Monday, January 19, 2015

Suiting Up for the Deep Freeze

It is cold out there; I mean bone chilling, icicles in your beard, frost on the inside of the window, hug the wood stove cold. I laugh each time I watch the news during these extreme cold snaps. Don’t go outside and if you do, don’t stay out for more than 30 minutes at a time. Words that come from people who have never lived on a farm or ranch. All the chores have to be done, so dress the part, warm up when you have too and power on through it.
There really is no way to prepare yourself for feeding in the cold. Sure we dress in layers and preparing to feed is something akin to getting suited up for a space walk. Maybe I am different than everyone else (I have been told that) but I do have a certain order that I follow when putting on my “arctic chill” chore clothes. Any deviation from the protocol has serious implications.
First is the foot wear. I prefer a really good, thick pair of wool socks, but in the case of an extend cold snap I do start layering regular socks. Then it is absolutely critical to put on your boots. I have enough trouble putting my boots on without added layers (or more correctly added additional layers on top of the layers I have added over the years). At this point I pause to catch my breath.
Next comes the hooded sweatshirt. This is a very important layer. The most important thing is to remember to take your cell phone out of your shirt pocket. Failure to do so will result in a missed phone call, a choking hazard and possible dislocated shoulders. Then on top of the hoodie comes my bibs. I have a pair that zips up the middle, a nice feature until the zipper stops working. Next the legs must be zipped. This is another part of the procedure that requires groaning, grunting and a pause to catch my breath again (I really ought to consider getting in better shape).
Next comes the critical placement of the earlier mentioned cell phone in the front pocket of my bibs. This allows for easier (note easier and not easy) access and results in half as many missed calls. This is also when I check my pockets and take inventory of the medicine, syringes, pliers, clips, fence insulators, money, gum, candy, receipts…… well you get the idea. All of the stuff that I accumulated in my pockets from the days, weeks and months prior to today, I then make a decision about what I need and cull the rest to the cabinet next to the door. The very same cabinet that is remarkably cluttered and gets me in trouble with Jennifer, but you never put anything away; you might need it later on that day.
Next I locate my winter hat. This year I graduated from a stocking cap to the wool hat with a bill but most importantly a hat with ear flaps. It is the kind of hat that I swore for years I would not wear and now wonder why I was so stupid. Before you put the hat on a decision must be made. Ear flaps up or down, it is a decision that is often made based on the wind and has other very real implications. Ear flaps down result in many more missed calls.
The final part of the “arctic chill” suiting up is gloves. Often that includes the hunt for gloves. Sure I have quite a few gloves on the afore mentioned cabinet, but finding the right pair requires a great deal of skill and even more luck. First, they must be dry, that usually knocks out about half of the herd. Then you must have one for each hand. There go a great number of left handed gloves. Finally, it must not have large holes. Often these three criteria will get me down to one set of two gloves. Notice I did not say a pair of gloves. Most likely I will not have a matched pair, but if I have one for each hand, free of holes and dry, it is going to be a good day.
Then and only then, I am ready to open the hatch, I mean door, and take one giant step for mankind. OK so I am being just a little over dramatic but it does seem like a rather large accomplishment. Braced against the cold I head out to perform my daily chores and care for the animals entrusted to my care. The very same animals that seem to be disappointingly unimpressed with my sacrifices. So goes the life of a rancher in January.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Parental Guidance

