Ranch Life

Sale Day

Sale Day is the cumulation of nearly an entire year’s worth of work. Some of those cute little calves born this spring are as big as their mammas. Every decision along that calve’s existence, from the selection of his sire to the nutrition of his mamma while he was gestating was all to bring him to this purpose, this moment.

Most of us are used to our regular every 2 week pay check but for many producers sale day is a major pay day that happens just once a year.  The spring’s steer calves are weaned and move on to the feeder, preparing for their entrance into the food chain. It is the reality for those animals born to become food. Calves are sold for X dollars per hundred weight so there is anxiety about whether they will weigh up (weigh what is anticipated and planned for) and be of high enough quality to be worth the upper end of what the market is paying.

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Pricing can be a gamble. My hubby watches the prices and trends daily, following the movement of the market, hoping it won’t be on a down turn the week we sell. This year we purchased livestock risk protection insurance, paying X amount per head to guarantee a price that would enough to pay the bills of producing those calves.

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The cattle market is cyclical, with ups and downs, that with smart planning will result in a steady and stainable subsistence in this profession. Record high prices of 2014 are still fresh in our minds. Though prices today are 2/3 to 1/2 of those record prices it is hard to not compare. The inputs didn’t declined by 1/2 so the margins are tighter yet. The plan is a long one…for the good years to carry you thru the not so great….and it the end for it to all have been worth it, either financially or in a value of the lifestyle.

The summer brought a drought so resources are limited. Good cattle still seem to be demanding a decent price but any misfit or blemished calf will be heavily discounted. The gate cut was deep this year… uniformity of the calves is desired so any oddity, watery eye, or those that just don’t fit are left at home.

The sale barn hasn’t changed much over the years. At the door’s entrance a steep staircase stands to either side. The staircase is tricky for little legs as we head up to the seating area, looking down on the calves selling today. The buyers, those here to fill the requests of the feeders, sit front and center, with a phone in one hand and pen and paper in another each group of cattle gets a look and decision. Smart phones and a rare computer are the technology of choice.

The air is stuffy and still. The fall morning had brought a chill but the day soon warmed to summer temperatures. So we sit and wait and watch for our load. The goal is to sell in just 1-2 cuts, suggesting a uniformity of weight and style that will catch the buyer’s eye.

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The bottom of the ring floor is a scale and as the doors close, the calve’s information becomes available on what looks like a scoreboard. Number in the lot, average weight, total weight, price per hundred weight, total price per calf.

The littles got a bit antsy so we headed down the Sale Barn cafe to find some food. We order a cheeseburger, fries, strawberry milkshake, and a Coke…pretty standard diner fare. There is nothing fancy about this restaurant… the stools and counter top probably the same that were originally installed. The floor is tracked with manure. Any other restaurant and that would have made a customer turn around and run but these aren’t folks that mind a little a little manure on the floor or under their finger nails. These are working folks. A mix of ages sits at the counter, older persons with dusty hats and soft worn jean. This isn’t the place to find $400 cowboy boots or jeans with rhinestoned pockets. The sale barn cafe is filled with working folks in a sea of plaid shirts of muted colors…. tans, blues, and grays….maybe a red.  Some have grandkids in tow, with fancy little boots, shiny belt buckles, stiff new jeans, and soft rounded faces. A stark contrast to their worn and rugged elders.

Our cattle sold and we had a mini celebration with beer and burgers of one stress over and done.  Just as their arrival guaranteed nights without sleep and worry, so did their preparation for their departure from our ranch.  Sale day… the day of much anticipation and a sigh of relief when it is over.

 

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Life as a Veterinarian

Gratitude

Gratitude. Appreciation. Thanks. Recognition.

As a veterinarian, there are times when you seemingly pour your entire heart and focus into a patient. The reality is often clients have no idea how much time and expertise went into their pet’s care or just how close their pet was to a disastrous outcome. Those cases we bookmark for our inner feel-goods, aware that we did our best work and nature cooperated for a favorable outcome

Then there are those cases were we gave our best effort and it just wasn’t enough….nature didn’t follow the book… the disease was too progressed… the resources or funds were limited…the list goes on. I have two file folders in my mind… I can remember those heart-warming feel goods but also those heart-breaks.

