Thursday, April 29, 2010

False M

Of all the cows in the herd, False M is the oldest, scrawniest, sweetest, most adventurous, most headstrong and the one that always keeps us guessing. She is one of three remaining cows that appear in Lorene's herd book (a book of all the cattle records complete with photos that goes up through 2000 (most everyone else in the herd was either born after 2000 or is not very easily identifiable from photos). With a distinct red mark on her face, we know from her cattle record that she was born in 1992 of Medium Red (dam, red angus) and Curly (sire, hereford) which makes her 18 years old now.

I have more stories about this one cow than all my other cow stories combined and I haven't even known her that long. False M is not so much of a fencebreaker but it is more that she knows all of the pastures, all of the holes in the fences and how long she wants to be on any one pasture. If your schedule for moving cattle doesn't align with her own, she will move herself - like last summer when she was done with being Out South and went through several fences and the CRP fields and showed up above the garden one day.

On the flip side, if she is not ready to go, there is no way you are going to get her to go anywhere. She knows just the right buttons to exasperate you or elicit pity so that come moving day, we just leave her behind where she wants to be. Last year, when it was time to move the herd from Upper Kirkbride to Out South, she didn't want to go so we left her.

Another thing you should know about our antique cow, False M, is that she has arthritis or some other condition in her right rear leg that is so bad she can't really flex the joints so she drags her hooves and moves very slow. In the winter months it seems even worse. She takes forever to come up to the hayshed for feedings; she will get there, but she is so slow. Yet for how slow that old girl is, she can cover some serious country.

At branding this year, we rounded up the herd and she didn't come in with the others. Then a few days later we rounded them up again and moved them to the York Place. False M did not come in then either. We didn't see her for two weeks and figured she was probably dead. Her condition had been worsening through the winter, she was very skinny, had few remaining teeth and though we thought she might be pregnant, she would probably be too weak to deliver the calf.

Two weeks later, Lloyd and Nathan spotted her alive and well further down the creek in Lower Kirkbride pasture (as I mentioned before, closed gates and fences mean nothing to her). We opened the gates so she could come down towards the house where the yearling herd was pasturing, but we didn't see her again.

Low and behold, she appears yesterday back in Upper Kirkbride resting under a tree right next to the road (literally the farthest point from where she was spotted on Lower Kirkbride a week ago) and she is not alone. At her side is a little red/white face heifer calf (no genetic mystery of who the sire is on that one, good job Archie). We can't help but laugh at how familiar this seems.

Last year, after branding we turned the herd out on Upper Kirkbride for a few days to calm down and rest before we moved them to their spring pasture, Out South. Come moving day, False M would not go. She hadn't calved yet anyway so we left her. She disappeared for a few weeks until we drove by and saw her resting along the road with a new heifer calf (Blk/white face named Lightbulb).

False M and 2009 calf Lightbulb

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False M and 2010 Red/White face calf

I checked my cattle records and that was on 4/29/09 meaning that it was precisely one year, to the day, from when she presented her calf Lightbulb last year and her new red calf today. Just like last year, we opened up the gate for her and she headed off towards wherever she wants to be just like the False M we all know and love.

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Three little pigs

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We have some new additions to the ranch today: three little pigs! They are all gilts (females) and there is one all black, one black/white with splotches and one black with white socks and white on the very tip of her tail. These pigs are smaller than the last two were when we picked them up but are a little younger.

Since our Meat CSA requires meat year-round, we raise a few batches of hogs each year to supply the shareholders. The big pigs will be processed next month and these three will be processed in the fall.

Nathan picked up the little ones from a nearby farm this morning and we put them in a small pen inside the main pig pasture so the two groups can get to know each other. The big pigs seems more interested than the little ones and paced around the fence calling to them. Maybe they wanted to meet each other or maybe they thought the little pigs were getting some better food (newsflash, it comes from the same bucket!).

