Still Here

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.

Russ had the bales all set out ready for the injection. They lined the driveway north making quite a tidy road.
The injection paddle with nozzles to deliver the solution.
Some of the molasses mix spilled on the snow. Russ tried it. He decided it was kindv’e salty and he was glad he didn’t have to live on it. It definitely wasn’t the maple syrup on snow we know about.

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.

Russ took this picture of that first load of grain pellets being delivered.
We use a trip feeder to dispense the pellets. Small piles get dropped, Russ makes a big loop with the truck and trip feeder and everyone gets access to a pile.
The cows love it and move in quick.
Just a picturesque shot of our girls.

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.

Russ has created lots of piles like this as he has worked to keep the yard clear and fully usable.
Russ has a secret weapon. It is his snow bucket. After the tremendous snow of 16-17 he commissioned a welder to create this 10 foot wide bucket. It makes him more efficient.
Nothing exciting here but gives a feel for the snow and dog action of Russell’s days.
Bingo oversees movement through the snow road that she and Russ created to get feed to the main herd. I say it like this because Russ rarely spends time in the skidsteer without Bingo, she insists on it, she witnessed most every bucket of this snow being moved.
A good old fashioned shovel is still our best option when getting close to the house. This day Jill was the boss of it.

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.

Some of my extended family recently visited. The result was playtime. I am thankful for that.
Our dogs are basically like having more kids and we love them almost as much.
In late January the market was better than we thought it would be and we got to market our heifer calves. I was super thankful for that. Those are our girls in the auction pen.
Gina is busy and challenged and getting to indulge her interest in stage combat this term. She is currently getting through a week with Covid. I am proud of her resilience, she has stayed up amid total isolation and feeling tough. Our chats with her keep our world bigger than the ranch and we love hearing what is perking in her days. She is really growing.
I love being part of this family team.
Family team means many things…..like giving dogs that roll in stinky stuff on melty days a bath, all hands on deck!
Friendship is helping us get through the hard stuff. Miles was over to help with the heifers. We had just made hats to celebrate our ranches working closely together for five years. Our hats have both ranch brands on them.
Morgan keeps the joy bubbling in this house when times are hard. He is really enjoying being on the basketball team at school. That’s him with arms raised.
Appointments in Regina and Estevan this week meant visits with family that warmed my whole heart and a trip to Costco. Russ is very proud of my ability to load a Costco cart so well that the staff have to get us an extra one to get us past the checkout. It happened again this week. The good news….Bingo has a new bed, and as we speak there are chocolate covered Almonds heading to Victoria for Gina.
A completely unnecessary picture, illustrates nothing, but I couldn’t leave it out. Oh Coffee dog…..you are beautiful.

That’s our check in. We are still here!

Inside the Head – Nov 19/21

Thursday afternoon, once we were home from selling our steers and Russ had his outside chores done we found ourselves settling into a couple of very comfy chairs in our living room. We each had a mug of tea and a blanket. It was about 4pm. There were a couple things going on. Most immediately, Russ was fighting cold symptoms and was feeling chilled. He wanted this warm up time and invited me to join him. Also we are beginning our transition into winter schedules. This means more down time to catch our breath and do stuff that isn’t urgent. We are both so ready for this. It was interesting for me to note that I was fighting a little fight, or maybe doing a little dance, with the reality of guilt. It was four pm and most of my friends were still at work. But not me. My hubby and I were having precious moments to be still and cozy and to breathe a bit deeper. Its kind’ve weird to catch oneself waging this war with guilt. Where does it come from? Was it justified at all? Did I need to feel guilty? No I don’t think so. So why did I? The answer to that requires some reflection and maybe it is a bit too personal for the blog. But here is where my thinking went next, almost in an effort to defend myself I think, “this is our trade off for the long work days that are part of our summer.” I was referring to the weeks where there are no weekends (all of them), the times when you open facebook to see that it appears that everyone else is having a ball and you are staring at your ringing phone willing it not to be a problem that needs your action or sympathy. The evenings that never seem to end as the haying machines run til the grass gets tough, and I find myself cooking the last meal of the day closer to midnight than the supper hour. As I write this a lot of feeling goes with it, a sense of just how unpredictable and trying a ranching summer is and what a feeling of victory goes with just getting through it. If I am to report back to you who live beyond the ranching community, relaying what it is to be a rancher, what it is to be a ranchers wife, than part of that is to say that we have some different seasons around here. While the darkness and the cold of winter is hard, hard on our animals and hard to work in, when the darkness falls the days work is usuallly mostly done. Meals happen at good times, the light over top of the dining room table sheds a cozy glow against the darkness, time is available for a little bit of our hobbies, maybe a movie together. Its nice. Its really really nice. Its pretty easy. And for some dumb reason, when things are easy, I feel a little bit guilty.

I sense that I am not the only one.

Isn’t it weird to talk about things being so easy that guilt should arise? Life is not easy for anyone right now. Perhaps the feeling of guilt is a flag of sorts, alerting me to the things that feel really good amid the trials of these days. Maybe, just maybe, Russ and I should, with a deep sense of gratitude, bundle up in blankets, with mugs of tea, every day, knowing this is the good stuff, the stuff that translates to ease for our weary bodies and minds.

Thats what lives in the head of this ranch wife this week.

As I wondered if there was a picture to post these summer pictures came to mind. They give a glimpse of the machinery and people power Russ is managing and remind me of the weather worries and pressure we felt to make the feed that will keep our bovine girls going all winter.

