Thursday, February 28, 2013

Get busy livin, or get busy dyin'

Another great day here in the Columbia Basin. We got some rain, a whopping .17 inches but hey when you live in a desert you take what you can get! After a quick check of calving cows, tagging newborn calves and some sorting and loading I headed to Toppenish, Washington to the weekly cattle auction. Other than the rain coming down all of these tasks went spectacularly even if they took a bit longer than hoped. I was west bound and south bound but a good "twang" song related to how I felt driving today is "Eastbound and Down" by Jerry Reed from the movie Smokey and the Bandit, one of the most amusing and fun movies ever. This is also a movie that transcends generations as my kids and I can always laugh and have fun whenever we watch this classic together. You Sumbit@h!

I arrived at the salesyard, unloaded my cattle and then Festus and I proceeded to climb the cat walk to look at cattle and bullshit with fellow cattlemen. One fellow cattleman I spoke with today was Greg Rathbun from Rathbun Angus Ranch in Moses Lake, Washington.
The Rathbun family is a great family that is very engaged in the cattle business and agriculture. I have some Rathbun genetics in my herd and they have a bull guarantee that is unsurpassed. I laughed today when Greg surmised that "You are way too old to be as brave as you are!" related to my YouTube video about tagging calves.

I laughed because as I told Greg, " You gotta die doing something!" Yes, I am more careful than I used to be around protective mothers and there are a few cows with calves on the ranch not sporting tags just because I know certain cows likely are faster than I am on my fastest day. This is a result of past knowledge of certain cows and their habits around their newly birthed children. I used to work like crazy to tag every calf but these days I get what I can with a reasonable amount of risk and let the others wait until branding day. Sometimes even when you get a calf tagged if it is done in a hurry the tag is not properly placed and can fall out. I had this experience a couple of days ago. I found a calf without a tag away from the group of cows. At first I thought it might be a twin but then I noticed this little guy had a hole in his ear where his tag had once resided. I got the calf up, headed him in the general direction of the cows and a mother and child reunion took place as I shot some video.   

On the way home today I thought about what Greg had said and my response. Sure, I give cows their proper respect but in general I am not afraid of them. I really do not spend time worrying that some mother cow is going to end my days here on earth. If such a thing did happen it would not be the worst way to go, doing something I love. That does not mean that I never have anxiety or think about my own death.

What does make me worry about death are much more simple things in life. What if I am waiting for my turn at the DMV and die of a heart attack? What if one day I am working on a budget and keel over? Heck, for that matter even if I passed while typing out a blog about the incredible life I am able to lead it would be better than the two aforementioned scenarios. Life is about LIVING and I can attest that I am not just living, I am living a dream. 

This evening as I fed cows I had a bit of a dilema in that I had left my twine cutting knife in the other pickup. No reason to stress or worry, just make do with whatever you can to get through said situation. As Crocodile Dundee exclaimed, That's not a knife."

As I finished the day I had to improvise and find a "knife" of my own for cutting bale twines!


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tell me a story (series on country music)

I could go on and on about country music and my takes on it but just like music variety is the spice of life and maybe it is time to move on? We'll see! So as I wrap up this series on country music and how it relates to my life, how I embrace the variety and changes of country music I would be remiss to not mention one other aspect of country music. The "story" type song

I love a good story, both hearing one and telling one. When a musical artist can tell a story in song that is the ultimate for me. I could literally go on for weeks with "story" songs but with anything in today's world things get stale in a hurry and people want to move on to the next thing. Let's see if I can tell a story about cattle and also share some country music that people will enjoy. 

It was February 2006 and I was at a cattle auction. I had mostly sat on my hands that day as bred cows were too high in my opinion given the current uncertainty of the market. 3 black brockle faced heifers entered the sale ring. These girls were only 2 years old, bred to calve shortly, but were thin, very, very thin. Long story, short I took a chance. .38 cents a pound at 1049 pounds. I had become the new owner of 3 very thin young bred heifers for less than $400 each. I bought a few other cows that day but when loading I saw these 3 particular heifers as a real "hail mary" A song that tells a story and captures that purchase is Kenny Rogers "The Gambler" a twist on his words that I have found very true! "Cause every cows a winner, and every cows a loser, and the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep"

