Horsing Around

We had a long full day on the ranch yesterday.  Some pictures will tell bits of the tale.

I took this photo while we were working at the chute.  Morgan and Russell had shared a really scary moment with a cow outside the shed.  When they came back in afterward they were laughing hard.  Apparently after the danger had passed Morgan said to Russell, “do you want to trade underwear?”
This is our cousin Dawson.  He gave each animal an injectable dose of Vitamin A&D.  He is fantastic help.
Russ running the hydraulics to control the gates.
Later on I joined the guys when they headed to the pasture.  I got some pictures.   Then I took the truck and trailer home, they came back with 80 pairs.
Cousin Laurie saddling up.
Laurie is ready to roll.
Getting horses out of the trailer.
Dawson is ready.
Gates,  tying and untying, a constant part of ranching.
Russ and Bingo ready to roll.
Morgan with the dogs. Knightwing in the back, Bingo in the middle, Maddie up front. Knightwing is meant to simply be our guard dog. However she has a desire to be working with Russ and has been improving as a cattle dog. This day she earned the “dog of the day” award.
The trip home started off well for this herd but got frustrating. By this moment when the herd finally decided to turn off the road and into the yard we knew frustration. Animal behaviour is tough. Frustration was a theme yesterday, arising in casual conversation at lunch(which we ate in the garage), in connections I made in my own brain about my own behaviour, the experience of very vivid frustration for the whole crew together and then in a phone call with Gina in the evening she talked about it. I think it will be the subject of a future blog.
Getting everyone into the corral took time.
Here you can see Jill. She came out of quarantine to help in these moments and had been checking the cow and heifer herds all day for calving troubles. Its 6:59am now, on Sunday and she is out doing the morning check.
Dawson shared this adorable photo of the barn cats with me.

Keeping House with the Shepherd

Today was Good Shepherd Sunday at Church. Worship revolved around the image of God as a shepherd and the 23rd Psalm was a real focus text. That is the one that starts, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…..” I was the vocalist for three of the hymns and I read the Gospel lesson. A few things really jumped out at me through the service. The first came early on when Susan our minister used a Children’s Bible to explore the 23rd Psalm. The translation included the phrase, “I love being part of God’s flock.” I am not sure why that jumped out at me, except maybe that it resonated inside of me. I do love being part of God’s flock and if I wasn’t part of it I am not sure what flock I would want to be with. Where else would I be invited to see and know myself as beloved, where else would I be challenged to live for others as well as myself, where else could I wrestle with my demons and find new beginnings, all with a promise of living water which to me means that mercy and compassion and unconditional love is running through my veins, and I don’t have to whip it up, its simply offered by the Good Shepherd. I do love being part of this flock.

Another thing that jumped out at me was an observation Susan offered. It was that the 23rd Psalm is to the Christian what a paring knife is to a cook or a …..what was the other illustration…..hmmmm……I can’t remember but it was something like, a rope to a cowboy. You can do the job without it but why would you want to? To anyone who takes it in their toolkit this psalm can provide both comfort “he leads me beside still waters” and challenge “The Lord is my Shepherd….I shall not want”……but oh my do we ever want for many things in this life!!! …… when we already have so much. I really enjoyed the mental imagery of tucking a copy of the 23rd Psalm into the kit of favourite tools in this house, which includes many great cooking/baking tools and much cowboy paraphernalia.

One other major thing was just how much the contents of the service today match my own life. I found myself thinking, “of all the people who hear this text today, all over the world, how many are living it in their everyday experience?” (I don’t think this makes me better than others, its more like a “wow, today its my turn to really see myself in this story!” kind of moment). A picture popped into my head that Liz Griffin took, of Russell, with his shepherds crook, my husband the herdsman. Russell gave me an illustration of what it might mean that God is the Good Shepherd just about as soon as I got home. He was telling me about interacting with the cows and that he came up to a cow with certain markings and he said to himself, “Oh there’s Costco” (a few years ago we did a set of replacement tags with names of food brands we enjoy, like Dare, Co-op Gold, Kraft) (replacement tags are necessary because cows can rub their tags out if they scratch up against trees and bushes). When he drew near he read the tag and found out that it was “Gilligan” (we did some replacement tags with names from “Gilligan’s Island” and while we are talking about that group, currently the cow ‘Minnow” (remember their boat?) has mastitis and is causing Russ some extra work…..). Russ had not wrongly identified the cow, in fact Costco had lost her tag and Gilligan was her replacement. I said, “Wow Russ, you remembered Costco’s markings that well?” “Oh yeah” he said, like it was no big deal. I think one of the most remarkable things we are asked to have faith in and take comfort in is that God knows us through and through. Russell’s easygoing knowledge of our cows strengthens my faith that this just might be so.

