Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Beef counts and time flies

WCA pres Larry Oberding + co getting ready to feed more folks... on Twitpic

I have no idea where the time goes and why I seem to struggle with getting regular posts to this blog. Lately some of the problem has been related to me feeling like my posts have been boring and without the merits of being something people will actually read. I appreciate all those who come here on a regular basis and offer encouragement and I apologize for disappointing when there is no new blog post and also when there is a new post but it is boring to read. The main issue though is just life, so many things to do each and everyday and sometimes I do actually sleep. Since my last post here on December 8th I will give you an idea of all of the things that have happened since that time.

On Friday December 10th Christine and I traveled to Spokane. We were attending a Second Harvest/ Beef Counts food giveaway for the needy. Beefcounts is a venture that Washington and Idaho’s ranchers in conjunction with AgriBeef Company started back in October to help get wholesome beef into the hands of those who need some help with food in the area. Donations of beef, animals and money with a 50% match by AgriBeef have resulted in $75,000 worth of beef being distributed to people in need. I had my reservations about this project but spending the day helping people really was a great experience. The individuals and families in line that day were a cross section of any urban area in the USA. As difficult as ranching can be one thing we rarely lack is food including high quality, nutritious beef for our families. To help someone else and to talk with these people about our life especially during the holiday season was very rewarding. Thanks to everyone who has donated and helped with this wonderful program. You do not have to be a rancher to participate and all donations are matched with a 50% donation from AgriBeef. The website is

We lost most of our snow that week and just when it cleared off we got about another 4 inches this past Sunday night. On Sunday December 12th we had a great family day of working cattle. It was just Dakota, Chris, Festus and myself and was a long but productive day. The corrals were deep and shitty from all the melted snow but we all made it through the day. Christine said she felt it was “the filthiest she had ever been in her life” I might challenge that notion just based on the term “filthy” but I would be in a heap of trouble. Other than a slight delay with the neighborhood scales weighing calves we had a good day. We sorted calves from cows, then sorted heifers from steers, then loaded, hauled and weighed them. We also chose replacement heifers and show steers for the coming year. The ladies in my life (human not bovine) have really become indispensible hands at cattle working time. Thank you ladies for all that hard work and thank you for reminding me to take my pill so I did not yell at anybody (grin, wink wink).

Wednesday December 15th I met our WCA executive Jack Fields and we traveled to Walla Walla for their annual business meeting of their cattlemen’s association. Thank you to them for great steaks, great hospitality, great drinks and for driving “GPS” Jack crazy with your fooked up street naming system! I got home late that night, slept a few hours, fed cows in the dark and then headed back to Pasco to meet another cattleman for another meeting. Sam and I drove to Toppenish and a group of us traveled in a van together to Portland Oregon to meet with the US Forest Service to discuss grazing leases and other issues. Meeting with officials from the federal government is like that high maintenance girlfriend you had in college. You know you got screwed but you wonder if it was really worth the time and effort. Anyway I digress; it was a decent meeting and spending the day with fellow ranchers and even one sheepherder from across the state made for a fun day.

This past Saturday Dakota was spending the weekend with friends so I planned a romantic Saturday with Chris. The first thing we faced was about 2 inches of new snow along with massive flakes falling early that morning. I had the spring calving cows corralled up from the Sunday previous to get the “bawl” out of any that had not naturally weaned their kid. I had to give them a few days because they were being moved to a circle of corn stalks that was within sight and hearing distance of their calves. Calves will often get over losing momma fairly quickly but many cows will practically walk through fire to get back with their kids no matter their advanced age. With the snow and slick roads we had to take a bit of a detour because of a steep hill but when the day ended all the cows were in their new circle of corn stalks and all the coming first calf heifers were moved as well.

You can call Dr Phil if you want but I promise you a day of walking in foot deep muck while sorting, loading and hauling cows in the snow with your bride will do positive things for your relationship. (Yes I was medicated properly) There is nothing you can do with your clothes on and feel more in love at the end of the day with your wife than work cows. My military brat, urban raised wife runs a sorting gate, shuts stock trailer doors and occasionally cusses as well as any buckaroo I have ever worked with. I love you babe and I hope the fancy takeout dinner at the Pizza Factory Saturday night left no doubt about that love. We even splurged on Coors Light instead of Keystone!

Sunday we had a nice early Christmas gathering with family as my sister Shiann and nephew Chase are here from New Mexico. If you are an Olberding there is something you can count on doing many of your Sundays including visiting cousins, food, practical jokes, food, board games, food, beer, kids, food, sports, food, banter, food, you get the idea. I am lucky to be part of such a close and fun family. I was also able to see my oldest two daughters Amanda and Samantha. With their advancing maturity and busy lives is sometimes difficult to see them but seeing them become productive adults makes me smile lots. Yesterday Dakota and I spent the day together building hotwire fence. One of the advantages to being a ranch kid while on Christmas vacation from school.

