Two days ago I reported on the blog that we had our first calf of the season. That wee one is still our only calf. Russ went all day without seeing it yesterday but came home in the evening feeling easy. He said the Mama, our cow named “Even” (the Norwegian form of Evan, named after a friend of mine in my Up With People cast) had her calf stashed somewhere. “How do you know its not dead?” I asked. “I can tell by how she is acting, everything is fine.” This morning he came in while the kids were having breakfast and reported that he had seen Even’s calf and it was doing very well and is oh so cute, so small it can practically walk under its Mom’s stomach. I felt impressed with Russ’s accurate read of the situation yesterday.
This morning when Russ went to put the dogs out he found it had rained. A sound of jubilation came from the porch. In fact, it has turned into a rainy, at times snowy kind of day. I had hoped to sit at my desk this morning but when Russ cited the weather as a good reason to go to town for breakfast, I agreed. We got a couple of crucial errands done and had some very good visiting with a friend we ran into at the restaurant. We have travelled wide in the last month and never have found a breakfast better than the one we enjoy at the Flying M Diner. We checked the cows on the way home and found no new calves, though some pretty full looking girls were grazing. We sure love seeing our cows looking content, they have put in such a winter, I made sure to tell then how impressed I was with them when I saw them today.
Here are a few pictures of how things look on Day 3.
When we got back from town we got down to doing some inventory and getting a list ready for our order from the vet clinic. We were assessing what we need for tags, vaccines, vitamins, rings, and ralgro. Russ is struggling with his glasses prescription at this point so asked me to read the expiry date on a bottle of vaccine. It was June 2022. “That is this year right?” was Russell’s response when I informed him of the date. I looked at him funny. Trying to normalize his fuzziness about this a bit I said, “Covid makes time all wonky doesn’t it?” He said, “nah, I have never been good with dates. I still write 1988 on cheques sometimes!” Oh Russell……you keep us giggling. Russell would like to report in that on day 3 of calving he has just had a haircut, he is clean shaven and as rested as he will be for a while. There is sure to be some changes to this status as the season unfolds, but for now he headed out the door for afternoon work feeling pretty fine in clean laundry.
Today we are thankful for every drop of moisture we have received, for good coffee and for friendship.
It has been a long time since I wrote anything on the blog. I have no way of explaining that except maybe I am a little more private than I thought I was.
Without a doubt life has been ticking along here at the ranch. Our crew and our cows have persevered through some devastatingly cold conditions. Having called them devastating conditions it seems important to affirm that in fact we had no losses from the cold, except that our cows had trouble keeping weight on. We believed that we were giving them good quality feed but still they were dropping pounds. We tested for worms. That wasn’t the problem. It was just the cold and as soon as the weather shifted upwards the cows started to bounce back. There is a significant amount of stress that goes with this. One of the worries is whether feed supplies will hold out. We budgeted our bale supply for a typical winter but this winter has required more food than average due to the cold. When its cold the cows eat more to keep their inner furnace producing heat.
We got into something new this week, in response to this worry about feed lasting through the winter. We got the chance to do a little alchemy. That is a word I connect to the Muppets. When the kids were little we had a VHS tape of the Muppets recreating classic fairytales. It was really memorable when Gonzo did his thing as Rumpelstiltskin and turned straw into gold to rescue Miss Piggy, for a fee. I really loved that VHS tape back when being Gina and Jill’s Mom gave me permission to be a kid again. Anyways, the alchemy we were a part of was turning straw bales into nourishing food. If you have not had time on a farm you might not know that straw is usually used for bedding and hay is used for food. Straw is the stalks that grain grows on and hay may be comprised of a variety of grasses. Straw has bulk and roughage but not much nutrition. However, we had the chance to have a man come with a fancy machine and inject a nutritious mixture into 100 straw bales. The mixture was mostly molasses and offers 14% protein content, making them edible and somewhat nourishing. We have started introducing these bales into our feed rotation. At this point they are not a favorite item on the menu but are getting eaten and allowing the feed to last just a little longer. Surprisingly this process was not that expensive, as farm expenses go. There are years when having feed for cows is like possessing gold, this year with our severe drought its one of them, so making straw viable as a food source is a little like the fairytale alchemy I remember.