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The two groups seem to be getting along well through the fence. The little pigs are very excited to be out on pasture. They came from a drylot pen and love the grass. As soon as we put them in the pen they started grazing - their little tails wiggling around like helicopters.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

More chickens

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We got our second batch of chicks today: 25 more Cornish cross for meat. We had kind of gotten used to the peace of quiet of the empty brooder. Now we wake up to little peep, peeps and the sounds of them scratching around and pecking in the adjacent sunroom. They are so cute at this age. You really forget how tiny they can be; these little guys are about 1.1 ounces each. I kept trying to tell Nathan that these chicks just had to be smaller than the last batch but when you think out that little bird fitting inside an egg shell, of course the size seems about right. It is just so easy to forget how fast they grow.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Headed home

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We walked the brood herd home today. There are two parcels at the York Place with the road separating the different pastures. Both gates are open so the cattle move about freely. Lloyd took the west side of the road and Nathan and I went to the east. We found half the herd just up the hill and they were ready to move. With no prodding from us, they raced down the hill and then just kept going across the west pasture. They probably heard Lloyd calling and headed that way or they just got on the cattle trail and kept going.

It was cute to watch them all head up the hill single file. Even better when Teardrop (the cow at the front of the line) kept stopping. When cattle are all strung out in a line, if one cow stops, everyone behind her halts as well. So Teardrop would stop and the whole line would bunch up. Then she would start and the line would stretch out. Very much like an inch worm crawling up the hill.

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We walked them home and sent them out to the pasture known as "Out South" (which is next to the equally descriptive "Up On Top"). The gals seem happy out on fresh pasture which looks quite lush this time of year since the recent rains really made the annual grasses take off.

While we walked them, we didn't notice any new calves which means we still have a few late calvers or dry cows in the herd. Later we will decide if we want to take them in to auction, to the butcher for grass fed ground beef or see what they do next year.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Early morning hog jog

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Nathan and the pigs go for a run around the pasture. They love a good game of chase.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


We have been sick with a nasty cold type this last week and poor Nathan has a terrible cough. Lucky for him there is an abundance of mullein this time of year and one of the many uses for the plant is for coughs.

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Mullein is an introduced species from Europe that is now naturalized across the US. A biennial plant, in the first year it forms a basal rosette of fuzzy leaves and the second year sends up a yellow flower stalk.


A strong tea made from the leaves can be used as an expectorant and to sooth bronchitis and dry coughing. I didn't partake but Nathan said it helped loosen up his chest and ease his coughing fits.

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As a side note, another use for mullein's large, soft, fuzzy leaves? Nature's toilet paper...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On the move

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The pigs have finished their job of tilling the garden and are ready to move out to pasture. When we moved the pigs in, they were small enough to pick up and carry but now they weigh more than I do. Hogs are creatures of routine and don't really like to go places that are unfamiliar. We only needed to move them maybe 30 feet and then down a few stairs but we were prepared for the process to take a long time.

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Luckily they were good pigs and moved right along the impromptu chute and towards the stairs. They were not big fans of the concrete though and had to be walked/carried the last few feet into the truck.

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A short trip up the hill and a quick unload and they were very happy pigs roaming about on their new pasture.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mischief maker

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Look what I can do!

Reminds me of Nathan. Apparently he and his brothers had an affinity for climbing on (and falling off) the roof as kids. Boys will be boys.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Someone's history

While Nathan and I were out hiking around yesterday, Nathan spotted something and called me over excitedly. Resting atop a prominence in the rimrock was this:

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A stone tool lashed to a weathered wooden handle with strips of bark. I wonder who made this? Was it dropped by a Pauite indian as he stalked game down the canyon to water? Was it made by a sheepherder as he rested under the shade of the tree and lazily watched the flock graze during the heat of the day. Was it a hastily constructed toy during a children's game? The answer probably leans towards the latter as the blade is not made of a hard stone like jasper and though it takes a long time for wood to weather in this climate, I doubt it would hold up so long. But in all honesty, I don't know who made it and we left the blade there as we found it for the next person to ponder the exact same questions.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wildflower hike

Poor Nathan's been cooped up in bed for the last two days with some kind of cold/flu bug so when we had to go over to the York Place to check on cattle it was a nice distraction. But distracting was exactly what it turned out to be, for just as we are driving back home, I spot something on the side of the road and make him stop and let me out. The grass widows were blooming! They only bloom for a couple weeks a year and my timing has never been right to catch them but they were thick over at the YP.

