The Future of the Industry

We just got back from the Idaho Cattle Association’s summer gathering. Since we are fairly new to Idaho, it was encouraging to meet new people. My husband has had the opportunity to mingle with other producers, but this was my first time. There is a desire here to promote the industry and share our stories with those not familiar with cattle. I love this because sharing the heart behind the industry is vital. We want consumers to know that we work hard to protect the resources under our care.

Our land practices must provide for our cattle, native wildlife, and future generations with great efficacy. This includes not only maintaining pasture health, but promoting it. Many of our habits today are proactive rather than reactive. Water resources must be protected rather than salvaged. Nutrition programs encourage cattle health, for gestational wellbeing and birth, as well as longterm viability. Our desire is that what is witnessed in our fields will not only sustain our families, but our environment for years to come, while at the same time, providing a food source for the billions of people on our planet.

It goes without saying that ranchers desire to supply the world with sustainable beef. Not just because it is good business, but because it is good practice. Although the “law” of sustainable beef has yet to be written, there is a code that the majority of producers follow: provide the best life possible for the animal as it provides life for us.

Many consumers buy meat, not knowing the practices behind the product. Hopefully this will change. As the word gets out, may the population know that producers are enacting practices such as crop and grazing rotations, fencing off riparian areas, and animal health procedures (just to name a few) that seek to promote the health of land and animals alike.
We are blessed with the opportunity to take part in ranching and look forward to the future!

august 2010 030 The Future Generation

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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


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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.

 

 

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

The First Cows

Billy had worked on ranches in Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana, picking up on true ranching culture. Believe it or not, the iconic cowboy is not John Wayne. Cowboys have a sincere heart for the land and the cattle, desiring to improve their herd and their pastures. They live authentically. So authentically that sometimes they look funny and smell bad. Thus when our first cows were purchased, the good old boy network weren’t the only ones laughing.
Every Monday morning, the sale barn comes to life. Behind the sale building are the stockyards where cattle await a new home. One can peruse the pens prior to the sale to get a good look at what will be auctioned off. The pens vary from larger loads of cattle needing to be dispersed, to a lone cow or two just being culled from the herd. Many times there are reasons why ranchers are selling these cows: they aren’t good mommas, they’re funny colored, they’re broken-mouthed (really old), they’re ornery, they’re lame, etc. Sometimes it can be as simple as they calve off-season from the ranchers expected calving season.
Billy stepped inside the office on a chilly winter morning. Awaiting his turn to register for a buyer’s card, he looked around him. Children scampered around the indoor arena or sat eating on the bleachers. The aroma of horses and cattle hung in the air. As he stepped up to the desk, several people glanced in his direction. He received his buyer’s card and took a seat.
Having looked over the pens earlier, Billy knew what cows he wanted. He also knew which ones he could afford. He sat waiting as beautiful two and three year old cows went for more than he had in his checkbook. As some older, but still viable cattle came through, Billy’s buyer’s ticket went up. An ugly grey, but younger cow came through…again he bid and won.
By the end of the sale he had an affordable, but scraggly bunch of cows.
A mature rancher came over and asked where he was working and wondered where he was taking the cows.
“I’m an appraiser right now sir, but I’ve been a cowboy and now I’m buying my first cows. They may be a motley crew, but everyone has to start somewhere, right?” Billy introduced himself and the rancher wished him luck and walked away.
Billy laughed at himself, but held his resolve as he made a couple trips with our eighteen-foot horse trailer to haul the cows to our leased pasture.
Surrounded by established farms and ranches, our little herd looked like a joke. But a Black Angus bull’s genes are dominant in comparison to the recessive genes of those old, ugly girls and our first calves were Black Angus babies. Not only that, but because they were older, they had no trouble calving and were great mothers.
We had known what we wanted in trying to build our own herd, but that first calving season, we really fell in love. We fell in love with the amazement of new life, the beauty of a pasture in the springtime, and the thrill of owning our own cattle—as small as the herd was. There is something honest and worthy in caring for animals and the land. Even though we knew it would be hard work, the simplicity of the lifestyle was worth pursuing. We loved having the cows and over time it’s grown…not just in size, but respectability. The cows aren’t as shaggy as the first bunch, but we sure appreciate the beginners.

Cowboy Daddy

 

cows, Billy B-Day, Katie B-Day 090This post is also a published article, but it was so much fun to write, I had to share.

