Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Great Drought of 2013

EDIT: January 15, 2014

We’ve had no rain since my original post. We are basically out of hay and grass. We’ve purchased more supplement’s. Today was the first day my Dad mentioned selling some cattle. I want to cry. California Cattlepeople need help. Hay is sky high, if you can find it, the grass is gone and the weather forecast is not good. This is really scary and sad. 

 

2013 was a rough year for many cattlepeople, and we here the Brown Ranch are no different. While our ranch did not have it as bad as the ranchers in South Dakota, we struggled with a pasteurella outbreak in the spring, pink eye over the summer and finally our year is ending with extreme drought, which means, no grass to feed our cattle.

In my lifetime on this ranch, I have never seen it this dry. I have never seen the lack of feed. My Dad says the same. This year will be a make or break year for many cattlepeople, it is incredibly distressing.

In my lifetime on this ranch, I have never seen it this dry. I have never seen the lack of feed. My Dad says the same. This year will be a make or break year for many cattlepeople, it is incredibly distressing.

My family has taught me that in order to be good at what what we do, we need to have a contingency plan for everything that could go wrong. Life in agriculture is never boring, it’s never easy and Lord knows, it is anything but simple. Since my family has had generations and generations to learn this lesson, our ranch will survive.

My Dad, loading the truck. Since we left most of our crop of hay on the Mound Ranch,  we must drive two hours with this truck and trailer, load hay, drive home again, and load that hay into the truck to feed to cattle. Driving to The Mound Ranch is done about every four to five days and feeding the cattle is done every other day, sometimes everyday.

My Dad, loading the truck. Since we left most of our crop of hay on the Mound Ranch, we must drive two hours with this truck and trailer, load hay, drive home again, and load that hay into the truck to fed to the cattle. Driving to The Mound Ranch is done about every four to five days and feeding the cattle is done every other day, sometimes everyday.

Even though we had no idea that this year would be so severe in terms of rain and feed, we planned for it, because we  must. As I explained before, our cattle spend half the year on Table Mountain Ranch and the other half on The Mound Ranch. If you want to know more details about why we do that please read this. When we shipped our cattle to The Mound Ranch this past spring, we made sure to leave lots of grass or “feed” for the cattle to come back to. Again, this “feed” is not guaranteed to even be here when we ship our cattle back in the fall because often, we have fires here in the summer.

The view of our hay field.

The view of our hay field on The Mound Ranch.

In addition to leaving feed on the winter ranch to come back to, another thing we do, as a contingency (what if we have a fire??), is make hay. In a good feed year, we can sell any extra hay for income. In a bad feed year, like this year, we use the hay to supplement our cattle. Since the grass has not grown, our girls must eat the dry grass from last year. But that dry grass can only last so long, and it doesn’t have the same nutrients as fresh, green grass.

The girls know the feed truck and will race us to the feed area. Stampede!

The girls know the feed truck and will race us to the feed area. Stampede!

When we feed someone has to stand in the back of the moving truck, while using a knife to cut twine, and throw flakes off, all while collecting that twine, not falling off and getting licked by cows. It's not easy, and often scary.

When we feed, someone has to stand in the back of the moving truck, on bales of hay, while using a knife to cut twine, and throw flakes off, all while collecting that twine, not falling off and getting licked by cows. It’s not easy, and often scary.

Dad and his cattle. He can tell you about every single cow and calf here, who their Mom is, how he feels about them, their temperament, anything - it's neat.

Dad and his cattle. He can tell you about every single cow and calf here, who their Mom is, how he feels about them, their temperament, anything – it’s neat.

Feeding is truly a family affair. Mom drove so I could take pictures with my new Christmas camera.

Feeding is truly a family affair. Mom drove so I could take pictures with my new Christmas camera.

By supplementing our cattle’s diet with hay, they will continue to be happy and healthy. Our number one goal on this ranch is the health and comfort of our animals. We do not want them to feel any type of stress, by making sure they don’t realize we are having a poor feed year, we prevent a whole list of health problems; from aborted calves to illnesses and death.

Supplements.

Supplements (also look how sad the grass is, kinda makes a girl wanna cry).

Yet another tool we use to ensure the health and happiness of our cattle are supplements. Our cattle always have access to mineral salt, it is necessary for their survival. However, during lean years when there is not new grass growth, they also get a protein supplement. When cattle eat dried out grass, with no new green grass, they must have a protein supplement to maintain their health (in our opinion). I know this is a horrible thing for me to admit to, but, I love these supplements because I up-cycle the blue tubs, they are the perfect size to plant dwarf trees in!!!