Today I traveled to Ellensburg for our December Washington Cattlemen’s Executive meeting. A great day spent with friends discussing many issues affecting us in the beef industry. As WCA President I started a new program where each attendee receives a raffle ticket for attending the meeting. Dick Yoder, one of our second Vice presidents that traveled over the pass from Whatcom County was this month’s winner of a $100 bill. Congrats Dick and thank you to all of you that do so much to support the best industry in the world! I am always inspired and proud to be a cowman when spending the day with these great ladies and gentlemen.

With that you can possibly see why I don’t get here to post as often as promised. A busy but life full of things to do is the only life for me.

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is barnyard grass aka Echinochloa crus-galli.

Today’s picture is me moving beef at the Beefcounts food distribution in Spokane. The picture can be seen in full size by clicking on it, as can all pictures on this blog.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Shower naps

I have mentioned here before that I spent a portion of my younger years driving semi truck. The last few days I have had some reminders why I do not do that for a living any longer as well as a few things I miss about those days on the road. I double fed cows Saturday morning and headed north to Omak which is about 150 miles from home. I was traveling there to attend the Okanogan Cattlemen’s Association annual membership meeting and banquet. Thank you to them for the hospitality and fun times.

The roads were good and I wasted little time speeding up highway 17 and 97. I am very familiar with this road as it was the primary route of my apple hauling days. So many things are the same and even more are different than they were in the later 80’s and early 90’s on this road. One reason I enjoy this road is for the diversity of the landscape. Much of this road would really make people wonder why Washington is called “The Evergreen state” and not the rocky, brown state! I actually love this landscape, dry range for miles with basalt rocks of all types of patterns and depths.

One of the first things I noticed was how every little town along the way has both grown in some ways as well as shrunk in other ways. In Soap Lake the old Lake Motel is still there but has become apartments and the amount of peeled paint and garbage has increased. This was as nice of place where you could get a room for $79.99 per week if you agreed to 5 weeknights back in the day. It was certainly nothing fancy but compared to the piece of plywood between the seats of a 1973 Kenworth the beds were very nice. The best thing about the motel was you could fall asleep in the shower and never run out of hot water. More than once I wrinkled up my butt skin pretty well after taking a nap as the water poured down. I can see the headline now “Truck driver drowns in bathtub at local resort”

The road is much better than it used to be but there is no longer a thriving business at the Dry Falls café. There was a time when Doris would make the best chicken fried steak and eggs and only charge you $3.99 and her husband Herb always made sure your diesel tanks were full and your windshield was clean as well. This particular spot was the first one where I saw diesel for over $1.00 a gallon. Those were the days. As I climbed the hill and started across the flats between Dry Falls and Bridgeport it was almost as if time has stood still. Wheat ranches and a few cattle operations look the same but many of them have some newer equipment. The areas propensity to be foggy has not changed.

As I turned on highway 97 I noticed the state weigh station. More than once Jack the WSDOT man at that time and I argued in the little building. He was mostly fair but did once write me a ticket for an “unsecured load” because so much juice was dripping from my load of juice apples. I suppose it was fair because I would sometimes meet his daughter in Brewster for a drink and other things back then. I got lucky when some concerned motorist flashed their headlights warning me of a WSP with a radar gun hidden in the trees near what I call Lone Pine south of Monse Washington. There is a wide spot in the road there and many times I took a quick snooze under that lone pine tree. Okanogan and Omak are pretty much the same but they now have a WalMart and a Pizza Hut that does not do any deliveries! What the heck do they expect me to eat for breakfast in a motel room if they won’t deliver a pizza at 1 am on an early Sunday morning? I would recommend the Omak Inn for travelers needing an overnight there. Nice rooms and great prices with a nice continental breakfast if you can’t get a pizza delivered.

On the way home Sunday morning the sun was shining and I really enjoyed taking in the scenery. I was also glad that I would not be passing across the same road in 24 hours. I put on about 350 miles today picking up steers and delivering them to WSU for the Cougar Cattle Feeders for their annual feeding program. I made sure I had fuel and did not run out on the way home this time!

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is the Northern Flicker aka Colaptes auratus.

Today’s pictures are some Hereford cows near Leahy Junction and a Hereford bull foraging through a dry creek bottom.I also was able to finally get the corn combining video to load.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bring it home for the east

Ever have one of those days where you set your expectations low and then have it turn out wonderful? Too often it seems to work the other way; high expectations and the final result was disappointing. I needed to travel to the WCA office in Ellensburg today (90 miles) to a meeting discussing animal disease traceability and how to fund the program. The meeting included representatives from all segments of the cattle industry and the dairy industry. There were also representatives from our Washington Dept. of Agriculture (WSDA) including our state veterinarian.

I had to start the morning in the dark so that I could get cows fed before I left. Everything went great and I had forgotten my bride had taken the day off from work so she helped me get the feeding done in a timely manner. I was also happy to see that the roads looked mostly good and my trip as well as her and Dakota traveling to Tacoma for Connells state football championship game would be safe. I was on the road on time and the day was starting to look up. I was still apprehensive that today’s meeting might be unproductive but I tried to keep an open mind.

