Friday, June 18, 2010

First CSA distribution

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Yesterday we loaded up and headed for the big city to drop off our first meat delivery for our Portland CSA members.

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Pickups went smooth, everybody showed up and our members were all very friendly. Some just made a quick stop on the way home from work but others stayed a while and mingled.

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Our delightful hostess (and super aunt) Shelley, outdid herself with a lovely spread of hors de'vours. Chuck and Shelley's wonderful hospitality - a welcoming home, tasty snacks, good wine - really set the CSA delivery apart from what could be an impersonal exchange at the park and made it a fun, community gathering. Even neighbors that were not part of the CSA stopped by to chat about local, healthy food.

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We had a great time. It was such a proud moment to see the CSA progress. It was just over a year ago when we sat around the kitchen table investigating a CSA model for the ranch. The never-ending support from family, friends and folks who care about local food kept us going. Then there was all the hard work caring for the stock (and solicitation of help from unsuspecting ranch visitors) - feeding, watering, building fences and pasture pens. The inordinate amount of figures I ran over and over again just to make sure this would work. The planning. The scheduling. The marketing. The processing. The packaging. And finally, here we are today, handing over cotton bags filled with white packages that embody all that work. We may never get rich farming, but is sure is satisfying work.

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See you next month!

Monday, June 14, 2010

A weekend with friends

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The descent to Trout Creek

Our always delightful friends and CSA members Jarom and Rachel came to visit this weekend. Scheduling and sickness meant that it had been six months since their last visit and we were excited to see them. Despite atrocious allergies all weekend for Jarom, Rachel and myself (the grass is just barely starting to bloom, my Benadryl stash is close at hand to get me through the next few weeks) we ate yummy food including a grilled ranch chicken, moved some cattle around, went on a great hike down to Trout Creek and just generally enjoyed the lovely summery weather.

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A butterfly visitor

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Rancher Rachel pushes the cattle along

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Jarom relaxes in an alder overlooking the creek

Moving cattle

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The cows were ready to move to different pastures. The best indicator for when they decide they have had enough of being Out South is that a rogue group breaks through the fence and trudges across the CRP to the house. It happened last year, it happened the year before. At least with these old gals they walk home instead of going through the neighbor's fences and disappearing for months (cough... Dirty Seven... cough).

We already had 5 cows and 4 calves at the house so went went Out South and hollered at the rest of them to get moving. The herd responds well to verbal commands; if you are at the head of the herd and moving the direction they need to be going we let out with loud "whooooop" calls. If you are pushing the herd from the side or back the calls are mostly "yip yip" and other short calls unless one cow is being very uncooperative, then the calls have been known to degrade to un-pleasantries.

Once they figure out that we are going to leave the gate open and they get to leave, they get pretty excited and queue right up. We ended up walking the main herd down to the house to join the rogue group. They will stay around a week or so and eat down all the grass around the buildings to reduce fire hazard.

We had one cow (Meanness) that had yet to calve and we joked that the long walk might encourage her to get with the program and calve already. And she did. She had a little black white-faced calf right by the swimming pool yard Sunday afternoon. Jarom and Rachel were out this weekend so that was kind of fun to see a brand new calf in the middle of June especially since they have been so busy the last six months that they missed calving season and branding. Lucky them, it was like Christmas in July only with more afterbirth...

Oh no! We can't end a post on such a mental image. Here's Meanness, giving her characteristic mean face with her little calf peaking through the grass. Aww baby cows!

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Adventures and treasures

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Went out to check cows the other day and much to our surprise, there is tons of water Out South. OK not tons, but the influence of this wet spring is definitely noticeable out here in the desert where the average rainfall is 9-11" but since January we have already gotten over 10". Much of this water collects in a pond before heading down the canyon to Trout Creek.

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As we explored the pond I noticed something else poking out of the dirt.

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It is an old leg hold trap. There were two traps chained together, a smaller one - for small game like rabbits and squirrels - and a larger one that was used for coyotes. The traps were probably part of someone's old coyote trap line. Maybe it was from the sheep herders that grazed the open range before the Homestead Act, or maybe it was great grandpa Frank. Philosophies on trapping coyotes have changed since then but I couldn't help but appreciate the excellent placement of these traps - right at the opening to the canyon where the vertical cliff walls funnel all passing traffic through a narrow gap.

Though one of the two traps had rusted through the hinges, the other was still perfectly functional. Here Nathan demonstrates how the traps were armed:

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If anything touched the disk in the center of the trap it would trigger and snap shut. Even these rusty old traps still carry a wallop so Nathan uses a stick to demonstrate.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Wildflowers

With all this wet weather, the wildflowers this season in Central Oregon have been just lovely. Here's a quick tour of what's been blooming the last few weeks:

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Prairie star


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Fiddleneck

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Yarrow

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Aster

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Penstemon

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Eyelash Weed

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Lupine

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More lupine

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Vetch

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Skullcap

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And of course, a ranch favorite, Bitterroot

Thursday, June 3, 2010

More pig pasture

With extra assistance from guests out visiting during the holiday weekend, we were finally able to get the last reach of the pig pasture fenced.

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The pig pasture (courtesy of Mike). Though it is difficult to see, the "home base" of the pen is on the right (the gold spot is straw in the compost area) and the large pasture area extends all the way to the edge of the photo on the left. The pasture area is about 6 times the size of the living quarters and there is still room to expand in the future.

