On The Ranch

Shoulder-Length Gloves and Gallon Jug Lube Day

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Yesterday we preg checked our first group of cows for the year. These are the heifers who will have their first calves this coming January. I won’t lie to you, it was sort of a hard day for me. It was our last day on this ranch, and we won’t get to see these calves born next year. I’m going to miss this place and this crew with my whole heart. It was great, though, to see how good the cows looked, and to end on a high note.

Preg check (or palpation) is something that happens on the majority of ranches, whether commercial or registered. On many non-registered ranches, it will be the only time all year the cows will be in the chute! The purpose is to see which cows are pregnant (bred) and which ones are not (open). In order for a ranch to stay afloat financially, cows should have and wean a calf every year, otherwise you will be spending money to take care of cows who aren’t making you any of that money back since the sale of calves are the bred and butter for most ranches. Most ranches will ship their open cows and their culls (cattle that are being got rid of for one reason or another) soon after–if not immediately after–preg.

“Being got rid of” is a travesty of a phrase, but I kind of like it. Sort of like most people think it’s weird that I like plain BBQ, aka plain meat, but I kind of like it.

There are different ways to go about pregging cattle–some ranches hire a vet to come out and just call bred or open, some ranches (like this one) have a vet come out and ultrasound to give us an idea of due dates (and sometimes a heads-up about sexes of calves or twins, or physical problems with a cow like an infection or goofy ovary or narrow pelvis that might present difficulties later), and some ranches have a cowboy or employee on staff who knows how to palpate cows. All involve shoulder-length gloves, lots of lube, and the requisite plastic clothing or strong stomach.

(Our vet has the coolest deal where she wears goggles that show the ultrasound rather than having to lug along a big screen and it’s seriously the coolest. She’s an entirely mobile, self-contained unit!)

We had 260 heifers to check yesterday, and the boys did great! Buster spent his time being held by/sleeping on various people and surfaces, and Wacey alternated between helping me and his daddy in the barn, and playing in a pile of dirt with his tractors, and terrorizing the guys with flags and (defunct) hot shots. There was a touch-and-go moment where he quite literally got stuck in a mud puddle and almost got his boots squelched off but we all came out unscathed and only a little more worse for wear!

This fall feels so strange because it’s the first time in seven years that we will not be pregging and weaning calves for months. The new ranch we’re going to will preg all the cows at once, ship the calves at the same time, and be done with it. I’ll explain more as we go on, but I imagine it feels a lot like a newly-retired accountant who only has to prepare their personal taxes. Strange, but not bad, but maybe a little empty? Or maybe the word is less hectic? Either way, #newbeginnings, and #slowfall. You know, like the Slow Food Movement? Ours will be the Slow Fall Movement.

That’s not to say, of course, that we’ll be idle. There will still be cattle to gather, calves to ship, cows to preg, opens and culls to ship, projects to do, and water to chase, but it will be a lot less of an exhausting marathon and more like Forrest Gump’s jog. He looked like he was having a lot more fun than most marathon participants I’ve seen, anyway.

Anywho. Happy Tuesday, and I’m here to tell you that the original, Bieber-less version of Despacito is really the better one.

 

Celebrate · On The Ranch

Miss’ First Mother’s Day

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Guess who got to celebrate her first Mother’s Day yesterday? Our mare, Miss! Her little baby girl was born late last week and I am one proud horse grandma! She’s beautiful. I’m sorry for the poor quality pictures, I took these with my phone but will get out with my big camera this week.

So far, it looks like everything is great–babe’s walking and running around, and Miss is a wonderful mother. It’s so fun to see her be so attentive to her baby. The other horses are a tiny bit jealous of all the attention we’re paying to Miss and Little, though, I think, because Steve was a major camera hog.

We haven’t named her yet, but she looks just like her mama! Welcome to the family, Little Miss!

