Community, Ranch Life

When the Sun Just Keeps Shining

I didn’t physically grow up on a farm or ranch but I wasn’t too far removed from the life. We are still very rural where small talk centers on the weather and cattle or wheat prices. So now I am a rancher’s wife and the world I thought I knew is the world I am learning.


Haying season is in full swing and it very much a goldilocks situation of too much…too little…and always hoping for just right. This year the July air is dry and hot, with record-setting heat in the triple digits this last week. The evening thunderstorms roll in bringing noise and lightening but no rain will let loose from the darkened clouds. We are in a drought.

The grass in the hay fields that was once green and lush, set to grow and be harvested for cattle feed when the winter snow fell, is brown and dormant. Crops that were meant to be harvested have just failed and instead are being hayed and salvaged for cattle feed. The pastures that were meant to last the season are dry and barren and producers are creatively scrambling to find feed and grass for the cattle. Many cattle been taken down the road to the sale barn with producers hoping to make due with a smaller herd forced by this new reality. The dry and crisp grass remaining on the prairies have served as kindle to area fires.


The work still needs done… even though the grass is 1/2 to a 1/3 of the what a normal year brings it still needs to be cut, raked, and baled. The equipment still costs what it costs, the fuel to run it no less, and the breakdowns no less infrequent. My husband sleeps in the tractor waiting for the heat of the day to subside and the nightly dew to come and condition the hay. While the yield is low, there is still a need to produce the best that can be made. Too dry and the hay shatters, too wet and it molds.


I get frustrated with his long hours, inconsistencies, and no guarantee of a paycheck let alone a break even. Though hard work has its place, some days it seems you are just about as guaranteed to become bankrupt as you are to become rich at this gig. Sometimes it just comes down to the goldilocks situation…just enough demand for the product produced ensuring a strong market… good weather….no major breakdowns or expenses…and a blessing from above.


In a world we try to control, farmers and ranchers are the ultimate believers…believers in a merciful God that provides, in neighbors to help, and that their hard work will be enough. I see my husband’s heart and soul poured into a career with no guarantee, no median annual salary, no paid vacation days all with the belief that his hard work will be enough to “make it”.

When training dogs they call it “jackpotting”. The idea of giving a large amount of a reward when the desired response is done…but not every time. There has to be anticipation for that jackpot. The theory is much the same for gamblers. They sit and wait for that one “hit” of the machine. Maybe farmers and ranchers are the same. I sit and worry, ponder a future I can’t predict while the older generation talks of the good years and the not-so-great years. They all talk of the great year…the market high, when there was “just enough” of all the resources they needed. That one great year carries them thru the not so great. They ride out the bad in the hopes of averages…that when it is all said and done and the book cover closes that they will be ahead.

I know it is just part of the cycle…these farmers and ranchers are very in tune to cycles…hopeful and optimistic for the ups and patient and tolerant of the downs. I have a lot to learn from this group of folks…to look at seasons and cycles and take it as a whole not a day. These ranchers gather, arms crossed and leaning around the back of a pickup box to shoot the breeze and discuss how to make it all work when the world seems against success. Yet there is a perpettual optimism. As humans, we all want control…to make our own decisions…be in control of our own destiny…yet here is this group of farmers and ranchers so OK to accept their fate, their hand dealt.


We can’t control the weather. I can’t make those ominious clouds that come and go finally let go of any moisture. But I can live and learn, take pride in the work my family has choosen to do. I can’t speak for my husband but I know he isn’t motivated by a paycheck or pride, but with the quiet purpose of a life well lived, enjoying and sharing a legacy, with reverence for the land and its history.

 

Pet Care, Ranch Life

Thinking of a Pet Goat…here is why you need one!

The kiddo and I begged and begged for a goat and scoured every classified hoping to find the “one”! Seeing little utilitarian purpose for such a creature on a ranch,  the Hubby quickly and repeatedly said “No!” The Kiddo and I knew our agenda for acquiring a goat would be challenging but not impossible.


Last fall Kiddo and Hubby headed to the neighboring town to sell our lambs. They sat in the stands watching the animals go thru the sales ring. A group of good looking goats had just gone thru the ring. Then the door re-opened and in walked a little, friendly goat, matched in appearance, dark brown with black points, but half the size of the goats before her. Brad tells the story of how he saw this little goat and then and there told himself “Well, we are going home with a goat today.” He blames his “Dad Heart”.