I remember a case from years ago; Chiquita, a little Chihuahua that presented in a Chiquita banana box. Her eyes somber and her distress and discomfort apparent as I looked into the worn brown cardboard box with a cheery bunch of bananas across its side.  The irony of Chiquita the Chihuahua in a Chiquita banana box had not been lost.

She had been in labor for days and had a puppy stuck in her birth canal, necessitating an emergency C-section. She was quiet and sweet but her owners had little to no money. We worked with what little funds we had but really she needed a C-section 3 days earlier and had this point needed intensive emergency stabilization. We did what we could and worked with what was available. A catheter had been placed in her vein and the milky anesthetic solution, Propofol, was slowly injected. Her eyes relaxed and she took a breath and just like that her struggle was over. She was the one I had lost at induction. Though the odds were against her and I was angered we couldn’t have saved her I knew she had peace and her pain was gone. But I remember that little Chihuahua, Chiquita, in a Chiquita banana box.

That case was added to the heartbreak mental folder. 

The owners may have since moved on and probably don’t think about the vet that tried to help them. Or they do but feel anger and disappointment. Though all our heart and being can be put into a case, the sad outcome may have brought those feelings of denial and anger that comes with grief. The anger often needs to be directed somewhere and the veterinarian or veterinary hospital may be the target of choice. Those situations hurt…they just plain hurt.

I don’t expect thanks for every ear infection I treat or spay I perform. To work for acknowledgement of others robs us of our own joy and peace in our life’s work. But sometimes when the days get long and the battle hard-fought the appearance of a thank you card in the mail or plate of cookies from clients in the break room brighten my mood and makes the struggle just a little easier.

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I received the most “thank yous” during my days as an emergency veterinarian. The lobby of the emergency entrance was dated with orange linoleum and brown paneling yet clean and warm. The walls had large bulletin boards plastered with photos, cards, and letters, mostly honestly not from owners of pets saved but from owners of those pets we had helped them say goodbye to.

I always supposed it was because we were a stranger giving a service of kindness and gentleness, present during one of their most vulnerable times of need. Many of the letters served to introduce us to their lost pets, to tell us of their antics and better days. We had only known these pets at the end and at their worst so these photos and letters brought a sense of what this pet meant to their family, of the love and bond shared.

So today when a card came in the mail with kind words and photos, my heart was touched. The struggles of patients not improving, hard good-byes, and the general struggle of working with humankind and their nuances and challenges was made a little lighter because of someone’s kind words and appreciation.

So today think of someone that could use some appreciations, some words to show that their presence and work in this life matters. Send a thank-you, a text message, a phone call to a family member or friend. Say thank you to that server or cashier. I know I need more awareness of gratitude and appreciation.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

 

 

 

 

 

Photography, Ranch Life

Weekend Wrap-Up

 

DSC_5529 copyWinter gets a little pushy this time of year so it was no surprise we woke to a dusting of snow on Tuesday morning. But this weekend, fall was given its time.  Though it is hard to not think of each fall weekend as one step closer to our long and cold Dakota winter.

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I decided to drag my regular camera around a little more on our weekend happenings. The resident animals are winter prepping and looking all furry or fluffy.

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Motherhood, Ranch Life

Date Mornings

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Fall is officially here. The morning sun is slow to rise and quick to bed and there is a briskness in the air that warns of the impending winter. The alarm went off before the chickens crowed, the house still quiet and sleepy. We dressed the kiddos half asleep and started our day, ready for our date morning.

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We have seemingly abandoned the idea of date nights where it seemed the exhaustion of the day meant just the idea of sitting in a restaurant stuffing our faces  seemed too much to bear. We have embraced “date mornings” that start before the sunrise and end with breakfast and coffee. The morning is fresh and without the irritations and annoyances that build up thru the day otherwise.

