Me and Scout

Me and Scout

04 August 2011

Sometimes things don’t work

04 August 2011, Thursday, 1543, Home Patch
Pretty tired today.  I’ve had some trouble sleeping and I’m not sure why.  I think I kind of messed up my schedule last week during Vacation Bible School and haven’t quite got back on track yet.  The heat may have something to do with it as well.  Yesterday, we did some clean up work in the Orchard behind Grandmother’s house.  One of us was on the tractor, while the other did pick up.  I cannot seem to get a chainsaw to work with any consistency.  It has always been like this.  I can get one to run for a day or half a day and then it will quit and I can no longer get it started.  The best luck I’ve had recently is with Dad’s and it’s a Stihl, which are great, but I used it for about a day and a half and now I can’t get it to keep running.  So, I cut some of the smaller stuff down with a hackknife and hauled junk around by hand.  Pretty exhausting.  There is more to do, but we are getting ahead of it.
Tomorrow, I need to shore up some of the fences for the horse pasture.  A reenactor friend is moving out of state and I am taking care of his horse until he can find a place to put his.  I doubt his horse will run off, but it’s good to be on the safe side.  Our horses have no reason to press the fences, they are getting fed and are happy, but when you change the dynamic it makes you wonder.
Rebel is still not right in his back.  That is another thing that I will try tomorrow.  The vet came out on Tuesday and we poked, prodded, tried to ride, and observed, but he couldn’t come up with a reason for his issues.  I gave him some bute today and will do so tomorrow and try to ride him gently to see how he does.  Bute is like horse ibuprofen.  People use advil to get through the pain while healing up.  I will try to give him a chance to heal up gradually.  If not, then I will take him back to the vet and try some additional diagnostic steps.  I can’t help but worry about him a little bit.
I think we finally have all of our calves identified. At least all the ones that are tagged, which is only about half of what we have.  The prices right now are really good, so I need to identify which ones might be good for sale and try to identify them somehow or just get them tagged like the rest of them.

01 August 2011


01 August 2011, Monday, 0800, Home Patch
We expanded our tiny little backyard area for the puppies on Saturday.  Now, it is the actual size of a backyard.  I hate to admit it, but my wife might be right about something.  She proposed the theory that the puppies would be more inclined to use the bathroom outside if they had more room.  I contended that it would not make a difference.  So far, we have not had the problem that we had before.  I am happy to be wrong on this one.
While I was working on the fence, Anna was pulling up all the poison ivy that had rooted in the backyard.  Our special soap usually works pretty good and I think it is working on her, but my brief encounter with it on Saturday is not going well.  Anyway, I am pretty convinced that alcohol and vitamin C work pretty good.  The bad rash on my arm is drying up relatively quickly.
There is a reenactment coming up soon and I have yet to test Rebel.  His back was still bothering him a couple of weeks ago, even though I rode him a few weeks before that and he was fine.  I will try to ride him this morning.  That way if he doesn’t do well, I still have time to call the vet.  What’s weird is that I can’t seem to find a sore spot.  Maybe he is faking it.
A couple of days ago, I was getting ready to take a shower and Anna was in the soon to be expanded backyard.  I heard her yell my name out.  I hollered back, letting her know my condition, then she returned something about a snake.  I threw on some shorts and tried to decide what I had that would make a good snake weapon.  A gun is not the best thing to kill a snake with, unless it is a shotgun.  I got into a pistol battle with a tiny moccasin once and expended a great deal of ammo.  They are just a really small target.  Plus, you have to deal with the ringing in your ears and cleaning your weapon.  The hackknife was in the Gator, which was down the road in the red barn.  Then I realized I had the perfect weapon.  I grabbed my 1860 Light Cavalry Saber and headed to the backyard.  Anna was leaned over with a long stick, pinning the intruder to the ground.  It was a moccasin all right; small, but decidedly unwelcome.  My trusty saber made short work of him.  Anna did a great job and it illustrates the importance of being married on the frontier and snake killing etiquette.  It’s always better to have two people when encountering a snake.  You need one person to get the weapon and the other to keep an eye on (or in this case, trap) the animal.  It is unsettling to be alone, go back in the house to get a weapon and then find that it is gone.
So, I will get to brag to my reenactor buddies that my saber has actually dispatched an invading enemy.

27 July 2011

Ranch Work vs. Ranch Management

27 July 2011, Wednesday, 0853, Home Patch
Dad came down yesterday.  Our focus was ranch management, which means that we didn’t really do a whole lot of actual physical work.  We looked at the hay fields to see about cutting them again soon and we spent a lot of energy in thinking about how to fix our pens.  If you’ll remember, a storm a week or so ago, knocked down an old dead tree and took out some of the pens with it.  That section of fence is pretty easy to decide about.  We are going to replace it exactly like we had it.  However, the other end of that stretch of fence is in poor shape and also needs to be replaced.  The problem with it is that there are two big old tallow trees there.  Our options are to have the trees removed and put in the fence in the same place or to bypass the trees and angle the fence.  This would have some advantages.  Ultimately we decided that we didn’t know what to do, but I am going to get with the local bulldozer guy about pushing those trees down.  I firmly dislike having trees as part of our pens, or even too many trees around the pens.  They drop branches on the boards and grow into the fence itself.  It’s nice to have a few for shade.  Once again, my philosophy is to cut the tallow trees and what’s left will be about right.
I did get what looks like it might be a more serious case of poison ivy than I have had for a while.  The tree that was knocked down was already dead, but it didn’t look dead because of all the poison ivy growing on it.  I thought I was careful to avoid the stuff, but I guess I didn’t do so good.  I am treating it aggressively with Vitamin C and alcohol (rubbing alcohol, that is).  If it doesn’t get better, I’ll hit the clinic for some steroids.  I heard recently that eating poison ivy berries will make you immune.  Maybe so, but it seems to me like it could also kill you.

