Of Cows

Well, here it is January already, almost February. I have been so busy fighting the weather and making sure things will be right come March that time has slipped away from me!

The girls are due to calve in March; just like most folks' cattle around us. My new friends here are worried about my new calving and have offered advice and help. Of course, part of why I wanted Dexters is that they are known in the breed as easy calvers; no calf pullers or rearranging necessary. Plus twins are common! While I have had my hands in human uteri, delivering babies, turning a calf to come out front feet first is going to be very different! Pauline has never calved before and looks to be carrying one; Billy Jean has calved before and is really BIG - but she is a big solid cow, so she may just have one.

There is the stanchion to be built, the udders to be milked, and then all of the equipment to be bought yet to make the cheese and butter.

Of course I'm nervous! We've both milked before, but never our own animals. I've pasteurized milk and made butter and yogurt, but never on a large scale. And I have never made cheese. But if this venture goes as well as the chicken eggs - which were supposed to be only a personal by-product of living on my farm and has already turned into a small cottage business! - I hope to be the local provider of fresh cream, butter, and cheeses. So many cheeses! Ricotta and mozzarella are the soft cheeses and the easiest to make (according to the suppliers) and the hard cheeses like Colby and Cheddar have to be set up and aged. I am interested in experimenting with all of them, then producing what I do best.

The guys like to kid us about our cows, friendly and teasing, not mean; Duane suggested that they need to be in the parade in May. I actually had tentative plans for that; it depends on the girls and their calves, how settled they are, or even if PoinDexter wants to behave like a bull or is still a pussy-whipped little boy around the girls. I don't want to halter a 1,000-pound animal to try to lead him through the streets if I end up getting dragged around town! Pauline is still too shy, and Billy Jean definitely the "boss cow", so we'll see how the herd dynamic changes once they calve. I may just tether one of the girls and a calf into the back of the pickup and decorate the pickup to drive in the parade; you can't do that with the big Angus or Charolais! But I am still thinking about it. Advertising, is, after all, my avocation.

It pleased me how the cows came through the winter weather; even at -47 wind chill, they hung out in the corral and stomped through the snow, still demanding their treats. Even though ice clung to their whiskers from where they'd been at the trough, and they had little frozen snow-caps on their backs, they were warm and mellow.

Sure, it would have been cheaper to just get two or three cows, and artificially inseminate them every year. But I go on the theory that one never knows from year to year what can happen; availability, federal regulations, even gas prices and the economy could leave me with two or three fertile cows and no production once they dry off. I know that people think I'm crazy and am raising 'pets' not farm or ranch animals, because a bull is just an extra expense. But the attitude that there will always be available bulls, just like there will always be available grants or federal or state money, or even available food and water, is what gets a lot of folks into trouble. I take nothing for granted. I know what I want and need, and I want to be prepared for whatever happens. Not to mention that I wanted a herd bull who could produce all three colors of Dexters and be a constant in fatherhood as to conformity, health, shape, and size. A closed herd is a safe herd. And since the girls will produce calves that are not from Poin's line, any heifers from this group can be bred to him as well. We'll band-steer any bulls and either fatten them for meat or train them to be oxen to pull. Poin doesn't know it yet, but he is a Prince who will be the only bull for many years to come! Of course, right now he is just a shy and awkward teenager.

So maybe I'm not as crazy as people think. I actually have plans and ideas, and am steadily working to make them happen. So I smile and laugh and agree, and joke back, and chuckle. Although I have noticed that those who laugh the loudest at my expense also love the eggs, are impressed at the chickens who continue to lay even in the darkest part of winter, and are waiting to see what kind of butter and cheese we will produce. So it's all good. The dogs bark, but the caravan passes on. Nothing will stop my caravan! Maybe I DO know what I'm doing, after all...


Busy Weekends

More and more, I can't wait for days off when I can hang out with my horse and cows.

Yesterday we saddled Muffin. The saddle is very stiff and unwieldy, hard leather. The saddle blanket is slick as goose poop. It was difficult getting it all strapped down, as well as getting the stirrups set at the right angle, the right length, and the belly band and cinches down right. Muffin was very patient with all of our arranging and rearranging; now that it is set for her size the rest of the times should go more and more smoothly. Even though she hasn't been ridden since she got here, she did not buck or even bow up; she did not like the bit in her mouth, though! She is soo sweet. We had to get the cows out of the corral; they were curious and she got mad at them for getting so close to us. She will be a good cow horse; she is so protective and dominant, won't put up with their crap. But I had to get her settled into getting saddled up first!