So up went the hands as the little goat followed the ringman, bleating for attention,. Clearly she was a former bottle baby, well accustomed to people. Another person started bidding against the Kiddo and the auctioneer stopped the bidding saying “Sorry folks, this little goat is going home with that young gentleman.” At that moment, for just $30 the Kiddo acquired himself a goat.

I received the text picture with the beaming Kiddo and the Dad who clearly had thought with his heart and not his brain. The sales slip generally had a buyer number but for this little goat, the buyer number simply had my Kiddo’s name listed as the “Buyer Number”.


She has quickly become very bonded with her little person and it seems she is all our former dogs reincarnated in goat form, running with the 4-wheeler to the pastures and serving as the boys yard companion. The neighbor just chuckled, saying “Your dogs would be pissed if they knew they got replaced by a goat.”  Ella, became her name because she looked like an Eland African animal though Ella is actually an Oberhasli dairy goat. 

She is comfortable to stay in the corral, bothering the heifers or visiting the horses, until she hears her boy outside. Ella then comes running to join in his adventures.


So here are our top reasons we have and kept a goat!

  • No need to water flowers because you won’t have any. Flowers and other wonderful greenery are like salad containers for goats and what hasn’t eaten she simply ripped out roots and all.
  • Delivery man are just about as taken aback by a goat running to their truck as a barking guard dog. She assaults the delivery trucks and men with over enthusiastic greetings and nosing for granola bars they had mistakingly shared before. We have to lock her up when the Schwan’s man comes as she tries to steal his food items as he removes them from the truck.
  • Goat antics! Nothing like watching our little Ella buck and run around the yard, though I would prefer if she didn’t use our patio table as a launching pad. She can be a regular “Butthead” as the Kiddo says.


  • When the dogs have enough sense to not follow the Kiddo as he makes his 100th lap around the farm yard, she is a faithful side kick. Where the boy goes, the goat follows.

  • Maybe someday she will be the pet that gives back with milk. The hubby vows one goat is enough but the Kiddo and I have plans…shh! We may have to turn his “Dad Heart” back on for the possibility of Ella babies.
  • Fencing is only a suggestion! If nothing grabs her attentions Ella is content to follow our suggestions of where she should stay. But she generally goes when and where she pleases. Last night she slept by our open window instead of in the barn or shelter that were her other options. The Hubby immediately knew the look that had crossed my face and replied “No she can’t stay in the house at night. She is a goat!”.

  • You will finally kick your selfie habit! Ella has horns and I wish she didn’t but don’t have the heart to remove them now. That means that any close hugs near her face results in your face being in very close proximity to two very pointed and hard horns….that hurt even with mild contact. So no selfies…it isn’t worth the risk of facial trauma!


Capricious means “given to whimsy, sometimes erratic” and derives from the word “caprine”. Caprine means goat! So there you have it…goats are these little whimsical, erratic creatures that do things on their own terms. Either you love ’em or you find ’em a giant pain in the rump!

Motherhood, Ranch Life

Branding- A Celebration and Call for Community

I wrote this post weeks ago and it just sort of sat here. Now that we have moved into haying, breeding, and another season I figured I would share my branding recap. Time just slips away some times it seems.

The branding season is winding down. This season is marked by weekends spent in the dust and dirt, working cows and calves, prepping them for summer pasture. Branding marks the end of the spring calving season and a celebration of the product of careful attention to matings, nutrition thru pregnancy and lactation, and surviving months of stress and sleeplessness. While calving fills my camera lens with images of cute calves, it also means restless nights forcing tired  and brace against the cold night air to check the herd in the event one of the cows may have calving troubles, emotional fatigue with the loss and struggle with nature’s unkindness, and planning your life events in less than 4 hours chunks of time less we not be available to the needs of the cows and sheep.

