On the Ranch Journal
The lull before March...
Shoveling Summer Homes
|February 1 - Daniel Post Office Commemorative
February 2 - Daily Routine Continues
February 3 - Upcoming Daniel Events
February 4 - Salt & Minerals
February 5 - Cows & Mousse
February 6 - Hand-Crank Grain Grinder
February 9 - Feels Just Like April
February 10 - The Storybook Romance of Spur and Sassy
February 12 - Daniel Box Social
February 14 - Valentine's Day
February 15 - Winter Snow Storm
February 16 - Beavers
February 17 - Skunk Hoedown
February 18 - Memories of White Pine and skiing
February 20 - Blackbirds will be back soon
February 21 - Moving cowherd soon
February 22 - Breaking the Work Colts
February 24 - The Lull before March
February 25 - Scruffy
February 26 - Snowmobiling Fun
February 28 - Never Ending Circle
New Story: Little Ewe
Tuesday, February 1 Went to the post office in our little hometown of Daniel to help with the commemorative, stamp and cachet envelope sale, celebrating Daniel's 100th birthday. We had a nice turnout of well-wishers and a sell-out of the collector envelopes.
The boss's wife (my mom) and I helped my nephew, Toby, boil and pick the meat off an old, dead rooster that had recently passed on. You know, folks do the darndest things when a middle school science class needs chicken bones to simulate a "dinosaur" bone reconstruction.
Wednesday, February 2 The daily routine of livestock feeding continues and so do the mechanical breakdown headaches. Rudy blew another hydraulic hose on the "Deere" and had to get a new one constructed in Pinedale.
Thursday, February 3 I attended the Daniel Community Center meeting to fine-tune plans for the upcoming box supper and dance - February 12; the Aniel Daniel Chili Cookoff - April 1; and the Old-timers' Picnic - July 16. When I got home, the LEGEND band was practicing beautiful, old-time music in my living room. What a lovely sound on the evening tide!
Friday, February 4 Took salt and minerals out to the fields to refill all the stock tubs. Keeping these free-choice supplements standing in front of the cow at all times, helps to fortify both her and her unborn calf. The extra nutrients produces richer milk and gives the calves a big immunity boost during the first, critical weeks after birth, which helps to cut down on the number and severity of the cases of scours and pneumonia that can plague the calving season. Just like with humans, prenatal care in cattle is of utmost importance.
Saturday, February 5 The replacement heifers are really growing, and sporting ebony coats that shine like a star-lit heaven. When a cow is enjoying good heath, they'll lick and groom the hair on their backs, legs, and neck, coaxing it into place with a raspy, sandpaper tongue. With just the right twist and turn they can make the wisps of hair curl and wave as if they had applied human mousse or gel to the lustrous coat.
Sunday, February 6 I ground up some whole wheat in the old, hand-crank grain grinder. The hens digest and utilize the grain much better if you crunch it up a bit, then soak it in some water - pretty much like Quaker Oats.
Wednesday, February 9 The weather feels just like April - very warm and with a gentle, damp snowfall that nearly turned to rain this afternoon. These "tropic" conditions make all the critters - from the barn to the hen house to the meadow - anxious to scratch and rub and act just downright friendly. I'm sure that spring is just teasing us, but for the moment everybody and everything is ignoring the 99-9/10% likelihood of more winter.
Thursday, February 10 With all this talk of springtime, warmth, and love, and with Valentine's Day riding in fast, I would like to share the following story with you:
TRUE LOVE IN THE CHICKEN COOP
Spur and Sassy were in love for more than ten years, so when Sassy died last spring, I wondered if it would be the end of old Spur. The feisty bantam rooster and his teacup-sized mate had been a gift to me from my Uncle Dick and Aunt Louise Noble, many years ago. Spur had been found guilty of attacking their grandkids every chance he got, so for him, it was nearly the end of the road. (If a rooster has ever raked his spurs across your tender hide or flogged your backside, you know the sheer pain and fear that a little kid endures when the "king of the coop" makes that kid the bull's eye.)
At five inches tall, Spur wasn't big enough to inflict much damage, but his wild-eyed charge and fantastic set of steely spurs, as long as he was tall, would make even the bravest adult fight the urge to turn and run. Thus, the sentence had been handed down. "Off with his head!" - unless some kind soul came along and took mercy on him. Sassy, of course, would sweeten the deal, so that the kind soul might eventually hatch some little spurs.