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The horses were saddled and in the trailer. The rules for the “date” were pretty simple. Take as many pictures as you want (but don’t expect to stop) but try to be quiet and don’t talk. That would be hard for me but quiet time together is better than no time together. Without the need for forced dialogue, perhaps I could just enjoy my company.

My meteorologist hubby suggested I wear a T-shirt and sweatshirt as it was “warm” this morning but the wind was bitter and fierce so I was forced to dig out an oversized jacket from the backseat. I figured it wouldn’t only provide warmth but perhaps act as cushioned airbag should I hit the ground.  We headed across the National Forest Service Lands in search of deer (preferably a large mule deer buck).

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The morning was almost meditative as the steps of my horse caused a rhythmic rocking and the morning sun cast a golden glow on the fall foliage. My horse huffed and puffed up and down the hillsides in protest of my lacking athleticism and weight, but in truth was more likely a reflection of his own fitness. The peak of color has passed and the hillsides are darkened with bear branches awaiting their snowy winter highlights.

We rode the ridges with no protection of the wind as it swirled and swooshed, acting as an annoying near constant shove against our bodies, determined in its efforts. The juniper stands offered a welcome relief from the wind and a comforting fall smell as my jeans brushed past.

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We saw no deer aboard the horses but the young horse and I gained some much needed confidence and miles under our belts. The conversation was sparse but the memories many.

Times have sure changed since our young love “official dates”.  We don’t frequent fancy restaurants and am not sure the last time we went to the movie theater or bowled together. But I value working along side my hubby and cherish our quiet moments together, no matter the time of day or location. Life is chaotic and messy most days but sometimes it just seems important to carve out a little time together.

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Community, Life Lessons, Motherhood, Ranch Life

I Go To Nature

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“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order”.
~John Burroughs

I love sensory bins and experiences…I have Pinterest boards full of bins with beans and rice or water beads…I follow Instagram slime enthusiasts! I do what today’s modern good mother does and sensitize my kiddos!

Yet, the ultimate sensory experience though remains out our front door…in nature!  A couple of weeks ago on a Sunday morning, our little family dressed and hit the dirt road before the sun rose in search of deer sightings.

 

The fall brings warm days but brisk nights. The moon was still in the sky and the air cool as we drove thru neighborhood. The dawn is a perfect time to spot wildlife as they are busy feeding and moving before the heat of the day and bright sun drives them to their beds.

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While Hubby and the oldest headed out to scout and glass along the horizon of the Badlands, the Little One and I headed out on a nature walk.

Sharing nature with a child, allows me to see what my eyes and senses have been blinded to.

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The Little One is always searching for birds in the sky or bugs on the ground. Finding the littlest of ants is cause for the biggest of celebrations.  While the eyes are searching, the feet are exploring the terrain. I have seen the uneven plastic stepping stones to encourage balance offered for sale on Amazon. In the cow pasture, dried cow pies serve a similar purpose as the Little One jumped from one to the next as he balanced on top of the irregular circle of undigested fiber.

 

Sticks, moss, and bark stimilate the developing nervous system as we touch and feel. My favorite grass is Little Bluestem and the hill sides come alive in its vibrant red this time of year. As we walk by and rub the sage with our pant legs, our noses are filled with the pungent earthy odor.

We crawl under and over and thru branches and brush. The Little One tests his strength and balance as he finds his limits.

Being in nature truly engages all one’s senses as we listen to birds sing and the hum of the oil pumper melodically pumping up and down, up and down.

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We went to a new location to scout and as we rounded the road tens of butterflies were disturbed from their feeding on golden rod. As we walked amongst them it was like being in our own private butterfly conservatory.

There is so much nature all around us to enjoy. Here are some things we have cultivated amongst our kids.

1) Encourage quiet observation. In our busy world, slow those little minds and have them truly observe their surroundings. Do you see wildlife? How many rocks are on that hillside?

