Sunday, February 10, 2008

Where did YOUR dinner come from?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

(panorama of the corrals area)

I decided to spend most of my weekend working with Jim, since we haven't spent much time together lately. Most weekends I've done my own thing during the day (skied, run, stayed inside to do chores around the house, etc) while he's worked. But this weekend I forewent all of my activities and just followed him around all day.

Friday evening I got in from Kalispell and Jim was exhausted, so we fixed a pizza and started watching a movie. About 10 minutes into the movie, he fell asleep, so I did laundry and hung out until midnight when I woke him up to go check on the cows. Sure enough, one of the heifers (a cow that's never had a calf before) was having problems getting her baby out, so we pitched in and helped her. Got back to the house and went to bed by about 2am.

8am Saturday, got up and made coffee and egg sandwiches, then went down to check on the cows again. Everything was fine, so we fueled up the tractor and started feeding. It takes 4 round bales (the big half-ton rounds) plus 16 smaller (~80 lb) square bales to feed all of the cows and horses around the place. Of course there are lots of different pens and pastures in which to feed different amounts, so we're constantly hopping down off the tractor to open a gate, or loading up the back of the truck to toss small bales out. A lot of up and down, some walking around, a good bit of upper body work lifting bales.

(Jim fueling up the tractor)

After we got everything fed it was time to tag the new babies and send them and their moms over to another pasture (they keep the mothers-to-be in separate areas from the moms and babies). Tagging new calves involves driving the truck up alongside the mom and baby, and either hopping out and catching the baby or tossing a rope around it. Then we can either work the baby on the ground or pull it up in the back of the truck (the safer option, since sometimes the moms get a little possessive about their babies and wouldn't mind stomping on you if they think you're hurting their kid). Once captured the baby gets a shot of Vitamins A&D and Selenium, gets iodine squirt on its belly button/umbilical cord, and gets an eartag that matches its mothers tag number. Then if it's a boy it gets two small rubber bands placed around its testicles (this cuts off the blood supply and thus those parts just shrivel up and don't develop). It may sound a bit inhumane, but the other option is to cut the testes out when we brand (once the calves are 2-3 months old); so this option is much less invasive and doesn't risk infection. So once all the babies were tagged, we had to move them and their moms over to the "nursery" pasture. One of the baby calves was having a hard time keeping up, so I walked right behind it, bumping its butt with my thighs each step for the 1/4 mile hike. Good leg workout.
(Jim turning a bull calf into a steer)

Once done with that project, we had to go load 75 of the 80-lb bales onto a truck for a guy who was buying some for his horses. Good upper body workout. Then we cleaned out a few of the pens that had housed moms and babies that either had needed medicine or just needed some alone time (sometimes a new mom will have a hard time remembering her calf, so we have to lock them up together for a few days until she realizes the thing is hers--- remember, we breed them for their meat, not for their brains!) Using a pitchfork, I'd hoist a pile of wet mucky straw up and toss it over the top of the pen. Another good upper body workout.
(Come on, baby, smile for the camera!)

We spent the afternoon in the shop building a new salt feeder (a wooden trough on skids and with a roof over it, so that you can fill it with salt/mineral mix for the cows, then drag it to different parts of the pasture as needed). I got refreshers in running a table saw, squirmed around driving screws in at weird angles, and basically had a good yoga/stretch type activity.

Late afternoon a friend called and asked if we could come help him get his truck unstuck. So we ran up to his place and helped him do that, then stopped at a little bar on the way home to have a few beers and get dinner. I was pooped after my long day out in the cold, having hopped and crawled and trudged around all day! We got home and curled up in bed and were both almost asleep when the phone rang. It was the boss's son, who had done his 9pm check on the cows, and had one that was having troubles. So we pulled our boots and coveralls back on, went down and got her in the corral, helped pull her calf, came back home and slept an hour, did our check at midnight, checked again at 3am, and got up at 8am to start the whole process over again.

Anyone who's ever thought that cattle ranching looked easy, that all you do is sit on a tractor and drive around all day, should come and spend a weekend with Jim. Talk about needing endurance, strength, and mental willpower. No wonder the guy can eat 3500 calories a day and not gain any weight!

I got a break this afternoon to come back up to the house to do some cleaning and make something for supper. Craig and Amy are coming over, so I thought I'd vacuum up some of the hay that's on the floor, and maybe move the wet gloves and hats off the drying racks (also known as our kitchen chairs!) They're coming early enough to go down and see the baby cows with us for a little while (the little stinkers are pretty darn cute when they're a few days old-- they start running around and clicking their heels in the air, happy to be alive and to have all four legs under them!) Amy wants to see a calf born. Seeing as how we've had 50-some born in the last 3 weeks, and there are ~150 cows left to calve, the chances are pretty decent if she sticks around long enough, we can make her wish come true!

For dinner we'll be having meatloaf (and mashed potatoes!) made with beef from a cow that was born and raised on the ranch that we had butchered a month or so ago. Nothing like keeping it local and having an intimate understanding of where your food comes from. If we ever have kids, they will definitely not be the type that think hamburger comes from the grocery store!
(mama nursing her baby that we helped pull)


Robyn said...

Sounds like an awesome weekend of cross training!

Rachel Dirito said...

I love reading your blog Carly-particularly reading about all the things in Montana that we miss out on in good ole' NC! Thanks for sharing :)