Sunday, September 13, 2015

Oh You Customers

In the fall when harvest comes around, there are vegetables overflowing the garden, fruit falling from the trees, steers to be butchered, cows to be herded, fields to be irrigated, and all the other tasks with drought pressing down on us. I’m feeling harried and short.
Winter squash, beans, tomatoes covered for frost

Then come the moments of customers who cheerfully accept a minor offense in a cutting order, or the fact that a steer was bigger or smaller than you expected, or that your deposit was lost in the mail. 

You are a spark of goodness inside me. Your words are like tiny bursting fireworks that shower fairies around me, invisible but for their tickling wings. 

Peaches, pears, tomatoes - need attention

Oh you customers, I love your kindness, your encouragement, your enthusiasm, your respect for the animals, your willingness to partner with us in the connection of rancher and eater and rangeland.

Zeke and Tommy fencing the grass we need to move to

Thank you. Thank you for your kind words, for your ‘can’t wait' appreciation of the meat we raise, for the extra effort you make to support our family ranch, for your smiles on delivery day, for hugs. 

Star and Dawson having a snack before herding cows

Hope to see you soon. 

Sara and Weston at the stock pond

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, Home of Bunchgrass Beef

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Zenger Farm and Zumwalt Prairie

What connects Zenger Farm in SE Portland to Zumwalt Prairie in NE Oregon? Another Prairie, this one of the human kind, as in our daughter Prairie Rose Hale, Zenger Farm Community Programs Manager.

Prairie at Zenger Farm

Prairie grew up in the wilds of Hells Canyon where we worked herding cattle on the winter ranges of the Snake River. She spent her summers on the Zumwalt Prairie, first herding cattle at the Steen Place at the edge of the timber and later at the Buttes near the head of Camp Creek.

Longhorns on the Zumwalt Prairie

I still remember riding up out of the canyon with Prairie when she was just a baby. We'd already trailed the cattle and hauled our gear from our winter camp in the canyon to the summer ground on the Zumwalt. Now we were riding the last of our saddle horses up, a full day's ride. Prairie was only about four months old and I carried her swaddled to my chest, on a steady white gelding named Casper.

Looking into the canyon from on top

The country was new to me. I'd never ridden the trail before, but Mike had. He rode ahead of me with Gabe, not yet two years old, in front of him on the saddle. We crossed a wide open grassy bench, then climbed up the darkly timbered creek toward the canyon rims. The trail grew narrower and narrower until we reached a notch that went right up a steep rock face. The horses lunged forward, their powerful hindquarters launching them up onto the rock, hooves scrabbling for purchase as their momentum carried them up the rock and back onto the trail.

I remember asking Mike what else lay ahead of us and I felt relief when he said that was the worst of it. After that, it was just a long day in the saddle, eating lunches and snacks from our saddle bags, resting under trees, and drinking from springs.

Prairie herding cattle to summer range

Now we run our own herd of longhorn cattle and even though Prairie lives in Portland, she comes home every year to help us trail them out of the canyon to the summer range on the Zumwalt.

Magpie Ranch longhorn calf

We love supporting Zenger Farm and Prairie's work in an urban setting. Raising food, encouraging farmers, helping children and adults in their neighborhood learn about sustainable farming and enjoying healthy food together. And we're glad that some of our healthy beef shares go to feed families in Prairie's neighborhood.

Where kids grow and eat 

We're also excited to be part of building the new Urban Grange education facility by donating ranch stays to Zenger's fundraising efforts.
The urban grange at Zenger Farm

When the folks who bought our ranch stays arrived for their visits, we enjoyed sharing our common enthusiasm for Zenger's mission, as well as sharing a part of our way of life on a small family ranch.

Sara works on fence on Zumwalt Prairie

Now summer is halfway over and the cattle are doing well on the range as we keep a close eye on the water and feed in drought conditions.  We’ve been repairing fence and I’ve enjoyed the early mornings and late evenings out on the Zumwalt. It feels like the prairie is part of my family. I miss it when I've been away in town and I feel a welcoming timelessness when I’m back working there again. It reminds me of all the summers we spent living and working there when our children were little. The smell of tarweed and buckwheat, the calls of the meadow larks, the prairie breezes, the distant mountain ranges of the Wallowas and Seven Devils, the storms gathering and rumbling past. A balm for the soul in spite of wrestling old fences and rusty barbwire.

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Fire on the Trail

Water drop on the south end of the Little Basin Fire

When we first heard there was a fire on the river, we were mistakenly told it was on the switchbacks going to Dug Bar. Turns out it had started right across the river from the ranch, and it was headed south toward Log Creek, where we planned to trail our cattle to the Zumwalt Prairie in just two days.