Been a long time since I swung my legs up onto and over a horse back, though. As I hoisted myself up, I felt a "crack" as a rib bone gave way. It hurt like hell but I got up anyway. I rode her for about two hours around the corral, getting used to the saddle and her used to me. You can't splint a single rib bone, can't do anything with it, so there was no point in getting excited. I was too excited to finally be 'back in the saddle' again, so I was determined to ride it out. Since Muffin doesn't canter or gallop - apparently, according to the trainer, ever! - I was quite comfortable. When the big earth mover down at Rhett's cranked up, she simply stopped, looked, and blew until she felt it wasn't a threat. Then we walked on.

I really dislike the way the trainer taught her how to be ridden 'plow-handed', both hands on the reins. I am used to guiding a horse with a single hand on the reins, and remembering to change to two handed is difficult. She has such a soft mouth, though, that I have to be careful - the slightest tug on either rein and she is instantly responsive. I don't want her hard-mouthed.

I watched her ears the whole time; you can tell a lot by a horse's ears. She kept flicking one ear back, listening for my comments. I kept talking to her quietly. She would walk up to Mike and stop in front of him while he was taking pictures, ears pointed forward to him, as if she were posing. Never once dd she lay her ears back or convey impatience. She did blow her belly out when we first saddled her, but it took so long for us to get everything set for her little size that she had to give it up! LOL

After I unsaddled and brushed her out, I gave her an apple so that she would know that after rides she gets treats. I filled the trough, she ambled over and got a big drink, and then I went out front to help Mike with the Christmas decorations; he was running the timers and outlets today. Then I had to run to Valentine to get more cords and the sawhorses for the table he built for the ceramic village.

I am so busy now, but all I really want to do is hang out with the animals and do what needs to be done around the house and farm. There is so much to do, and so little time. But even though I am sore and exhausted, I am happy.

My brother called the day before yesterday and told me that I shouldn't have gotten a horse, because now I couldn't go anywhere, ever. He said that it was bad enough that I had chickens and cows that had to be fed every day, but now I had tied myself down to the farm forever. I told him that not only didn't I mind that, it was what I wanted. He likes to go off to California and Salt Lake and everywhere else for a week or two at a time, or at least on the weekends. I have had enough of kiting off. I hate being away from the farm even to go to work across the street or to Valentine, I miss it so much and my mind is always there even when I am not. I don't understand what people don't understand about that. This is what I love, this is where I want to be, and this is what I have always wanted.


Busier Than A Cat Covering Up on a Tile Floor

Whew. An all day trip to Rapid with Pat yesterday filled her Suburban to the roof with all of our "stuff". Menard's had more Christmas, and I found "MuttLuks" - shoes for the ice and snow - for the dogs, and got more sweaters. I even got some fleece sheets for the guest bedroom upstairs! The big new freezer came yesterday, too; it is down in the basement awaiting its filling with the 1/4 grassfed Angus steer.

Today the hay is supposed to be delivered; 10 large bales of alfalfa. We also have to go repair the fences to make them tight and secure. All to be made ready for the arrival of the three cows and horse on Wednesday. I need to get down to Lancaster's Feed store and look at saddles. Muffin has been ridden bareback and doesn't mind it, but I'll feel better with a proper saddle. "Muffin" will probably be renamed; but that will take some time to get to know her for a proper naming.

My old-fashioned blowmolds of all of the Christmas stuff, especially the Christmas Nativity, was old and broken long before we left the South; I found the cutest new one with little children's faces. I got two new soldiers too; they'll go out at the arbor and be wired down. Everyone's going for the inflatables lately, but they are impractical when winds get up to 60 mph. The blowmolds are fairly light, too, but at least you can anchor them. I finally found something to go on that wide bare blank expanse on the West side of the house; a huge flat, lit Santa in a sleigh, as long as I am tall, that will snug in close to the wall.

We sold our first dozen and a half eggs yesterday. I am soo excited.