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Country kids entertaining themselves

 

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Country kids get dirty

 

Branding as it is so-called is really the opportunity to carefully examine each calve as they come thru the calf cradle (a small chute that allows the calf to be restrained) or via cowboy or cowgirl restraint. Each calve is given vaccinations to protect it against respiratory bugs and other diseases it may encounter later in its life and the bull calves are castrated. Each calf spends about a minute or less for this entire process to reduce stress to the calves and improve efficiency. Most ranches do at least 100 calves, if not hundreds in a day’s work.

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Branding is also a celebration of family, friends, and community. Much like days gone by, branding is done with the help of our neighbors and friends. Many hands make light the work to be done. Neighbors are miles away but in true selflessness they are as available to give a day’s work as a phone call and quick pickup ride down the road. Often more family and friends join for branding day than Thanksgiving or Christmas, and the meals that follow are often as impressive.

There is hierarchy amongst the branding workers, with the job of bringing in the calves and doing the physical restraint job left to the young and fit “whipper-snappers”. The youngsters watch and learn, hoping to gain years and pounds so as to be a calf pusher at the next branding.

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Teaching the next generation proper calf restraint

 

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Much the same today as generations before

 

Not all calves are branded but for those moving to common pastures or where ownership must be proven a hot iron is applied to the tough haired hide, leaving behind a permanent mark of ownership. The brand itself often represents generations of ownership and legacy. My own registered brand once belonged to my grandfather. The mark of a brand must not be “blotched” or “smeared” as it may become unreadable and be a permanent mark of poor workmanship for the life of the animal. So the “brander” position is reserved for the skilled and experienced. The remaining jobs sort of fall in order with those available but often years of experience absolve one of the more physical jobs, leaving vaccinating, re-tagging, or castrating.

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Sometimes even goats take part

 

Working calves may well be a necessary task at a ranch, but more so it is that coming together, sharing of food and stories, struggles and drama, and involving the next generation. More than just a “job” to be done it is a reflection of generations of care and concern for the animals and land in our care. Ranchers strive to raise healthier, improved cattle that meet the needs of the consumer.

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Watching and Learning

 

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“This lifestyle isn’t just about the animals. It is about beliefs and values passed down through the generations. Ensuring things are left better for those yet to come. It is about legacy.”

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Ranch Life, Soapmaking

So Fades the Scent of the Lilacs

LilacSpring on the farm brings new life and one of the first signs of that among others is the bright fragrant lilac blooms. We have a row of lilac bushes (part of a windbreak- where trees and shrubs are planted to block snow and wind, protecting the farm yard) that tower about 10 feet high and line the dirt road that goes to a cow pasture. When in full bloom, they form a tunnel of sweet fragrance and the boys and I always take in some big whiffs as we drive past aboard the 4 wheeler.

The science of scent has sought to uncover why we connect so powerfully to it or why it brings up memories of long ago. Brain anatomy is likely the answer, where incoming scents are first processed by the olfactory bulb. This region has direct connects and association with the two brain areas that play a key role in emotion and memory, the amygdala and hippocampus. None of our other senses pass this way so it seems that our anatomy has primed us for our sense of scent to trigger emotion and memory more than any other.

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My hubby arranging a farm fresh Mother’s Day lilac and dandelion bouquet

Spring is making way for summer and this past weekend of hot weather faded the vivid purple blooms and so faded that characteristic floral fragrance.  Where once had been the towering shrubs of cheery blooms and a wall of comforting, memory-triggering odor now stands untidy shrubs whose job is purely utilitarian…block the wind. I had prepared myself for the reality of their departure. I had preserved some of the blooms in a infused oil and had gathered inspiration to make some soaps that would keep that scent alive just a little longer.

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My first attempt at liquid hot-processed soap swirls. 
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Lilac hot process soap with mica veining 

Everything has its season and the farm brings that more to reality than any other location. While the scent of lilacs is fading, the blooms of the peonies are readying, waiting to open and release their own fragrance. Peonies are one of my favorites and I had chosen our wedding date to coincide with the peony bloom. There just might be a peony inspired soap in the works.

Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

 

Motherhood, Ranch Life

“Do We Farm in Heaven?”

IMG_6819panoramicThe Kiddo was riding in front of me on the 4-wheeler as we journeyed to the sheep pasture to check the newly turned out flock and to ensure their water tank was sufficiently filled. We had awoke before 6am to the sound of noisy cows escaping to green grass and the promise of bull romance. The hubby had left early that morning to help at a friend’s branding and my brain was smarming with what needed to be done for the day without him and hoping the boys would be agreeable after such an early and out-of-routine start.