As Dwight Yoakum twanged through the cassette deck I made my way through Othello and Royal City. As I neared the elevation drop into Vantage and the Columbia River crossing I saw something along the road that really made me happy. In this area there are two schools Royal City and Wahluke that are in the same league as Connell. I am guessing this was the work of some Royal kids but that is just a guess. They have long been a football rival but share the same agriculturally based population as Connell. There on the side of a stack of hay, painted on the tarp was this;

Despite the rivalry of the past someone in the Royal area supported the Connell boys and their quest for a second consecutive state 1A football championship. They knew the Connell boys and their bus would travel this route and would see the support. I think that the rural roots of the people from these areas contribute to a shared passion. Eastern Washington is mostly rural while much of Western Washington is urban. To see that a local rivalry could be put aside in the interest of “beating the city kids” from the Westside really made my day. Thank you to whoever painted the sign and good luck to the Eastern Washington Connell Eagles tomorrow in their game. Bring it home for the Eastside young men! Here is a music video that I think sums up the rural community experience.

When I got to the WCA office I got another pleasant surprise. I had thought the meeting was scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. but it was only 10 to 12. This meant I would have a much easier time getting back home to feed in the daylight. The next happy dance was provided from the meeting itself. Excellent input, good discussion and progress was made today as well as a plan for a path forward. Great job to all the ladies and gentlemen that made today’s meeting so productive! Once again agricultural people did not fail at amazing me with their time, passion, hard work and genuine caring for the industry.

As I traveled home today I was really in a great mood. Two more things would make a good day even better. As I crossed the river on my way home I had an AAA behind me. AAA is for “a$$hole in an Acura” and this idiot really took the cake. Right on my bumper but yet unable to find the testicular fortitude to pass me while we were still on the freeway. When we got onto the two lane highway 26 his tailgating persisted. I knew in a few miles there was a hill with a passing lane so I made no effort to pull over and let him by. When he did finally pass I noticed a pretty lady in the passenger side and mostly ignored the drivers stare. When the lady looked over I did a mock kiss with a wink which seemed to really not be appreciated by the AAA. For some reason he gave me something that looked like the Number one sign as I laughed like a hyena at a pile of wildebeest guts. He took off at a high rate of speed and disappeared around a bend. When I rounded the bend I got the high point of my day. There ahead sat the AAA parked on the shoulder with a Washington State Patrol vehicle behind him with his lights flashing. I was barely able to resist the urge to honk as I drove past. Heh heh.

I made it home and as I turned on Scootenay road I had yet one more rejoice moment. The combine was running and rapidly eating away at the last of the standing corn. It had been idled for days because of snow and cold. This will really help with cow grazing logistics next week. I have a video of 16 rows of corn being gobbled by a massive John Deere combine while unloading corn into a bank out wagon. Sorry for the darkness but I had to feed cows first. I am having some issues loading the video but will try and add it to my next post. Tomorrow I am planning on feeding mid day and then heading to Okanogan for their annual county cattlemen’s meeting and banquet. We will see if anyone else thinks I am the number one driver on the highway!

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is the Eastern kingbird aka Tyrannus tyrannus.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Stupid, stupid,stupid

I like a good story; I also really love telling a good story. If I can find someone who has a yarn about something I am usually apt to listen, if for no other reason it is because I have a story I am always willing to trade. Part of the reason for this is my genetics. I can’t think of an elder male (and a few females) on either side of my pedigree certificate that did not enjoy hearing or telling a good story. The main reason stories are so good is because they often are about real life. I find humans and their interaction with nature and the world in general the most amusing thing ever. Humans are a great source of wonderful stories. I really do not know why but somehow my life has a natural tendency to lend itself to a good story. It is not that my life is any more interesting than the next guy it is just that somehow shit happens to me both positive and negative with many twists in the course of a normal day.

This story starts last Saturday after Connells football playoff win. Actually that is not true, the story starts months ago. Christine’s vehicle is a 2005 Chevy Blazer. It has been a decent rig but like most Chevy’s it has its share of little issues. When winter approaches and the temperatures lower some of the gauges go crazy. I was on a city street the other day and according to the speedometer I was doing 93. It is not that 93 on a city street has never happened for me but not since the 1980’s. One other gauge that is having fits is the fuel gauge. Last week after the game Dakota and I stopped for gas and I ran inside the store for some snacks for the trip home. When I came out the pump was stopped and I assumed the tank was full and away we went. I did happen to grab a receipt from the pump as an afterthought and put it in my wallet. The gauge read empty all the way home but I paid no attention because I knew it had to be full.

Sunday Chris made one trip to Othello and back. Monday morning came and she drove to work with my assurance that the tank was full. She made it to work without any problem. Monday afternoon I switched vehicles with her because I had to drive to Colfax for the Whitman County Cattlemen’s annual banquet. The Palouse Empire fairgrounds are about 90 miles away from Connell. I left Connell with the gas gauge reading empty but no worries. The roads were better than expected and I was early for the meeting. I want to thank Whitman County for their hospitality, great meal and fun auction. I bought a souvenir picture of a black white faced cow with the heading of “I am an indirect vegetarian; I eat animals that only eat plants, Whitman County Banquet 2010”.

