Monday, November 23, 2015

You can't always save them

But you gotta try!

I love the animal husbandry part of ranching.  As a kid I wanted to be a vet, and I can remember doctoring up all the little animals that I would find stranded;  mice, and baby birds of all types.  My most memorable Christmas gift was an incubator and I enjoyed hatching out chicken eggs and then gentling those too.  One of my darkest animal memories is when  I ordered sea horses from the back of a magazine and they didn't come with any directions and the food they sent with them just floated on the top and I slowly watched those poor little creatures die.  Today, with the internet I could have gotten all the information I would have needed. 

I use the internet a lot for my animal husbandry questions.  I even recently blasted off a question and five bucks to get an online vet to help me out.    Perse, (a bottle fed cow who is still a pet) brought her 2 month old calf into the corrals and kept it right by the cattle handling facilities. Something was wrong and she wanted us to help her. When the calf got up and moved its right front  leg dragged uselessly along. We carefully walked the calf into the chute and examined the leg and neither one of us could find a break.  I thought the elbow felt loose. Maybe.  The calf's respirations weren't very elevated and it didn't even seem to be in pain.  I couldn't figure it out, so  I asked the online vet and she came back with nerve damage from some kind of injury and that we needed to go to a veterinarian  and get some steroids to help bring down the inflammation in the nerve.   Our local vet agreed and now, about 10 days later, the little fellow is back out with the herd using that front leg again.  Albeit with a lot of 3 legged hops as well.  We were warned that it could take months before it completely heals and it might not even completely heal.  Knowing though, that the calf has no pain, really eases our minds.

Perse and calf

I haven't had to assist in any calving yet, as we try to pick bulls that sire smaller birthrate calves.  So far, knock on wood, it seems to be working and even the smallest heifers have calved unassisted.  I did have to help when our sow Sweet Pea had her first batch of piglets.  Our local vet didn't want to drive out when the she stalled in her labor, so she talked me through it on the phone.  It was so exciting and as I have  skinny hands and arms  it was easy for me and for Sweet Pea.  She successfully farrowed and raised her first batch up well. 

Contented piglets
Sweet Pea just delivered again and this time she didn't have any problems at all.  It went textbook perfect.   I just checked on her every 30 to 45 minutes to make sure.   She ended up having 13 adorable piglets.  The last one was tiny and it apparently didn't move from the back end up to the teats  after being delivered and  the placenta was  on top of it when I came down on my 30 minute interval check.   I rushed it inside and dried it and warmed it up with a heat lamp.  It just didn't have any energy all night and Mark and I kept getting up and checking on it.  Mark actually slept with it quite a bit.  He was quite smitten with the little thing.  He called her Fancy. 

Fancy soon after birth

We used an eye dropper to get a little replacement milk in and in the morning she was more feisty, so every hour I took her out to her mama and let her nurse  to get  colostrum.  With a dozen brothers and sisters little Fancy didn't have enough gumption to fight for the milk, so I had to help her out by keeping the others away from her nipple.  We tried just leaving her with the litter a few times, but she always got cold and lost in the shuffle.  For days I walked her back and forth to the sow and held her up to her mama's teats.  Sometimes she would seem to nurse well, other times not.  On day 4 she began drinking out of a little saucer and I was relieved as carrying her back and forth to the barn all day was a bit of a chore.  Then the seizures started.  That was the beginning of the end really and by the 5th morning she was dead.

Mark and I mourned the loss.  Who wouldn't.    We gave it all we had, but she still died.  It hit me hard and I couldn't really figure  out why as, with a lifetime of doctoring little critters, I've lost quite a few.  This was not a new experience.  Talking to Mark about it  I said,  "We tried so hard and she still died," and  I then started sobbing.  I then realized it wasn't the piglet I was talking about,  but my mother.

 My mom died from complications of Alzheimer disease.  Mark and I had tried caring for her in her home and eventually placed her in a care facility as it was just too hard taking care of her.  I still had guilt.  I still wished I could have saved her.  This little runt of a piglet helped me find that guilt and finally release it.  Thank you Fancy.  Thank you God.  Sometimes there is just nothing you can do, but do your best, and then let it go.    

Friday, October 16, 2015

Seeing Hope

I'm not much of a gardner, and it never seems to really pencil out financially, but   I love it because it adds an extra dash of hope to my days.  

Let me explain:

Today, while planting seeds I realized that  I didn't really see the seed, but instead pictured the plant it would become.

Perhaps I should start doing the same with people.   

Hope, it is a powerful thing.  

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Calving Season


We're very happy with our cows' mass decision to hold their babies until after we got home from our fall hike.  The jury is still out on OUR decision to tag (and band, if necessary) the newborns as soon as we meet them.  The cows we know all seem to slip away from the herd and our sight as the birth becomes imminent.  Often, a week or more can pass before we glimpse the calf, and a few more days pass before mom and newborn are regularly together.   It isn't like we have flat, open pastures where we can easily spot the calves.  The ranch is steep and wooded and full of great hiding spots, so we are having a little bit of difficulty in our new plan. 

In past years we just waited until everyone had calved and rejoined the herd and invited them all to a tagging and banding party.  Easy.   The entire herd was shuffled pen to pen into a crowding alley and then one at a time into a chute for their individual attention; vitamins, minerals, vaccines, tags, etc.   Routine.  But... calves that are only a few days old are more calm and less affected by the handling than their older selves would be.  It is also considered more humane to band the little bulls during the first few weeks of life and the ear tags help us identify each calf as well.   So,  we will try to entice, cajole, seduce, or detain each newborn calf as soon as we view it. 

For those of you who haven't met a newborn calf up close,  they are dewy eyed, pleasant smelling, wobbly-legged emissaries of peace and love, with silky curly hair and innocence.    You just want them to know that they can trust you and that you, also, believe in the possibility of world peace.  

Raising calves for beef, and the goal of world peace seem to have a common difficulty.... too much testosterone.   With our calves, the males receive a shiny green rubber band.  (As to world peace, that is for others to decide.)   This brings to a point the tradeoff with handling newborns.   They are with their moms (and maybe aunts and cousins) in the open, in the woods, on the road.  We must somehow gain their trust long enough to get close enough to catch and hold them to apply a tag and perhaps a band.   Without mom sensing that they need defending,  without the calf deciding to flee (they are WAY faster than a human by day two or three)  and without any of the herd (some of whom just got this treatment) noticing that something is up.  Spycraft, I think.   Cowboying, Tammie says.   Whatever.  

We have so far successfully dealt with the first nine.  Most were uneventful.  One, the biggest, had to be carried and led back to his mom because he just seemed to wander aimlessly after the "treatment".   Another, a female, exacted her toll for allowing the placement of an earring by kicking with a strike like a cobra.   Tammie's jaw still works, just not without pain.    So,  we will see how this latest twist works out.  

 On the plus side, after the first week all of the calves have been treated, and all are still acting like the friendly, curious babies that we met.   



Saturday, September 19, 2015


Our Toyota Landcruiser came home from the mechanic's shop today and we made a little video of it's adventure along the way.  

Speaking of homecomings... I've been gone from this blog for a long time.

In August I traveled to the foreign land of Las Vegas, Nevada to help our daughter make a warm and inviting environment for her kindergartners.  She changed schools so there was a lot of work to be done.  We moved two pick up loads of materials to her new class.  We then  sorted and organized all her materials  plus the materials that were in her new classroom.  We also had all of the regular stuff of classroom setup:  tables, desks, rugs, bulletin boards, name tags, etc.  There is a lot a teacher must do before the little ones arrive.  I get great satisfaction organizing, so I totally got into it.  I also enjoyed all the time with my family there.  Then, I was off to my oldest son's place in the Central Valley for another great visit.  Then,  Mark met me and we headed into the High Sierra for another backpacking adventure.  You can read about it on our hiking blog

When we got home last week, we got the best homecoming gift ever.  RAIN!  A good soaking rain.  It washed everything clean and made the earth smell good.  We should soon see some green grass shooting up and the cattle and hogs will be excited about that.  We are especially grateful that it helped with all of the wildfires our lovely state has been having. 

