Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Make a Farmer a Friend

My friends and family will absolutely confirm that I did NOT grow up a farm girl. I wasn't in 4-H as a kid, and I wasn't a member of FFA (Future Farmers of America) in high school. Yeah. I rode a horse now and then. But the closest I ever got to raising food was growing okra and tomatoes in my suburban backyard in Georgia.

Since growing up, I've been a high school English teacher in Georgia, lived and worked in the People's Republic of China, been a mom, and been blessed by a highly successful career at Microsoft in Redmond, WA. I've lived in a lot of places and done a lot of things. But during the first 46 years of my life, I never got close enough to touch a cow, never slopped pigs, never watched a lamb born, and never artificially inseminated ANYTHING. I thought those first 46 years were pretty exciting (anyone who successfully maneuvers an adolescent into adulthood knows what excitement is), but to be perfectly honest, they were NOTHING compared to the years since I became a cowgirl at age 46.

I am now 50 and have survived an incredibly steep learning curve (I have the thighs to prove it). I've had to master many lessons in the art and science of being a rancher, livestock manager, and business owner. I can build fences, milk cows, change irrigation pipe, drive a tractor, artificially inseminate cows, buck hay, pull a calf, command a cow dog, and cut cows on my cutting horse right alongside an experienced cowboy. I've also learned tough lessons about life and death. And I still have many lessons to go.

Babies keep me very busy.

Most people think the hardest part of being a rancher is doing all that physical labor. Every day is full of chores. There are no vacations or holidays from work. There are no sick days that we can take off. Cows have to be milked, animals have to be fed and watered, hay has to be cut, chickens have to be butchered, and the list goes on.

But really, the most challenging part of our job isn't on that list. It's selling our products to customers. Coming in contact with customers (we live in a very remote location), communicating the value of our products to customers, meeting customer demands and expectations, and finally selling meat all involve exhausting, frustrating, and, yes, rewarding hard work.

I'm now an insider in the world of agricultural products, and I've learned first-hand how hard it is to be a successful, small farmer/rancher. It's easy for me to see why so few people want this job. But it's also easy for me to see why this job is so important. Not just for me and my personal health and well-being. But for every person.

We live in a time when most of our food is raised or produced in factories. Pigs and chickens are raised in buildings and never see the light of day. Milk cows spend their lives standing on concrete and never walk on grass (much less eat it). Beef cows are crammed in feedlots and fattened on grain. All these animals live such unnatural lives that they have to be fed antibiotics in order to keep them alive long enough to produce the product that goes to the grocery store. We eat things out of packages that our grandparents made at home, like butter. We eat totally artificial things and call them 'food', like Twinkies, margarine, and Cool Whip.

But there is hope that one day we'll return to our earth-bound roots. Thank goodness there are more and more people who are actually looking for real food raised on a real farm by real farmers and ranchers. I'm now one of those ranchers.
Just finished sorting cows before branding.

I rub shoulders with other farmers who are passionate about, and dedicated to, growing food. All of us are faced with the challenges of competing with grocery stores, convenience, and flashy marketing. We're simple people doing a tough job to produce a basic product. We do our best to take care of the land we use, the animals and plants we grow, and the people we serve. But none of us can be successful without lots of other folks who are just as passionate about actually eating real food.

If all of us want better food, a better environment, and a better world, then we all need to do our part to support the small farmers and ranchers in our areas. I encourage you to make a New Year's resolution for 2013. Make a commitment to your own health and the health of your local farming community by committing to do business with at least one local farmer this year.

To help you understand the level of commitment that's required, I'll share my insider's tips based on my personal experiences of the last few years. I hope they inspire you to adopt and patronize a local farmer.

1. Be kind. Be interested. Be respectful.

Find a local farmers market and become friends with the vendors. Remember that most of the folks who grow and raise food are most comfortable with their hands in the earth or their feet planted in manure. They aren't necessarily great conversationalists and they aren't necessarily comfortable around lots of strangers. So, it's up to you not to be shy.

Introduce yourself, ask about their farm or ranch. Tell them what your favorite foods are. Ask them about what they grow and how they grow it. Ask them to show you some of their favorites and share their favorite recipes or cooking techniques.