25 July 2011

Burn it all! And the difference between me and Rob Roy

25 July 2011, Monday, 1033, Home Patch
My last entry said that the rest of the day was pretty uneventful, but the day was still young.  I cleaned up, and that afternoon, we went back to the gully where the cow had met her demise.  I still wanted to read the number on the ear, so I brought my rope.  I have told you before that I am no artisan with a lariat, but I surpassed myself this time.  It took me embarrassingly long to rope a cow that could not evade or run.  To my credit, I will say that there were some very awkward branches preventing me from making a normal throw, but by underhand pitching, I could throw the loop over between the horn and the limbs.  I actually got the rope on the horn once or twice, but it slipped off as I tried to take up slack.  At one point I looked down on my hand and saw that a maggot had hitched a ride on my rope and was now crawling on me.  Finally, I got the rope around her whole head, pulled it up a little bit and managed to read the number.  Simple, task complete.  You are probably now wondering what I had been wondering up to that point.  How to get the rope off.
I decided that I would have to pull her out.  She was still too heavy to get her out by hand, so I got a ratchet strap out of the truck.  Tied a bowline, hooked on to the end of the rope (the draw for the gully was too long to get close with the truck) and got her up into the draw.  One final pull was too much, though and I broke the strap.  This dead cow is now beating me if we are keeping score in terms of straps as I had lost a tow strap in the gully earlier in the day.  Now, comes the rough part.  I had to force myself close enough to the animal to work the loop off with a hoe.  I did not want to touch the thing for sure and yanking it around after it had been dead for 24 hours only caused an unholy and vicious stench and vile liquid to emerge from the carcass.  I could only manage to get close enough with a hoe to work the lariat for a few seconds at a time.  In the movie “Rob Roy” the hero manages to evade capture by forcing open a very similar cow, removing the innards and taking refuge inside.  Yes, indeed, there would have been some very happy British Soldiers that day if it were me.  Even if my love of freedom compelled me to force my way inside the carcass, the Soldiers would have surely noticed the intense hacking and retching sounds that the old dead cow was making.
Not much else of note has happened in the last week, ranchwise.  We took a day trip to Schlitterbahn as God had blessed us with some free tickets.  Saturday morning I was at the church for a work day, but got out of there as soon as I could when I learned that the burn ban had been lifted until this morning.  We had several weeks worth of house trash in cans, and some old brush piles from when we had the house put in a year ago.  It was hot outside, but we did our best to burn as much as we could in our burn box.  We didn’t get it all, but I did manage to push the bigger logs over to the burn box with the Kubota.  That along with some mowing we had done really made an improvement in our front yard.  Furthermore, Anna just came in from planting some rose bushes as well.  I’ll put up a picture soon.

15 July 2011

Rain, Wind, and Dead Animals

15 July 15, 2011, Friday, 1530, Home Patch

We went to Beaumont yesterday for our Date Day.  As we were heading back it commenced to rain something fierce.  I tried not to get too excited about it until we got back to see what things looked like at home.  I have been disappointed before.  Happily, we got about an inch and a half.  We also got some pretty serious weather.  There were major limbs on people’s roads as we got close to home and we had a good size limb on our road as well.  We decided to see what other damage there might be, so we got in the truck and went on down the Camp Road.  Sure enough, an old tree in the pens went down and it took some of the pens with it.


So, we have some work to do, but it is work that we have needed to do anyway.  That section of pens was not in the best of shape to begin with.  By the way, that tree was basically dead.  All of the greenery on it is actually Jurassic size poison ivy.  Cutting that tree up is not an option.  We are going to have to pull it out with a tractor, let everything die on it, then come back later and cut it up.
We also noticed a very strange thing in Tank 3.  There were about half a dozen dead fish.  I expect to see dead fish when there is no rain, but right after a big storm?  I think I figured it out this morning.  I think that tank got struck by lightning and turned our few remaining fish in there belly up.  I’m sure the snakes survived somehow.
This morning, we went to go patch up a good size hole in the calf patch fence.  This fence is particularly organic now, so half of the battle was getting up to it.  Thankfully, I have Dad’s chainsaw and I began cutting our way in.  There was a lot more poison ivy here, so we had to go careful, and then we kept smelling a skunk.  A skunk smell can be a skunk, but it can also be a water moccasin.  The dogs kept digging and barking where a tree had been uprooted and the smell kept coming and going, but I couldn’t find the snake.  So, we put in a post, hung a wire on it, cut all the poison ivy vines at the base of the trees and decided to check the other fences.  We’ll come back to this place later.
Sadly, we found a dead cow.  It was pretty fresh; caught in the gully by the culvert bridge.  I tried to turn her ear up so I could read the tag number, but all I managed to do was drop the tow strap in the death-infested water.  I’ll go back later with a lariat and a hoe or hook.  I’m not the greatest roper in the world, but I shouldn’t have too much trouble roping a dead cow.  I’ll let you know.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful.  We patched some relatively easy holes in the fence.  We road it all the way from the SE corner to about where the Sun Company Road comes in.  We have a lot of work left to do.

14 July 2011

The Crow Ranch Cowboy Camp

14 July 2011, Thursday, 1406, Barnes & Noble Starbuck’s-Beaumont

Our big Work Weekend Ranch Camp was a huge success!  The boys got in early Friday afternoon so we took them on a quick trip to MACI’s Feed in Hardin to get some black leg medicine.  When we got back, we got them oriented to the vehicles and the ranch by taking the 4-Wheeler and the Gator out to put out some cubes.  This also got the cows dialed in to the sound of our vehicles, the “Taco Truck” as Anna calls it.  We played a couple of games that night and went to bed early.  As expected, the boys had a little trouble going to sleep that night.

We got up around 6 the next morning and ate a delicious breakfast casserole.  During breakfast, I did a very short devotional (basically just read some scriptures) about what our attitude should be about hard work.  There is a fine line between working hard in order to get God or Man to like us and approve of us and being lazy because God loves us already.  Of course, the perfect scripture for that turned up during our revival a couple of days later, Col. 3:23.  I’ll have to remember that one for next time.

After we had all eaten (including the horses), we went to saddle up Rebel.  This was our first snafu of the day.  Although he did really well at the reenactment several weeks ago, his back seemed to be troubling him again.  There are only the slightest little bumps on his back and they are not tender to the touch, so I don’t know what the problem is.  I will keep doctoring him and keep praying for him.  Anyway, by that time, the other horses were out, so we had to call them back up so I could get Scout saddled.  Scout is not my top horse, but he did really well Saturday.  He had two issues.  The first one is that he gets really spooked about walking up to a man on foot, especially if he has a rope.  Of course, this is a very important part of working cattle and this habit made it difficult.  Also, at the end of the day, he was getting downright stubborn about going back in the pens.  He would just stop and refuse to do what he was told.  We worked it out, but it took some time.

