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

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Flip Flops

Across the country people are gearing up for Memorial Day weekend, breaking out the lawn chairs and beer coolers and sunscreen and flip flops (which were called thongs way back the last time I wore them, which is definitely not what it means now, though I still remember the misery of having a blister between my toes and have no desire to experience the same sensation, um, elsewhere).

I intended to celebrate the three day weekend by competing in a rodeo. It sounded like a good idea at the time. It even sounded like a good idea yesterday, when I was out strolling around town at lunch, admiring the spring blossoms.

On the drive home I was greeted by a massive wall of black clouds, rolling down off the mountain front. There was rain. Thunder. Lightning. More rain, pounding for most of the night on the metal roof of my bedroom which is conveniently located only three feet above my head (do I have to tell the my-house-is-a-chicken-coop story again?).

It rained all day today. Over two inches, at last check. Somewhere toward late afternoon, my husband gave up checking the rain gauge. Probably because this is what greeted me when I got home:

If you think they look thrilled, you should see the people around here. Now this is what we call a Montana Flip Flop.

Oh, yeah. The rodeo was cancelled. We must be getting wimpy.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Writer's Brain

There is a mailbox a block from my office. Three or four times a week I walk over there to mail something. At least once a month, I turn around, walk back to my office and call my cousin the Postmaster to tell her I dropped something in by mistake and could she please intercept it.

Most recently, it was a billing statement that was supposed to be hand delivered to the County Clerk and therefore not only didn’t have postage, it didn’t have an address, either. The time before, it was the invoice I print out for each month’s newspaper columns. It wasn’t even in an envelope.

How does this happen? When I leave my office, I have a plan firmly in mind. Step One: Drop my letters in the mailbox. Step Two: Walk the billing statement to the courthouse. Step Three: Stop by the newspaper office and drop off the invoice. Easy peasy.

Except somewhere between my desk and the mailbox, people start talking to me. Telling me their problems. Their deepest darkest secrets. Their hearts’ desires. Sometimes, they even tell me jokes. That’s not so good. Passersby get very nervous when they see me walking down the street laughing.

All by myself.

At least, it looks like I’m by myself. Inside my head, it’s pretty darn crowded. I’ve got characters from three different novels wandering around in there, yammering for attention, along with several horses and a couple of dogs. Even Bill the Goat has to have his say. Everybody thinks they should be the drop dead sexy star. Nobody wants to be the goofy-but-lovable sidekick.

I’m telling you, with all that commotion between our ears, it’s amazing more writers aren’t hit by buses.

It’s not just me. Really. My critique partner was filling her car with gas and had a brilliant flash of insight about one of her characters. She was so enthralled, she drove off with her credit card sitting on the roof. Hey, at least she remembered to take the nozzle out of the tank.

She thinks.

I know we're not the only two loons on the pond. 'Fess up, dear readers. What have you done while under the influence of 'writer's brain'?

Friday, May 21, 2010

It's That Time of Year Again...

No, not branding, or seeding, or even rodeo season. The fashion magazines tell me it's Swimsuit Season! (Apparently fashion magazines are produced in places where you don't consider thermal underwear to be a Fourth of July necessity).

Not quite ready to bare that ghostly, goose-pimpled flesh? I've got the cure: The Ranch Wife's Swimsuit Diet.

Give it a try. In no time, you'll be looking just like this:

Find this image and others at: PersonalizedSignShop.com

Monday, May 17, 2010

Post Script

Or maybe addendum. Or just a couple of notes regarding my last blog post.

A few years back, when Nico was in his first year of competition, my dad took him to a rodeo in Canada. The calves were fresh Longhorns, streaking fast. "Geez," one of the other ropers grumbled. "What does this stock contractor think we're riding, Secretariat?" And my dad said, "Well, now that you mention it..."

And for those of you who were curious about my maiden name, there's this, courtesy of my younger sister. Eisenach, Germany. Home of Johann Sebastion Bach and the place where Martin Luther translated the bible into German. Wouldn't you know it, the castle in my namesake town is called Wartburg?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Real Prince

Now that the weather has warmed up, the grass is greening, and the snow is fading fast, it's a little easier to get into the Triple Crown mood. Those whose only exposure to horses is the occasional nationally televised race probably glaze over when the announcers start talking about bloodlines. Or maybe that's just me. Either way, I figured I'd give you a short primer on how it all works.

A registered horse is one that has been documented and accepted by a breed association. In our case, that is the American Quarter Horse Association. There are also associations for Thoroughbreds and Arabians and a host of other breeds. Each has its own system, but the breeding of the mare by the stud is generally documented with some sort of breeding certificate, and the foal is registered within a certain time frame after birth.

A Quarterhorse can be crossed with a registered horse of another breed and the foal still registered with the AQHA. A large percent of Quarterhorses have some Thoroughbred, a cross that tends to increase speed and size. There are rules regarding what percentage of the ancestry may be from another breed before the horse is no longer considered a Quarterhorse.

