Thursday, April 28, 2011

Branding day at the ranch

Many hands, cooperative calves and beautiful weather made for a fantastic 2011 branding day. Thanks to all who participated; we had a great crew from Central Oregon and the valley as well as folks who came in from Idaho and as far away as Germany. Even with way more hands than jobs, everyone seemed to have a good time.

 Sorting, pushing, clipping, tagging, vaccinating, banding and branding... it is all in the following 30 some photos. Just a heads up that this post will take a while to load. Here we go. Enjoy!

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The cows (black specks) hear the call and make their way to the little hay shed

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Much counting to ensure we have everyone. We don't so Nathan rides back up the hill.

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The calves meet the crew

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Filling the vaccine gun

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Waiting

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Butterfly and Amphetamine seem unconcerned

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Branding buddies

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Waiting to start

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Catching up

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Tom is always smiling

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Where did everybody go?

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Down the chute

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Repositioning

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Ready to go

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All done

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An encounter with the Elastrator

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Cooperation through brute force

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Catching a quiet moment

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Headed the right way

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Bars and blood


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Morning briefing

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Hanging out

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Ready to go

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Vaccination station

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Ear marking

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A little off the tip

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You'll feel a little prick

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Holding steady

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Off you go

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What just happened?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ian and Lauren

Our awesome friends Ian and Lauren spent all of last week with us. Ian had been working so many long hours at his job that he had capped his PTO and his boss threatened to not let him come to work anymore unless his took some time off. So where do you go for a week long vacation when you are saving up for a wedding this summer? To the ranch of course, much to our delight!

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We adore these two. I know I gush about them every time they come to visit, but we really enjoy their company and only see them once or twice a year. They are pretty much the perfect guests. The show up with a trunk full of groceries, a big box of beers and a bunch of board games for the evenings. They don't show up with a big agenda of things they want to do but honestly want to be immersed in the ranch life, even if that means early mornings and late nights with plenty of less-than-glamorous chores. They bring no pets or friends so we get to focus on spending quality time together. They make their beds, tidy the bathroom and double check that they have all their belongings before departure. They are really open about dietary restrictions which makes meal prep so much less stressful on me. To top it off, Lauren had the wonderful idea to bring recipes and ingredients to share with us some of their favorite meals they prepare with our grass-fed ranch beef, which were delicious by the way (recipes to follow). It felt like I was the one on vacation!

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We spent the week working on all sorts of spring chores that have been delayed due to weather or other circumstances. We picked up new weaner pigs; Nathan jokingly calls them Captain Tugboat and Mrs Prettyface (the pigs, not Ian and Lauren of course). We worked on building a new hoophouse for the chickens. We filled the seed drill so Lloyd could finally get the grain in the ground. Lauren and I made raspberry jelly to clear out space for in the freezer for the raspberry onslaught in July. We did a wildflower hike (and weed monitoring) down Barn Canyon. We worked the yearling heifers and Ian got worked over by the old cattle squeeze. Unfortunately, they missed branding on Saturday due to a family emergency but stopped back by on their way home to California on Sunday.

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Fruits of our labor: ranch raspberry jelly

Each time they come to visit they hone their ranch skills. Ian even dished out an ingenious play from the mechanic's jury-rigged handbook when the truck needed a battery and the one we brought was too big to fit. No problem! Why not put the battery on the hood and use those jumper cables to connect the terminals. A perfect solution for a quick jaunt up the hill. +2 Ian! If game design doesn't work out for you in California, you've earned a spot here at the ranch with your creative problem-solving skills.

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The next time we will see these two will be when we make the trek this summer to their much anticipated wedding then they will be back this winter for more ranch adventures. I can't wait!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Bread

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If you have been to the ranch recently, you have probably had "The Bread" (as Ian calls it). Simply put this is a variation on the many "no-knead" bread recipes that have been circulating on the web for the last few years. I love the concept of these recipes and here's why:

- No need to knead. I may be young and enthusiastic about homemade bread but that doesn't mean that I like the sore wrists, stiff shoulders and gunky fingernails that come with kneading. You could knead if you had the inkling, it wouldn't hurt the bread one bit.

- The second thing I love about no-knead bread is that they are exceptionally accommodating to tight schedules. With a tagline of "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day", it is hard to not be sold on that concept. Now, I may not be a busy career woman who has no time to wait for bread to rise when I get home from work but that doesn't mean that I don't appreciate the time saver of having the dough in the fridge. A house guest neglects to tell me they are bringing a friend along and I only made dinner for three? No problem, I can quickly stretch the meal just by adding a loaf of bread.

- These recipes encourage baking a small loaf of fresh bread with your meals. No making a huge loaf and only eating half before it goes stale or molds. Plus, many yummy bread smells.

- It gets better with neglect! The first day the bread is OK but forget about it in the fridge for a week or so and it develops a tangy sourdough flavor. Skip washing the container between batches to carry that tanginess to the next batch.

- The last thing I like about these recipes it that they are very versatile. "The Bread" is always delicious but just by rolling it out I could make flatbreads, pizza or even cinnamon rolls. The possibilities are endless.

OK so these recipes sound fabulous and I'm all jazzed up and ready to get baking but then I realize that I am not as enthusiastic about following a million teeny steps required to replicate baking artisan bread in my lowly kitchen oven. I'm not keen on lining my oven with bricks, buying an expensive pizza stone or misting the loaves with water every 15 minutes while they bake. Oh and the recipes that want me to proof the dough in linen-lined baskets and then gently turn them over into a preheated 500 degree enameled dutch oven without letting all the air out the dough (to preserve the large holes found in rustic breads) or scorching the bejeebus out of myself? Forget about it. This was supposed to be easy.

