Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A New Day at the Ranch.

Last month I enjoyed several days at the neighbors' ranch just south of us.  We two, that Spouse o' Mine and I, are non-farming, non-ranching folks, in a state of cattle-ranching, soybean-growing residents.  If someone owns acreage here, they are no doubt farmer or rancher.

Except us.  We have a small property which we purchased upon moving to Kansas because we had three kids and three horses, all six of whom wanted to move into the country.

I wrote in the last few posts about my experiences in the ranching world.  Go back to the beginning 
if you want to start from the uh...beginning.

A week or two went by, and I received a phone call from neighbor Rancher Joe: They would be gathering heifers up in the morning...

This is where my City Mouse lingo does not translate the Rancher lingo, here goes...

A huge ranch operation like theirs utilizes AI (artificial insemination).  In order for the ranch's  calving season to work like a well-oiled machine, they manipulate the heifers' hormones (synchronizing) into cycling at the same time - they will come into heat at the same time, be bred at the same time, and calve at somewhat the same time next January.

That said, his request to me was to go back to the Bunkhouse (more on this towards the end...) and help with the heifer biz, to get them cycling/into heat at the same time.

I could do that, I replied.

So the next morning, again a cool and muddy day, I headed to the Bunkhouse.  At this point in my cattle ranching experience, I had no idea, no idea atall, what to anticipate.  I went there with my china cup and thermos of coffee.  I was met by the herdsman, Brock.  He asked me to go down to the gate by the bunks...blah blah blah.  I frowned.  My mind had stopped at "bunks".

Bunks.  Whoa! What the heck did Brock mean?  What are "bunks"and where are they?  And so I asked him.  He looked at me as if I were making a joke. Two serious looks, facing each other.  He pointed to some cement (OK, concrete, for those of you who do not live like the Beverly Hillbillies and their "cement ponds"...) structures which, to me, looked like half-cylinders.

Nope. Those were feed "bunks".  Cows ate feed out of them.  I actually saw cows eating out of "bunks".  And, the house by the bunks, where Brock resides?  The Bunkhouse.  I don't get it.  But there is so much about ranching lingo that I do not get.  It's like talking to computer people and their vocabulary.  Sheesh.  Let's all speak English. No dialects allowed.

When everyone involve had arrived to the Bunkhouse, we commenced the day's deal:

Bring in each heifer (a female cow which had never had a calf...a virgin? Except she would only enjoy AI and not the fun of it all...).  My job was to write down her tag number (each cow, bull, calf, steer has a tagged ear which has all sorts of numbers to tell its hereditary information.), and then take a curry comb (a comb used to clean off all dirt and shedding hair {primarily used on horses...and that's how I have ever used it.)}.  I would take the curry comb and scritch-scratch the tail-end of the heifer, loosening dirt and hair off t tail end of the cow.  Then I would smack a sticker on to their tail side, which would provide heat detection in the very near future.  I made the joke "Moo-ed swings!!"  and all around me smiled a benign cheerio.  I suppose they have all heard it, said it, shared it, before.  But I was NEW to this ranching life!  Ha ha ha ha ha!  It was a funny (to me).

So that day, recording heifer numbers and scritch-scratching heifer hineys, was such a delightfully calm day...I left feeling that I had learned so much this past month.  I know part of the bull-cow-calf-heifer-beef- scenario that, once again, that Spouse o' Mine said, "People PAY to do what you did this week."

And there you have it: Kansas Cattle.


Kansas Lavender

Monday, June 08, 2015

Back at the Ranch

Chapter Two of Ranch Work:

The morning following the sorting of sixty cow-calf pairs, only to be interrupted by a call to a fire, held a gloriously cool morning, after a night-long session of rain and thunderstorms.  What did this mean to me, the new kid on the rancher's block?  Well, instead of capris, linen shirt, and leather horse boots, I donned long pants, sweatshirt, and lovely knee-high rubber boots.  (Wellies, if I were the Queen of England.)  It also meant several large, muddy, manure-filled pens which would soon hold the cow-calf pairs again.

I headed back to the Bunkhouse early the next morning, coffee thermos and china cup in hand.  From our house to the "Bunkhouse" is about four miles of beautiful Flint Hills, rolling green grass and vistas to miles and miles away. It really is beautiful.  So, I had one mile to go to arrive to this day's workplace, and as I was enjoying God's green earth, I saw commotion out of my left eye - to the south.  Yes...there were a whole lot of black cows running pell-mell down a hill.  Sort of willy-nilly.  Upon closer attention, I saw a pickup, a four-wheeler, two dogs running, and someone on foot, striding much longer and quicker than one might observe on a regular bucolic morning.