Folks all want to come and see our "little cows"; they think they will be amazingly cute. I know the ranchers around here think I am a leetle bit crazy, and want to see for themselves the structure and solidity of this unusual breed. Yes the cows ARE cute, but they are also a tough little breed that have no problem with coyotes or snow; they are bred for rough conditions and to fend for themselves. I know we are going to take a lot of ribbing; I am used to folks thinking I'm crazy, after all! But I hope to turn that ribbing into everyone knowing just what and why we are doing this; it's like free advertising! They are not going to be pets, but real working animals. I know some folks thought it wasn't wise to get a bull when Artificial Insemination is the inexpensive way to go; but I wanted a bull just in case. In case of what? In case the cows need to be bred right away, in case we don't have the accessibility to the semen right away, in case things all fall down and we can't get what we need to breed them right when we need to. Natural is better. He may be officially PoinDexter on the papers, but he might have a name change, too. What else do you call a friendly bull but Ferdinand? The elementary school wants to schedule a field trip! These cows have never been milked before and have to be trained to stand in stanchions and tolerate having their udders stroked long before they calve.

There is so much to think about and do to get things up and running! That may be my last shopping trip for a long while and I wanted to make it count. Soon it will be time to hunker down for the long winter and get ready for the wild blizzards and long nights of black and starlit cold. Having a horse to ride out and check the cattle and fences on cold afternoons, getting ready for the new babies and milk to come in March, Deciding to steer or to sell the little bulls that may come, or to breed the heifers that may come, to keep an eye on the chickens so that they do not set up until it is warm enough to do so, to get the garden plowed under and ready for the snow to collect the moisture....

Yes, this is what I wanted my whole life - to stop wasting time on frivolities and mindless movement, and to concentrate on the things that matter to me.


Forum Discussion

I chat all the time with folks from several different forums. It's fun to have "friends" that one has never met, where one can say what one thinks and never worry about losing a friend; we're all pretty like-minded. Some of us were talking the other day about why some of us preferred to be 'country mice' as opposed to 'city mice'...
Originally Posted by (name deleted)
Out of curiosity - if you don't mind my asking - how did you land in Cody? I grew up on a farm in a rural area, but that part of Nebraska/South Dakota seems very desolate. Was that actually the attraction rather than a deterrent?

Feel free to PM me if you'd rather... Thanks!
Naw, I'm not shy about it. DH and I were looking to get out of an area that had DEMANDED growth, and I was one of the people elected to bring it in. I was trained in development, etc, and with my compatriots started a huge initiative to turn a town of 1800 people and a county of 25,000 into a growth community. We worked at it daily for over 10 years and succeeded. The place will double in size in the next 4 years, and by 2022 that county is going to have 240,000 residents by all estimates. WE HATED IT. (Have you ever been really GOOD at something you hated?) We didn't want growth, and we didn't like the thought-control, property-control, attitudes, and we didn't like the increased ordinances and restrictions on our lifestyle that everyone else wanted and demanded. DH and I have always been down to earth country people, raising our own food, minding our own business, not caring what anyone else thought about our fruit trees, gardens, and farm animals.

So we went looking for a place to retire that had no controlling property ordinances, had an honest, simple, and decent way of life, and would never outgrow itself. We wanted a place where we could have chickens and cows and horses and fruit trees and vegetable gardens and greenhouses where no one would even think about making laws against them, and where we could go out at night without worrying about being accosted at gunpoint (a very real occurance - happened to me twice, good thing I was carrying) or being harassed in the daytime by 'do-gooders' who think that the more rules they enforce, they better off everyone is. We looked for something/someplace old and solid with a history of 'cussed independence' where we could live our life's dream of owning a small homestead farm and producing for ourselves (and our neighbors, if we had enough). I looked for property for 4 years on the internet, and the farmhouse with 60 acres in Cody was one of six properties (in NE, ND, and SD) I had on a list when I came out to look. I got to Cody - and never left. This was what we wanted, this was the attitude we sought, this was the type of property, people, and atmosphere we were looking for.