I left the banquet headed home and hoping that the winter storm predicted for that night would not hit before I was safe and sound back home. I was traveling down highway 26 at 124 mph (really about 60) somewhere between Lacrosse and Hooper Washington (no mans land) when the engine quit running. As I coasted to a stop I had a good idea what the problem was. I was hitting my forehead saying “stupid, stupid, stupid”. I found a turnout and pulled to the side of the road and turned on my hazards. I tried to restart the car and it did and then quickly died again. I was OUT of gas and full of grrrrrrrrrr. My cell had no service in this area and I was fooked royally. I did have extra coats, a blanket and coveralls because I like to be prepared for winter driving, double grrrrrrr. I really had no idea how long I might be stuck but I was content to let things fall as they may. Luckily a nice couple with cell service stopped about 30 minute’s later and offered help. I dialed my friend and immediate past President of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, Dick Coon. Dick was home and I told him of my plight and that I was close to his home and could use assistance. Dick graciously brought me some gas and his lovely wife Paula sent along a hot cup of coffee as well. Thank you so much to both of you. I was once again on my way and I decided to top off my tank at a credit card lock gas pump in Washtucna. As the gas pumped I decided to look at the receipt in my wallet from Saturday. I had only received 4 gallons of gas when the pump had shutoff for whatever reason with the tank obviously less than full! Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Today we actually had a little melt and my brother in law sent two semi loads of hay. Funny how much nicer feeder hay looks when you have lots of snow and little amounts of hay stored!

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is quackgrass aka Elymus repens.

Today’s picture is another of Mother Natures masterpieces this morning, and the second one is some sideways ice-cycles as they slowly slid off the roof of the hay barn.Remember all pics can be enlarged by clicking on them and yes I know, my comments are not working. This is also a second post for today's date.

Tweet, tweet

So with that last boring ass post I left a teaser. Saying I had done something new the other night that I had never done before. I so knew it would bring ya all back! When you are a person that feels boredom is not only a sin but the worst of all sins you can really gather some guilt when you feel you are contributing to boredom. Usually though my worries about this blog and the amount of boredom it adds to the world are unfounded. Probably the most non politically correct post I have ever posted here is the January 28th post “fly, fly away” It discussed religion and my eccentric views on the subject as related to the environment of an airport. As unbelievable as it seems that old post is the MOST viewed post of any on this blog. From my stat tracker it is not just popular in the US, but Israel, India, and the Middle East as well…go figure!

That is the true joy of the internet and the World Wide Web. You put it out there and some other freak from some other corner of the earth will connect with you and you can never predict where it will come from. I love the internet; it is so antithesis to the cowman experience in so many ways yet at the same time it can be so cowboyesque if you really think about it. Charging forward, living life on the edge, being in anticipation of the great unknown, these are parts of the internet that I feel appeal to my cowman sense of adventure. Now I am not recommending Googling “goat prolapse” in unsafe mode on Google images. Ha, I might as well put up a sign saying “dry paint”, enjoy your view on Google.

I have decided that as much time that I spend online for business, pleasure and WCA activity I should broaden my horizons. I remember how wild I thought I was back in 2005 when I signed up for my first Yahoo account. The day I entered my first voice chat room and spouted political views is now just a distant memory but challenging those who disagree with me in a political sense still appeals to me today. I find that the general public worldwide is wound pretty tight and it makes me chuckle to loosen things up from time to time and pissing off a liberal that does not know any better really makes me smile.

So, I have email (many accounts, some used for only a few hours) I have chatted and since January even a blog! There are a few things I had not yet attempted online and I have decided it is time to do those. The MySpace craze has seemed to come and go and it does not seem like I missed much. I actually did have a MySpace account but it was as a 26 year old pharmaceutical saleslady. You would be amazed at how cute and open minded I was as “Chrissy Jo” and popular…you have no idea! I even had a picture so I HAD to be real, right? This was my little way of checking up on kids on myspace. LOL, anyway, I decided that I should try two things online that I had yet to attempt. Those two things are Facebook and Twitter. I have yet to make a Facebook account but am planning to soon. I did open a Twitter account this week.

I often have short random thoughts that I find fascinating in my day. Now, nobody else may find these thoughts fascinating but Twitter will offer a great way to save these thoughts online when they happen. I also feel it will be a good compliment to this blog as I post some daily happenings when they happen instead of a day or two later. I only had one “follower” on Twitter but I guess if you do not visit her adult website within 2 days she quits following you. I now have 4 followers and hopefully I don’t do anything to drive them away! I also have added a few new bloggers to my list. Someday I will get someone technically savvy to show me how to list them on the blog page. Now if you want to see them I think you have to go to my profile. Anyway, there are some really great “agvocates” out there in the cyber world. I will post an update about my last few days later tonight in another blog post. My twitter account is Larry Olberding Jr.@ TheDailyCowman if you get bored.

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is Arrowleaf balsamroot aka Balsamorhiza sagittata.