I used the idea of keeping house in the title for a couple reasons. I wanted to do some “housekeeping” with you who read the blog. I had someone tell me today that they wanted to share a previous blog on social media but didn’t think they should. My feeling about that is that I have chosen a public venue for my writing, it is accessible to anyone who would look for it, if there are things I don’t want the general public to see I won’t share about them here. If you feel like sharing something that is fine. Having the chance to have writing more broadly shared is kind’ve cool actually. WordPress keeps detailed stats about numbers of visitors and views of each post, it is a really nice feature because even if comments or likes are not happening in a big way it is easy to see that readership is steady.

I hope you enjoy these pictures, they are really special to us. Thanks to Liz Griffin who took them all!

A picture we love because it is both artistic and reveals Russ’s comfort level with his cows.
This almost identical picture is more of an action picture in the same set of moments. The Shepherds crook in action.
The gospel text for today (John 10:11-18) makes reference to a hired man, and says that at the sight of a wolf the hired man abandons the sheep (but the good shepherd doesn’t because the sheep are his.) I didn’t like reading that aloud because “hired man” is part of my daily life and our hired man Ron puts himself into dangerous situations all the time. Here he is running the cow gate, Laurie is letting a steer in the gate behind Ron’s and it looks like I have a calf in front of me maybe destined for Laurie’s gate too. Its an action packed moment. I love this picture. It is on display on my desk. This is teamwork. I love teamwork.
That Shepherd’s cane is handy for creating a visual block, signalling the calf in the back to stay back. It looks like I was moving a heifer forward and keeping a steer back.
Walking the steer up to his gate. A great shot of Maddie on the move.
There is a thoughtfulness to this picture, who knows what was on Russell’s mind but work days like this when we have the whole herd in, his family in the corral and many friends on horseback and at the gates involve a lot of worry and care for him. The fact that he was injured at this time led to more distraction and struggle. This modern day herdsman illumines some of God’s character for me.
This was a summer work day, we had a group of cows with newer calves in. Time for tags and vitamins and vaccines. I love the feeling in this picture, for me it arises from what looks like a tender and guiding hand on that calves butt and a sense of relationship.
Russ describes this as a moment when he had to get into the direct middle of the action to avoid a total mess. Cows were turning around on us getting into the gate. Maybe the take away here is that the Good Shepherd is willing to get into the middle of the mess. Sounds very faithful to me.
Russ was up ahead at the trouble at the gate but he was not alone. His team had his back. This strikes me as such a solid picture of steadfast supporters standing at attention. Russ says, “we get by with ALOT of help from our friends.”

Day 4….Was that a roller coaster? No. What was it?

Part way through the day yesterday I found myself thinking that a title for a blog about the day would include the idea of a rollercoaster. Later on I realized that just wasn’t accurate. A roller coaster goes up and down several times. That wasn’t the shape of the day. It was something else, but what? As I pondered that I had that very familiar verse of Scripture rise to my mind, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”…..and for a while yesterday that was how it felt. We started off in wide open places, and without warning came upon that valley, it was pretty rotten in there, for me at least (grief triggers, etc.), and then I/we found ourselves being lifted out of the valley. The possibility of returning to the valley meant a roller coaster was in the making as the day wound down. I find myself pondering the verses I read first thing in the morning, a Christmas text, “he will be Emmanuel which means God with us” and noting how that echoed with Psalm 23, “yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” I don’t have the time or mental power to untangle exactly how “God with me” shaped this day but I made it through a painful valley, I was not alone, I am thankful for the people and gestures and currents of grace that proved to be the elevator out of the valley. I took lots of pictures yesterday, it was that kind of day, but none of the valley, so have no fear about seeing something hard, I will just tell you about it.