When I got to the Bunkhouse, no one was there.  And no cows.  Or calves, either.  I poured myself a cup of coffee, turned on some Vivaldi, and sat in the car doing a crossword puzzle.  Shortly, a pickup truck came into the drive, and the patriarch of the ranching family climbed out of his truck.  He is a large man, and his countenance is both kind and one which calls for respect.

"Good morning!" I called out from my station wagon.  I climbed out.  "Was that you all I saw down the way?", I asked.

He nodded. Or sort of nodded and shrugged.  "Now THAT was a rodeo." he replied.

I laughed.  Maybe I shouldn't have, but I thought he was funny.  As we chatted in the morning cool, the others brought the cows and calves into the pens, the pens that they were re-visiting from the day before.  But there was a catch to this morning's work...

Instead of 60 cow-calf pairs, we would be sorting and vaccinating 100 cow-calf pairs.  I don't know how rancher math works.  I don't think cows can reproduce overnight, but there ya go: many more bovine creatures to sort and assess.

We went into the pens and sorted.  This time I felt a little more at ease with the situation.  In part, I think, because there was no hot dusty WIND making my head spin.  Mud and manure, yes, and I had to make sure I was in balance in my Queen's Wellies in the muck, - if the mud suction wins the contest, one will either fall face-first into the mud/manure, or (at best) pull one's leg out of the Wellie and immediately plop a socked foot into the mud.  Keen balance is the best defense.  As for the mud: I will take that over Saharan conditions any day.

After sorting the cows and their babies, we got to the part where I walked into the barn with rancher Joe, and he said, "Trish, after lunch we will come back here and vaccinate calves and cows.  Your job will be to write down the calf number, its cow number, and while I vaccinate, you will replace the used needles with new ones, and here's how you do that (visual aid given), and put the used ones here (as he points to a bucket).  Then, make sure which pasture the calf is to go into, move the gate where that calf should go, (visual aid), and then you will open the chute (as he motions WAYyyy upwards, over my head) and let that calf out."

What was daunting about this?  Well...some things.  But the main thing, and I think Joe caught my hesitation about the "chute-opening" thing, because after lunch when we met up again, he was carrying a step-stool over for 5'2" me to use to open the cattle chute.  Ha ha!  Bravo, Joe.

The afternoon proceeded without too much noteworthy description.

Calves in, calves out.

Cows in...WHOA!  Much larger animals!  I was a little unsettled by these big old mamas.

But, hey: I am a small-town/city girl.  I did have some fun.  I learned an awful lot.  The learning biz was what was most appreciated. As that Spouse o' Mine mentioned, "People PAY to do what you did this week."  True, that.  But I appreciate that our neighbors might trust that I can come in and do a job, maybe well, maybe iffy, but do it.

And guess what!  There is yet another chapter of TWebsterArmstrong on the Ranch!  Haha !  Stay tuned.      

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Today, Sunday:

Today is National Women's Ride Day.  I don't know who came up with this.  There are too many "Days" out there, in my opinion. "Eat Green Peas Day"... "Say Good Morning to One Hundred People Day"... "Red-Winged Blackbird Day"...

I am making these up.  (I think.)

But here it is, National Women's Ride Day, and so:

I am the short one towards the left, sporting a teal peacock on my bike jersey.  (Thanks, kids, for my Mother's Day gift some years ago; the gift that keeps me going...)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Next Morning

The morning after my rancher neighbor called, I ate a hearty ranch breakfast and got into my rancher duds. It was hot, and I can't do hot, so I donned some capris.  Not kicky capris, just denim "have them in your wardrobe in case you ever get invited to wrangle cows in hot weather" capris.  I also wore a long-sleeved linen shirt.  Not because I thought resort wear was in order, but because I hate sunscreen and sweat does indeed dry on linen really quickly.  And lastly, my three-decades-old Aussie "bush hat".  It is/was guaranteed to be uncrushable for 36 years; I should have taken it back to Queensland this spring to show them that it crushes remarkably well.  Nevertheless, it has stayed in useful employment on hot sunny days on both sides of the equator for 31 years.  And finally, I wore my Aussie Blundstone "Blunnies" boots, which, too, have served me a decade or two.

All-in-all, I was a 55-year-old fashion masterpiece to behold.

I drove down to The Bunkhouse, where I was to meet our rancher neighbor and his ranch herd manager. Both cowboys.  Hats, boots, they drive pickups and ride horses.  I poured coffee into my china cup and walked into the barn, where I thought I might be stationed at a table or desk or something.  That's when Joe said, "We have 60 cow/calf pairs that we will sort, and then this afternoon we will vaccinate both cows and calves, and sort them into which of two pastures we want them to go."