If you can, visit the farm or ranch. I don't know one farmer who isn't proud of what he does and doesn't want to share his stories and his food.

But whatever you do, don't introduce yourself by saying, "You know, I could get this food cheaper at Walmart." The truth is, no, you can't. And if you think you can, you're not as smart as my pig, Petunia. And if you buy your food at Walmart, Petunia eats a lot healthier food than you do.

2. Be patient.

Plants grow when it's warm and animals are born at certain times of the year. Whether it's convenient for you or not, the truth is that all food is seasonal. I happen to live in the Pacific Northwest where raspberries are ready in June, Hermiston watermelons are ripe in July, and my favorite apples get sweet and crunchy in October. An apple in July, a watermelon in December, and raspberries in February come from far, far away. So far away that I know nothing about the farm or person where they came from. And if I know nothing about the farm or person where my food comes from, then I know nothing about the food itself. I'd rather not eat it, thank you.

Be patient with your farmer. A lot of roles are packed into one person. The individual selling vegetables at the farmers market is probably the weeder, accountant, marketing director, deliveryman, and farm manager. He has a lot to do. And he's trying to serve a lot of different people who have very diverse demands.

Be responsive to supply and demand. Remember that if you just drop by every few months for a few carrots or a bag of potatoes, it'll be hard for a farmer to remember you. If you're a regular customer who buys a consistent supply, your farmer can actually make changes to ensure that your needs are consistently met. We grow lamb today because our consistent beef customers asked for it. They have been more than patient while we spend years building a flock of sheep large enough to support the year-round demand. In the meantime, when we say, "Reserve lamb now!" our regular customers know that what we really mean is "NOW!" And when the year's lambs are sold out, they patiently wait for the next batch to be ready. And we'll make sure the next batch is bigger because we're confident our customers are waiting. Eventually, we'll have lamb available every month thanks to our patient customers.
Our hogs are sold long before they're butchered.

3. Be flexible.

Most small farmers don't have a storefront with regular hours that's open year-round. And, unfortunately, most farmers won't be as convenient for you as the local drugstore. If you've ever been down-wind from a chicken farm or a dairy, you know why folks don't like farms in their neighborhoods. If product labels that show cows and red barns were scratch-and-sniff labels and accurately scented, the smell would not increase sales. I know this because I raise pigs, cows, chickens, and sheep. Everyone who gives me a hug knows it, too.

And although you might be wearing headsets in both ears connected to your phone, e-mail and Facebook all at once, the average small farmer isn't so wired or wireless. They usually don't take credit cards for technical and financial reasons. They might not even use e-mail. High-tech to us is an electric chicken plucker.

So be flexible with time, location and product availability. Make an effort to learn how to communicate and stay in touch. Be the first party to reach out. Drive the extra distance that it takes to pick up produce from the farm or the farmers market. And don't expect raspberries in February.
Some people would say we live in the middle of nowhere. We call it Paradise.

4. Be fair and honest.

A farmer can't pay his bills if he gives his product away. Don't be a cheapskate. Pay what the asking price is. I can guarantee that you're getting more value than you're paying for. And don't wait until the last 10 minutes of the farmers market and ask for a huge price break. It takes our friend, Jose Martinez, the same amount of time and money to grow that food whether you buy it in the first 10 minutes of the market or the last 10 minutes.

I don't know a farmer or rancher who isn't compassionate and generous. When folks tell us they're on a tight budget, we help them pick sale cuts that meet their needs. We can certainly suggest recipes and cuts that will feed a crowd at a reasonable cost. I've even been known to pull older meat from our personal freezer and sell it at reduced price to someone who was struggling financially. We try very hard to make good food accessible to everyone, regardless of budget.

When you're face to face with a farmer selling carrots for $4/bunch or burger at $5/pound, imagine yourself sitting behind a lemonade stand. How much lemonade would you have to sell to pay your bills?

5. Be real.
Farmers don't live in Disneyland. On the farm, crops fail and die, animals die, equipment breaks, people get hurt, and sometimes we even get a little testy. We aren't perfect, our products aren't perfect, the places we live aren't perfect. Those things only exist in advertising. Small farmers don't have the time and money to do much advertising.
Ross wrangles cows AND repairs tractors. Even in freezing temps.

