things that fuel my heart. However, there aren’t many spare minutes in a day, so it usually cuts into sleep. We may need to alternate our focus on number 1 and number 4.
  5. Spend less/save more. This is a good one, so I didn’t alter it. It was in reference to money on the news, but ranchers are always trying to spend less and save more. It’s just that there are so many things to spend money on: equipment, feed, cattle, horses, fuel, etc. These are not tiny expenses. Cutting out a cup of coffee from the local coffee hut isn’t going to fill the account for tractor repairs, although every little bit helps. Instead, I’m referencing it to time. Spend less time doing things that don’t pull me forward and save more time for things that do.
  6. Travel=Go somewhere other than a different pasture. Sure it’d be nice to travel to Hawaii or go overseas, but it’s hard to leave animals or land. It’s not like asking the neighbor to feed your dog. There are bovines out there! Yet, we could take a deep breath and visit local sights or make arrangements to get away when it’s convenient.
  7. Read more. This is a good one all around. Whether it’s trade magazines, books, on-line or off-line, reading does everything from educate us to help us escape our current reality.

If we wanted to really fine-tune resolutions, we could count things like move the shovel before we run it over and fix fence after we find the fence stretchers, but I’m pretty sure those can appear under “Ranching Common Sense”. Not that I’ve ever needed any extra common sense…

Happy New Year!

Nearly Calving…

cardwell ski day, cattle pics 074
Some of the new girls.

It’s almost that time for us–calving season! I know its cliché, but calving season and spring are true reminders of the cycle of life. The snow will stop (although sometimes in Montana we wonder). Trees will become green. Everything that slowed for the harsh temperatures and weather patterns of winter will indeed come to life again in the spring.

As I’ve mentioned before, we downsized when we moved, selling our herd. We’ve had short-term cattle and steers and now we are building back a small herd. We picked up a few “late” calvers from some friends. They begin calving in January, but we prefer to aim for the first of April. Their lates were our on-times.

Most every rancher has their calving preference. Some like after the first of the year because it allows for older calves in the fall, it doesn’t interfere with spring farming, and rebreeding happens before you turn them out to pasture in the summer.

We like April calving because the temperatures are milder and we don’t have indoor facilities. We have very minimal farming on our place and historically our calves gain well by November. This timing works for us, but each producer must do what works best to fit their needs. Where a small group didn’t fit the winter calving bunch on one place, they were a perfect addition to our pasture.

Wouldn’t it be handy if everything in life worked that way? There are avenues were it does: that’s why craigslist and garage sales are successful.

Don’t you ever wonder sometimes though–what does work best? Certainly trial and error are great teachers. If you happen to have heritage on a place, perhaps time has shown you what works best. However, conditions (people included) change over time. It isn’t ever a bad idea to create a business plan for ranching. (More on business plans in ranching next week.) Having a vision of where you are going will help you take steps in the right direction.

We began ranching from scratch and we are thankful for the piece of land we have now. Is it feasible to stock it with a lot of cattle? Absolutely not. It’s going to need a few years of TLC before it reaches maximum production. It is in our best interests to have a small scale operation focused on instilling quality grazing for meat production. Our goal this fall isn’t to sell to a feedlot, but to sell high quality veal to consumers.

We believe in a symbiotic relationship between land and animals. This vision gives us an opportunity to grow and care for both land and animal alike with a family focused production. We’re quite excited about this spring…

Let the calving commence!

 

 

 

Fill ‘Er Up

stocker calves out to pasture

We leased some pasture recently that we are filling with stocker calves. It’s a stepping stone to reach a bigger goal and another beginning. How many times I’ve started something, never thinking that I’d start it again. Yet it seems in life that there are many starts and stops! On the same token, I’ve started many things with a preconceived notion of what it would look like, only to see life paint a different picture.

While specific situtions are important, perhaps the bigger issue at hand is identity.
There are always going to be things we do simply because they must be done. However, at the core of our being we were created for purpose. I’ve watched people spin their wheels and endure frustrating situations because they do go after their calling. In fact, I’ve done it! I’ve rationalized with myself: If I just do this job, the pay will be worth it… but often I denied my heart permission to thump with excitement. Granted, we have to pay the bills, but I think there are many creative solutions in life that would push us closer to that which makes us feel alive. For us, we purchased stocker calves. It isn’t the large scale ranch we dream of, nor is it as big as the one we had when we changed location, but it is a step towards our bigger goal. Our desire is to steward land and cattle. We are happy to put our toes back in the water while we pencil out ideas for the future.
Land, cattle, and the desire to build for future generations excites our hearts. What excites yours? What makes you feel purposeful?

