Tag Archives: sad

Death on the Range

This is the time of the year where we load up our cattle onto cattle trucks and ship them to our summer ranch. We do this for many reasons, you can go here, to get more information about why.

The trucks loading our cattle.

The trucks loading our cattle.

Needless to say, shipping the cattle and moving all of our tools to the other ranch is a stressful time, even though we do it twice a year. Due to the major drought we are facing in California, this year feels especially scary. It feels like we are being forced by mother nature to do everything sooner. It has not helped with the stress levels that we were experiencing.

However Saturday we finished shipping most of the cows. That means the hardest part was over. Everything had gone well. No animals or people got hurt. No one got yelled at too badly. We got cattle trucks when we wanted them. Only two were cows missing, a good shipping season by anyone’s standards.

Sunday was a day to enjoy some calmness and relax. I had a pretty nice little day planned in order to celebrate being done. I had brunch with my girlfriend. Worked in my garden. Did some writing and I was hoping to catch 60 Minutes, and call it a day.

The hardest place to get to on the ranch. There is a creek with one, very treacherous crossing.

The hardest place to get to on the ranch. There is a creek with one, very treacherous crossing.

I almost had my calm day, I made it to the writing part. Then as it so often does in production agriculture, my personal plans had to change. Since we were missing two cows, I took off on my trusty Polaris to look for them. I successfully found one! But I unfortunately came across a cow that had an accident. She couldn’t get her legs under her, she couldn’t walk – somehow she broke her back (maybe she tripped on a rock, maybe she got in a cow fight, we’ll never know). She happened to do it at the worst possible place on the ranch, there was no way we could reach her to help or to slaughter, it was hard enough reaching her on my ATV. I had no other option but to euthanize her and walk away.

I'm sorry cow.

I’m sorry cow.

It was a hard thing to do. Even if we have a worst case scenario like this, we can usually salvage something so the cow’s death is not a waste. As long as an animal is healthy and we observe any withdrawal times for vaccinations, an animal that had an accident can be slaughtered for our personal consumption. Old cows make great hamburger, hot dogs, snack sticks and jerky and I am always glad to have that stuff in my freezer.

If the animal had recently been given a vaccination, we can donate the carcass to our local animal sanctuary to be used as feed so at least there is some use. To just leave a cow in a field for scavengers is a difficult, difficult thing, just a total waste. In a few months, after the bones are clean, and the coyotes, scavenger birds have had their fill, I’ll go back and pick up the bones so there will be no mess.

This is the bad part about my life. Death happens here and not always in a meaningful way. As a cattlewoman the best thing I can do is be compassionate, ease pain and suffering as quickly and as best as I can and take solace in that. But it never, ever get easier.

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Culling Cows

Drought. Dry, sparse grass and lots of blue supplement tubs.

Drought. Dry, sparse grass and lots of blue supplement tubs.

The drought we are currently suffering through is showing no signs of improving. Despite our positive attitudes and all the thoughts and prayers for water that we can muster, things continue to get worse. All agriculture related conversations inevitably circle around to water. When will it rain? Will it be a wet year? El Nino? Do you know anyone with extra feed? How are we going to survive? Needless to say, our whole family, actually the whole community, is suffering from a great deal of anxiety.

This is a common picture these days.

This is a common picture these days.

Let me tell you, the worst thing you can say to someone in agriculture right now is anything along the lines of “it’s not going to rain” or “it’s going to be another dry year”. It’s almost like a slap in the face. Staying focused on the now, making it day to day, convincing ourselves it’s going to be okay, are the only things keeping most of us motivated. This is very real to us.

Our hay field.

Our hay field.

Every rancher I know is making every effort to conserve water, to become more efficient and, well, survive. Some ranchers are buying and making all the hay they can. They need feed for their cattle and know that is the only way to get it right now. Other ranchers are culling their herds. We are doing both.

Our beautiful cull cows.

Our beautiful cull cows.

In addition to selling our calf crop, where we earn the majority of our income, about two months early, we made the decision to cull or sell, more cattle than we normally would. Selling your mother cows is almost like selling your future and past. These are cows whose genetics were planned years before they were ever born. We watched their births, we watched them grow up, we cared for them their whole lives, we watched them, in turn, give birth. Now we must sell them.

The auction ring.

The auction ring.

Granted, culling cows is a necessity for a healthy herd. Removing genetics that are not efficient makes your herd more sustainable. And, ranching is a business. If a cow is not making you money, she is costing you money. Most of us operate within such tight margins, we simply can’t afford to have the deadweight, even in a good year.