That means the apples may have a few blemishes, the potatoes might be a little bumpy, and the steak isn't cut exactly 2 3/8 inches thick.

If you want perfect, don't talk to me. That'll just make me cranky. Remember, a calf just kicked me in the face today because I was dragging him into a warm barn when he was too hypothermic to walk. That doesn't happen at Disneyranch. Talk to me about what comes from a real ranch and how I can share it with you. If you want perfect, there are plenty of perfect products advertised in glossy photos and sold on glitzy web sites. Go buy those things. But I warn you. Perfect looking food is probably not good for you. There's a reason it looks perfect. It was probably manufactured in an industrial environment using lots of industrial chemicals.

6. Be a teacher, a student and an advocate.

Be an example to your children, neighbors, and friends. Eat real food that you prepare yourself. If you're as busy as I am and you prepare your own food, you'll learn how to cook simple, quick meals. You know what? They taste great! Everyone knows how wonderful a home-grown tomato tastes. That's because you're eating something only minutes off the vine and warm from the sun. You can enjoy the same experience with all your foods by getting them direct from a farmer. Carrots, onions, potatoes, beans and endless other fruits and veggies taste remarkable when picked ripe and not treated with chemicals to keep them from sprouting or rotting.

Take your kids and friends to a u-pick farm and pick raspberries. Better yet, pick strawberries. You'll find out how backbreaking that work is. Trust me. The more your back hurts, the better the berries taste. You'll also eat a few bugs in the process. But even your kids won't notice. Just make sure that when you smile at your spouse, you don't have a leaf hopper stuck between your front teeth.

Advocate for a better food lifestyle. Encourage the people you care for to eat better. Be bold! Be brave! Get rid of your pantry. It's a place for boxes and cans. Farmers don't grow boxes and cans. Eat whatever you want to eat. But make it yourself from real food ingredients.

7. Be committed. To yourself and your farmer.

Don't be a fair-weather customer. Whatever the season, whatever the product, buy SOMETHING. When you see your favorite farmer packing up at the end of the farmers market, buy his last bag of apples or last cucumber. Buy - Buy - Buy.

Spread the word and help others get connected with the farmers that you know. Share your recipe for roasted turnips.

And if I don't have exactly what you're looking for, surely something can substitute. How about an arm roast instead of a shoulder roast? I'm sure that one of the 5 kinds of apples that Jose picked and brought to the market will work for you even if it's not the name you're familiar with. You know what? You might even like it better.

8. Be appreciative.

It takes a lot of work and heartache to produce food. The steak that you ate in less than 30 minutes took 3 years to grow. The box of strawberries your kids are snacking on were hand-picked. The chicken dish you're enjoying tonight tastes so good because you didn't cut its throat, scald the body in hot water to loosen its feathers, pluck it, cut out the vent to reach inside and pull out the entrails, and chop off its head. There's a reason people buy food. It's a lot of trouble to grow it. And I haven't yet met the person who actually enjoys butchering chickens.

Say "Thank you" repeatedly. Sometimes, just hearing an expression of gratitude is all that keeps a farmer going. I know.
One down. Ninety nine to go.

9. Be a squirrel.

Learn how to can and preserve seasonal delights and put them away to enjoy during the cold, winter months. You'll have delicious eats on dark days and you'll appreciate your food and the seasonality of it a lot more. You'll have healthy 'canned' foods without the can, preservatives, dyes, and other additives that we should all avoid.

Render lard, make meat jerky, put up pickles and preserves, can peaches and pears. I put up all these things along with about 100 lbs of tomatoes every year. Those tomatoes make chili, spaghetti sauce, barbecue ribs and other wonders. The best thing is that when I open a jar, I know exactly what's in it. Because if I didn't put it in it, it's not in it. I don't have to read labels.

10. Give feedback.

Every farmer is limited by size, climate, workforce, time, etc. Try to understand your farmer's limits and provide feedback with those limits in mind. Tell your farmer what you like and what you'd like to see more of. Tell him if something he does really doesn't work for you. But remember. Farmers have to make the best choices about how to meet and deliver to a lot of customers - not just you. Help them get connected and help them improve their products for you AND your neighbors, friends, and community.

