Scenes from the Ranch May 26, 2023

It is with a heavy heart that I share this week’s Scenes from the Ranch. Our sweet Jersey cow Hot Lips died this week. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to save her following complications from milk fever. I miss her calm presence in the barnyard, the licks from her rough tongue when I fed her treats, the hollow spot behind her top knot where she loved to be scratched, her beautiful big brown eyes, and her wonderful mothering nature. There is a hole in my heart and a palpable emptiness in the barnyard. Thank you Hot Lips for always bringing a smile to my face and for sharing the bounty of your delicious milk with us these past few years. You are sorely missed.

Bear the barn cat makes himself at home on the patio every morning and evening. He waits for me to sit on the porch, and then swiftly jumps up on my lap for some snuggles. His constant purring helps to cheer me up a bit.

Amidst grief and loss, new life emerges. The prairie golden bean is in full bloom, decorating the prairie with bright splashes of color. Most evenings this week we’ve gotten some rain. It is a relief to see that the landscape is greener than it has been in a few years.

Maverick tags along when we irrigate. He quickly gets bored and seeks out a patch of shade to snooze while we work.

Scenes from the Ranch: April 23 and May 13

Farming has begun with a four-up team. Jack and Jill are joined by Maggie and Delilah for field preparations before we plant cover crops.

Bear relaxes in the evening light. We are all enjoying a weekend full of sunshine and warmer weather. The snow squall and strong winds of Wednesday seem like a distant memory.

On my way back home from a stroll with Maverick, I saw a Cooper’s hawk catch a bird. It was sudden and swift. I went back to the site later and found a pile of beautiful partridge feathers.

On that same stroll I found a rodent skull amidst the new growth of spring. It had been picked clean, but was still fresh. The contrast between the still-red skull and the new green grass was stunning.

After a short jaunt down to Texas and Colorado to visit family at the end of April, I returned to a warmer and greener Montana. The wildflowers are starting to pop! First up is always the diminutive spiny phlox. Prairie golden bean is leafing out and should be in full bloom soon (photos to come with the next Scenes).

We held our annual branding on May 6 and couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful morning or a better crew. All went smoothly and some new folks continued learning how to rope with us again this year. I’m very grateful for our community of helpers.

Every spring, a few of our Arcana heritage breed hens get broody and won’t leave the nest. We don’t have a rooster and our eggs have no chance of hatching, so I usually try to break them of the broody habit. But this year I wanted to get some more chicks and decided to let these two hens help out. Our neighbors have fertile eggs so I swapped 18 of our eggs with them. If all goes well, chicks should hatch by the end of May.

Yesterday we spent several hours by the Musselshell River getting our irrigation pump ready for the summer. Maverick patiently lounged on the shores of the river watching us work. There is more water in Deadman’s Basin than last year, and we should be able to get more onto the field if all goes smoothly. Still hoping for a wet, rainy May to give us a jump start though!

Scenes from the Ranch: April 8, 2023

We made it over to Showdown Montana on the last weekend of their season for our annual ski day. Maybe next year we’ll get over there for two days – or more! You wouldn’t know it it was the end of the season – still SO much snow. What a treat.

Calving season has gone by in a flash. We started mid-March and are down to just one cow left to calve. Our first calf (pictured below) was the spitting image of her mom and was born when snow still blanketed the ground. Today, our second to last calf was born and the cow sought out a corner of the yard where there was still some snow so that her newborn calf landed on a pile of the cold, white stuff… sure, why not?

Twins! We have a pair of healthy twins that the cow is caring for in supreme style. She seems to have enough milk to keep them satisfied and is very attached to both. (In other words, her body language tells me, “don’t you dare come into the pen and touch my babies or I will run you over.”)

Our Grassfed Lamb is now available! If you’re not yet signed up for our e-newsletter, you might have missed the news. Our mild, tender Icelandic lamb is now available for purchase with weekly delivery to Billings. A half lamb sampler box is about 10 pounds and includes chops, sirloin, ground, shanks, leg of lamb and a shoulder roast. Order on our website today. While there you can also sign up for our monthly e-newsletter and be the first to know about new products and news from the ranch! Please note that our e-newsletter is different from our blog posts newsletter.

Scenes from the Ranch March 10, 2023

It is deeply satisfying to roll out a bale of sweetly scented hay for our cows in the midst of a March blizzard. Sipping cocoa and thawing my feet by the fire afterwards felt equally delightful!

Hot Lips – our milk cow – doesn’t seem to mind sharing her straw nest with the chickens. I’m counting down the days until May when she’ll calve, and we’ll again enjoy fresh milk and cheese.

What a difference a month makes! After a snow-free January, I’m grateful for the late season moisture. We’ve adopted several management strategies to adapt to drought, but I’m still concerned about the lack of moisture this winter. With every snowstorm I breath a little easier. Let the March lions roar!