So, as in all good love stories, we stuffed Sassy and Spur into a gunnysack, and I took the pair home and settled them into my own little hen house on the river. When I dumped the two, small fries out of the sack, Spur immediately began to set his own pecking order by knocking the heck out of my big, roan rooster. And, as the days went by, I noticed that Spur would strut and herd the other chickens away from Sassy while she ate, drank, or went to her evening roost. I rarely ever saw him fill his own craw, so obsessed was he with hovering over the little hen. I laughed to myself, thinking he was just like a fussy, old "mother hen."
And, for a small guy, he was so noisy, cock-a-doodling all the time. The little, self-assigned, "watchdog" took his job so seriously that the traditional morning reveille was expanded to take in all hours of the day and night. Whether calving time or haying time, rain or shine, if Spur felt that his territory, or Sassy, was threatened, he would tip his beak back, stretch his skinny, feathered neck toward the ridge logs, begin his war strut, and crow with all his might. Sassy, though, remained the sweet and fluffy princess, waltzing here and there, with Spur right on her tail.
Ah yes, purty, little Sassy could surely melt Spur's thumbnail-sized heart and set the whole coop aflutter, as she preened and paraded - daintily swinging her dark, skirt-like tail-feathers right under Spur's pointed, little beak. She pretended not to notice her amorous suitor as she swished and sashayed past the grain barrel, up the roost pole, and into her cozy nesting box.
The years came and went, with Spur faithfully tending his little lady, and all the while, the bantam pair's love for each other never faded. Even during the years that Sassy visited the kindergarten room to hatch eggs and was gone for the entire summer raising chicks, Spur never forgot her. He seemed always to be watching and waiting. And when the autumn leaves turned to gold, he would coo and sing and flutter, as Sassy finally returned to his side.
Yes, together, Spur and Sassy were special, sharing a never-broken bond. I doubt any human love could ever be more true. When Sassy's health began to fail, I moved her and Spur to a quiet, "retirement shed" of their very own, where the younger hens couldn't peck on the elderly couple during Sassy's final days.
Then, on a bitterly cold, spring morning, when I stopped by with their daily feed, I knew the instant I opened the door that the Arctic snap had taken its sad toll. Sassy lay outstretched and silent in the hay at Spur's feet. My heart fell, and for a moment, I thought she'd already died. I stooped to pick her up, and Spur made a wild dash at me. But for some reason, he changed his mind in mid-stampede and returned to Sassy's side.
I gathered her close and tried to warm her tiny body, but she stirred only slightly, gave a feeble peep, and then, Sassy was gone. Spur looked very small that day, quietly standing in the hay. When I laid her back down beside him, I had to wipe a tear away, knowing that this loyal, little fellow would be facing tomorrow's dawn, alone.
Spur is back in the hen house, now, and whether sunshine or clouds, he's still crowing at the top of his lungs. He hasn't yet taken up with a new chick and I doubt he ever will, because it's a stretch of the imagination to even hope that one those leggy Amazons could ever satisfy his yearnings for companionship. But, I'd like to think that Spur remains single, just because he's still watching and waiting for Sassy.
HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY, EVERYONE!!
Saturday, February 12 Daniel Box Social...We had a fantastic turnout at our Box Supper, Dance, and Fundraiser for the old Daniel Schoolhouse maintenance, improvement, and history book project. Many folks had never attended a box supper and auction and were a little hesitant at what to expect. Soon, though, everyone was caught up in the spirit, humor, and laughter of evening; little kids learned how to dance, old friends caught up on the news, and newcomers to our valley were able to meet and be "initiated" by all of us "old-timers." Great fun!
Monday, February 14 Valentine's Day... The big bombogenesis! Today, many areas of our county got a taste of the bombogenesis (or big snowfall) and dumped at a "mean" rate of more than one inch per hour. Then, starting about dusk, we braced ourselves as a rambunctious blizzard tossed and turned and rearranged this new, white blanket. Considering the boldness of the Arctic front, it was only natural that throughout this "day of hearts," most folks wished only to cozy up by the fireplace with their little darlin's.
Up till now, the moose population has been enjoying a fairly easy winter and has been busy crisscrossing the highways of the county, making hamburger. During Sunday's later evening hours, a big cow moose ambled into the headlights of an unwary Horse Creek tourist and donated herself to these good folks' grocery cause. To their credit, the Game and Fish Department agreed that the unlucky cow should not have given her life (or that of her triplet fetuses) in vain, and thereby allowed the prudent travelers to slap her tenderized carcass into a hot skillet. One of our neighbors stopped by the ranch and asked for help to dress out the dead moose. So, armed with two hunting knives and a beef butchering saw, Rudy helped four men, a woman, and a corral-full of kids make fast work of the after-dark project, then everyone, except the lady moose, went away happy.