Today’s pictures are of my ChrissyJo profile picture, and also something I found that made me laugh as I bounced around the internet.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The only snow I like is in a cone

Is winter over yet? Oh that’s right it technically has not even started yet. *Sigh*. I hate to be a weather complainer for many reasons. The biggest being Mother Nature could really careless how you feel when it comes to weather especially here in the Columbia Basin of eastern Washington. The old joke around here is if you do not like the current weather just stay around for more than 10 minutes because it is likely to change. I really doubt this is much different than anywhere else in the country but days on end of the same weather here are very rare. Maybe that is why I want to complain today. It has been cold and snowy for a week and I have not even turned the calendar over to December yet.

It has been quite some time since I remember having snow on Thanksgiving but it is not unheard of. I am hoping this turns out to be like the winter of 2008-9 when we had snow and cold the first week of December and then had a pretty nice winter with some cold but very little snow in January and February. I am always trying to work on finding the bright side of any situation. My dad was really great at just taking life as it came and finding the optimistic side of most situations that looked dire on the surface. I keep thinking if I had gotten my calves weaned earlier I would be feeding less hay in the snow. This has some truth to it but there is also another side. If I had weaned my calves earlier I probably would have sold them earlier and the price has gotten better and they have gained well.

I also feel that even if I take cows onto corn stalks later it will just mean they can stay longer if the weather cooperates. In a few days it will warm up and some cows will be stomping cornstalks in the mud while my as yet unharvested corn will be in good shape for later grazing. I just get antsy anytime I am feeding much hay to cows. This ranch has to make its money by running cows cheap. No matter how cheap you find hay it still costs money to feed it. I prefer my cows to do their own harvesting and feeding as little supplemented feed as possible. The way I am going I will feed three times the hay this winter that I want to and twice the hay I find acceptable. I keep living on the optimism that in this country you only get 30 days of bad winter snow at a maximum and this year it is just early. Time will tell I guess.

My high school alma mater had a state playoff semifinal football game today in Kennewick. I was going to skip out on it but I just could not stand to tell Dakota that we were not going. It was a cold game but it worked out well as Connell beat Omak 55 to 21 and won a trip to Tacoma to play in the state championship next week. They have a real chance at repeating as state 1A champions. Congrats to the boys, the school, coaches and community on a great season. Is this blog post as boring as it seems? I really am trying!

We had a great family Thanksgiving at my youngest sisters’ house. Yesterday Christine helped me feed in both the morning and afternoon and other than that we took it pretty easy as the snow came down sporadically. I started a new book and watched a few episodes of the Sopranos late last night. I watch the whole series about 3 times a year because it is one of the few television programs that I enjoy. I did do something new on Wednesday night that I had never done before. No, it is not some wild monkey sexual move, nor some new food or drink. I am feeling this particular blog post is so lame that I am planning to do another one later tonight or tomorrow and will share what new thing I did.

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is the Nashville warbler aka Vermivora ruficapilla.

Today’s picture is of fall pairs coming to feed in the snow, up close and personal fall pair 6066or and her calf 0066w, and Ram tough but cold!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Today was a good day with some challenges but many successes as well. With tomorrow being Thanksgiving I tried to focus on what I am thankful for. The thermometer read minus 12 this morning when the sun made its first glorious appearance in the eastern horizon. The wind was calm and the sky clear and just like always I missed and could feel dad with me all at the same time as I watched the orange globe rise above the snow covered landscape. Thankful. The Dodge started easily which always makes me smile on a cold morning. The grumble of her well worn diesel motor and pungent smell of black smoke rising from her modified straight pipe made me dance a little to Cinderella singing “Shelter me” blaring from the cassette deck. I also took the time to tweak the drivers’ side door so that it closed properly or at least stayed closed on hard right turns. Thankful.

Here is a video of Cinderella performing. Can you believe this cowman used to and still sometimes listens to these long hairs! Hey what the heck, I learned how to embed a video!

When I arrived at the corrals I looked at the John Deere with hope that even as cold as it was maybe it would fire and run. I went ahead and hooked up jumper cables to it from the Dodge just for a boost. One little crank to warm the cylinders then I turned the key again as I misted some starting fluid into the air intake. It took a few turns but it eventually fired and idled with all cylinders firing. Thankful. I fed the spring cows and calves and even though they looked cold they also looked healthy and no longer had snow covering their backs like the day previous. Thankful.

I went to check the water from the well for the cows in the corral and there was no flow. Beyond the level of all physics the cows had somehow not only rubbed the lid loose covering the well box and had also unplugged the pump without getting electrocuted in some manner. Thankful. The pump was not frozen yet but the pipes were and were not going to thaw even with artificial heat very easily. I decided to just open the corrals and let the few cows being kept in it out. These were the last fall pairs I had bought but just had not worked and turned out. They were thirsty and quickly smelled their way to the pond that has enough spring action to keep a portion open and unfrozen. Thankful.

I then went and fed the fall pairs and they looked good too and there were still several places on the canal bank that were streaming with spring water. Thankful. Tomorrow many people will have the day off to celebrate with their family and friends. I will take the afternoon off but the cows do not know it is Thanksgiving and will expect to be fed once again. I will gladly do this chore because I so love what I do for a living. Thankful. I get to spend each day in what I feel is a partnership with Mother Nature. She provides things like sunshine, water, grass and cattle. I provide things like knowledge, time, labor and management of her bountiful resources and care for them in the most efficient and sustainable way possible. Together we provide high quality, nutritious beef for a hungry and growing world. Thankful.