A birds eye view of the rake and baler at work in the field. A photo captured by my niece Brodie Sollid, she has an aerial photography business.
Russ on the job running the baling tractor. He broke his own personal record this summer when he baled for 31 hours straight. The weather conditions were right and he was motivated. Part of this summer’s stress was needing to purchase a tractor when one of our trusty good ol ones cratered on us. This used John Deere was a blessing when it came across our path. (Liz Griffin Photograpny)
Taking care. (Liz Griffin Photography)
I wonder what we were discussing. (Liz Griffin Photography)
We are going to get through this together. (Liz Griffin Photography)
Liz Griffin has the ability to make a difficult reality look kind of poetic.

Stormy Ranching

It was a big day at our ranch today, not as big as yesterday though.  Our annual crop of steers was auctioned off at Chopper K this morning.   This is a couple weeks early but we understand the market is looking risky by December so we dove in and got it done.  That meant we had to get all our cows home late Tuesday, then yesterday we brought them into the corral. 

Russell, Morgan and his friend bringing up the rear and heading straight into the wind on Tuesday’s after school ride.
The mane and tail whip in the wind like a flag while Russ perseveres, they were almost home and done at this point.
Laurie’s cheeks are red for a reason.

Wednesday morning, after getting started in the dark to bring the herd from all over the home half we separated the Moms from the babies and also separated the steers from the heifers.   

Cousin Dawson at his gate, a new group had been pushed up into the sorting area by Morgan and Laurie.

The steers got on a truck right away and headed to the Auction Mart.  They sold well today, not as high as previous years, but we were relieved that the market had not tanked given how stormy the whole world feels right now.  

The work Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning was certainly made harder by the extreme wind that had all of Saskatchewan in its grip.   Where we are located our snowfall was almost non-existent compared to a few hours away from here.  That likely is what made it possible to even be out working as the wind gusts approached 100km/hr at times.  There was something that made this work easier though too. We have these amazing family members and a brave friend who came when asked, got on their horse and got those cows where we needed them to be. That anyone would voluntarily endure that wind is almost beyond my ability to comprehend. We are blessed by these relationships. Wednesday morning as we sorted the herd I had a really active job and actually worked up enough sweat that I shed a layer by mid morning, Morgan on the other hand, on horse back the entire morning, looks to have windburn on an eye lid, his contact lenses don’t offer the same protection as his old spectacles did. 

Three layers on my legs, two pairs of socks, and six layers on top….I sweat a bit as I trotted up and down the alley pushing the calves to their gates.
As the boss of the steer gate Jill did more standing around than me as she stayed ready to open her gate and let her fellas in. It seemed smart to transplant my extra warm stuff onto her. Here she is tucked into the pole shed getting wind relief.

We went to the auction mart this morning and watched the calves sell. 

Some of our calves going through the ring.

Its so weird to have something so consequential unfolding before one’s eyes.  Just how will things balance out?   The moment by moment bidding is determining that and most of the time its hard to understand what the auctioneer is even saying, but I’m getting better at it.  We have goals for the cattle we bring to market, it seems we are reaching those goals.  Two of the buyers advised Russell today, after ours sold, “don’t change anything about your program, those are beautiful calves.”  I’ll tell you, after the journey we travel with those creatures, first setting our eyes on them when they are so little and vulnerable, saving some of them by bringing them in our house and warming and drying them. After working so closely with them in our chute to give them tags, immunizations and more, getting them trucked to pasture for summer, walking them home in the fall, dancing with them in the corral as we get them all separated and market ready and then seeing them enter the ring, well……..its like they are your kids in a small way, and we are proud of them and we are thankful for them. 

Ranching is stormy right now. We are in for a tough spell of holding tight and hoping and praying for what we really need. All around us the world seems stormy. We are thankful for good days. We are thankful for today.

One last thing……I have been absent from my blog for so long.  I can’t really explain why.  I have missed a whole season of ranching and of being Kathy.  I think I am trying to figure out how to do this.  How to share what is on my mind and heart, how to share the goings on of a ranch, and while sharing keep reasonable privacy.  I also get affected by the way that my stuff is received, I want to post things that people like, which is understandable, it’s the way the world turns, but maybe I let it shape me and even silence me too much.  I feel like I am at a new stage with this.  Maybe a little more ready to let the ranch do the talking and not worry about posting only the best content or things that amount to alot. We shall see. However, I wanted to acknowledge that I have been missing in action.

Saskatoon

Ranch life in the summer is pretty steady hardworking, its just not easy to carve time away from the push and pull of it. It seems that as the years go by getting away is getting harder to do. Having said that last week we stole some time.

It started with a message received Sunday evening………

My sister sent me the text I have included above. She is good to include us in things like this invitation, even when we are so far away and usually quite busy. This captured my imagination. Could we do something rather impetuous and head north? My Vancouver sister was heading back west the day after this party, could we fit in a few hugs and a bit of visiting with her before she left?

The decision was made that the kids and I would go. As we made our final preparations it was like Russ got infected with the memory of being with our Saskatoon family. He decided that if the crop he was working on baling was still too wet, he was coming. As it turned out, his early Thursday morning trek to test the moisture got interrupted by a call that we had cows out. That meant some frustration and a delayed start as we waited for he and Morgan to get the cows back in and then send word about the state of the crop. By this point Russ was so hungry to join us he seemed ready to hunt for the signs of moisture that would shut him down. He did find that it needed more curing time, so off we went just 2.5 hours late and in two vehicles. Russ would return first thing the next morning.

Looking at the invitation I realized this was my parents anniversary, and thinking twice, I realized it would have been their 60th. I thought this was the reason for the get together. It was not the primary motive but while gathered we remembered them.

This is a pretty darn special picture. The four sisters together. On display is Mom and Dad’s wedding album, a cake Jill made, one Jan ordered and plates for serving from my Mom’s good dishes.

Jan was surprised to order a simple cake for the remembering and then find the decorator had created this beautiful tribute. I simply love it.
This is the only picture I have of Russ during his big getaway. It is not a good picture but it is proof that he was there.
The next morning Russ was gone back but the kids and I got a bit more time with Jan and her dog Belle before they headed off and with Linda during a break in her work day. I am so glad that we came. It seems a bit ridiculous to do all that driving for such short visits, but then again, it isn’t.