On The Ranch

Why We Brand Calves

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It’s Monday (or it was, when I wrote this. The fact that I’m posting it on a Wednesday is a testament to how Monday it was). Usually Mondays aren’t so bad considering I basically work from home but man, today I’m dragging. Friday we branded calves, Saturday we went to a neighbor’s branding, and Sunday I spent most of the day baby showering one of my best friends, and then Bert and I took the boys to Mexican afterwards. It was a lovely, full weekend, but there’s a TON of laundry, a pile of dishes in the sink, grit on the floor, and my motivation to take care of any of it is nil.

But life is short, so I’m deciding I don’t care.

Now, speaking of branding…

Branding is one of the oldest traditions as far as raising cattle goes, and the spring branding season is a time for ranches to invite family, friends, and neighbors over to brand calves and have a meal. Some ranches have one big branding over an entire day or weekend, some (like us) have a few smaller brandings, and some ranches–particularly the large southwestern ones with thousands of  cattle spread out over hundreds of thousands of acres–will have weeks of branding each spring.

It struck me the other day that I’ve talked an awful lot about going to brand calves, or what the boys do while we’re branding calves, or the glory of Starbucks before branding calves, but I’ve never actually talked about why we brand calves.

Spoiler: it’s not just so I can take thousands of pictures of my studmuffin husband roping calves or my hilarious two-year-old running amok in his cowboy hat. Or so we have an excuse to get together for a fun day with neighbors, although that aspect of it makes it look a lot less like work.

The long and short of it is identification. Also, in some states (like ours) it’s the law. In the days before ear tags and the like, a brand was the only way to distinguish your cattle from your neighbor’s, and in the event that they got mixed or an animal got loose, a brand ensured that you knew which cattle went where. We still brand cattle today for the same reasons because while ear tags can get lost fairly easily, brands are permanent. Other forms of permanent ID (freeze brands, tattoos) are more for individual identification than owner identification.

Branding is often accompanied by vaccinations, and treatment of any sick animals since the calves are already roped. The cowboys know how to rope and handle the calves to minimize stress on the animals, and they hop right up and go back to their mothers once their turn is over.

Thus, even though cowboys are no longer trailing cattle thousands of miles from Texas to Montana, brands are still the most effective, long-lasting way to prove ownership and differentiate your cattle from your neighbors’. Cattle still get mixed, or are run together on grazing cooperatives. Branding is a great time to see to the health of the calves, too, and it’s a great time to spend with neighbors in the sunshine.

If you have any questions about branding at all, please comment here or email me!

On The Ranch · Personal

It’s Spring and it’s Springing

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Usually on Sunday afternoons when Bert is home, I can sneak out during the boys’ nap to go on a walk by myself. I love walking with the boys, but it’s nice to go alone without a stroller, snacks, and having to stop every so often to distribute or collect said snacks or adjust a sock or have an existential conversation about the crick or airplanes or the cows.

This past Sunday we were all pleasantly surprised that the blizzard that looked like it would continue into the afternoon quit in the morning, and the snow started melting in a fast fast hurry, hallelujah! So I threw on my muck boots, gathered up Gaucho, and put on a podcast (the Pica episode of Sawbones) and went a-walkin’.

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We strolled past the neighbor’s little crew of Mini Herefords and said hello. They crack me up, they’re so funny and small!

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While jaunting around in muck boots isn’t the most ideal of situations, the muck boots are necessary for the several reasons, the most important of which is that they enable me to actually jaunt (rather jauntily, if you want to know), the next important of which is that the slush and mud is six inches deep in some spots and soggy running shoes are a real buzzkill, particularly when learning about the widespread occurrence of pica throughout the centuries proving that it’s a medical thing, not a cultural thing.

In other news, don’t eat too much clay. You could die. A little is okay though, as long as it isn’t toxic.

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We continued on to say hi to the girls, who obligingly stood still before running away in pretend fear of the fearsome canine that is my right-hand man, whose full name is in fact Gauchito Burrito Lorenzo Sergio Eduardo Juanston.

And if you pick up on the Gauchito-Burrito Three Caballeros reference, then we are already best friends

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April showers might bring May flowers, but you know what else they bring? Mud, and spontaneous crick action, and flooded everything. However, we’re not complaining in the slightest!