What do you get when you take the time to patronize a local farmer?

You'll change your life for the better. You'll find health, happiness, and satisfaction as you become more connected to the earth and enjoy real food that's charmed from the soil. You'll feel enriched and empowered as you alter the course of your local food system and put food back in the care of farmers instead of industries. You'll be blessed as your friends and family follow your lead to a healthier lifestyle. You'll make a good friend.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Thin Line

Spring is almost finished and most of our babies for the year have arrived. Lambing is over and the flock is happy enjoying their pasture shared with our Guernsey Girls. Soon, they'll move to fresh pasture at Eden where they'll spend the summer. Our big pasture is full of cows with their calves. We were surprised this year with several sets of twins. And of course, we always get our batch of 100 chicks every month. There is never a shortage of babies!

But spring always brings the reminder that there is a thin line between life and death. As Ross says, "We're just a heartbeat away from death." On a ranch with lots of livestock, there are bound to be animals that get sick or injured and no matter what we do, some will die. There is bad weather, cold weather, wolves, coyotes, eagles, common diseases like scours, uncommon diseases like white muscle, and the list of antagonists goes on. Some babies are born premature, with congenital defects, or have problems that are never diagnosed. For me, the hardest part of being a cowgirl is death.

Remains of calf that died unexpectedly while on pasture
We always have our triumphs when we face off with Death and actually win. The most notable example this year was Snow. Her mom had twin calves in a snowstorm. When Ross found them, her brother was already dead and she was near death herself from hypothermia. Her mother had spent her time trying to take care of the dead calf, so little Snow didn't get licked and dried at birth. Ross loaded her limp body on the tractor and brought her to the house where he carried her into the furnace room in the basement. We've learned from experience that the best way to save a hypothermic animal is to put them in the very warm furnace room where they breath hot air. They can only be effectively warmed from the inside. When Snow arrived in the furnace room, she was unresponsive and her mouth and tongue were cold. Even her breath was cold. We immediately tubed her with warm milk and colostrum from our milk cows. Then I spent a long time rubbing her with towels to get her dry and stimulate her circulation. The first good sign was shivering.

Unresponsive Snow

Cows are tough animals. And even calves fight hard. That was our Snow. With every breath, she got a little bit warmer. By the time she could stand, we knew she would be just fine.
As soon as Snow was out of danger, Ross and I saddled our horses and rode into the storm to find Snow's mother. We had to bring her back to the barn so we could reunite them and she could take care of her own baby. On a ranch, emergencies never seem to happen during good weather or at the right time. That's why we have plenty of all-weather clothes and we don't wear watches.

Sure enough, as soon as Snow was plenty warm and able to stand on her own, we returned her to her mom who was very glad to see her.

Snow and Mom
I probably make it harder on myself because I have the practice of naming any baby who comes into the nursery for care. All the healthy babies born on pasture that are successfully raised by their moms remain nameless. It must be those nurturing genes in all females. So every baby that I care for and doesn't make it, had a name. I love them, stay up long hours with them, feed them by hand using bottles, syringes, or tubes, snuggle with them, pet them, encourage them, and generally do whatever it takes to give them a chance. Even if the chance is very small.

Gumby was a very small chance. We live in a selenium deficient part of the country. Sheep, horses and other livestock require selenium in order to be healthy. This is why we provide a mineral salt for all our animals. Gumby was just fine at birth, and his mom did a great job taking care of him. But one day we noticed the little lamb couldn't stand up. Over several days, he got stiffer and stiffer. We brought him in to the nursery and consulted with the Merck Veterinary Manual as well as a local vet. Sure enough, all the symptoms pointed to white muscle disease or "stiff lamb disease". The suggested treatment: injections of a selenium/vitamin E combination. But selenium is also toxic, so it can only be given in small, restricted doses. The vet said that he might recover and he might not. So, we did our best. I propped Gumby up on straw and gave him a bottle several times a day. Over weeks, he started eating alfalfa too. When it was clear that he'd be in the nursery for a long time and he still wasn't able to stand on his own, I made a special sling out of a feed bag and hung him up. He regained flexibility and mobility in his head and neck and expressed quite a personality. I couldn't help but smile everytime I gave him his bottle. His favorite game was pulling off the nipple and making a mess all over both of us. Every day for about 6 weeks, I was his mom. And one day his heart stopped. Evidently, it had been irreversibly damaged.