The kids and I had a full day Friday and thoroughly enjoyed it. There was food, conversation and fun shared with friends and family. Saturday’s pre-departure coffee and breakfast allowed maybe a bit of grief to be healed. We trekked home, back to what life holds here.

We did it. We stole some time and made some memories. No regrets.

We stayed with my sister Margie and her family at their acreage. As I brushed my teeth after the potluck, getting ready for bed, I couldn’t help but be distracted by this sign in their bathroom. It struck me that it contains what feels like a recipe. The first line says what is being created (to be happy), what follows are the ingredients. I got thinking that I would like to do a blog series with stories and ponderings about these things. Maybe I will.

Day 18 – Postcards from the Heart

Its been hot in Saskatchewan for days and days uninterrupted. This made me think its a good time to get back to the postcard series, knowing the next image is a January one. This is a Liz Griffin Photography capture of a day when we were moving cows to standing corn and the air was crisp. Remember what that felt like? This was January 2020, before so many things changed. The image is quite striking when seen across a screen, in the format here the wide angle aspect of it makes it display small, so for the blog, in addition to the original I did some cropping to allow a better view of the people in the picture, to get a better sense of it.

If you are a new reader you might not know of this postcard series. Its a result of a photographer documenting our life for a year. I used some of her images to communicate some matters of the heart when my Mom was sick in the fall of 2020. This one is brief, its about being counted on.

Oct 15, 5:20am

Gina is really proud of this picture. It is cool. There she is at the head of the herd coming up the slope just west of our place. She is in dialogue with Jim Lee, a retired man who sold us haying equipment in recent years. Those are his grand-daughters to Gina’s left. Days like this one have been major confidence boosters for the kids. Gina had an expectation of herself, that her Dad could count on her. With cell phones they would confer, she provided leadership. She achieved her goal. She is missing the experience this year. Thank-you for ALWAYS being someone that I and my family could count on. We feel it deep. ❤ K

“B.A.I.T. Out!”

“BAIT Out!” Seth shouted from the car as it reached the end of the driveway, slowing to turn onto the main gravel road.  “Did he just shout ‘Peace Out’?” I asked Russ and the kids.  Russ said, “I think he said “BAIT Out.”  Yes, that is what he said and it was a perfect conclusion to the time we had spent together. 

It all started Tuesday night around 8pm when I was working in my kitchen.  Russ and Morgan were sitting at the dining room table with two guests.  I could hear some commotion at the garden doors off the dining room and looked up to see people at my door.   There was that split second where my brain was sorting out what I was seeing and what I was hearing, was I hearing my daughters at the door?  No.  That was???????……….seriously!!!??!!?? I shouted out loud enough for the girls in the basement to hear “is that my sister?”  They came racing up.  It was my sister.  What followed was alot of hugging, some tears and laughter. 

Earlier in the week I had sent a message to our family chat to say that the kids and I were not going to be able to make it to our regular family time at the Kyle Family Cottage.  With things being as hard as they are on the ranch I just cannot leave Russell with the work here and take his crew and be eight hours away and feel at peace.   My sister decided if she was going to see us she would need to claim the time this week.  She worried that I would fuss if I knew they were coming, hence, the surprise arrival.  She came laden with a care package so large that I am tempted to believe it was divine intervention that I was moved to clean my fridges the evening before.  That care package was the result of the baking, cooking and purchasing of all three of my sisters and my cousin.  They were sending love and comfort and some ready to go meals.  It was unbelievably exciting and overwhelming. 

I think this visit and the family care that was a part of it is a really good illustration of the concept my blog is centred on, the power of really being seen and really seeing one another, I see you, you see me.  I sent that message to the family chat and soon after heard back the concern for the ranch, for each of us, and the regret that we couldn’t be part of things this summer.   What I didn’t expect is that my message, perhaps alongside the info in recent blogs, would result in such concrete action.    Words go a long, long way in providing comfort, encouragement and understanding, but when the words are backed up by action there couldn’t be a more solid way of saying “I see you.”   Its a short trip from that clear message “I see you” to the lived feeling that we are loved.   It is unbelievable how valuable these messages of understanding and love are.  I asked Russ what is behind this for him, what makes being seen so significant.  He said, “because it tells me that we are not alone.”    That is major.  (We have good support here, we definitely know we are not alone, but I think there are times when you get so deep into the trenches that you start to forget.)

Margie and her kids Seth and Brodie arrived with great sensitivity about imposing on us (so they had a booking at the hotel), they were clear that they were here to help in whatever way they could.   I knew that what I longed for was both practical and emotional.   This team was well suited.   Margie is a great listener, funny, wise and MY SISTER.  Seth is both interested and capable with mechanical and construction stuff, Brodie has her own drone photography business.  We put them to work.  They helped us move some cows, Margie tackled a pile of dishes that had grown overnight it seemed, Seth fixed doorknobs and cupboard hinges, Brodie photographed our yard and hayfields, Seth mowed the lawn, Margie talked with me about losing our Mom and we all worked together on a couple of special meals.   All of this is where Seth’s proclamation at the end of the driveway comes into play.  On the way down from Saskatoon they had read my blog post highlighting my “bad ass” self.  They got joking that they were “B.A.I.T”  the bad ass intervention team.  Indeed they were and as Seth offered his parting words it seemed like a celebration of their “mission accomplished!”  Indeed it was.  We were seen and supported, we were enabled to carry on being our bad ass ranching selves for a little while longer. 

