Not quite an old fashioned barn-raising

As I walk to work at quarter of eight, the eastern sky is ablaze with colors. But the sun itself yet hides below the horizon, late to rise and early to set these days. To the north, the Snowy Mountains loom darkly on the horizon, their tops frosted with the very snow for which they are named. Above me, a noisy flock of geese forms a V, late migrants to warmer climes. It is mid December, and we are entering the dark heart of winter.

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We experienced one cold snap already, but this week we’ve been hit by a tropical heat wave. With sunshine and daytime temperatures in the fifties, the thin blanket of snow has melted, giving way to moisture and mud. It’s warm enough that Bart is working outdoors, putting tin on our new barn. We started the barn back in August with the help of our friend Brad… and some heavy machinery. Bart used the big yellow machine with an extendable bucket (this is not my area of expertise) to place the corner posts in the ground before Brad arrived.

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The first corner post goes up as Bart masters the post-setting technique
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All ready for the roof

Brad, Bart, and my father-in-law, Dan, then labored under a hot sun, framing the roof and installing the trusses. IMG_3480 Back on the ground, I helped level the posts and handed supplies up to them in their perches on ladders or the tractor bucket IMG_3482   Mid-day, we all took a break in the thin slice of shade made by the pickup truck for lunch – with plenty of water, iced tea, and sandwiches. After cleaning up from the picnic, I laid down in the shade and surprised myself by dozing off, partaking in the ancient art of the siesta. I awoke after a few moments coated in sweat, despite my airy tank top and shorts. Meanwhile the guys, wearing jeans and long-sleeves, were back at it in the sun, determined to finish despite the heat. I watched and tried to learn. Carpentry, like heavy machinery, is not my forte. IMG_3484         Doc spent the day playing in the log pile. He has become quite an accomplished mouser! Brad’s dog, Osa, had more sense and quickly claimed a piece of shade early in the morning. IMG_2883 Soon Doc’s playground will be gone. Bart logged in southeastern Montana where the Rosebud Fires burned in the summerIMG_3446 of 2012. He has already milled several of the logs – making boards for the corrals and barn. Here’s how our corrals and barn looked in mid-September after a couple more weeks of work. More photos showing the progression of the corrals are now posted here: https://couleecreekranch.com/grassfed-beef/ It was a busy summer, but we are glad to be right where we need to be for calving in the spring! IMG_3796

Ranch Camp, Part II

Like many good mothers, Pippi takes lots of photos. She recently shared all these wonderful pictures from her week here with the kids for Ranch Camp. You can find Part I here: https://couleecreekranch.com/2014/10/16/ranch-camp-2014/

It’s such a pleasure to think back to the golden days of autumn now that winter is settling in around us and whisking the last brown leaves off trees with icy fingers. I continue to hope that winter, with its long dark nights, will bring me more time for writing and reminiscing here. For now, here are the last of the fall memories:

Nothing captures the taste of fall as well as fresh-pressed apple cider
Nothing captures the taste of fall as well as fresh-pressed apple cider
Yum!
Lip-smacking good!
Time for French toast!
It’s time for some French toast
Pickin' 'maters before the temperature drops - they arrived on a 90 degree day and were ushered out by 40 degree winds
Picking the last of the ‘maters before the temperature drops. Pippi and family arrived on a 90 degree day, so hot we went swimming. They were ushered out five days later by 30 degree winds and snow
Red Talus meets Red Angus cattle, aka hamburger cows
Red Talus meets Red Angus cattle, aka hamburger cows
Baby Annika's first 4-wheeler ride (with Talus, Doc, and me)
Baby Annika’s first 4-wheeler ride

Potato – Potahto

Here’s a quick update from Coulee Creek Ranch. Also, I finally added content to the other pages – Garden, Hen House, Sisters’ Soapworks, and Grassfed Beef.

Today, we spent our Sunday morning harvesting potatoes. With the frequent rains this fall, I was unsure if they’d be edible or if they’d be on their way to producing the next crop already. Luckily, there were no sprouting spuds in sight. We pulled up slightly less than last year since we planted only 8 – 40 foot rows instead of 15 this year. Nonetheless, we’ll still have plenty of potatoes for at least half the year! Now to just finish that root cellar so we have somewhere to store them…IMG_3614Bart has been busy milling logs in order to finish our corrals. One more solid week of work, and they should be ready to go, just in time to sort the calves out next month.

IMG_3610With so many projects in the works, our home site still looks like it did in the spring when our friend Dave came over with his Cat and dug a big hole for us. IMG_3071 IMG_3072 IMG_3073We had high hopes of pouring concrete before winter, but we can’t get a concrete company to call us back. Next year, we may just have to tackle it ourselves. This is not an exciting prospect. For now, our root cellar is in place at the home site, but is not fully covered. Now that our potato harvest is dug up and curing in the shop, we’ll prepare at least the back half of the cellar for winter spud storage.

IMG_3081Bart cut doors into an old gas tank and welded brackets on for shelves. Then we scrubbed it 3 – 4 times with hot soapy water to remove any lingering oil. Eventually my pantry and kitchen will adjoin the door to the cellar – perhaps in another five years.

IMG_3083The biggest news, and perhaps most important development is that we now have water at both the corrals and house! We’ve piped our well to a cistern and down the hill into the coulee. It is cool, refreshing and delicious! Next year, we’ll move our potato patch out here where it is sandier, both easier for the potatoes to grow and easier to harvest.

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.