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Happy Tuesday! I hope wherever you are that spring is springing, and maybe it’s a little warmer than here, and also maybe it’s sunny and maybe you’re going to Starbucks or having a smoothie or playing with glitter or confetti or horses or something.

Day in the Life · On The Ranch

Day in the Life: Branding Calves

morning5:30 am Buster and I wake up for the day! Usually we get up a little later, or go back to sleep after I feed him, but since we needed to be up and at ’em, I decided we may as well get up. And no, nothing’s on fire–the nightlight is, apparently, oddly orange.

buster morning6:00 am after Buster eats and gets a diaper change, he comes downstairs with me while I pump and do a little work (my current location!). He lays on a blanket and squeals and snarfs while I get a little work done or check social media.

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7:15 am both boys are up and dressed and their mama is up and dressed, which means that surely somewhere a pig is flying around. Wacey is itching to get going since he’s been excited to brand calves since yesterday, and the car is loaded with everything we need to occupy a two-year-old and take care of a baby while we’re branding, which amounts to lots of snacks and toys, pumped milk, formula, and multiple changes of clothes. I used to think it would be a snap to go to work when I didn’t have to get up super early to catch and saddle a horse and go out and gather cattle, but boy was a wrong. It takes us twice as long to get out of the house, I swear. I retrospect, being in charge of just myself and a horse was lovely–I can grab a granola bar and be good for a long time, and I’m fully potty-trained. Horses handily eat wherever they end up, and pee on the go. I mean, babies do too, but horses don’t require you to change a diaper or run up to you with a stinkbomb in their jeans for you to change.

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car selfie7:20 am We’re off! We have car breakfast on mornings where we need to be somewhere early–milk and cereal bars for Wacey, milk and BelVita biscuits, cereal, or a protein bar for me. This morning we’re so early that we decide to head into town (close to the set of pens we’re using to brand that day) to get donuts for the crew and a coffee for me!

pumping8:30 am I’m not sure what was in the water yesterday, but we were early to everything! So, while the guys finished penning the cattle and sorting the calves, I used my handy dandy car adapter to pump again.

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donuts8:45 am Time for breakfast! Wacey is a donut fiend, and I mean for reals, so this had to happen before anything else. He eats while I get my things in order, feed Buster, and put him in the wrap.

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9:00 am Branding is in full swing and our biggest little cowboy is making sure everyone is getting their work done. He’s a great supervisor because he doesn’t mind if you take snack breaks, so long as you share with him.

bert roping10:30 am Watching Bert rope calves is our favorite.

hello cows11:00 am We’re still going strong, but Wacey’s attention and good mood is starting to flag since he woke up earlier than usual. He decides to pay the cows a visit and see what’s happenin’.

truck bath11:30 am Law and order has broken down, Wacey’s attention is officially off the branding proceedings, and he has decided that his pickup needs a wash. I have decided to pray that he doesn’t get something gross from the inevitable slurp of water tank water.

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12:30 Branding is over, clothes are changed, Buster is fed, we’re only wearing half an acre’s worth of dirt on our faces, and we are getting the heck outta Dodge. Usually we stay and have lunch with the crew, but my spidey senses are tingling and telling me that a meltdown is imminent–it’s about to be past Wacey’s usual naptime, and he’s t.i.r.e.d, and pretty darn hungry, but not in a way that would be conducive to sitting in a diner. Plus, the rain was about to roll in. I, of course, am pumping again at this point, and inhaling a protein bar.

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swing1:30 pm After an enormous lunch for Wace, and a little more food for Buster, both boys are down for their naps. Victory! I get to each lunch alone, which is a BFD, and start a load of very dusty wash.