Another way we have extended our feed supply is by purchasing grain pellets for the cows. We were able to find a source for these, which was not straightforward. The place that was reccomended to us flat out refused to talk to us because we are not already customers. We did get lined up with a good option though and the price was better than we thought it might be. A load cost us $12,500 and Monday a 2nd load is being delivered. Those kinds of figures amaze me. How does a ranch sustain these kinds of extra costs? Well……part of it is strategic decision making. Like this……..We usually buy oats for our calves and get them ready for market by supplementing their feed this way. This year the price per bushel of oats has about tripled. We made a strategic decision not to feed them oats, to do some leftover grain and some barley for supplemental feed and see how they would fare on that with hay. They were not as bulked up as usual but did okay. The term that goes with this is that it didn’t “pencil out” to feed them 9$/bushel oats. So perhaps we saved a bit there. The true saving grace when having extra feed expenses is that our provincial government offered ranchers drought relief. There is lots of talk about how terrible government is. I don’t negate anyone’s position, there is a reason for everything everyone says. However our experience is that in this terribly scary and hard time of maintaining a herd of cows we have felt seen by our government. Our work creating food feels valued and our need to have sustainability affirmed. There is support that will make it possible to carry on. We are incredibly grateful.
One other big part of this season of ranch life is snow. Wow we have had snow and our entire province seems to have been blanketed with it. It has meant so much extra work but it has also translated to hope. The extra work comes from managing the snow, moving it to create paths to get feed to animals and keep yards clear. Then moving it again when the wind rearranges it. We seem to have had lots of wind. The hope comes from the knowledge that this spring there should be some run-off, we begin to envision dugouts with some water in them. This is so major. We need the hope as much as we need the water.
The deep snow and deep cold have made life hard on the nature that surrounds us. We have found ourselves hosting some species that are having a hard time getting by. Prairie Chickens, partridges and pheasants are birds that have been taking food and shelter with us. Deer are everywhere. The picture below is typical lately, I counted 35 deer in this picture, Russ says there are 160 within a mile of home, all grazing where any food source remains accessible. The coyotes have been bedding down with the cows, using their bedding and eating their manure as a food source. It seems there are many species including our own that are doing their best to survive in trying times.
When the air is deadly cold, the worries real and big and we are surrounded by snow and tricky roads what sustains us? What sustains you?
I answer my question with the word love. I think about it, in one way or another, all the time. My experiences with it help me live these days. Here are some pictures.
Yesterday was a big day for many reasons. Our family observed Truth and Reconciliation Day in a way that was pretty special for us. It was also month end which meant farm business, music festival board business for me and a time to tally the stats for the Broken Bread Bakery. I have a series of captioned pictures to tell the tale.
The color orange is being transformed in our culture. In my world it was once the color I associated with halloween. Then as I got to know some bikers it became the color of Harley Davidson, then as we built our house it became a color of energy and we chose it for our kitchen. Now it is a color that speaks of honoring. Honoring and not silencing. Honoring and not shaming. Honoring through listening. Honoring difference and uniqueness. Honoring another even if it costs me a bit. It means living out what we say when we say that every child matters. It was the color of halloween, and I see maybe like a butterfly, the color orange is being transformed, can it become a color that when seen quickens the heart, sending out a signal that ingredients for hope and healing are not far away. May it be so.
I have been away from the blog for about a month. I never expected that to happen! However, day by day, things have stolen any time I had for writing and also I start posts and only get half done. I think I have 7 drafts going. Hopefully I can get publishing them soon. I have really missed the whole process, evidence of that is that in my head I am writing something almost every day.