I brought my new cows and heifers home, vaccinated them, gave them a wormer and a vitamin booster and said a little prayer.Things did not start off well. The first of these 3 heifers calved fine but then went downhill rapidly and eventually died. Her calf was grafted on to a first calf heifer that lost her calf but at this point my investment did not look too good. Eventually the other two heifers calved on their own and had nice bull calves. They both also had gained some weight and looked pretty good. One of these new made cows was 4158W. I had taken a chance, and although not perfect it was just what a good old boy would do in this business. A song that tells a story and to me captures how I was feeling is Don Williams singing "Good Old Boys like me" 

These 2 cows #4157 and #4158 both straightened out, raised good calves and in terms of $ and sense I had probably broke even at a year later. It was in the second year of ownership that things began to improve. Both of these cows again raised good calves and the market had improved. They both continued to be good mother cows and they both kept producing bull calves, fast forward to 2009.  #4158 finally had a heifer calf, a patch eyed little firecracker that was was no doubt a "replacement" heifer. Her mother was a good calf raiser but was one of those cows that you really had to respect around her newborn calves. Here is #4158 with her calf in 2011.

 This was also the year #9158 became a first time mother and because of her history and the way she raised calves became probably my favorite current cow. She is very much like her momma, easy to work, easy to load but very protective of her newborns. Today as I approached her 3rd calf I did so with caution. She had birthed a beautiful black white faced bull calf that very likely will be a show steer prospect. I caught the calf, gave it a mineral injection and tried to tag it from the opposite side if the fourwheeler. His mother was blowing a bit of snot but was not particularly nasty today, but as I put the tag in her child's ear #3158 gave out a loud bawl and his mother hit me in my supersized gut which spawned a rapid mouth watering projectile vomit of the 69 cent burrito I had sadly chosen for lunch. Here she is shortly after said burrito was spat in a southerly direction. 

A story song that I think captures all this reminiscing about the past is Tom T. Hall singing "I remember the year that Clayton Delaney died"

Remember all pictures can be viewed full size by clicking on them and hope you enjoy the music as well.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Country music? what and why?

So before general life takes over and I have no connection to my last post let's continue with just what I feel country music is. I had an incredible day here on the ranch, 6 new calves, 2 more that will arrive before daybreak in my estimation and sunshine, no disasters and lots of music and fun! I feel today's calves born and their respective mothers are a good example of why I enjoy the variety of the country music scene. To me country music consists of several things, tradition, lyrics, instrumental composition including "twang" and feeling (emotion). Some songs only capture one of these, some capture many and the true classics to me capture all of them. I hope you enjoy these pictures (viewed full size by clicking on them) and videos that I think represent these different values that manifested themselves today as I roll on through spring calving season.

Tradition, these would be older songs that have a "classic" feel to them. Something from the past that although hard to find on today's radio waves are great songs just the same. The first calf I tagged today was #3008 a black bull that is the son of #9008 a 14 year old cow. This lady gets a bit tougher to keep each year. Her age and her teeth dictate she should be culled but she seems to hold her flesh and raise above average calves, as long as she continues to do so she will stay but her life is definitely coming to a close.  A country song that I feel encapsulates her classic stay ability and tradition is John Anderson singing "1959" 

   The next cow/calf pair that happened today was #3202 and her mother #1302. This is a first calf heifer that actually has a name "Crybaby" she was born in 2011 and earned her name from the fact that no matter how close her mother was to her she was constantly bawling like she was lost. Dakota and I have are highly amused because her new heifer calf is exactly the same way! Very Vocal and constantly bawling any time a teat is not in her mouth. Here is Crybaby with her first calf and as a newborn

Lyrics are part of what makes country music so great. So many great song writers and their ability to wordsmith are always amazing to me. When you can have a song that talks about mental illness and still be amusing that is incredible in my mind. Here is Jon Conlee singing "I don't remember loving you" lyrics like "but everyone I know here in this place is very strange, if you'll hand me my crayons I'll be glad to take your name." Great lyrics.

Now we move on to instrumental which can show through so many songs especially "twang" which can be a steel guitar, a dobro, drums, fiddles are awesome or even a banjo or a piano at times. A cow that calved today that to me represents "twang" is #12R. This is not my cow sadly, but a friends that I help out by taking care of his cows during the winter. To me "twang" represents something different. I do not want all my cows to look the same, I don't want all my days to be the same, "twang" is what sets things apart. 

 This cow is an American White Park cow and as you can see she passed on her unique markings to her heifer calf. A country song that represents "twang" and something a bit different to me is Keith Anderson singing "Pickin Wildflowers" this song also has some stellar lyrics."Gonna get a little peace on earth!" Oh twang me Santa Claus.


