Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Skunk Spray Cure

Skunk Spray Cure

One quart Hydrogen Peroxide
¼ cup Baking Soda
1 tsp. Liquid Soap

Followed by tap water rinse.

According to the October 18, 1993 edition of Chemical & Engineering News (page 90,) alkaline hydrogen peroxide is the best cure for skunk spray.

Note: It does not take a wild imagination to sort out which dog repeatedly puts this formula to the test!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ranch Report for the Students

Ranch Report for the Students

Hello to the students at the Col. Johnston Elementary School on Ft. Huachuca Army Base in Arizona. As you may know, your teacher is planning a visit to our ranch during spring break. I thought you might enjoy getting acquainted with our outfit and learning a little about ranching in the Rocky Mountains.

Much of what ranchers do in the summer is get ready for Montana winters--we grow the feed and bale the hay that it takes to feed our animals in the cold weather months of winter and spring.

In many ways the ranch seasons are the same as your school seasons as we begin a new year each fall. Lambs and calves are weaned and sent to market or put on special feed where they will grow to adults and find their way to back to the herd as a mother. A veterinarian helps us to screen our cows in the fall and we keep the pregnant cows and sell the older cows that can no longer have babies. We say they go “to the Golden Arches” because it is likely that they will be ground into hamburger and served on a bun at McDonalds! A cow will be pregnant for nine months, just like a human. This is the gestation period or the time it takes for a baby to be born. That period is only 145 days (5 months) for sheep. Our cows will begin calving right around Valentines Day in February and our sheep will begin lambing toward the end of March, just about the time your teacher comes for a visit.

In addition to the 260 cows and 200 sheep and dozen horses which live at our ranch, we have as many as 200 resident deer grazing in our hay fields. It is not uncommon to spot deer, antelope, jack rabbits or raccoons in our pastures. We watch for bald eagles and the various hawks and mountain birds that greet us each day. In the evenings we can hear the coyotes yipping and the great White Pyrenees dogs barking their reply. We have two older dogs named Zsa Zsa and Yukon and they have been guarding the sheep for 10 years now. Before that time as many as one-fourth of the lambs would be killed by coyotes. The dogs live with the sheep and protect them from the coyotes. Because the guard dogs are getting older, we purchased two Pyrenees puppies this summer named Eva and Elvis. They are bonded to the sheep and the older dogs are teaching them the routine. They would give their life to protect the sheep. These dogs are much respected and loved for their faithfulness to the sheep.

We also have cow dogs at the ranch. Our old timer “top dawg” is named Bernie and he spends more and more time on the porch while our young Border Collie named Rascal likes to work. Some times he likes to work too much and we have to make him stay behind. We joke that some people are like the horse whisperer but Grandpa is the “dog bellower” because he has to holler at Rascal to make him mind. Rascal makes us laugh because he is always playful and he gets into mischief. Only on days when he has gotten too close to a skunk do we avoid him until he smells better. Life is never boring when Rascal is around.

We feel very fortunate to live on a ranch and we enjoy sharing our way of life with others. I would encourage you to ask any questions you may have about ranching. If you let me know what you are particularly interested in, I’ll email back and tell you more about life on a Montana family-owned ranch.

As Grandpa says, we do not inherit the land from our parents; we borrow it from our children. And with that comes a responsibility to be good stewards of the land so that people of your generation have a chance to explore wide open spaces and learn about ranching traditions.

Happy Trails,

Monday, May 26, 2008

Spring Branding

Spring Branding

Springtime for some people is when they see their first robin, sandhill crane, mountain bluebird or meadowlark. While bird watching is something we do as part of being mindful of nature, it is branding that marks the event for our family. Ranchers celebrate spring by gathering family and friends around this time of year for the annual branding. While everyone is busy trying to make a living, out of town or adjusting schedules for kid’s soccer and spouse’s work shifts, they make it a priority to be at the ranch to help us.

Some things are the same and some things are different. We use the calf table now because it is quicker and requires a smaller crew. But most ranchers wouldn't think of giving up roping and dragging calves to the fire. We don’t Ralgro anymore. That is, we don’t implant hormones to enhance growth. Our natural calves are destined to be part of a Montana Branded Beef product. It is part of the value-added niche that we are trying to carve out for our reputation Angus beef.

