Ranch Wife Musings | Autumn Joys

Summer fades away and autumn rushes in with foretastes of winter, bringing the community together around this livelihood we share. Neighbors jump in to help neighbors in work trade relationships that go back decades in some cases. Slow, autumnal days are followed by long days of hard work, up doing chores with a flashlight before riding out to gather cattle, ours or a neighbor’s, building and maintaining those partnerships between rancher and rancher, family and family, neighbor and neighbor, and between people and their animal partners, whether dog or horse.

There is the excitement of seeing the beautiful fall calf crop, the satisfaction of working healthy calves, or of having the cow herd preg test well. There is the anticipation of selling, the relief of getting calves sold, and a bittersweet sense of completion when they’re loaded onto a truck. And yet the sense of contented completion is marred by the question everyone is asking right now, which is how to keep everything fed and watered over winter. But all of that is a part of this season, this beautiful, paradox of a season.

And what a paradox, what a season of contrasts and change. Weeks of summery weather, followed by weeks of chilly mornings and warm middays, and then the downright cold nights that put ice on absolutely everything. Balmy breezes one day, and biting, cutting, gnawing winds the next. Starting the day bundled in coveralls and a scarf, yet somehow managing to get down to a T-shirt or tank top by afternoon. Autumn gold that makes the trees almost hard to look at, and the next day the gold is gone and the trees are bare.

Butterflies and bumblebees did their summery work as long as the flowers bloomed, which was much longer than usual this year. Snow fells on the still-blooming flowers, blooming into the first week of November, to my bewilderment, in spite of freezing temperatures. There were those frost-less, yet icy mornings, and then days of nothing but ice and frost, with the sudden change of autumn to the winter weather we’ve been bracing for, where everything is frozen and the thermometer doesn’t register above freezing.

Sometimes there would seem to be a shortage of things to keep one busy, when all that is on the to-do list is usual chores, and “seeing what else needs to be done.” There is never any shortage of something else needing to be done! Days so full you wonder how they can hold anymore, yet with that fallish sense of slowness and peace, unique to this season. I can’t really explain it. Unplanned projects take up unanticipated time, such as mending corral fences mangled by freshly-weaned calves in a nightly tirade, or spending a morning gathering them back up from multiple pastures after they manage to break out in a hunt for their mamas. Everyone is thankful when a group of calves is successfully weaned. And there really is always something going on, something to fix, an animal to doctor, something to do in preparation for something else. And then on rare days when there really isn’t anything going on, you enjoy it.

Around and amongst the busyness of the fall season, I love those rare times when I really can take it all in, the beauty of those daily, mundane moments. A day can be so full that I don’t stop to really see those things that infuse living with so much joy.

A quick smile from my handsome rancher.

My critters. All of them.

The steady gaze of a horse.

The timid gaze of a calf.

My daily basket of beautiful, brown eggs from my hard-working girls.

Sunlight illuminating flowers (I can’t believe how late they bloomed!) so they appear like stained glass, or snow-clad, weighed-down flowers.

And so many other things.

And all that within the beautiful paradox of autumn’s joys.

Glimpse of History

There is something haunting about the beauty of these creatures. It is strange to see animals so muscled and powerful bedded down quietly in the tall grass, blinking sleepily in the bright sunlight, staring curiously at the intruders then losing interest, their massive horns spread broadly beyond the width of their shoulders. Only their horns are visible when they hunker down in the warm grass. IMG_4069IMG_3982IMG_3957IMG_3978Perhaps what is haunting is the feeling that even a barbed wire fence is no match for their strength. Or, perhaps it is the feeling that I’m staring into their eyes and getting a glimpse of history. Perhaps both.

Laura Elizabeth

Relics of the West

It is impossible to study the history of the American West without being impressed with two things: barbed wire and the Texas longhorn.
IMG_3631The longhorn is a breed of Spanish origin that was widespread in the American south. During the Civil War, ranches in Texas were shorthanded and consequently the herds of cattle on the open ranges were unmanaged and essentially went wild. The cattle reproduced prolifically for years. After the war, then, these wild, unbranded cattle were free for the taking, and were rounded up by gutsy cowboys and driven north, to the goldfields and boom towns in the West, along well-worn, legendary cattle trails, and were also sold in eastern markets. IMG_3534The invention of barbed wire in the 1860s and the widespread use of it in the 1880s changed the landscape of ranching, putting an end to the days of the open range. Violent feuds and range wars raged throughout the West as a result, and a series of conflicts known as the Fence Cutting Wars were a last-ditch effort to preserve the open range. IMG_3626The barbed wire has stayed and has become a necessary part of ranching, though the longhorns haven’t. There are a number of ranchers out here who keep small herds of these beautiful creatures, and it is always a delight to see them. Such magnificent animals.