The thing I was worried about the most for the entire weekend was getting the cows into the pens.  It frequently takes two or more cowboys with some good dogs and a fair amount of luck.  A lot of our internal fences are down right now, so when they make a break for the woods, it’s all over.  God was sure with us on this one that day.  I put Daniel (9th grade) on the 4-Wheeler with Hunter (8th Grade) in the Gator with Anna.  Age has its privileges.  Poor Hunter got stuck with kind of a boring job, but it was critical.  His job would be to handle the feed sack, while Anna drove.  Daniel would be pushing the herd from the rear on the 4-Wheeler and I would work the critical flanks on the horse.

We got to the Old Field and there were some cows there, but I couldn’t get around them in time to stop them.  I sent the vehicles out to the Savanna by way of the Culvert Bridge road, while I drifted east to the Board Bridge Road.  I gently trotted around them and the cows were all coming up to the Gator just like we needed them to, so I signaled Daniel to come to me and for the Gator to move ahead.  The cows trailed in to Bobcat Woods, just like we wanted them to.  I had Daniel pushing them from behind and I ducked into the thick woods on the west.  They kind of got away from us here.  I got about halfway into Bobcat Woods and saw the Gator, faithfully flapping feed bags and calling them up.  I had expected to see some cows before getting that far.  They had made a break for it, probably off to the east.  I told Anna to head to the Tallow Flat and recommence calling them up and bolted for where I thought the cows were.  Daniel had figured out where they were and was on them too.  The two of us managed to get them turned back to the North and even a little west toward the gully crossing that we wanted.  We got them across and Anna and Hunter were waiting for them, tolling them on toward the Old Field.  Many of them went right for the Tallow Thicket so I followed them in to keep them on course.  Daniel did really well here.  He knew exactly where to be and put the pressure on them just right, keeping them moving North while I kept them from getting away in the woods.  Anna and Hunter were also just in the right spot to keep them moving forward.  Going over the plan several times the night before when we were driving around really helped.

Once we got them into the Old Field, getting them into the pens was pretty easy.  I put Daniel up on the tank bank next to the gate so they couldn’t go by the opening and Scout and I cleaned the rest up nicely.  I was extremely gratified.  God was with us.  The boys did an outstanding job and the cows did well too.  We had enough calves to work in the pens and it was only 0915.  That was the complicated and tricky part.  Now, the dangerous and physically demanding part would begin.

Note:  Please see the 01 June 2011 entry “Never let a cow step on your neck” for a detailed description on how to work calves.

Since we had such luck with a thorough briefing on how to pen the cows, I gave a detailed demonstration on how we would tag.  This was also a good thing and helped them out a lot.  All in all the biggest problem we had was my roping skills.  I do all right on foot sometimes, but on a horse, I’m not the greatest.  I’m sure I’ll get better as the years go on, but roping in the pens is hard.  It’s not like in a rodeo, that’s for sure.  The easiest way to catch a calf is when it is passing from your right to your left.  On horseback, the horse’s head is in your way.  I’d try to run the calves in a circle so I could put it right out in front of me, but Scout was not the best at this and the calves got very proficient at ducking behind another cow or staying close to the fence.  What we finally ended up doing was this.  I would hang Scout up in the pens while I and one of the boys went in on foot.  When I roped one, I would pass off the rope to him, go get the horse, and they would pass the rope back.  This system worked pretty well, except for Scout not being great at walking up to people on foot.  This reminds me of another thing that I like about Rebel over Scout and that is the cavalry training.  Rebel has a different gear for his back end.  I can push his rear around with my feet.  This is so when I am in a saber duel with a Yankee cavalryman I can maneuver around to his back left where he can’t put up his guard.  Also, when I am in the pens, with a calf running around at the end of the rope I can keep myself from getting tangled.  I need to teach this to Scout.  I had a calf dallied off on the horn coming past my left side.  When I was trying to ride him around the snubbing post, he took off hard to my right and that rope almost pulled me off.  On Rebel, I could have kept him in line with the calf with a quick flick of the leg, but Scout had to figure it out on his own.  He did, but only just before I went off.

Anyway, we did good that day.  We tagged a total of six.  The boys did most of the holding and Daniel even threw a couple.  Most of the time we just jumped on them when they flopped down and once I put a foot rope on a big one.  Hunter showed his sand by hanging on to the rope beyond the point where it made sense.  He got pulled down a couple of times, but darn it, he wouldn’t let go until I told him to.  I guess if he were my son, I wouldn’t have told him to let go at all (see the entry “Hang on, Jason, Hang on!”), but since these kids were borrowed, I tried to take care of them.

We had done 5 calves when the sun came out.  It had been cloudy and even rainy up to that point, so the weather was pretty cool.  After the sun came out, we did one more.  The kids were pretty glad to be done, but according to their folks, they are still talking about it.  Fantastic!

We had a restful evening and went to Church and Sunday School on Sunday which was extremely important to the whole scheme of things.  It was very nice to be able to fellowship these kids in the Lord the way I could not when I was their teacher.

The weekend was excactly what I had hoped for.  Anna and I have talked a lot about what future iterations will look like and I will take some notes on what went well, what could have gone better (not much), and what we would like to accomplish in the future.  I will take all of my faithful readers along.  Thank you for your prayers.

08 July 2011

Cow Piercings

08 July 2011, Friday, 0655, Home Patch

Not much to report today, but I don’t want to get out of the habit of more frequent posts.  The master bathroom toilet has been back to haunt me.  Since we are having company this weekend, we decided to go ahead and get it fixed.  We went to Beaumont, got a new tank (since my efforts before had resulted in cracking the old one) and when I tried to put it on, it did not fit.  Yes, we did measure it, but it was only slightly off.  Anyway, it cost another trip to Beaumont and a later night than expected.  I will take another stab at it this morning.

We are attempting to pen cows with only the gator, a novice four-wheeler operator and a horse this weekend.  We are toying with several ideas to make sure that we get a good shot at getting the cows into the pens.  I am thinking about giving it a shot tonight.  However, we may just try tomorrow morning and if it doesn’t go well, then we can try again tomorrow late afternoon.  Please be in prayer for us.  It’s Hot!