On the Quarterhorse forms, we have to give three name choices in order of priority (in case another horse already has your first choice) and indicate the horse's color, gender, date of birth, place of birth and owner. Then, on a diagram of a horse, you must sketch in all markings, which usually means things like a blaze or a star on the face and white 'stockings' on the feet.

I am not much of a student of bloodlines. I know a few of the more well-known Quarterhorse and Thoroughbred stallions, but beyond that I lose interest pretty fast. The truth is, good breeding may increase your odds of getting the colt you want, but it's no guarantee. When buying horses, we mostly look at the registration papers as a way of verifying that the horse is actually ten years old as the seller claims, and not a spry-looking eighteen.

That said, I thought I'd share a set of registration papers, so you can see what they look like. First, here's the horse in action in Cambridge, Idaho. We call him Nico.

And here are his papers. You might have to click on the image to enlarge it enough to read all of the print.

This is the back side. If you look real close, you can see he has a white sock on his right hind leg, a white star and strip on his forehead and a tiny white snip by his left nostril.

Surprised? Yes, you did read correctly. Those are my parents and that is my maiden name. Oh, you meant his breeding. Yeah, he is a grandson of Secretariat. Yes, THAT Secretariat. Even I recognize that name.

Sunday, May 09, 2010


We're all kicking back and soaking up some much-needed sunshine around here today. The cows have scattered back out to the hillsides where the green grass seems to have grown another inch or two while it was underneath the snow. I'm heading outside to enjoy the day, but thought I'd drop by the blog and leave you a little something for Mother's Day.

Ever been at a park, with a whole bunch of kids and a whole bunch of moms, and all of the sudden one of the kids starting yelling his head off? Yeah, it looks a lot like this:

That pole he's got is a sheep hook, made for catching lambs. It has a metal loop on the end that hooks around the calf's leg right above the ankle. It works okay if you can sneak up on a calf while they're sleeping, or if they're too sick to run very far, and if they're not big enough and strong enough to yank the pole out of your hands. Otherwise, we have to rope them. Notice the cow with the white face and big black splotch that my husband is keeping such a close eye on? There's a reason. Let's just say we're glad this wasn't her kid. Lucky for us, it's as mean as she is and never seems to get sick.

But hey, around here that's what makes you a good mother.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Auctioning Off the Ranch

Yep, really. Not the whole thing, though, just a few days worth.

For those who follow this blog regularly, you've been seeing pictures and hearing some whining about the late winter snowstorms we've had in the past couple of weeks. It's been tough on the cattlemen around here, but it's nothing compared to the flooding the people of Tennessee, and Nashville especially, have endured.

As it happens, my brother is currently stationed only thirty miles from there, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He was lucky enough to dodge the floods. Also, thanks to the magic of the internet, I 'know' several writers from the Nashville area. Some of them have put together an internet auction to benefit flood victims. They sent out a call to all of their writer/editor/literary agent friends for contributions. Which is where we come in.

We're donating a five day stay for up to four people here at the ranch. The winning bidder will have to provide their own transportation to the ranch, or one of the nearest airports: either Great Falls, Kalispell or Bozeman, MT, or Calgary, Alberta. Or the nearest Amtrak stations in Cut Bank, East Glacier or Browning, MT.

While at the ranch, lodging will be provided:

As will all meals:

Depending on when you come, we'll probably chase a few cows:

Fix a few fences:

Maybe put up some hay:

The package also includes a day trip to Glacier National Park (weather permitting):

Possibly even a pow wow or a rodeo, if you happen to be here when there's one close by:

So there you go. Instead of just visiting the blog, this is your chance to visit Montana for Real and do a great thing for some people who could sure use a hand. Count your pennies and get ready.

THE AUCTION IS NOW LIVE!!  To participate, follow this link and post your bid in the comments section:   Day 3, Item 5

If you'd like more information about how the auction works and how your money will be used to help flood vicitims, you can go here: Auction Info

And yes, I'm kidding about the tipi. Unless you really want to sleep in there, in which case we'll be happy to accommodate you.

The winning bidder will have until September 1, 2011 to redeem their trip, so don't worry if you've already made your vacation plans for this summer.

We all can't wait to see who's coming to visit!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

And So On, And So On....

Still snowing, and even colder this morning. This bunch of cows got pushed south by yesterday's wind and snow. Dad and Greg spent the whole afternoon getting them back to the south shelter. This morning, I saddled up Nico and pushed them on to the house, while Greg led the way and broke a trail with the tractor, packing a big round bale of hay for incentive.

Then it was on to doctoring calves that are starting to get sick from all the cold and stress. Mostly in the form of what we call 'scours', which is the bovine version of diarrhea. Since it's bacterial, we can treat it with antibiotics. But if they get too dehydrated, we also have to 'tube' them with an electrolyte solution, the calf version of a Pedialyte popsicle. Or cherry Gatorade. Since calves won't voluntarily swallow the stuff, we have to get it into them via a long plastic tube with a large catheter-type thing on the end that is slid down their throat and directly into their stomach.

This one will stay in the barn warm and dry for the rest of the day, get another electrolyte treatment tonight, then we'll decide whether to take him back out to his mother, or bring her in to him. In the meantime, I'm wondering if we can sue Al Gore for deceptive practices or something, because if this is global warming, I don't want to see what happens when we cool off.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

More of the Same

Yes, it's blizzarding again. Another two or three inches of snow with a whole lot of wind. More tomorrow. Wish we could bring all the little ones inside:

Instead, they're mostly camped right outside my front door, behind the shelterbelt of trees. Not too bad out there tonight, so hopefully they'll stay put. Not that they appreciate our efforts. We dragged this one in on the four wheeler, fed him milk, stowed him all nice and warm in the tack room in the barn, and when I went to put my saddle on the rack...he kicked me.

Sure could use a break from this global warming.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Mass Chaos

Imagine you're in a huge city park. In this park there are hundreds of families picnicking, when suddenly a storm rolls in, with fierce winds and hail. Everyone runs for cover. In the confusion and panic, children are separated from their parents. Some latch onto the first adult they see and follow them in hopes of being led to safety. Some just run in whatever direction will keep the wind at their backs and the hail from stinging their faces. Fences are trampled in the rush to escape the brutal weather. Children and adults are driven beyond the boundaries of the park and into the surrounding area.

When the storm passes, children are scattered for blocks in every direction. Some sit or lie down and wait to be found. Others begin wandering in search of their parents, but with no idea which direction they came from or which direction their parents went, they end up even more lost. Parents are running around yelling for their children. Kids are so exhausted they don't answer.

That pretty much sums up what happens when a blizzard hits a herd of cows. Ninety percent of the time our shelters are sufficient to keep the cattle from wandering. The blizzard we had two days ago was in that top ten percent. Records were set for wind speeds and snowfall amounts. The drifts piled up so fast and so high they filled the calf shelters and pushed the herd out into the storm. The wind pushed them through creeks and fences, over hills and into coulees. Cows and calves from the west field ended up clear out south, along with cows and calves from our registered herd in the east field. Cattle from the west field were pushed up and over the ridge and down the road into our neighbors' pastures.

Once the storm ended, calves either hunkered down where they'd ended up, or began wandering in whichever direction they thought seemed likely to take them home. For two days, my view of the world has looked pretty much like this:

We've been attempting to locate all of the missing cows and calves, return them to a central location, and reunite them with their mothers. Today we found a calf trotting down the main gravel road, three miles from home, headed in the wrong direction. Sadly, I do not have video of my husband roping him out of the back of the pickup. You're also not going to get to see me trying to chase down and rope a calf on foot while leading a horse, with a quart bottle of milk tucked under one arm.
By late Saturday evening we had most of the cattle back where they belonged, or at least mothered up. There are still half a dozen of the neighbors cows in our south field but their calves are with them, so they'll stay until more urgent matters are attended to. Sunday morning we'll be back at it, looking for motherless calves, childless cows, and the inevitable sick calves that always follow a major storm.

What we haven't found so far are any dead calves, which is an outright miracle given the severity and duration of the storm. So even though we're exhausted and saddle sore, the day still came to a beautiful end.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Diggin' It

So it snowed again. As usual, we got a little more of the white stuff than pretty much anybody, with the possible exception of the top of the mountains. 

That's one of my house cows as seen out my front door on Friday morning. She and two others plus their calves showed up as the storm started Wednesday night and spent the duration hunkered in the trees in my front yard. Those three were the only ones we were able to feed on Thursday. We couldn't even get hay up to the expectant mothers in the indoor arena, because of near zero visibility and drifts like these:

Friday morning it was time to dig out. First, we had to get the cows out of the arena, which meant getting the fifteen foot tall front doors open. Greg dug out the biggest part of the drift with the tractor, then I had to clear out the rest with a shovel. To add to the fun, the storm started with rain, making huge sheets and chunks of ice on the wall, the doors, and the track the door runs on. As I tried to push it open, the ice broke loose and pelted me on the head and arms. Meanwhile, forty cows were piled up just inside the door, waiting for me to get it open far enough to trample me on the way out. 

Then it was on to the bulls. All of the yearlings were trapped in the upper lot by a huge snowdrift. The only way to get them out was to shovel a trail, which ended up looking more like a tunnel. For reference, that fence you can see behind the drift is five feet tall. 

Whew. Done. Well, except for the horses. They were in that barn in the top picture. The geldings were no problem, just open the back door and let them break their own trail out through the back corral. But the mares had to come out the front door. The one beside that pickup that's just barely visible under that big honkin' drift. Yeah, that one:

Once all the horses had been freed, all I had to do was shovel out the back of the pickup to find the hay bales, load them one at a time on the four wheeler, and drag them out to wherever I could find a spot that was less than belly deep. 

Then it was back to the house and the most important job of the day. The power had finally come back on. Time to clear the snow away from the satellite dish so the kid could watch his cartoons. 
So much for the morning. Now all we had to do was find the rest of the cows and calves.