Some of our girls.

Some of our girls.

It’s different when you are forced to cull cows before they are ready. The drought has forced such action. Cows that had calves that weren’t “perfect”, older cows, cows that simply looked at us the wrong way at the wrong time, all were sold. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to some of these good cows.

We sent a full truck to the sale.

We sent a full truck to the sale.

This is our reality. If we want to continue to ranch despite this drought, tough choices need to be made. Having healthy cattle and ground is our only option and that means doing whatever we must to sustain those things. Running less cattle on our dry ground will cause less stress to everything, therefore when it does rain again (and it will!!), we will be able to bounce back faster and better.

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Sad Day

Sad day. There was some complications with Ranchie. Unfortunately despite an emergency surgery and our best effort the puppies did not make it. Ranchie is home resting and is being loved and spoiled.
She got a bunch of treats from Chico Locker and Sausage, a new, pretty red collar and some new toys to help with her recovery. Thank you for all the kind words and positive thoughts. We love our Ranch Dog and we are glad to still have her with us.

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Adult 4-H: The Last Update

It was my last weekend with the pigs. I made the most of it.

When I get sad, I plant things. This is a "cocktail" tree. It has a peach, plum and nectarine all grafted onto one tree.

When I get sad, I plant things. This is a “cocktail” tree. It has a peach, plum and nectarine all grafted onto one tree.


My town job was very stressful last week. So much so that I stress puked at work on Wednesday. I should clarify that I love my job in town and stress myself out because I don’t want to disappoint my bosses (I used to do the same thing before, during and after I worked cattle with my Dad, but I think I have control of that now). Anyway Friday when I go home I went straight out the pig pen with a glass of wine and hung out with the piggies until I felt better.

Pigs make everything better.

Pigs make everything better.


On Saturday my Dad took me to lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant. After we polished off our margaritas, my Dad tried to talk to me about my feelings toward the pigs. Now my Dad is pretty much the most stoic guy I know, he tends not to get attached to anything (he’s softening up in his old age though! He has a bed kitty that he loves deeply (don’t tell him I told you that)). I really appreciated his attempt to make sure I was going to be ok when the pigs are killed. We both acknowledged that I would probably cry on Friday, but that was ok.
The pigs love being sprayed. LOVE IT.

The pigs love being sprayed. LOVE IT.

As you all know the pigs are our “adult 4-H” project. Kristen and Mahina each bought one pig, and I bought two. My friend Shannon, wanted to do adult 4-H, but she was busy with life, law school, and a job, so I told her I would just raise her pig for her, and she could be involved as much or as little as she could handle (she ended up being involved a lot, yay!). When we picked up our pigs, Jamie (our pig connection) gave us Char, who was a runt of a litter. On the ride home from picking up our pigs, Mahina, Kristen and I decided that we would “split” Char.

My Mom made my Uncle a bench to suck up so we can get more almonds.

My Mom made my Uncle a bench to suck up so we can get more almonds.

After a few months into this project, I realized my Parents were doing a lot more work for the pigs than the original “nothing” I had promised. My Dad got us a crapload of pumpkins. My Mom and Dad got feed for us, fixed fence, cooked, picked up almond pieces, and fed for us a lot during the winter when we had no daylight. They also allowed me to do this project and didn’t charge us rent or for water or anything! I planned on giving them half of my pig, but I could tell our family was going to have some major fights over the pork (we don’t share well).

After I realized how much my Parents were doing for us, and how much my Dad really wanted to eat Char, I gave my interest in Char to my Dad. It seemed like an especially good idea after Char rooted up my Dad’s cable TV cable and then to add insult to injury, my Dad tripped in the hole. I figured it’d be hard to be mad at your own pig, right?!? After my Dad got my interest in Char he promised the other girls he would hook them up with some beef in trade for Char. I think it worked out well.

The almond pieces, pigs love them!

The almond pieces, pigs love them!

Sunday my Uncle Steven came over. Steven is responsible for getting me all the organic almond pieces that we have been feeding the pigs as a part of their ration. I really noticed the pigs start to put on weight when Steven started getting us the nuts. And best of all I didn’t have to pay for them! Needless to say Steven is getting some pork from me (I want nuts again next year! I know whose butt I need to kiss). Steven couldn’t believe how big the pigs had gotten since the last time he saw them. I tried to get Steven to load up Char and take him home but he wouldn’t (Char has been a really bad pig lately, escaping and rooting and eating garden plants).