To be honest, I'm kind of glad that people think of the area as 'desolate' and unimprovable and even uninhabitable. It means that the high-end developers won't come here to ruin things with their McMansions and manicured lawns (where the cops have rulers to measure the height of your grass and fine you if it is over 1 and 3/4ths of an inch high - and no I'm NOT exaggerating) and gated communities, and that no one will put up big box stores that sell cheap Chinese goods to a mindless public that thinks that more 'stuff' means you are high class. The 'retirement communities' aren't going to rush here to build their little enclaves of endless exercise and self-satisfied, purposeless activities to keep their little minds and aging, oversurgeried bodies occupied. Freedom and autonomy mean more to us than just rhetoric - and personal freedom is what the High Plains, and especially the Sandhills, have. It isn't for everyone, and it isn't perfect (no place is) but it suited us right down to the fine hairs. When we come over that last hill and see the old water tower, we're like Dorothy, every time - "There's no place like home".

This weekend we go to buy our "miniature" milk cows... grin. The chicken coop is full, we are getting eggs every day from some very heavy chickens that love the cold, and the garden is about to be plowed under for next year - after giving us about 50 lbs of potatoes, some very nice pumpkins, and filling our canning jars and shelves. We have wood piled up for the woodstove, there are about 20 wild turkeys, some pheasant, bunnies, deer and antelope wandering through our property that need attention. The nights are silent and starlit, the days bright with sunshine or thunderous with storms or grey, dim, and peaceful with snow. Oftentimes for hours the only sound is the wind around the house, or the neighbor's cattle lowing in the next field over... we love it!

The people I worked with back there are all appalled that we "gave up so much" to go after what we wanted; many said they had no idea that we "were like that". They will never come here, either - which suits us just fine, too. They like what they have become, and we like what we are and have always been.


Ummmm.... How 'Bout NOOOO?

I knew it would happen eventually.

Some folks whom I moved to be away FROM are wanting to "come out to visit". They read about, see pictures of, what I am doing here, and want to 'come out to see'. One even had the cojones to ask if I had planted part of my garden for them! LOL. Ha. Ha. J/K. Before I ever left, one person even wanted to come out, and I told her, um, NO. She was hurt. Too effing bad. But she was raised on a farm, and has over and over insisted how much she hated it, never wanted to go back to it, hated the work and the dirt and the smell of it. Why would I want her or anyone like her here? Why on earth would she want to come all this way to a lifestyle she hates - unless she thought either a) I wasn't serious or b) she could play busy and impressive City Mouse to my country farm mouse (yawn)?

Each one I have had to tell what to expect. They think they will come out to a free bed and breakfast, where they can play at being farmers without doing any of the actual work. They think they can spend time watching Mike and me work, put their kids on the horsies - or that they can sit back and be catered to while they are present, play and do nothing, chat endlessly about things and people and places that don't matter - that never did matter - to us. Ummm... NO.

So first, I tell them how to get here. They can fly into Denver, rent a car, and drive 6.5 hours northeast, the last 5 hours over narrow two-lane back roads, thru towns with no gas stations or other amenities, over miles and miles and miles of empty land where huge cattle ranches sprawl; no humans in sight. Or they can hop a small propeller-driven plane out of Denver to Rapid City (more expensive) rent a car, and drive 3 hours southeast over two-lane roads with the same amenities and scenery. Or, they can drive - 1700 miles, two to three days, mostly on interstates, but again - the last two hours on back roads.

Then when they get here, they must be prepared. There's no motels, although a friend of mine rents out hunting cabins year-round, "in town". The "town" consists of her bar/restaurant, several houses, the high school, with the feed store and the gas station on "the highway". In the summer it's normally 100 degrees, hot and dry, there's no A/C, just fans in the windows. In the winter it is COLD - breathless, mindnumbing cold; -40 degrees with the ever-present wind is common. "Breakfast" is what my daughter calls 'jump-up' - jump up out of bed and get it yourself. Feed-up is before sun-up - just chickens now to be fed and eggs gathered, but soon the cattle to be fed and milked, the horse to be fed, the dogs to be walked. Hay to be thrown out. The gardens to be tended and watered and weeded; or, in the winter, the greenhouse to be checked and worked. Wood to be gathered and cut for the woodstove. In the winter, the fire to be laid for heat; better do it right so it doesn't go out or smoke up the house. Cooking and cleaning and preserving, butchering and milking and the separating of cream and the making of butter and cheese. Work won't stop - can't stop - because we are working with living creatures whose needs must be tended. Fences to ride and check, pregnant mamas to be watched so that they don't drop babies in the snow. Hooves to be examined, health to be watched, on everyone. Is the floating water heater keeping the trough from icing up? Are the pumpkins still green at the top? Are the plants ready to come out of the greenhouse or should we wait another week? Manure to shovel, or walks to shovel.