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As we pulled up to the gait, the Kiddo who has fully embraced the persona of an old western cowboy with his plaid snapped shirt, denim, and boots turned his little head back, tips his dusty black cowboy hat and asks, “Do we farm in heaven?”. He goes on to say, “The grass is tall and shiny. The sky is blue and the sun is shining. The sheep are sooo happy!”

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It was one of the those mom moments when your little person says something so profound that you stop in your tracks. I am a bit of an emotional gal anyway so it doesn’t take much to bring a mist to my eyes and his observation did just that. Here was this little guy so in tune with the wonder and beauty around him and recognizing the wonderful blessing this moment and day was. I sometimes think God gave me these little beings to remind me of the extraordinary within the ordinary and to teach me to embrace the blessings amongst the chaos.

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The Kiddo asks things like “Was today a good day?” and the only requirement for a good day is that we spent the day as a family or he got to ride his bike an extra hour before bedtime…those simple joys I have so lost in the to-do list of life. The other day he declared it “The Best Day Ever” with as much enthusiasm as I reserved for my wedding day or the day my kid was born. I don’t know when we loose that childhood enthusiasm, where the simple joys really make the day “The Best Day Ever”. In adulthood, we strive for mammoth moments that make us take note of a day well lived.

“The Farm” as it has long been called (though now we don’t farm a single acre, just livestock and hay) can be this monstrosity of to-dos, where there is never enough time in the day and where time and nature always seem to get the upper hand. There have been times I resented where we live, with the commute, and the aging farmstead that called for more time and money to restore it then we had to give.

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The truth is “The Farm” has become our heaven, the place my kids run free to explore and discover, to learn to appreciate the extraordinary amongst the ordinary, to seek reverence for the land and animals we care for. I am glad for this little escape, where I can appreciate the simple joys of quiet evenings spent with my kiddos and menagerie, and see the beauty of the light hitting the farm yard buildings, or feel alive in a sea of green grass blowing in the breeze.

Where is your “Heaven on Earth”? Maybe it isn’t a grand location but a favorite chair to rest and relax or the porch where evenings are spent watching the kids in the backyard.

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Ranch Life, Soapmaking

Dandelions…Fields of Weeds or Dreams?

DSC_1771 copyDandelions are these persistent sunburts of exuberance against the backdrop of a perfect yard of green.  Do you see fields of flowers and future dreams or fields of weeds to be destroyed? For myself, dandelions bring back memories of childhood with afternoons spent plucking the stems, braiding them into crowns, and fashioning impromptu bouquets to be delivered to all the female loves in my life. When their sunny cheer was over they provided these perfect orbs of weightless seeds, ready to catch sail, and bring reality to my dreams.

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The farmyard is “alive” with dandelions. Much unlike the HOA sanctioned yards, our farm yard is large and functional and not a sea of perfectly manicured Kentucky Blue. We water enough to keep it green, mow enough to keep it tidy, fertilize enough to make it grown, and embrace the fact that is one season away from reverting to its natural self. The grass in the pastures and hay fields gets far more attention and thought.

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Normally, the dandelions bring this sense of annoyance and reluctant acceptance of their existence. Do you dig them, spray them, mow them? I would prefer to avoid chemicals and really my efforts all seem so futile since the seeds float on winds from miles away to repopulate.

I have discovered soapmaking and so when I saw a recipe from  The Nerdy Farm Wife for  “Dandelion and Honey Soap” I actually eagerly awaited the arrival of the dandelions. My new motto became “If life gives you dandelions…make dandelion soap!”. The Nerdy Farmwife has a fantastic blog, published books, and ebook which have great photos and step-by-step instructions for many natural home and beauty recipes.

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The good news is we have a lot of dandelions so the kiddos and I have been busy picking buckets of these sunny blooms to make teas and infused oils (the dandelion tea lye mixture is added to a variety of oils including the dandelion infused olive oil and thru the magic of saponification you make soap). If you are interested in soap making I recommend checking out a hot process soap like this “Dandelion and Honey” using a crock pot. Other than some patience needed while it cooks, it is pretty easy to get good results.