Despite the heartache and sadness that comes with every tragedy, I'll keep right on keeping on. I lost Monster and Gumby, but I have all the lambs on pasture with their moms as well as my three naughty bummer lambs: Princess, Pea, and Dufus. And every time I look at Princess, Pea, and Dufus, I remember the others. And even though we've lost a few calves, we have about 90 healthy ones running and bouncing around the pasture.

For those who think that ranching and raising meat isn't humane, they should come visit Paradise. They might be surprised at how many tears I shed on the job. Ross and I do what our ancestors have done for thousands of years. We live with our domestic livestock and care for them. They, in turn, care for us by providing our milk, eggs, and meat. We love what we do with all the ups and downs, and we're frequently reminded of our place in the universe.

There is a thin line. We are one heartbeat away.

Ava with a steer ready for butcher. We raised him from birth.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Twelve Things I've Learned From My Flock of Sheep

Our little ranch continues to grow and expand to reflect our personal interests and the needs of our customers. In 2011, we added a small flock of Suffolk sheep so we could raise grass-fed lamb. Our sheep graze the same pastures behind our angus cows and add their distinct fun to the mix. We raised some fantastic lamb, and our little flock is slowly getting bigger as my education continues.

I would like to thank our sheep and rams for being very entertaining teachers. Here's what I've learned so far:

1. Every flock has to have a leader. If you're the leader, you either make the others look smart or look dumb.

2. You don't need a reason to jump and kick up your heels.

3. The best place to be is on the top of the pile.

4. Leave smaller poops behind you and fewer people complain.

5. Tight-fitting knits do not make you look thinner.

6. There's safety in numbers for everyone except the unlucky one. Don't be the unlucky one.

7. Act stupid and people will lower their expectations. But you'll be left hanging out with other stupid people.

8. Everybody needs to change their clothes occasionally.

9. Size isn't everything. Agility counts for something.

10. Small things can come in big packages. And small things can have big packages.

11. Don't be difficult. Don't be last.

12. R&A Paradise Ranch lamb tastes GREAT even if you've never liked lamb!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

If Cows Were Meant to Fly

Rose died this month. She was only 8 months old. She was my littlest Guernsey Girl and I was especially proud of her because she was my first AI calf. She made me a "daddy", and I fell in love with her the moment she was born.

She was a very special and valuable little cow. You see, she was supposed to grow up and share her milk with us and our friends. It was her destiny from the moment she was conceived to group up and live her life in Paradise. She was going to be one of the rare milk cows who actually walks on green pasture, eats grass, spends hot afternoons hanging out under an old apple tree, and is known by a beautiful name, not a number. I was going to hug her often and know that if she had arms, she'd hug me too. But I was going to be satisfied with a wet kiss on the cheek.

She was a registered Guernsey - Ava's Paradise Rose. That was important because like so many livestock breeds that aren't popular for huge commercial farm/ranch operations, Guernseys are on the American Livestock Breed Conservancy list of "watched" livestock breeds. Their numbers are declining rapidly. Holsteins (the huge black and white cows) star in the California dairy ads. They outproduce any other dairy cow for quantity, but their milk has little butter fat. Old timers refer to it as "blue milk." Dairies use Jerseys to add fat. They have the highest butter fat content in their milk. So, there's no place for Guernseys in the quantity-centered commercial dairy world where cows need to produce in a confined environment. And it's a shame. Because Guernseys produce a unique milk that is truly unlike any other dairy breed in the world.

Guernseys are known for producing high butter-fat (5%), high protein (beta casein A2) milk with a high concentration of beta carotene. Combined, these give Guernsey milk its wonderful, rich flavor and beautiful gold color.