I also finally managed to update the Cow Manager software.  We had about fifteen calves tagged and I found homes for all but 6.  In other words, we have discovered with reasonable assuredness which cow 9 of these calves come from.  I also have notes for which ones are not tagged.  We will try to take another look today and figure out what other matches we can make before tagging some more.

I also would not mind catching up on tagging some of the other cows.  This could also mean verifying that no cows have lost their tags.  This shouldn’t be hard to spot.  All we have to do is look for a hole in their ear.

I should have more to report after this weekend.  Wish us Luck!

06 July 2011

Little Stuff

06 July 2011, 0816, Wednesday, Home Patch
Well, the reunion went well and everyone had a good time.  God was very gracious to us on that day and gifted us with almost 2 ½” of rain in the course of about an hour.  The young kids were running around in the rain and getting soaking wet.  It was a lot of fun.
There is not a whole lot else to report yet.  There will be some of my former students from League City coming out this weekend to do some work.  Please keep this in your prayers.  I’ve always kind of imagined that God would turn ranching into some kind of ministry for young people, boys in particular.  I may be wrong, but in any event, I feel like this weekend is God ordained so your prayers are appreciated.
Remember, that Luke 16:10 says that if you’re faithful over little things, you will be given larger ones.  It’s hard to be faithful when you have your hands full, but I believe that if we don’t neglect the little things and the things that are close to home, then God will grant us with more responsibilities and resources.  Having three kids over to do some organizing and maybe throwing some calves may be the beginning of something bigger.  It may not be, but I will be faithful over this weekend.  It also applies elsewhere.  How can God trust me with more land if our house is not in order?  It is so easy to say, “If I only had money I could hire a maid, or someone to mow,” and yet there are dirty dishes in my sink that I need to wash.  Think small.  Get the small down pat.  Make the small so easy it is boring.  Do it the best way you know how.  I loved going to the KFC on Space Center and El Dorado.  There was a guy in there who loved his job.  You know what?  He actually  may have hated it, but he did it well.  He was cheerful, helpful, and thorough.  This guy wasn’t there very long.  Why?  I can only suppose that he got promoted or got a job with more responsibility and better pay.
I hope I have inspired you to do your work today with gusto and thoroughness.  God is pleased when you do and will reward it in His time.  If I didn’t inspire you, I inspired myself.  So, I’m off to be faithful.  Have a great day!

02 July 2011

Riding a Bucking Tractor

02 July 2011, 0917, Home Patch
I really did sit down at my computer yesterday morning with the intention of writing a blog entry, but realized I had absolutely nothing to say.  At least, nothing interesting.  Not much better today, actually.  However, I did move some more limbs around in cathedral oaks, but we pretty much did all we could handle the other day.  I made that tractor buck a couple of times.  Pretty scary, but it would be really hard to tip one over.  Basically, this happens when you try to pick up something that is heavier than the back end of the vehicle.  If you are not picking up right in the center and it’s too heavy, then one of your back wheels will jump off the ground.  When this happens it is better if you have kind of “preprogrammed” your response into your head so you don’t just start moving things and make it worse.  It’s not often that someone flips a tractor over on themselves, but it does happen.
We had company yesterday, or rather, Anna had company.  I just involved myself in the eating parts of that fellowship.  When they were all visiting, I went out to move limbs and when I finished that, I switched out the bucket and the hay spear and started restacking hay.  I left that job undone, when Anna said that we were all going to eat and just finished it this morning.
Switching out those implements on the front of the tractor is a lot easier when you have help.  At one point, you have to loosen or fasten the lynch pins and if someone is there directing you it keeps you from having to get out of the tractor several times.  I almost knocked out Dad during this process the other day.  We really do need to codify our hand and arm signals.  The Army kind of messed me up.  It got to the point that I couldn’t be understood backing a trailer or vehicle at the ranch or in Army ops.  A lot of the symbols are pretty basic.  You point up to make the bucket go up, down to go down, and unfold or fold up your arms to your chest to work the bucket.  We were doing pretty good, until Dad was getting ready to go in to work the lynch pins.  He wanted me to wait a minute while he did that, so he gave me the universal signal for wait a minute.  You know the one.  You hold up one finger in the air.  Woops!  We both realized our mistake before I knocked him in the chops.  Now, we our using the Army signal to wait or halt, a closed fist in the air with knuckles facing the driver.
Pretty soon we will be going over to Grandmother’s for the family reunion.  I’m looking forward to that, but I’m also wondering what kind of work I can get out of my cousins this weekend.

30 June 2011

The Mysterious Cow #7

30 June 2011, 0759, Thursday, Home Patch
I’ll bet you thought that when I didn’t do another consecutive blog entry that it would be another month.  Well, it’s only a week and I still need to scratch my head to remember what I’ve been doing during that time.
On Saturday, Anna and I patched some holes in the fence that Cow 7 keeps using to get to our neighbor’s property.  It was hot, but not as hot as it has been in the past.  In fact, with a slight breeze and in the shade it was almost pleasant.  We put in some posts, stretched some wire patches and then went back for lunch.  I skipped the heat of the day and then went back out around 4 to finish up.  We saw Cow 7 in our neighbor’s property that morning, but I was surprised to catch her on our place on the way back out to finish the fencing.  I guess we didn’t quite get all the holes patched.  I finished up in a couple of hours.  There are still some holes, but there is so much brush and limbs laid on the fence in those places, that it is just as good as a fence.  We will fix it for real at another time.  We’ve been back once to check if the elusive Cow 7 has been back over there, but we haven’t seen her.  Of course, we haven’t seen her in our pasture either.  It is possible that she is a jumper.  If this is the case, then we will just get rid of her.  It’s not worth the effort.

Dad came down Monday and we filled some holes in the road.  That certainly makes it nicer coming and going.  Since we had the tractors out, we also moved some limbs around that had been down since the hurricane.  It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t make us any money, but it sure feels better.  Sadly, it is also the kind of thing that if you didn’t know what it looked like before, you can’t really appreciate the improvement.  I hope to get to do some more today.

Tuesday, we followed Dad up to Normangee with the rake while he took the baler.  He will be needing the tractor pretty soon, so I want to push those limbs around and stack the hay before he does.
The “Fourth of July Reunion” will be this Saturday (the 2nd).  We are beginning to call it the “Independence Day Reunion” for that reason.  We’ll see if it sticks.  This is always a really fun event.  We have some preparation to do, i.e., house-cleaning.