A few pictures…………

Brodie took this picture with her drone.  This is our house yard.  I can’t help but think that this perspective brings a whole new set of possibilities to the notion of “I see you.”    What I see here is Margie’s car in the driveway and people near it, very similiar to how it looked as she slipped into our driveway the evening before.
The excitement and the unpacking.  See that huge multi-pack of Cheezies (36 bags!)?  I took a package from them out to Russell in the field at lunch today, he said, “how did Janet know that Hawkins Cheezies are our love language?”   Janet knows.
Cheezies in their natural habitat. That is iced coffee on the dash, a summer time staple in the hayfield.
Brodie baked us a batch of her famous Chipit Squares.  Back when I started my bakery project Margie was very moved by the idea of creating a Saskatoon branch of “Broken Bread Bakery” and wondered if I would mind.  I didn’t.  Margie shares her homebaked goods with anyone who she senses needs a little extra something, care or strength, or appreciation.  She has created a beautiful tag here.
Margie is funny.  Thinking about the Super Pooper work that was part of my week she packed me the Lysol.  Kleenex for the stress tears.  Chewy candies are always a hit.  Given how the sh*t hits the fan around here many days, that toilet paper was a funny way of saying, “I see you.”  There were other nummy things on top and around these items.
Rhubarb Strawberry jam holds a really special place in our family story, because of my Mom. It was one of her specialties and part of her love language. Linda cooked up a batch and sent me four containers and many other things to make life easier and nummy.
Margie tackling those dishes while on the other side of the pass thru, Jill at her baking desk is making some of her Harry Potter sorting hat cookies. At this point I think I was just finishing up eating one of my cousin Jodi’s beyond delicious ginger cookies. On this morning I had two for breakfast and spread butter on them. Incredible. Jodi sent a pail of them, I am set for a long time!
Visiting time.
Another perspective on the ranch scene. 
Ron pulling the discbine which cuts the hay.

Jill was at the wheel of the tractor pulling the rake when this picture was taken.  I love the angle that Brodie’s drone captures.
A moment in the hayfield.  Alot of people on the ground in this moment.  I am not sure what was going on.  We have had alot of troubles this week, this could have been anything.
Visiting over a cup of coffee.  Kind’ve perfect.

Fake Teeth and Dirty Hands

On Sunday evening Russ and I headed to Carievale to pick up Jill from a friends’ place, enroute we dealt with a cow/calf issue at a pasture near there and dropped off a dozen buns for the Broken Bread Bakery. In preparation for the drop-off some texts went back and forth, in one of those I said, “Russ and I have been fixing rake teeth since 8am. I look terrible.” An hour later, standing in the doorway with buns in hand I was told that my message first read that we had been fixing fake teeth. For my bun customer this was quite confusing and required some thinking and then a re-read before getting this weird thing figured out. I enjoyed hearing this anecdote and the little part of me that needs comic relief enjoyed briefly letting my mind settle on what that would look like to be hovered over fake teeth all day with Russell, working on a fix, in the middle of haying season. Its absurd and it makes me smile.

The truth is it was a big day. The hydraulic problem we had with our rake earlier on the weekend resulted in a multitude of rake teeth getting broken due to incorrect pressures exerted on them. The normal process is that after Ron has cut the hay with the discbine and that hay is cured the kids pull this rake over the field and gather it into swaths that Russ then picks up with the baler.

Jill raking earlier last week.

On Sunday we replaced just under a hundred rake teeth, one by one, in painsticking picky work that requires two sets of hands. I believe the official tally, although Russ did not keep count on purpose, is that I had three small hissy fits and this included two episodes of being near tears. But….we survived. Once I got the hang of it I really didn’t mind it. The fact that it was not a dangerous job took a big amount of stress out of it. I got to be beside Russell all day and we easily could chit chat our way through the job (once the more hissy fit type moments had passed.)

My thumbs are still stiff from counter pressuring all these bolts as they were loosened and tightened.
Ever the faithful dog, loyal to Russell especially, Bingo hung near all day and got a really good nap in. Her relaxed and trusting position cracks us up.

Russ was able to park the rake mostly in the shade so we were quite well protected from the 34 degree heat. So that is how we passed our Sunday. Fixing fake teeth, er, I mean, rake teeth. Three things about this day……….all kind’ve random.

Gina left for work at the ice cream shop a bit early and then swung back into the yard shortly after. What was up? Well, Jean was home from holidays a little earlier than expected and Gina didn’t have to work. Jean didn’t want to call Gina too early, but what she didn’t know is that Gina is so affected by her mother always being on the verge of being late, that she is always extremely early. Anyways it was fantastic to have Gina back. She put lunch on the smoker and with Morgan tackled part one of the Carievale cow problem. Somehow in the back and forth of lunch prep Coffee dog got out and on the loose and she went for a swim in the dugout. Morgan and I nearly lost our minds. Coffee’s splint was soaked, she would need a repeat visit to the vet. Morgan loves that dog so much his reaction was worry about complications, I was upset about bugging the vets and the cost. I took her in yesterday (Monday) and they got her all dry and treated and resplinted with lots of kindness.

That splint is not bothering Coffee much. If she rested like this a little more I would feel better.

I don’t do alot of manual labor around here and I am never far from warm running water when I do. My day at the rake meant hours to accumulate dirt on my hands and I was a bit obsessed by the sight of it. It was mostly because I found it rather fascinating. My hands were the key tool I had in the job at hand, I was pushing, twisting, and wiggling alot. Russ and I coined a new phrase actually, “less thinking, more wiggling.” It worked in many cases, getting new teeth into tight spaces. Anyways, looking at my hands I marvelled that these are the same hands that have baptized alot of babies and presided over communion and formed alot of buns. How can one person swing from such “holiness” to such dirt and have it all be acceptable? My brain is a bit tired right now, I thought I was ready to probe that, but I am a bit muddled. I can’t help but think that it might make a good sermon though. What makes any of us ready to serve? Do the marks of our living make us better able to serve? Maybe thats enough for now.

