Wild Ranching Women

My husband has been encouraging me to spend time with a new group of girls. Some of them are teenagers, some are older. All are pregnant. None are married. And he encourages me to spend time with them late at night or into the early morning hours when they’re out eating, drinking and partying it up.

These are some high needs girls. They expect their food, drinks and medical services delivered to them. They demand fresh bedding taken care of by others. Many would like to have spa days donated to them.

They’re all due to have their babies in the next 45 days. And there are about a hundred of them….seriously. My husband thinks I need to go out with them every night, either at 9 pm or 1 am – making sure their needs are taken care of, their wants are met, their comfort assured.

If they have complications and need medical attention, THEY GET TESTY! They may kick at me, try to head butt me and generally try to raise a ruckus. Much like trying to get a toddler to bed, they don’t want to go where they need to go and then expect 5 star treatment when they finally give in. Negotiating with terrorists might be easier some days.

By now, I’m sure you’ve figured out I’m talking about calving season at our place. We check out AIed and a few natural bred cows/heifers every 3 to 4 hours around the clock. 1 am/pm, 5 am/pm, 9 am/pm and so it goes. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for about 3 months. There was a time I did a lot more of the checks, but then again I wasn’t working a town job then either. Now I’m gone about 11 hours a day for that job/commute. Mike is now on the day shift at his town job. That leaves Chris for a lot of the daytime checks. This week, he’s helping out a fellow breeder, so that means a call is put in to Brittany to come mid-day to check with the 6 month old grandson and nearly 2 year old granddaughter. It takes a village to raise a herd of cattle.

So, when I say to you, “I can’t come/attend/go/be there due to calving” I’m not just giving you an excuse. When I get home from the town job, I start supper for the humans while the guys are finishing up chores outside. We eat then sit down to handle calving records, registration papers, sale entries, tax information, etc. Then we check cows again and go to sleep for 3 to 4 hours if there’s no trouble.

Praying for a safe and successful calving season for all our fellow ranchers.


To Everything There is a Season

And sometimes, those seasons stink. We’ve had a bit of a rough 24 hours around here. Chris found his calf that was 2 days old dead – still tucked in some trees where he was fine yesterday. He just bought this calf’s momma as a bred this past fall….there goes the profitability for the year on that one. People wonder why cattle are expensive, why steaks run so much at a restaurant…..here’s part one of the reason. It takes 9 months from breeding to calving if the cow sticks on the first breeding. Then you have to successfully calve out the cow. According to Drover’s Magazine, 6 to 10 percent of calves are lost due to calving issues. We normally check our calves every 3 to 4 hours around the clock during calving season. We know there can be any number of reasons for assistance to be needed and strive to keep our losses much lower than the 6 to 10% stated above. From birth to weaning, another 2 to 5% of calves can be lost for any number of reasons…..respiratory illness, disease, predators….. sometimes you just don’t know the actual cause. The fact is that the crazy weather extremes we’ve had as of late, are extremely hard on the immune system of calves. In the last 7 days we’ve had wind chills as low as -25 and warmth up to 50 degrees today. A 75 degree difference in just a matter of days makes it hard for a newborn to adjust….shoot, it’s hard for this nearly 47 year old to adjust to. It’s just extremely frustrating that we didn’t even have a chance to treat and potentially save this one.

The same day Chris found his new calf, he also found a replacement heifer in the feedlot that was bloated at evening chores. He placed a call to the vet, pumped some mineral oil in her and the vet even left us a trochar to put in her if she didn’t go down. We put it in this morning without success. All the mineral oil that had been pumped in came out of the trochar – not out her usual exit chute. Usually when you pump mineral oil into a calf, they have a very oily rear end the next few days. Her’s was dry….completely. We placed another call to the vet while we ate our lunch but when the guys went out after lunch, she was dead. Apparently instead of just being bloated our best guess is that she couldn’t poop due to a blockage. So there’s reason #2. We calved her out safely and raised her to weaning safely. We were growing her out to produce more calves and yet that opportunity is now gone. $1,500 (avg. fat calf price) to $2,500 (bred heifer avg.) gone. The feed we’ve fed her since September is now just a dead animal, the vaccinations won’t prevent anything, the land and property taxes paid won’t be refunded for her. The vet bills incurred aren’t just written off because she died. None of the expenses go away, they just have to be absorbed by other calves in the herd.