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2:00 pm It’s time to work! I had 150 calves that were waiting to be entered into the book and database.

coworker2:30 pm Buster’s having a hard time settling down, so I bring him to come and lay near me while I work.

still working4:30 pm I work and check emails (and pump, and eat–are you sensing a theme here??) pretty steadily until the end of naptime. I love getting work done in a quiet house–it’s amazing how productive mamas can be when their attention isn’t divided twelve ways haha.

bucket5:00 pm We have some post-nap, pre-dinner shenanigans that involve me spying on Wacey while he plays “46511322475 Things To Do With A Bucket.”

dinner6:00 pm Dinnertime! Dinner was homemade meatballs and spaghetti with Texas Toast–perfect stick-to-your-ribs food for the end of a long day.

After dinner, bath and bed for both boys, with us following not too long after because the caption to a Norman Rockwell painting of us after 7 pm would be captioned “Tired AF”. Half-joking about how lame we were (but proud of it), Bert said “What if the cows get out or something and someone comes to the door and we’re in bed at 8:30?” Me:

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Hey, at least I’m honest. In all seriousness, if the cows had been out, we’d have put them up, but we wouldn’t have enjoyed it and I would have given them the stink eye in the morning.

Now. It’s past my bedtime, and we get to get up early early and haul our butts down to the barn to breed some cows, so we’re just going to end this here. Which makes sense, because after the “We’re lame for going to bed at 8:30” discussion, we went to bed at 8:30.

 

Celebrate · Family · On The Ranch

Weekend and Caking Cows

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This post brought to you by a full night of uninterrupted sleep. Yes. Buster slept from 10:30 pm to 6:00 am and while that’s still a little short for me, I will 100% take it because I didn’t have to wake up in the middle of the night to feed, burp, or change him. I am also 100% certain this was a fluke because he was awake so much yesterday with an upset tummy, and he isn’t even six weeks old yet so I know better than to hope for this to stick, but it’s refreshing and lovely to know that it is, in fact, possible, and that there is a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel that is months of nighttime shenanigans.

He also could have been worn out from the weekend because what a weekend! Saturday we ventured down to the Big City to see Bert’s cousin get married and to visit with his mama’s family. Wacey wore himself out wrestling and dancing with his cousins, and Buster was handed around for hours. I had two mimosas, and we sort of got a family picture. It was a win-win. We stopped and visited with friends on the way home from town, so it was a very long, social day for us!

Yesterday was a slower day–somehow, by the grace of God, both boys slept until 8:30, so we did, too! I spent the day trying to get more baby smiles out of Buster, putzing around the house, doing wash and starting giant piles for ThredUp and Goodwill, and cleaning the upstairs bathrooms that hadn’t been cleaned since before Buster was born…ahem.

Then, once the boys were up from their naps, we all went out together to cake cows–a first as a foursome! Wacey, of course, loves to cake cows (imagine!). He is a little boy that wants pretty badly to be grown–there are so many things he wants to help with and do, but just can’t yet, and it makes him so sad. For now, we’ve found a (likely temporary solution) in encouraging him to watch Daddy very closely when he can’t help so that he can learn what to do when he is big enough, which is why he spends a good amount of time with his face glued to a truck window. It’s pretty safe to say that Bert will have a little shadow as soon as Wace is old enough to be horseback by himself!

We’ve got a busy week ahead of us on the ranch–we’re hoping for two brandings, weather permitting, plus a day of breeding cows. Thrown in there is my six week postpartum appointment, a party, and the requisite I’m-in-town-so-I-have-to-go-to-a-store-I-don’t-normally-go-to Target or Costco run. After a slower winter and the post-baby lazy period, it looks like life is back in full swing!

Happy (hopefully warm) Monday!!!

 

On The Ranch · Wacey

Branding with a Toddler

Happy Monday, and happy post-Easter sugar coma recovery! We spent the weekend relaxing, hunting eggs, and having fun with cousins, and now we’re all shaking our sugar sillies out and soaking in the sun and green grass.

Green grass means spring, and on ranches all over the country, spring means it’s branding season, as you probably know by now considering I’m sort of in love with branding time and don’t care who knows it!

