Ranching in the Sandhills

Price Takers

Our big sale was last week.  The sale was right before a big blizzard, plus calf prices dropped 33% last fall.

The cattlemen buying the bulls took a shot in the shorts last fall and that deduction in income means less income for us.

Cattle ranchers are price takers.

The buyer(s) decide what your product is worth.  And you are stuck with the price.  Make money or lose money.

Farmers and ranchers are both risk takers- paying hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenses.  And then wondering if the market will hold.

And what price they will get.

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Bad day

Ranch men are notorious for being late.  Supper is cold, there are 7,000 acres they could be on, but when do you start to worry and go looking?  I just about found out today.

I got home and Newt wandered in the house.

“I had a bad day,” he said.  I looked at him.  Newt never has a bad day.  I can rant and rave about my crummy office job, but not much bothers him.

“Why was it a bad day?” I said, sorting through the mail at the kitchen table.

“Well, I pulled bulls this morning.  Our bull was in Hank’s and Carol’s cows again…

(This was the 5th or 6th time Newt has had to get our bull out of their cows.  If Hank and Carol weren’t a bull short this year, they probably would have cared more.)

…He went back to our cows fine, but then he wouldn’t leave.  Even when I brought the entire herd.  I tied him to the windmill.”

“Yes, I see you had a bad bull pull this morning,” I answered. (This isn’t anything new, do bulls ever want to leave a herd of women? No, unless it’s to visit another herd of women.)

Newt continued, “And then I was riding our little red colt to pull the bulls out of the far pasture and he tripped going down a hill…”

I looked up and started paying better attention.

“…and he broke…”

“His leg?!?  Is that what the blood on your shirt is from?” I just noticed both sleeves with big bloody spots.

“Nope.  We went end over end.  I hit my head pretty hard and busted my nose open.  The colt broke his neck and died.”  DAH!

“Best part was I got to walk all the way back to the house (Newt hates walking).  It was a booger pulling the saddle from under him.”

“So we are short a horse?”  A bad day.

“But I could have been short a husband?”  Beyond a bad day.

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When  you brand towards the end of May, the weather doesn’t always cooperate.

You brand in the wind.

You brand in the heat.

You brand in the fog.

You brand in the rain.

Your brand in a thunderstorm.

Snow in May

For the first time, we postponed branding because of the snow.

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Some of My Favorite Pictures

Back when I still rode.  Roddy, the buckskin gelding, looks over the herd of horned cows.Roddy and Horned cows


Back when I still had chickens.  I hope to get new hens next year.  I also hope for an established blue grama lawn and a garden.

Rooster and hens


Back before it rained.  The drought of 2012.  A calf drinks milk from his mom.  We didn’t get a single drop of rain that day.Horned cow

The “I’m Done!” picture…I’m tired and hungry and I don’t want my picture taken ANY MORE!Enough!

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Once upon a time, I had a wonderful diabetes educator.  She helped me gain tight control of my bloodsugars, she helped me balance the hormones and insulin during pregnancy with ReeRee.  Then she moved to the mountains- and I was crushed.

Now Marcey is doing distance clinics and I have her back.  Yippee!

As Marcey works her magic on my basal rates and boluses, she also asks about what I’ve been recording on my sheets.

“You seem to be dropping after ‘chores’.  What are chores?” she asked last appointment.

Well Marcey- here’s a better description of chores.

First, you load the pellets from the bin.  The electric auger effortlessly moves the pellets from the huge bin and into the buckets.

Bin of pelletsThen you give them a “squeeze” to put a little love in your breakfast.  Or that is what ReeRee does…

Load pellet bucketsNext, load the buckets into the Mule.

This group of bulls gets 6 buckets of pellets.  The pellets provide protein and energy.  The hay provides food for the rumen microbes, that in turn break down the cellulose into energy for the animal.  Over 500 trillion (yes, that many zero’s) live in the rumen of one animal.  Amazing!

The crew will meet you at the gate.

Yearling Bulls ready to eatWhich makes getting through the gate without the crew getting out more interesting…

The horses are out in the pasture, so we run them through the calving lot to bring them in.  The horses outrank the cows, so the horses like to remind the cows who are boss.  Then I remind the horses who are boss (yeah- me!) and they trail into the corral to eat from the bunks.  One bucket for 2 bunks for 10 horses.