Oh sure sometimes it is too cold, too wet, too hot, too dry, too windy or too of a million other things but I get to also see the most wonderful parts of nature and life any man could wish for. Thankful. I get to spend much of my time with my wife and children as we work together. I am able to teach my kids the value of hard work, the value of a dollar and at the same time teach them that dollars are not everything in life. Thankful. I have many good friends, an awesome extended family and my family and I have our health. Thankful. As you gather tomorrow with family and friends I hope that each of you can focus on all the things we have to be thankful for. When you enjoy the bounty of your table I would encourage you to say a thank you to Americas farmers and ranchers who have and always will strive to bring that bounty to your table. We are thankful for your continued support. Happy Thanksgiving.

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is the Ferruginous hawk aka Buteo regalis.

Today’s pictures are a bit blurry from the cold. The first one is the afternoon chowtime and thankful cows eating. The second is of a snowdrift that manifested itself along a fence line showing both the spectacular power and breathtaking beauty of Momma Nature.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

They were here just yesterday

It’s cold outside, damn cold outside. Not the kind of cold that makes outdoor activity a little uncomfortable, the kind of cold that makes your testicles seem to disappear for a few days. It is 10 p.m. and right now my thermometer says it is 5. The low is supposed to be down to -5 overnight. Tomorrows high is going to be a balmy 14. What is really amazing is it almost seems warmer than last night. Last night only got down to 12 but the wind was blowing 20 to 40 m.p.h and it was snowing.We have somewhere between an inch and 20 inches of snow depending where the wind deposited it. I really feel for the cows on nights like the one they went through last night.

Yesterday I fed a bit of hay to both groups of cows because of the snow and also because they need just a bit of a nutritional boost in this cold weather. I spent the rest of yesterday making sure everything that would be needed today had a good chance of working. Some diesel additive in both the Dodge and the loader tractor and making sure the block heater was working in them. It makes for tough days when it is this cold and if machinery does not run it really can be a pain.

Luckily both groups of cows have some really nice natural protection. My grandfather was a tree, bird and wildlife lover and on days like these I am very thankful for that. The spring calvers are still on the home place with their calves. They would be weaned and on cornstalks by now but the corn field is about half harvested and the combine is shutdown for the time being because of moisture content of the corn. I probably would not have weaned in this weather anyway. Very few of the cows are even still “wet” and nursing their calves but weaning alone is enough stress on the calves without having to deal with it during blizzards and extreme cold. This group of cows and calves has a nice grove of trees next to a natural windbreak to the north. This kept them from getting too pummeled last night but they were glad to see the hay this morning. The trees also kept the ground below them almost devoid of snow which gave them a nice place to bed down. The fall calvers are on some cornstalks and some dry range ground. They also have a great forest of both planted and natural trees to hide out in.

The other issue to deal with is water for the cows. Luckily there is a lot of “live” water on this place and has enough flow in many places to stay open and ice free. I have a few cows corralled up that get well water and today that ran fine but as cold as it is tonight may not be open tomorrow. If I have to I will just let these cows out with the spring calvers. The cold is bearable it just makes everything seem to take longer to complete. When it is this cold just doing the basic chores of feeding is about all I accomplish at least as far as outdoor activities in a day.

These cold days can wear on my nerves for many reasons but I can often find something to calm me down and maybe even make me smile. The day starts off bad enough for me because I have to wear coveralls. I hate coveralls for a few reasons. They are confining and just getting into the top of them is a struggle for me because I have had so many shoulder issues in my life. That twisting your arm back and getting it into a stiff sleeve can make me remember ever separation I have endured over the years. I go out to the Dodge and it started great but the heater in it is fair at best. About the time I am going to cuss this I see the sprinkler nozzles in the ashtray left over from summer and smile knowing no irrigation will happen today. I get in the John Deere and it started a bit hard this morning because at first I was giving it wasp and yellow jacket spray into the air intake instead of starting fluid. That made me kind of laugh and also realize there was no way I was going to get stung by a wasp today. Dakota was home today because of the school closure so she helped me by driving while I did the feeding. It does not seem like much but it is much better than having to jump off a moving pickup to reach in and turn the steering wheel as some obstacle approaches several times in the course of feeding a big bale as the pickup slogs along in 4 wheel drive low.

The cold weather allowed me to spend the day with her as we went to Connell and Pasco today for banking and other errands. When we fed this afternoon she did run over a downed tree and about bucked me off the back as the front tire went over the log. The good thing was if I had slipped and fell I would not have hurt my nuts. They were hiding somewhere close to the back of my tonsils today. In other good news the long range weather forecast says it is going to be 47 degrees on December 7th. I better keep that wasp spray in the tractor just in case.

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is the Canvasback duck aka Aythya valisineria.