So now, we’re in a state of evaluation and re-evaluation. What was the cause of the calf dying? What was the cause of the heifer dying? What can we change in each of these situations to help prevent more of the same? So, that’s how I’ll spend part of my Saturday afternoon…..after a nap. Did I mention we kept the grandkids last night? I do remember why we had kids in our 20s and not our 40s. Avery woke up at 12:30 and discovered her Papa was home. She thought it would be a good time to play with him. Mike had just worked a 16 hour shift at the town job and was exhausted. We finally got back to sleep about 2 am. So now, I’m trying to avoid the flu that’s running rampant in our area, doing a little housework, stocking up on some cattle supplies and sneaking in a nap before the next crisis hits. And maybe, if we’re all still upright tonight, we’ll go out and enjoy one of those delicious steaks.

Discovering the Why behind Requests

For the past several years our oldest son, Chris, and my husband, Mike, have gone to Denver for the National Western Stock Show. They have gone for a week or more each year and two years ago our younger son, Jesse, and his wife, Brittany, went also. I have had a few requests and no one asked for the why’s behind my requests. They just assumed I was being lazy, I think. This year, it didn’t work out for anyone other than Chris to go to Denver. Mike is working a day shift town job this year so that leveled the playing field a bit.

After about 3 days of getting up at 4 am to do chores before leaving for work, coming home to feed hay then do evening chores, Mike looked at me and said, “I’m not sure how you were going to be able to get everything done.” You see, I get home from my town job 3 1/2 hours later than he does. I go in two hours later and have a longer commute. It’s not good in the winter when it’s dark when I leave home and dark when I leave the job to come home. And so he now understood why I needed to know the dates they would be gone to Denver so I could adjust my work schedule. I had arranged with my boss to come in a little early, work through my lunch and maybe finish some stuff at home if necessary. After all, my family was going with the boss’s son & future daughter-in-law.

Oh, did I mention the temps during the National Western in Missouri rarely got up to freezing? As a matter of fact, much time was spent thawing waterers and just trying to keep everything going in the bitter cold. And so, about 6 days in, Mike looked at me and said, “Boy, am I glad we’re not calving.” *smile to self here*. Three years ago during spring breeding season I begged for everyone to hold off just a little longer. I really did not want to be calving first calf heifers while everyone else was gone showing. They assured me February calves would be safe. They lied. Just know, Denver occurs two weeks prior to February calves’ calculated due dates, but somehow, for some reason, one or two decide to make their appearance that week. Last year during breeding season, I finally got my way and the majority aren’t due until mid to late February or even March. But…..Chris bought some breds this fall and yes, two have now calved. One at the beginning of the month and one yesterday…….he got home Tuesday night. Timing.

So, you see, there’s always a reason why behind the requests. Guys, if you’re asking your wives and girlfriends to take care of everything while you go off to the shows, you may want to think through the whys. I promise it’ll make your life much smoother, happier and less likely to have objects flying at you when you return home to ice, frozen waterers and a whole barn full of new babies.

A few years ago in a small town just a state away….

Well, maybe just a bit more than a few years ago, but on that cool, crisp fall day in 1937 a little girl was born to first time parents.  Stanley and Norval Schumacher welcomed their first of four children that October 8th.  They raised her on the family dairy farm, teaching her how to care for the livestock and the home.  She ended up falling in love with the boy next door…..literally, next door.  Those two have lived and farmed in 3 states.  Janice has loving raised her family and worshiped her Savior at every stop.  

