Saturday, January 29, 2011

Weaning and Fishing

Crossing back to the home place
 It's been a bit of a challenge keeping the cattle where they are supposed to be. About once a week they cross the river below Packsaddle where the fences have been cut to provide easy access to fishing on the neighbor's property upriver. I've heard the neighbor eventually wants to build a pole fence, but for now it seems having cattle wander over is less of a concern than needing to open a gate to get to the fishing hole. So when the cattle wander, we gather them up and head them down river and back across to the east side.

It would definitely be easier for us if the fence were up, but we try to be flexible. Last week when Mike crossed the herd he saw fresh beaver sign. I wonder where the beavers are building. I'm going to keep an eye out for the new lodge. I'd love to be able to watch them doing their handy work.
Beaver sign

Beaver balancing act

Gabe lands a steelhead
While climbing around a rim on his trek back home, Mike caught sight of Gabe and Luke, with Dawson and James in tow, fishing at one of the holes above the house. Gabe was just landing a steelhead.

A few days later when the weather warmed up again, Mike and Gabe gathered the herd and sorted off the 2010 calves. It's weaning time and Mike will be staying on the river feeding the calves for the next month. While the herd was in the corral, he put small bunches into the alley and "groomed" them by pulling burrs and cutting off wads of cockle burr with his pocket knife. Not only does this remove the irritating seeds, it helps prevent the spread of weeds.
Weaning day  - a nice afternoon in January 

Steers ready for grooming

A few of the 2010 calves at weaning

Mike's not big on fishing, but while he's down there feeding the calves, I hope Gabe gets him out for a few lessons. Those fresh steelhead are pretty darn tasty. 

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Friday, January 14, 2011


Dropping salt on the way to Magpie

It’s definitely a good feeling, knowing the cows are on the home place. Yes we still have to herd and fix fence, but everything is within a day’s reach and the days are getting longer.

Down fence above Magpie

Balancing act
The herd is scattered along the bench and grading up towards the rims above the river. When we first brought them down from Pumpkin Creek, a few head trailed to the south end of the range and found a hole in the fence. Mike and Gabe packed material and spent a day repairing one of the steepest fences on the ranch, a place where it’s hard to stand up, let alone build a rock jack.

I had the cushy job of babysitting and spent the first warm day of 2011 along the river with Dawson, digging in the sand bars, collecting muck and rocks and bones, and riding the “horse tree” in the big Box Elder grove.

Over a decade since the flood, it all comes back when I see places where the river changed course, islands of alders, abandoned meanders, rafts of debris, and the enormous piles of rock and gravel sorted and left behind on the wide bar.  Recently I saw images from the terrible floods in Australia, fierce soil-thick water clawing and sucking a path across the land. I knew what that would be like, the sound alone pushing against you in a deafening roar that threatened to pull you away to your death.

Four foot deep debris raft

Infill in the old eddy, a "20 ton" bridge beam 
New Year’s Eve storm, New Year’s day flood. The only one in my lifetime, I hope. Being at the mercy of the elements gives our lives immediacy, forces us to be resourceful, a part of the place where we live and work.

At the "beach"
The rewards are great, a lazy day in January, water riffling over the shallows and smoothing out across the summer swimming hole, a green shimmer of chervil germinating under the locust trees, sap rising in the willows. 

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Monday, January 3, 2011

Home Economy

Roasted prime rib and steak
A couple days ago, I took the leftover prime rib and steak bones out of the fridge and put them in a kettle of water  to make stock. The bones had the rich smell of the dry rub from the roasted meat. As the stock simmered on the wood cookstove, that rich smell pervaded the kitchen along with the radiant heat of the stove. 

Ready to freeze

After the stock cooled, I poured it into jars and put them on the back porch to "prefreeze" overnight before wedging it into the freezer. Beautiful stock. It will make a delectable meal some night, probably when I need a quick nourishing soup after a long cold day. 

Before Christmas, I went through the pumpkins, looking for one to bake for pie, and I was amazed that not a single pumpkin had started to rot. They were all pristine. Perfect rinds, perfect stems. It consistently amazes me that a vegetable harvested months ago, can sit around in a cardboard box all those months and still be edible. 

Perfect flesh

I know the apples in the cellar are getting softer. By the end of February, they'll be more fit for cooking than eating. But they will still be edible

Making stock, sorting the winter squash, eating tons of beets and carrots as they get rubberier each week,  I never thought of this as home economics.  Sometime before I started public school, home economics had morphed from the science of food preservation - like how to can venison, to the consumption of preserved food - how to make desserts out of Jell-O and Cool Whip.  I avoided home-ec.

Kentucky farmer and author, Wendell Berry got me thinking differently about the economics of maintaining a household. He writes about what it feels like to be responsible from start to finish, for something made, something important and satisfying, like food. He says that when I grow pumpkins for pies, I am practicing a science and an art. He says that a home economy has spiritual value, that it provides the means of life and the longevity of nature and culture.  Count me in.

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef