Me and Scout

Me and Scout

30 July 2013

Weekly Ride...and Walk

I know it is rare for me to do a blog entry two consecutive days, but let’s face it.  Yesterday’s entry was lame.  I spent a little time yesterday thinking if anything interesting had actually happened since the previous entry and I had forgotten that I wanted to write about Frisbee Golf.

Our family reunion every year used to involve a lot of physical activity.  Decades ago, we would actually have cows in the pens.  We would eat, visit, the all change clothes and go out to brand.  That ended in the ‘80’s somewhere.  I guess we realized that July is not the time to brand and a lot of family was getting left out of that.  Later, we changed to more traditional 4th of July sports.  We played volleyball, badminton, threw the Frisbee around, that kind of thing.  However, that kind of faded away too as Granddad and Grandmother got too old to set any of it up beforehand.

This year, as the cousins and I were talking prior to the actual event, we set up a Country Frisbee Golf course.  Now, the extreme Country version of this would use cow pies, but we are just sophisticated enough to use actual Frisbees.  In fact, my cousin Mike brought some actual Frisbee golf discs.  Where we were not so sophisticated is using old protein tubs instead of baskets.  This did make it easier and since none of us (except Mike) have any experience at all at this kind of thing, that was a good thing.  We set up nine “holes” that started from in front of Grandmother’s house and worked around through the Orchard past the Horse Barn, toward the back of our house, down the camp road, and culminating close to the cattle guard.  This course was really a lot of fun.  Mike and I ran it again after every one left just to establish a good feeling of what par should be on each hole.  I will eventually mark the coordinates with a GPS (once again our family blends technology and primitivism) and take the tubs up so the place doesn’t look trashy.  We will definitely do it again next year.

I may have mentioned before that I have a daily task list and a weekly task list.  Now, I rarely get to all of this, but today I did get to the weekly task of riding Scout.  We discovered yesterday that we have a bull in our pasture that is not ours.  I have seen him before with some others in the pine plantation south of us, but somehow he has gotten in.  I figured that I would check the fences on Scout since the Gator is up on blocks (another story).  This is just the kind of thing that he is good for.  The horse has a good pace and will keep it.  At one point, I was just sitting there with my arms folded while he loped along.  If he wanted to trot, I let him trot.  If he wanted to walk, I let him walk.  We went across the Savanna to the corner of the New Hay Field and checked the whole South perimeter and much of the West perimeter.  We then went back over the East and walked Scout, checking the fence up to the corner of the New Hay Field.  I went into the gap at the Southeast corner of the Savanna into the neighboring pasture.  There is a good road there and a gap at the Northeast corner and I figured I would look for sign down that road.  When I got to the gap at the other end I learned that it had been stapled shut.  I led him around in thick thicket, trying to work my way onto one of the roads that leads back to the horse pasture.  I had to give it up.  Not only was I not finding even a decent pig trail, I was getting turned around.  I did not want to have to call Anna to go to the corner and blow the horn so I could find my way out.  Now, those of you who are not familiar with the Big Thicket may not understand this, but those of you who are know what thick can be.  In the end, I came out, found the corner, then rode back up to the gap that I used to come in.

I did not find the hole.  I did not find any cow-sign, but it was a good day.  Winston Churchill once said, “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.”  I heartily agree.  Even when you spend some of that hour hunkered down leading through the thicket it’s still true.

29 July 2013

Slow and Steady

It is hard to live without a routine that you are forced to stick with.  We have done okay, I reckon, but several things make a real routine tough.  First of all, no one is making us do it.  I will not get fired for not getting up and working on fence or the horse or what have you.  Second, it is stupid hot and humid a lot of the time.  This factor is not a show-stopper, but it can certainly slow you down or cause you to do something inside, especially if you don’t start early enough.  Finally, the slightest schedule change can throw a wrench in it.  Vacation Bible School in the evenings kind of messed us up (not that it wasn’t a really good thing to do).  I have also had to make a trip to Normangee to help out Dad and will probably go again tomorrow.  Not that I mind this, I’m proud to do it, I just need to get better about not letting things like this throw me off.  However, I think we are getting back into it, albeit slowly.

We had a successful Family reunion on the 6th of July.  That was a real motivator.  We did a lot of mowing and tidying up to that point.  The following week was VBS.  Last week we did some fence repair after some really good rains and winds, then we went to help Dad.  Since the last blog entry, we learned that Dad has lymphoma.  He is undergoing chemotherapy, but the prognosis is really good.  Still, this treatment does not leave room for outside work, so we are helping him out when he needs it.  I will probably bring back some equipment tomorrow so we can start cutting hay here.  We have a lot of it.  If we can get it cut and sold, we will be in good shape for next year.

I also have to confess the summer austerity budget is getting to me.  Not much else.  We are rocking along steady-like.

24 June 2013

Summer Routine, Kind Of

I have to be blunt it was a rough afternoon.  I had a bit of a blowout.  These are usually caused by one of two things and that is either a lack of money or things not working properly.  Today, my trimmer (purchased last year) was not working.  Part of the problem when these kinds of things happen is that I am ill-equipped to deal with mechanical problems.  Oh, I guess I am learning, but there is still an element of mystery when it comes to engines and I get a little overwhelmed.  Two-cycles are even worse.  I have gone through about three chainsaws before finally settling on a Stihl that Dad gave me for Christmas.  I’ve even had some trouble with that, but it is working great now and I am using it a lot.  The trimmer however, is another story.  It has worked well so far this year, but wouldn’t start last week.  I finally deduced that the spark plug is fouling.  I took it out, saw some crud in the gap, cleaned it, and put it back.  Great!  Problem solved!  It worked fine for about 45 seconds.  I took the plug out, same thing.  Okay, I put in a replacement plug.  It proceeded to work for about 2 minutes before it quit.  I am now out of ideas.  The problem with two-cycles is that any one that knows anything about them will instantly assume that you are an idiot and that you did not mix the fuel properly.  I was very careful here.  It is a 40:1 mix ratio (the chainsaw is 50:1, just to make things fun).  I put in 3.2 oz. of oil and put in a gallon of fuel.  Of course, like the ‘experts’ I am beginning to doubt my mix.  I guess tomorrow, I will try it again, dumping out the old fuel and mixing again even more carefully.  I suppose I should keep the old fuel.

