Monday, March 21, 2011

Pinky and the Gang

Pinky, our last year's first calf
Mike and I gathered the herd off the benches this weekend and brought them in to sort off the yearling heifers. The heifers receive a required brucellosis vaccine before they reach one year of age. The vet has to administer the vaccine, which means a trip to town this week for fifteen heifers.

Nice Red Steer

While we had the herd in, we got the opportunity to look over all the animals and to size up our butcher steers for this year's harvest. With the heifers in the corral, we let the cows spend the night in the horse pasture and gave them all a feeding of hay.  The herd looks good.

Gabe looks over some of the cows after feeding

I loved having three days on the river. The full moon cast a bright blanket across the benches and lit up the frothing water. Apricots and plums and service berry are in bloom and I saw yellow bells and buttercups while riding the benches to gather the cows. We woke up Sunday morning to thirty degree temps, so I hope the apricots don't freeze. The first day of spring brought sun, bluebirds flitting in the brush and pairs of geese gabbling in the shallows. Now we just need the weather to keep warming up and the grass to take off before calving starts.

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Friday, March 11, 2011

Chainsaw Work

Gabe brushing out draw to fix broken water line 
At least it was a warm day when Mike and Gabe tackled the water line after zero degree temperatures at the end of February froze and broke twenty foot of line running up to the spring. The wildfire that raged through a few years back had burned most of the brush out of the draw, but the broken water line was in a staubed-up tangle of brush and dead hackberry. That's when it's so nice to have a son around to handle the chainsaw work. 

While Gabe was at it, we cleaned up more of the dead wood in the orchard-garden. We've been pruning every year since we took over the ranch and it still needs more. I run the loppers and the hand pruners, but it is so satisfying to see a big ol' limb come off like a hunk of butter in the maw of the chain saw. I have not gotten over my sadness at the girdling of the trees by someone who put wire cages on and left them. The beautiful fruit trees grew into the wire and many were dead or dying when we started resurrecting the place. 
Cleaning the orchard

I can still remember picking nectarines and peaches there more than 25 years ago. The ripe nectarines were small and scabby and incredibly sweet, with little jewels of nectar that had oozed from tiny cracks and hardened like sap on the outer skin. Wasps lilted around us in the languid air, and when all the fruit was gone, we shed the stickiness and dust from our skin with a dip in the swimming hole before driving back to town. Now moldered stumps cast a faint shadow in the dry horsetail patch where the nectarines once stood. 

In spite of all those years of neglect, the apricot trees are enormous and healthy, raising plump purple-tinged buds into the crisp air of a March evening. I'm crossing my fingers we'll be picking luscious golden apricots come July, but I know that gift arrives only perhaps one year out of four, so we'll see if the fruit sets this year, or if a late frost will nip the trees along the river. 

It won't be long before the cows begin to calve and the river will be running high and fast. We're still fetching little bunches back every week from where they cross to the west side of the canyon. Let's hope the mother cows are all on the east bench when they start to drop their calves. Once the river rises, it's a slow trail around to the bridge to bring them home. 
At the ford upriver
Driving back to the valley yesterday, Mike caught the sunset over the Wallowas. Another storm just blew through and now it's thawing again. It's a special part of the world that can give us the early green of canyon spring and the bold sunset of the snow covered valley all in the same day. 

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Winter Herding and Smashed Fingers

Return of Winter as March arrives
February seems to have blown by in a series of storms. Some left us wet and muddy. Others brought sharp cold, the benches bright with winter sun. Greys and browns returned to dominate the landscape. Buds went dormant on the trees. It felt like the sap had sucked back underground, and the memory of buttercups in January seemed incredulous.

Mike got the calves through weaning in good shape. High winds, icy roads and mud made tricky hauling for a few loads of hay headed to the river from our barn on Prairie Creek. He worried about wet corrals, but the ground dried out enough between storms to get us through.

Looking across to Haas Ridge
We're still dealing with open fences across the river, which means we have to gather stragglers every week and bring them home. When the temps warm up, the grass perks up and suddenly the birds are singing again and spring seems possible.

Down road off Pack Saddle
It's been a yo-yo kind of winter in the canyons. Cold. Warm. Wet. Dry. Frozen. Thawed. Ice. Mud. Not so unusual, except for the fluctuation. Sixty degrees in January and below zero at end of February.

It's helped a lot to have Zeke around to heft loads of hay and Gabe has been coming down to help with the outhouse project and the ever-present fence jobs. And now Dawson wants to get involved.

Fence stretcher
The day we put the new gate in on the Hall place, Dawson marched over to the fenceline. He put his hands on his hips, looked over the half crib and said, "You guys need some help?" After he messed with the fence stretcher for a while, he switched to a hammer. He had a great two-hand swing. Unfortunately he tried out a one-hand swing and landed the hammer head square on the nail of his other pointer finger.Ow.
Two-hand hammer
After the tears a band-aid felt good
As his dad said, "Just in time for the trip to the beach." Luckily by the time they left a few days later, pointer finger was back on duty. 

From Sara at Magpie Ranch home of Bunchgrass Beef