April in Photos

IMG_5056During calving season, Buddy and Whiskey sometimes get shut out of the corrals. Most mornings, they come in to take a nap in the sunshine and generally be part of the barnyard crowd. But with twins on our hands, we needed the extra space for the cow to be with her heifer calves. It was during a three AM check that I discovered the twins. Both were already on the ground, heads up and breathing well. But, being a novice at this whole business, I didn’t know if there was something we needed to do – so I woke Bart to tell him we had twins. He asked if they were standing yet, and if the cow was cleaning them. He then assured me it was okay, we could wait until dawn to check on them again. But after about 10 minutes lying in the dark, I heard his clear, alert voice ask, “how am I supposed to go back to sleep now?” By the next morning, the cow was licking one calf clean while the other suckled. A truly impressive and dedicated mother.

We are so grateful to our first branding crew – several newbies (including myself), but with plenty of determination and desire to learn, we had a smooth, easy morning of branding.

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Thanks to Mary Peters for capturing the crew on film – more photos from the morning are on her website Photography by Mary PetersIMG_5072

I am the pied piper of chickens. They follow me wherever I go, sometimes so eager for kitchen scraps that they swarm me and literally get underfoot. Their egg output is impressive for 3-year olds; We still get about a half dozen a day. In the nine months that we’ve lived out in the coulee they have learned to follow the horses and cows – pecking through their paddies for insects and seeds. Its great to have a clean-up crew around!

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We’ve spent over a week fencing along the highway – a pasture we are leasing from the neighbor in order to have a separate space for our heifers and a bull this spring. We’ve worked feverishly to get the pasture in working order. This little dip in the landscape had to be totally re-wired with new posts installed. It took about a half day of up and down, up and down to finish the job. Doc, the project boss, had to remain in the truck because of our proximity to the highway. He alternated between wistfully looking out the window and napping on the shovel handle.

At least the views while fencing provided some relief! To our northwest, the low, slumped profile of the Snowy Mountains.

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And more distant, directly to the west, the ragged white crests of the Crazy Mountains.

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Plenty of wildlife viewing too…

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The hot days have brought out the snakes. In one day we saw garter snakes, bull snakes, racers, and rattlers. Bart even saw a rattler and a racer peeking out of a hole, side-by-side, where earlier he had seen a garter. A communal hibernaculum, perhaps? The photo above is of a bull snake, the friendly relative of the prairie rattlesnake. Apparently, where there are bull snakes, there are no rattlesnakes. We welcome the presence of the bulls!

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We woke during the night on Thursday to fierce northern winds. I scrambled downstairs to shut the windows, which were left open in order to cool the cabin following a sunny, dry, and very hot day. The next morning we awoke to the acrid smell and dense smoke of wildfire. We couldn’t even see the familiar outline of the Snowy Mountains while fencing. To the north close to a half million acres in Alberta is engulfed in flames and over 80,000 people have been evacuated; a strange occurrence for early May. With a drought and temperatures already in the 80’s, it feels more like August here on the northern prairie. Gratefully, today brought ample rain, clearing the air of smoke and providing much needed moisture to us and our neighbors to the north.

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The first evening primrose of spring! It is impressive; such a large and delicate flower emerging from the rocky soil. Most of our prairie wildflowers are a fraction of the primrose’s size, beautiful and colorful in their own diminutive way. There are splashes of purple, blue, yellow, and pink everywhere lately. Today’s heavy rains will surely bring more color to the prairie. Thankfully, the forecast calls for even more tonight and tomorrow.

In the early morning hours

Soon after I arise in the morning, I usually bundle up to head out to the bathroom. Yes – out – to the bathroom, as in outdoors to the outhouse. When it’s in the single digits or below, I wear my quilted coveralls, down vest, jacket, alpaca wool hat with earflaps, mittens, and occasionally even a scarf. Some mornings this seems like a chore. Doesn’t the modern innovation – indoor bathrooms – make life just so much easier!?! Yes, I suppose they do, but easier is not always better.

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As soon as I am out the door into the dark morning, I inhale the fresh air and glance up at fading stars in the west and barely lit pink clouds in the east. At these moments I feel truly grateful to be right where I am. On a few mornings, I’ve even caught sight of a shooting star, and heard a pair of great horned owls greeting the day as I stroll to the bathroom. There is nothing quite as special as witnessing this magic in the quiet early hours of the morning. Fresh from the dreamworld, these moments close to nature keep me grounded and prevent me from rushing headlong into the to-do list of the day.

On my way back to the house, I visit the chicken coop. The girls are always up and chattering away. If it’s been extremely cold overnight, I’ll bring their water inside to deice it by the fire. Most mornings, I simply fill their food hopper, and collect the first eggs of the day. One – maybe two – of the chickens have developed the nasty habit of breaking and eating eggs. If I knew which one I would wring her neck, literally. But alas I have not yet caught her in action so we lose one to two eggs a day to this barbaric thief. When I collect the first eggs really early in the morning, I am one step ahead of her in the game.

Back in the house, my layers come off one by one in front of the crackling fire. I lay the fresh eggs on the counter, warm up my cup of coffee, and give thanks for our cozy cabin. I really couldn’t ask for more.

Ranch Camp 2014

IMG_3646The last weekend of September we began what shall turn into an annual tradition – Ranch Camp with the Graham family from Colorado. My delightful friend Pippi drove north with her kids for a lovely long weekend with us. Talus, four years old, loved helping me and Bart IMG_3641with our chores, from pouring concrete into the new stock tank to breaking up clumps of chicken poop with the hose. His absolute favorite task was collecting the chicken eggs – and taking them straight to the kitchen for french toast. On his first day in town, I returned home from work at noon to find him close to exploding with excitement at the prospect of looking for eggs.  He was full of questions and boundless energy, matched only by that of our English Setter, Doc.