2) Touch it… why not! Unless it is poisonous or going to bite feel the textures of nature.

3) Don’t forget the sounds… animal calls are big in our house. Beyond “what does a cow say?”  we do turkeys, moose, squirrels, etc.

4) Be careful but not too careful! Explore! Test limits but don’t fall down the ravine.

5) Fresh air is good for the body and mind! Get that heart rate up climbing hills or hiking those trails!

“The senses are a kind of reason. Taste, touch and smell, hearing and seeing, are not merely a means to sensation, enjoyable or otherwise, but they are also a means to knowledge – and are, indeed, your only actual means to knowledge.” 
~St. Thomas Aquinas

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Community, Life as a Veterinarian, Life Lessons, Ranch Life

Windshield Wiper Installation for Dummies

I had politely suggested to my hubby that my rear windshield wiper needed to be replaced. After a number of “suggestions” I decided surely I could handle purchasing and installing a wiper. So I stopped at the local parts store and walked to the counter declaring my needs…. then they asked if I would like help with installation.

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I wanted to DIY this and show my self-reliance but thoughts of  the possible complications that could arise…looking like a defeated fool if I should fail at this, breaking the wiper right off the vehicle, or worse yet flipping the wiper switch while driving down the road only to watch it fly off, hit a passing car, and result in an epic interstate collision. So I said, “Sure” like of course I know how to put a simple little wiper on but why not utilize such a convenience service, hiding my fear and insecurity.

Here’s the thing… I am not a DIYer unless I have been properly educated and received the necessary instructions, certifications, etc. to declare myself “trained”!

Blame it on my decades of life in the educational system. I can remove the ovaries and uterus of a two pound living, breathing creature with ease but replacing my wiper without proper training…well that just seemed dangerous and complicated!

My hubby on the other hand is a very confident DIYer and to suggest we hire someone to roof our house or change our oil is an insult at the core of his manhood. About the only thing he admittedly refused to DIY was the birth of our kids, though he had plenty of experience as a ruminant midwife.

I remember as excited new homeowners we had decided to put up crown molding in the dining room our 1890 “corn crib” of an Iowa home. I was frantically reading the how-to books in the aisle of the Lowes determining what supplies we needed and how this project should be done “properly” while my hubby was randomly throwing supplies onto the flatbed cart.

He is definitely a “Learn by Doing” and I am a “Learn then Do”. 

He even laughs at our veterinary “cook books” he calls them, with detailed pictures and guidance for surgeries and procedures. Turns out the living body is pretty complicated and while you could probably just dive right into a adrenalectomy there could be some serious complications without the correct game plan and knowledge base prior. Many hours are spent “learning and training” with mentorship prior to being set free as a full fledged veterinarian. Of course there is plenty of learn by doing but it rides on the back of a pretty solid education in physiology, anatomy, and pharmacology.

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My favorite “cookbook” as my hubby calls them!

So I carefully watched the parts store woman put my wiper blade on and thought about asking for detailed how-to instructions but settled for the mental how-to. I even thought about lying to my husband, declaring “I did this all by myself!” but he knows me too well and would see right thru the lie. Now if the purchase of “How to Install a Rear Windshield Wiper in a 2010 Ford Expedition…for Dummies” book showed up on our debit card statement he might….

 

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Life as a Veterinarian, Pet Care, Veterinary Health Topics

How Much is that Doggy in the Window…

….going to shed, bark, run, eat, need to see the vet… and the list continues! 

 

I have had the great pleasure of meeting many different breeds in my career (I am referencing dogs mostly as I see fewer purebred cats and most get lumped as a domestic short, medium, or long-haired cat). I have also had the pleasure of sharing my life and home with a number of different breeds. I have also seen the disastrous ending to a relationship when the breed of dog was not considered or researched.

Thinking of adding a puppy or dog….Research the Breed

There are so many breeds available to choose from. We humans have manipulated our canine companions into extremes of small or large, furry or hairless, flat faced or long-nosed, friendly or fierce. I certainly have breeds I would love to invite into my life and plenty that I will pass on. Yet all these breeds were created for someone’s purpose or desires!