We make it back to the house and I decide I want to go for a walk and check out what else is in bloom. Always a trooper, Nathan decides to come as well. It was such a lovely hike. We never take the opportunity to go hiking unless we are walking fence or moving cattle and I have to admit I felt a little guilty about it. It seems such a ridiculous waste of daylight hours to be wandering around (as if writing on the blog doesn't waste enough time) instead of working on one of the dozens of projects necessary to keep the ranch up and working. But, Nathan was not really in a state to be working anyway and I am the one with the weird complex about leaving the ranchstead so we went for a short walk.

Many of the wildflowers are a bit early this year compared to last. The biscuitroot is mostly done and I missed the yellow bells but we found quite a few other things just getting started.

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Daggerpod has been out for two weeks now. Very fragrant and comes in shades of white to deep purple.

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I refer to this as desert parsley but I am really not so sure. There are three plants from the carrot family that all look very similar. I will have to quiz our resident naturalist Lloyd about this.

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Locoweed. As the name suggests, this plant can be poisonous to livestock and cause abortions in cattle but, the plant doesn't occur in very high concentrations and cattle will usually only eat it if it is the only thing left on pasture so to my knowledge it has never been a problem here.

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Lupine. Another plant poisonous to livestock is lupine which contains an alkaloid that can lead to 'crooked calf disease' if ingested during the first trimester of gestation. Crooked calves have skeletal deformities and cleft palates. There are cattle on this pasture at the moment but they are mostly un-bred yearling heifers and there is lots of tasty grass to eat so no issues there.

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Hedgehog cactus. I think everyone looks forward to the cactus blooming each year. That bright splash of pink is so delightfully unexpected among the rimrock. The perfect tuft of flowers on the round cactus reminds me of a ballerina's bun perched atop her head.
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The last flower we spotted today was some phlox; delicate pale pink flowers hiding out on a rocky outcropping.

The season is just starting and there are more lovely wildflowers to come. Each year I hope to catch something else in bloom that I have never seen before. I wonder what I will see in the coming months.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Face down in the mud

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After spring rains when I look out in the garden, I hear the little voice of my darling mother in law, Teresa, lamenting, "oh no, poor little daffydil's got his little face down in the mud". Apparently these springtime flower rescues have been going on since she was a little girl. So now when I look out and see flowers faceplanting into the dirt, I can't help myself but go out and pick them in her honor.

Unfortunately, Beverly cultivated such a lovely variety of daffodils that I can't just rescue the fallen soldiers, I have to visit and appreciate each cluster flowers. I adore the daffodils - they were the first flowers Nathan ever brought me - and there are so many of them that I just can't help cutting a few to bring inside. Pretty soon I decide that I have enough and head inside to put them in a vase.

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Ok maybe I was a little overzealous in my picking today (but there are still so many out there! I didn't even collect one of each type in bloom) but after all, flowers do lighten the mood. Where to put them though. I don't even have houseguests this weekend. I will just have to enjoy the flowers by myself.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Meat CSA

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Over the last few months we have been hard at work preparing for the launch of our Meat CSA in June.

In a nutshell, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a partnership between the farmer and the end consumer, where the CSA member buys in to the farmer’s harvest and receives a share of the bounty produced. Over the last few decades, CSAs became popular in the States with vegetable farmers. Members would pay for their share at the start of the season and each week would take home a bag of fresh produce that was ripe that week. Now the CSA model has expanded beyond just veggies, some farms offer flowers, herbs, eggs and other products.

We were toying with the idea of a Meat CSA for quite some time – last year we had the opportunity to sell ¼ and ½ sides of grass fed beef direct-to-market and it was a great experience – but my mind was set to go for it as we processed venison in the fall.