Some ranches have one or two big brandings, or a whole month where they do nothing but brand. We brand in about ten small groups of 80-120 because we need to keep the cows in manageable groups for AI and it works better for us to keep them separate. So, one or two mornings a week you’ll find the whole outfit at one of the camps branding calves. This includes our littlest cowboys, too, and I get lots of questions about what I do with the boys while we’re branding since there are horses, calves, vaccine guns, ropes, branding irons, and the branding fire, and absolutely none of these things are toddler friendly.

Until this year, Wacey was confined either in my Solly wrap (when he was a baby baby) or my Ergo carrier (when he was bigger), or strapped into his stroller in the branding pen. I’ve also seen people used Pack N’ Plays for this purpose too–Wace didn’t care for that but I’ll try it again with Buster because I like the idea that they can have a little freer movement happening. We have a running joke that all of the ranch horses can be advertised as “stroller broke” should they ever be in a sale since they’re around the strollers so much!

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Since he’s bigger and more mindful of things (and of us) than he was last year, our Biggest Little Cowboy has been allowed to “help” this time around, and he really, really enjoys himself. Buster is, of course, not allowed to join in on the festivities in any other capacity than being strapped to my person in the Solly, which he prefers since he sleeps the whole time. If the weather sucks or it’s too windy, I’ll put Buster in the backseat of the pickup with the windows cracked and let him snooze. He prefers this scenario to being blown around and getting dust in his eyes, and it’s easy to check on him since the pickup is right there in the pen.

Even though Wacey loves helping, he’s still a toddler, and thus has about a five-minute attention span and an insatiable need for snacks. After three brandings so far, here’s what seems to work for us.

A pen and notepad. My responsibility at brandings since I seem to be perpetually kangarooing a tiny human consists of making a list of the calves we brand to keep our breeding sets and inventory straight. Wacey likes to follow me around with his record-keeping supplies and write his own notes. Bonus if he gets to use a pen that’s typically off-limits, like one of Bert’s ballpoint pens (off-limits due to his inexorable desire to draw on my leather sofas, both of which are currently sporting some WJJ original artwork).

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Snacks. I bring lots of snacks, including a little tupperware with some mini m&ms–those things will buy you lots and lots of time. He spent a half hour at one branding last week burying the m&ms in the dirt and then uncovering them and eating them. Rinse and repeat! #immunesystemsupport (right?)

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Cups and bowls and other things to put dirt in. Playing in the dirt is always a big time, so I keep plastic containers (Take n’ Toss cups, tupperware, ets) handy so he can have a little dirt-scooping sesh in between helping daddy. This is also helpful in pens where he can’t be in the middle of things because there’s not enough room and he needs to be occupied in another pen or behind the fence.

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Gates. When all else fails, or Wacey needs to be completely out of the way, I stick him in the nearest alley and watch him while he opens and closes gates!

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Dad. Bert lets him help him wrestle calves or give shots when he can, which basically consists of Wacey running around behind Bert yelling “Moooooooooo!!! Dada! Moooo!”

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The big, major disclaimer here is that one of us (or another responsible adult) is always with him, or he’s tucked safely out of the way. All the guys are always on the lookout for him, and we would not allow him to be loose like he is without the crew being on board. The guys are really good about being patient if he wants to help, or letting me know if they’re on an inexperienced horse so we can take a little more care to keep the boys safe while that horse is in the branding pen. It truly takes a village (or a ranch!). It also helps that Wacey lives for this stuff–he knows that he won’t be allowed to participate if he doesn’t mind us, and that’s the worst-case scenario for him. It’s also nice that we brand in the mornings when everyone is fresh and not overtired and it’s isn’t too hot. That helps keep us off the Overtired Struggle Bus, which is a super fun place to be when you throw in all the branding chaos and the mid-afternoon “Why aren’t adult naps a thing” slump.

Basically, we try to make branding pens as fun and safe for the littles as we can, while planning for complete meltdowns, bad weather, the dreaded Hangries, and the other livestock-related variables, while praying that everything goes off without a hitch.

Sometimes it’s a major success, and sometimes it’s a disaster, but it’s always a good time. Also, I am 100% convinced that there is nothing cuter than babies in cowboy hats, so that helps.