So to wrap up this post I need a cow and a song that represents emotion and feeling. In this instance I actually have a video for both! The cow is #0002 a second calver from a stellar background of cows. I was able to get a video today of tagging her calf, my first YouTube video posting.  


A song that encapsulates tradition, lyrics, instrumental and emotion altogether is this beauty by Vern Gosdin, "Chiseled in Stone." I thank you all for following and reading this blog. I hope you all had at least as great of a day as I did! 


Saturday, February 16, 2013

What is "country" music? (a series)

I have mentioned here before how much I love music. I know some would find it quite odd then that my main pickup has had NO radio for over a year and my other pickup has no radio but there is a multi artist cassette that is stuck in the player and plays constantly. There are several great songs on it with my favorite being Cee Cee Chapman singing "Rainbow Rider" which was later released by Tanya Tucker. "A trailer behind an old white Eldorado, a red western sunset a blue mountain range."  I thought Cee Cee was a great singer and enjoyed her songs even though she was not a songwriter. However few people have even as much as heard of Cee Cee before the last 30 seconds.

  What is really odd lately is that even though Griselda currently has NO radio Carrie Underwood singing "Two Black Cadillacs" still plays from her speakers several times a day! That was a joke based on the fact that on most country music stations these days a small playlist repeats over and over to the ever so closed minded general public. Now I can appreciate Carrie Underwood's voice and actually like some of her songs but her political stances pretty much sicken me. Oh by the way the reason I have not gotten in a huge hurry to replace my stereo is as a man I cannot properly check cows and have music invading my brain at the same time!

Lately I have come across two fellow ag bloggers with posts about todays music scene, specifically today's country music scene. At PNW Rancher Erica Beck laments "Whose going to fill their shoes" as she blogs about the future of the beef industry . Another great blogger Carrie Mess also talks of today's country music scene at  

I will certainly agree with both of these great ladies and bloggers that country music has become a bit too "pop" lately and lack some of the old down home feel that many of us grew up with. While I empathize with their views I actually embrace the new artists and new sounds. I will try and explain my stance over the next 3-4 blog posts.  I can already tell that this little diatribe on today's country music is going to go long so I will break it into several parts. Hey good news! More daily posts! 

I have loved Waylon Jennings since the first time I heard him. So many of his songs hit home with me and I love the instrumental portion as much as the lyrics.I doubt anyone would disagree that Waylon is a "classic" country artist but at one time that was not the case. I mean really how can you NOT love this? Between the guitars and the lyrics...WOW!

Now, Waylon's son Shooter Jennings while not nearly as well known also has made some great music. His unconventional style and in your face lyrics are something I appreciate. Here he talks about his father and his struggles and adds some commentary of his own about today's music scene. I love the fiddles and drums in this song as well as the lyrics. "They took the outlaw concept and repackaged it" Here is "Outlaw You" Conventional? No. Country music? I say Yes!

 So here we have 3 examples of country music that were unconventional given their individual timing. Now, none of these songs are probably what I would call soulful country music and certainly not traditional but I enjoy all three just the same. My next post will continue on this subject and why I like today's variety but also despise some aspects of today's music scene. Just to stay with my original intent of this blog I am going to share a picture of #1421 with her first heifer calf #3421 enjoying today's sunshine here on the ranch. Speaking of sunshine here is a song that I enjoy and recently found. Is this some down home soulful country? Nope, but it is a fun and feel good song that also captures some spirit of enjoying country life and what it has to offer. I mean hey, who would have ever thought I could open my mind enough to enjoy a song that even has some "rapping" in it? Enjoy "The Lacs" which stands for "loud ass crackers" and "Country Boys Paradise" I mean with lyrics like "little string bikinis and corona flip flops, me and my buddies standing on the toolbox, ladies it's ok to take your tops off" how can this not be "country"? This "twang" from about the 2:08 point in the video is just heaven in my opinion and that is not because of the video! To be continued.....

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Best laid plans

Today, like many days, started out with a plan. I currently have calving cows in 2 places. The home place and the Corrales circle. The plan started out with checking the cows on the home place. I fired up my Japanese Quarter horse aka a red Honda fourwheeler (Ruby Sue) and started out across the pasture. This went fairly well as all the calves that were born here yesterday were near their mothers and nobody had dropped a new calf overnight. I also noted that nobody looked like she was going to calve in the next few hours. I headed back home to meander off to my next task. 