Getting back into the swing of things I have a few pictures to share. Liz came and photographed a couple of summer sessions, we are now pretty sure we have all the pictures we need for the coffee table book we are creating about ranching. The first of these summer sessions Liz delivered a few weeks ago. Here are some favorites from that evening (July 15th) when we moved 120 pairs and six bulls from one pasture to another. The main water source in the starting pasture had gone dry and grass was getting to be a concern. We usually move these cows once in the summer but with these drought conditions this needed to happen two weeks early.
I know these pictures betray a sense of drought, the spot where Liz met up with the crew was at a coulee fed by lots of springs, it is green. The dugout we moved them away from was essentially dry, days after we got the cows out we had machinery in to clean it out and hopefully reactivate any springs that feed it. The trackhoe removed 8 feet of mud from the bottom of the dugout. That statistic alarmed Russell, cows left there to scrounge for water could easily have been mired in mud and soon dead. The day after the cleanout was done Russ had a picnic lunch on the dry and almost dusty bottom of the dugout. There was no replenishment to be had.
Yesterday contained no big story to ponder, just a bunch of little things, like a lot of days are. I have found myself thinking, if you, the reader, were to come to our house for coffee (the time will come again I am sure!), what might I tell you about the day here at the ranch?
First I would offer you a drink, which would mean consulting what you want and then standing at my cupboard and carefully picking a mug for you that I think you would like.
My friend Suelynn asked for an update on Pray and Little Prayer, the bovine subjects of yesterday morning’s post. Before I offer that, Suelynn here is the cup I would select for you. Its “Chip” from Beauty and the Beast, I picked it because I thought you would appreciate how fun it is and it reminds me of your support of the kids when they acted in “Beauty and the Beast.”
Things are very well for Pray and her calf “Little Prayer”, it seems that they just needed a little settling down time to get their thoughts and emotions straight. When Russ checked the pasture early yesterday they were together and “Little Prayer” looked well, like she had been getting the milk she needed. By mid morning Russ was bringing several pairs up out of the heifer pasture into the corral so that he could truck them a little further away to our heifer pair pasture. From the kitchen I happened to see this process start and I was able to go out on the deck and get this picture.
I caught sight of Pray as she went by but didn’t get her in this picture, it was quite the transformation from the last time I had seen her.
If Lindsay were to come for coffee we might talk about this blog. She has been super supportive of it. Here is the mug for you Lindsay, with your sense of humor I think you would enjoy this! It was a gift from Jill to Russell.
Its been exciting to be a blogger, the stats page tells me that people are reading it and in the last few days even someone from Ecuador has been checking it out. Lindsay told me in a message that I could describe paint drying and make it captivating. I wonder if she was here with a mug in her hand whether I would tell her about my Sudoku habit and the fact that I finished a super difficult puzzle yesterday. Sudoku is not fun to talk about really, it’s a solitary game with lots of work to it but it is a regular part of my life, and if you drink 8 cups of water in 8 hours you get to visit your book pretty often if you know what I mean! How might I make Sudoku interesting? Maybe by talking about what makes it meaningful to me. Surely that is a big part of making any boring reality less boring. Find the meaning and find the humor. The thing about Sudoku is that there are rules that are always in place, numbers 1-9 in a 9 block square, and in a 9 block row both vertically and horizontally. Always. Nothing will change that. I grew up kind’ve like that, with always kind of rules. Always tell the truth. Never call people names. Be caring. When the world got kinda crazy, when these rules didn’t seem to matter anymore, I needed Sudoku, the rules always are in play and when you follow them everything falls into place eventually. And that ladies and gentlemen is what Sudoku means to me, very tangible order in a disorderly world and therefore stress relief.