Dirty hands at the rake teeth.

One last thing, in the afternoon Gina and Morgan went to Carievale to get that cow penned up, she had been found visiting the neighbors without her calf. (This is the cow Russ and I would pick up later and deliver back to its herd.) After a hot jog to chase it into the neighbors holding pen the kids stopped in Carnduff for snacks and they brought Russ and I each a cold drink. As they stood at the rake visiting with us while we took some sips, Morgan looked at me and he said, “Mom, you have such a diverse skill set, you are really bad-ass.” As a mother I should be outraged by his language but I was tickled pink by his comment. I think partly because it accomplished exactly what my blog web address reflects “I see you.” For me it feels so good to be seen. I also think his word choice represented some story balance for me. You see, I spent my whole childhood as a good kid, what we called in the 70s and 80s a “goody goody.” I didn’t date til I was 19 and I never had a drink until I was in university. I am kind’ve happy at the thought that maybe I am safely turning my middle years into some bad-ass days of living large and my boy sees me.

What bad-ass looks like in 2021.

Its Tuesday morning now and I am happy to report that yesterday I managed to get both my fridges cleaned. I open the doors and just look at how pretty they are. That friends is what you call middle aged, bad-ass living large!

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Saturday evening – Jill is in Carievale right now and Gina is in Carnduff, they both posted to the family chat pictures of the rain coming down in each place. For the second time this week rain has fallen unbelievably close to us but stopped short of reaching us. That is not to say that we won’t benefit from some of those rains, we have pasture and hayland that likely caught some of it. However, I said to Russell yesterday, “a person almost feels cursed”, he immediately cautioned me not to think or talk in the direction of cursedness. He is wise. Digging into the hearts doing the ranching around here we are dealing with so much hard stuff right now. A blog that invites the reader to experience life on a Canadian ranch would be misleading if it glossed over these days we are having. I just don’t want to do that. What do I tell you? How do I write about this so that you don’t shut it down and close the page because its depressing? Can I lure you into reading more by promising that I will counter every tough paragraph with something positive, hopeful or possibly funny? I think that is what Russell would want. The problem with thinking along lines of being cursed is that it sucks you in and makes you lose sight of the broader reality, which in our case is that we have true blessings that we experience every day.

So…………the big big deal…………our hay yield sucks. What this means……we do not have the feed we need to make it through the winter and especially if it is a tough winter. We have no way of knowing about that. We are not alone. There are few ranchers within hundreds of miles of here untouched by the drought we are in and some much worse than we are, we can be thankful that we have some hay. Right now that means some lost sleep, lots of mental scrambling to figure out options, and flirting with the awful thought that we might have to sell some of our cows. The hard part of that is that everyone will be selling some and the market will be glutted, which means a low price will be paid. The terrible part is that we sell our cows, our beautiful creatures with names and histories and places in our heart. That sense of connection is hard to explain, they can be mean and threatening, they can be gross and stinky, but we journey with them and we are theirs and they are ours.

This cow is a big part of Russell’s sense of cow history. He remembers milking her grandma, a retired purebred holstein named “Pokey.” After he had broken both his arms in 1979 this milking job was part of his physiotherapy. Mozza Stick is the daughter of Wilbur, who was one of Pokey’s last calves. This makes Russell 3 generations of cows old.

Okay, I guess you have to be careful what you wish for. When I said I would alternate the hard with maybe something funny I wasn’t sure what that funny would be, but it presented itself. Just after I wrote that heartfelt line about our journey with the cows Russ phoned. He said he had a story for me but it really ended up being a job. He could hardly tell me the story for the laughter it caused him. Morgan was checking the calving herd, now down to a dozen, he found a situation which required him to load up a calf in the truck and drive it over to its Mama. The calf pooped, right on the drivers seat, why the calf was in the drivers seat I will never know. Morgan was therefore stranded in the calving pasture. He called Russ to come get him, the way that call started Russ figured he must have totalled the truck or something. Russ was relieved to be able to stay in the hayfield and call me for back-up. Morgan asked for paper towel and garbage bags plural. I thought that must have been one heckuva mess. On my way over I decided that this was not the time to push Morgan’s adult skill building, he has had a rough couple days with helping with repairs in high heat and not much satisfaction of getting work done, so, I was going to do the clean-up. I got Morgan to take my picture as I approached the job decked out with a pail of bleachey water, paper towel, two sizes of garbage bags and disposable gloves. I said, “Morgan, Super Pooper has arrived.” He said, “Mobile Super Pooper”, I have never taken my skills on the road before! (If you don’t count summer camp.) Anyways, for those who don’t know, I have an alter ego, a super hero identity, I am “Super Pooper” because no matter how gross the job I can usually handle it. Life on a ranch and with kids has given me many opportunities to strengthen the skills I began working on when as a 17 year old I was a nurses aide. Morgan has literally no tolerance for this part of life yet. He would have walked home if I had not come. The job was not hard and before too long Morg was rolling. In fact he was done for the day at that point. When he got home he said he would wait to eat, he needed some down time. I said, “do me a favor and wash your face.” He said, “how about you do me a favor and wash it for me.” He sat down on the toilet seat and I got to wash his face, like the good old days, it did this Mama’s heart good.

“Super Pooper” in her new service option….going mobile.