I started Griselda which was connected to my stock trailer which contained another Japanese Quarter horse aka  a yellow Honda fourwheeler aka (Tommy) from the Kenny Rogers song "Coward of the County". 

Griselda roared to life as her Cummins innards were programmed to do. The next stop was the other ranch house to take the garbage can to the road, then off to the Corrales circle cows and then to Eltopia to gather up electric fence and fence posts. While taking the garbage can to the road at the other ranch house I heard a snap and as I climbed back inside Griselda I knew what had happened. The "Serpentine" belt which on most of today's vehicles runs every secondary operation of a vehicle had snapped. Now luckily I was not 100's of miles from home, the snow was not falling and just last week I had actually purchased a new belt based on mileage and wear. I limped Griselda 1/2 mile home with no power steering and decided today's plans were flexible. 

Now, a serpentine belt is an amazing thing. On a 2005 Dodge 5.9 Cummins it runs your alternator, fan, water pump, power steering and air conditioning. Without a serpentine belt it runs you to a psychiatrist as you are truly screwed without it. Replacing a serpentine belt on this particular model of pickup would take 20 minutes with two people. Replacing a serpetine belt alone is a bit different. The first 20 minutes are spent spewing cuss words and wishing you could go back to the old days in which there was a separate belt for each function. In retrospect like many things in the end it is better as you do not have to thread the serpentine belt around the fan which is a knuckle scraping mother! 2 1/2 hours later Griselda was back to normal and I was almost giddy thinking that now I did not have any time left in my day for paper work as previously planned. We headed down the road to the Corrales circle to check cows.

I arrived at the Corrales circle, I unloaded Tommy and headed out for my check. 1002 a daughter of 2002 had her first calf, a bull calf with her.

 I tagged, gave a MultiMin shot to 1002's bull calf and continued through the cows. My heart dropped as I saw 1002's sister 9002 lying on her side and did not detect any movement. As I got closer 9002 swung herself to a prone position and I could see 2 feet protruding from her vulva as she was in the process of birthing. I took Tommy back to the trailer, reloaded him and moved down the road closer to where 9002 was calving. I got the OB chains in my pocket as well as some pulling handles and then used my binoculars to see what progress 9002 was making.

At this point I could see that 9002 was rapidly commencing to birth her calf. I headed out on foot with my OB chains, pulling handle and camera. I calve about 225 cows a year but rarely do I actually witness a live birth. As I ran across the corn stalks I saw that 9002 quickly pushed her calf out and I got within video range just as she stood up. She took a quick bite and swallow of her afterbirth aka placenta and then went to work cleaning off her newborn heifer calf. 

Both 1002 and 9002 are daughters of 2002. This cow 2002 has more daughters (3) in the herd and more granddaughters in the herd (2) than any other cow on the place. It is both an honor and a privilege to be around these amazing females of the bovine species. 

My plans of doing some paper work today did not materialize.My plans of gathering posts and hot wire fence from the place the cows were last at did not happen. But I did end up enjoying a great day, watching tremendous cow families contribute to what I do for a living! As the afternoon progressed I was unceremoniously tossed from the flatbed of Elvira my 1998 Dodge pickup as Dakota forgot to place the transmission into 4LOW and the clutch engagement sent me flying off the back. As I laid there on the ground of the ranch that I grew up on I could not help but laugh as I realized that as many in this country watched the Chris Dorner saga and talked about last nights Grammy awards I was just a cowman doing what I can to make a living while feeding the world. I am truly blessed to be an ordinary man living an extraordinary life! I ended the day at a Franklin County Cattlemen's Association meeting with good friends, good food and good drinks.

As I march on through this life and witness the spectacular power of Mother Nature daily I am constantly questioning the idea of God or a higher power. In my days of working with Mother Nature there is no doubt that there has to be something bigger out there than the human experience. Today's Cowman YouTube music selection is a bit different from the "twang" Country I usually embrace. I first heard this song on an episode of the HBO hit the Soprano's but I think it truly captures the deference I have learned to give everyday life and the infinite possibilities each day brings! "Well I have handed all my efforts in
I searched here for my second wind
Is there somewhere here to let me in I asked
So I slammed the doors they slammed at me
I found the place I'm meant to be
I figured out my destiny at last." Basically Mother Nature I am your stooge, what you throw my way I will deal with as best I can.