Homeward Bound


Image

I’ve been shy to blog about all the details of our transition, but we aren’t the only ones to experience this phase in life, so I feel I must unravel a bit of my heartstrings.

Many of you know, that we ran cattle in Montana for years before deciding to transition to a new state. We didn’t change location because we weren’t making money or didn’t like it…quite the contrary. Yet we felt a shift that is hard to describe…an internal feeling that change was coming. We had the option to embrace the change and try something new or continue in our path. When we looked at what we were doing, we enjoyed it, things were going fairly well, but no matter how many angles we looked from, we couldn’t see any way to grow bigger. Looking at our new option, it appeared that several opportunities existed for growth. So we did something that hurt, but seemed like the best option…we sold our place in Montana and all our cows. We uprooted. Why? Because sometimes it is necessary to let go of a smaller dream in order to grab hold of a bigger one.

Today is very different than we imagined when we left… We do not yet own the place of our bigger dreams. In fact, things went so different than anticipated; we doubted everything we’ve ever done! We’ve been through calving season without cows to calve and the ache there is indescribable. We thought for sure by now all the pieces would have come together. The place we had our eyes on had an offer before our place in Montana sold… Sure, we could piece something together, but our big dreams keep us from settling for another small dream.

In the meantime, we keep dreaming. It’s a little like labor…after awhile, you hit a point where the baby hasn’t been born yet, but you are ready to be done. You don’t think anything is really happening but pain. You wonder if you’ll make it…Then something happens and life enters…and it is more beautiful than you imagined. Until then, things are hard and messy, but completely necessary to the unfolding of the process. So during our transition, we are trying to focus on the good things happening and the fact that yes, life will emerge.

There are tough moments; things hard to understand right now. Yet our passion for the cattle industry and our desire to live life on the range doesn’t change. It may not yet look like we imagined, but we pray and trust that good plans will fall into open hands.

 

 

What Do I Do With This?

Image

Every rancher we know has a plan–that outlined picture of what the future holds. Some people have it typed and saved on a hard drive, others pencil it out on paper–or scribble it on a napkin– and yet others sketch their plans in their mind map. Whatever the case, we are all aware of what we’d like the future to look like. If we are really honest, we often have two plans–the practical plan and the whoa, I’m dreaming big baby! plan. Usually we file the first and tuck away the second in our underwear drawer so no one will see our outlandish thoughts.

Recently, something happened in our own place that defied both plans and made us stop and think: “What do we do with this?” It isn’t on the plan–not even the wild plan. It feels like it’ll really make things better or spiral us toward the polar opposite. Will it be like the time I lost my rope or saved a calf?

However, we know that the circumstances in our lives are meant to call to the surface something greater. Our reaction to it can either push us closer to the Someone who designed us or push us deeper into our limited perception of what we alone see. It is often hard in the moment to react the way we wish we would have reacted when we look back at it in the future–unless we look back at past occurrences and practice saying what we wish we’d have said then. In other words, we go back and practice saying the thoughts and ideas that will propel us into the future we picture. This is the snipett that I’m learning to do at least: go back and process past errors, covering them with goodness, and being thankful for the piece they’ve set in my life.

For me, trying to do this outside of the arms of God would push me into personal tunnel vision, but I’ve found that Big Hands create Big Things, especially in the area of covering past mistakes. I can’t do it alone. I’ve tried. What a mess!

Yet even the messes can be cleaned up and be made new in God’s hands. Some of my biggest foibles, He turned into beauty.