The pen design has two main sections; a smaller living area for eating, sleeping and composting and a much larger section that we can rotate through for pasture. We ran out of wire for the last length on the pasture area during the first phase of construction.

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Mike and Celia piece two sections of wire, Lloyd surveys the distance we need to cover.

Since we are using recycled wire from a neighboring ranch, the first step is is unfurl the rolls and remove any barbed wire, fix holes, remove rusted spots and piece the sections together.

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Mending two sections of wire together, the wires must be wrapped properly to stretch the fence tight.

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Moving the mended fence to the fence line - Chuck in the lead on the ATV followed by H., Celia, Mike and Rick with Gus and Zoe (the dogs) at his heels. Of course we could have rolled it up and driven it to the spot but the hill is too steep to drive on and we had plenty of extra hands.

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The hogs survey the job as Chuck and Lloyd pull the wire.

With the wire in place, we attach the end to a bar (for even tension along each wire) and then attach the bar to the tractor with a chain. Lloyd backs up the tractor until the fence is tight and the wire is stapled to the braces. Then we go along to each post and use fence ties to secure the wire to the post.

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Alfalfa. Delicious!

By 10:30, the job was done and the four little piggies were out enjoying their new pasture.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

No Bull, It's a New Bull

Since we run a closed herd (the only new brood cows that enter the herd are daughters of existing cows not purchased at auction), if we save back replacement heifers and want to continue to run only one herd, we must buy new bulls so we aren't breeding sire to daughter. So this year we needed a new bull to bring in some fresh genetics to the herd. It took a bit of extra time and work but we ended up sourcing one that looks decent for our price range and will hopefully throw some nice calves.

We already have one bull, a red Angus we call Archie, but he is a heifer bull and can't cover the entire herd himself. The difference between a herd bull and a heifer bull has to do with the size of calves and overall calving ease. Heifer bulls throw lower birth weight calves that make it easier for first-calf heifers to safely deliver. With a herd bull, since he is being bred to cows that have all calved before, it is not necessary to throw low birth weight calves.

OK, so not only does he have a different job than Archie, he is also a different breed. The new bull is a polled (hornless) Hereford, a traditional British beef breed. Herefords are known for docile temperament (unlike Angus which can be defiant and high-headed), being easy breeders and fast growing calves. One of the reasons we were looking to bring some Hereford genetics into our highly Angus influenced herd has to do with hybrid vigor.

Within a particular breed (Hereford, Angus, Charolais, whatever) that breed has its' own gene pool where certain traits have been bred out of the pool (i.e. horns) while other desirable traits have been concentrated (like coloring, frame, marbling). Inbreeding further concentrates and limits the available genetic options while mating with another breed introduces a whole new library of genetic information which can lead to heterosis or hybrid vigor.

If we breed our black Angus cows to a Hereford bull, the resulting offspring is known as a F1 (filial 1) hybrid and possesses characteristics of each of the Angus and Hereford breeds. What does this mean in English? We get cute black calves with white faces (aka Black Baldies) that grow more vigorously than pure Angus or Hereford calves.

Of course this is a highly simplified explanation of a very complicated genetic process but you get the idea.

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The new bull. At right is Spats, an example of a black baldy
where her sire (Curly) was a Hereford and her dam an Angus.

In short, we have a new bull, we've already seen him doing his job and we hope he throws some nice calves that will grow well here at the ranch but first... he needs a name!

I am waiting on his papers to see his registered name but I want to hear from you first. What should we call this guy? Leave your suggested name in the comments field (for a refresher on how to comment without an account, click here).

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All in a name. What should mine be?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hodge podge

We've had guests at the ranch for the last week or so, so posting has been a bit sparse. Here's a few random shots from the last few days and spring here at the ranch.

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A female mountain blue bird brings home a tasty morsel for her chicks.


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Interesting orange galls on desert parsley.

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Lloyd has quite the penchant for burning off brush and field margins in the spring. This cleared area is perfectly heart-shaped.


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Peanut gives her calf a good face wash.

Right time, right place

Went to check cows the other day and after watching the herd for a while and checking water and salt supplies we noticed one cow off by herself. This time of year either the cow is sick or she is a late calver. We noticed she had a purple eartag that indicates she is one of our two year heifers. When we turned out the heifers a few weeks ago with the rest of the herd we had one left to calve (#57).

Sure enough it was #57 and she had a calf bedded down under a fallen tree behind her. From a distance we could tell the calf had been cleaned up (maybe a day or two old) but something still wasn't right. The cow had the entire area all trampled down like she had been pacing about and we soon spotted why - when the calf had bedded down under the fallen juniper, it had gotten its' leg stuck between the branches. Both back legs were twisted behind and the calf had been there for a while, judging by the condition of his legs which had been rubbed raw.

Nathan clamored into the thicket, snapped off one of the restricting branches and repositioned the calf's legs. Situations like these have the potential to not turn out well, especially for such a young calf, but much to our delight the little one stood right up and staggered over to mama to nurse.

What a good mama #57 was, standing guard protecting her calf especially since this was her first calf and heifers don't always make the most attentive mothers.

If the calf had gotten stuck under a tree another 50 feet to the south it would have been over a ridge and we wouldn't have spotted it. Or, if we checked cows in a few days, the calf probably would have died or been so weak when we found it that it would not be able to make it. It was simply a lucky coincidence of being in the right place at the right time and taking a moment to go in for a closer inspection.

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The next day we spot the calf bedded down, this time away from fallen trees.