Happy, hay-fed, supplement given, grass left for, Brown Ranch cows.

Happy, hay-fed, supplement given, grass left for, Brown Ranch cows.

There are many, many, many, different supplements on the market for cattle. In the past we’ve used Crystalyx, and other local companies. Right now we are using a generic 24% protein supplement, since we are feeding hay as well.

We are really in some serious trouble.

We are really in some serious trouble.

I know those of us in agriculture are famous for never being happy with the weather. It’s always too wet, too dry, too cloudy, too sunny. But this is serious, cattlepeople in the west are facing some very tough times right now. Hay is expensive, if you can find it, extra rangeland is impossible to find, and the weather refuses to compromise. I am afraid for many of my neighbors and friends. Hope for rain my friends.

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Wordless Wednesday: Nikki the Cowdog

 

I love you.

I love you.

 

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Beef Swiss Steak

When I was  a little kid, my Mom would make swiss steak with a can of cream of mushroom soup. It was pretty much one of my favorite things to eat – beef, carrots, potatoes and gravy. Four out of my six food groups (bread and chocolate are the other two).

Since I accidentally obsessed over canning this summer, I decided to make swiss steak the traditional way, with tomatoes. I accidentally canned a crapton of tomatoes this summer and until I use some of my canned goods up, I can’t make anymore preserves (I’m out of jars).

I have so, so, so many canned goods. But these tomatoes are yummy, so it's ok.

I have so, so, so many canned goods. But these tomatoes are yummy, so it’s ok.

For Sunday Supper last night I made “traditional” swiss steak. It was cheap, easy and delicious so I am sharing it with my dear readers.

I used top sirloin because I was too lazy to dig in the freezer to find a bottom round (this is a great recipe to use a cut of beef that likes to be braised).

I used top sirloin because I was too lazy to dig in the freezer to find a bottom round (this is a great recipe to use a cut of beef that likes to be braised).

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs (or close to) beef top sirloin or bottom round
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 3 gloves garlic, mashed
  • 4 cups canned tomatoes
  • 5 large carrots, chunked
  • 6  yukon gold potatoes, chunked
  • 1/2 lb green beans
  • worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup broth
  • 2 bay leaves

Mix your flour and spices together. Dredge your meat in the flour and spice mixture.

Dredge your meat in the flour and spice mixture.

Dredge your meat in the flour and spice mixture.

In a dutch oven, brown your dredged meat in oil (I highly recommend bacon grease).  When your meat is browned, remove from heat, and add your onion. Cook your onion until caramelized, then add your mashed garlic for 30 seconds.

Browned beef. Yum.

Browned beef. Yum.

Add your beef back into your dutch oven, with the onion and garlic mixture. Add the broth, tomatoes, bay leaves and worcestershire sauce. Let that simmer over low heat for about an hour and half (also for the record you could make this in a crockpot, after you brown the meat, just add everything into your crockpot and cook for four hours).

After your meat has simmered add your potatoes and carrots, you could add celery too, but it’s not my favorite, so I omitted it in favor of green beans! Let your root veggies cook for about a half an hour, then add your green beans (I like my beans slightly crispy).

I love one dish meals. Less dishes, gravy - what isn't there to love?

I love one dish meals. Less dishes, gravy – what isn’t there to love?

After your beans are done to your liking, it’s go time. I use the “gravy” to cover the potatoes and dip bread in, it’s glorious. This is a great cold weather meal, it really sticks to your ribs!

It's not the prettiest of meals, but it is hearty, yummy and affordable. Yes.

It’s not the prettiest of meals, but it is hearty, yummy and affordable. Yes.

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Wordless Wednesday: Joe

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Kumquat Marmalade

Marmalade is good.

Marmalade is good.

If you’ve been following me for any amount of time you will know that one of my many obsessions hobbies includes gardening. My gardening extends to tree growing as well, in fact, my yard’s fence is made out of dwarf citrus trees. All kinds! From naval orange to kumquats to citrons, I have a nice variety.

I was forced to pick all of my citrus this week because of the rare cold snap we’ve had here in Northern California. I’ve actually had to wear two pairs of yoga pants to do my chores in the morning. Anyway, I have a glut of citrus and I was scrabbling to find recipes to use all my citrus up. I made citrus curd. I made salted lemons – it was time for marmalade.

2 cups of chopped kumquat.

2 cups of chopped kumquat.

