Thankful for Cows Around

IMG_3237It’s Wednesday of my week of thankfuls, and today I must pause to pay tribute to both cows and Corb Lund’s ode to the ungulate, “Cows Around”.

Yesterday we had the immense pleasure of singing and dancing the night away with friends at the Murray Bar in Livingston. Outside, heavy snow blanketed the city while inside Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans lit up the stage and filled the packed house with irresistably danceable tunes.

At this point if you are saying to yourself, “Corb who?“, I will redirect you to this clip from the Red Ants Pants Music Festival. And if you know Corb Lund’s music already, you’ll probably want to go listen again so you too can have it stuck in your head all day like I did: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKoYT4febHM

I think the music really speaks for itself here. Yes, we had to get up before dawn this morning while our friends slumbered away peacefully. And yes, we had to navigate home on the snow-covered thruway before it was properly plowed. But why? Because we have the joy of keeping cows around, and had to get home to them. So am I sleep deprived today? You betcha. But am I happy? Oh yes!!! Because everything is better with some cows around. IMG_3767Living in town really was getting me down… take it away Corb!

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.

 

Leaving the city

Although our move was in the works for a long time, we ultimately left the city on a whim in late December. Two days before Christmas we rented out our house and a week later, on New Years Day 2014, we were packed and gone from Billings.

Doc loads himself into the horse trailer with our furniture in order to be sure he gets move north too
Doc loads himself into the horse trailer with our furniture – he will not be left behind!

Thus began our new lives together on the ranch in Lavina, though several months would pass by before the transformation was complete. Keeping my job in the city for awhile meant I would stay with a friend during the week while a cold, dark winter rendered the roads unpleasant if not entirely impassable at times. Weekends on the ranch were piled with chores that never seemed to end, but the pace of life was already shifting, becoming slower and richer. Returning to the “real” world of work in the city was a stark shift of reality that shook me out of my ranch reverie every Monday morning.

Our third and final calf of the year, born in early March
Our first calf of the year

Remarkable changes were taking place as I commuted to and fro from what-was-to-be and what-had-been. In late February, our first calf ever was born. On a bitterly cold night during a snowstorm, our newest cow birthed a healthy young heifer out in the pasture. By the time we spied her early the next morning, she was up on all four feet, completely dried by her mother’s tongue, and nursing contentedly despite the two feet of fresh snow and frigid temperature that hovered around four degrees Fahrenheit. This tough little calf born in a blizzard was a harbinger of our new future together on the ranch – challenging times with extraordinary rewards.