Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ranch recipes: a light mezze picnic

Over at Olive Oil and Tomatoes, Lindsey is getting ready for a camping trip and asked readers for their favorite camping recipes. This reminded me of a meal I prepped and brought to Tahoe with us a couple weeks ago. We weren't exactly camping, but it would make a good camping meal as I did all the prep at home, packed it in a cooler and when we arrived all I had to do was cook up the meat in a skillet (though I could have done that at home as well) and we shared a wonderful meal in less than ten minutes.

Here's what I made:


Monday, August 15, 2011

Spray day revisted

While Nathan was spraying the other day, I noticed one cow had not come in with the others. Since the neem spray we use acts more as a repellant than a kill-on-contact spray, it is important to spray the entire herd and here is why:


Saturday, August 13, 2011

How stuff works: spraying cattle


It's the peak of summer and the cattle are out on range down behind the barn. The pasture is several hundred acres so we don't see the herd every day but they make the trek back to the barn every four or five days. When they came in the other day they were absolutely covered with flies. They didn't look too bad the week before so the flies must have had a big hatch after the rains.

In general we don't spray the cattle very much to control flies. Many stockmen will run the herd through several times a year and treat with a systemic insecticide (similar to the flea and tick medicine given to dogs and cats) or set out an oiler or dustbag in the paddock that the cattle must rub against to get to water, feed or mineral. Flies and other parasites do influence the gain and overall thriftiness of cattle but we try to treat the herd as naturally as possible. In the same way that bacteria and viruses can develop resistance to antibiotics in people, parasites can also develop a resistance to insecticides with indiscriminate use. We don't much want superbugs around here but mostly we prefer to not have to use chemical insecticides period.

Here at the ranch we practice farm-wide Integrated Pest Management, essentially a management technique aimed at establishing acceptable levels of pests through prevention, monitoring and application of targeted management practices. In plain English - instead of spraying preemptively each year at the same time just because the stock are already in the corral, we aim to prevent infestations, monitor any changes and if an infestation does occur in numbers that impact the quality of life of the animal or negatively influence the market value of the stock then we develop a plan to treat the source of the problem using the most environmentally sensitive treatment.


The treatment today was a heavy spray of neem oil, an organic oil pressed from the seeds of a plant native to the Indian subcontinent. It doesn't kill the flies right away but does act as a strong repellant. One spraying of neem isn't going to solve all fly problems but it will knock back the population significantly. We'll turn the herd back out and spray them again in a few days when they come up to the barn next time. After they get a good spray down, we will direct the herd to a new pasture area, moving them away from the accumulated manure on the old pasture where flies breed. This is one of the reasons why an IPM strategy works so well - removing the original source of the infestation (in this case, manure), coupled with a targeted treatment means that we are able to knock back the pests to appropriate levels without automatically reaching for a commercial insecticide.

As an added bonus the neem reminds me of peanut sauce - hints of peanutty, garlicky goodness - at least until we make it to the corral where those smells mingle with dirt, dust, poo and cow's breath. Even so, at least it doesn't smell like chemicals and give one a headache with the first big whiff or burn your skin on contact. That seems like a good thing.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The fire revisited

Fire 093
Signs and flagging direct crews to the fire

After fighting fire for three days last week, Nathan decided that the assorted neighbors, BLM and Forest Service guys had enough of a grasp on containing the fire that we could in good conscience take off for our California road trip. We were both immensely relieved to not have to make the decision between protecting our home and property from the threat of fire and attending the much anticipated wedding of our friends.

Fire panorama
Burned area panorama from the top of the grade

The fire started off pretty small but gained steam quite quickly in the second day and covered a lot of acres. It jumped to our side of the highway in a few spots but mostly burned north of the road.

Fire 029
Our gravel turnoff

There were a few homes where the fire got terrifyingly close but the BLM dumped water and flame retardant around them. Nathan was working on a section where the fire jumped the highway and was racing toward a dozer line when they got hit by the flame retardant spray. It clobbered the neighbor's water spray rig and Nathan came home pretty speckly as well. His hat is still sprinkled in red flame retardant.

Fire 067
A chopper fills at Antelope Creek

In the photo below one of the neighbor's hay sheds stands unscathed in a sea of green. A green buffer is always the first line of defense in protecting structures - fire lines, water brigades and flame retardant can only do so much.

Fire 011
Juniper trees go up in smoke. Spared hay shed at center. Click image to zoom.

It has been over a week now since the fire was contained. It is still surprising to me to drive through the burned area, how dramatically the landscape has changed. Overall though, fire is good for the ecosystem and the range will regenerate with lush grass next year. Nobody lost their homes, only a few outbuildings didn't make it, and hopefully the neighbor's livestock are OK. Nathan has some pretty crazy stories about cattle frantically sprinting down the highway, fleeing the flames that chased them out of the high country.