23 June 2011

Consecutive Blog Entry??

23 June 0606, Thursday, Home Patch
Going to give reprioritizing the blog a shot.  I am putting it out there for my handful of followers that I will make a short blog entry at the beginning of each day.  Feel free to nag me if you don’t see anything new after a day or two.
I would like to take this opportunity to disavow some of the ads that Adsense has put on.  I’m not a Mormon, I don’t use lipstick, and I don’t deal in giant pink cupcakes.  Just thought I would mention it.
Up until about a week ago, mowing was our top priority.  Many of the pastures have been taken over by our particular brand of invasive species, the tallow tree.  This is a bad weed.  They make nice shade trees I guess, but they spread like wildfire, they are not good for wood, they grow stupid fast, and they are hard to kill.  The big fields need to be mowed annually or even semi-annually in order to keep this pest down.  If that happens, it is relatively easy to cut them down, but if it doesn’t, then the trees get bigger and we have to skip more.  For various reasons, we have not been able to complete mowing the Savanna and Savanna II for the last several years.  We were making a concerted effort to do this, but were still falling behind.  The piece of equipment that we used to do this was a 15’ batwing mower.  This is an impressive piece of equipment that can cut a tree that is up to the size of a coke bottle around.  (This is an old rule of thumb, so we are talking about the old glass coke bottle size.)  After nursing this piece of equipment along for about ten years, we finally decided to haul it off.  One of the gear boxes on the deck was hanging on by a thread so we declared it dead.  I felt like I needed to pull out a pistol and put it out of its misery.  Instead, we hauled it off to the scrap iron place and got a pretty penny for it.
Now, of course, the problem is that we still need to finish our mowing.  Trying to figure out if it is better to hire it done, use the smaller mowers, or go buy a replacement.  The new ones are upwards of $15,000.  They have 20’ mowers now, but I am sure they are even more overpriced.
So, we’ll see what God has in mind.  Today, I hope to get out to the fence and finish some of the patchwork that needs to be done.  Rain could keep me away, but that’s okay.

22 June 2011

Beautiful Rain

22 June 2011, 1117, Wednesday, Home Patch
It is raining!!!!  We have needed this badly for quite some time and it started up yesterday and his been raining off and on since then.  We are breathing a sigh of relief around here as they are in most of the state.  We have a long way to go to fill the tanks back up, but the grass will start to grow again.  That’s the critical point.
We cut and baled hay last Saturday.  We got 24 rolls, which is much better than what we expected during such a drought.  We also managed to get all the hay moved to our hay storage area.  If you remember, putting out hay directly from the hayfield was a real hassle.  Getting the hay out of the hay field and into the storage area during the summer will be a great time saver and be a lot easier on the roads.
Cow #7 has been getting into our neighbor’s pasture pretty consistently.  I took our preacher last Tuesday and began doing some patchwork on the fence.  I thought we may have gotten the most of it, but the cow was spotted again.  I’ll probably get back to it tomorrow.  Today, since it is raining, it will be an admin day.
Not much else to report.  We are just rejoicing in the rain.  Thank you, God for the rain.  I made an interesting discovery.  It is very easy to try equate God’s provision with our immediate needs.  We think God is providing for us when we get money or rain, or whatever.  So, we pray to God for money.  We pray to God for rain.  I believe in praying specifically, but the danger in doing that is that we lose sight of what we need.  My devotional referenced 2nd Kings (or maybe 1st) 17.  It was the story of Elijah staying with the widow woman during Israel’s drought.  God provided, but he did not let it rain on her.  The last bit of oil and flour she had kept stretching, but it didn’t rain.  It had to become clear to her that God was providing for her directly, but he didn’t let it rain.  There was no mistaking God honored her for honoring Him, but he didn’t let it rain.  We look to God for rain, but he often gives us something else that we need more, the chance to trust Him.
Now that it is raining, we are soaking it up.  We are so thankful, but that doesn’t mean God loves us.  He loves us anyway.  Any pagan can pray for rain and get his prayers answered eventually.  The pantheon of ancient gods always had a god of rain.  Our God is the god of everything.  He is also a father to us.  Eager to take care of us in a way that demonstrates it is Him that is doing it, not a random collection of water vapor reaching the saturation point.
So, thank you, God, for the rain.  Thank you so much more for taking care of us when it is dry.