Life hasn’t been a bed of roses for Janice.  But the many challenges she has faced have always been handled with much grace and dignity and faith.  There have been ample opportunities in her life to question her faith, her loving God.  She may ask Him why but never turns her back on Him.  She is a prayer WARRIOR.  Watching her prayer list ebb and flow shows an amazing amount of love and compassion for all.  Serving her church has always been a priority in her life, as is evidenced by her still working in the church nursery on a regular basis.  

Janice loves her family.  She is always there for all generations of her family.  She lovingly cared for her mother in her later years.  She loving cared for her grandchildren when her daughter passed away unexpectedly.  And even now, she enjoys caring for her great grand children.  Watch Janice work in the garden with her great granddaughter, Avery, brings a smile to my face.  And a snapshot is stored in my memory.  The kids (both young and adults) know Grandma will always have a treat of some sort baked for them, a meal ready at the drop of a hat and a kind word and warm hug for them.  

Janice is more than “just a farm wife”.   She’s always lived and worked on the farm.  Yes, she’s held some other jobs over the years, but her heart has always been on the farm. She worked alongside Paul during lambing season, pigging season, calving season, planting season and harvest.  She mourned the loss of every animal and wondered what could have been done differently.  She cooked meals and hauled them, along with any number of children, to the field so the guys could continue working.  She maintained the books and did all she could to help keep the family afloat during the farm crisis in the 80’s.  Janice is, quite simply, a major part of the farm.

Janice is an amazing mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, great-grandmother and mentor.  I have learned much from her over the years.  She’s always willing to share the latest bits of wisdom she has garnered – from cooking to Bible study to house keeping to emergency preparedness.  

So, today, on her 80th birthday, I want to say thank you, Janice.  You have always provided the example of what a Christian woman should be.  Thank you and happy birthday!


Sale Preparation

I was just scrolling back though some of the older posts on here and realized, I’ve never shared with you just what it is we do to prepare for our annual club calf sale.  I thought this might just be a good time as starting tomorrow night, things will likely begin getting very hectic for all of us.  

Go back to the beginning of August with me.  That’s when we brought the calves up to begin the slow weaning process.  At first, this may seem like a lot more work than just completely weaning the calves from day 1.  And at first it is more work.  We’re blessed that some of our cows have calves in the sale every year and so they know what’s going on.  Slow weaning lasted a little longer than anticipated this year because we were also working on improving the calf lots on the front of the barn.  The guys have built 4 pens off the barn with pipe fence and have gates installed so we’ll be able to turn them out on grass lots for you.  

Calves starting on feed after nursing.   Shoes after the first wash day.      Avery helping to water the calves.

Here’s the before of the pens.  Lots of lime.  Lots of work to be done.

So, after getting the lots built we decided to put halters on the calves.  Then Hurricane Harvey hit Houston.  Mike’s nephews live near Houston and had to evacuate.  And so, Mike headed to Texas to help them lay some new flooring in the middle of this breaking process.  I’m glad he went.  I’m glad we were able to bless them in some small way.  Being away during the process has consequences and we’re still catching up.  I thought we were just going to tie the calves for the first time on the 17th.  Turns out they tied them on the 16th and we washed several on the 17th.  This is where we reap the benefits of slow weaning.  When we’re slow weaning, the calves learn that they can trust us.  We walk calmly amongst them.  We try to not get upset around them and make it as good an experience as possible.  We have NEVER tied calves one day and washed the next.  We usually give them a 3 day tie period then start washing the tamest ones.  But, we were in catch up mode.  And guess what?  They all responded better than we anticipated! We got everyone washed for a first time then went back and washed a few a second time ending with their clipping being done.  Then we rinse, blow out, touch up and picture and video.    Mike, Chris and Jesse are the clipping team.  I think everyone has helped in some part of this process.  Even Wyatt came for picture day last weekend and watched and learned.  

This weekend we’ll finish clipping, picturing, videoing, editing the video footage, uploading to YouTube and then finally finishing the website and online catalog.  Oh, and I really need to finish some informational flyers for you guys coming to see the calves in person.  So you see, there really is a bit more to it than just snapping a couple of pictures and putting them on Facebook……at least there is if you expect the best out of yourself.  

