Life as a Veterinarian, Photography, Ranch Life

Lambing has started.

We have been not so patiently waiting for lambing to start! The official start date was February 7 and I can assure you if we hadn’t been ready they would have started February 4. So we sat and waited and waited.

lamb 3

I soon decided perhaps nature was smarter than us to wait until the subzero temperatures subsided and unseasonable warmth came. We have been checking often when the weather is cold like this to ensure mom and baby are moved to a jug (think warm, cozy straw filled maternity suite) and out of the cold. Every year the plan is to lamb before the heifers and cows start delivering later in the spring but in doing so we deal with cold.

The lambs are actually very cold tolerant as long as they stay dry and have full tummies. The wet and muddy spring weather can actually be harder on our lambs and calves than the cold of winter.

lamb

lamb 4

Within a few hours of birth, it is critical for the lamb to nurse the literally life-saving colostrum from its mother. Colostrum not only provides much needed energy and calories but also contains very important antibodies. Without these antibodies delivered to the lamb’s waiting gastrointestinal tract in that first day of life, the lamb will be at much greater risk of developing serious and potentially fatal disease due to pathogens.

Nature and all of its inner workings and complexities amazes me. Nature has a plan in place to help ensure lamb survival in addition to a doting mother with colostrum waiting. Lambs are born with brown fat (adipose) tissue. Brown fat is nature’s little miracle to assist survival of these newborn ruminants. This specialized fat, when burned shortly after birth, not only provides energy but heat.

We have been rolling right along with lambing. Most are delivering mid-day attended with waves of a few moms delivering than a lull. My hubby and I are awaiting the big wave…which often occurs with a change in weather. So stay tuned for plenty of adorable baby lamb photos coming your way!

lamb5

Life Lessons, Photography, Ranch Life

“I do it”

We are moving out of the “No” phase and into the “I do it!” or “Me Too!” When you are two years old, there is nothing in the world to fear and everything to explore and discovery. Nothing is too heavy, too hard, too much… If I could bottle a toddler’s tenacity and will and take a swig at 3pm when the day is just getting too long I too may confidently say “I do it!”

DSC_7741 copy.jpg

DSC_7738copy.jpg

I love that I have photos of both of my boys side-by-side with their dad feeding, learning, observing. The biggest lessons and memories they remember are often from the smallest events whether graining sheep, feeding hay to the cows, or picking eggs from the coop.

DSC_7753 copy.jpg

DSC_7756copy.jpg

Where there is independence there is frustration when our little 2 year old just isn’t strong enough, big enough, fast enough, or coordinated enough. But he tries and that is a great lesson from his 2 year old self to this grown up.

“Practicing his ranching skills on the living room floor.”

The promise of spring is upon us and we are eagerly and anxiously awaiting the start of lambing next week. I mentioned to my Hubby that he seems more excited and anxious for the delivery of these babies than our own human babies. His response, “I didn’t have to build the hospital before their arrival.” There is much to do and prepare before lambs arrive…the barn is ready with fresh straw. The lambing jugs where the newborns will spend their first few days are warm and cozy. Medications and supplies are stocked. The ewes will get sheared in anticipation for a cleaner lambing experience.

It is all hands on deck for this family to ready for what I think is second only to Christmas as the “best time of the year”.

Photography, Ranch Life

Comfort and Cold on the Winter Plains

DSC_7631 copy

The holidays have come and gone… a time of rich blessings and memories. My boys are at an age where they are understanding, excited, and believe in the magic of it all.  We enjoyed all our favorites, baking cookies, our visiting Elf on the Shelf, time with family and friends.

DSC_7471 copy.jpg

While the holidays are ushered out, we have ushered in subzero frigid temperatures. The northern Plains are no stranger to cold, wind, and snow but days of subzero temperatures are sobering and tiring. My kiddos and pets are stir crazy, corraled in the house because just 10 minutes in -21 degree weather freezes paws and delicate cheeks. It is a time to enjoy the warmth of cuddles and heavy blankets, movies and books by dim lights, and warm comfort food in our bellies.

DSC_7444 copy

DSC_7491 copy

DSC_7482 copy

When we couldn’t stand being indoors any longer we ventured out to help feed. The tractor cab is a little cozy for all of us to fit, but a good time for family bonding and guarantees warmth. Since my childhood, a loud engine, warm cab, and bumpy ride are equivalent to instant sleep for this gal so yesterday’s chores proved a great time for a nap.

We do tractor cab selfies!