We are establishing our routine.  I have a pretty extensive daily task list.  This includes, feeding, getting exercise, writing, email, Bible study, household chores, etc.  Once these are done, I start on the weekly list.  These are things like cubing and counting cows (usually do the counting part a few times), writing the blog for my fine readers (thank you very much), riding Scout, burning trash, checking the oil, preparing a Sunday School Lesson and the like.  Then, of course, there is the actual work.  Mowing pastures, fixing fence, branding and tagging.

A day kind of goes something like this.  We get up feed and work with Silver and Patriot.  While they are eating we may tidy up the pens.  Today we cubed cows (weekly).  Then, we will exercise.  The good thing is that there is plenty of exercise to do that is actual ranchwork.  Lately, we have been focusing on cleaning up the piles of limbs that have collected in the course of us clearing.  This involves a lot of picking up, but I also have to cut some trees up.  We try to get this done before it gets too late in the day.  This all takes us till noon almost and by that time, we are drenched and beat.  The afternoon becomes the time to do indoor chores, write, clean equipment, etc.  We get back out anywhere from 2 – 4 in the afternoon and go until about 6 or 7.  Today, I spent the afternoon outside work messing with the trimmer and lawn mower, which doesn’t work either.  So, I have put in a request to the Lord about solving our yard problem.  I hope to hear back soon.

Silver and Patriot are doing well.  I have been perusing some websites for horse training ideas and am trying to implement some of Pat Parelli’s techniques.  I saw his book at the store the other day and almost got it, but it didn’t address the critical moment of horse training, the first ride.  So, I delayed getting it.  I will keep up with some of the website ideas, though.  I will give more details as we go along, but Silver is getting back to his old easy going self.  I was going to train him to not pull back on the lead.  When tied, he hits the end of the lead rope and panics.  Parelli suggests holding him by the lead, then hazing him, causing him to back up, but rather than cease hazing him, just go with him until he quits pulling.  I was anxious to try this out with the blanket that he has been spooked about, but he messed me up by letting me throw the blanket on him without even flinching.  Oh well, that’s not a bad problem to have.  I will have to get a stick with a flag on it Buck Branaman style and try that.

We branded another three calves a couple of weeks ago.  My Sunday School crew all suspiciously had other plans that day, so it was Anna and I alone.  This would not be enough.  I’ve always said that most of the jobs in ranching can be done with no matter how few people you have, but any job you do will use everyone you have.  Branding is kind of an exception.  You really need three folks minimum.  One to hold the calf, another to hold the foot rope, and another to draw the brand.  So, Anna’s sister, Melissa came over and became our foot rope gal.  They both did really well.  Anna had to hold the calves, which was a little stressful for her, but she still preferred that to running the irons.  She even threw one!  I was proud of both of them and maybe a little proud myself.  I figure I can make a cowboy (or girl) out of anyone.  We only have two calves left to work, a bull and a heifer.  This means that there will be no confusion about who belongs to what cow.  Our whole herd is identifiable!  This is a first in many years.

So, here we are.  Battling the heat, mechanical problems, and trying to figure out the horse training.  We can use your prayers.  Thanks!

28 May 2013

Almost Summer

I’m tempted to say that not much has happened since the last blog entry, but that is not necessarily true.  We penned some more cows and took another to the sale, but the associated drama so paled in relation to our previous adventures that it has hardly seemed worth mentioning.  Therefore, I will be brief and cover some other information.
We did manage to toll some in.  Our plan was to try to get the orphan calf to start nursing from cow 65 who has been nursing cow 74 for two years now.  When we weaned back in 2011, we never could get 74 up and consequently she has been using her momma ever since.  I figured that if we could get 65 and 77’s calf in the pens we could wean 74 and hopefully 65’s bag would start to ache a bit and she would let 77’s calf take a drink.  We separated out all the cows but the ones we wanted, plus old 67 so we could sell her, and a few of the gentle 2011 crop.  Since we only had confidence in the pens holding them, we kept them in there for a day or two, bringing them water in the truck and laying down some cubes.  We also opened the front lot, which had not been grazed much.  Chris and I tried to roll some left over hay onto the deck of the mower on the little Kubota, but she quit on us.  I’ll go into that more in a minute.
The cow we wanted to sell, 67, had actually been in the trailer once before, but got out before we could shut the gate on her.  This time, it was boring.  We separated her in the front lot, got her into the crowding pen, ran her down the chute a ways, she turned around on her own, we changed the gate, and she walked right into the trailer and we shut the gate.  No fuss at all.  I was ready to go buy a lottery ticket right then.
After a couple of days, we decided to let them into the calf patch, and then the lane.  That was Tuesday.  By Wednesday, only the two cows that we left in there for gentling purposes were still there.  I think 65 swam the tank and 77’s calf just pushed through a fence.  Doesn’t matter.  We have not seen 74 nursing off 65 since, so we may have done the job there and 77’s calf looks fine and is way gentler than her momma.  We’ll see.
The tractor is another story.  I grabbed a tank of diesel to put in there, but it turns out that it was fire starting fuel, which is to say that it had some crud and water in it.  Once that got into the engine, the tractor wouldn’t start at all.  I changed out the filter (which was full of junk), drained the fuel, put in some more, but there is still nothing.  I’m going to call the mechanic today and get him out, but I think the pump is out.
I know I have been talking about the pens a lot, so here is a rough sketch of what they look like.  Hopefully, this, along with the other map of the place, will help you get a better picture of what we are doing.

I have two weeks left of school, then we begin our summer work projects (which include trying to stay cool).  Until then, I am not very ambitious; just trying to keep things together (like the tractor) so that we can get to real work once school’s out.  Of course, the real work will be trusting God through the time of much depleted income.  That’s the tough part for sure, but we are getting better at it due to lots of practice.