Char the bad pig was "helping" till my garden.

Char the bad pig was “helping” till my garden.

After my Uncle left my Mom pulled me aside and wanted to talk about how I would handle the pig deaths. I said I was probably going to be sad and planned on saying in the house until after they were killed, but after that, I’m going to blog about it. I’m an only child, I get attached to everything including inanimate objects. I can’t help it. But I’ve known this is what these pigs are for, and this isn’t my first time to the rodeo.

I have an illness. I buy too many plants. The deer kill them, every year, but I can't stop!

I have an illness. I buy too many plants. The deer kill them, every year, but I can’t stop!


In anticipation of having a giant pig shaped hole in my heart after next Friday, I woke my garden up. I bought some new trees and plants. I started some early garden plants in my bathroom “greenhouse”. Next weekend I’m going to see if the Intern can come over and intern help me build a fence for keeping those goddamned deer out. Soon I will build my chicken coop and order chicks, and the never-ending cycle of food production will continue.

I have to admit, I am so excited to be producing all of my own meat, eggs and if I can keep the deer away, a lot of my own veggies (and in a couple years stone fruit, pomegranates, citrus and grapes!). Stay tuned, Friday is slaughter day and you know I will be blogging the whole process.

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The “Appointment”

I’ve made the “appointment”. The pigs are going to be slaughtered March 8. I’ll admit I’m already a whisper sad about it.
I grew up raising my own food animals. I did 4-H and FFA. Every year I watch as our commercial calves are loaded into trucks to become food. I watch the custom exempt slaughter of our personal freezer beef. Heck I even worked in a slaughterhouse. I’m not new to this lifestyle, but for some reason I am already bummed out about the pigs.
Maybe because this was my project, my idea, my money, and my time. It was the first time a bright idea of mine worked out successfully (ask me about goats sometime). Since October, I have spent every day with these pigs making sure they were the happiest pigs they could be. In December I started making their food. I’ve cooked for these pigs more than I’ve cooked for myself.

Happy pig

Happy pig


I realize that is their “job” to be pigs and if they didn’t have a “job” they probably wouldn’t exist. I know I have provided them with the best pig life I could. I know they are happy and healthy. But I am still going to miss them; I think I would have no soul if I didn’t.
Treats!

Treats!


When I would have a bad day at work, or someone poked me with a stick, I would simply go out and hang with the pigs. They are always super excited to see me, even more excited when I bring treats and the most excited when I brush them and give belly rubs. They run and grunt at me when they see me, just like I sing them silly pig songs and talk to them when I am in their pen.
This project has been a success and we haven’t even tried the pork yet. It was wonderful doing adult 4-H and having so many visitors to the Ranch. It was great having something my Dad and I could talk about everyday, where I could ask for his advice. And best of all it was wonderful to bring awareness to this pork. I have a waiting list for next year.
This project reminded me that my place is on the Ranch, not in an office. Over the past three years I have worked in town from 8 to 5. I worked on the Ranch during my weekends and free-time; so I have not noticed how “soft” I have become until recently.
When we first got the pigs I noticed it was hard for me to pick up the 50 pound sacks of grower feed. My arms were sore after I started cooking their food all weekend (it takes my whole weekend to cook enough food for them). I had blisters on my delicate little office hands. I have to make two trips to feed them because two full five gallon buckets were just too much for me.
But after 6 months of taking care of the pigs every day, twice a day (except for like a month at night, when my Parents fed for me because it was too dark by the time I got home) I have upper arm strength again. I can pick up their 75 pound sacks of feed like it is nothing. I now fill their slop buckets as full as I can get them and “pump buckets” on the way to their trough. I have calluses. It feels good and I’m thinking of becoming a bouncer with these guns, lol.
My "man" hands. I've very proud. I missed them.

My “man” hands. I’ve very proud. I missed them.


Since this was a success my Parents have agreed to let me start raising pastured poultry this spring. When I take my vacation next month I am going to build a portable coop and get chicks. I have fond memories of being a small child and slaughtering chickens and turkeys with my Dad (he would always give me the sea glass from the turkey’s gullet). Very exciting stuff is happening for me!
Work. Lots of work. All weekend worth of work. I need a weekend from my weekend.

Work. Lots of work. All weekend worth of work. I need a weekend from my weekend.