Though the temperatures were frigid, the wind has been calm and the sun bright these last few days.  This latest cold is the type that makes your face hurt, like needles. The crisp dry air hits the lungs like a knife. Fogs of expired air surround all those brave enough to venture out. My hubby will be in full-on Jeremiah Johnson beard mode until the warmer days of spring. His red bear is usually sporting actual frost highlights this time of year. DSC_7566 copy

DSC_7568 copy

DSC_7590 copy

When I think about our lives here on the Northern Plains, we are surrounded by a beauty. Not the beauty that awes you and smacks you in the face like a Rocky Mountain vista or ocean. There is a subtly to its beauty, a quietness in its presentation. It is easy to look out and see nothing but blades of dry grass amongst a canvas of white. Maybe the beauty is in the somber nothingness of the view, a sort of quiet reflection. There is beauty in the details…the glitter of the snow on the ground, the strong skeletons of trees and bushes, ready to support life in just a few more months.

 

DSC_7511COPY

DSC_7620 copy

DSC_7610 copy

There are reminders of those that have come to these Prairies before us, an outhouse sits in our yard reminding us to be grateful for indoor working plumbing and running water. 

DSC_7553COPY

Tomorrow is back to official reality. Welcome 2018. This weather is expected to warm, making life a whole lot easier for ranchers and the animals they care for. We have a winter of sledding, snow balls, and ice skating left to enjoy so shape up weather. 

Motherhood, Photography, Ranch Life

The Photo Shoot

Last month was school picture time. We can all remember school picture day… my sisters and I seemed to have a knack for picking the trendiest, least timeless outfit from our closets (think puffy paint sweatshirts, Hypercolor, Garth Brooks style western wear with lime green Roper jeans that served as a bra in addition to their function as jeans, and the list goes on).  The Little Cowboy didn’t really get all that excited about “Picture Day”…it was just another day where it just so happens your likeness will be preserved for all entirety only to re-appear in a high school graduation slide show. He picked his outfit and we tried to make sure his hair wasn’t sticking up.

DSC_7194 copy

One of his little classmates brought pictures of herself to share with the class. He quickly declared that he wanted to share pictures too… great… we can cut up this little 1×2″ school pictures where he was positioned just so, with his shoulders off-center to the camera and his smile as awkward as can be. But no, those photos would not do.

In more of a senior photo shoot style, he had plans to share photographs that expressed who he was and what he loved. The instructions were laid out… he needed his pony for these photos. Every good cowboy needs to showcase their horse. He would borrow a toy gun with sound (even though it was a still photo and not videography) from his Grandpa. He had his rope, saddle, chaps, cowboy hat, and vest. He was a cowboy not of the Country Music Signer era with rhinestoned back pockets but of the Old West, where grit not glitter defined a cowboy.

DSC_7204 copy

I learned this summer when we visited the Range Rider’s Museum in Montana (this kid’s Disney Land) and I had asked for a photo that “cowboy’s didn’t have smiles back in that day”. So the Little Cowboy with his infectious giggle and round, rosy cheeks will cross his arms, tilt his hat, and straighten his mouth like the weathered, worn cowboys that rode the range.

DSC_7150 copy
I snuck a smile. 

While the Little Cowboy may be tough in spirit he is still my 5 year old baby boy, apparent when giant tears rolled down his face has he mounted his pony. He remembered his tumble off her when she had put her head down to eat and he was afraid.  His Dad is more patient and knows just what to say to calm his nerves… he asked him to sing one of his favorite songs…

“Sit tall in the saddle. Hold your head up high. Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky and live like you ain’t afraid to die. And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride.”

DSC_7268 copy

His Dad seemed to know that this Little Cowboy needed a job to distract his fearful mind. So off he went to push heifers out the corral.  As it turned out the photo from this moment was his favorite….the “ONE” that would be shared with his entire classroom. “I need nine of this picture Mom!”

DSC_7274 copy
The ‘ONE”

So don’t expect that traditional school picture. Instead you will be getting a photo that truly captures who he sees himself as…a working cowboy mounted on his trusty little pony tending to his stock. It is a picture that could have been taken one hundred years ago and told the same story.

 

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever…It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.  

– Aaron Siskind

 

Photography, Ranch Life

Winter has Arrived…Ready or Not!

DSC_6569 copy

North Dakotans know well after mid October that each checked calendar date box is much is like turning the crank of a Jack in the Box…Jack Frost is just ready and waiting to pop out but unlike the fun childhood game it seems once he is released there is no shoving this Jack back in the box until well into spring.

DSC_6602 copy

DSC_6562copy

No matter how surely winter will come I can guarantee we will not be ready. It is always seems a surprise whether snow flies in October or December. There is always a to-do list of projects we hope to complete before ice, snow, and cold arrive. Since our winter is long and weather so irregular in the fall and spring we rarely ever completely pack up all the winter gear in the spring and slowly unpack into the fall. So it was a quick scramble to find coveralls, thicker hats and gloves, and long underwear to layer below.