You're curious. How did Rose die? She ate corn. But we don't feed our cows corn. They're grass-fed. You're right. Little Rose escaped from her pasture one night and got out onto the road where I had put poultry feeders with corn and wheat for our turkeys and chickens that roam about. She couldn't help herself and ate all the chicken feed in the feeders. She didn't eat rat poison, fertilizer, or herbicide. She just ate corn. In less than 24 hours, she was critically ill. Because cows don't have wings. Her sensitive and complicated digestive system was meant only for grass and its pH was neutral. Mature grains like corn turn a cows gut acid - destroying all the beneficial bacteria responsible for digestion, thus shutting it down. The acid also destroys the lining of the gut. Despite Ross's heroic efforts, consultations with our vet, and all our love, little Rose hemorrhaged and bled to death.

A lot of folks like their corn-fed beef. They like the higher fat content and the "marbling" beef has when it's corn-fed. What most people don't know is that cows are corn-fed in feedlots only for a short period of time. 60 - 90 days. Because the day they start eating grain, they start dying. They have to be fed antibiotics with their feed because without a normally functioning gut, they are susceptible to all kinds of infections and illnesses. To keep them alive until they're fat enough to slaughter, they're also fed antacids. Sweeteners, like molasses, are added to the grain to get them to eat even more than they normally would. After all, the clock is ticking and they need to be fat enough before they're slaughtered or die on the feedlot from eating corn.

I'll never forget Rose. I artificially inseminated Dicey and conceived my first calf. I watched Dicey give birth and touched her calf when she was just minutes old. I named her after my grandmother who died the week she was born. I bottle-fed her for many months. I picked out the little red calf halter that she wore so I could grab her when she was being naughty. Along with Xubie, they were my "kids."

I hope Rose can teach a lesson to folks who don't know much about their meat and the animals that provide it.

If cows were meant to fly, they'd have wings. 

About Guernseys

The Guernsey breed originated about 1000 years ago. Three monks on the Isle of Guernsey bred cows to produce the characteristic golden milk that Guernseys are now famous for. Today, science has confirmed that these dudes were really onto something.

Guernsey milk has three distinct qualities that set it apart from the milk of all other dairy breeds: high levels of beta carotene, high levels of omega 3, and the protein (casein) A2. Evidence suggests that Guernseys excel in absorbing the nutrient carotene and transferring it to butterfat. This extra carotene is what gives Guernsey milk its gold color along with cream and butter. Everyone who has sampled our Paradise butter knows how amazingly bright and yellow it is in the summer when our Guernsey Girls are eating green grass. Guernsey milk also contains three times as much omega 3 as other milk. And the ratio is considered to be superior - 1part omega 3 to 2 parts omega 6. Other milk is 1 part omega 3 to 6 parts omega 6. Recently, Guernsey milk is getting more attention because of the type of protein it contains. Guernseys are the only breed of the 6 major dairy breeds that carry 95% or more of their beta casein as A2/A2. Other breeds are between 33% and 50%. These breeds carry the A1 protein. Some research suggests that A1 protein may exacerbate conditions for people with compromised immune systems and cause diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses. But the protein A2 does not. Many people report that they are "lactose intolerant" and cannot drink most cow milk, but Guernsey milk is OK.

What do I think of all this science and research? I don't know. I'm not a scientist or a health practitioner. You should do your own research. What I know is that Ross gave me Dicey as a gift expecting that her special milk would help heal my gut (from Crohn's disease) and restore my health. Today, I drink vast amounts of raw milk from all my Guernsey Girls and eat sunshine-in-a-stick at every opportunity. You be the judge.

You can find more details on the web:

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Out of the Oyster

In February of this year, we got a pearl out of an oyster. Yep, we brought another Guernsey cow home to Paradise from a commercial dairy. She fits right in here at the ranch and is a wonderful, if bossy, companion for our other milk cow, Dicey. And her name is Pearl.

We bought Pearl so that we could have fresh milk year-round. In order to achieve that, it's necessary to have two milk cows because one will always need to be dried up (stop giving milk) for several months before she has her new calf. In addition to that, I just love Guernsey cows. They're beautiful, friendly, full of personality and they're actually an endangered livestock breed. I'm very proud of my little Guernsey herd and happy to give them a wonderful home.