Time to get off here and take care of the town job, come home and do some more work getting ready for the long weekend and maybe getting to spend a little time with family.  Catch up with you soon.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Friday morning I had my alarm set extra early so I could talk to Mike before he left for work.  You see, he’s been going in to work early so he can get off early to help Chris with the calves that will be in our sale in mid October.  What I didn’t know is he wasn’t going in early on Friday.  I got through my check list of morning chores before he got up.  Then he told me our plans for the weekend weren’t what I thought they were going to be.  The forecast was for 90+ degree days for the weekend and we just weren’t going to be able to picture calves in that heat.  I understood it, but wasn’t happy about it.  You see, picture taking is just the beginning of my work with the calf sale.  I still have to edit pictures and videos, update the website, upload the videos and build an online sale catalog…..oh, and sale flyers need to be designed and printed.  Just days prior to this conversation I had publicly announced that our sale would be up and calves available for viewing on October 1st.  This announcement from my husband at 5:15 am on a Friday morning made me stressed.  I began running calendars through my head, along with numbers and design ideas.  And I let that stress dictate my attitude with my husband.  I know, I know……I allowed circumstances beyond anyone’s control to dictate my mood…..to steal my joy.  

Later in the afternoon, Mike called and said we’d picture what we could before noon on Saturday and by the way, did I want to go to my high school’s homecoming game that night?  While he was a little late getting in the house, we still went to the game.  We got there at halftime and therefore didn’t even have to pay to get in.  Bonus points for a free date night.  And a little bit of irony in that our 2nd date was to a homecoming football game at this school and Mike didn’t get there until halftime due to corn harvest.  It was certainly a lot cooler 30 years ago.  And as I looked around, there are few there who’s relationships have lasted like ours has.  I am so very thankful that God blessed and continues to bless me with this man, even if some things never change.

Things that 30 years hasn’t changed….

1.  Schedules must be flexible when dating or being married to a farmer/rancher.

2.  Spontaneous and regimental people can fall in love and make that love a beautiful life IF they both learn to compromise a little bit.

3.  I love calendars and checklists.

4.  My husband got his first calendar this year and never makes a checklist.

5.  I sometimes wish I were more like him.

6.  Visiting with old friends quickly reminds me of all our blessings.

7.  No, I don’t wish I could re-live those days.

8.  Yes, I am enjoying being a grandma before I’m 50.

9.  Some of the best dates are free.  We got into the game free, came home and ate some leftovers.  And yet we had a good time just being us.

10.  Small town life is something I like, but mostly like from the outside looking in.  I’ve never lived in town and actually much of my life I was at least 15 minutes to any town.  I think I learned a lot of self-sufficiency from this and maybe a few anti-social skills.  But I also know it draws family members closer to one another.
By the way, we did take pictures on Saturday and even got through 8 calves in about 3 hours.  It was a very productive morning followed by lunch out and some time to work on editing pictures.  So you see, we had spontaneity and we had a schedule.  All in one day.  All on one farm.  And all of us were happy in spite of the fact that no one really got their way, but we all compromised a bit.  

The Misadventures of a Ranch Wife

Today was a day off from the town job, which meant, to my husband and son, it was a good day to work some cows before we put up sweet corn. I agreed to their plans as long as we could get an early start.

At 4:40 I was awake. It was dark out so I went back to bed. At 5 am my alarm went off. It was still dark out. About 5:30 we were finally getting everything lined up to do chores and get the first group of cows up. Please note here that we have been in an extreme heat warning for much of this past week. That’s why we were adamant about starting early. Also note that this is the latest Mike and I have slept this week due to town job schedules. 

Gates opened that needed opened and closed that needed closed for pasture #1. We name our pastures based on their locations. Pasture 1 today was “The West Pasture”.  We headed out and quickly and easily got that entire group up with no trouble. I brought the 4-wheeler out of the pasture while the guys got the gates closed and met me at the end of the barn. This was looking to be a promising day. Let me stop right here.  NEVER let such a thought cross your mind in working cattle. It’s almost as if God and the cattle laugh together at that statement. 

So we headed out to pasture #2 (The North Pasture). Mike nearly dumped Chris off the side of the 4-wheeler when trying to get out of a winter rut that’s never been bladed yet. We managed to avoid that accident. Whew. But, when we got out to the creek that runs through this pasture (and much of our farm) we found a dead cow. She had laid down in a bit of a ditch and gotten where her feet were higher than her body and couldn’t get back upright. It’s frustrating to lose a cow to something like that.  You have no control, no chance to prevent it or treat it.  While this put a bit of a damper on the optimistic attitude, we kept on moving trying desperately to beat the heat of the day. 

Chris crossed the creek and Mike and I took the 4-wheeler to the far northeast corner of our farm to gather the rest of the cows walking in the creek and staying cool in the trees. We were cruising right along and it seemed like we were going to get this pasture with no problems as well. UNTIL. UGH, I really don’t like that word here. A former show heifer who has always had a bit of a diva complex today became our until. Until Tasha decided she wanted to stay in the creek.  Until Tasha decided she could climb out of the steepest part of the embankment. Until she fell back in the creek and decided she was done.  Until we convinced her she was not. Until Tasha decided she would not go the same path every cow before her had gone. At this point I’m beginning to think I need the tee shirt that says, “God doesn’t judge a woman who cusses at cattle.”  I know I should’ve been praying for forgiveness right about now, but it was quickly heating up and what little patience I had was disappearing. And then.  Tasha decided to go a whole new route to where I wanted needed her to go and in the process she and I seem to have disturbed a nest of hornets. Apparently,they were NOT amused. Once caught me in my backside and suddenly had my full attention. Another started swarming around my head and I believe I told the diva Tasha I was personally going to hang her on a meat hook if I got stung once more. Then two hornets teamed up on my hand and finger. NOW I was “as mad as a ……..hornet”. I now know what that means. They are some angry little critters. And hornet #4 was back and tangled in my hair. I’m pretty sure Mike was wondering if I’d finally lost my mind as I was beating my head profusely trying to kill the hornet before he could sting my head. I was pretty sure I had killed him and still had him tangled in my hair. I was now trying to carefully pick him out just in case he wasn’t fully dead. Once I got him out I threw him to the ground and stomped him just for good measure. Now I wasn’t just standing there while all this was going on. I had gotten off the 4-wheeler and was still trying to convince Tasha she should go to the house. She was lame (likely foot rot) and had busted open the back of her foot while trying the vertical bank climb earlier. 

This was one of the many times I’ve been thankful our pastors don’t live nearby. They likely would have had to politely asked me to step down from any and all positions at the church and enter therapy. 

I was “having a discussion” with Tasha explaining exactly what she needed to do.  Did you know divas don’t take instructions well?  She looked at me, looked at the gateway where she was supposed to go and then looked at the electric fence that was low enough for her to get over. I believe I warned her against such actions. I believe she laughed. Can cows laugh?  I think she did as she was crossing over to the “Rotational Pasture”. I stopped everything except my mouth. She was happily munching the freshly mown hay and we still had several more cows to get up. Mike encouraged me to get moving. The rest of the herd came up without incident. 

We treated the calves that had pneumonia, lameness and foot rot and kicked them back out. We drove out and got Tasha and another pair in the rotational pasture and they came right in. It was 8 am by now. We were supposed to be at Jesse & Brittany’s to put up sweet corn by then. We quickly switched gears and got moving. And spent the next 8 hours husking, cooking, cooling, cutting, bagging and freezing corn.   My hand is nearly twice it’s normal size. My butt hurts. And my mother-in-law looked at me and said, “Good thing you’re not allergic.”  And it is. How in the world would we have gotten everything done if I had been allergic to hornet stings?