Scenes from the Ranch February 15, 2023

On Sunday it was fifty degrees, and the only snow in sight laid in old, crusty wind blown piles along the county road. I hiked with a cotton shirt and sneakers under sunny skies. “Where oh where is winter this year?” I wondered.

Well it came back with a wonderful heavy, wet bang yesterday! Six inches of snow followed by temperatures that plummeted to zero overnight created the perfect conditions for hoar frost to form. These beautiful feathery crystals form on still, cold nights when water vapor in the air comes into contact with cold surfaces – in this case, some twigs on the county road.

The chickens didn’t leave the coop at all yesterday as the wind whipped the snow in every direction. Today, under sunny and calm skies they ventured out under the eaves of the barn to dig in the straw. In single file they paraded along my tracks from coop to barn, not daring to stray off the path into deeper snow.

Bear the barn cat found a sunny and dry perch on top of the round bale in our backyard. I stopped to spend some time scratching his ears and back. He squirms around so much it is hard to get a good photo – but at last I managed!

Scenes from the Ranch January 30, 2023

Sometimes its just too cold for wet nose kisses, but there is no stopping Maverick.

Baby it’s cold outside! I’m SO glad I had time to clean the chicken coop before the single digit weather hit. The chickens have not gone outside – and have plenty of fresh straw to peck at in their sunny, protected coop. Today it’s close to 30 degrees and they’re ready to get back to exploring the barnyard. 

Whiskey has the most beautiful winter coat – thick with a grizzled outer coat. For a horse in his mid-20s, he’s still got it all!

Scenes from the Ranch January 20, 2023

Whenever I return to the barnyard after a hike, I spend time talking to and petting our sweet horse, Ruby. We are both working on trust and confidence in each others presence. Someday, I hope that she will become my partner on long rides moving cows across the prairie.

This ball of love and black fur is Bear. He joined our barnyard community in the fall and he adores being petted and soaking up sunshine. He rolls himself around on the cat food shelf with such reckless abandon that he often tumbles to the ground. Unfazed, he jumps quickly back up for more petting.

Maverick and his horses. He is absolutely content when he is in the company of horses. When it comes right down to it, we’re pretty sure he thinks he is a horse.

Scenes from the Ranch: January 2, 2023

We love having friends visit us, and enjoyed a day hiking on the rims above Coulee Creek with Marian and Michael. I spent the week after Christmas sick with a cold, sleeping on the couch much of the time, so it felt great to get fresh air and movement again. Seeing the ranch through visitors’ eyes always helps remind me how special this place is and how truly lucky we are to call it home.

Over the past few years – since Buddy died – I’ve experienced several challenges riding horses. I just haven’t found another horse like Buddy. But despite my fears and misgivings, I’ve wanted to get back in the saddle for months now. I’m thrilled to say that on New Years Day, I rode Jack, our gentle half draft percheron. There is so much more to say about this subject, but for now let’s just say it was the perfect way to ring in the new year.

The cows are relaxed and relieved that the super cold weather has passed. When checking the herd yesterday, we found them lounging in the sun and chewing their cud. It’s a relief to have a healthy, contented herd.

Blue skies! At last we have some sunshine after a week or so of clouds. Our house and our well pump need the sun for power… and it really energizes me too.

17 December 2022

Scenes from the Ranch:

Winter has settled on the landscape in a beautiful, bright blanket of white. It is a shallow, light layer of snow and the cows are still grazing. Jack worked solo on a wagon ride up to the North pasture to break the ice on the cows’ water tank. It has been cold, and the creek at the base of the cliffs is frozen solid. At this time of the year, it is completely sheltered from the sun’s rays. Tomorrow I hope to get my ice skates out for an adventure. Never mind that the high will be 8 degrees. I’ve got layers for that.

December 3rd, 2022: Scenes from the Ranch

This year has been a challenging one for me. I didn’t find time and space for my soap-making hobby until Thanksgiving! But I now have three batches curing and ready to sell at the Holiday Market at the Montana Audubon Center on Saturday December 10 from 10am – 2pm. If you can’t make it down, message me to place an order. I have Peppermint Swirl, Fir Forest and Spiced Cider at $6/bar each.

Amidst the storms of life, I find peace and contentment by spending time outdoors petting my barn cats. We’ve had Jasmine since she was about four months old and I found her subsisting on insects in the gardens of the Audubon Center. She is a fabulous mouser and loves following me around the barnyard meowing for attention.

We put up and took down miles and miles of electric fence for our sheep this summer. Last week I took down the last of it and felt relieved that I won’t have this project on my list of chores next summer. We’ve decided to simplify our lives and are shifting our focus back solely to raising beef cattle.

Moisture is a beautiful gift! I’m relieved to see the snow from November melting slowly into the earth around us.