Fire 047
Nathan points out an area where the fire jumped the highway 

I know I have had my share of excitement for this fire fighting season (and you can bet Lloyd and Nathan's backs and shoulders have had enough) but you never know when the call will go out again. We're ready this time though with all our fire supplies in order. Hopefully we won't need to use them.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ian and Lauren's Heavenly Wedding

I'll resume blogging about regular ranch stuff tomorrow including the fire but for now all I want to do is positively gush about the wedding of our dear friends Ian and Lauren. Man we love those two and they had such an amazing and wonderful wedding perched high on the mountain overlooking Lake Tahoe.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Crew returned to the ranch about 10 am today (Wednesday). They put out a few hotspots and checked lines from yesterday. The fire is continuing to move northeast towards Shaniko. There were lots of BLM and Forest Service crews milling about and while the fire isn't exactly contained at this point, it is starting to simmer down so Nathan and Lloyd decided to come home. Nathan and I are packing up to leave and Lloyd is going to go run around with the road grader cutting fire trails on our place (never can be too cautious!).

More updates later.




The crew left first thing this morning to go walk fire lines. The wind has shifted so it doesn't seem too smokey out there today but that can be deceptive. I stayed behind to pack with the assumption that we will still leave this afternoon as planned but the wedding isn't until Friday so if need be we can take more time here before departure. We'll see how things go.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fighting a nearby fire

We had a thunderstorm roll through yesterday afternoon. We caught the edge of the storm with .18" of rain but across the canyon they got .75". Lots of sheet lightning and within 5 minutes of the rain stopping we looked out the kitchen window to see this plume of smoke. That's the corner of the barn for reference.


It looked like it was right up the hill maybe on the DeGrote field but it was actually farther away on private land. For those who have been to the ranch, when you wind through the canyon on 293 coming from town, it is on the left as soon as the canyon ends (well it started there). Nathan and Lloyd worked there until well after dark last night and then got the call again today that they needed help on the frontlines.

I've been at home holding down the fort and interfacing with various neighbors about the status of the fire. Once I started to hear the helicopters and planes buzzing overhead, I knew it was getting more serious.

Then Lloyd called at 5:30 and requested Chuck head over there to help cut a fire line as the fire had jumped across the highway and was now on our side of the road.


Lots more smoke this evening and a non-stop buzzing of planes overhead. Allison and I went up to feed hogs and the wind started to change and blow the smoke directly at us. Within minutes our canyon was filled with smoke. The fire is still a few miles away as the crow flies but when you smell the smoke and ash starts drifting down on you, one can't help but feel a teeny bit nervous.


I'm hoping to get an update on conditions soon.We had planned to leave for California tomorrow but that will depend on what the fire is doing. For now we are on a very cautious alert with no reason to panic. We will see if the wind keeps blowing southeast towards the ranch. If we need reinforcements in the next few days, I will send out the call. For now, I am going to go make a huge pitcher of lemonade and some dinner for when the menfolk show up.

***** Update 10:15 PM: Everyone is home safe and sound. The fire kept them running all day so they are smokey and tired. They will head out again first thing in the morning. Good news is that the way the fire ran today, the ranch should be in the clear but we still have neighbors with property and stock in the danger zone and the fire isn't out yet.

Wind Whips Wildfire NE of Madras to 3,500 Acres


CSA member submitted recipes: Pesto-stuffed pork chops


CSA member Jen sent along this fantastic recipe for pork chops. Each component of the recipe - the stuffing, the spice rub, the light brush of balsamic vinegar - was delicious and would make an amazing stand-alone cooking method but when all those flavors melded together the results were pure yum!

Pesto-Stuffed Pork Chops
Prep: 30 min Bake: 30 mins
Oven:  375 degrees  Makes 4 servings

3 tablespoons of crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons pesto
1 tablespoon pine nuts
4 pork loin chops or boneless pork loin chops
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1.  For filling, stir together cheese, pesto, and nuts.  Set aside.  Trim fat from meat.  Make a pocket in each chop by cutting horizontally from the fat side almost to the bone or the opposite side.  Divide filling among pockets in chops.  If necessary, secure the opening with a wooden toothpick.
2.  For rub, in a small bowl combine black pepper, oregano, garlic, red pepper, and thyme.  Rub evenly onto all sides of meat.  Place chops on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.  Bake at 375 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until done (160 degrees)  and juices run clear.  Brush vinegar onto chops during the last 5 minutes of baking.  Before serving discard toothpicks. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ranch guests: Ian and Dara

Longtime friend Ian and his lovely wife Dara made their first trip to the ranch the other day. Currently residing in New York City, I had encouraged them to come visit when they needed a break from all the people. After all, the ranch is about a quarter of the size of Manhattan island.

A quarter of the population of Manhattan: 396,000
Population of the ranch: 3


I like to think that they enjoyed the more relaxed pace of country life where the daily to-do lists include things like: check water and fences, move chickens, feed pigs, pick raspberries. There was a crash course in ATV operation, beer brewing and field course studies on cattle genetics and range management. It's a veritable farm school out here!


Ian and Dara's visit was pretty short but I heard several promises that they plan to return and I intend to keep them to that. Good news is we will get to see them again in a week when make the trip to the California wedding of other childhood friend and ranch buddies Ian and Lauren. Then it is back to the grind here at the ranch