If Keith came for coffee I for sure would have to tell him about an episode with Coffee that happened yesterday. I only know this should be visited about because he made an observant comment about that dog of ours sometime in the last week and it stuck in my head. I’m gonna assume he is interested. These moments with Coffee are what got this whole particular post rolling. I had the words “come for coffee” roll through my brain while in a state of amused disgust at what I had just dealt with. What I meant was, someone come and get this dog…….anyone…..anyone?!?!? Its not that bad really…..I made buns yesterday, I had 40 of them cooling on the counter after lunch. I was resting in our room when I heard a funny clatter. It was kindv’e an isolated noise, I thought something must have fallen off a shelf or something. Nope. I rounded the corner and found a cooling rack and 20 buns upside down on the floor. Coffee was backing into the living room and looking truly alarmed. I removed her to the dog room (I was brusk and I had a few words for her) and then assessed the situation. She had eaten a pretty good amount out of two buns. I think she must have hopped on a stool and started while they were still on the counter then accidentally pulled them onto the floor. You probably don’t want to know what I did with the rest of the buns. I can tell you I learned a lesson. Part of that lesson…..its not only humans that like my buns. (Insert sheepish grin at using the corniest and oldest dumb joke that exists in our family.)
Here is the cup I would choose for Keith.
Russ would like to point out Keith that the cow we have named after you is looking ready to calve but has a lingering aura of anger about her after the fight she had with Russ last calving season. He is staying on his toes! Stay tuned.
I need my friend Deb to come for coffee. The friend who has known me since I was 9 has walked with me through everything life has thrown at me. Last night, while just about to get supper on the table, a call from the school informed me that Jillian has been in close contact with a confirmed case of Covid 19. She is now self isolating in her room in the basement. My thoughts are all over the place. It sure makes me appreciate better what people much closer to the action for the whole course of this have been reckoning with. I am second guessing myself and my practices and doing lots of mental gymnastics …. why might she have it, why might she be okay? Based on what she knows she is concerned about where she was sitting in class on Wednesday. I am thankful she is good about wearing her mask. She is such a beauty of a girl, so wise. We found the news hard, it turns your life upside down. We finished supper late, had beer and chips for dessert and went straight to bed.
My friend Deb has been part of a leadership team guiding a long term care home in Saskatoon through this pandemic. She has maintained a calm and reasonable presence through all that has happened. Deb and I used to drink wickedly strong coffee together but I think herbal tea seems to be more our beverage of choice as we do middle age. Here is a mug for Deb. She loves animals.
I am not sure who wants to hear about the cows. As I write this last bit it’s now May 1st, yesterday we had a humdinger of a day, 25 cows calved. Only two had really special names, Bea and Linda. Bea after my supervisor when I was a student minister and Linda after my sister and 3 other friends. With summer like weather it’s a good time for record setting calving days. We have a big 4 day stretch ahead of us. We are working with our yearlings today, giving them Vit A&D. Tomorrow we start putting cows and calves through to install tags, give vitamin and vaccine needles, castrate bull calves, and brand the calves. This is hard and time consuming work and we will be sorely missing Gina and Jill. Monday we will continue. Tuesday we are starting to truck pairs to their permanent summer pastures. Russ is using his incredible skills with strategy to manage alot of variables. Its dry, it’s been cold, grass is not growing yet, hay supply is getting low, dugouts are extremely low and new cow calf pairs are coming quickly and need a place to go when done in the calving pasture (like a maternity unit). We are hoping to have 120 pairs moved by bedtime Tuesday. I am not sure what will happen with the blog over these days.
Now regarding coming for coffee at our house. Russell would like you to know that if he is in charge in the kitchen when you come you can expect to be served instant coffee. That is his hot beverage passion. I serve pressed coffee from ground beans. We have at least 12 kinds of tea and hot chocolate. We do aim to please so don’t be scared to come if you hate instant coffee.
You have stories too. What are you seeing? How are you feeling? What are you grateful for? What is hard? What made you laugh lately? The best coffee dates go back and forth, I see you, you see me. Blogging means you basically hear my stories. Your stories matter alot and I promise that on that great day when we easily travel and gather again I will listen (once our mugs are full and in our hands).