Something else they need to know - there is NOTHING for them to do here. Not like they are used to. No malls, no Wal Mart, no shopping for a 40-mile, one-way drive, better make a list because you're not going back this week. No rows of bars and sushi joints and barbecue pits and fast food restaurants to just pop over to because you're bored with home cooking. There is a bar in town, that serves amazing burgers and steaks, and is open every day - it is great but the locals mostly sit there in the evenings and play cribbage or poker. No drunken rowdiness, no loud music.

And what gets you is the absolute silence. At night, there is only the sound of crickets, coyotes or the occasional cow, lowing off in the distance. No traffic. No noise. In the winter it is even quieter. No sound except the endless wind, whistling around the house and barns.

No, most people don't want to come here. And if they do they will hate it, no matter how polite they feel they have to be. Damned few of my friends or family would truly enjoy this for longer than three days. They would be nervous, jumpy, wanting to play where there is no place to play, wanting their excitement and their bright lights and their fast food and their desperate need for other people. There's no heating ducts upstairs! There's only one bathroom, and it just has a shower stall, no tub! How primitive! How atrocious!

But - that's why we like it here, that's why we moved here. To do the things we want to do without any bother, or having to smile at people we don't really like, want, or need around us. We like animals, we like work, and we like the silence, the heat, the cold.

So if you want to think about coming here, think long and hard about what you are willing to do - and not have. Otherwise, please, don't bother. Send emails and letters, but otherwise, stay where you are - or go somewhere else. We don't have the time, or patience, or even the inclination, to entertain you for even a day in your life. Unless you are willing to work, to pitch in and help do all the things that need to be done every day, no matter who drops by; unless you are willing to give up your sodas and fast food and shopping and partying, then you won't want to come here, be here, stay here. Go somewhere where you can feel happy - and not interrupt what we do here. We don't have the time nor the inclination to play with you, to pretend that we have the time to indulge your little fantasy of 'farm life'. This isn't Farmville or Farm Town, a virtual playtime, where things happen just right and you can leave or ignore it for days at a time.

Is that mean? Damned straight it is. It is also blunt and honest and true and REAL. If you're happy in your world - don't intrude it on mine. We left it for a REASON. And the reason is - we didn't want to be there any more, and we sure as HELL do not want it brought to us. not for a minute, not for a day, and not in the suitcases of those who think it would be FUN. No, thanks.


Butchering weekend

I'm getting ready to butcher eight chickens this AM.

It's funny the reactions I've gotten this week - everything from "OMG! You'd KILL an animal??" to "You're not going to kill ALL the roosters, are you? We like to hear them crow!"

I've taken pictures of them from the first day as baby chicks, through putting them in the chicken tractors. We've fed them everything from scraps to laying mash, getting them as plump as can be. Ten hens and two roosters we will keep, for eggs - that should be starting soon! - and more chickens come spring.

I like the Barred Rock variety for heaviness and color, and the big brown eggs. Soon we'll see how their flesh is for taste, and how well they winter over.

I don't look forward to it, to be honest. It is a LOT of work. But knowing exactly what went INTO these chickens, and filling the freezer with their meat, is satisfying. Knowing that this three day weekend will end with a future for the winter is comforting.

Since Mike finally got approved for his Social Security, we are waiting for the BIG check to come in, as well as the monthly payments. This will pay off things as well as pay for the things we need to get to establish our farm. I spend time every week on my Dexter friends' websites, as well as on a horse website out of Iowa. 9 hours away is not a far distance here, not when everything is so spread out. Cows. Horses. Thinking about everything I'll want and need, to try to become as self-sufficient as possible.

Every week my friends from back East email me, or more people try to sign on to my Facebook page. Some are hurting pretty badly, some are cruising along, and some are just nosy as hell and trying to find out WHAT in the world I'm doing. The latter still don't get that I am happy here, that I moved here to be happy, to stop indulging in THEM and to start indulging in ME. Turns out this week that even my own son thinks I'm crazy and need mental help. People who thought that they knew me were no different - they knew me not at all.