Horse eating from the bunkGrullo, the ancient retired gelding, babysits the two colts.  Grullo is giving me the evil eye.  They have a bale of alfalfa now, so they are missing the pellets.

Grull miffed- no feed todayI have to lock them out to feed the “up” heifers.  These two heifers had trouble calving and slightly paralyzed their back end.  They’ve went through a slow recovery.  We bring them hay, water, and 1/2 a bucket of pellets.

The last bucket is “fat food” for the steers we are feeding out.  No fancy auger here- you bucket by hand.

Fat steersSomeday I want to come back as a fat steer.  Lots of naps, unlimited access to high fat, high sugar, highly delicious rations.

Fat FoodThe fat food is mainly corn and pellets to add roughage.  If we lived closer to an ethanol plant, we would feed distiller grains.  Distiller grains have had the starch removed from the corn- “God’s gift to cattle” is what one of my friends calls it.

If Newt is lucky enough, my floors are swept and mopped (it takes me at least a couple hours to clean).  Then ReeRee and I can go feed the mares and bulls.  The bulls are locked away from the herd, so no babies are born too early.

Drive Spike Drive!We take the mule and buckets of cake (a larger pellet made from distiller grains).  Spike is too little to jump off the seat himself, so he (im)patiently waits for us to check the water.  The tanks were full of water and snails!

Buckets of cakeI hold one bucket out the side of the mule at a time and slowly drive and dribble the cake on the ground.  The bulls and mares also have a pecking order, so I try to spread it out so everyone gets their share.

Mares bull eat cakeFinally, chores are done.  Now back to clean bathrooms, wash the laundry, and make dinner (lunch-dinner, not dinner-supper).  Oh boy- I would rather do Mule chores.

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Where I live…

There isn’t much here.

20 miles to the highway.

75 miles to fast food.

75 miles to a hospital or pharmacy or doctor (a little nerve wracking for a diabetic).

250 miles to a Target, or Home Depot.

13 hours from my “new” diabetes educator…

GrasslandsBut what is here is a fragile, diverse balance of grasses, bugs, birds, deer, and cattle to graze.

What is here is beautiful.

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What a Bad Day Looks Like

If you have ever remodeled, you know there are bad days and really bad days.

Never been through a remodel… well let me help you with a visual.

What a bad day looks likeThis is the middle of the bad day.

The first part of the bad day was finding water gushing from the bottom of my house AFTER the plumbers had put in new water lines.  Because you know, the old pipes leaked and I didn’t want to deal with leaky pipes.

I had gotten home after midnight the night before and taken vacation to get some texturing done before our busy season started.  Little sleep, no time to buy groceries thus no food to pack for a decent lunch or snack or nibble.

So I was tired and crabby and hungry and in a hurry.  Finally, I finished texturing a room and went to clean up.  My friend Dave showed me how to climb on the bucket and lid and it would pop the lid shut.

I wondered to myself if Dave had ever fell off.  I was pretty sure I would fall off, but so far I stayed on top.

Until today, when the lid collapsed into the bucket of drywalling mud.  We are now at the middle of the bad day.

My right tennis shoe sunk to the bottom- mud oozed up my pant leg. With a loud, rushing OOOSSSHH, I pulled my shoe from the goop.  I didn’t realize the white blob, except for the two laces sticking out.

I thought of leaving my shoe as is, but that mud turns to cement.  So I rinse out my shoe and sock, put on my insulated winter boots (yes- it was 95 degrees that day) and finished up at the house.

Are we done with my bad day?  No, the end is coming.

ReeRee and I went up to the arena to watch Newt and his 13 year old nephew, Sparky, team rope.  Since I was sweating in my insulated boots and cold sloppy joe meat wasn’t tasting so good, I convinced ReeRee to leave the “rodeo” and go home.

There was one roping steer that jumped THROUGH the fence several times.  He was jumping through gate #2 as Sparky chased him to the corner.

Sparky got off to open the wire gate and drug it behind him.  Roddy, our beautiful buckskin horse, followed behind and stepped into the wire dragging behind Sparky.

I jumped from my car and ran down the hill.  We were going to sell Roddy next year- he was my ticket to paying our taxes and maybe a new refrigerator, now pulling back the gate tight with his leg still tangled up.

Then I noticed Sparky was nowhere to be seen.  He had been hit by the horse or the gate post and laid in a pile with his t-shirt pulled over his head.  He wasn’t moving- at all.