13 May 2013

Having Psycho Cows Committed

I have taken on a job for the rest of the year and I think it will be a good one.  I am the 6th grade PE coach.  This is really a cush job.  I am teaming with the PE coach for 7th/8th grades and they are doing the activity together.  There are only 4 classes a day, but I frequently get put in another class here and there.  The rest of the day I sit in the coach’s office and work on the computer.  Writing this blog, working on the Sunday School lesson or writing my “Disciple’s Hip Movie” book.  Since this job will pretty much preclude me taking a day off here and there I decided to not work on Friday.  God (as He often does) had other plans.  I started feeling sick on Thursday last at work.  That Friday I did nothing but sleep, eat, and watch TV with a real emphasis on sleeping.  Saturday was not much better, but I decided to test my legs so Anna and I drove out in the Gator to look at cows, etc.
I had obviously not fully recovered because just bouncing around was really wearing me out, but it did perk me up a bit to see that we had three more calves!  Even better than that, on the Camp Road back to the house, we glanced into our trap and discovered there were cows in there.  We figured they were the same old ones, but thought it best to check.  We drove west down the northern fence of the trap and saw 76 and 77, the two craziest cows in the bunch.  These were responsible for busting up our herd at least a dozen times in the last few years.  We would get a group headed toward the house and they would run off, taking other cows with them.  The wouldn’t head, they wouldn’t come to cubes for more than a few seconds.  They’d fight you in the pens.  These were the outlaws and they had wandered into the trap.  This was no less than a miracle.  Our psychotic cows were in the trap and it was time to have them committed.  Anna sped us down to the west end of the trap and I jumped out before she even stopped, crawled under the fence and hoofed it over to the gap to the Old Field.  Shut!  Anna NASCAR’ed it back to the pens to shut the gate from the Tank Lot to the Old Field and I started jogging that way from the back side.  I saw her shut the gate with cows right there.  We had them!  Of course, this also wore me out, but it was worth it.  I called Dad and he instructed me to check for their calves in the morning (we had already seen them in the Savanna) and then call him and he would come with the trailer.  The next morning they were there.
We ducked out of church after the worship service.  This is not something we normally do, but this was indeed a special circumstance.  After church, we were joined by Jim and Chris.  Jim had helped us out before and Chris had helped me once during our work camp with some fencing.  I began to worry a bit when we were driving the cows from the lane to the Calf Patch.  Chris and I started leading them in on the Gator with Dad and Scout trailing to pick up stragglers.  That did not last very long.  They quit Chris and me pretty quickly and got past Dad on the tank bank; led, of course, by Cow 77.  Then, we all started driving them.  With Dad on the bank and the Gator on the flat, we managed to get them moving forward as a kind of a herd and they went in to the Calf Patch pretty easily.  We just about had all of them in the pens when, true to form, Cow 77’s calf turned back and got past us.  Chris and I had dismounted, but none of us could catch the lone calf.  Dad got around him and started him back, but we had not luck.  Eventually, he worked his way out into the Old Field.
Now for the hard part.  We figured the best way to load these cows was to forget the running chute and just back the trailer up to the open front gate of the pens.  Our crowding pen is right next to the front gate so we can easily open both gates and the trailer gate makes the other half of the chute.  Without too much difficulty, we got 7-8 cows down our cattle panel wing into the crowding pen including the two that we wanted.  Here is where we had to stop and scratch our heads awhile.  Since the trailer gate was half of our chute into the trailer, as soon as we shut the gate on the first cow, our chute would be gone.  This means that all of the other cows in the crowding pen would run out into the horse pasture.  That was not a good option.  The other option was to try to cut out cows that we didn’t want to haul, but we risked losing the two and getting them back into the crowding pen wouldn’t be easy a second time.  We finally decided to rope the two we wanted to haul, tie them off to a tree just outside the fence and let the others out.  This actually worked pretty good.  Now, we had our trailer set up with Jim and I holding those cows dallied off on the tree with Chris on the gate, ready to slam it shut.
77 was closest to the front, so we got another rope on her and led it up through the trailer.  Once we got that done, we unfastened from the tree and ran that rope forward as well.  I tied off 76, but Jim and I both could not pull that cow in on our own.  So, we just got her up to the trailer, and took the free end of the rope and tied a bowline around the bucket on the Kubota.  She could not fight that.  Dad pulled her in nice and gently.  You have to be careful when they step in so you don’t break the legs, but it worked fine.  Once we got her in, we reran the rope to the front and got her in the front partition.  I really wanted to take a break at this point, but 76 was still tied off and fighting the rope.  Before long, she would wear herself out or get herself caught under the rope, or hook a horn in the fence.  No time to rest.  We got set to do the same thing, but she kind of fought her way into the trailer without us having to tie on to the tractor.  That’s two!  Next we had to get both of them in the front so we could get 76’s calf in the back.  More passing the ropes back and forth, pushing her back, opening the middle gate, tying the front cow off so she couldn’t back up, then working 76 up front.  Then it was just a matter of getting a running iron (essentially a metal hook) and pulling the ropes off without getting hooked.  Think of it as events that you won’t see in a rodeo.  The Unroping event, the Tractor Pull event, the Rope Only Two Horns Out Of 10 That Are In A Crowding Pen event, and the Climbing On A Trailer With Fighting Cows Without Getting A Horn Through Your Leg event.  With tenacity, quick thinking, and the right combination of daring and caution, we got it done.
Roping the calf and dragging it to the trailer was simple.  We took a look for the other calf, but couldn’t find it.  She is still out there.  She’s a couple of months; too young to be weaned, but still old enough to survive on her own.  She may not amount to much, but we’ll keep an eye on her and do what we can for her.  Not wanting to let those two angry cows spend too much time together in the front partition of the trailer, Dad took off for the sale.  The rest of us started up the fire and tagged one calf and branded and tagged another that were in the pens.  By the time Dad got back we were working on getting an unbranded cow into the chute.  We got her in and branded.  By this time, I had abandoned using Scout.  He just wouldn’t stand for it.  We’d get a bunch of cows up to the gate and he would hit the wall and bolt through the gate, rearing up, and spinning around, scattering the cows we wanted.  I’d run him back to put him up, but he did it so quickly, I knew that’s what he wanted, so I went back and tried him again.  He would fuss and pitch a fit, so I would drag his head around to my knee and run in him in a tight circle.  I’m trying to apply the same principles I use in substitute teaching to horse training.  Don’t get mad, just demonstrate that the alternative to compliance is less pleasant.  For students, I move them or send them to the office.  No yelling, or accusations, just, “You need to leave now.”  Sometimes I raise my voice a bit so they will know I’m serious.  With horses, it’s just keep trying it until they know they won’t get their way, or do things like run them in a tight circle, then go try again.  However, I’m not sure this will work with Scout.  After talking about it with Dad we realized this horse is probably 25.  He’s always been skittish, but never as bad as this.  We are beginning to wonder if he’s losing his vision.  It would explain a lot.  This is just another reason to get our horse program (whatever that will be) up and running.
All in all, we had a really good day.  My crew from Sunday School had a good time and are just dumb enough to want to come back and do it again.  The calf that is on its own is doing well, but following other cows around looking for milk.  He’ll quit that after awhile.  This week, I will try to get that calf in the pens along with a cow that never weaned her calf from 2011.  If I can get her to take this calf and wean the other that will be good.  We will put them in the trap and see if they will stay.
It has rained a lot and the ground is too wet to do much now.  Silver is remembering how to wear a blanket.  He needs consistency, which will be a lot easier for me once the summer starts, but I’m working with him most every day, even if it is just throwing that thing up there.  Next will be the surcingle to strap it down.  Then, the saddle again.  We’ll see.
God was surely with us last week and we are thankful for keeping us safe, getting rid of those crazy cows, and blessing us with lots of rain before the summer.  Thank you, Lord!