Be prepared Dear Readers, even though I will probably be sobbing, I am going to video and take pictures of the whole slaughter process just like I did with my beef all those years ago (Industry groups, if you are concerned about this, please contact me NOW, I don’t want another Beef Council incident).
Thank you to all of you that have kept up with our pig adventures. I’ve really enjoyed all of your comments and feedback! I’ve even met new “friends” through this project, it’s just been such a wonderful experience. However I am a little excited that I can start to sleep in and have weekends again after these pigs are gone. It has been a lot of work balancing my town job and my pigs.

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Leo Horse

My first memory of Leo is my Dad telling me he found a new horse. My Great Aunties used to raise all of our own horses on this ranch. Of course, as a small child I didn’t realize how amazing that was. I just knew their were lots and lots and lots of pretty horses for me to play with and look at. My Dad promised me that soon, he was going to take me to meet this new baby horse that was to be his.

Leo as a two year old – learning how to be a horse.

When I was a little girl all ranch work was done on horseback. This was back in the early 1980’s, we didn’t have polaris and 4-wheelers like we do now. If you wanted to check on your cattle, you had to saddle up and take off at a high trot come back, get lunch, get a new horse, and take off at a high trot*. Everyday (it’s not as romantic as it sounds, trust me, there really is something to be said for a 4-wheeler). But that was why we had a lot of horses. Plus every time my Dad would get a horse good and broke, the Aunties would sell it. It was a point of contention for my Dad.

My buddy

When Leo was born, my Dad decided he liked him. My Dad kept an eye on the colt as he grew up, and would occasionally go feed him an extra flake of hay, just to say hi. As yearlings, all of our colts were put in this field called the Century Plant Field. They were put there to ‘make them into horses’. This field has rocks, cows, wild animals, mud, streams, hills, basically a great place to learn how to be a worldly horse. And that is where I met Leo for the first time.

He was a pretty big horse.

It was a grey winter day, and I remember I got to spend the day with my Dad for some reason. As a treat, my Dad took me out to meet Leo. As we drove the hay truck out into the field, Dad told me to stay in the truck until he opened a bale of hay because Leo didn’t know me yet and I would scare him. I remember thinking that was absolutely ridiculous because every horse that I had ever met in my short life just loved me! I was the official ear scratcher and treat giver on the ranch.

Even the bottle calves had the crap scared out of them by Leo.

My Dad parked the hay truck and the colts came trotting over. I couldn’t stand it and popped out of the cab and into the back of the truck with my Dad, causing a lot of snorting and shying away of the colts. My Dad was right, they didn’t like me. But he opened up the hay bale and started tossing flakes out and they came back over again. Leo even allowed my Dad to scratch his ears and rub his neck.

It was a big deal for me to ride Leo when I was little. I mean Leo was MY DAD’S HORSE and very powerful and fast. This is Leo telling me I’m not doing it right – he was really good at that.

Since my Dad knew he was going to keep Leo, Leo got sent to an actual horse trainer, instead of being started here. The trainer fell in love with him too. She even entered him in a few horse shows before she would give him back, and he did really well. Once Leo got trained and people were normal to him, he turned into a big love-bug.

As Leo got older he was perfect for evening rides with my friends.

Leo and I became good friends as well. He liked to be loved on and given treats and that was totally my thing! I found out that if you sat on the top of the fence (which I wasn’t supposed to do), he would come over and put his head in my lap for pets! To a five year old, that is pretty much zen.

I taught ex-boyfriends who wanted to be cowboys how to ride on him

Leo was my Dad’s horse for the first 10 year’s of his life, they roped, they cut, Leo was the ultimate cow horse. Indeed if a cow or calf started falling behind Leo had no problem reaching over and biting that cow. Even out in a field, if a cow got too close to Leo, he would bite or kick. Leo took his cow-horse job very seriously.

He was great for photo sessions! Thanks http://jldphotographblog.com!

My Dad has slowly become the bionic man (ranching is tough work, kids), and riding is no longer comfortable for him, so Leo slowly become a guest horse. He was the type of horse you could let a greenhorn ride and they would generally be ok. Leo’s only vice was if he knew you would let him get away with something, he would. But once you became friends with Leo he would be your pal and take good care of you.

Or a quick ride….

Leo had some accidents during his lifetime, his hoof almost got cut off when he got stuck in some wire. He had pigeon fever really bad,  he gained a lot of weight really fast in the spring, always causing us to panic. And an accident involving a nail and his chest – some ugly stuff. But he made it through and soldiered on for 30 years.

Daniel and Leo spent a lot of time together this spring. Leo loved the attention.

