Ranch life in the Big Sky state through the eyes of one who has lived through it...so far.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Montana Cliche


I felt like a complete Montana cliche when I went out for my walk yesterday morning, all mountains majesty, big blue skies and eagles circling overhead.

Due to the increasing demands on my writing time, I'm looking to simplify a little, so in the future the stories you used to find here on my blog will be going out in something I call Rock Soup for the Cowboy Soul. I'll post a link to every issue here on blog, or you can hop over to my website to subscribe.

There will be new issue coming out later this week, with the latest fumblings and bumblings from here on the ranch, plus big news on the book front. For now, you can check out the inaugural issue, which features a free, only available here short story: Rock Soup for the Cowboy Soul.

Monday, March 09, 2015

You're Invited!


Hey, everybody within driving distance of the Cut Bank, Browning, Del Bonita and surrounding area--I'm throwing myself a belated book release party on March 14th at the former Croff-Wren School, aka Address USA. Come to hear about my new book, come to hear a few of my stories and share some of your own, or just come for the dessert buffet. It's an old-fashioned community gathering and we want to see your smiling face and find out how the winter's been treating you.


Sunday, March 01, 2015

Take a Number


Each year as calves are born, they get an eartag, which is numbered to match their mother. In the event of a blizzard that separates mothers from babies, we can match them up again by number. Heifers get a tag in the left ear and bulls/steers get a tag in the right, which makes life much easier whenever we have to sort by sex.

If the calf is a heifer that we plan to keep as a herd cow, she'll get a new number when we Bangs vaccinate. (That's brucellosis, for those who aren't familiar. The vaccination is required if the cow is ever to be sold). The first digit of the heifer number is the year she was born. So a 2014 heifer has a 4 plus her mother's root number. Example: Cow 7587 (born in 2007) had a heifer calf last year.

The original calf tag in the left ear is the same as Mom's, 7587, but the daughter gets a second, permanent tag in the right ear with the number 4587. This tells us this new cow was born in 2014 and her mother was 7587, whose breeding history we know. This is important because the decision of whether to keep or sell a heifer sometimes comes down to her mother's productivity and personality. Was she a consistently early calver who never had trouble giving birth? Did she have a lot of milk? Take good care of her calf? Try to stomp us into the frozen ground when we applied the eartag in question? Is she a fence crawler who's constantly out in the neighbor's grain field and took her sweet, impressionable daughter along?

Obviously, the numbering system has limitations. There's only room on the tag for four digits if they're going to be large enough to read from a dozen yards away, out in the pasture. So if cow 7587 had a heifer calf last year and another this year, they would be 4587 and 5587, which is fine. But when 5587 has a calf in 2017 and it's a heifer, it'll be...7587. Assuming Grandma's still around, we have problem. And if 5587 and 4587 both have heifer calves in 2018, if we stuck to the system they'd both be 8587. That's when we have to assign a new number to the third generation and rely on our record-keeping to track her lineage. But since our books are in impeccable order...(cue uproarious laughter from anyone who's ever met us.)

Overall, though, the system works pretty well. Especially when it comes to good ol' 0001, who has a rather unique personality that she seems to pass on to her daughters and granddaughters almost without fail. And it's always good to know that the minute their calf hits the ground, these otherwise docile creatures are going to morph into The Pawing Cow.


For more information on The Long Ride Home and to subscribe to my mini-mag Rock Soup for the Cowboy Soul visit KariLynnDell.com.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Earn Your Spurs Podcast


Yep, it's me, yakking again. This time about the history of our ranch, what it's like when your husband is actually the boss of you, and why a writer isn't the world's most reliable employee. There's also a chance to win an ebook copy of The Long Ride Home if you check it out before March 3, 2015.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

An Earful


Three forty-five a.m. this morning, one degree above zero Fahrenheit, I was rolling around in the straw in our indoor arena, trying to wrestle earmuffs onto a hundred pound newborn while his mother wiped snot on the back of my neck.

Yeah, all his little calf friends are probably poking fun at him, but at least he won't end up like big brother, who was born this time last year when it was 22 degrees below zero. 


Monday, February 16, 2015

Crossing Over


No, not to the dark side, though some ropers might think so at first glance. Or listen, as the case may be. This blog post is a companion piece to an interview I did with John Harrer over on the Whoa Podcast, where I mentioned that the fastest loop in breakaway roping is often in the cross-over. (Helpful hint: the podcast at the top of the page is not mine. Scroll down past all the blah-blah about me and find Episode #49). Yes, I see all of you tie down ropers shuddering at the thought of roping a calf as your horse is moving left. Hang on. I'll explain.

And now all of my non-rodeo, non-roper readers are scratching their heads and wondering if I'm going to repeat that in English. Yes I am. With diagrams. And photos. And video.

First off, for the real greenhorns, what the heck is breakaway roping? Well, it's a version of calf roping where the rider doesn't have to dismount and tie the calf. The rope is secured to the saddle horn with a piece of string. When the loop goes around the calf's neck the roper pitches their slack and lets the rope go. The calf hits the end of the rope, the string breaks away from the saddle horn, and time stops. Hence the name of the event. When all goes well, it looks like this:

Breakaway is the fastest event in rodeo, not counting those bullriders who get drilled into the ground on the first jump out of the chute. And contrary to what many people think, it is NOT just tie down roping without the flank and tie. The most important difference is where you throw your rope. For a breakaway roper, that's gotta be as soon as you're within reach, regardless of the position. When it takes a run of less than three seconds to even place in the money, there's no time to be picky. The best breakaway ropers master the art of catching as they're running up on the calf and have a horse that'll let them hang out and throw a long loop at a hard running critter.