Chopper drawing water at the swimming hole
Several helicopters worked the fire all the next day, drawing water from the big swimming hole downriver. Mike had shut the cows and calves in the river pasture, since we were getting ready to head them to the summer range in a few days.  The helicopter activity spooked the herd and they broke out and headed toward Corral Creek.

Luckily the wind changed direction overnight, driving the fire north away from the trail. So we were able to stay on schedule with the move to the summer range. Mike got the cows gathered and headed back upriver on the first day. Second day he crossed them to the Hall Place, and got them started up the road.
Gathered back up and headed south toward Halls. 
 Day three, Gabe came down and helped Mike start them up Log Creek.  Next morning the two of them left super early to pick the cows back up near the breaks where they had topped out of the canyon. Cammie, the boys and I joined them later, bringing lunch and cold drinks.
Dawson had fun on Chester

After lunch we let Mike and Gabe take a break and Cammie and the boys and I rode. Dawson had fun on Chester and Wes rode with Cammie, until he got too hot and wanted to get in the truck and help Grandpa drive.

When we got to the Elephant Corrals, Gabe went to fix fence and Mike watched the boys, letting them muck about at the pond. 

Weston tells another whopper

It didn't take long for Cammie and I to get the cows the rest of the way to Young's and through the gate. 

Cammie and Sara headed back to Elephant Corrals

Dawson got his driving lesson on the way to meet up with Gabe. He did pretty good...when he watched where he was going! 

Dawson's driving lesson 

By late afternoon, Weston was pooped, but determined to stay with the program and not miss anything interesting. The minute Gabe and Cammie pulled out for the valley, I'm sure his head was nodding, and it wouldn't be long before he was sound asleep.   
Wes and faithful blankee

Mike and Sara - yay the cattle are all at the summer range

It was nice to be able to call it a day and head home to enjoy some rest on Father's Day.

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Milkweed Wedding Day

Some of our good looking steers at the river
We brought the yearling and two-year old steers out to summer pasture last Saturday. The weather cooperated very nicely by cooling down to eighty from the hundred degree temps earlier in the week.

Gathering the cattle at dusk upriver

On Friday evening, Mike rode out to gather the cattle, after the heat had passed. We wanted to overnight the herd near the house so we could get them in the corral to sort in the morning. After Mike left, the boys and I made a fire and cooked dinner. We kept an eye out for Gabe and Cammie who were driving down after work.

Wes and Dawson making dinner

An hour past dark, right about the time I thought I'd have to send out a posse, I heard the first mooing and knew Mike was finally coming in. Dirty and tired, he said the cattle took a rogue trail off the bench down through the rocks and prickly pear, just before it got too dark to see. At the barn he used a flashlight to find cactus spines and pull them out of his horse's legs.

Next morning, we had the cattle in and sorted before Dennis arrived early with his truck and trailer.  Pretty soon Paul and Molly showed up. After a little coffee, and second breakfast for Dennis, we loaded the four trailers of steers and everyone except me headed to the valley.

Gabe and Dennis had to change a flat tire

I stayed behind and hiked upriver to the fishing hole where Dawson had picked some mulberries that morning. When I got to the tree, a fat rattlesnake buzzed in the grass and slithered under a log beneath the tree. I threw rocks to try and run him off, while keeping a hold of our year old pup, Bell. I don't know how much Bell knows about rattlesnakes yet, but I wouldn't trust her not to be curious. Finally, with one eye on the place I last spotted the snake, I picked mulberries as fast as I could. There were lots of berries already on the ground, and many more ripening on the tree. It took me a long time to pick a quart.

Ripening mulberries

Walking back from mulberry picking, I thought about Sarah and Eliot getting married that very same day in Kentucky. A very nice wedding day, I thought. I stopped in the horse pasture to admire the blossoming milkweed and I wondered why there weren't any butterflies. Right then a beautiful big orange Monarch fluttered up in front of me and flitted away across the milkweed patch.

Milkweed patch

Interesting red beetle on this flower

The milkweed blossoms are so intricate and lovely, it's hard to believe that by the end of summer they'll turn into thick scratchy pods filled with cottony-down. As I admired the fleshy petals and the fat bees lilting among them, I thought, Mulberries, milkweed and monarchs, a very nice wedding day indeed.