Life is good. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Chicken Harvest

My grandparents taught me how to raise and butcher chickens and we continue this practice for family ritual as well as for healthy eating practices.  We like knowing what we are eating and we like being responsible for our food choices. 

One of the more popular posts on this blog was a guest post  about me butchering chickens the way my granny taught me.   Check it out here.  In this post I will show you the new and improved way of butchering chickens.  This year we rented "Jr.", the chicken trailer from a local farm, Shakefork Farms.  In this trailer are all the needed supplies to butcher chickens, efficiently and cleanly.  With these supplies, and a short tutorial, Five of us butchered 40 birds in 3 hours.  This is a vast improvement over our previous times. 

First improvement:  Chicken cones.

 You place the birds in the cones and slice them on both sides of the neck.  No need for my old practice of cutting off the head.  (Although, it was kind of hard watching the life slowly bleed away.)   You let the birds bleed out for about 5 minutes. 

Second Improvement: Temperature Controlled Scalder

You dip the birds up and down for 1 minute in 145 degrees and it is helpful to put a few squirts of liquid detergent in the water so the water penetrates the feathers better. 

BEST Improvement:  Plucker

Place 2 or 3 birds into the moving plucker and watch those feathers disappear.  It took about 20 seconds.  By hand I was doing well if I got it done in less that 10 minutes!

Fourth Improvement: Not really an improvement.  You still have to gut the birds by hand.

But we did have a nice stainless steel table to do it on and you pushed the entrails into the hole in the middle of the table.  We had a garbage can underneath and all of the guts and stuff went out into the woods and fed a whole host of critters.  There were 3 of us gutting as this took the most time.  The other 2 caught the birds, bled them, dunked them and plucked them and were always ahead of us at the evisceration table.

Fifth Improvement:  Chilling Tank
This is a big water trough filled with ice and water.  I'm not sure why I never thought of this before.  This was a real quick way to chill the birds. 
Final Step:  Bag the birds
We took the birds from the chiller and placed them on the counter to dry a bit before bagging them.  Our son and wife took extra time to vaccum seal their half of the birds and I now wish I had as there birds really look good in the freezer.  I just double bagged our birds.
Final, Final Step:  Clean Up
All of the equipment has to be hosed off and then rinsed with a bleach solution, this did take about an hour extra, but we did have fun. 
We barbecued a split bird the other day and it was sure good!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Getting Ready for the Cattle Auction

Mark heading off with a load of calves for auction

We sold some of our weanling calves last week.  It is always a big deal to bring in all the cattle and sort them and then haul the 7 to 9 month calves away from their mamas.  It is traumatic for me.  Apparently a bit traumatic for them too as many cows and calves  moo.  There is always that one calf or cow, that hard as we try, we just can't seem to catch.... at first.  We are  pretty tenacious about these things and usually eventually get them in and the mooing subsides. 

We aren't cowboys or really even cattlemen, although we have cattle and take good care of them, so I guess it makes us such by default.  We don't push our cows anywhere on horses or with dogs.  We've got them trained to come to our truck's horn honk and my voice hollering, "Come on cows".  I say it kind of like a cow moo, with an emphasis on, ON.  I sit in the back of the truck on a load of the sweetest smelling alfalfa hay we can find in the local feed stores and I hand out little bites to the cows that begin streaming out of the woods.  We are sort of like the ice-cream truck on the ranch, minus the ice-cream and the really creepy music. 

We have two herds, cliques really, of cows.  They don't like to mingle.  They really get ugly when they are forced to mingle, so we don't mix them much.  We first bring in the cows from the back and top of the ranch to our middle barn and corrals.  Then the next day we bring in the front and main house herd to our arena by our house. We probably could bring them all in one day, but that might be pushing the work load.   When we first started managing the herd about 10 years ago, it would take us a week of hard work and we would have to set up portable catch pens and haul a lot of the cattle in.  They were stubborn and we couldn't coax or push them with horses to the corrals.  Now it is easy peazy all it takes is a holler and a honk. 

Once they are in the corrals we have to keep them fed and watered, of course.  Each pen goes through multiple 600 lb. bales of hay and we have to haul water to our arena.  The middle barn corrals have a water trough that is spring fed, but we have to keep an eye on it as it has a tendency to stop running. 

Sale day we sort the mama cows from the calves, sometimes we will do one pen the day before.  I really don't like this part.  Besides the mooing cows and calves, we sort on foot and at our middle corrals, which are aging , it can be a bit dangerous.  This year Mark beefed up the rotting wood with extra boards and wire and he fixed the gates the best he could with cables.  He also added an extra pipe corral gate and a couple panels.  This helped a lot, but I still didn't help at the middle corrals. I'm a weenie.   Mark enlisted the help of our son  Eric and his wife Jo.  They are 10 times the help I am in sorting.  I did help sort at our arena corrals at the front of the ranch.  Mark designed them and they are simple and safe and new.  It is all pipe corrals, so it should stay good for a long, long, time. 

Once the calves are sorted from the cows we look at the  calves and decide which ones we will sell and which ones we will keep one more year for our freezer beef program and for replacement heifers.  We release those animals.  Then we begin loading the calves that are left and Mark hauls them to the auction yard about an hour and a half away.   Mark makes multiple trips. With the last load we stay in town, do a little shopping and go to the auction.  I always get worried that the calves won't get a good price, but they always seem to.   After the sale we collect our check, put it in the bank and go home. 

The next morning we sort out the cows  from the bulls and the big steers saved from last year that will soon be someone's beef and we haul the cows from the middle barn to our arena corrals. Here they mingle with the front cows and the dirt flies for a while.   It is a cow brawl.   Later that day, the pregnancy check guy ( I wonder what the proper term is?) arrives and we run the cows through the chute and he tells us if they are pregnant or not.   The cows that are open get a big O on their hip with some kind of colored chalk or marker and they get put into a different pen.   The old cows will go to the auction next week to be sold.    Around here, you need to get pregnant.  This is always hard for me too.  This year, our oldest cow at age 24 years came up open.  She is the queen bee of cows and has  been excellent at having a calf year after year after year.  I am really sad to see her go, but it was bound to happen sooner or later. Providentially, she had a heifer this year and we will keep her and the queen bee's family line will live on.

Loading cattle from the middle barn corrals

FYI:  Right before the cattle round up  we went on another big hike  and the details are on our hiking blog:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

News From The Ranch

My neck is in a kink and my mind circles around thinking of all the things that have been done and are yet to  be done.  It is always that way on the ranch.

It has been a beautiful spring. 

We have been blessed with a sprinkle or two and it has kept things green although there are some spots very short and already browning.  Signs of our California drought.

The calves and cows are getting fat on the green clover and grass.  Here is a picture of Perse, one of the cows I bottle fed as a calf.  Look at that belly.

The piglets are traveling all over the place with their mamas and papa, nibbling as they go.  They've discovered that they like mud.

And Fridays, when we bring home the 'slops' from our local store.

We castrated the males on Sunday and it was surprisingly quick and easy and virtually blood free. This was our first pig castration and I had to watch a few youtube videos before tackling the task. We band our cattle, but pigs can't be banded and they become too aggressive and their meat can have a bad taste if you don't castrate.  Mark held them and I did the surgery.  It took about 30 minutes for us to do 8.  Not any record, but pretty darn good for our first time.  They really only squealed when we caught them.  I had earplugs in my pocket but didn't need to use them because once they were caught and held firmly they settled right down. 