Not coming from a family of hunters, I had never cut and wrapped my own meat before but I dove right in (my Grandpa Joe would be so proud). At the end of the day I found myself glancing between the impeccable roast Lloyd handed me and the “yucky bucket” full of little bits of fat, fascia, tendons and other weird chewy bits (destined for the coyotes by the way). I remember thinking first, what a beautiful cut of meat I was holding, so lovingly and carefully prepared and then looking at the bucket and quietly mumbling, “aaand that’s where ground beef comes from”.

Here on the ranch, we don’t eat much “boughten” meat as we have a freezer (or two or three) full of ranch beef, venison and stewing hens. But on processing day, it was not so much that I wanted to eat that beautiful roast, I wanted to cook it and serve to others. I wanted to share all the love, care and thought that went into preparing the meat - I was sold on the idea of a Meat CSA and poor Lloyd didn’t tell me ‘no’ so here we are today.

We raise grass fed beef, pastured pork, pastured poultry and free range eggs for our monthly Mixed Meat CSA. All our animals are raised naturally, outdoors in the Central Oregon sunshine - no hormones, no antibiotics. Our arrangement with the animals is more partnership than commodity; they work for us by tilling, fertilizing and keeping pests under control, and we work for them be providing love, food, water, shelter and a good life while they are with us. This creates a quality product that our members can come to the ranch and see for themselves.

The CSA system is a win/win situation; our members receive delicious, locally produced meats each month and we the ranchers have a steady stream of capital throughout the year (ranch income usually comes in spikes when we sell cattle or small grains but for some reason the utility and insurance companies aren’t very accommodating and want checks each month). Most of all though is the development of a community of people that supports “their” farmer. Just as we like to shake the hands of the people that enjoy our product, members like to know where their food comes from and if they have feedback about it, there are ears here to listen to what they have to say. This is the real community in Community Supported Agriculture.

Here’s the skinny on our Meat CSA

- Six month commitment for CSA membership
- Shares contain a mixed variety of beef, pork, chicken and eggs
- At this time, shares are not customizable and reflect what is seasonally available
- Two share sizes: full share (20lb/mo) or half share (10lb/mo)
- Shares available for pickup on farm or at drop points in Madras or Portland
- Full share $130/mo, half share $70/mo

An example full share may contain:

4 TBone steaks
2 cube steaks
6lb ground beef

4 pork chops
4 cured ham steaks

1 whole chicken
2 dozen eggs

For more information, visit our Local Harvest listing, leave a comment or drop me an email.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Out on pasture

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The chickens made their transition from the brooder to life out on pasture this week and they seem to be enjoying themselves. They run around, scratch in the dirt, chase bugs and lay in the sun - very happy chickens from what I can tell.

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We are currently running two bottomless pasture pens with the laying birds in one pen and the meat birds the other. For this first week or so we have heat lamps in each pen and cover the pens at night to help the chicks acclimate to their new surroundings while they develop their last few feathers.

I adore the chickens but I think I was just as ready as they were for that little manure factory to head outside. This will also give me a few weeks to tidy up the sunroom and clean out the brooder for the next batch of baby chicks that arrive in a little over three weeks. Oh boy!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Elusive birds

While Nathan and I walked the canyon the other day to push out any stray cattle, we flushed a pair of mountain quail. There are several pairs that nest in the canyons but this was the first time they didn't flush away from us and let us watch them for a little while. They hid among the thicket so it was very difficult to get any decent photos but usually I go to unzip the camera bag and they are gone so poor photos are better than no photos. One of these days I will get a great shot; it is on my list of life achievements.

Hiding in the brush

They are very pretty birds with rusty red undertones and a straight plume of feathers on their head (which of course is not visible in the photo). Unlike the California quail which are very prolific (especially around the house), the mountain quail populations have declined in much of Eastern Oregon so it is kind of cool and special to know that they make their home out here on the ranch.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

On the move


We gave the herd a day to rest and recuperate from the stress of branding and today we rounded them up again and head towards the "York Place". The York Place (named for the original homesteaders) is part of the family ranch but the parcel is not attached to the main property and is located a few miles down the road.

For the most part, those old cows know exactly where they are going but the neighbor's bulls and alfalfa fields can be a bit of a distraction before the main attraction. They were very good today and followed right along.