02 May 2013

Decisions, Decisions

Not much happening this week.  We did manage to get up some more cows.  Actually, we got up the same cows that we got up last week, the same cows that we always get up.  The cows we don’t get up are still out there.  Anyway, we branded the two calves that escaped last week and we also branded two cows that have been escaping for quite some time.  I have to confess that I had a little trouble throwing one of these calves.  I just couldn’t get his front leg up off the ground.  Part of it is that I am just not 25 anymore, but I also think I was grabbing him around the neck and just picking his head up.  He finally jumped and I threw him with no trouble.  The only other real trouble we had was with the horse.  Scout is only a marginal cow pony out in the open, but he is getting worse and worse in the pens.  He wouldn’t even let Dad get close to the cows.  All he was good for was running interference while Jim and I pulled the calf in by hand.  A cow pony that is afraid of cows is about as useless as a carpenter that’s allergic to wood.  We need a replacement.

This problem is absorbing a fair amount of thought.  Silver is relatively gentle, but the whole castration, wounding, and needle episodes have put him behind.  I use to always throw a blanket on him to work him, but now he’s scared of it.  So, I am starting that process over.  I can catch him easier and sacking him is going well, but it’s a step backwards for sure.  We have some options.  The ranch can go ahead and foot the bill for a decent cow horse (hopefully one that can do cavalry too) is one option.  Another option is to work a deal with a local horse trainer and get some of these brumbies broke and work out a trade.  Or, I can have a trainer finish off Silver.  Also, a combination of these might be best.  I hate to give up on Silver, but I’m just really not sure how it’s going to go with me training him.  It is possible, since this is my first one, that I could mess him up.  I’m a little shy about that.  I think that the whole Sarge incident has significantly changed my outlook.  Sarge used to be a horse that I could ride until I rode him steady for about a week and then he just wouldn’t stand to be mounted.  He only got worse.  Of course, that I messed up my knee during that whole thing also shakes me a little.  I would hate to take a perfectly gentle horse like Silver and traumatize him.  Has it happened already?  I used to walk up to him and throw on a blanket and now I can’t.  Without the horse training experience I am experimenting and winging it.  That could prove to be costly and even dangerous in the long run.

A guy I reenact with told me about a farrier/horse trainer in Tyler that can break a horse without trauma.  He’s in his 60’s so he doesn’t put up with the bucking.  He is supposed to be very good.  I would love the chance to learn from someone like that.  The problem there is that kind of training also takes a good deal of money.  Anyone that does that down here would be training a potential competitor.  These are the downsides to training Silver myself.

On the other hand, if I ship Silver off to get trained by a local, then I take the risk of him being broke out rough.  I do not want to do that because ultimately I would have to try to undo the bad lessons.  That is part of Scout’s problem.  With getting any horse off the place trained is that what is delivered to us is still a young question mark.  I will have to train them to the gun, the neck reining, the cows, the rope, the trailer, the riding in formation, and all the myriad other things that a cow horse/cavalry mount will have to endure.  In the world of living in the suburbs and riding once or twice a month that takes about a year.  Living out here it would be less, but still a lengthy process.

This is a summary of the horse problem.  We need ‘em and we don’t have ‘em.  I need at least two reliable cow ponies at the bare minimum.  Right now I have a half.  If I had four cavalry/cow horses I would be able to use them all or be able to put someone on all of them for reenactments or cow work.  I would love to have something that Anna could ride.  What is the right intermediate step to take to get to this goal?

So, that is it.  We could use prayers and advice on this problem.  I welcome input.  Ultimately, like the whole living on the ranch enterprise, it is in God’s hands.  It is His ranch.  The problems are His and so must be the solutions.  I have faith that He will work them in His good time.  In the interim, I want to be faithful to do what I am supposed to.  The sermon on Sunday referenced 1 Corinthians 1:27.  “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”  Our lack of skill, experience, and resources are an opportunity for God to show His glory.  I look forward to seeing that, but I also rest in that until He does.


25 April 2013

Head Wounds Bleed a Lot and First Branding

No substitute job on Monday, so I got to stay home and hit the ranch work hard.  It was one of those days where the sheer number of tasks that we had to do was so overwhelming that we decided just to pick something and be satisfied with getting that done.
We fed the horses and then went to go look at the cows.  We have been missing Cow #35 for a couple of weeks so we started looking for her.  At the time, I was afraid that she went off in the woods to have a calf and being a first year heifer that she had trouble and we lost her.  Our cows normally have easy births, but you never know, so we started skirting the edges of the woods.  I dismounted and started walking through the woods, smelling for dead cow.  It was here that I made my first stupid mistake of the day.  There was a small log lying in my path and I stepped over it.  About 8 inches to my left I saw a rattle.  I mean I just missed him.  You should always step on the log before stepping to the other side.  So, I called for Anna and she brought me an ax that was in the gator.  ‘Nuff said.
We went home for lunch and started some clearing around the house.  There have been some old fence lines that needed to be taken out, so we hit those.  I cut some tallow trees under the power line to the house.  I was very careful not to make a mistake here, as this could have taken me out.  It is usually a simple matter to fell a tree in the direction you want, but trees growing up in brush are seldom straight.  Invariably, they are leaning away from the direction you want them to fall.  I have more clearing to do here, but if I choose the order I cut the trees correctly, then I can use existing trees to block the ones I’m cutting from the line.  Anyway, it looks a lot better right around our house.  That kind of work always feels good to do.  It is nice to look at a job and know you are done.  Of course, we still have to pick all this trash up.  Then it will look really nice.  It was in doing this, that I made my second mistake of the day.  I was chopping at some vines with a hackknife and reached up to pull them down, they pulled free suddenly and I hit myself in the head with the backside of the knife.  It hurt, but not too bad.  As I was walking around shaking it off, I figured I should check my head and pulled my hand away, covered in blood.  I staunched it with my bandanna and we went inside and put on some pain-free (yeah, right) liquid skin and that was the end of it.
We decided that we did need to repair the Old Field Fence by the trap before the day was over.  However, when we got over there, cows were in the Old Field.  We took the opportunity and drew some of them into the lane and shut the gap.  The calves were not all there, but we reckoned that they would work their way in to the trap like last time.  We started repairs to the fence, then called it a day.
The next night I saddled up Scout and called a buddy from Sunday School as well as Grandmother and Aunt Josey.  Anna and I were very relieved to get the calf mentioned in the last blog tagged.  He’s a bull after all, so we didn’t have to brand him.  The main problem we had was that two calves got out.  One slipped out an old gate that can’t be tied tight enough to hold a calf.  The other slipped into the tank lot under a gate.  We went in to get him, but he braved the mud hole into the Calf Patch and got out.  True, we should have shut the gate, but my help was getting low on time and we decided to call it quits.  We worked 4 calves, branding 3, and tagging 2 (2 of them had tags already).  We had a good time and got to break in a new hand from my Sunday School class.  Jim had done some bullriding in the rodeo, but since that is useless for actual ranchwork, we were relying on his practical experience in working his uncle’s ranch in Mexia.  In other words, he is not afraid to throw down the rope and body tackle a calf if necessary.  In working ranch world, you don’t points for style, you get points for getting the job done.  For instance, a second calf started to go out of the hole by the gate I mentioned.  Jim and I each grabbed a back leg and kept pulling until she was back in.  We threw her right there.  Good moment, but it was spoiled by an angry cow who charged us, so we got up.  God was with us.  We had our backs turned.  I don’t know what made me turn around, but when I did, there she was.  We got up quick.
I do miss  my old war horse, Rebel.  Scout has his uses, but he is way too scared of cows to be much good in the pens.  We worked 4 calves and he only helped us drag in one.  The rest we either worked in the roping pen or drug in by hand.  He would rear up, spin around, but did not want to go in amongst the cows.  Once, a little calf hit the fence and rolled over at Scout’s feet.  He acted like I had thrown a stick of dynamite under him.  He hit the sky and gave a jump or two.  Not good for a cow pony, especially our only one.
It was a good evening.  We got some ‘combat’ in, exercise, society, and work done.  I love branding.  Always have.  We still have several to do, so I will keep you all posted.

23 April 2013

The Usefulness of Gratitude

We had quite a frustrating day on back on the 6th.  One of those times where I just started to question what it is I am doing here.  This is an unfortunate phenomenon.  In reality, I am convinced that God authorized our move to Batson.  It was so incredibly clear at the time.  The main indicator was that the story of Abraham leaving Ur kept coming up independently.  But now, it can be different.  Now that we are here and there is little money and our home site is being turned into an oilfield and we can’t pen cows because we only have one working horse and one untrained cow dog, it is a different story.  Saturday was one of those days.
On Friday night, we saw some cows in the Old Field, so we tolled them in with cubes.  We led them to our newly constructed trap, but the calves would not go through the gate.  However, the mommas to these calves did.  A little calf will not have any trouble getting through a barbed wire fence, even a good one, so I decided to leave them there overnight and let the calves work their way in.  The next morning, we were very pleased to see that the two untagged calves were in there!  Easy, right?  Well, not so much.  All the cows went from the trap in to the Calf Patch, but all four calves balked at the muddy hole they had to go through at the gate.  I gently got around them and managed to ease in three of them, but the one calf left just wouldn’t see the way in.  She eventually got around me, went through the fences out into the Old Field.  The rest of the morning was spent trying to catch that one calf.  I even got him cornered next to the pens.  I tackled him, wrestled, him, but couldn’t get his legs out from underneath him.  That and the mud helped him get away.  [Excuse the fact that the calf tends to change sex in the story.  The general rule is that if a calf is out grazing in the field it can be a girl, but if you are wrestling it “she” becomes a “he”.]  By this time, I was enraged.  I couldn’t wrestle a tiny little calf, something I had done countless times in the past, and I couldn’t rope it because I couldn’t get close enough on foot.  I had had enough.  We reset the trap, hoping that he would come in and we tagged the other one.
I would like to say that this scene was an isolated incident, but frustrations like this are a part of ranching with no money.  Here’s what was different this time.  We went home, ate, and calmed down.  Anna’s devotional had been about being thankful in all things.  We made an effort to do that.  We tagged the one calf that we did get into the pens.  We went and fixed a hole in the fence that we had discovered.  It occurred to me that because we made an effort to change our attitudes and to be truly grateful for the things that had gone right, we were able to see the truth of the day.  That truth was that we did some valuable fence repair.  We tagged half of the calves that we had in the trap, I took a ride on Scout, and I worked with Silver.  This, in reality was a good day.  One of the things that made it good was that because we purposed to be thankful, we could see the good.  May God continue to make it easier for us to do this.

03 April 2013

The Newly made Gelding

The veterinarian told us that once Silver was castrated that we could get two months of training done in two weeks if we worked with him every day.  Of course, I did not do that, but I really did work with him most every day and I have to admit, he was a different horse.  Due to his neck injury, which was still healing, and his procedure, we left him in the pens by himself.  After a few days, we gave him the Calf Patch as well.  Most days, I longed him and some days I worked on getting him to come to me.  I was sensitive to the fact that I couldn’t be too soft.  If he didn’t come up to me, or at least let me come up to him, then I would crack the whip and run him around the pens a bit.  That seemed to work pretty well, but I do wonder if it’s not confusing.  I used the same principle in longeing.  He had never been good at longeing at the lope.  I would pay out more lead to give him room to move and he knew that he could get away from the whip.  After a couple of strides, he would stop and face me.  This time, as soon as he did that, I ran to him and cracked the whip, chasing him a bit.  I tried again, going quickly from the trot to the lope in whatever direction he chose.  Whenever he tried to stop, I cracked the whip and if he balked, I ran him around a bit.  In just a few minutes, he was doing as he was told.  When I did stop him, he quickly came to me and put his head in my chest, so I gave him a good rubbing and “made much of him” as the cavalry manual says.

This instantly approaching me after stopping him got a little scary when I put the saddle on him.  I had mentioned before that I put the McClellan on him and the stirrups got him bucking around pretty good. I decided to break that process down, so I put on an old Mac with no stirrups.  I just had the pad and the tree cinched down pretty tight.  It didn’t make a difference.  Once he took a couple of steps, he realized that this thing wasn’t coming off and he took to bucking.  The theory is that you just let them buck until they are tired and realize that the saddle is not going to hurt him.  I would have loved to do that, but he eventually worked the saddle pad out.  Now, the saddle was loose and I worried about him turning it or slipping it off down his legs.  That would be a real disaster that could get him hurt.  He’d buck some, then stop and immediately and quickly come to me for reassurance.  Of course, when he did, that saddle moved on him and he would start bucking again right next to me.  Finally, he calmed down long enough for me to get it off.  That was unsettling too.  If he took to bucking before I had completely freed it, then that could have been a wreck as well.

So, my mission is to now figure out a way to keep the saddle on tight, be able to release it quickly in a jam, and then let him buck with it until he can stand to be longed with it on.  Of course, whenever I think about him doing that with me on board, my heart rate goes way up.  Maybe I will do some additional reading.  I really really and truly do not want to hurt this horse and I don’t want to get on him wondering if he is going to buck.  So, I will have to do a lot of prayer and trusting along with research.  I’ll let you know!

02 April 2013

Spring Work Camp

Our Spring Break Work Camp was a success.  We had our three regular customers and they had a good time.  They arrived on Saturday, the 9th of March and left on the afternoon of Wednesday, the 13th.  The first day all we did was string the final strands of wire on the New Fence.  One of them has been toying with the idea of being a combat engineer, but is now reevaluating this career choice after unrolling a ¼ mile of barbed wire.
The next day was a Sunday, so we intended to spend it going to church and then resting as the Lord commanded.  We did except for trying to turn the young Patriot into the pasture with the three remaining horses up front.  This was a bit of a disaster.  It all worked pretty peaceably at first, but about an hour after we made the switch, I saw all three of them chasing Patriot all over the place.  I ran out there and Patriot was down with Rebel over top of him biting his neck!  I ran him off, throwing at Rebel everything that I could get my hands on.  Patriot just lay there a bit.  There was no mark on his neck.  This makes sense because Rebel was not trying to kill Patriot, but to dominate him.  However, he was a little bloody around his eye and had some blood trickling out of his nose, as well as having a barbed wire cut on his shoulder, but overall he was okay.  We decided that it would be better not to deal with this at this time.  We spent the rest of the day reversing what we had done in moving horses.  Patriot and Sarge were in the New Horse Pasture and then we put Silver in the pens by himself until we could get him castrated.
Monday was when the real work started.  I put the boys on rigging up a fence that goes into the tank so that stock could not cross it.  The goal was to get a trap built that we can lead cows into and leave them overnight without having to worry about water.  That way, if we do pen them, we can leave them until we get around to working them or until there is a sale.  Eventually, when we build up the west fence of the Savanna, Tallow Flat, Bobcat Woods, and Old Field, we can use the Mineral Box Field as a big trap and drive into the pens from there or even separate the herd into two different herds.  This will help gentle down some of the wider cows and keep better track of what bull is sire to the caves.
The fencing into the water was the kind of problem that I love to give kids like this.  I have said that ranching is a giant Army-style Leadership Reaction Course used for training.  My orders to the kids were to make a suitable fence and not to get wet.  They constructed a type of pontoon bridge and the fence is still holding.  They also were successful in fulfilling the secondary objective of staying dry.
After that, we rebuilt the short section of fence behind Tank 3 and remade the old gap there.  Then, we patched the worst of the holes in the west end of the Lane Trap.  We were ready to see if we were ready.
We went to go look at the cows and since we had some cubes, we tolled them in.  Unfortunately, they were coming straight for the pens so we bypassed our trap altogether, but we had two calves in the pens!  I decided to put the m all in the calf patch, since the tank lot is weak.  The gate from the Tank Lot to the Calf Patch is pretty muddy, so we were a little concerned about the little calves getting stuck in the hole.  They were too apparently, so they waited until all the other cows had gone through.  Before we knew it, the calves were all we had in the pens!  We shut the gate and did our best to keep them calm while Anna went to go get the tags.  I got the rope and kind of showed the boys how to use it.  The two kids that have never done it got to “rope” a calf, then each of them got to throw one and we tagged it.  They enjoyed it a lot and I enjoyed watching them do it.  I will have to have them back for more, maybe even branding.
The next day was a rodeo of racing through fields on the 4-wheeler, the truck, and on Scout.  We didn’t ever get anything else in the pens, but we had a good time trying.
The next morning was the last day and the vet was scheduled to come out early and castrate Silver and clean out his neck wound.  That was not an easy chore.  Silver was as scared as he could be.  I don’t know what we are going to do when we have to pull blood on him in the future.  We snubbed him up to a gate post and squeezed him up between the gate and a cattle panel.  He pulled like a crazy horse, but I had a couple of wraps and the rope was going nowhere.  In fact, it didn’t even let loose when Silver went unconscious.  I had to cut the rope.  I also made a rookie mistake.  The vet told me to take the slack out once and I actually grabbed the rope all the way around.  Silver spooked again and pulled the slack out, catching my fingers in the wrap.  Luckily I had gloves on.  When I took them off later, my middle finger had been cut open and a little piece of fat had been squeezed out.  Ick.  Nonetheless, we got him down and I had the doc do every kind of needle work that I could imagine.  Coggins, rhino, West Nile, the works.  I don’t want to have to do that again for awhile.  He was also successfully castrated.  You have never seen three paler teenage boys, I can tell you that.  When you get to be my age, it doesn’t bother you so much.  Actually, when you get to be my age, you learn to find some tool to fetch, or something else to check on.  On top of that, the vet also cleaned out Silver’s neck wound while he was out.  A few days before our future combat engineer had to rethink his career choice.  Our future combat medic was forced to do the same thing.
The Camp, as always, was fun, successful, and productive.  I dream of the day when I can put all of them on good horses and know for sure that we will be able to pen cows when we want.  God says not to despise small beginnings.  It is the story of our lives right now, but I really see that someday we will look back on these days and appreciate them.  We will know that if God ever brings us a bunkhouse full of campers who will all get a chance to rope, ride, and throw calves it is because God granted us the ability to be faithful over the little things today.

Calving Season

Calves are being born!  I was beginning to worry, because last year we moved our breeding season up a month in order to start the calves in January.  For some reason this did not work and we are still having calves born in late February at the earliest.  I won’t mind moving the schedule up a little more.  One of the main reasons we did this is so that the bull won’t have to do his job in the middle of sweltering heat.  This hurt us for last year’s crop.
The bull works, we know that.  Dad had him up there before we brought him to Batson and calving started there last month.  It is all about timing.  A cow’s gestation is 283 days.  Last year’s breeding season was from April to June.  More than half of our cows are from the 2011 crop of heifers that we fed in the winter of 2011-2013.  Those heifers were born in March, April, and May of 2011.  The other cows are a mix of some younger cows, herd leaders, and older cows that we intend to cull, but haven’t been able to catch or load.  It takes roughly 15 months for a heifer to be old enough to breed.  So, by moving the breeding season up by a month, we are narrowing the window on the breeding season for the 2011 heifers.  I understand that is probably confusing.  I myself had to count months on my fingers several times just to write it.  The upshot of it is that our older cows that were bred are having calves now.  The younger crop of heifers were not mature enough at the beginning of the three months breeding season, so anything we get out of them will happen at the end of this calving season.  This means there is systemic shift of three months.  In other words, the calves that are born this year from the new heifers from 2011 will definitely miss the breeding season in 2014.  The bottom line is that a heifer will be three years old before having a calf.  The bright side is that first calf heifers will not be having calves in the coldest part of the winter, but in the milder Spring.
Right now, we have 10 calves down here in Batson.  The good news is that 2 of these are from the 2011 crop of heifers.  We have already exceeded the calf crop from last year and we will probably have more.  I know of two cows that look pregnant right now.  As the calving season goes on the 2011 heifers will be more likely to calve.
The next mission is to tag them when they are small.  Too small and you could hurt them.  Too big and they could hurt you.  We have already managed to tag three of them and matched them up to their mothers.  In recent years, we have been tagging them about the same time we are weaning them.  That is way too big.  Of course, to brand them, they have to be bigger than they are to tag them, but once again, they could stand to be a lot smaller than when we have been branding them.  Some of the brands on the 2011 crop are awful looking because we waited so long that they had to be done in the chute.  When that happens, they will lie down or move forward or backward so that you can’t reach the brand that you started.  When you have them down on the ground and well and truly held, there is nothing that they can do.
All in all, the calving season is going better than last year.  More calves and we are getting to the tagging part sooner.  I will keep you posted.

04 March 2013

Castration Blues

Silver has definitely reached the terrible twos.  Since kicking me, I hadn’t worked with him much until the evening of the 21st.  I longed him around for a while, reminding him of what he had learned before.  He was definitely rusty and tried to see what he could get away with.  However, overall he did pretty well.  The next morning, I tried to work with him again and noticed that he had a piece of skin laid over on his chin and another big hunk laid open on his lower neck, in front.  I got some wound spray and tried to spray it on as best I could, but he was a little jumpy, especially around his face.  The last few days he had been running around with Rebel a lot and they had been “playing” some.  I guess some of the playing had gotten a little rough.  I expect that he is trying to make a move for the top horse position since he is a stallion and Rebel won’t have it.
I decided to leave him be.  Dad was coming the next day so he got some penicillin.  We took him behind the barn and I held his rope and Dad poked him with the needle.  I’ve seen horses that don’t like a shot, but Silver hit the wall.  He bucked and reared, took a look at Dad, turned his back and kicked him in the hip.  Dad went over and I dropped the line.  Dad was fine, as it was a glancing blow, but he jammed his thumb when he hit the ground.  That’s two times where Silver has kicked and gotten away with it; once because he lamed me and the other because he knocked down my Dad.  It is no doubt time for his little procedure.
Thursday morning, the vet came out.  He’s a new guy, an Aggie (Whoop!).  Silver didn’t care where he graduated from, he would not cooperate.  The vet stuck him once, and Silver got away fast and out from under the needle.  After that, we could barely get near him.  I managed to get a few cc’s in his neck. It was a pretty strong sedative, but he just blew right through it he was so jazzed on adrenaline.  We tried twitching him, but couldn’t get the chain on his nose.  We also gave him a tube of oral sedative.  That didn’t make a difference either.  Then we tried tying him to his old snubbing post.  I’ve been wondering how to pull this post out of the ground and he did solve that problem for me.  I waved the vet off before he pulled it all the way out, but he sure loosened it for me.
We thank God for His continued protection.  No one was hurt on Thursday including Silver.  That’s a victory of sorts.
The doc explained that a sedative should calm him. These can be done intramuscularly, which is the easiest to administer.  You just poke it in and press the plunger.  The tranquilizer won’t knock him out, but he is pretty unaware of his surroundings and the pain won’t really register.  That can also be given IM, but it takes more medicine, so you can’t give it while he’s pulling away.  Finally, the anesthesia can only be given intravenously, which means you have to get the needle in the right place and be able to take your time pushing the plunger.  Obviously, this is a real problem if the horse won’t stand still for the simple IM sedative.
There are a couple of ways around this.  We could give an oral sedative, but I don’t think that will do it.  The other way is to restrain him in a way that won’t hurt him or us.  This would involve some heavy panels and two posts on either side of his head that we can run a chain from one post to the other and through his halter and over his nose.  This might do it.
Either way, we judged that his wounds are healing nicely without much help.  We are going to let him heal and build back the trust.  A friend of mine and I were watching him eat on Saturday and he was still pretty jumpy.  I will just stand there while he eats for several days.  He and Rebel are still chasing each other around, stopping periodically and nipping at each other.  Scout just watches them curiously.  Hopefully, Rebel won’t kill him before we can get the vet out and try again