After my own routine and my blogging was complete I had a call from Russ, he had two calves that were doing quite well they just needed a warm up. “Get the dog room ready!”
A little while later Morgan checked on them. He called to me, “Mom! One is standing! Mom! Two are standing!” I could only envision that two calves moving about in this small room was going to be trouble, especially with a plugged in heater in the mix. So I rushed in and together we enjoyed these quiet and beautiful calves. Morgan called Russ to tell him the calves were ready for pick up. Russ said he had six straw bales he was dealing with and then he would be right in. Morgan suggested we let them out into the rest of the house. I thought he was crazy. But we did keep the door open and let Coffee dog have a chance to see what was happening in her bedroom.
Coffee dog was super impressed with her new friends.
When it was clear to me that the calves were not steady enough to be galloping around the house we let them do what they felt led to do. This is Begonia’s calf, she ventured out into the porch. Jill zoomed up from her desk when I sent her a text “two calves are standing, its fun in the dog room.” It was in these moments she said “I absolutely love this!” We were in a wide open meadow of space at this point in the day.
Begonia Jr. is so cute and a little more adventurous than her room-mate whose Mom is “Cop Car”. Someday soon I can say more about the weird names we have for our cows.
Jill was very on duty in reining in Coffee’s love for interaction. I thought that Coffee was telling herself, “Wow, the quality of the toys in this house has really gone up!”
21 seconds of sight and sound featuring Coffee.
Russ and I thought we might be able to walk the calves all the way back to the barn but in the end this was a hard go. We put them in the back of the white jeep and drove them over.
Cop Car and her baby getting themselves established.
Begonia and her adventurous little one did very well right off the hop.
While out and about Russ took me to see the established pairs he had in the pole shed. Here is the calf that looked so pitiful in yesterdays pictures. Russ calls her “Navajo Rug” after the Ian Tyson song he had me play for her while she was warming up. That is her Mom Katie watching Russ with some guardedness.
About 20 minutes after the two calves were gone Russ called and said, “is the nursery still open?” He had a fairly needy calf to bring in. The snow had stopped but the wetness and chill all around were still causing us troubles. In came the calf of “Support.” She sure didn’t look great and I was not feeling great about things, but, wow did that calf respond. It didn’t take much of a rub down, just time. I put my finger in to test her sucking instinct after a while, Russ thought she should have a bit of a bottle if she would suck, she definitely was up for it. I made her 1/3 of a bottle to give her a bit of something and she appreciated it. When Russ lifted her to take her back to her Mom he said, “Kathy, your’e a miracle worker!”
Meanwhile, like sometime in the morning, Marcel the vet made his second trip to the ranch for the day. In the first trip Russ was looking for Marcel’s help to diagnose what he was seeing in “Gloria”, in this second trip our heifer whose name is Like was in calving distress and Russ couldn’t even find the calves head when he reached in. Apparently Marcel has a special tool to get a head that eludes the rancher and with it he, Morgan and Russ were able to “pull” the calf. It was a very hard pull and Like and the calf both needed recovery time.
Russ didn’t make it in for lunch and didn’t want a lunch to go. He is really good at fasting and with the reality of all the places his hands go in a day, he would rather fast. I had the chance to give him a cup of coffee part way through the afternoon. We have a philosophy at this ranch, that a word of encouragement or a compliment is never misguided, never a waste, never a bad idea. I could hardly wait for Russ to see the top of his cup. He was touched.

It was after this that things went south. The calf that had been pulled in the morning was not doing well. There is a disheartening reality to this. Russ intentionally left the heifer and calf to lie and rest after the pull. He understands this is needed given all that they have each been through. The trouble is that things got super challenging for Russ after this. He was not able to get back to those animals as quickly as he should have. Everyone else was under experienced or busy or both for the assessment and retrieval that needed to happen. Its kind’ve complicated. Fast forward to late afternoon, Russell brings me Like’s calf, it is not doing well and there is a sign that another cow stepped on it. He headed out to get to other things. I was left alone with this beautiful but struggling calf. I rubbed it and rubbed it, trying to dry it and to get its circulation improving. I was assessing what I was seeing and hoping for the best, leaning over that calf and pouring every caregiving instinct I have into it, and it died, right in front of me. I couldn’t give up, partly because a bit of spontaneous movement would give me fresh hope. You know where this is going right? Flashback and emotion. Damnit. I couldn’t save my Mom and I couldn’t save this calf. It was overwhelming. It was the deepest and darkest part of the valley. I called Russell, washed my face, changed my pants and called Grandma Shirley. Despite being late I was coming for tea. This is where the elevator out of the valley started this time around. Russ was so sorry to have put me through that. Sympathy helps. I got to Grandma Shirley’s, who is in our Covid bubble, and she said to me, “dear, at Christmas I put four shortbread cookies away in the freezer knowing there would be a day that I would need them, I think today is the day.” Her delicious tea and those beautiful cookies and just getting off the #*#* ranch were a bit of ointment on my wounds. While there I got an odd picture from Russell and Morgan. Shirley and I thought Morgan was holding a baby deer on his lap in the jeep. That wasn’t it. It was a second time in the day that animals elevated our experience and brought wonder.

Russell and Morgan had found this rabbit injured at one of the hay feeders. They decided to bring it home and see what could be done for it. Russ said, “even if it dies its better than it dying cold in the mud with predators all around.” They decided to name it Diane, after the rock song “Jack and Diane”, we call almost every bunny we see on the road Jack, it is time to have a Diane.
We had a fiesta of leftovers for supper and then Jill served us this beautiful cake she made in honour of her Nana. The colours were chosen based on the blue and coral we so often saw Mom choose for her clothing.
The hope for my blog is to be real, like as real as I can bear to be. So welcome to my horrendously messy kitchen and my very weird hair. I am not up to snuff these days. I wanted to use this picture though because our credit union ag rep gave me this t shirt when Mom was sick. The credit union was established in 1937, that is when my Mom was born. Weird fact…..a woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have and use in her lifetime. So that means that the egg that became me was established in 1937 too. Cool.
Another low carb part of the week. Can you hear my eyes rolling? Delicious.

As we went to bed there was the possibility that Diane the rabbit was going to die in the night. Russ said, “she is either going to wake us up at 3am lunging out of her box (by that point located in “the company bathroom”) or die.” The valley of the shadow of death lingered near once more.

Thats all for this day. I think that is the end of this storm too and future posts won’t be such a long read. I hope.