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DANDELION BUCKET

 

The soap is a rustic sunny yellow and perfect as a “gardener’s soap” to wash those grimy and muddy spring-time hands of my hubby and kiddos. I added Ylang Ylang essential oil so the soap has this bright and cheery scent with earthy undertones.

So instead of seeing fields of nuisances this spring I see abundant fields of cheery ingredients for all sorts of  dandelion recipes ( 12 Things to Make with Dandelions).  My next scheduled dandelion project is a liquid soap made with potassium hydroxide.

What are your dandelion memories? Do you use or eat dandelions?

 

Motherhood, Ranch Life

Party Like a Pioneer

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The Evoniuk Brothers General Store

We love a party and better yet if it is a themed party! So in the spirit of the homesteaders, we thru a Pioneer Party to celebrate the kiddo’s 5th birthday. Friends and family obliged and dug out their pioneer garb to celebrate.

Brad’s great-great grandfather homesteaded our ranch in the late 1800s after his arrival from the Ukraine. We currently live in the fourth home to be built on the homestead and grow much of the same crops and livestock today that were first produced here. By walking the same ground Brad’s family did before, there is a reverence for the land and an importance in carrying on the story and traditions of the generations before us.

 

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The Kiddo designed his own cake

 

 

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Frankly, by living here it sometimes feels like we still live in the pioneer era. I joke they have internet in the jungle and on top a remote mountain but we still don’t have internet on the ranch. I use my cell phone service and we ration “data” just like the pioneers of days before rationed sugar or flour. Neighbors actually live miles away and when something goes down in the ‘neighborhood’ like a fire or downed power line there is a “party line” of phone calls to half the county.

Gorham was a small town just north of the ranch. It was in its heyday around 1937 when 5 families and 5 businesses made up the town, including the Gorham Store and Post Office. The store operated until 1972 when the post office was lost and eventually Gorham became a ghost town. The store building now sits with shelves full just like it did decades ago at the Dickinson Museum Center. So of course our pioneer party needed a General Store. The kiddos were “paid” for doing pioneer work and could use their pennies to “shop” at our General Store.

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The first activity was making butter.  You just need cream and some mason jars, patience, and strong arms. The kiddos tired after about 2 shakes so the adults took over but at least there was work was rewarded with homemade fresh butter for the Easter bread and homemade bread made by the Grandmas.

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The kiddos then headed outside to collect eggs. The weather was not so agreeable but unlike finding anything lost within the house, they made short order of finding all the eggs.

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“Collecting Eggs”

 

The next activity was to be handwashing clothes on a washboard. The weather didn’t cooperate and having wet kiddos didn’t seem like such a great idea so that was tabled for another day. Another activity they had planned for was hunting for wild game but the wind and rain kept the party pretty much indoors.

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Each kiddo received a handmade pioneer journal. We also made spinner toys… I practiced and finally got the hang of it a day later. We used about 36″ of string and some cut wood with two holes drilled in the center. Large buttons would have worked well too. The kiddos weren’t as enamored…honestly there is probably an app for this now days.

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Each person receive a “quilt square” (Oriental Trading purchase) and worked together to make a quilt. I was actually surprised how popular this activity was.

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Making their Friendship Quilt

 

We still have an Outhouse but due to weather we allowed everyone to use the indoor plumbing…just kidding. We have had indoor plumbing and electricity for a few decades now but the Outhouse still sits in the yard.

It was great to celebrate a traditional meal with family and friends…ham, scalloped potatoes, corn, homemade breads.

The Kiddo so wanted a hay ride so Brad put a rack together and we tested it out. In typical North Dakota style we experience all four seasons in the 30 minute hay ride…snow, sleet, rain, sun, and rainbows. Everyone was a trooper and we cuddled up under the quilts. Our “farm safari” took us thru the pastures to see the new calves. One thing I didn’t prepare for was the cow that choose to pee next to the trailer with 40mph wind gusts. Cows are large creatures and produce a fair bit of urine. It was a urine shower but worth a good laugh and a memory for sure.

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The All-Seasons Hay Ride

 

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Thanks to all the family and friends that were able to join us to celebrate! It was a great day!

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