01 June 2011

Never Let a Cow Step on Your Neck

31 May 2011, 1122, Tuesday, Liberty Middle School
Praise God!  The house closed and we are now the proud owners of one and only one house, that being the one in which we live.  Good times.  Of course, we still have a lot of the same issues we had before, but it is important to remember that God had rescued us from that burden and He will continue to show His faithfulness.  It could get pretty lean during the summer, but I’m convinced that we will be fine.
Saturday was a big day also.  Dad and Linda came out that morning and the Pflugerville Cousins came out in the afternoon.  We were also joined by my cousin Blake.  We needed every bit of help we could muster for the job I had lined out.  In an effort to maximize our knowledge of the herd, we decided that we would ear tag the calves well before we sold them or decided to keep them.  This way, we can match up calves to their cows during the year and when we sell the calves, we don’t have to guess at which calves belong to which cows.  Each calf will have a recorded birthday, etc. in a cow-calf management software program.  Oh, the glories of modern day agricultural technology are making their way into the Crow Ranch!
But not completely.  We still pen cows with horses (and a little help from the Gator and a sack of range cubes).  We still rope, we still throw calves by hand.  In the fall, we will still brand our heifers.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  We tagged fifteen calves and I have to hand it to those fifteen, they put up a fight.  Nathan got knocked down about three times and I spent some time on the ground too.  The rule about spending time on the ground is that you don’t do it; at least not if you can help it and not for very long.  When dealing with livestock of any kind, being on the ground is where they get you.  That’s how you get trampled, kicked, and hooked.  It’s how you get hoofprints on the back of your neck.  More on that later.  The other reason you get up off the ground is that there are a bunch of your family and friends who probably saw you go down and want to know that you are okay.
For the unitiated, the process goes something like this.  We have about 10-25 cows and calves in what we call the roping pen.  This pen is worked by one man on horseback and one or two men on foot with ropes.  One of these will rope a calf, then hand the rope up to the horseman if the rider wasn’t the one to catch the calf.  The horseman takes a dally or two around the horn of his saddle, then drags the calf through the gate to the branding pen.  The gateman opens the gate before him, which is important, because if the momma cow tries to follow, then the gateman can shut the gate right after the calf gets through.  Once in the branding pen, the horseman will ride up to the snubbing post.  A snubbing post is a deeply buried and solid round post about eight inches in diameter and about five and half feet tall.  The rider will try to “split” the post with the rope.  A roper will grab the rope quickly take a dally over the top of the post as the rider releases the rope.  The rope man now has the calf.  He will keep himself on the opposite side of the post and take up slack whenever he can to get the calf close to the post.  The flanker (usually one of the ropers) will then work his way down the rope and stand on the calf’s left side, grab it by the loose skin around his neck and by his back leg.  The flanker then smartly picks up the calf with his arms and right knee, rolling him up his leg and dropping him gently on the ground onto the calf’s left side.  He quickly squats on the calf’s neck with his left leg and grabs the calf’s right foreleg with his left hand and puts his other fist into the calf’s flank.  This prevents the calf from kicking with his back legs until the foot rope person comes up from the calf’s back and puts both back legs in a loop and a half hitch.  The calf is then easily worked.  The flanker slips the headrope off with his free hand, the legropeman releases the footrope and they coordinate the release of the calf with the gateman.  The calf gets up and runs back to the roping pen.
Yeah, right.
A favorite military axiom is that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.  It is also true that no cowboy plan survives contact with the cows.  The plan would work almost exactly as described except the darn calves just won’t stay still.  They also grow and some of them have gotten pretty big.  When they get to a certain point, they don’t bounce around as much and are actually a little easier to handle in some ways.  This middle size that we dealt with on Saturday can be kind of tough.  Not only are the calves getting older, so are the cowboys.  Our average age is 44.  We are almost as quick and agile as we were 20 years ago, but not quite.  When those calves start to jumping like a marlin on the end of a fishing line, they are hard to catch.  When we finally get a hold of them, they don’t always go down that easily.  We try to help each other.  Nathan was flanking one that was particularly stubborn, so I grabbed its back end.  Nathan starts to lift him up and I start dragging the calf down with all my might.  I took Nathan with him, of course.  Nathan went down and the calf rolled over him and just got right back up.  Remembering what happens to cowboys who go to ground in the pens, we quickly jump back up ourselves.
Later, Nathan modeled the exception to the rule for me.  He was working his way down the rope to a calf, got tripped up and fell to his knees.  “Get up!” I’m thinking, but Nathan just paused on all fours for a half second as the rope passed over him, then jumped up.  Pretty slick, and a lesson I would appreciate later when I tried to twist one down.
Bulldogging a calf is when you get behind its head, then twist the nose up into the air and just lay back.  If done properly, this gets a calf down quick and easy, but leaves you in a bad position to get on the calf.  We were having trouble with a big one, so I announce that I am going to twist him down and step in and grab his head.  I bring his nose up beautifully and then I just slip off.  I don’t know how it happened, but now I’m on the ground face up and I’m all alone down there.  I here people yelling, “Get up!”, but I remember from watching Nathan that not getting up immediately can be a good thing to.  I feel the calf coming toward me and I roll up to my hands and knees, tucking my head under as that calf used me like a welcome mat.  I still have the hoofprint on my neck.  A mark of how not to bulldog a calf.
All in all, we had a really fun day and plenty of bruises, cuts, and sore muscles to go along with it.  There’s something about the combative nature of working calves in this way that helps release the aggressive male tension that builds up when working in an office.  I suppose you get the same thing from playing sports.  Guys need this.  They need to work through some pain and fear and test themselves.  They need to get knocked on their butts, shake their heads, laugh, and then go back in fighting.
I can’t wait for the next time we work calves.  Well, I reckon I can wait long enough for the bruises to fade.

25 May 2011

Vampires, Fungi, and Real Estate Closings

25 May 2011, 1044, Wednesday, Liberty Middle School
I won’t bore you by apologizing for the fact that it has been a month since my last entry.  Okay, now that we have that out of the way.
At my last entry, I was preparing to go to the movie set of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”.  As a reenactor, we get the opportunity to work on movies from time to time.  It is a good source of income if it is handled correctly.  It is also a great chance to make a little money doing what I love to do.  As it turns out, I did not get to do what I love to do for money.  We spent all of our time either on set waiting to be asked to go on camera, or hanging out with our horses in the woods.  We still got paid, but we didn’t do anything.  We were the vampires, I guess.  I don’t mind a whole lot.  I was not terribly excited about being in a vampire movie anyway, so it all works out.  We made some good contacts for future movies, though.  My only claim to fame is giving my seat up in the chow van to an actor named “Jimm” something.
Rebel has been sore in the back.  I got him up and running for the movie, but he is not doing well again.  We had the vet back out and we are treating him for a fungus on his back.  Hopefully, he will be back and ready to work come Saturday.  The Pflugerville cousins are coming out and we are hoping to tag some cows and calves.  It will be much easier to pen if we have more than one horse.
We are still chipping away at the Savanna.  The tallows are pretty big and there are a lot of them, so I am dodging a lot of trees that need to be cut.  We are either going to have to go in with a couple of chainsaws and start cutting, or knock ‘em down with a bulldozer.  It’s all a question of what we want to spend, time or money.
The real crisis now (as it is for much of Texas) is rain.  This is normally the wettest part of the country, but we have had scarcely a drop in several weeks and what we’ve had to date this year is way under norms.  Even our grass is starting to lose its green.  Tanks are low and we have had a calf and a horse die from getting stuck in the deep mud leading to water.  To solve for this problem, we ran some hose and a lot of PVC out from our spigot to a water tank just on the pasture side of the fence.  It has gotten some use, but I don’t think the whole herd is watering there yet.  They need to find it quickly and get used to using it.  We are also toying with the idea of attaching a windmill to the old well in the camphouse and running some water to the old field.
The biggest news right now is that we are going to close on the house tomorrow.  The buyer will sign on Friday.  We are very excited, thankful, relieved, etc.  God is faithful.  What we are learning is that He is always faithful.  He was just as faithful when we didn’t have a buyer as He is now.
I have steady work until the end of next week.  After that, I am still trying to figure that out, but I’m not worried.  I do expect to have more time for blog entries though.

20 April 2011

“Hang On, Jason, Hang On!”

20 April 2011, Wednesday, 1336, Liberty Middle School
We did get our offer.  We had a real struggle at first because it was so much lower than what we had originally hoped for.  It’s a little tough to swallow when the house you made a good down payment on and have been paying on for 5 years nets you a pittance in equity.  I guess that’s what comes of a bad economy and the extreme reduction in the space program.  Enough said on that.  Frankly, we were upset and bitter.  Angry because God’s provision did not work out the way we thought that it should.  We got some encouragement through our friends and family, but what has helped us turn the corner was the realization of how ungrateful we were.  Here is the thing that we have been praying for for quite some time now and we got upset about it.  We had to get on our knees and repent of our crummy attitudes.  You know, it helped.  We are once again, grateful that this giant albatross hanging around our necks is almost gone.  Also, things are moving pretty swiftly.  We have already had the inspection and that seems to have gone well, with minimal problems that we have to tend to.  But you know, it doesn’t matter if it’s going well or not.  We are just happier because we are not second-guessing God.  Now, I wish I could tell you that we have absolutely excised our gripey nature, but I’m sure we have not completely.  Like most things, it’s a process.  So, be patient.
I have gotten in the habit of telling stories to the classes I sub for.  Not long ones, of course, because I have to accomplish what the teacher has asked me to, but just something to keep kids from having to read a book or do a word search for an hour.  I dare say that for the most part, they find my stories entertaining.  They ask for them whenever I show up.  By the way, I do realize that it’s largely because they would rather do anything than work.
The other day, I told a couple of stories about how I sometimes thought Dad had it in for me.  As a boy of about 12 or so, maybe younger, we were branding calves.  I was afoot in the roping pen full of cows, trying to get my rope on something.  I succeeded, but not the way I wanted to.  I threw a loop out and instead of the cute little light calf I was aiming at, I got my rope on a big heifer.  Before I even had time to realize what was happening, that heifer jerked me off my feet and started dragging me around the pens.  In the background, I was vaguely aware of everyone in the other pen shouting at me.  My Granddad, Grandmother, cousins and everyone were all imploring me, “Let Go, Jason, Let Go!”  But somehow, above them all, I heard the voice of my Dad, “Hang On, Jason, Hang On!”  Hang on, I did.  That cow took me for a couple of laps through the mud and manure, but I managed to get my feet under me and get it stopped.
Several years later, we were all out penning some cows.  They made a good run and we chased ‘em down.  My cousin Shannon kept up nicely and I was impressed so I rode over to her and by way of encouraging her slapped her shoulder with my hat.  I was on ol’ Ranger that day and this horse was calm to the point of being asleep half the time.  When I started waving my hat in the air, he woke up and started to buck.  Up and forward he leapt, immediately throwing me out of the saddle and onto his rump.  Knowing this is no way to ride a horse, I was about to push off and get clear, when I heard my Dad again, yelling across the field, “Hang On, Jason, Hang On!”  Ranger pitched forward and I was back on the saddle if not exactly in it.  I rode (“clung to” is a better way to say it) to that horse until he stopped bucking and running.  Sometimes in front, sometimes in back, sometimes on his left, sometimes on his right.  Of course by the time he quit, the only hold I had on him was with my arms around his neck and both feet dragging the ground, but by thunder, I did not get thrown.
After telling those stories to the kids, I mentioned it to Anna and told them to her.  She said that I needed to really listen to what I had just said.
Both of those times, my Dad encouraged me to stick it out.  He kept me from letting go of a rope in a pen full of agitated cows, leaving me lying on the ground and he encouraged me to stick with that horse, keeping me from hitting the ground hard.  He figured I could hang on, even when it didn’t make sense to me or anyone else.  When I was about to join the Cadet Corps, I told my Dad that I wasn’t sure I could get through it.  He told me that he had seen me get drug through a pen full of cows without letting go and he figured I could do this.  He was right.
I can’t tell you how many times, this move and change in our lifestyles has been rough. I can’t tell you how rough it has been.  I can’t remember how many times I have thrown up my hands and said, “I can’t do it.”  But now, when all the reasons to let go are going through my head.  When I struggle with worry and fear, I can hear it.  It’s that voice from my Big Father.
“Hang On, Jason, Hang On!!”