DSC_6534 copy

DSC_6543 copy

On a farm and ranch winter brings inherent challenges…waterers freeze, equipment grumbles at the thought of having to start in subzero temps, and chores that were a breeze in warmer weather take longer. In summer, our kiddos run half feral, with boots and underwear the only guaranteed apparel. In winter, the simple task of readying to go outside takes sooo much longer with boots, hats, mittens, layers and more layers.

DSC_6505 copy

DSC_6499 copy

DSC_6659 copy

The kiddos love to be outside no matter the weather. Rosy cheeks chapped by harsh winter winds and tearing eyes are a hallmark of our winters.

DSC_6586 copy

DSC_6634 copy

The snowflakes falling are gorgeous when viewed from our warm and cozy home but winter came in full force, compete with gusty winds and icy roads and though the thought of hibernating at home seems lovely it isn’t a reality. It was a scramble to find the windshield scraper and remember how to drive on slick roads once again.

The ones most prepared for winter are the animals with their thick, fluffy hair and wool coats.  Dropping temps, shorter days, and hormonal changes prepare have prepared them for the winter ahead.  They seem most content and accepting of the reality of our seasons.

Winter may brings its challenges, but it also brings its own beauty, a reflection inwards, and a time for togetherness.

“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”

Yoko

DSC_6465 copy1

DSC_6544 copy

DSC_6663 copy

Life Lessons, Ranch Life

Following the Cow Paths

The height of summer when pastures are supposed to be green and lush, instead brought brown and stunted. The growing season was marked by drought. Day after day went by without a cloud in the sky until August. The pasture grasses are shorter than usually this fall, as cows were shifted and moved, moved and shifted from one smaller pasture to another in an effort to best utilize the grass available.

IMG_5195

Highlighted across the short grass pastures are trails, meandering dirt paths taking cows from one desired location to another. From shelter behind the trees to the water tank. From one gait to the next. It got me thinking….why is the path in this location? Our main pastures are fairly level with little terrain to re-route a developing trail. Why does every single cow and calf follow this exact path enough to wear it down to dirt and then a rut, forming a narrow foot wide path?  Why do they meandor like they do? Is not the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B to follow a straight line?

IMG_5196

Turns out a lot of other people have spent some time thinking about cow paths. In fact there is a myth that the aimlessly meandoring streets of Boston were simply paved cowpaths. This myth has been debunked and shifted more towards the failure of human’s in their city’s planning. But interesting none the less to think of cow paths forming our major transport system.

IMG_5203 Boston cow path

Researchers (Ganskopp, Oregon State University) have used GPS and GIS to investigate cow paths even further. They found that in areas of concentration, say around a water source, the paths actually braided together. Two or three intersecting trails with a common destination would occur within yards of each other as groups of cattle moved to and from. Cattle prefer to follow major drainages within a pasture. It makes sense they would parallel them but not travel the lowest point where the ground may be rockier and more rugged. They preferred lower elevations and just like us, most didn’t like to hoof it straight up and down a hill but would transverse at an angle across it. Cattle may take a steeper, more rugged approach to a desired destination but prefer a gentler incline and path away. Turns out is rarely the same path to and from the desired destination.

When you see a horse lope or run across a pasture it is this awe-inspiring marvel at nature’s grandeur. When you see a cow or sheep run across a pasture it is a much more utilitarian image. Sheep and cows are prey animals so flight seems a nature response so while utilitarian in appearance it is quite effective. If the need arises, it is amazing how quickly and athletically a cow can transverse rough terrain. Without threat or encouragement they are more content to put their head down and follow.

In business, there is the “Cow Path Theory”. The idea that one cow has created this path and each and every cow thereafter follows mindlessly, without thought of threats or the potential for a more efficient pathway. There is no challenge of the winding path as the cow plods along with its head down.  The idea translates to the business where the original management creates a pathway for business efficiency and management and employers to follow mindlessly follow with failure to evolve.

Sam Walter Foss paints a picture of pastoral life but challenges us to move off the path of repitition and familiarity. Do we accept our path without challenge because it was set forth for us? Do we do things “that way” because “that is always how it has been done”. Do we problem-solve, question, challenge, find new solutions to old problems or challenge our every day hum-drum, the head down “cow path” of our every day.

For men are prone to go blind

Along the cow paths of the mind.

~Sam Walter Foss

The Calf-Path

One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail, as all calves do.

Since then three hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bellwether sheep
Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bellwethers always do.

And from that day, o’er hill and glade,
Through those old woods a path was made,
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged and turned and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath
Because ’twas such a crooked path;
But still they followed — do not laugh —
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked
Because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane,
That bent, and turned, and turned again.
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet.
The road became a village street,
And this, before men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare,
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed that zigzag calf about,
And o’er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They follow still his crooked way,
And lose one hundred years a day,
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.

They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move;
But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah, many things this tale might teach —
But I am not ordained to preach.

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.

DSC_6174 copy

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.

DSC_6203 copy

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.

IMG_5403

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.

 

IMG_5402