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So MANY options!

I have Brody, my lovable aging Lab, whose sole motivation in life is eating! Left to his own devices he would have every one of cupboards empty and be on the canine version of my “800 Pound Life”. Labs as a breed LOVE food! Then there is Ripp, our newest very active addition. Guess what he wants to herd….the goat…the chickens…sheep…cows and he has the energy to do it 24 hours a day! Some things are just in that dog’s DNA!

Yet so many times I have seen a family fall in love with an adorable puppy or a sweet faced rescue with no idea of its genetic history.  Just like us people there is a bell-shaped curve and there will be extremes on either end (ie the lazy Collie). Yet, I have seen the case where the family adds a Border Collie to the family, yet works from the home 12 hours a day and can’t understand why the dog has developed anxiety and hyperactivity. That adorable little terrier was bred to work. Many are tenacious active little creatures that need time, attention, and exercise.

We are all drawn to certain breeds for our own reasons… a childhood memory, positive experiences in the past, a certain purpose in our life. But there are definitely some less desirable reasons to want a certain breed. I have made the mistake of buying a pair of shoes based on their adorable appearance and coordination to my outfit, only to find them to be the most uncomfortable shoes in the world, deeming me completely unsound and pained. Those shoes, as adorable as they may have been, quickly got tossed to the back of the closet, forgotten and discarded. And so when we make a decision about adding a puppy based on appearance, only to find they “don’t fit”, what happens to that living creature when it gets tossed aside?

What one loves the next may hate! I love Newfoundlands, their goofy immaturity, super furry faces that I can bury my hands into, and slobber…glorious slimy, stick-to-the-ceiling slobber. But they are not for everyone I know.  So don’t get a Newfoundland if you only want to spend $50 a year at the vet and are a neat freak that hates pet hair and slime.

So as a vet here are my recommendations when researching a breed:

  1. What is your lifestyle today and in the future? Your pet may live 10-15 years so if you plan to move to a townhouse in 5 years when you retire that may effect your choices.
  2. Do you want a family dog? If you don’t have kids now consider if you might. Many breeds are great with kids, but some may need extra socialization and experience to be OK with kiddos.
  3. Hair…so many dogs are picked based on hair. I have even had people tell me there distinctly X breed couldn’t possible be because they were promised a low maintenance, non-shedding breed. Every dog sheds unless they are hairless (that is an option). You may or may not want to base your preference on how much you like hair (but don’t be fooled thinking you won’t have any hair in your life) and how much you want to deal with hair…grooming it, cleaning it…brushing it!
  4. Looks matter but remember it is just like dating…looks aren’t everything! Ya, some dogs look awesome…Belgian Mallinois… Cane Corso…Great Dane…but they certainly aren’t a breed for every lifestyle.
  5. Little is cute but little can bring problems…teacup and designer are often beyond adorable but being so small can bring its own health challenges.
  6. Designer breeds….this could be a blog post on its own. I meet so many great mixed breed dogs but realize they aren’t a breed so there can be inconsistencies between even litter mates let alone all the various -poos and -oodles. My own mixed breed sometimes seems confused if she should be this breed or that breed. Mixed breeds are great but they may still have tendencies based on their parental breeds.
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Spreadshirt.com T-shirt- Throwing some love to the Mutts!

I love dogs because we have so much variety and choice…how human of us to design creatures to fit our own needs and whims. But with that ability brings a responsibility to breed healthy, emotional and physiologically fit individuals. As owners of these dogs it is our responsibility to be responsible in meeting their unique needs and concerns.  As a veterinarian, I ask that if you choose a certain breed please educate yourself regarding the possible health concerns that may arise in your pet’s life.

So what are your favorite breeds? I have so many I adore that I  may not have enough years in my life to have them all but I get to enjoy them in my work so that is second best.

Here is a fun quiz to look into what breed may suite you? Dog Breed Selector Quiz