Cowboy Daddy

Perhaps it’s the bawl of a new calf. Or it could be that overprotective mother cow. (Her calf’s ID is not a tag, but a crisp new rope.) Maybe its heifers that always seem to calve at night….But when calving season hits, so do memories of impending parenthood. For it was roughly eight years ago when my husband and I found out it wasn’t just the cows who were going to experience the miracle of birth.

“Are you sure?” The brim of my husband’s hat dropped with his jaw.

“I had a blood test.”

“That sure huh?” He began wringing his hands.

We were pretty young. I was told my chances of having children were slim to none. We were shocked, yet truly overjoyed by our blessing.

With the news of our pregnancy coming on the eve of calving season, my cowboy found himself in “baby mode.” He quickly whipped out his cattle gestation calendar and reported to me my due date. (What do you mean there’s a gestation difference?) He flailed his arms and spouted phrases like, just before weaning time, not during haying season, and maybe during a storm or full moon. He quipped that he would know just what to do because he’d helped many animals in my condition. It never occurred to him that I might not like being compared to a cow. I gently reminded him I was not some heifer. That’s when he put away his weight expectancy chart.

Pregnancy does funny things to a woman. Those hay slivers that I continually brushed out of our bed began to irritate me. Anything but hamburgers made me gag. And cow manure on clothing—a fact of life—was not allowed within fifty feet of the house. “Don’t even think about kissing me until you’ve hosed off and stripped in the yard,” I found myself hollering.

It goes without saying that pregnancy changes a woman, but it also changes a man. It certainly changes the size of his wallet. All of the things that are needed for a child add up: the four door pickup, the tractor with the enclosed, air conditioned cab, and the tack.

With tack catalogues strewn across the kitchen table, my hubby could hardly contain his excitement. “What kind of kid’s saddle should I get?”

“Well, the baby’s the size of a bean right now, so I’d go with something small. Let’s not get carried away.”

Yet what first time parents don’t get carried away? At our initial doctor’s appointment my husband came with spurs on and his head cocked like a rooster. An early ultrasound was included, so my cowboy told me what to expect because he’d done ultrasounds for preg checking.

As the doctor performed the ultrasound, he asked, “Are you feeling okay?”

My husband replied, “I’m a little tired.”

Intuition told me the doctor was thoroughly impressed with my man, especially when the ultrasound procedure also included a complimentary bovine narrative. My cowboy actually went in to a mini-lecture on the similarities of my reproductive system and a cow’s. Maybe we could’ve saved money at Trans-Ova, the local cattle embryonic center.

Once my belly began to bulge, so did my man’s ego. Why read baby books when he’d seen a million bovine births? It wouldn’t be that different…would it?

One “difference” came when the baby began kicking. My husband put his hand on my belly expecting to feel a small tap and was blown away when the baby actually moved his hand with a forceful little blow. This was the first time I heard him scream like a little girl.

The second scream occurred in Lamaze class. It was not the videos that made him holler. No, it was another forceful blow—this time by another expectant mother who didn’t tolerate bovine comparisons very well. Needless to say, we didn’t make any lifelong friends there. The calf-pulling conversation didn’t help.

When labor did begin, I was in denial. It was early. My husband convinced me to go to the hospital because I was “walking around like a cow with my tail up.” I promised to go, if he promised not to say that in the delivery room. When we arrived at the hospital and labor was confirmed, my husband obliged, and explained he knew what was happening because he had “seen it in his field.”

When our daughter arrived, cowboy instincts let loose and he nearly fainted. The man can castrate a steer, pull a calf, and inspect afterbirth….but a human umbilical cord made him woozy! All of his jitters passed away though when our beautiful girl was placed in his arms.

Pride has been taken to a whole new level from this time forward. Stories of tagging, penning, and roping will always make a cowboy beam, but a child is like all of these tales and then some. Put some cowboy daddies together and they can talk!

“Why just last week my six-year-old daughter drove the truck while I forked off hay.”

“Oh yah, well my five-year-old won first prize at the mutton busting.”

“That’s nothing. My two-year-old roped a steer on his first try, blindfolded.”

Even with their stories though, cowboys do make great fathers. They help their kids learn about life via the ranch. They teach them to make hay forts. They encourage them to open gates. The only thing that continues to puzzle me is this: How can a cowboy be immune to the stench of manure, stick his hands in the tightest of places, but changing a diaper induces tears or vomiting?