I love bread and I can appreciate a delicious artisan loaf but it is not like I live in a big city only blocks from a world-renowned bakery. It would be awesome to make such a thing at home but the realization I came to is that I can coddle this bread along at every point in the fermentation process and create something that is pretty good or I can take a few shortcuts and come out with a loaf that is decent and still fills the house with delicious bread smells.

So here it is, The Bread - my no fuss, no special equipment required, no weird ingredients, bakes while you are making dinner, not perfectly shaped (but that just makes it more legitimately "rustic") Bread.

Ingredients you need
- 6 cups AP flour (bread flour works too if you have that on hand or a mixture with whole wheat but I recommend making a batch first before experimenting with whole wheat)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons yeast (less if using instant yeast)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (I use a coarse kosher salt, but table salt works just fine)
- 3 cups warm water

Equipment you need
- a storage container with a lid that is not air-tight (otherwise the dough can get funky). I use a six-quart, flat-lidded, plastic storage container which is big enough for a whole batch of dough to rise without exploding over the edges but small enough to not take up too much fridge space.
- measuring cups and spoons of course
- sturdy wooden spoon
- baking sheet
- metal pie tin or disposable aluminum pan (a steam pan for the oven)
- extra flour for dusting the loaves
- something to keep the dough from sticking to the pan. I use wheat bran but not everyone has that sitting around. You could use parchment paper, a non-stick spray like Pam or Baker's Joy or you could dust the sheet with cornmeal. Choices, choices!

The steps:
1. In storage container, combine the flour with salt and yeast (no need to proof yeast). Pour warm water over top and stir with wooden spoon. You do not have to incorporate every little dry spot, just stir until well combined like this:

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2. Put on lid and place box in a warm place like on top of the fridge or near a warm window. Let it rest for about 45 minutes to an hour. At this point the dough will be starting to rise but there will still be some dry spots. Roll the dough around a bit with the spoon then brush the dough with a little warm water (or use your hands, whatever suits you) just to make sure there are no dry spot on the top and to keep it from drying out. Let the dough rest until double in volume like this:


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3. At this point you could pull off a hunk of dough and bake it, but if you let it rest overnight it develops more flavor and character and will continue to do so over the new week or so. If you aren't going to be baking right now, toss it into the fridge.

4. Time to make some bread! Take your steaming pan and half-fill with water. Put it in the oven on a lower rack (leave the middle rack for the bread) and turn heat to 475 degrees. While the oven is heating, prepare the dough.

5. Take the dough out of the fridge. Many no-knead recipes want you to bring the dough up to room temperature but frankly I didn't one time and it turned out fine so I haven't bothered doing that since (just one less "fuss" in my recipe). Dust counter or cutting board with flour then tear off about a pound of dough (about the size of an orange). Plop the dough on the floured counter and we are ready to shape the loaf if you can really call it that. I smoosh the dough blob out a bit and think of it as having four corners. Gently grab one corner fold it into the center of the dough securing with a firm press of the fingers. Do this with all four corners to loosely form a loaf. Resist the urge to mess with it more; by pulling the dough too tight or making a taut skin, experience has taught me that these loaves are unable to rise very well and tend to split one side and topple over - though they still taste good.

6. Prepare the baking pan to prevent the dough from sticking. I sprinkle the baking sheet generously with bran then place the shaped dough on the pan. Next, dust the loaf generously with flour and lightly slash the top with a serrated knife.

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7. Bake at 475 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes until the loaf is a deep, golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes before slicing (if you can resist).

See, it really is just that easy. The best compliment I ever received about the bread came from Angela's ten year old daughter who said, "Mmm, this bread is good like New Season's (a local natural grocery store) bread". It is not a fancy artisan loaf but it hits the spot and there is just something so satisfying about homemade bread.

So whether you have avoided baking your own bread because you think it is hard or you get home too late from work or your shoulders hurt from kneading or you just don't want to get dough under your nails, this recipe is for you. So get in the kitchen and let's start baking!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Branding time

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Get the irons hot; it's time for branding here at the ole Double F! Branding this year will be on Saturday, April 23rd.

Dates are picked based on the progression of the calving season, hay supply, grass supply and weather. As ranchers, it is our goal to be able to put the herd out as soon as possible after the calves have dropped but only when there is enough forage on the range to be able to support the nutritional needs of the entire herd. Spring is a demanding time for cattle - cows need good feed to produce enough milk for the calves while calves make use of tender spring grasses to supplement their growth, bulls are getting into top condition for breeding season, yearling heifers are trying to get in one more growth spurt before the demands of breeding and pregnancy come calling and beef steers need to pack on lean muscle and condition before they finish for market.

We are still waiting for a few more calves to drop and with just over two weeks until branding, they better hurry up! If you be joining us for branding, please let me know as soon as possible. Some years it is a zoo out here but other years it is just the crew of regulars.

I can't wait to show off all our pretty white-faced calves!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring cleaning

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We spent the day giving the chicken house a thorough cleaning. It is a big project; shoveling all of the litter, scraping down walls an perches, painting the roosts and putting clean straw in all the nestboxes.

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Part of the ingenuity of the chicken house is that it was built to take advantage of the slope of the canyon wall. By building the back half of the chicken house up on stilts, we are able to drive a truck below and open the trapdoor in the floor to scoop the litter directly into the truck.

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This simple design feature makes it so much easier to get the nitrogen-rich litter out of the chicken house and to the fields where it fertilizes the crops. That is just one small example of what it means to run the ranch as a sustainable system with many interwoven parts.

The hens were very happy when we were done since they had been milling around all day in front of the door, eager to be the first ones to hop up in the nice, clean nestboxes and show their appreciation with fresh eggs.