We recently had visits from both the older students and younger students from our local community school.
The donkeys are always a big hit.  They are such sweet creatures and seem to really enjoy greeting our guests.

 The older kids spent most of their time on the ranch at the falls.  They had no problem diving into its icy waters.

The kids and parents hiked from our house down to the falls, but we gave them a ride back up.  Here is the group I drove up.

A week later the younger students  visited the ranch for a tour.  The piglets were a hit and Shadow made a special friend.

The children  also got to brush a horse and go for a short ride. I was kind of busy, so I forgot to get photos, but there were lots of smiles. They also helped feed some cows.   My favorite thing they did though, was catch all of my young chickens and help me move them from the brooder pen into their outside pen.  Those kids caught all of the chickens quickly and what would have taken me hours took only about 15 minutes!  The 6 week old birds seemed real happy to be outside. 

We also took a hike through an area of forest that burned and was replanted.  Kids that had attended this school 11 years ago had actually planted a few of the trees in 2004, so we made sure to revisit that area.  I think these students enjoyed  climbing on these oak trees the most.

Thanks Salmon Creek Community School for you visit and for your parting gifts.  You guys are great and welcome anytime.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

To Whom it May Concern

Dear Little Ginger Colored Piglets,
You didn't come when I thought you would.   All my laid out plans were for naught as we have now lost our 'window' of opportunity for a long hike.    Oh well.  At least you are cute.  It was exciting being a midwife too.  I could tell Sweet Pea appreciated me being there and calmed down when I rubbed her tummy.  I even had to pull one of you little buggers out.  It isn't easy giving birth, so you better appreciate your mamas.    It's amazing how you pop out all slimy and clumsy and immediately start trying to find a nipple, stumbling and falling all over the place.  You really looked drunk, but of course dragging an umbilical cord around didn't help.  I'm  amazed at how long your lifeline was.  Some of them were 18 inches long.  The book said not to cut it and  it did slowly dry up and fall off, but for an hour or so it followed you in your wobbly travels. I wasn't expecting that. 

Little Piggies,  I promise to take good care of all fifteen of you.  Some of you already have new homes to go to in a couple months and some of you will live your whole life here, running around these hills and playing in our ponds. Be thankful that your weren't born in some big industrial hog farm where you would live on metal and never see the light of day surrounded by 1000's of you all caged up without any room to even move around and act like pigs.   Here, I will always treat you well and you will freely roam these Southern Humboldt hills without cages and at the end of your allotted time I will thank you for the meat you will provide. 

Monday, April 6, 2015


It snowed a bit on top of the ranch last night.  Easter seems to always bring a chill to these hills as this has happened many times in the past.  Easter snow shouldn't be so, but it is, so I just better accept it.  Acceptance is something that has been hard for me to, um, accept.  I am a stubborn woman.   Growing up I learned to make things happen.  I wasn't too coordinated, so I worked extra hard and made the sports teams.  Tenacious, they said.  Headstrong, my mom said.  When we got married, Mark said, "You aren't going to wear the pants in this house."  Later, he accepted that we could both wear the pants and have a good time doing it.  Me, I accepted that he would accept it.

This ranch's seasons, storms, and its animals  don't seem to give a hoot about my schedule.  Right now, we've got a tentative two week backpacking trip planned for the end of the month.  I really want to go.  I crave backpacking like an alcoholic craves booze, but I know we might not get to go because some pregnant pigs aren't following my 'plan'.   I saw them get bred 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days ago and, darnit,  that means they should have had piglets last night. 