Dicey and Pearl have actually come to us from the same dairy. We're sure they would never want to return. To be truthful, we have a great deal of compassion for the dairyman who operates that dairy. He's an older man who loves his cows and is dedicated to his life as a dairyman. He has very little interest or help from his family and children and consequently his operation and animals suffer from neglect.

His operation is very typical of the vast majority of commercial dairies. Cows are kept in small pens and fed rations of grain and chopped hay. They are never far from the milk barn. They spend most of their day standing in manure while waiting to be milked.

Waiting to be milked

Pearl, like most dairy cows, spent her days standing on concrete floors covered in mud and manure. When she came to Paradise, she had mud and manure caked on her legs so heavily that we were afraid to remove it for fear of pulling off the hair and skin. Standing on hard concrete causes swelling at the top of the foot. Because Pearl spent 8 years in such an environment, her feet are permanently enlarged.

That's a lot of poop
Cows produce a LOT of manure every day. It's no wonder that cows kept in close quarters are not clean. And it's no wonder that their milk has to be not just pasteurized  but "ultra" pasteurized in order for it to be safe to drink.

"Can we be friends?"
This Jersey cow was one of Pearl's companions. Because milk cows have been bred for thousands of years to live in close proximity to humans, they are wonderfully social and curious. They love pats, treats, and interacting with people as well as other dairy cows. And because I live in a very remote area, Dicey, Pearl, and Spicy are my best girlfriends. I scratch their favorite itchy spots and in return get big, wet, smoochy kisses on my cheek.

Standing in line
What our Paradise cows and commercial cows have in common is that twice a day, every day for the entire time they are fresh, they need to be milked. Every 12 hours, our girls show up at the barn waiting for the relief that comes with an emptied udder. And every 12 hours, the commercial cows line up and wait their turns.

Done, for now
It takes about 20 minutes in the milk parlor and they're done. They know the routine well. They march out and return to the same filthy paddock where they will eat and wait for another 12 hours.

But our Pearl is out of the oyster.

Pearl on July 1, 2011

When Pearl first came to us, she habitually stood right near the barn all the time. She didn't know she could walk far and she'd never eaten hay that wasn't chopped up. Needless to say, this spring when we turned her out on pasture, it was a new experience for her. She had never eaten green grass.

For the first time in her life, Pearl now enjoys walking on green pasture and grazing among her friends all day. When it's hot, she lays under an apple tree in the shade. And when she's thirsty, she walks to the cool creek to get a drink. She's loving her life at Paradise.

But if you look real close, you'll see a little piece of the oyster. (She has a bump of a horn on the left side of her head.)

Thanks, Mia, for the beautiful and very fitting name.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Life sucks, and then . . .

Life sucks, and then you drag yourself up, dust yourself off and take a step forward like you mean it. Like you really mean to keep right on living in spite of everything. All of us have this happen numerous times during our lives.

For me, it happened once again just about 2 weeks ago. No doubt, ranching is dangerous work - big equipment, big animals, and big spaces make for big risks. Ross and I always work with safety in mind, but this one day doing a chore we do every day all winter, we lost sight of each other. The spring snow was very thick and visibility was only a few feet. Ross thought I was on the hay wagon. I thought Ross was in the tractor. So, I hopped off the hay wagon and walked between the wagon and the tractor to connect them by putting the pin in the tongue. Like I've done a million times.

But Ross wasn't in the tractor. He was driving the truck and trailer forward to get them out of the road. What he couldn't see was that the trailer caught on some of the bales on the hay wagon and pulled the wagon forward with it. When I realized the hay wagon was coming toward me, I tried to get out of the way. But I wasn't fast enough. Just as I was getting clear, the hay wagon hit my hip and pinned me against the tractor's 3-point.

As I felt the 3-point push into my pelvis, I screamed for Ross. He heard me and immediately thought that somehow some bales of hay had fallen on me. It only took him a few seconds to find me where I was being crushed by the heavy equipment. He jumped in the tractor and moved it forward. I fell to the ground.