12 April 2011

How to Milk a Wild Cow

Monday, 1156, Liberty Middle School Library
Just got a text from Anna telling me that we are getting a good rain.  Praise God!  We need it.  The grass is green, but it needs some water to get it growing good and we also need to have the tanks filled.  This will certainly help.  It is supposed to do it again in a couple of days.  That’s what we need.
It’s been awhile, so I may have to skip around a lot.  I’m sure some of you are curious to know about the calf that we weren’t sure about milking.  In short, we are assuming a happy ending.  Now, in long…
How to Milk a Wild Cow:
Last Thursday, we still had not been able to determine if the little calf was nursing or not.  The cow still had an enormous bag, so we decided that we should bring them in.  I wanted to know if milk was actually coming out.  I saddled Rebel, we got the dogs, and Anna got in the gator.  We found them by the Cross fence of the Savanna I and Savanna II.  The dogs got them stopped and we found our cow.  We had about 35 or 40 of them.  I didn’t know if they would follow the gator or not, but we started off with them toward the house.  Our dogs still haven’t figured out exactly what they are supposed to do.  A well-trained cow dog will bark at the front of the herd in order to keep them from running off.  Ours clearly do not understand this and wanted to be sure that these cows kept moving.  Move they did.  They ran all the way to Bobcat woods and split up.  Fortunately, we only needed the one pair.  Penning one pair as opposed to 30 is easy, right?  Absolutely not.  Since cows are herd animals, they frequently do not do well when by themselves.  At the start of Bobcat Woods, I kept trailing Cow 3 (the one we want) along with a few others.  I just kept moving them and generally pushed them north.  That went pretty well and the dogs showed up too, which was helpful in this case.  I got them to cross the gully and lost a couple more of them, but my pair and another cow were still moving in the right direction.  They started fine, then ducked into the tallow thickets in the Tallow Flat.  Fine, Rebel and I kept them moving.  Rebel was in fine form, by the way.  He could be sent around a tree left or right with just the flick of the wrist.  He knew what we were doing and he did it well.  It’s about this time that the other cow dropped off and they separated.  I believe that she had a calf that was left behind.  I managed to get #3 into the Old field, but she froze up.  She just stood there.  So, Anna went back in the gator to try to get the other cow up with us.
As I waited patiently, I could hear the Gator moving back and forth and Anna yelling at the cow.  Eventually, the cow came out into the Old Field to join us.  I want you all to appreciate how difficult this is.  She was not on horseback, the cow was in the woods and wanting to go the other way.  I wish I could have seen it.  I guess she just worried that cow into doing what it was supposed to.  Nevertheless, when I disengaged #3 to get them together, Anna’s cow jumped back into the thicket.  Anna tried again, but we eventually decided to come on with what we had.
Now, we are down to just one cow and her calf and a couple hundred yards to go.  She really did not know what to do.  Here is where the dogs helped us.  They got between her and the pens and started baying at her head.  #3 would run at them a couple of steps and I would close the gap.  We did this for about halfway.  Then, she turned around to face me and wouldn’t look back.  I kept gentle pressure on her and she basically backed another 75 yards or so.  Once we got close, she figured out what to do and drove to the gate pretty easily.
Okay, now she was in the pens, we had to get her all the way to the front lot, into the crowding chute, down the running chute, and into the squeeze chute.  This actually all went really well.  Anna was on foot now, shutting gates behind me as we got closer.  Cow and calf work their way into the running chute…and…. Out they go, into the Meadow Lot.  What?  I had made a rookie mistake and not opened the last little gate into the squeeze chute.  The cow was still in the pens, but we had to turn her around, go back down the chute to the crowding pen, turn her back around and then into the chute.  Whew!  This actually went pretty well.  She got into the chute and we squeezed her up.
Her calf had followed her the entire time so she was right there in the chute behind her momma.  Now all I had to do was milk her.  Even though I have been messing with cows since I was a little kid my only experience with milking one was at a summer camp when I was about 12.  It’s just not something beef farmers get around to doing.  Happily, I didn’t have any trouble.  I had to drop one of the access panels on the side and reach under.  I don’t know the dairy business, but I do know that you don’t want to milk from behind.  The milk flowed.  That eliminated the possibility of the bag being clogged.  We decided that if we could get the calf up to the cow that we could get it to drink.  I got behind and opened the back gate up just enough to get a hand in and then drew up the calf.  That’s when the bad stuff started to happen.  The calf got startled and found a hole in the chute and made it to the Old Field.  This was just too much for the dogs.  All three of them took after her.  I love dogs.  They are wonderful and loyal animals that deserve a special place in heaven.  That day, I was ready to send them all there.  They chased the calf all the way across the field, catching it by the ears and the skin and pulling it down.  I would race up as best I could with a bum knee, yelling.  The dogs let off enough to let the calf get up right before I got to it, then pulled it down again.  Finally, I kept my mouth shut and caught the calf, throwing it and holding it down.  Any time a dog came within reach of foot, hand, or hat, I let them have it.  It makes me mad just thinking about it.
Anna showed up with the rope and we tied up the calf and carried it back.  Back where we started except we were pretty upset.  We tied the calf behind the cow and did everything we could to get her to drink, but she was too rattled.  I squirted milk in her face and the most I got out of her was to lick her lips.
We decided then (after a call with the boss) to leave her in the pens and Anna would come check on them in the morning and watch for a couple of hours.  This would mean getting some water and bringing it back down and then keeping the dogs in the house.  The next morning, after all this inconvenience, Anna came to the pens and they had gotten out.
Sometimes it is important to find what good you did.  We learned a lot.  We learned that the cow was giving milk.  We learned that we could pen a solitary cow with her calf using a couple of dogs, a Gator, and a good cow pony.  We also learned that our dogs cannot be trusted with a loan stray calf.  Finally, we learned how to milk a wild cow.  So, although it felt like a waste, it wasn’t.  It’s important to remember that.
The good and final news is that on Saturday, Dad, Anna and I went to get a cow out of the neighbor's pasture and we saw the cow and calf with the herd.  It has been over a week.  If the calf was not nursing it would be dead.  Problem solved.
In other news, we got word yesterday that we may have an offer on the house soon.  Please pray.  It would be very exciting to have that off our plates.

01 April 2011

01 April 2011, 0804, Friday, Liberty Middle School Library

It seems that the only time I have time blog is when I am not at home.  Hey, whatever works.  I’ve been working a lot this week, which is good, but there is not much to report ranchwise.  Rain was in the forecast on Tuesday, but we didn’t get any.  This is getting to be a bit of a problem.  Yes, it does give us the opportunity to mow whenever it’s daylight, but we need the grass to start really growing and the tanks to get really full for summer.  Isolated thunderstorms are in the forecast for Monday.  We’ll see.
We looked at the cows on Wednesday night.  Half of our cows now have calves.  This is very exciting.  I hope to start tagging the calves around the middle of next month.  There are plenty of people who have volunteered to help us with that.  Hopefully, we can oblige them.  Working cows is about the funnest and coolest thing that we do out here.  It connects us with our past, is exciting and it keeps you on your toes.  I can’t wait.
We may have one problem calf.  On Wednesday, we found a really new calf on a cow with a huge bag.  It looks like the calf can nurse, but we are going to have to check again today to be sure.
That’s about all.  We are still looking for the right balance between fulfilling all righteousness and waiting on God.  The Bible instructs us to wait on Him, but it also admonishes us to work.  It’s things like this that make it apparent to me that an actual relationship with God is indispensable.  When I have worked cows with my Dad, Granddad, and cousins in the past, we were able to anticipate and interpret what the others were doing.  For instance, we would ride into the field and see a bunch of cows.  Dad would say, “You go around the left, and I’ll go right and come from behind.”  That might be as much as we would talk before we shut the gate on them.  He would give general instructions.  Of course, like in war, as soon as you start doing the plan, the plan falls apart.  I would look across the herd and see Dad take off to a little copse of trees.  I would then shift my position, knowing that he may have heard or seen something.  We might have changed the plan half a dozen times before the job is over, and not discuss anything until we were done.  We are in each other’s heads, as the saying goes.
How we should long to be the same way with God.  “A little sleep, a little slumber…and scarcity comes..”, or “Wait on the Lord”.  Who can say which applies in each situation.  God can, of course, but so can I when I am as close to Him as I am my Dad; when I am “in His head”.