So the reality sits: We are not sure what to do next. We are learning though, that this is okay. Not part of the plan? Not a problem. Sometimes the best thing we can say is “I don’t know…yet.” Waiting is tough, but it is often better than rushing to our own aid. Do something!, say our pesky thoughts. However, waiting and choosing peace before pushing forward is worth it. Plus, it gives us time to process whether this thing we are unsure of will ultimately be a beautiful piece of our underwear drawer plan…or not. Either way, it’s fine because we can always redream the wild plan. We’ve done it before. 🙂

Dreaming is good because we consider the possibilities and look forward to the future. So how about we all dream big and pull that “whoa, I’m dreaming big baby!” plan back out and let a little Light be shed on it…especially in the midst of unknowns.

Across the Fence Lines

across the fencelines, option 4, mw
Is it possible that we as ranchers struggle with the issue of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence?

I know I’ve struggled with it. It usually starts so subtly, with “Man, my south pasture would be a lot nicer with tight wire.” Yet before we know it, our eyes stray and we’re thinking… “Geez, my neighbor sure has a nice fence. It must be great to be able to hire it done.” Or maybe it sounds more like this:
Wow, my neighbor must have contracted a better price on his calves than me, look at that new dually.
This ranch would flow so much better if we just had a job in town to support us!
If only we didn’t have to work in town to keep the ranch afloat!
If my family had homesteaded here a hundred years ago, I’d have it that good too.
I’m under the pressure of this family name!

Sure, I’ve done my fair share of gazing over the fence lines too. The problem is, when my eyes are over the fence, my own pasture goes to pot. I miss what I could be seeing in my own place. I forget to consider new possibilities and creative solutions. Occasionally I lose time thinking about how everyone else is managing their place and when I turn around, I’m certain the weeds snuck in a little thicker.

Old habits are hard to break though. So what do we do when all these thoughts come in about how others have it better than us? We must have new thoughts ready to fight back, a counting of our blessings if you will. So when the thought comes, “Wow, it must be nice to have all the family working together and getting along. We’d have built an empire by now if we’d had that.” We have an arsenal handy and we can choose to think instead, “I’m so thankful for the people in my life. Thank you for my spouse who shares my dream.” Perhaps, “His calves sure look better than mine”, can become, “Wow, my calves look better than last year.”

It may be tricky working on these new thinking patterns, but when my perspective changes from jealousy to thankfulness, it seems my heart changes a bit too and darn it if the house doesn’t feel a bit warmer.

Dude!