Once in a while your kids will do something to make you think you aren’t so bad at this parenting thing. Last week was that time with Isaac. Earlier in the week he was left in charge of chores for three days, it was one of those life altering days when Dad finally realized that Son was old enough, mature enough and big enough to leave in charge. That and because of doctor’s appointments, Farm Bureau meetings and his sister’s surgery, Dad didn’t have much choice.
Not only was he left in charge of the chores but it also rained leaving the barnyard and surrounding pastures and roads mucky and muddy, further complicating his assigned duties. Now don’t get me wrong, he has done the chores many times and has been in charge before, but never for three days straight. The night before I briefed him over and over until I finally got the “I know Dad, you have told me at least five times” response.
We may all cuss our constant connectivity but I really don’t know how my parents did it. Of course maybe it wasn’t so bad not being able to text or call anytime and from anywhere. I am fairly confident Ike did not respond to my texts for an extended period of time on purpose. Even though he swears he responded as soon as he got it.
I probably deserved it. One of his assigned duties was to feed cows. No problem, he has done it many times. The only complication was that we did not have a tractor at our house, the pasture feeding area was muddy and our feed pickup is, well, somewhat fragile. By fragile I mean, old, beat up, and held together by baling wire and duct tape and about to fall apart. It needed to be handled delicately to survive until the new, used, tractor was to be delivered.
Did I think Ike would deliberately tear up the pickup? No, of course not, he is a really good driver. The feed pickup has some quirks and it takes skill to know where it can be driven and how it should be driven. We all know skill is gained by experience and most of that bad experiences and I just did not have time for any bad experiences leading to a breakdown.
To make a long story short (which is really unusual for me) I made at least three nervous texts and one phone call to “see how things were going”. When he finally responded it was to tell me that everything had gone well and the cows were successfully fed, the pickup was still in working order and I had nothing to worry about. I should have never doubted him.
A couple of days later I again called on Ike to do chores. His sister needed to be into the school early, still could not drive and I had a couple of errands to run. Buoyed by the success of his earlier run, he and I both had confidence in his abilities. Around 9:00 that morning Dad called to ask if I could run by and help him get a bale into the heifer pen. No problem, it would be right on my way to pick up Tatum, everything would work out OK.
Right as I had reached the point of no return, Ike called. He had a ewe who had gotten down, prolapsed and was not looking good. I had to come home to help. I explained that I had to help Grandpa and pick up little sister; there was no way I could help, at least for the next 45 minutes. I told him he would have to figure it out on his own.
That was the longest 45 minutes I have spent in a long, long time. I called a couple of neighbors to see if they could check on him but I could not reach them. Dad and I got the heifers fed without any escapees and I picked up Tatum and we headed home, not knowing what to expect. Ike was nowhere to be found when we arrived.
Soon he came down the road, driving the feed pickup with two dogs on the back. He jumped out of the pickup with a smile and told me the crisis had been handled. He had found a prolapsed spoon and fixed the prolapsed by himself, given her a shot of anti-biotic and finished chores. I went to the barn to find the ewe relatively alert, prolapse free but most importantly alive. He had figured it out; maybe he had paid attention over the years. Most importantly it was an milestone for both parent and kid.

2014 In the Rearview Mirror

I can’t believe we are closing the chapter on another year. I remember “older” people telling me how fast the years had flown past and at the time I am not sure I believed them. Boy do I believe them now that I am one of those “older” people. I find it scary just how fast time seems to pass these days, 2014 seems like a blur.
All in all, I suppose 2014 was not that bad of a year. Sure it had its trials and tribulations most assuredly things did not go as I had planned them. We started out with a cold, snowy winter, lambing was one of the toughest we have ever had; I sure hope we don’t have a repeat of that for a long time. Calving season, on the other hand, had its moments. There were those times when I was standing in a howling wind, knee deep in snow, wondering what I was doing. However, for the most part calving season went fairly well and we got along pretty good, minus a few ears.
Planting and getting cattle out to grass flew past us in a flash. I am sure there was anxiety and stress, but it did seem to go along without any real big hitches. Haying plodded along but it was certainly much easier than the year before. What we lacked in quantity was made up in quality and the lighter hay also made for less stress on man and machine alike. I do know that the cows seem to like the 2014 vintage hay much better than the 2013.
The crops grew and looked very promising, that is for the first half of the summer. It seemed as though the rain was coming at the right time and in the right amounts. The corn looked much the same as it did in 2013 and then it happened. We were one rain short of having another great corn crop, but the soybeans were a different story. Just at the most critical time, our rain shut down and the heat started up. Then as all hope for the crop was almost lost, the rain started again. We may not have had record soybean yields but we did have a crop and for that I am grateful.
Fall came and with it harvest. I know each harvest is different and each has its own challenges, but this harvest was truly one of a kind. First we waited for crops to dry down, it seemed as though we spent a month or better test cutting, checking and re-checking the moisture. I know the running joke at the elevator was that I was going to bring our corn crop to town one coffee can at a time. Then, when you did find dry grain, it was often short lived. The next field or the next variety might still be too wet.
Rain came and we hit the pause button on harvest, which was probably a good thing. When it resumed, the corn was dry. Then there were the soybeans. I have never, ever seen a crop dry down so unevenly. Pods would be dry but the leaves and stems would be green. I walked along behind the combine, watching the green fodder come out. There was often a good bit of anxiety that came along with each truck load that went to town, but the moisture was always well within  the tolerable range even if the price was not.
Harvest stretched out long enough that panic about getting cows home from summer grass, weaning calves and getting their mommas out on stock started to set in. While there was much grumping and growling, the calves got weaned and their mommas got to eat leftover corn. All was well, especially after they went through the sale ring. The calf check kind of made you forget about the cold weather and snow. I suppose that is how it is supposed to be.
Well, that is my 2014 in review. I know some of you had better crops, some had less rain and poorer crops. For those with better, I am happy for you, for those with poorer, next year has to be better. Some of my fellow sheep herders probably had very successful lambing seasons and some of my fellow cowboys had a tougher time calving. Farming and ranching is certainly a variable enterprise and nothing is certain. Well, almost nothing. The only thing I know for certain is that none of us would trade what we do for any other occupation. Well, that and the undying optimism that 2015 will be even bette