Well, that sounded like an organized plan.  I wasn't aware that it included me until Joe said, "Trish, if you come out here (as he motioned to a big pen full of black cows and calves, all mooing and moving...) we'll get the cows moving along the back side...blah blah blah..." and I found myself following him into the sea of large black animals.  I am not a tall woman.  These gals were as tall as me. And a heck of a lot heavier than me.

I have spent years amongst horses.  The equine population is not predictable, but in that knowledge, one can anticipate the unpredictable.  This cow biz?  I had no idea what to anticipate.  And there I was, in the mix.

Our first task of the morning was to maneuver through the 120 bovine(s) {is that a plural? a singular?} to ascertain which little baby calves were without ear tags.  Those little calves were so darn cute.  Some were only three wobbly days old, some were two weeks old.  Joe or Brock, the herdsman, would grab a tagless calf by a hind leg.  Something like three or four or five mama cows would line up to see what was going to transpire.  The trick was to see which cow - Cow#1, or Cow# 2, or #3, or #4, was the Mama Cow to this calf.  Because they were all curious.  Joe and Brock had a good eye as to which cow went with which calf, but occasionally one of the men would bawl out like a calf in distress, so that the REAL SLIM SHADY cow would please stand up.

After tagging a cute little baby calf, one of the men would spend just a minute before releasing it, scratching the calf, rubbing it down, making the calf calm and helping it see that humans are gentle.

OK! This is where my anticipated job began.  My first job of the day was to record the newly-tagged calves with their mama's ear tag numbers, whether they were heifers or bull calves, or headed to steer world.  This seemed simple.

After tagging calves came the sorting.  This was not as pleasant as the cute calf bit.  This entailed moving cows and calves alongside the perimeter of the pen, with help of two seriously intelligent cattle dogs who did a large part of the work.  As perhaps ten or fifteen cows and calves headed to the NEXT pen...the gate would shut and the sorting of those cows & calves happened.  The cows were herded to one pen, and the calves to another.  This went on all morning, until all the mama cows were in one pen, and just adjacent, their baby calves.

The heat, the dust (hey : it's Kansas), and the wind (hey: it's Kansas) was uncomfortable.  The lowing and mooing had suddenly changed: the cows and calves were not happy and they were BAWLING. BAWLING, I tell you.  It was absolutely deafening.

Well.  How could it possibly be that at the very moment we (they and the dogs?  I was more of a scarecrow in the pen than an active participant) got the cow/calf pairs sorted, but Joe held his fireman's radio up in the air: An emergency call had come through.  Joe and Brock are both first  responders in our part of rural Kansas.  So I was merely lamely lip-reading through the cow cacophony that those two had to be somewhere.  Fast.  So fast, in fact, that I did not get a feel for what would transpire next.  They were off before I even had my manure-covered boots off my feet.

So I took my coffee cup and my boots, and headed home.  I called that Spouse o' Mine and gave him my take on the morning, and asked if he thought I should get cleaned up or should I stay in the cattle attire?  He had no idea.

So...the post script on the house fire was that it lasted well into the late afternoon.  The fire won.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there were calves that needed cows, and cows that certainly wanted calves.  I got a call that evening:  Cow/calf pairs had to be reunited for obvious reasons, (Baby calves need to nurse! Mama cows need that milk expressed!)  Could I possibly help out the following morning, again?

Yes!  Certainly!

(Thinking, I've got this.  I so have got this!)

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ranch Wranglin'

Our dear friends and neighbors to the south of us are cattle ranchers.  Theirs is a huge operation with hundreds of cattle and thousands of acres.  Their lifestyle is about 180* from ours: hundreds of cattle: bulls, steers, cows, and calves.

We have a dog and a cat.

This past season, my dear friend and neighbor was hospitalized for numerous weeks and months.  I sent out the neighborly "Yoo-Hoo!" asking how we could make their lives proceed more smoothly during this trying time.

We two invited their daughters over for weekday dinners when both parents were absent.  Their high school daughters are fun dinner companions.  I sent over a few meals, whenever I ascertained there was a "big-durn-deal" day at the ranch.

This month, May, I got a call from the ranch folks: Could I help the next day in sorting cow/calf pairs?

I assured them that I could.  Yes!  I would be there: in my denim capris and Australian Blundstone boots from horse days of yore.  And a jaunty 36-year-old sun hat from my first visit to Australia. And a china tea cup full of coffee.  Yes!  I was ready for service.  I thought "service" would entail typing numbers into a laptop.

Typing, sipping, going home.

Case closed.



Apparently, there is more to cow/calf biz than typing in little numbers whilst sipping lukewarm Starbucks...

Stay tuned...

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