Since I am not a huge fan of eating plain ole kumquats, I thought the perfect application would be marmalade. Off the the Ball Blue Canning Book I went and found:

Kumquat Marmalade

2 cups thinly sliced kumquats

1 1/2 cups chopped orange pulp

1 1/2 cups sliced orange peel

1/3 cup lemon juice

1 1/2 quarts water

sugar

Use a sharp knife, it will make cutting these little suckers easier.

Use a sharp knife, it will make cutting these little suckers easier.

Combine everything except the sugar in a large saucepan. Simmer for 5 minutes. Cover and let stand overnight in the refrigerator. The next morning, place your mixture back in a saucepan and cook rapidly until your peels are soft. Measure your mixture and add equal amount of sugar, stirring to dissolve. Bring to a boil, stirring often to the gelling point.

I used almost 8 cups of sugar for this recipe - be aware.

I used almost 8 cups of sugar for this recipe – be aware.

Remove from heat, skim foam and place in sterilized jars. Process in a water-bath canner for 10 minutes.

Cooking jam is so pretty.

Cooking jam is so pretty.

These looked amazing too:

Sunday Morning Kumquat Jam 

Small Batch Kumquat Marmalade 

Kumquat Marmalade 

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Wordless Wednesday: Merry Early Christmas

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Lambs: Scene One.

WARNING! This might be considered by some to be gross, inappropriate, or tragic, but I think it is extremely important share the how’s, what’s and why’s of our food. If you have any questions about anything you see please ask – I love to share about the ranch.

Basque Mike when I met him this summer.

Basque Mike when I met him this summer.

This past summer I met a wonderful man, Basque Mike. And over beers at our neighbor Pete’s house, I learned that he was an actual real-life shepherd that came to America when he was 16, with bread and wine, to herd sheep. He has a very heavy accent that was sometimes hard to understand, but he was a serious kick in the pants. My conversation with Mike inspired me. Mike told me that he would teach me to cut lamb the Basque way. The only problem with that is I don’t raise lamb.

Lambs, man.

Lambs, man.

I had a pair of bottle lambs when I was a kid, but for the most part, my experience with sheep has not been pleasant. I’ve been chased around by a mean ram, had a really bad experience with awful mutton and generally distrust sheep because they are evil. I really think it is a cattlepeople thing – we just aren’t used to things like goats and sheep.

Baaaa

Baaaa

After months of  hemming and hawing I decided to buy some lambs. This was not an easy choice for me. I just wasn’t thrilled at the idea of having sheep back on this ranch. Even my dogs were not sold on the idea of sheep. And our bottle calves were absolutely horrified.

But, I have a friend from college that just happened to have some lambs ready for slaughter. Neighbor Pete said he would help cut and wrap them if I wanted to learn. It was meant to be. I had cash because I sold my car (so sad!!!),  I bought some lambs from my friend’s Stacie and Taylor at Heart  P Livestock. After a week on the ranch, they were slaughtered and hung.

A hung lamb, ready to be cut and wrapped.

A hung lamb, ready to be cut and wrapped.

After a few days of hanging I went to learn how to cut and wrap a lamb from neighbor Pete. Pete is incredibly fast and amazing at what he does. We cut and wrapped 3 lambs in no time. It blew my mind. I learned my basic lamb cuts after the first two lambs, so by the third I was able to wrap and label with no assistance.

Pete is very fast, especially when he has help!

Pete is very fast, especially when he has help! (That’s my Dad helping him)

Since before this time, I was not a fan of lamb, I decided to split my lamb with another neighbor. I regret that now. Getting my hands dirty, being part of my own food, made me like lamb! (Plus it was quality lamb to begin with, I highly recommend Heart P). Go figure, that I would like lamb! Plus I have all kinds of people wanting to trade lamb meat for cool things. I LOVE trading! Since I don’t have a steady cash income anymore, I’ve started trading my time and talents for things I need and want. It is awesome.

This is me, learning from Pete how a lamb is put together.

This is me, learning from Pete how a lamb is put together.

Although Mike and I haven’t connected for a Basque session I feel much more confident in my lamb knowledge.

MY lamb.

MY lamb.

I would have been embarrassed to even have him attempt to teach me anything before this because I just did not have enough basic knowledge about lamb to make it stick. I took the first step, I got some lambs, I learned about some lambs, I wrapped some lambs. Lambs are good. I’m ready for next time.

My Manicure Monday picture from the day. I don't have pretty hands, but I have capable hands, and to me, that is more important.

My Manicure Monday picture from the day. I don’t have pretty hands, but I have capable hands, and to me, that is more important.

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