21 February 2013

The Story of a Young Horse

The day before July 4th last year, we were out looking around and discovered that Ol’ Mama Horse had had another gray foal.  Now, what to call him?  We obviously can’t have another Silver.  Traveler is too revered and Shadowfax is too fancy.  So, since he was born close to Independence Day we are calling him Patriot.  Because he was of Mama Horse’s brood, he has a tendency to be gentle, but he was still shy enough to where we couldn’t get our hands on him when we were feeding Mama.  After we pulled Silver off to start working with, another fledgling stud that we call Amigo came up and he and Mama Horse and Silver made a kind of family.  Around October, Dad and I were coming back from the hay field and we noticed that Patriot was all by himself in the Tallow Flat.  The next night we went to check again and he was almost in the exact same spot.  No Amigo, no Mama Horse.  I started looking around and then I caught a whiff of death nearby.  Mama Horse had gone on.  We were not too surprised.  She had never looked good and had of late been possessed of a skin ailment.  So, her loss was felt, but not too keenly.  We had talked of bringing Patriot up, but shortly afterwards he began to hang with Amigo.  We kind of quit worrying about him.
A couple of months went by and Amigo started wandering off and we would find Patriot by himself, often in the Old Field.  The weather started to turn colder and we kept talking about getting him up, but we never could make it happen.  One day, it had been a while since we had seen him and Anna and I came across the bones of a smallish horse in the Old Field.  I feared the worst.  Then I found a telltale patch of white hair.  I have to confess that I did not handle it well.  I was furious at God for allowing this to happen.  I was furious for letting Him grieve my wife so.  I did not handle it well and had to ask forgiveness on my knees later.  I am still ashamed.
Life goes on.  We adjusted.  We knew we didn’t have to worry about Patriot anymore.  I regularly asked God for forgiveness for not trusting Him.  I dealt with my feeling of rejection.  We moved on.  The rains eased up and the roads began to dry so we could start checking out the pasture again.  About ten days or so after we discovered the bones and the white patch of hair we drove the Gator out to the Mineral Box Field.  We could not believe our eyes, but there he was!  Anna was uncontrollably emotional.  It takes a bit of control to keep myself from being moved now, but I must since I am at work.  At the time, I was just stunned.  What we had seen was Mama Horse.  Even after months of being dead, the coyotes finally discovered her tiny carcass and drug her out into the Old Field.  It was her bones and hair that we had found.  I felt even more foolish for my outburst at God.  After all the hours of watching NCIS, we still failed to properly deduce what happened at the crime scene.  I Gibb-smack myself on the back of the head.
It still took a week or so after that, but we regularly went out there and fed him.  Amigo had gone on to bigger and better things, but Patriot was getting more and more accustomed to eating out of a bucket.  He has been trying to move into the bachelor herd.  Sometimes he was around, but most of the time not.  Finally, we found a time when the other horses were not around and we led him all the way from the Mineral Box Field to the Pens.  We started feeding him twice a day and only recently did we go to once a day feedings.

We hated for him to be alone so we decided to move Sarge into the pasture with him.  This was the first use of our new horse pasture.  We finally got to move the saddle horses back up to the front, so we gave Patriot the run of the New Horse Pasture.  We are calling it that because the pasture itself is new, but also because we will use it largely for gentling down new horses.  Of course, we are open to suggestions on the name.
Also, we have decided to turn Sarge out.  The horse is just not getting over his skittishness.  However, one of his good traits is that whenever we had a new horse in with the saddle horses, he was the first to adopt him.  This was true with Leroy (a reenactor’s horse that we kept for awhile) and also with Silver.  The goal would be to split a ration of food between Sarge and Patriot.  This is all Patriot needs and it would wean Sarge off a full ration before turning him out to the main pasture.  Out there, Sarge might be able to train other horses to come to food.
It has been difficult getting Sarge to break away mentally from his old herd in the front.  He has spent lots of time hanging around the new fence, pining away for his old companions.  It has been a little tough to watch, but when I think about the trouble he has caused it makes it a little easier.  Ultimately, he will be happier in the wild.  It is where his nature fits in.  He has begun to adopt Patriot like we hoped.  Now, we drive the Gator over to the pens and the two of them start to wander over together, like a herd.
Patriot is really coming along.  We fed him for several days before even trying to halter him.  Every time we fed, we would rub him down as much as we could.  Eventually, he got more and more used to it.  It got to where we could rub all over his neck and ears whenever he put his head down.  This was the final step.  After hazing around his head while he was eating, putting the halter on was easy.  Now, he didn’t take it quite as well when he hit the end of the lead rope for the first time.  His natural reaction was to continue backing, so I just went with him, keeping the slack out of the rope, but not pulling on it.  He backed up to the gate and had to stop.  I let him catch his breath, then gently took the slack out.  He fought a bit, but we kept at that process a couple of times.  Finally, he took a step toward me, taking the slack out.  This is the key, of course.  The whole idea is to get him to respond to pressure.  By just taking out the slack in the rope instead of actually pulling on it, the horse is instantly rewarded when he takes a step.  The slack automatically comes out.  The lighter the touch, the more responsive to pressure he will be.
Since then, we have haltered him a couple of times and he is a really quick study.  He is leading around pretty good, but still needs to do this a lot so that it is just habit.  I have also gotten Anna and even her sister to do a little of this.  Hopefully, Anna can start working with him without the benefit of my presence.  My goal is to keep him up for another several weeks.  We will go through as much of the training process as possible.  That way, when it is time to ride he will have already had a saddle on, know the bit, and trust people implicitly.
As far as Patriot knows, he was never dead.  The most dramatic thing that has happened to him was his mama dying.  He doesn’t know that we thought him lost.  He doesn’t know that, even though we know better, we feel like he has been resurrected from the dead.  He just continues on in his little horse life.  He eats, he sleeps, he follows the feed bucket, and now, he responds to pressure.