Today’s picture is of one of the new fall calving pairs 5655o and her calf 0655w. You can see some of the trees that these cows use for shelter in inclement weather in the background.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Eyes on the prize

In Wednesday’s blog I mentioned I would talk about culling cows and buying cows and how that works on this ranch and how we try and make it fit into a total business plan. I will touch on some of that today. I missed a post yesterday because I did some traveling to a meeting. The meeting was in Dayton which is about 90 miles from here and I needed to be there by 8:30 a.m. It was a really great early morning traveling to the east and seeing a awesome sunrise over the channeled scablands of eastern Washington. Many people who live here think much of this area is desolate and lacking in scenery but I love it. Miles of open “big” country, sagebrush, cheatgrass, bunchgrass, basalt rock, lots of Hereford and Hereford cross cows and the water of the Palouse and Snake rivers. The drive is a two lane often winding and elevation changing trek but enjoyable from a nature lover’s standpoint. The early morning provided sights of many mule deer close to and crossing the highway.

The meeting was about weeds and how to control them in range and pasture type settings. I want to thank the Southeast Washington Cooperative weed management association for the excellent meeting. Vic Reeves is the leader of this group and a member of my local Franklin County weed board and has been a great help to me and had prepared an excellent meeting. Lots of information on noxious weeds, the latest controls etc. Often these meetings put on by governmental type agencies are somewhat lame but this was great information, presented in a nice format and I really am glad I attended. Now about culling cows….

Parting with any cow is usually difficult for any stockman. After all, at some point you purchased her or kept her as a replacement and felt she would be productive and profitable. When you cull a cow for reasons other than age it almost seems as you are giving your decision making skills a bad grade. In reality if you want to stay in this business you can’t let personal feelings get in the way of logical culling decisions. This can be tough giving the emotional attachment and time spent with some cows. I am going to talk about 3 cull cows that left last week and why I made the decision.

3065w was a black cow that in my mind I bought two years ago. If you go to the records for confirmation she was purchased 6 years ago and was 11 years old then. She was one of those cows that come through the auction barn and usually at 11 years old are headed for a second life as ground beef. Sometimes the owners of these cows either do not know if they are pregnant or if they are how far along they are. 3065w was sold as a “butcher” cow in December of 2004. She was a bit thin but I was pretty confident she had a growing calf inside her. I took a chance and in early March of that year she had a calf and had actually gained some weight and condition on corn stalks. She was pretty average in her production of calves but I also had a very low investment in her. In fact on Thursday I am sure she returned more than I purchased her for mainly because of demand change in the market. That helps to offset the loss she gave me in 2008 (high feed costs) and the likely breakeven small calf she raised this year. The lady just got too old to take care of herself nutritionally let alone a calf. With this years higher prices her calf is good enough to not lose any money but it was time for 3065w to leave. She was pregnant but was on the late end and was looking at a late April calf so with all the factors she was not that hard to cull.

7106b was another cow not so tough to cull. This cow had been pretty good and raised good calves but had come up empty for some reason this fall. She should have calved between mid August to mid October but had not. I preg checked her and she has a calf coming this spring but waiting 6 months on a cow that had no good reason not to breed on time is something I wont do unless the cow is super special. She is 13 anyway, still in good flesh and someone will think they got a great deal on an older spring calving cow not knowing she is 6 months late. Besides, this cow is not particularly mean or wild but she is hell on Festus, she absolutely hates him and possibly all dogs. His first real beat down by a cow was by the head of 7106b.

7285w was a bit difficult to sell. This cow was quite possibly the ugliest bovine to ever walk the planet. You know those novelty glasses with big, bulbous bloodshot eyes that are on springs and fall out of the glasses? This is how this cow looked. It was like 98.6% of her eyeball was outside the socket. If Steve Buscemi ( ) knocked up Helen Thomas ( ) this cow is what their daughter would look like, maybe even a son for that matter. To add to this ugliness she was short, solid red with a tuft of unruly hair on the top of her head (the poll) and she was fat. I don’t mean a little extra padding; I mean the kind of cow that would be a midget sumo wrestler in human terms, the kind of cow that would not be able to get her body completely in the shadow of Rosie O’Donnell on a summer day. This ugly, short, fat, bug-eyed monstrosity was a cow I bought for Dad as kind of a joke. She was a pregnant 734 pound long yearling (15 to 20 months) the day I bought her for a whopping $350. For those outside the business a typical cow is 1200 pounds and a heifer has her first calf at 2 years of age and around 1000 pounds. My dad was ecstatic with this heifer when she arrived. “Oh wow, look at her body depth, she will be a great momma.” He said as she waddled off the truck and I raised my eyebrows thinking even he would cuss this potential huge workload.

7285w had her first calf on her own in the spring of 1999 (she was born in fall 1997) she continued to calve every year and would have had a calf in February or March of this coming year. Her calves were never great but always were average in weaning size and weight. As a ratio of calf weight weaned vs. mother cow weight she was stellar over the years. She was so ugly she became a standard of ugliness in our family. “How ugly was she, uglier than 7285w?” Dakota and I would say. I do not have the paperwork from the sale on Thursday yet so I do not know exactly what she returned. I am quite confident it was over $350. Sometimes you just have to pull the trigger and be logical, even if that cow is the prettiest, ugly thing you have ever witnessed.