People just can't seem to associate the country life with me. Everyone seems to think that I LIKED being a part of who and what they were; LIKED socializing, LIKED controlling, LIKED being in charge of things, LIKED directing a community's thoughts and emotions and feelings. They can't understand why I would ever move to a place where there are so few people, where there is 'so little to do', where I'm not going out to party and eat and control others every night. Ummmm, sushi, lowcountry boil, oysters, fried this and spiced that, everything processed and handy, quick and simple. Good god, why grow it yourself when the stores are full of it? Why hunt or slaughter when everything is so available and so easy to obtain? Why gather up light and fluffy chicken down off of birds when you can buy the nice spun plastic filler for your quilt?

"Begin as you mean to go on". That's always been one of my mottoes. If you start out to do a thing, you have to do it all the way, not in little pieces parts, half-assed. I always put my heart into whatever I did, even telling myself little stories of encouragement to keep myself going while I did it. Now I'm going to put my heart into this, do things the "right" way.. What is so hard to grasp?

I still love my friends and love to hear from them - but what they are and what I am has always been different. Sure, some try to tell me that what I'm doing is what they want to do too - someday. But for most of them, "someday" will never come. They are too afraid of what their families might say, too afraid that people will criticize them, too afraid that - in their heart of hearts - they couldn't stand to be away from the bright lights and excitement of their current lives. They are too afraid that they wouldn't be able to butcher enough food for the winter, raise enough food in their garden, milk a cow, steer a bull for later butchering, chop the heads off of chickens they've fed for four months, gather enough wood to keep them warm; that they would starve or freeze or die or - be without all of the daily excitement they daily strive for. They will never have the courage to leave that life, no matter how much they dream about it, want it, hope for it. They will never even lay the groundwork for it. The minute one of their children or friends says, "Are you CRAZY??" they'll back down. So they live vicariously through me - and I let them.

Time to get dressed and get to work.



The roosters are learning to crow.

Hee hee. Every time I hear them, I can't help but giggle.

The roosters I used to have had very clear "cock a doodle doo"s. These guys are more like high-pitched "rur -rur-RUR!" very garbled and funny. To hear them calling across the gardens, competing in their maleness, is hysterical and sounds like arguing teenage girls.

The ones in the tractors are fun to watch. They play games with the females, "trapping" them in the coops. The females will put up with it for a while, then either shove past the roos one by one or rush them in a body, shoving them out of the way. Then the roos patiently try to herd them all back in again. No reason - no danger. Just chicken life.

Holy crap. The pumpkins have gone nuts this week, putting out literally tens of flowers per plant. I have two little baby watermelons, and there are flowers all over those plants too. The Green beans have finally burst into prolific bloom, and the squash and tomatoes are blooming like mad too. I just may have a harvest after all! I will actually have to go to each plant and make sure - especially on the pumpkins and watermelons - that there are not too many flowers/fruit on each one so that they don't get too overburdened and die before they can put enough energy into each fruit to get big.

Meanwhile, out front, Mike put an inverted-tire planter on the Maple stump. I filled it with soil and put in some blooming wave petunias, and painted it to look like the stump - except for the light spot on the front, that says "Little Tara" with the signature rose (that I also have on all the fenceposts) painted on it. The petunias in the hanging pots are blooming crazily too, and the daylilies are putting out their unusual and multi-colored blooms along the fence. The neighbors are all commenting on the strange and beautiful colors!

I came home exhausted from work yesterday, and as hard as I tried I simply could not get moving this morning. Then of course I had "an episode", and had to take my meds instead, and went upstairs for a nap, went right to a sound sleep. Five hours later I came down, still drained and exhausted. It drives me crazy but it is just something I have to deal with.

Monday I have to finish up some work and Monday night I have to help at the physicals and registration. Tuesday I'll have to take Mike in for his yearly evaluation so I won't be available at all. So I guess I'd better get what rest I can, and just do what I can, when I can. Pisses me off to be so weak, but I am where I can hide my weaknesses from others now, and take care of myself when I need to, and that is a good thing.