Turning In On a Chilly Evening

photo 3After dinner, they walked outside hand in hand. He’d just finished talking with his aunt on the phone. He had been grumpy all day, but speaking with her had lightened his mood.

“Oh,” he said nodding toward the chicken house, “it’s too early. They aren’t ready to come in yet.”

It was chilly. Rain and snow had moved through the area earlier in the day. Still, the hens were out in the yard regardless of the chill.  She loved seeing them outside. They always seemed content, even happy. And they loved to explore. They would wander as far as they were given berth. She and the rancher hoped to eventually fence the entire perimeter of the property. Then the hens could have free run without threat of the coyotes.

Since the birds were obviously enjoying the evening, they decided to walk up behind the house to cover her new trees. As fate would have it, the weather turned cold as soon as they planted the trees. She had looked at the forecast yesterday; it wasn’t supposed to dip below freezing. This morning, the forecast had been updated. They were in for freezing low temperatures for the next five days. That’s the way it always worked for them.

They finished covering the trees and decided to coax or herd the chickens inside. She stepped inside the yard and pushed them toward the door. For every chicken she managed to push in, it seemed another would come out. She was sure that they looked quite comical. Finally, she managed to make them all stay in long enough to close and latch the door. The sheep moved into the corral at the sight of the rancher. They knew who their master was and rarely gave him trouble.

Then, they walked back to the house. She yawned. “I’m tired,” she said, “and I still have to finish laundry.”

That was it. That about summed up their life. They went from one task to another. It might seem mundane, but sometimes it was the moments of normalcy that made it all worth it.


Loving Life or Loving Life

IMG_0288 IMG_0291 IMG_0304Yesterday and today, the rancher and I came home from work to do chores together. It’s been weeks and even months since we have had a routine like this. On both evenings, the kids were all away from home. At times like these, we realize what it means to be alone–to be empty nesters. For the most part, we are okay with the idea, even looking forward to it. We realize that we might move slower than the kids, but we can still move and that’s a blessing. One of the best things about evenings like these (besides spending time together) is the quiet and solitude. When it is quiet, I can actually hear myself think. When it’s quiet, I can actually love my life, and tonight I realize that I really love life–the animals. I took pictures of my pigs today. Next to cattle, I think they have the sweetest eyes. And I think, “Oh, I love you boys and girls!” Then I wonder, “Which species do I love most?” I really can’t choose. When I’m with the pigs, I love the pigs. When I’m with the turkeys, I love the turkeys. Having animals, even livestock, is a bit like having children. I love them all, perhaps for different reasons, but I still love them all.

Grocery Shopping

photo-8Whenever the rancher goes shopping, he stops at the meat counter to check prices. He also stays up on the markets and knows what commodities are going for. We’ve never tried to compete with grocery store pricing. They are able to buy and sell in bulk which we are neither able nor want to do.  We do, however, try to compete with quality and flavor. And I am confident that we are tough competition, beating the grocery store hands down.

The other day, the rancher and I ran an errand or two and stopped at the grocery store to grab a few items. I hustled through the produce and meat departments and the bakery. I looked back as I moved out of the bakery section. The rancher was meandering through the meat department, checking prices on various cuts of meat.

Eventually, he caught up with me and we wandered down to the dairy section. At this particular grocery store, the eggs are located in a cooler on the floor rather than a wall cooler. It easy to see the various brands of eggs and gauge the number of cartons available. We immediately noticed that the organic eggs were nearly gone. The rancher commented on the lack of eggs in the case.

Then, we noticed the prices. Imagine our surprise when we discovered the Nest-fresh and other brand name eggs were priced at a comparable price to our eggs. Our eggs are soy-free, very fresh (we sell them almost as quickly as the hens lay them), and our hens are humanely raised. Plus, they are very yummy! It was great to know that we have a superior product for very nearly the same price as our big brand competitors.

If you haven’t tried our eggs, you really should.


DSC_0318 DSC_0308We receive many requests from acquaintances asking to bring their children out to the ranch. They usually have one of two things in mind–teaching their child about hard work or teaching their child about food sources. Never, have we been asked to use the ranch as a place to learn about the birds and the bees (if you know what I mean 😉 ).

Rewind the clock some fifteen years. It was early spring or summer. We were on our first place (in some ways my favorite place), the site that is now the Reuter-Hess Reservoir. The day was nice. We were fixing fence. The cows were grazing. I’m not sure how it happened. Well yes, I know how it happened. I just don’t know how I missed sheltering my children from it. I’m talking about IT. That IT of which we are all afraid to broach with our children. This particular IT was staring us right in the face. My five year-old and seven year-old were staring rather intently at IT in the form of a big black bull and a black Angus heifer. I, quite certainly, was left speechless. The two babies had lots of questions and that’s how we solve the problem of when and where to have THE TALK.

Today, we joke about it. We’ve been ranching long enough that it is no longer capitalized; it is just a matter of course. The two younger ones (now 20 and nearly 22) have aptly named our boars “Kroll, the Warrior King,” and “Git Er Done.” When either of our gentlemen get it done, it ends up being a topic of conversation. Tonight, the guys decided to move one sow away from Kroll and move another in with Kroll. As soon as they moved her, Kroll made sure to give us something to talk about. This was especially historic because we used this event to initiate a family friend to the ranch.

Rest assured, we are no longer afraid to talk about IT. Now we just want to know if we think he actually got his job done the first time!

Told you it was PG-13.


Sometimes Duty Calls, Even on a Sunday

photo 3She rolled out of bed late again. It seemed like she could never get to sleep early enough. She had too much on her mind she supposed–and too much on her plate, her mother warned.

It was Sunday, her favorite day of the week. She loved Sunday mornings. She usually made pancakes for breakfast with the family. The rest of the day was devoted to church and rest and keeping the Sabbath holy. She needed this weekly break. Funny, she hadn’t been out with the animals much lately. During the week she didn’t make it home early enough to help with the evening chores. Then of course there was her light duty sentence. She felt guilty, really, not helping. Sleeping in too long.

Guilty made making pancakes all the more important. One, two, three cups of flour. She would make three times the recipe. It would probably be too much, but if she only made two, then she might run short. Suddenly…

“Hey,” her son said from the doorway, “can you come help?”

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“Dad needs to move those sows. They are getting ready to birth. We need to get them into a different area.”

“I’m on my way,” she replied as she walked back to the bedroom to change into jeans.

She didn’t do much to help. Mostly, she kept the boar busy. He could smell the pheromones on the ladies and wouldn’t leave them alone. He bit one on the ear and made her ear bleed. He was even more aggressive with her than he usually was. She finally stuck a panel between herself and him so she could push him back if need be.

They finally had all three girls loaded into the trailer. The rancher wanted to move them up to the barn where it was warmer. Of course getting them loaded up was only half done. They had to put the fences back, gather heat lamps, get water, straw and some feed, then move the trailer.

She peeked in on the mamas once they had them moved up to the barn. “That girl will be giving birth any time,” the rancher said over her shoulder. “How many did she have last time?” she asked, “12?”

“Eleven,” he replied. “I hope we get that many again,” she murmured.

The rancher was still piddling around. She headed back up to the house to get ready for church. Her son had gone up quite a bit earlier. She knew they would be late for church.

She showered, did her hair, and was putting on some makeup when the rancher finally came in. “You about ready?” She nodded.

“Give me a minute. I’ll take a quick shower and we will go.”

It was just as easy not to go, but she knew that they needed the spiritual feeding. It had been a long week. They were both emotionally and physically exhausted. These were her thoughts as they pulled into the packed parking lot. They walked in and not so discreetly sat down at the back of the church. She  immediately felt like everything she heard, whether it was from the pulpit or in Sunday School, or Relief Society was for her. She was glad they had come.

Back at home, the mother labored. One, two, three…seven total. Not as good as the eleven from the last time, but definitely as good litter. Then, as she was ready to turn in, the rancher told her that the other mother was in labor. She had delivered five and was still working on more.

Boy! She was glad that the rancher had convinced them to move the sows that morning.

A Time To Sell

The ad read:

For Sale: Red Wattle Breeding Stock

With a heavy sigh, she pushed the send button. It was done then. Her pigs would soon be sold. She wanted to cry. She believed so strongly in what they were doing–trying to preserve heritage breeds, practicing responsible and sustainable agriculture, doing their best to give back to the land. It just didn’t seem fair. They hadn’t even had the red wattles for a year. DSC_0820

When she’d told him that morning that they should sell, she was resigned to it. Something had to give. Too many other challenges were pulling them away from the ranch. Factor those challenges in with the cold, and it was apparent that they needed to regroup.

DSC_0779She didn’t want to sell, but the rancher thought it was best. This time, she would follow his lead. Right now, she felt like a quitter. Maybe she’d feel better in time. Maybe someday she could try again. Maybe not. It seemed that there wasn’t enough time or resources to do everything that needed to be done. For now, she would sell. And for now, she would grieve. That was all she could do.


Looking Forward

IMG_0003They say we will have snow tomorrow. As usual, I have mixed feelings. It’s been so nice lately, that I feel like I should want snow. If we don’t get enough moisture, then we will be in trouble come summertime.

On the other hand, it has been so nice lately that I’ve been thinking about spring. And spring makes me think of Easter. I’m pretty excited about Easter and Passover this year. We have lamb available for Passover and will have ham available (for Easter) in about two weeks. I have my pretty little Lakenvelder hens that should be laying white eggs for the Easter bunny.