Ranching from the heart………..I hate haying season. With three tractors and three implements in the field every day the possibility of mechanical issues seems high. We have newer implements but two very old tractors, our newer tractor doesn’t seem too hardy. I am always so relieved when I pick up the phone to find Russ sounding chipper on the other end, he usually is, but sometimes he is just exasperated. He has a gift for staying up when the conditions are trying but the way things mount up is getting to even him. Having said that we can see our blessings. For some reason last night the monitor in the baler was completely wonky. Russ thought it through and this morning realized this was a tractor battery issue. Our local shops are closed on Saturday but that didn’t stop Erin from coming in from her farm, opening up her shop and selling us a battery. Russ got up and running feeling infinitely grateful for Erin’s generosity of spirit. However, then the fan on the air conditioner went. By shortly after lunch Brock was in the field doing mobile service on that problem. I had delivered Russ a stellar lunch. So shortly after Brock left, with the ac running, I got a text from Russ that said, “U R married to the happiest man in the world.” See what I mean? He finds every reason to claim the good. My afternoon included delivering buns for my bakery project and when I got back Jim Lee from Lee’s Service was in the yard trying to fix a very weird hydraulic problem we are having with the hay rake and a weird glitchy thing on the PTO shaft on the tractor. So…………after a first week of haying with no breakdown delays, today was the mother of all service days, and I guess I topped it off with my mobile super pooper call to the calving pasture!!!

Something positive………….Serious excitement is brewing around here about the fact that we are officially in book writing mode. All those times that Liz Griffin came to take pictures at our place were part of personal need for documenting our life just before Gina graduated and moved but also were research…..did we have the material to create a book about ranch life? We had a creative meeting this week and decided that yes, we are moving on to the next step. There are beautiful images that Liz has taken that are just too good to not offer in large format. However, we are short on summer scenes and summer work. So…………Liz came and documented our work moving cows to alternate pasture on Thursday night. Afterwards she shared 2 sneaks peeks on Facebook. They are here. She captured beauty and joy, for me these pictures are like a mirror that reflects back that alongside the struggles of today we are immersed in beauty and we feel joy.

A little more about the shape of this drought. Our hay is poor but our pasture is decent. Our water is low but not gone yet. The poor hay can be explained by the dry summer, fall and then winter that we had, no water in place to get the hay started in a meaningful way. The fact that we have any yield is due to the rains that I commented on previously in the blog. Thats how I understand this. So when you look at pictures you might see green grass, you see water in a dugout, it doesn’t look like a drought, you might think I am not being accurate, and for truth, it could be much worse. That is a very scary thought. The signs of vitality you see are a result of timely rains in certain spots, we continue to hold our breath. In my dark moments I wonder, “am I going to be holding my breath for the rest of my life?”

Something positive………Gina got a call from one of our local superheros. Her name is Jean and she runs an ice cream shop in town, out of a structure she had built onto her house. She was going on a holiday and rather than shut the ice cream shop down she wondered if Gina would come and run it. She went for training and then took over. Our girl is having quite the experience and it is fun to hear her stories and who she gets to see. I think she is doing a good job and mostly its pretty fun for her. I call Jean a superhero because her creative approach to offering this business has meant a great drop in spot in Carnduff for awesome ice cream, she is a special person in alot of people’s eyes, for those of us who love ice cream her work is heroic! However, we are missing Gina on the ranch crew and Morgan and Jill are picking up the slack. I think Gina has plumped up their cones when we have gone in for a “visit” with her.

Gina serving Grandma Shirley on her 1st day on the job.
After our cow move Thursday night Kent picked up his kids and the whole crew went for a visit with Gina.

Ranching from the heart………I didn’t have it in me this year to plant flowers. My planters are empty. That probably sounds depressing to some but to me it represents freedom. For some reason the work of keeping myself and Russ, three kids, four dogs, five cats, for a time a bottle fed calf, 17 horses and hundreds of cows and calves alive is just enough for me. (Only a fraction of this is my responsibility but I am involved in every issue at some level.) I can’t muster an ounce of interest in watering and fertilizing flowers. I truly hope I don’t need that freedom next year and I will be back to it.

In the meantime, Russ has been picking me bouquets from the pastures. The wildflowers are beautiful.

Another thing positive……….my kids all got their second vaccine this week. Gina had to shut down the ice cream shop for a day afterwards due to a rapid series of symptoms, fever, headache, exhaustion, but she bounced back and is doing great.

Another thing positive…..our province felt it was timely to remove all Covid restrictions. Life is feeling more normal again. I cannot imagine what would be unfolding if the vaccines were not working to protect us as pretty nasty variants make their way around. So, so, so, thankful!!!

Another thing positive……….Coffee dog is doing great with her broken leg and getting great care from the vets. This week she needed some extra TLC at her splint check. Jenna had her just about purring.

Another thing positive……..I am married to the best friend I ever had. As hard as a day gets I know it is a privilege to get to lie beside him every night and talk over anything and everything that I am thinking about.

The drought is horrible and we have had some pretty searching conversations about prayer around here this week. Way too deep to work on in this already lengthy post. Maybe another time. In the meantime I had a grace this week, I had a day when I had this recurring thought and feeling come bubbling up, “everything is going to be okay.” It felt like a total blessing.

Diary of a Ranch Wife – July 12, 2021

We had a call this morning that a neighbor’s herd of heifer cows had broken in with one of our herds. We know this could cause trouble because if our big bull breeds his heifers (young and inexperienced cows) he will have calving troubles next spring. So, Russ has been assembling a cowboy crew to head down there and fix the troubles by sorting out Corey’s heifers from our cows and bulls. Without the benefit of a gate/corral system it is extra tricky to sort cows on the open range. Russ wants me to come with them and act like a human gate. I am not very interested. I am in a super homebody mode these days. I am soon going to be changing into my work clothes though and heading out. Its 4:32pm. I have to go clean out my vehicle. I will have passengers because the crew Russ gathered is large and that bodes well for our success, but the truck is in an embarrassing state.

5:58pm We are at the pasture and all the cowboys and girls have saddled up and headed off. Here is what some of that action looked like.