Roddy, by this time, had pulled the gate all the way over to the fence, where he fell into the wires.  Fearful the horse would freak out again and trample Sparky, I tried to move him.

As soon as I touched him, Sparky woke up.  We managed to get out of the way on the other side of the fence.  He had some pokes in his arm from the barbs, and a scratch on his eye where he got hit, but nothing else.

Newt untangled Roddy in the meantime.  Roddy had two pokes on either side of his hoof, but nothing else.

That bad day could have ended a lot worse!

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Plant of the Week- Needleandthread

Let’s continue on our journey of Plant ID with another cool-season, bunch grass.

This grass is a favorite among youngsters, especially if you have siblings.

Needleandthread seedheadYes, I’m talking about “Needleandthread”.  Those seeds with the long awns and sharp tip turn brown and harden as the summer progresses.

Most ranch kids remember riding through the pasture, reaching off their saddle, grabbing and grabbing until you had a nice handful of needleandthread seeds, and then loping past your brother (or sister).  If you were good (and they weren’t paying attention), you could get a perfect bulleyes of hundreds of “needles” stuck in the back of their shirt.

Of course, your siblings will retaliate and get even with you.  They might even gang up on you.  Do you take blow after blow of needles?  This is why you ride the fastest horse…to run away.

For the more mature rancher, needleandthread is an excellent source of protein and energy early in the spring.  So how do you tell if you have needleandthread without the seedhead?

It grows in a bunch.

It heads out in the spring- usually May.

It has a ligule.  This is the best way to tell.

Needleandthread liguleSee that paper-like thing sticking up?  That is called a “ligule”.  When you pull down the leaf blade, the paper rabbit ears stick out.

Ligule = Needleandthread.  (Of course other plants have ligules, but not very many.)

So go forth, and commence impaling your siblings with nature’s darts!

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A. Sprinkle Toes

We got a new puppy- like “last minute” got a new puppy.

If you know me, you know how much I love taking care of puppies (not) and making quick decisions (not, again).

After Buster got hit by a car, we are one cowdog short.  A neighbor called and told us about a litter of puppies that were $500 each and spoken for.  Then the husband passed away, and the family didn’t know who the puppies went to.  Now the pups are 4 months old and much cheaper.

So after a speaking engagement, I picked up the black-and-white border collie puppy the next day.  Karen, the owner, was nice enough to let me borrow her kennel to haul him home.

Newt was giving ReeRee a bath when I got home.  The pup wouldn’t come out of the cage, so I finished ReeRee’s bath, while he extracted a puppy.

“Did you and Daddy come up with a name for the new puppy?” I asked.

The towel was wrapped around her serious face… “Yes, Sprinkle Toes.”

Sprinkle ToesA picture of Newt loping across the pasture popped into my head.  He and his dogs were moving cows.  Newt points an arm to the back of the herd and shouts, “GET BY, SPRINKLE TOES!”  And all the other cowboys snicker…

So Daddy and ReeRee came to a compromise- First Name: Ace, Middle Name: Sprinkle Toes.

ReeRee loving up A. Sprinkle Toes

I think Mr. A. Sprinkle Toes likes it here.

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She Wears Pearls to AI

ReeRee and I went to help Newt AI the heifers and cows.

Newt and I dressed for the part, but ReeRee felt the need to show off some bling.

“She wore pearls to AI” sounds like the beginning of some cowboy poetry.

She Wears Pearls to AI ReeRee thought AIing was quite interesting.  If you have not heard of Artificial Insemination (or AI), then viewer discretion  is advised.

She talked the entire time and here are some highlights:

“It’s raining POOP!  There is pooop everywhere- it’s a poop storm!”

“MomMom, can you walk down with me?  Will that cow get me?”

Gives Newt an AI glove, “Now Daddy, put that on your fingers, in the finger holes, now here is the goo.  Go stick your hand in that cow’s butt.”

“Ahhh, it’s hot!” referring to the steaming empty container bubbling with liquid nitrogen.

Shhh, ReeRee.  The cows are coming in, pretend you are a post. “MomMom, I want to be a post that sits on your feet.  Hahaha, have you seen a post sit before?”  (So much for the still, silent post impersonation.)

“What?  We’re done.  I don’t want to go take a bath and go to bed!” followed by sleep deprived tears and tantrums.

Newt was glad to be finished.  He AIed 301 head in 8 days.  Another reason I can’t wait for our house to be finished- we can actually see him during AI season.

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