Laura Elizabeth


Cows and Coneflowers

After abusing my ankle yesterday, I was back to crutches and limited activity again today and honestly, I wasn’t too happy about that, even though it was my own fault. I had just started indulging in a pity-party when Mom came into the house. “Are the cows supposed to be out?” she asked. I looked outside, and of course the answer was “no.” The cows weren’t just “out.” They were out just about in our front yard! The pity-party didn’t last too much longer, and I hobbled outside with my camera to take pictures of the cattle, and to call my uncle to give him the head’s up.
IMG_7794The cows had found a hole in the fence, and the green grass and water in the dam were irresistible, I guess. They were pretty content, and I think we could have left them and they’d still be there tomorrow. Uncle Stuart was out fencing, and when he drove up in the beat-up ranch Toyota, he, Dad, and I moved them back into the pasture they’re supposed to be in.
IMG_7845Cows are beautiful creatures. They’re in a further pasture now, but I love when they are close enough to hear them lowing, and to smell their warm scent.
IMG_7847As I snapped pictures of the cows and the wildflowers, and tromped through the waist-high grass with my dad and my uncle, my frustration melted. Pity-parties really are a waste of time, and are so entirely uncalled-for.
IMG_7801Life is good. God is good. Cows and coneflowers reminded me of that.

Laura Elizabeth

Back in the saddle

DSCN0968.1 Got back yesterday afternoon from a four-day trip to vaccinate calves and pregnancy check cattle. In total, we worked nearly 1000 cattle between Friday morning and yesterday evening, and we covered a lot of ground! I drove out to the permit west of Custer with Penny (Jack’s wife) on Thursday night to join the rest of the crew, and we were in the saddle by 7:30 the next morning.

DSCN0964.1It took a good couple of hours to round up the cattle, with a crew of about ten on horseback, a plane, and a Jeep, and once we had them in the corrals, sorting took another hour, and then four of us had to move about 50 yearlings to another part of the permit. Pretty sure I didn’t climb down off that horse until about 1:30 that afternoon. I haven’t ridden much at all lately, so I rediscovered some muscle groups I’d forgotten that I had…

DSCN0950.1Everything went quicker than expected Friday, so Saturday was a pretty easy day, packing up camp and heading to Wyoming, where Jack leases from a rancher over there. The heifer group (cows with heifer calves) were all out in Wyoming, 226 pair, and to get things going for Sunday, we brought in the herd Saturday afternoon. It was hot, dry, dusty, and we were ready to be done when we finished, let me tell you. It was a little stormy on the horizon, and we could see smoke from a couple of fires in the distance, from lightning strikes we assumed. But the cattle came in without incident, sorted nicely the next morning, and we were able to finish up another small group of cattle yesterday in the early afternoon. A good weekend’s work.

DSCN0960.1Working with ranchers and cowboys, I appreciate the gentleness with which they treat God’s creatures. We may just be getting steers ready for the meat market, or getting heifers ready to be bred, or preg checking a bunch of cows, but there is a gentleness and respect for the animals, and a desire to cause them the least trauma or discomfort. Rounding them up, running them through a chute, sticking them with needles, all that causes some level of stress to the animals, but the job is done quickly and efficiently. There is visible distress in the voices and on the faces of the crew when there is an animal suffering–A calf died at the permit, a “respiratory calf” that had a form of pneumonia, and the sober attitude had nothing to do with money lost on the calf, but everything to do with the little creature’s suffering. It is refreshing to see such gentleness towards God’s creatures–That gentleness is, I think, a sign of real strength.

DSCN0973.1The visit to Wyoming was eye-opening. I’d never been to Wyoming before, and it is some beautiful, desolate country. Green this year, but just so big–So much of it! And so open. The things that seemed to thrive were sunflowers, rattlesnakes, horned toads, and rabbits–Lots and lots of rabbits.

Being on horseback isn’t conducive to taking pictures, but I managed to sneak just a few. I missed one really fantastic photo opportunity, with the sun coming up over the corrals, and the dust rising like mist around the cattle, sifting through the fences, and partially obscuring the cowboys sorting the herd. It was really beautiful. But the dust was really awful.

I leave tomorrow morning around 5:30 to head to Nebraska for more vaccinating and preg checking, and I’ll get back on Thursday evening. Good to be back in the saddle, even if only for a week and a half.

Laura Elizabeth

When hotwire isn’t so hot

DSCN0602.1After chasing three bull calves back through the fence over the course of the evening, and watching them practically stroll back under the hotwire, I decided I should test it myself. Some calves are just fence crawlers–It’s like a hobby for them. But most animals (including the Dog) are deterred by a little well-placed hotwire and a friendly zap on the back or the nose or whatever unfortunate part of their body happens to touch it.

Now, this hotwire isn’t particularly hot. If you’re two-legged, it isn’t really any worse than the little zap you get on any piece of metal during the winter months, but if you’re four-legged, I think it must be considerably worse. The Dog touched it once while she was wet, and she made a bee-line for her dog house with her tail between her legs. Poor thing.

So I touched the fence and nothing happened. A quick inspection of the solar panel battery house made it clear. We’d apparently had a feathered visitor who pecked out the button on the back, and pecked out the “charged” light. Well. Must’ve turned the fence off in the process, if he didn’t disable the zapper completely. Funny.

Laura Elizabeth