By contrast, a tie down roper will take an extra swing to get his horse, the calf and his slack all lined out. The half second he sacrifices is more than made up by being smoother through the dismount, flank and tie. His horse is trained to run in closer to the calf then slam on the brakes when the loop goes past his head, leaving the roper time to manipulate the slack in the rope so the calf spins around but stays on its feet, ready to be flanked.

In a nutshell, a tie down roper can make up time on the ground. A breakaway roper's gotta get that loop out of her hand as fast as possible.

And that brings us to the crossover. That magic slot right out in front of the roping chute where your horse's trajectory crosses the calf's. Why a cross? Because the horse leaves the roping box traveling at an angle compared to the calf, like so:

This is the sweet spot, but it's also where you can get into a whole lot of trouble if you're not riding your horse properly. Throwing while your horse is moving left in comparison with the calf is fine and dandy on one condition--you can't let her keep going left. If you do, over time what started out as a winning throw will turn into a horse that drops its left shoulder and ducks out before you can get the loop out of your hand.

How do you keep a horse honest? Most of it happens in the practice pen. For every throw you take in the crossover, you make at least two or three runs where you take a couple of extra swings and make the horse move back to the right to line in straight behind the calf. Even on the quick throws, you keep pressure on your horse with your left foot, pushing them back to the right as they stop.

But what if your horse is bound and determined to duck left? After all, everything is set up to push them that direction. You're swinging and throwing with your right hand, pitching your slack on their right side. How do you persuade them to stay straight?

First off. look at how your horse is positioned in the roping box. You want them to run to the front corner of the roping chute because that's the shortest distance between you and the calf. Start with the horse's nose pointed at that spot, they'll break out of the box in the lead that's most comfortable for them. Start with their nose pointed at the middle of the box, they'll either run to that spot, or they'll start in their left-hand lead to move toward the chute. Start with the horse angled toward the back of the chute, they'll start in their right-hand lead to adjust.

Why is that important? Because, as master rope horse trainer Bub Tate pointed out, a horse can't duck left if they're in their right-hand lead. So whether it's leaving the box or running up behind the calf, if you can use leg pressure to put your horse in the right-hand lead, they won't go left when you throw your rope.

Tricky? You bet, considering you're also swinging a rope, operating a set of reins and trying to take steady aim at a calf.  But if you're a breakaway roper and you want to keep getting that money shot in the crossover, it's a trick you need to master.

If you'd like to see what it looks like done really well, here's some excellent footage from the Indian National Finals Rodeo (Take note of Megan Lunak at the 1:07 mark, that's our hometown girl from up here on the Blackfeet Reservation).


For more information and links to buy my latest novel visit:  KariLynnDell.com


Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Valentine to Warm a Rancher's Heart


We didn't make any particular plans for Valentine's Day this year, mostly because I'm just back from a four day trip to Tacoma to visit my brother, followed by three nights of kid wrestling practice this week, which means we either stay at our apartment in town or don't get home until almost 9 pm. By Saturday you'd have had more luck stuffing a cat in a bucket of water than getting me in a car to drive at least an hour to go out for dinner. 

Which was just as well, because we got a little Valentine's Day surprise right here at home. We aren't due to start calving for a few more days but these things don't work on a strict schedule. Late in the afternoon my husband spotted one of our heifers in labor out in the lot. Less than an hour later, our first calf of the season was on the ground. And it's a bull! This is particularly good news for us and for him. With the combination of his early birth date and excellent bloodlines, he's already got his spot in our breeding program reserved. 

And so calving begins, and will go on. And on. And on. From now until at least early May. That's over a fourth of the calendar year on maternity watch. 

Believe it or not, we do this on purpose. The bluebloods like this heifer are bred via artificial insemination to calve early. Any later and their male offspring wouldn't mature in time to be herd sires as yearlings. Buying semen from highly acclaimed bulls means we can improve the quality of our herd genetics for less cost than buying well-bred bulls. Plus there's all that excitement every year when the new semen catalogue shows up. Better than back when I was a kid and we couldn't wait until the Sears Wishbook came in the mail at Christmas time. We have around sixty cows in the early-calving herd, a small enough number that if the weather turns brutal we can house all the expectant mothers in our indoor arena. 

Next up are the first calf commercial heifers. These are the non-pureblood two year olds, and they're bred to calve beginning in mid-March, as the registered cows are finishing up. We usually have thirty to forty of these depending on how many cows we culled the year before, and they require the closest supervision because they've never done this before. They're more likely to have difficulty giving birth and less likely to have a clue what to do with that slimy little thing they just pooped out. Unless the weather is spectacular and the calf mothers up immediately, we separate the pair from the rest of the herd for a day or so to let them get it figured out so Junior doesn't get lost in the shuffle and we can tell right away if he's not sucking. 

Then around April 1st the main commercial herd starts calving. This will go on all month with some straggling on into May. By that point the weather is usually warm enough that we leave the cows out in the pasture, these being experienced mamas, but if we do have spring storms all the cows due to calve within the next week or so are brought in and housed in the arena at night where they're under cover and easy to check.

Spreading out our calving this way means we never have more cows due to calve than we have space inside, which has saved untold numbers of newborns over the years. And in case you wondered how we know what cow is supposed to calve when--they all get an ultrasound in the fall and the vet tells us how far along each cow is in her pregnancy. We write down all the cow numbers and days bred and they get a little color-coded button tag in their ear to indicate which cycle they're due to calve. The vet is amazingly accurate, at least twice as good as back when we used to stand in the corral walking cows back and forth and arguing about whether they looked like they might be bagging up. 

As for our little bull, he's up and frisking around today, cock of the walk. We don't usually name our cows, but I wanted to call this one Valentine if it was a heifer. Since it's a bull, a friend suggested he should be Valentino. I like it. Here's hoping he grows up to be a legendary lover. 


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