The dust was flying high that day as a dry spring lead to an interesting gather. The creek the cows were accustomed to had dried up. A new water supply had been temporarily set up until we could move them to their spring pasture. Trying to round them up however proved that the cows were quite content to stay by their new watering hole. After some trying moments, the herd was gathered into a nice bunch and was headed to their new home. That is until a lone rider, overcome by curiosity, strode through the center of the whole bunch and scattered them. Now we try our best to refrain from four letter words around our house, but it slipped: DUDE!
Most ranchers are well aware of the group of people I’m referring to, but for clarification for those in our culture wearing bagging britches that show their undershorts, complete with chains to accent it, I’m not referring to a cliché now used as a pronoun, nor have I lost my car. I am referring to people who have no idea that ranching is work. They come with their cameras and insist we hold the branding iron in just the right position for their picture. They shriek if their new Ariats step in a fresh pie. They don their Kmart cowboy hats with a personal revelation of authenticity. Often they have so much buckle bling they frighten the cows and their spurs jingle louder than the Salvation Army Bell Ringers. They hook their thumbs through their belt loops and begin the swaggering linguistics of a John Wayne movie. After five seconds, they’re convinced their “one of us” and begin spilling stories of their rich agricultural background.
“My grandpa owned two acres while I was growing up. We used to go out to his farm and catch grasshoppers. Them suckers might be small, but their mighty fast. He also had a rabbit or two back in the day and boy we used to let them out in the grass to play with them. Sometimes they were a little quick for us, so we called on Grandpa’s ranch dog to help us out. Yep. That dog would round up those rabbits and we’d help him. Sure can’t wait to get on a horse and herd something again. It’s been a long time. Does this saddle knob face the horse’s butt or head?”
“Oh sure, I know all about ranching. I’ve been to the rodeo at the county fair almost every year. Once I even rode the mechanical bull. If you want, I’d be happy to show you a thing or two.”
Dudes are those people who truly think they know what ranching is all about, when in reality, they know nothing at all. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to learn and admitting there is room for improvement (I am still in this category), it is the profound combination of ignorance and confidence that cause a rancher’s tongue to spit out the four-letter word: DUDE.
Once we had a dude with us during a gather. We just had a small pasture to gather, about 150 acres, and only about sixty cow/calf pairs to move down the road about two miles. Two riders were slowly pushing the pairs from behind, while another rider rode front to close gates along the way. “Dude” was there too, anxious to make the “big ride”. After climbing onto a borrowed horse, he walked the back for a minute before he began trotting the horse. Before long he was zipping from side to side behind the cows, kind of like that annoying little yappy dog from cartoons. Those of us who move cattle regularly know that when you move pairs, the calves don’t necessarily stick with their mommas. They will always pair back up again when you get them to the new pasture, but along the way they may lose sight of momma. Calves looking for momma will occasionally stop, bawl, and then keep walking with the group when momma answers from somewhere in the herd. Well, Dude saw a calf stop and before we knew it, he was zipping through the herd to push the little guy forward. Unfortunately, he didn’t stop his zigzagging and began whooping and hollering. Soon the herd was scattered all over. Dude went after the calf still, chasing it right through the neighbor’s fence. Chaos ensued until Dude was given the important job of “crowd control”. This consisted of Dude riding behind the cowboys and hollering if he saw something stray. By the end of the ride, Dude’s voice was hoarse and he’d probably ridden 50 miles zipping back and forth. During lunch, he recounted the ride:
“That was something else! Those cows were really riled up. The calves were all scared and we had to keep them moving. Then all of a sudden they spooked and the cattle were going everywhere. Luckily I caught one in the neighbor’s pasture. Once we got gathered up again, I rode like the wind trying to keep everything under control. Man, I don’t know what you guys would’ve done if I hadn’t been here. Let me know the next time you move cows.”
This self invitation is usually very selective though, which almost always works out to the cowboy’s advantage. It is here that the rancher can say something like “Actually, we’re rebuilding a fence tomorrow out in Rocky Ground pasture. If you want, bring a shovel and be here by 6 am.” This is when Dude confesses that he is really only good with cattle and he’s busy tomorrow. The cowboy expresses his understanding and from here on out always attaches chores to any cattle work when speaking with Dude. This actually works on most dudes, as they are more concerned with their own showmanship than with getting any work done. At least this is true for bad dudes. Bad dudes always say much and know little, while good dudes may know little, but they listen much.
Perhaps it is like anything else in life, it takes a little while of listening to someone else’s story before you can really understand them. If you don’t choose to take the time to listen though and show up pretending to bow legged, you may just hear a four-letter word slip.

Rural America

across the fencelines, option 1, mwThe road ahead of me appeared desolate.
A lone mailbox tilted on the side of the road, as if greeting passersby. What stretched ahead were miles and miles of hay fields and grazing land. “It leads to nowhere” many had whispered and turned around as if defeated, making the return trek back to town. Yet what weaved in front of me with every twist of the road and each blade of grass was a tapestry of rural America. The pieces mingled together perfectly, but had often been abandoned in trial.

Nothing came easy in the expansion west. The promise of free land allured many, yet quenched the freedom thirst of many more. Homesteads that are around today are frequently a family lineage of trust: trust that the upcoming generation will enhance or at least continue the dream of the founders. The dream of owning a piece of land and working it to raise a crop and usually a family came with a price: most homesteads hold their own cemeteries as a bleak reminder of the cost.

Cost today is measured in money, something of which homesteaders had little. Their sacrifices came in immeasurable amounts of sweat, blood, time, and tears. Their joy was as immeasurable—a good harvest was shared county wide and a wedding meant a shindig into the wee hours of the night. Celebrations were shared not just by family, but by friends and even slight acquaintances. If you could find the place, you were welcome, but you’d probably be asked to pitch in with chores.

As I sulk over my chores today: mountains of laundry, endless phone calls to make, errands to run… I wonder if we’ve lost rural America. Certainly a full tank of gas and wandering spirit would lead me somewhere remote, but it takes a venture much further out of town than it ever did before and once there seems more ghostly than rural.

Yet it was the sacrifice, the risk-taking, of those brave homesteaders that laid the foundation for agriculture today. Certainly it is growing in productivity, even though the number of places is dropping. Agriculture has set a heart-beat that it will continue for generations to come