Leo died today. My Mom came and got me this morning because Leo was in distress and couldn’t get up. He went very quickly after we both said goodbye. He seemed to have waited until we were all able to acknowledge he was going. We had a scare with him last winter. That’s why we knew we needed to get Joe a friend, so Sue got adopted. We knew Leo didn’t feel good yesterday. But it really seemed as if this morning he wanted to be with us as he went. What a honor, but that was the type of horse he was. He thought of his people and his pasture friend before himself.

Leo is the last of a golden era on this ranch and for this family. As I look through pictures of this family dating all the way back to the 1800’s our horses have always been very prominent and proud. Leo is the last horse from that era that was bred, born and died here. Thank you Leo. Thank you.

I gave Leo lots of extra treats this summer. Including a bunch of peaches, he loved peaches!

We were very lucky to have Leo in our lives for the past 30 years. I have so many wonderful memories of him and my family. Right now it feels a bit like we have lost a family member. Thank you Leo, you will be missed very much.

*So my Dad says.

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Am I Really the Crazy One?

Edit from October 2013: “if you’re a strong, powerful, smart woman, you tend to end up at some point in a roomful of men trying to prove that your ideas are good.” Elizabeth Moss

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I went to my local county cattlemen’s board meeting tonight. My blog was on the agenda because for the past few months I had been asked to use my social media savvy and create a Facebook page for the group. I’ve posted mainly fun facts and articles about the industry, but I figured since my blog post about California Beef Council dropping the social media ball directly impacted Butte County Cattlemen (since they all pay into the check-off), I’d post a link to my blog on the Butte County Cattlemen’s facebook page.

Ready to talk the Board about my blog, change within the industry and facebook.

Some of the members didn’t like that I did that. I understand that fighting and drama can look bad when done within the industry. But when you read my post about the California Beef Council, I feel like I am not really fighting or attacking. I offered my help, I want to get involved! I did point out that the beef industry has a problem when the group we fund to talk for us, won’t talk to us. So it confused me that these men took issue with my stance. I guess I thought more of them would be upset too.
I found myself being the only woman and the youngest one there trying to explain social media, blogs, my blog, the story behind my blog, and how social media works to a group of men that, I think it is safe to say, don’t fully appreciate this technology, it was like talking to a roomful of my Dads. It got confusing. People interrupted me and told my story for me (although that part was kinda nice – I got to hear more about the drama I caused higher up, but I didn’t know because NO ONE WOULD TALK TO ME ABOUT IT). I got annoyed that I could have been sitting on my couch, with my cat and wine (Wino Wednesday!), instead of being talked at about a thing I know and am pretty good at sometimes.
I went ahead and printed off a couple of my blogs, the ag code that explains the California Beef Council’s job, and Todd Fitchette’s blog about my blog, hoping to give the board members some background into what I have been doing. I don’t think that helped, but I did try and do my due diligence to explain why I thought I was there.

My packet of information about the California Beef Council.

The meeting went on about if Butte County Cattlemen should even have a Facebook page. A side note, I asked how many of these men even had a form of social media and I think 4 out of the group of 10 or so did, one mentioned that he knew how to turn on a computer! I guess I do understand now, why these guys aren’t as upset at the lack of social media in our industry when they don’t understand what it is or how powerful it can be.
I think by now, most of my serious readers realize I love ag, I love anything to do with it, and I spend an enormous amount of my time talking and sharing about it. I was honest and told them it really wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they removed me from their Facebook administrator because I do have my hands in so many different ag related activities. They said that they wanted me but they wanted policies and procedures, more regulation – no drama, no opinions, you know kinda the stuff that makes me such an amusing person. I told them that for a donation to my scholarship they could tell me what to post, and I wouldn’t piss anyone off.
So about that time I burst into tears. Because when I am put on the defensive and not listened to, that is what I do. It was a highly effective tool to communicate with my Dad and since these men all reminded me of my Dad, I went there. I do hate that about myself, it makes me look very unprofessional, but it is also a huge part of who I am. However, want to know how to make a room full of cattlemen really uncomfortable?
So that was my meeting. I think they decided to have a young cattlemen take over the page. I must question though, how many pages about the beef industry do we need that only talk about puff? How effective has that been?
I went home after I started to cry. I’m on my couch with Jack cat, doing what I do best these days, writing about the odd predicaments I get myself into. I don’t feel like my point was gotten across. I feel like I am missing yet another opportunity to help my industry. I feel like I don’t know how to communicate with others in my industry, am I the only one that feel like this? Am I really the crazy one?

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Wordless Wednesday: And the Smoke Rolls in

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