The herd will stay over at the York Place for a few weeks before they come back home. If we get good spring rains and the grass bounces back nicely, we can take them back over there in the fall. If not, we'll let the pasture rest until next season.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Branding day

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Keep the fire hot it is time for branding!

We ran a small crew this year for branding but the smaller group worked out quite well in my opinion. We did not have a ton of calves to run through today – only 23 went through the chute since we missed a few during the roundup.

Cutting and sorting the cows from the calves went pretty well. Rick’s knee was so stoved up this morning he was hobbling around but chasing all those calves around this morning (and a double dose of Advil) seemed to fix him up just fine. Who knew working cattle could be such a wonder cure? Most of my experiences tend to lean the other way.

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Yes, I am taking photos but think of it more like I am preserving memories
for years to come and less like I am not working...

Once we got everyone sorted, the calves in the alleyway and the fire hot, it was everyone to their stations. First the calves met up with Chuck and A. who singled one out and pushed it towards the squeeze. A. did such a great job today. This can be one of the more dangerous jobs of the day since you are wading through the group of calves and even though they are less than two months old, they step on your feet, kick, poop and otherwise express their displeasure at the situation and A. didn’t miss a beat. Under Chuck’s mentorship, by the end of the day she was an old pro at pushing them towards the squeeze, getting them to step into the headgate, roping the feet and pushing them out of the chute when their appointment was up. She came away with her share of bumps and bruises but didn’t complain and we are very proud of her. Chuck even joked that in a year or so, he could retire from that job.

Once Chuck or A. push the calf towards the chute, Lloyd catches the calf’s head in the headgate and tilts up the calf table so we can work on it. First we call out the sex and color/markings to the recorder; this year A’s friend J tallied all the calves as they went by the chute. Knowing the sex distribution helps us to start planning for next year; if the group is skewed towards heifers, we have a greater selection for picking out replacement heifers. Lots of little bull calves gives us more options for saving back steers for beef. This year of the 23 we branded (we have 3 more on the ground, plus any late calves), 13 were bulls and 10 heifers. Last year of the 25 calves, we had 14 heifers and 11 bulls.

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The mamas wait patiently at the gate

Once we record the sex and markings, Nathan vaccinates the calf and marks the ears. The earmark is registered to our ranch with the brand and can be used for identification purposes. Later in the season when we round up the late calves, we will most likely skip the branding and just vaccinate and earmark.

Next, in the case of a bull, the calf has a date with “The Elastrator” which applies a rubber ring around the scrotum and eventually the whole package drops off. This method is bloodless but sometimes the poor little guys walk funny for a few days. A castrated bull is known as a steer and an older steer of three or more years is known as an ox which is use for draft purposes. No oxen around here though, our beef steers are processed before 24 months of age. There are three main advantages to castrating: all the energy is now devoted to growth so steers reach market weight sooner, they are more docile and safer to work with and it ensures that only the herd bulls sire calves.

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Occasionally, the bull calves are leery of The Elastrator’s motives and – to put it delicately – suck a nut up inside their body cavity. If left up there, the steer will continue to produce sex hormones and develop bullish characteristics; this is known as a stag or a staggy steer. One of our three beef steers we kept back last year for direct to market beef ended up a bit staggy. He was impossible to put fat on, was a nuisance to the heifers, fought with the bulls and ended up very lean and tough in the freezer (though the flavor is good, just needs long, slow cooking).

OK back to branding…

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The final part is the brand itself. The brand is mainly an identification of ownership so if our cattle get across the fence or the neighbor’s come onto our property, it is easy to sort out the strays. It is not a requirement to brand your cattle and on a smaller parcel of property it may be more work than it is worth, but out here it seems to work for us. The brand design (the “flying M”) and placement on the body (left rib) are registered to Lloyd and the ranch. When we sell or process cattle, a brand inspector checks the brand against the records to verify ownership.

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Overall, it is a pretty efficient process and since we run a small herd, just about the time the crew gets tired of it, the job is done and we are off to lunch.