I present to you Kasey Chambers and hope each of you can embrace the idea that life is not scripted, life is not perfect, unless you let life be! Remember all pics can be viewed full size by clicking on them and although I still dont have my comments working you can email your thoughts on this and any blog post to


Friday, February 8, 2013

Sit tall in the saddle

Ok, I know, I suck at posting here. I must have 100 partially written blog posts but lately I just cannot seem to get anything down that seems to me that anyone would want to take time out of their busy day to read. I have learned one thing in that being on Facebook and Twitter has actually hurt my blog posting regularity. It is much easier to post something quick and short during my day than sitting down and postulating about my day each evening.

Calving is going well so far and other than losing one calf to drowning in a ditch that broke my heart. I am getting 2-3 calves each day on average and I have been really happy with the ones on the ground so far. Winter feed has been a real struggle. Last year I was not set well and things worked out great. This year I was set up great and for various reasons things have fell apart. I have been lucky in that I have found relatively inexpensive hay and the weather has been very cooperative. By all indications we may finally get an early spring here in the Columbia Basin after 2 years of late springs. Early springs mean early grass and a happy cowman. 

March will be 5 years since Dad physically left our presence. I was told by many on the day of his celebration of life that it would get better from that day forward. That advice was sound but after nearly 5 years I still miss him so damn much. There just is not part of any day where he does not manifest himself. Just today I was moving some Powder River panels alone and I thought back to the day we bought these particular panels. Dad decided to buy 14 foot panels, me doing the math on a "per foot" basis bought 16 foot panels. His argument was that if you ever had to move these panels by yourself the 14 footers would be much easier to handle than the 16 footers. At the time back in 2005 I never really imagined moving panels without him being around. Today, as I sweated and hoisted the 16 footers I felt like bawling but instead just laughed at how prophetic his wise words were.  

Last week a daughter of the last cow he bought gave birth to her 2nd calf. That really put into perspective how long he has been away. Here is 0107y with her second calf 3107w. Sometimes his wisdom and memories are very helpful and calming. Earlier this week I had a first calf heifer that did not have her calf with her as the sun sank in the Western Sky. I was traversing the pasture frantically trying to find the calf and facilitate a reunion. 
I could hear Dad in my ear telling me to quit worrying and to let the new mother do what Mother Nature had programmed her to do. As darkness fell I could not help putting faith in his words. I slept very fitfully as I envisioned the calf meeting the same fate as the one that fell in the ditch. I was out the door at daylight and the chill of the morning air and the beautiful sunrise gave me hope that Dad had been correct in his advice. I was not disappointed as 3241 was jumping around near her mother who was sporting a well suckled udder. 

I had a bit of an incident with cow 5501 this week as she had birthed a new calf. This cow is pretty easy going but is very protective of her newborn calves. I made a tag for the calf and was determined that between Festus keeping her attention I could get her calf tagged. This particular cow gave me quite a head butt back in 2010 as I tried to tag her calf and I could feel Dad cautioning me in my endeavor. Between the cows action and Dad's prompting I decided against being a hero. As Dad used to say,"those eartags are just something for YOU, they mean nothing to the mother cow, she knows who her kid is!" Back in 2010 her calf did not have a tag and she made my right shoulder somehow touch my left shoulder. In 2013 her calf does not have a tag but my shoulders are where they are supposed to be. Thanks Dad for the sound advice!

I know that Dad can see these new calves but I sure wish he was here to give his comments. In the afternoons when Dakota helps me feed she often makes comments that both make me smile and also somewhat sad in that it is very clear who her Grandpa is. She has both her grandfathers perpetual optimism as well as his hearty cynicism when some cows seem to under perform.  So far these calves have looked awesome and I know Dad would appreciate the crossbreeding system we are now seeing excellent results from.   

So earlier this week when I lost that calf in the ditch that was when I needed Dad the most. I did not really feel like I had failed as much as I just felt bad in that this cow is getting on in years and she had produced a gorgeous bull calf and now unless I get a twin very soon she will sent on her way to nourish the hungry world. Chris Ledoux sings with great lyrics of how I got through that day in a summary of how Dad would have advised me. "He said, Sit tall in the saddle and hold your head up high. Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky. And live like you ain't afraid to die. And don't be scared, just enjoy the ride."

Thank you Dad for all your education, love and advice. I know you were "Tougher than the rest." and thank you for me making me that way.  I miss you every day but feel you in everything I do, your legacy lives on in all of us!


Remember all pictures can be viewed full size by clicking on them. I will try and get here more regularly even if it is nothing more than a quick picture.