We are branding a week later this year and the calves are big. JV and Joe and grandson Jess push the calves up the alley and into the chute. Little Jess is never very far away if a cow is ‘spose to go from one place to another. Jay and Bill are on the business end of the deal as they run the calf table levers and tip the calves on their sides and then Jay brands them. Kristi and Shannon vaccinate the calves against diseases that calves and cows get while Jami ear notches a left under bite as another identifier. We try to get the branding all done in one day so we are dog tired at the end of the day. But not so busy that we can’t have a beer to settle the dust and share laughs over practical jokes.

Grandpa is everywhere and nowhere. Keeping beer and pop and cookies available for breaks and helping at each station as needed. But he often thought his most important job was 4-wheeling with the grandkids. My job was lambing. We’re on the tail end of that now--down to the wild ones. My theory is that these late lambers are so wild that even the bucks couldn’t catch them early on. At any rate, it is a challenge to get the ewes to follow into the jugs. Only three bum lambs in the sheep shed and the grandkids love to bottle feeding them. We've managed to sneak the other bum lambs into town to give away to friends.

A creek winds its way through the ranch and there is something about grandkids and water that is a given. By the end of the day the kids were varying degrees of wet. Jordon was head to toe wet after her fall. Justin and Jake’s pant legs were dragging in the mud. Only 5 year old Jess was dry. He was smart…he went to the porch and put on grandpa’s boots which reach clear to his hips! Jess has a good outlook on life. He loves ranch life—whether chasing cows, riding sheep or wading in the creek in grandpa’s boots. It’s all an adventure to him.

Soon enough we gear up to face the farming and irrigating and haying and all the rest of the summer frenzy. But branding day is a springtime celebration at the ranch and a rite of passage for those calves that now carry the Lazy Y Hanging 5 on their left hip.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Amazing Sheep Dogs

Amazing Sheep Dogs

The dogs never cease to amaze me. The Great White Pyrenees that guard the sheep have been a source of love for us and they enable us to stay in the sheep business. On this morning, we fed the calf his bottle (he is a twin and he needs a bottle to keep him going) and then we went out to feed the sheep their grain. Lambing will start any day now and the half pound of grain each ewe eats each day will boost her milk production.

But neither dogs nor sheep were in sight this morning. They’ve been in the field above the calving shed but it turned out they crawled under the metal gate to join the cows for hay. The hired man helped us as we hazed the sheep back to their pasture. One calf wanted to come with us…he just followed along in the midst of the sheep…maybe for the moment he thought he was a sheep as he trotted through the gate and into the sheep pasture.

Grandpa headed up to feed the sheep their grain so they’d stay where they belonged and I stayed back to watch the gate. The young dogs, Wayne, (named after the cousin who raised the dog) and Shy Elvis, (who is only shy until he trusts you,) followed the sheep. You could see their minds a-workin’…”not gonna be any calves in my sheep!” They loped along behind the calf, hazing him. Not barking, not causing a ruckus…just hazing the calf. Never breaking stride. Before long, that calf decided he did not want to be a sheep after all and he circled back toward the cows with the dogs loping along behind him.

By the time Grandpa finished feeding the sheep, the work was all done. The calf was back with his momma and the dogs were lying in the gate looking darn pleased with themselves. This mix up had all the ear markings of a big mess. And while the Pyrenees are not herding dogs per se, they knew where that calf belonged. They never took a step further once that calf went through the gate. When they were done, they were perfectly satisfied. Just amazing!

Now you tell me about those dogs! All Grandpa had to do was close the gate. The more we know about the dogs the more perplexed we are. They are uncanny. They have been a total life experience all to themselves and we count it a privilege to be a witness to it all.

Not a drop of wind, we left our coats in the back of the pickup. Sitting up on the hill we revel in how gorgeous the ranch looks today. Mattie, the new Border Collie, is asleep next to us. She doesn’t even wiggle when we pet her. We are caught up in the moment. All the partial nights of sleep are worth it as we look over the calves, black sleek beauties at play. The first cycle of calving is behind us and lambing is soon to start.

Things are maybe a bit unusual, but all is well.
Ranching our life away is pretty darn rewarding.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Big Timber on a Saturday Night

Big Timber on a Saturday Night
For as long as anyone can remember, Bob DeCock’s focus has been automobiles—cars and trucks—and he also gathered up old machinery by the acre. He was collecting classic old Ford pickups and restoring them long before it was popular. He never married—too busy mechanic-ing.