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is perennial pepperweed aka Lepidium latifolium.

Today’s picture is cow 4158w with her steer calf on February 18th 2010 and on November 16th 2010.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The joys of no schedule

I really love this time of year, late fall to be exact. Not because there is any lack of things to do, it is more because your schedule can be so flexible. In the summer you have some flexibility in your days but every morning and most evenings there is irrigation water to change. In the winter there is usually some cow feeding that is best done on a regular schedule plus the weather can suck. The springtime has some flexibility of schedule early but the calving and knowing the days of really hard work and long hours are coming can be a drag.

The irrigation water is turned off. I am really not doing any regular feeding at this time and the weather is very reasonable. I should not be seeing any new calves until the 20th of January so that is a burden that is lessened this time of year. There are always things to do like bookwork, fence fixing, equipment maintenance, and the dreaded home improvement but this time of year you can kind of schedule them at will. What is really weird is that I think I get more of them done when there is no schedule than when I put them on the schedule in the spring or summer.

I did a thorough check of the fall pairs this morning. The calf I had been concerned about was fine and I am crossing my fingers and somewhat smiling at my good fortune. All the fall pairs including the ones I purchased are looking really great. I am also excited because I feel that from a market standpoint I am adding real value to both our near and long term future stability from a genetic, financial and security standpoint. I will say however I have felt this way right before I have “hit a home run” in this business and have felt this way right before “I got my balls handed to me” so we will see just what the future holds.

I took a few cows to the auction in Toppenish today and picked up a few cow calf pairs I had purchased for me last week. I was a bit concerned about the pairs because I knew what the price had been for them but had not physically seen them. All my worries melted when I saw them today. Young black hided 3 year old cows with their 2nd calves standing by their side. These cows were just the size I like, the body type I like, the color I prefer and had good calves with them. I had culled on my fall calvers quite extensively this spring for a few reasons. One was prices for cull cows was good and the other was I had some cows really getting up there in age in my fall herd. To be able to replace those cows with younger cows of the same or better quality at close to an even dollar exchange tickles me more than a French maid with a feather duster at a rodeo.

I will explain in tomorrows post about cull cows, new purchases and how we make it work here on this place. Some of the cows I sent to sell today were decent cows but just did not make the cut on this place. That is probably the cruel irony of this business. The better you improve your cow herd and genetics the tougher you have to be in the culling department. I remember my grandfather relating culling cows to baseball. Three strikes and you are OUT! This made very good sense at one time but now it is basically one strike and you are out. Every ranch has specific things that they are better at and certain challenges they face. This is why sometimes the things you hear from one producer related to how they run their business is so much different from another.

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is the long tailed weasel aka Mustela frenata.

Today’s picture is 0902g with his momma on February 15th 2010 and on his own November 16th 2010.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mucho caliente

It was once again a nice day in the beautiful Columbia Basin with diminishing winds from last night’s hurricane. Last night the wind howled and I always tend to worry about tumbleweeds leaning over single wire electric fences and offering cows a way to travel. I was pleasantly surprised that no such thing happened and there were not many tumbleweed’s to remove from fences this morning.

I worked all day today but really am not sure if I accomplished much. I had two conference calls taking up about 3 hours of the day. They were both necessary and productive but somehow are hard to see as tangible when the hours of daylight are so short. The sun seems to descend faster than Monica Lewinski in the oval office this time of year. I was able to read, delete and get my email box down to 72 unread messages when I started yesterday with over 1200 of them dating back to April. Many of them were the type sent by friends with a humor slant and they were fun to read.

I went to the corner store today and filled the Dodge with diesel and saw something quite simple but also humorous. As I watched the dollar amount spin fast and the gallon amount spin slow on the pump meter a minivan entered the parking lot. It was a Mexican family, a father, a mother and I am guessing about a 3 to 4 year old boy. When the father got out of the van to go into the store the kid threw quite a fit because he wanted to go inside. The father loudly told Juan Jr. that he was to stay in the van with his mother. The father got about half way to the store when little Juan opened the drivers side door and started running towards his father. Juan Sr. heard him coming and turned and chased him back towards the van yelling at him for not listening. The kid got the door closed just as the dad got there but the window was down just a bit. Juan Sr. was very animated as he told the kid to quit crying and to stay in the van. The father once again turned back towards the store and right when he passed the front of the van Juan Jr. laid on the horn! OMG, Juan Sr. about jumped out of his “pantalones” from being startled and I spit coffee about a mile laughing. I do not know what they came to the store for but at this point the dad had enough and he got in the van, slammed the door and tore out of the parking lot without even going in the store! I was treated to another bit of laughter when I was able to view the passenger side of the white minivan. The passenger side fender had one of those stickers that look like flames. Nothing like a set of flames to make your minivan look more awesome!

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is the Brown headed cowbird aka Molothrus ater.

Today’s picture is another in my series showing calf growth over the year. 0904g is a steer calf pictured as a newborn on February 25th 2010 and today November 16th 2010.