Soon, I packed up and headed for the valley. As I bumped down the driveway, I could see pairs of cows and calves dotted along the bar, napping in the lush grass.  
Pinky naps with her calf

Sleepy cow

It felt peaceful and restful in a familiar time-of-year kind of way. In a few days, we'll hit the trail with the cows and calves. Headed for the Zumwalt and the summer range. 

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Good Branding Day

Branding day has come and gone again. Saturday Mike gathered upriver and we brought the herd onto the river bar to overnight.
Evening before branding day

Wes gets a ride with Cammie

In the morning Mike, Cammie and Dawson gathered the cattle off the bar and herded them across the bridge to the corrals.

Through the gate toward the corrals

We didn't quite finish sorting off the cows before our awesome crew started arriving.  We were a small bunch this year, as a few folks ended up not being able to make it.

In the corrals before sorting off the cows

Off to a good start

Before long things got rolling with Dave and Gabe roping. Mike, John, Mike S, Andi and Cammie were the ground crew.

Dawson with his calf 'trap'

Dawson caught a couple calves with his snare (and back-up from mom).

Gabe with the head catch

Dave moves in for the heels

It's always inspiring to see people work with skill and grace. And even when everyone starts getting hot and tired, they pull together and get the job done. Great teamwork. No wrecks.

Trusty ground crew

Dave builds a loop

Dave and Andi have worked on neighboring ranches for years. But this was the first time they made it to one of our brandings, so we really enjoyed their company.

Andi runs the branding pot

Andi helped hold it all together, keeping the tally straight, the iron hot, and the bander handy.
'Steer' 'Heifer' 'Steer' - the tally book

I ran the kitchen and rode herd on Weston, who made the rounds with me between the house and the corrals.
Wes and Sara up in a box elder above the corrals

As the crew finished up the last few calves, I laid a homemade local feast out to refuel and reward everyone's hard work. Roasted beef, ham, rolls, potato salad, pasta salad, veggies and dip, watermelon, asparagus, strawberry/sour cherry pie and rhubarb custard pie. Delicious!  

Mike S, Andi, John, Mike and Dave relax and refuel

Post lunch, a few naps were taken, a little fishing, a little refreshing of bare feet in the river.
Dawson and Weston - hand puppets in hammock

Gabe, Wes, Dawson and Cammie

Before folks headed home, we had the pleasure of a few tunes played by John, Mike and Mike.

Thank you everyone, for a very good branding day. 

John on the mando

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Bridge Building

We've been building a lot of bridges lately.  I was glad Zeke could take time away from his business to help Mike make repairs to our bridge across the Imnaha river. We will have to replace the entire bridge deck before long, but the new treads will get us through for now. 
Zeke planking on the new planks

Some of our bridge building has been social. Mike was able to spend a few days helping Marcy and Dennis trail cattle while their kids were on vacation. A few friends pitched in to make up for the 2 adults and 4 grandkids who were off looking at castles in Ireland and learning family history. Dennis and Mike have worked together in Mongolia and Dennis has helped us on the ranch many times over the years, so it was nice to reciprocate.
End of the day at Dennis & Marcy's

I'm still pinching myself that my Mom and her sister, Vera, now in their 90s, were able to come stay with us again in April. Last year we had a great visit and this year was even better!
First night's walk on the bar

Race for the bathroom, Vera wins!
We played a lot of Scrabble, Aunt Vera read about a book a day, and Mom went rock hunting and admired the fauna and flora. Since having her cataracts removed, Mom loves seeing everything clearly again. 

Mom writes in the ranch journal

Dawson and Wes in the ash bank
The two of them also had a fine time with the grandboys. Weston calls them Great Grandma and Great Vera.

Vera, Prairie, Mom

Prairie was able to come home for a short visit. She ferried the 'oldsters' on the next leg of their journey. It was wonderful for all of us to get to spend time together.

After the oldsters, our next guests were the lucky winners of a Magpie Ranch stay from the Zenger Farm fundraising auctionZenger is the educational farm where Prairie works in outer SE Portland. 
Matt, Kerry, Sara & Mike

It was fun to team up with guests, Matt and Kerry, to support construction of Zenger's new classroom and commercial kitchen. Before they arrived I warned them that rain was in the forecast. I also said that after a horribly dry spring, we were looking forward to some precipitation. 

A hike downriver with ranch-stay guests
Matt and Kerry did indeed bring the rain from Portland. We celebrated the moisture together, enjoying the downpours and sun breaks over several days of hiking, cooking, storytelling, and admiring our healthy longhorn cattle. 

It was another kind of bridge building, so necessary to understanding our differences and recognizing our similarities. 
Multi-aged herd, two year old steer, calf and mama cow

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef