Reality Ranching July 2012
Hello from Rock Hill Ranch,
Kansas, like most of the Midwest and Great Plains, is suffering from severe drought. We have had day after day of hundred plus degrees and with the lack of rain that accompanies the heat everything is suffering. We were fortunate to have early rains that resulted in a good brome crop and rains at just the right time made for three decent alfalfa cuttings of hay. Thank goodness we didn’t burn our pastures this spring as the old grass helps stretch the forage for our cattle. We had to wean a small group of calves in June from a pasture we rent because the grass was just shriveling up. Normally we don’t wean until mid-July into August. The area where this pasture is located has received less than half the rain we have had this spring and summer even though it is only ten miles away.
Since we have been back from Peru I have continued walking but to beat the heat I must rise early. Usually I am out the back door shortly after six a.m. for my hour-long forays. I must lock Taz up in the house before I go, otherwise she insists on following me. I wish she could accompany me but Taz just doesn’t have the stamina to last a half an hour let alone an hour! Paul says when I leave the house that Taz runs from window to window trying to locate me. Lately she refuses to come into the house when I’m leaving on my walk so I must ride the 4-wheeler to the end of our long drive to keep her from tagging along. The flow of water in the creek has dwindled to a trickle through the crossings so I can easily walk through them. I generally walk the perimeter of the hay fields south of our house or north on the Rock place now that the hay is cut which makes for easy walking.
On most of my walks I usually see deer even if it is only a white tail flashing in the timber. On three occasions though the does have stood their ground, granted the creek lay between us, and went through the ritual of slow motion walking along with raising their front foot high and bringing it to the ground in a resounding stomp. This defensive routine is always accompanied by whistling snorts and waving tails. When a doe is reluctant to leave I’m fairly certain there is a fawn in the vicinity but I never have seen one to prove this theory. In the end the beautiful beasts always run away but once they reach the cover of the trees I know they have stopped as I can hear their curious snorting sounds.
On one early morning trek I am walking right next to a steep creek bank when a coyotes head appears just a step away from me. I’m not sure who is more startled but I utter a reactionary “oh” at the sight of the disembodied coyote head which quickly disappears. Stepping to the edge of the bank I watch as the coyote speeds away startling a great blue heron that was standing in the creek, to flight. Speaking of great blue herons it must have been a terrific year for raising young birds as lately I might scare up to a half-dozen of the gangly birds in the short distance I walk along the creek. On the other hand, maybe because of many smaller creeks drying up the herons are just desperate to find a place with water holes to hunt in.
I’m plodding along daydreaming by some timber on the Rock place when I jump up a half-dozen young turkey. I’m always amazed that little turkey are able to fly before they have all their feathers. These little things clumsily grasp tree limbs as they seek to escape a perceived enemy. I take one step towards the tree many have taken refuge in when the hen explodes into the air right under my nose, literally. I feel the swoosh of air her wings make as she flies into the thicket. My hand is clutching my chest as I tell the turkey out loud that she scared me to death, I’m sure the feeling is mutual. The hen turkey doesn’t fly far and although she is hidden from sight I can hear her clucking for her poults. The baby turkey flutter down from their perches towards mom’s concerned voice.
Last month Dalton along with little brother Jake and grandma took me down to see their garden in particular the watermelon. Dalton’s excitement shows by the fact that his words are tumbling out of him so fast it is as if someone has set his mouth on the fast forward button. As I inspect the dark green melons, Dalton counts how many melons are set on the vine then puts them in two categories of big ones and little ones. I admire the watermelons and tell Rose I am jealous of her beautiful, healthy tomatoes as my tomato plants look terrible. Of course the best part of the garden visit is the enthusiasm Dalton has for it!
Last week we were invited to attend the grand ceremony of harvesting the first watermelon. Grabbing my camera, Paul and I drive to the Deblers delighted that we get to witness Dalton’s shining moment! When we arrive it seems that Dalton couldn’t stand to wait for us and cut the stem of the watermelon that had been selected for harvest. Someone was able to convince him to leave it lay in the garden until we got there. With five adults watching, Dalton picks the melon up but needs help to transport it out of the small plot. Erin hands Randall a butcher knife and as he plunges the blade into the round globe it gives a resounding pop telling everyone that indeed it is ripe. When Randall finishes cutting it open the flesh of the melon is a beautiful red. Perfect.
Rose and Jake check the tomatoes and find a few that are ripe enough to harvest. Rose hands them to her little helper who places them in the white bucket. Jake on his own plucks a green pepper about the size of a half dollar and throws it into the bucket. The immature pepper is a perfect copy of a ripe pepper so you can’t blame the little gardener for picking it. Since the first watermelon is ripe the go ahead is given to Dalton to cut the stem of another melon. It takes all his five-year old strength to pick up the big melon and he hands it off to the nearest adult to carry it out of the garden. Jake feels the need to hold the melon too, so with Paul’s help he grasps the fruit long enough for a photo-op. Satisfied that he is a part of the hoopla he lets Paul carry the melon to the house.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of the family of potato gatherers in Peru. There were three generations harvesting in the garden and the youngest were right in the thick of it. I found this watermelon experience as uplifting as our Peruvian encounter. When we are ready to leave, Dalton proudly presents us with the second melon which we gratefully accept. It sure beats a glass of chicha:). We stuck the melon in the fridge and ate part of the juicy, tasty fruit the next day.
We have begun to wean heifers this past week and Dr. Amy is out to pelvic check the future breeding heifers. The heifers with pelvis that measure too small, which could lead to problems with calving, will be sorted off to be sold at auction. Rose along with Dalton and Jake have sat down to watch us work the 26 weanling heifers. Well, Rose sits down to watch us and keep an eye on her grandsons. The boys with all that youthful energy follow Dad up and down on the outside of the alleyway as he brings the calves to the squeeze chute.
Dalton, who has been full of questions since he could ask them, must know the reason for everything that we are doing. “Dad what is Dr. Amy doing with that metal thing, why does Dr. Amy wear those gloves, dad what are those shots for”? Randall answers each question patiently and in detail and Dalton absorbs it all.
We don’t have enough pinkeye vaccine so I must go to the shop at Deblers and get a bottle. When I return I forget to chain the steel walk through gate by the chute. I hear Jake saying something but truthfully pay no attention to the boy. Paul tells me that Jake has something to say to me. When I turn to Jake he informs me that I didn’t shut the gate which I humbly have to admit to a not quite 3-year-old that I indeed made a mistake. I thank him for reminding me as everyone else praises him for noticing the unchained gate while laughing at me for being called out by the diminutive gate policeman:). He also watches as we work each heifer and when he thinks we are finished with her, orders Paul to “let her out”! If he forgets to prompt Paul, Paul will ask Jake if he should turn the heifer out of the squeeze chute just so we can all laugh when he emphatically replies “let her out”. I know I’ve said it before but processing cattle is a lot more fun with the curiosity and enthusiasm of kids to accompany the work. Later, Nancy