Cowboy David riding his horse Sadie
Cowboy Dawson riding Spirit
Cowboy Evan riding Dick
Cowboy Kent riding Lady Penelope
Cowgirl Briella getting ready to jump onto Jane.
Cowgirl Marisol riding Thunderbird
Cowgirl Jackie on her horse Roscoe.
The crew pulls away.
Morgan, Russ and Bingo at the head of the group.
As woman on the ground, I was needed to hold horses while things got sorted out. This selfie kind’ve cracks me up. It looks like I am having a decent hair day, but Sundance, not so much!!!

In the end I didn’t have to drive, instead another truck and trailer went to accommodate all the horses and I got to be a passenger with Jackie. That gave us time to talk about how it is that I became a minister and she became a nurse. Now I am waiting for the crew to go round up the herd. We have set up trucks and trailers to act as wings in a corner of the pasture and with those cowboys hope to hold the herd while we sort out those heifers and the bull they are meant to be hanging out with. Russ figures it will take them 45 minutes or more to get the herd and move them back to this corner. The pasture is absolutely beautiful, rolling hills, coulees, trees, wild flowers and just out of sight the Souris river. There is a good breeze and it has started to cool down. I am not hard done by sitting here with my laptop.

I had a little Kathy victory moment before we left the yard. I noticed a low tire, by the time Russ came around to see what was up I had found the air hose, attached it to the outside air spigot, found the airchuk inside the shop, got it attached and was getting the tire aired up. For many that would be no big deal, but that represents a bit of competence that I didn’t used to have and I was glad for Russ to find me taking care of business.

Tuesday, 10:09am Not long after I wrote that last bit I could hear mooing in the distance, the crew was closer than I thought so I shut my laptop and hopped out of the truck. In fact they had yet to get across a coulee before they topped a hill, so I took time for some selfies, had a real portrait session of it actually, burned up alot of power on my low power phone and never did capture a sharp one. Anyways……..the thing about being a ranch wife is that you get to save all your old favorite clothes for work days. You have an excuse to hang on to stuff that normally should have been pitched. This is a bonus for sentimental people like me. For the work of this day I was happily wearing jeans that I remember first wearing on a family vacation in Cody, Wyoming in 2008, my t-shirt is a souvenir of my year in Up With People (1991).

Russ let me use his shepherd’s crook, its kindv’e mysterious, holds alot of power. I tried to do right by it. (We build it up like that to bolster our confidence….its maybe just a long cane….maybe.)

Once the cows got near it didn’t take long for the real action to begin. At first, standing in the gate watching things I wondered if it could be done. The large group of cowboys and cowgirls was very much needed. We had many at the back holding the cow herd into the corner and then several in and around the front of the herd to sort out the heifers. Luckily they were a different breed than most of ours and easy to keep sight of once contact was made. It was a good feeling to see the crew get the first heifer out, I did my job at the gate to get it to leave our pasture and enter Corey’s. Part of my job was to be still as a statue to not frighten the heifer away as it approached. At one point when it seemed I had done that quite well and the critical moment had passed David shouted over “hey is that the Mona Lisa over there?!?” I appreciated the recognition, David got his message across by comparing me to a beautiful painting when my job was to be a statue, as far as I’m concerned its all art and through that first piece of art that came to mind he gave me the message, “I see you over there trying hard!” I appreciated it. Once the heifer advanced past where sight of me was a problem I became a human fence with my shepherds crook held wide and moving up quickly from behind. It was pretty impressive to see the crew and watch their bravery, the sorters had to be up close and personal and give the heifers a sense of space and permission to move towards the gate while keeping our cows back.

Corey, David and Laurie wading through a small sea of cows.
Russ, Corey, David, Morgan and Laurie running that red heifer up the fence. The tricky part here was to keep our calves back. It was quite a feat to get to get the heifer this far up and away from the rest of the herd.
The entrance back into Corey’s pasture. It was a 90 degree angle from the gate out of our pasture. Early on I had to keep one eye on it to make sure these girls didn’t come wandering back out. Once the bull joined them they were all off and gone like a party had been called!

We had to find, sort out and move away 17 heifers and one bull from our herd of 120 cow calf pairs and 6 big Simmental bulls. One of those bulls created an exciting and memorable moment. He started to charge the gate, Russ said, “stop that bull!”, whether I was stupid, obedient or brave I don’t know but I just became warrior Kathy, ran straight at him with that powerful crook in both my hands and I roared, “Noooooooooo!!!!!!.” That 2200 pound bull skidded to a stop right at the gate and turned back to the herd. I found out later that I yelled so loud that I frightened most of the cowboys. Morgan said he was watching the whole thing and knew why I was yelling but still got scared. Russ says he was very proud of me.

Russ was crew chief, we certainly count on his incredible cowboy skills and his people skills.

A good picture of Russell with his pal Evan just behind.

Partway through the process he said, “I think wer’e starting to feel grouchy, lets take a break!” Corey had brought all manner of cold refreshments and lots of them and we did get a benefit from stopping to rest. Russ and a few others stayed at the back and held the herd, others of us were able to visit.

Corey handing out drinks on the break.

After that we had more challenging moments, I think a few swear words were heard, several times a heifer would get so close to the gate and then change its mind and turn 180 degrees at high speed, a wee bit of rodeo was part of these moments.

An example of the challenge….cows, calves and a heifer all together coming up the fence…we need to work some cowboy magic to get the heifer alone.

It was a great feeling when we were down to one to go and then we were done! Corey pulled out delicious snacks and another round of cold drinks, we had a more relaxed visit now.

Evan always has a good story for Russell.
One of our neighbors came down the road in time to enjoy this part of the evening. Charlie enjoyed Evan’s jokes as much as we did I think.
It’s the hang loose cowpokes in the back and the setting sun that make this pic seem a bit epic to me.
Before the day was over Russ took the chance to show Marisol how to bridle a horse with a sore ear.
All loaded back up…..that’s a wrap!