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Moving the coop takes three: Doc, Talus, & me
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Mud bath!
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Miles of muddy beach at Deadman’s Basin

Spending time with Talus reminded me to appreciate the joy of the little moments each day. Forget drudgery! It can be such a grand adventure to drive the 4-wheeler out to move the chicken coop across the yard! Why not run in circles around the hay bales, getting lost and dizzy in a towering maze of sweetly-scented clover?! The muddy shores of Dead Man’s Basin were made for soupy mud baths, right? That last escapade ended in the kids’ first wash basin bath together. I imagine by next year they will have outgrown the tub – but I am already counting down the days and planning grand new adventures for Ranch Camp 2015!

Big brother Talus bathes with Annika
Big brother Talus bathes with his sister Annika

Chicken Kitty

I had visions of filling my blog with stories from the beginning – our first months on the ranch in the winter, the many adventures of planting and building in the spring, and the blossoming of a routine in summer. Yet here it is, July 31st, and I have yet to find time to post more than one story. Long days outdoors planting, weeding, fencing, watering, and weeding some more leave me exhausted at dusk with little creative energy to rehash the past. Perhaps the long months of winter ahead will provide me with time to reflect on how we got here and the many memorable moments thus far. In the interim, I shall begin right here in the now with a kitten we call Chicken.

 

It started yesterday late in the morning. IMG_3303My dog Doc got my attention with incessant barking on the porch. Doc is not a barker. I ran to see what was up. There he was barking at the porch steps, agitated and riled up by a calico kitten. The kitten, for her part, had a most ferocious look on her face with claws drawn in front of her upright body like a miniature boxer. The fact that the kitten stood untouched at least a foot from Doc is astonishing in its own right. Doc, a trained bird dog, is not fond of felines. Small, moving objects are all too similar to pheasants. Squirrel equals kitten equals chicken equals pheasant. Two prior encounters with small cats have ended quickly with the cat dead in Doc’s mouth. This feisty little kitten was giving Doc a run for his money. She was not to be messed with. I hustled Doc away to the confines of the house, and went back in search of the kitten who had disappeared into the rose bushes in search of refuge. I left hoping she’d leave. I already have enough chaos to manage between Doc and our 19 free-roaming chickens. Adding a cat to the mix didn’t seem like a pleasing prospect.

 

Later in the evening, I heard the kitten meowing, that poor, sorrowful cry of an abandoned and lonesome creature. At least that is how I felt upon hearing her cry. It was way too small to be alone. From what crevice under the house did it emerge? Could it have wandered over from a neighbor’s farm, and been too scared to leave following it’s run-in with Doc? Whence went its mother and when would she return? I hoped beyond hope that it would leave in the dark, and find its way to a home where it belonged. During the night, I heard her once or twice, but by dawn the memories of meows seemed distant and dreamlike. Doc, patrolling the yard as usual this morning, had checked out the porch and surroundings, and hadn’t brought a dead kitten to me… yet. So on with business as usual. After collecting the day’s eggs I opened the chicken run to free the birds into the yard. Underneath the usual chorus of clucking and the rustle of feathers I heard it: the mournful meow. I opened the coop door, and there was the kitten, IMG_2902climbing up the chicken ramp into the coop right in front of my eyes. The chickens towered over the little creature, and didn’t pay her any mind as the filed out the door in search of grasshoppers and grubs. I called my husband to help me corral the kitten into a corner, but he was uninterruptable. Alas, gloveless and solo I gave a feeble attempt to corner and catch the kitty, but it quickly escaped down the chicken ramp. I will forever wish I had my camera to document what followed next. The kitten began following the chickens. Not in the low, stalking pose that I’ve seen cats use when hunting prey. No, this little kitten was bouncy and playful, apparently glad for the company of a creature its own size. The chickens, a fussy bunch with their own social hierarchy issues, were not impressed with the cat’s advances. They shuffled away from the prancing fur ball and went on with their business of pecking and preening. At about this moment, my husband looked up from his project in the shop, and caught sight of the kitten following the chickens across the driveway. Certainly a laughable sight! This got hisIMG_3580 attention and he decided to help me with the kitten. But help me do what? Leave it to defend itself against the malice of Doc? Or, if its feline prowess trumps Doc’s malevolence, then let her grow up alongside the chickens until one day she realizes that she has claws and a hunting instinct that’s unquenchable? Neither of these prospects meshed well with our relatively tranquil life on the ranch. Capturing the kitten and relocating it to a new home became our best option. What followed was confused cat wrangling with leather gloves and two towels in the dense shrubbery along the edge of the property. Again, did I mention a camera would have been really good here? Finally, the kitten, found herself pinned alongside some downed timber, and I grabbed her from behind and quickly wrapped her in the towel. Thank goodness for the gloves as the feisty feline bit me twice in admirable self-defense. The kitten, feral as they come, is now fed and sheltered in a cage in our carport. I am working on taming her so we can find her a new home. I’ve never owned a cat in my life. I’m not a big fan of housecats: furry feet on every surface including kitchen counters and the stinky litter box that someone has to clean, about as appealing as changing a baby’s diapers. Do I want to keep her, tiny little fluffball in need of a friend? Yup. But our barn won’t be built for another year so we aren’t in the market for a barn cat yet. In the meantime I’ll do my best to socialize this cat and help her become well-adjusted enough to move off the streets into a loving home. And I’ll try not to get attached to this little kitten we call Chicken.