Then, before we know it, it will be summer. Grilling, barbecues, long days with much sunshine. There is much to look forward to. We just have to get through those snowy months first. We can handle it. We need the moisture now if we want our summer to be all it should be.  May2013 423

To Market, To Market

DSC_0533The rancher and I woke up early. He woke up; then not so gently nudged me to get out of bed. I really thought about ignoring him and falling back to sleep, but I knew we had to load pigs up to take them to the processor. After a minute or so, I rolled out of bed and put on my clothes. After brushing my teeth, I walked out to the mud room to put on my boots. When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but an old rancher sitting in a chair! He was waiting for me to come out. Good thing I resisted my urge to ignore his call.

I must make a disclaimer. I am not this lazy woman who lays in bed until mid-morning. The latest I am ever in bed anymore seems to be about 8 a.m., which happens rarely if ever. But I do have a very hard time getting up in the morning. I often stay up late, tidying, writing the blog, preparing lessons, answering email, doing laundry… I could go on and on. The rancher works equally hard, but he is asleep quite early and is up very early. I don’t want to get up when he gets up. I really don’t.

We walked down to the pasture together. I don’t remember if we walked together or if I was my grumbly morning self and walked in my own reverie–probably the latter. I was ready to load the pigs and hightail it back to the house. It was cold. He, however, had other ideas.

He said, “Let’s feed first.”

I said, “Huh?”

He said, “It has to be done sometime. Might as well be now.”

I ignored him, but found the feed bucket and filled it up.

After feeding, we were ready to load the pigs. I sort of backed the pickup up to the trailer, then climbed out to help the rancher hitch it up. Luckily, our son came walking out at that moment. The two men grabbed the Red Wattle that we were taking to the processor and put him in the trailer. One down, five to go.

Then, we moved over to where the Berkshire hogs were. Loading any animal is quite a chore. They don’t cooperate and just walk on up into the trailer. No, they run to the furthest point away from the trailer and hunker down. When they are finally confined to a smaller space (a squeeze chute if we were talking about cattle), they do their best to find a way out. To safeguard against escape, we have to build an alleyway from the pen to the trailer. It can be quite a chore in and of itself.

We built everything the way we wanted it, trapped a few in our alley and tried to move them up the ramp into the trailer. Today, for some reason, we had two of the most cantankerous pigs I have ever seen. Try as we might, we could not get them to walk into the trailer. We finally more or less lifted our first one (250+ pounds of pure muscle) into the trailer.

IMG_0047We turned to push the next guy into the trailer and the bugger managed to crawl under the trailer and out of range. We talked him into making his way back into our alley with a little help from our dog Holly. She did an excellent job working the pig today. It was one of the best jobs I’ve seen her do. We finally managed to coax, push, and pull him into the trailer too.

We went out about 6:30 this morning. I came in about 9:00 this morning. I think that is the longest we have ever taken to load a few animals.

In a couple of weeks, we should have pork for sale. Yay!

Staying Warm

Yesterday, it was sunny enough that I ventured out and about to visit all of the animals. When we feed, I stick to feeding poultry while the others feed the four-legged animals. I am also a fair-weather-farmer.

Because of these two facts, I had not had a close look at everybody for a few days. As I walked up to see the Red Wattles, they stopped eating and trotted over to see me. I just love their floppy ears and good dispositions. The Berks were a little less interested in me; although the boar came over for a scratch.


The best part, however, was when I visited the young Red Wattle feeder pigs. This is what I found:









They are adorable! And look at their beautiful red color.

After this picture, I’d had about all the cold I wanted to deal with and headed back indoors. I will have plenty of time to enjoy, and by that I mean endure, the cold over the next few months. We are about to start lambing soon and we have piglets due in February. There is never a dull moment here at the ranch.



Little Pig, Little Pig

photo 4Back in March, we drove to the east end of Kansas to pick up our Red Wattles. That day, we brought home our Boar (the kids have dubbed him, “Kroll, the Warrior King”), a sow and 4 of her piglets, and three bred gilts. We knew when the 3 gilts were due, but could only guess about the sow. The young man who sold them told us that she had unexpectedly made her way in with the boar a few weeks earlier. I did my best to calculate a date and decided upon June 25th as her due date. My husband thought she was going to deliver on my birthday, June 16th. In the wee hours of June 27th, she birthed her litter. Not bad estimating, if you ask me! My daughter insists that she hit it right on. She insists that a week before the sow delivered, she predicted delivery would be in 5 to 7 days. No matter. We are so happy to have another litter of piglets. They are so cute and full of personality. This morning, my husband watched the 8-week olds playing with the new babies. He said it was the cutest thing ever!