Coffee Break Time

Last Saturday I was sorting through a drawer and found prescription stuff for our dog Eowyn, who was a puppy last year at this time. I looked at the date and thought, “oh we are doing well, Coffee is exactly the same age and she has not been to the vet for anything serious.” Eowyn had been quite a mischevious dog and had two head injuries as a young pup. Hence the reminders of medicine and treatments. We lost Eowyn on the first day of school this past year, when she was stepped on by a bull. It was then a hard decision to get another pup when we had the chance. We did and Coffee has been a real light in our life. It was therefore like a bit of a wee nightmare when Russell phoned me Saturday afternoon (only hours after I had decided we were off to a great start with Coffee) and said, “Coffee got stepped on, can you come pick her up and take her to the vet?” He shared his theory that she had a broken leg, due to the sound he heard. I dropped what I was doing and got out the door. These are the phone calls I hate for obvious reasons, but they also contribute to a databank of anecdotes that all scream at me, “Life is risky! Your heart is not secure! Your life is not controllable!” Those things are all true, but they are darn hard to reckon with very much.

Russell and Gina had been out working with a small group of cows, moving them from one pasture to another, just across a road was the goal. It should have been straightforward and easy but it wasn’t. The cows in this group are ones that we are not breeding again, mostly because they are so aggressive and we don’t want them around, they will do best in the world when they become part of the food chain. There are three that are just terrible, their motherly instinct is fierce and it doesn’t subside as things get established, they have proven themselves to be dangerous pretty much year round.
This picture that Liz Griffin took this calving season is a good illustration of how much the dogs are part of the action and that it can get intense.
This is another recent Liz Griffin picture, this is one of our permanently aggressive cows. Just like in this picture, on Saturday afternoon it was coming for Russell’s horse, so the horse moved fast to get out of the way and Coffee was in the wrong spot for that motion and got underfoot. The fact that Coffee got injured seems to be further proof we need to get rid of the mean cows.
Russ figured out a way that he could end the cattle move right then, sent Gina home with the horses and came to the vet with Coffee and I. I cannot lift more than 20 pounds so this turned out to be a blessing because Coffee needed to be carried. She was also overheated, it was one of our super hot days and she was stress breathing. In this picture she has ice packs on to cool her down and is having a break during the xray process.
Bingo came with us to the vet. She insisted and it made things simpler for Gina but right before we pulled away she found cool water/mud somewhere, which in our focus on Coffee we did not realize. Bingo spent time alone in the vehicle while I grabbed some quick groceries and Russ was with Coffee at the clinic. Bingo was able to get mud all over the passenger parts of my SUV. This is where I imagine someone saying, “Kathy, why don’t you set more limits? Why do you let all this chaos into your world?” To that I answer, there is constantly a triage process happening in my brain, sorting through what is important (which is no simple question), what is urgent, what can be dealt with later. In these moments I could not get worried about my seats which will wipe clean, Bingo needed us and honestly I think I needed Bingo. I spent time with her out in the yard at the clinic while Russ did 98% of the time inside with Dr. Dawn and Coffee. I liked it that way. I am finding I don’t do well in moments like that. I had paper recycling in the back and a water bottle and with these I got the seats that Russ, Coffee and I needed cleaned off and ready for the trip home. Bingo got to keep her muddy seat. (Both Bingo and the seat were dried here and much less threatening looking than they initially were!)
Back home with sedative to sleep off Coffee was an easy patient, Jill was near and happy to comfort her. Morgan was away all weekend helping friends with their cows. We elected to not tell him about Coffee’s mishap until he got home. That was a good decision.
This picture was taken back in early January, the night we picked up Coffee from her owners. What I didn’t realize in this moment was the kind of bond that Morgan was ready to establish with this dog. He and Jill have spent so much time with her and just loved her into her best self. Therefore the news of injury was very tough. As he got used to things Morgan began doing some problem solving, what would make this heal best? He texted Dr. Dawn with the question, “should I be giving a calcium supplement to Coffee?” She answered back, “nope, just lots of cuddles and kisses.” That is an easy presciption to make work.
We took Coffee to the vet for a check-up yesterday. Russell and Megan were able to restrain Coffee for the removal of her splint and for the assessment. I was needed for a bit to restrain while getting the new splint applied. We were able to avoid sedative this way. Dawn was great. She said that everything looked very good underneath and we are good to go for another week.
Those are arms of love but for Coffee I am sure they didn’t feel like it in the moment. Coffee is very resilient, she was acting like herself within a minute of being done.

Prior to marrying Russell I had only one experience with a pet, a cat we got when I was already a high school graduate. I didn’t grow up like my kids are growing up, surrounded by 4 legged creatures, some that sleep with them. The word that comes to mind this morning is “privilege.” It is a privilege to have these lives join ours and journey together. Isn’t it funny how the same thing that I call a privilege is also the thing that causes me to say “this is chaos!” Its so true. At 2am I was awakened by Coffee barking (but teen boy Morgan wasn’t woken!), I went downstairs and let her out of Morgan’s room, I let her have a drink and tucked her back in. Before I was back in bed she was barking again. I brought her up to the dog room tucked her in there and thankfully never heard from her again. In these middle of the night moments of wakefulness I am tempted to feel hard done by. Sometimes I totally do and I get a bit stormy. Last night, perhaps mindful of how blessed I feel that Coffee is on the mend, I was at peace and went back to bed and went to sleep. There is alot of deep stuff at play here……the power of relationship between creature and human, the possibility of and evidence of healing, so much gratitude for skilled caregivers like our veterinarians and gratitude to the Creator of all who has designed a world where healing, relationship and helping are forces like gravity, always having a say in what we need and how we act, for better or worse. Coffee is a joy, both the dog and for me the beverage. Thanks for taking a break a reading about our coffee.