Mary Lody was a rancher’s wife. When she was widowed, she continued to ranch but needed help when aging equipment broke down. She called on Bob just like everyone else in the neighborhood does when they need an obsolete replacement part or repairs on an aging outfit.

When the spark lit…it went just like wildfire in a stubble field and they were married in short order. That was last year when Bob was in his fifties. Now he acts like a young kid. Side by side, he and Mary greet each day. And because Bob and Mary’s wedding dance had been so much fun, they decided to invite the Big Timber community to an anniversary dance. It was held last night in the basement of the Legion.

The gathering was reminiscent of old school house dances that I can remember as a kid…people in the community getting together and making their own entertainment. Potluck food along one wall, coats piled in the back and the dance floor sprinkled with a little sawdust. It is customary to “pass the hat” to help pay for the expense of a band and a sound system. Those with musical talent take a turn at the mike when the band takes a break.

Rick and I gravitated to the Sanders and Richerts table. Lynn was strumming gingerly on his guitar after rotator cuff surgery earlier this month. The deep richness of Lynn’s voice always surprises me coming from this all-business rancher. It is the feeling he puts to it, the warmth and sincerity that belies his gruff exterior.

Steve introduced a friend of his daughter as “the most beautiful girl in the high school...and the strongest too.” She was a pretty girl; proudly wearing a jacket embroidered with “FFA Agronomy Champion,” she seemed to take the joking in stride. There was a buzz as neighbors and families were enjoying each other’s company--high school kids visiting with their parents and grand daughters dancing with granddads.

Schotts drove all the way over from Belgrade for the occasion. Carol is a Raisland and her father Benny is playing the accordion. Rick asks about her girls, he is partial to Ellen who is now working at the bank. I praise their youngest daughter, Susan, thinking how carefully she had taken Xrays of my hand after the colt kicked me last fall. Brother Elmer has a serious look on his face as he dances with his wife. It makes me smile to see the family resemblance to Earl. Hard working German Earl has more going on than the average person realizes. Under his jovial fun-loving exterior is a good human being with great affection for kids even though he has never parented. Never married. He has a deep love for his nieces and never missed the girls’ basketball game at home or away.

Over the years, we’ve had the good fortune to have shared ranching chores back and forth with Earl Schott. Earl is the first neighbor to our loading chute when we’re shipping calves to market and in turn Rick pulls a trailer load of Earl’s cows when they head to summer pasture. He lends a hand irrigating and stacking hay in exchange for feed. And last year when Rick broke his leg, Earl and his brother Dale were right there to help out.

I continue to reflect on the goodness of this family and I think of Earl’s sister, Jenette. She has worked at the nursing home in Big Timber for years. It warms me to see how tenderly she gave my mother her bath. The residents thrive under her care because they get more than just their basic needs met. Their spirits are nourished by her love.

Now Earl’s family members are part of the swirl of people who make their way across the dance floor. After a bit of hesitation, Rick asks me to dance. Instead of one-two, one-two, he steps one-and-a-half with his left foot and a half-hop with his right. It is coming on six months now since he broke his leg, and it still takes some limbering up to get it working. Other younger more energetic dancers whirl past us, their cowboy boots cla-lomping on the floor as they make wide swings with their partners. Mary’s father is dancing with her mother. Still recovering from a stroke, he shuffles his feet.

Mary Lody’s mother is a spry lady in her 70’s. She steers her husband to the platform and encourages him to play his guitar which he does smiling as a man reborn after a stroke. She listens intently until she hears the key and then she begins to play the piano. Sometimes sitting, sometimes standing, she gives it all she’s got playing the tune and adding notes all along the way. Bouncing up and down until it seems the piano is jumping with her; she brought the house down playing her favorite old western tunes.

I marvel at what a wonderful way for Mary to have grown up watching the love between her parents. The mother artistic in music. The daughter artistic on canvas. And then the band plays “Have I told you lately that I love you?” Mary and Bob never take their eyes off each other as they dance.

Older generations bent and bow-legged, younger generations limber and energetic. All of them part of the fabric of this small ranching community. Big Timber, Montana, is a special place. It is all about families and it is why we do what we do.