The pressure had crushed the soft tissue in my pelvis and broken a piece of the bone off the top. Ross was trying to help me and determine how I was hurt, but I was telling him not to touch me because the pain was excruciating. Knowing that it would take several hours to get to the hospital by ambulance, Ross made the decision to get me in the truck and make the drive himself. That would cut the time down to 45 minutes. I gritted my teeth, and Ross was able to pick me up and load me in the truck. Off we went.

I spent a few days at the hospital enjoying soothing pain medications, caring doctors, and helpful nurses. The physcial therapists taught me how to use crutches, and I practiced getting in and out of bed. But when Ross picked me up to take me home, I was feeling pretty depressed. According to the orthopedic surgeon, it would take 3 months to recover. All of Spring. No milking, no working cows, no planting my garden, no riding my horses, no . . . . Life sucks.

But I have company. The week before the accident, our friend and neighbor, Roddy Campbell, killed himself. He was an ornery, old farmer with a mean streak. I bought my property in Summerville (which we call Eden) from Roddy, and I couldn't help but admire his tough, stubborn nature and his love for butter. He had health issues and was afraid the time would come very soon when he couldn't farm anymore. So, he borrowed a gun from his son and walked into his barn and shot himself. Life sucks.

While I was in the hospital, another neighbor on the same street, Jude, lost his home and all his belongings when his house burned down. Despite the best efforts of neighbors who used their tractors to pull firetrucks out of the mud in the road to get them close to the house, they didn't get help fast enough. Nothing is left. Life sucks.

A few days after leaving the hospital, our friend, Beryl, called. Roddy's son, Rocky, had been life-flighted to a hospital in Boise, Idaho, after suffering a major heart attack. Rocky lives across the street from Eden. He was one of the neighbors who tried to help save Jude's house. Now, he was getting a stint put in one of his heart's arteries. At least he wasn't in the 98% of people who have that type of heart attack and die. Life sucks.

But on this beautiful Monday, most of us in my little town who have experienced life's suckiness this month, have dragged ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and are taking steps forward like we mean it. My experiences have reminded me that not everybody gets that opportunity, and not everybody makes that choice - to live life like you mean it.

Speaking for myself, I'm gonna be back in the saddle in weeks. Not months. Just you watch. I mean it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What I've Learned From our Barn Cats

As of this blog, we have 11 barn kitties living at Paradise where they enjoy hunting and playing around the barn, buildings, and house. They also enjoy a robust diet of M&Ms (milk and mice). We have our kitties spayed and neutered to avoid overpopulation, but we keep one intact male and female to produce litters. Due to our resident coyote population as well as owls, hawks, eagles and other predators, we have a pretty high attrition rate. We encourage the kitties to stay close to the barn by feeding them their milk there.

Only some of our kitties are named. There's Annie, which is short for Anonymous (I couldn't think of a good name for her when I named the others in her litter). Depp started out as Johnny Depp, but I dropped the Johnny when I discovered she was a girl. Snow White is not a solid white, but she's grey and white with a white face. Bob and Julia are tabbies that our vet named when they got fixed. Nip and Tuck are two solid black cats who were born with short tails. Nip's tail is just a tad shorter than normal. Tuck's tail is just a stub about an inch long. I had a Grinch until I discovered that I have three tabbies that look exactly the same and I can't tell them apart.

I bottle fed Annie after her mom was killed by coyotes.
Chore time is always fun with all the kitties hanging around. Like our dogs, they have there own ranch wisdom to share.

I've learned the following things from our kitties:

1. Cover up your poop.
2. Keep your face clean and be well-groomed. You never know when someone might see you.

Simon left the ranch to join a family in Washington.

3. It's best to kill things after dark.
4. Don't be too picky. You'll starve.
5. Many things are good and bad. Mice taste good, but they give you tapeworms.
6. It's warmest where the sun shines.
7. Friends are especially nice on cold nights.
    Bob & Julia enjoying the sunshine.


It's a little chilly!

8. Don't wander too far from home. You're not the only thing hunting.
9. If you don't drink all your milk, it curdles in the summer and freezes in the winter.
10. Stealth is good until you get stepped on.
11. Whether you can count or not, live like you have ONE life.
12. Don't kill more than you can eat. Eat everything you kill.
13. Noone is the boss of you.