This hog farmer is a new hat for me to wear.  Cattle I know, but hogs not so much.   I've been researching online for photos of pigs vulvas and teats before birth.  I know, TMI, but I have been trying to figure out how close my gilts are to giving birth.  I think they are close, then I think they aren't.  Apparently swine have a window of 24 hours to 5 days in which they can get pregnant.  It just depends on the female. I'm hoping mine have a long window because  I want them to give birth this week, as it will still allow us to go hiking at the end of the month.  There is a very real possibility though that they will give birth in 3 weeks as I could be off by one whole heat cycle.  It is possible that they didn't get pregnant when I saw them in the act.  Three weeks later I was off babysitting grandkids, so there could have been more heing and sheing going on and I would have missed the whole darn thing. 

So yeah, I'm trying to learn acceptance, but obviously, not doing to well at it.   I can't make those pigs have babies, I can't stop the snow from falling, I can't make it rain or make the sun to shine. Heck, I can't even make the grass to grow.  I'm just mortal.  I do have faith though that it will all work out.  The sun will come up tomorrow, the pigs will have piglets some time in the future and even if we don't get to hike at the end of the month, we will probably get to hike in the future.  Lord willing and the creek don't rise, that is.

Wild Rose and Sweet Pea

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Where does time go?  2015 seems to be flying by like a jet.

February had us vaccinating all the cows and calves.  Here is our work crew.  The finger in the photo belongs to our chief cow whisperer and photographer Cindy.

Everyone has a job to do.  Mark, my honey, moves the cattle into the sweep and then into the narrow alley that puts the cows in a line up to the chute. He is the one who has the most direct contact with the cows and is in the most danger of getting kicked or ran over.

Alongside the alleyway is Cindy, where she whispers to the cattle and gives them nibbles of grass and a squirt of wormer down  their backs (but not the animals that will be eaten this year) and takes photos.  She multi-tasks.  She is talented like that.  Unfortunately, I could find no photos of her.  I guess she's not into selfies,  but she's kind, cute, blond and is married to this sweet guy.

Troy is our son's  buddy, who has also become our friend.

Troy and Eric work the cattle chute.  The cattle walk through the alley, past Cindy, and into the chute.  Troy closes the chute's door behind them and then  Eric works the lever that catches their heads.  Troy then quickly pulls the lever that makes the chute squeeze up onto the animal's sides.  The squeezing keeps the animal from moving around and also seems to calm them down.  Sort of like Cindy's whispering did while they were in the alley.  After they are caught Troy lifts the calves tails to find out if they are male or female, so we can prepare. 

Next,  Eric uses the bolus gun, that isn't really a gun at all, and  gives the animals their pills.

 The bolus gun is a long empty tube that you place big vitamin/mineral pills in.  Once the long barrel is in their mouth and down their throat you pull a trigger and the big pills slide down into their stomach.   We give our animals selenium and a magnesium/copper boluses.

I  hand Eric the loaded tagging tool ( sort of like a piercing gun)  and the calves get earrings.  This year females' have red tags in the right ear and males' white tags in the left ear.   It makes it easier for us to identify them from a distance. 

Jo, our DIL,  is always ready with the sharp needles and loaded syringes and gives  vaccination injections to all the cattle and also a tetanus shot to all of the little bulls that are going to become steers.  Which gets us to our next step.

Eric and Troy put on a special rubber band around the little bulls' testicles.  This cuts off the circulation and eventually the testicles fall off and they will then be steers.  The calves, not Eric and Troy. 

My job is quality control and letting the animals that have been handled back out into the holding pen. I don't do much.   I keep a book and write everything down and make sure everything gets done.  Jo helps me with this too.

We give a big thanks to our cattle crew.  You guys are all the best and we appreciate you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hope of Spring

The weather has been warm and sunny.  Nice and warm days for starting seeds, pulling weeds and mowing the lawn.  The garden calls loudly during these pretend spring days of February.  I have to always remind myself that we tend to get snows in March and that I shouldn't plant too much in the garden.  But dreams of growing things and aesthetically pleasing outdoor designs still fill my head.  Of course, my dreams for the garden never are completely fulfilled because it's hard work and the elements don't always work in my favor.  But I love the dreaming all the same.  That bud of hope that bursts in my heart is still beautiful even if it never does get to open all the way.