Tuesday, February 15 By this morning, many residents were cussing the inconvenience of this "wintry surprise party." Even the livestock, their rumps plastered with crusted snow, humped up by the board windbreaks and willows, bracing against the cold and wind and hoping that Tuesday's dawn would smile warmly upon them. Because the wind blew so hard on Monday night, some hefty drifts rose up in the path of the big, ol' fancy 6400 Series John Deere 4x4 tractor with the brand-new door. Husband Rudy says the going is tough and darned sure is a challenge for the big "hoss," making it huff and puff and spin and sweat to break through the drifts - especially in the deep swales and sloughs. If it keeps snowin' and blowin', he says, we might have to fire up the D-8 Cat. Nope, there just ain't no Heaven when it comes to finding easy cow feedin'.
Wednesday, February 16 Over the years, spring flood plains have breached the Horse Creek Valley, creating ideal sites for beaver lodges and caches. Near one such mud and buckbrush homestead, a crusty, old, veteran beaver has been enjoying the mild winter by swimming and flopping about in the cows' water hole, which is chopped in a trench-like slit down the middle of the icy creek. After each mid-day bath, he's been leaving his calling card of chewed willow sticks.
Thursday, February 17 Rudy had to fix the stock tank heater. During the night, the heifer calves took a notion to be mischievous, and had snagged the electrical cord on the new floating heater, pulling everything out of the water. But, at a mild 10 degrees last night, we got lucky and the antique heater kept the tank from freezing.
Even with the snow this week, it must be getting close to spring. The local skunks have been planning a series of hoedown festivals in celebration of our famous cabin fever month. Many of the squinty-eyed, stripe-backed, pointy-nosed creatures are awakening to begin their springtime adventures. Their wake-up call, each evening, is well-marked by the wild bustling sound and distinct steam that rises from beneath the rotting floorboards of the old homestead buildings.
Friday, February 18 In December 1999, the local White Pine Ski Resort breathed the Rocky Mountain air once again. With the newly reopened, remodeled ski area and the return of Alpine skiing to our county, together with all the fuss and fanfare that goes with such a grand event, I began to reminisce about how I learned to ski, here on the ranch, many years ago...
When I was just a little kid, my sisters and I found a dusty pair of old, Norwegian-made skis suspended from a ceiling wire in the bunkhouse on Doc Montrose's homestead place - the ranch where we grew up. What a treasure we'd found, we just knew it! These magnificent boards were at least eight feet long and had rawhide shoes that were permanently attached to a raised chunk of wood, sitting smack dab in the middle of each ski. On the tops of these one-size-fits-all, rock-hard housings, frayed pieces of rotting canvas leggings still fluttered in the bunkhouse drafts. The tips of each ski narrowed to a gossip-sharp point, and a hollowed groove on the underside ran along the length of each ski. One stride on these skis, and we knew we'd be champions!
So, my sisters and I excitedly hauled the skis out of the bunkhouse to the nearby feedground, broke off a couple of willow sticks for ski poles, then scared the calves clean into the next county as we stepped into the leather shoes and took turns slip-sliding through the frozen cow turds and piles of hay.
Each winter, thereafter, we discovered many maintenance tricks and uses for the old skis - like using my mom's furniture polish or chunks of old car wax to slick up the bottoms to a rear-busting shine. And, over the years, we put the skis to many challenging, limb-twisting tests. By using a cocky saddle horse for power and a lariat for a towrope, we would dally or half-hitch the rope's tail around the saddle horn and cinch the loop end, not too daintily, around the skier's waist. We then took turns racing the old horse around and around the pasture. The faster he'd go, the harder the icy snowballs would pelt our faces; and the more we hollered, the faster the horse ran. If the horseback rider cut the pasture circle too tight, the skier - her toes curled in a death grip atop the long boards and lacking any graceful way to turn - would be whiplashed into the scratchy willow patch. And if the crusted snow ever gave way beneath the skis, or if you hit a moose trail or a ditch bank, you'd be ripped right out of those rawhide boots and dragged, face down, until the rider could stop the spooked horse. We didn't care, though. This sport was pure Heaven!
At times, we could convince our dad that we sure wouldn't hold up his cow feeding job, if we could just dally up to the back of the hayrack and slip along, nice and easy and quiet-like behind him, on the polished sled trail. We made a pact with each other that as long as the skier didn't fall, she could keep skiing; but if she cratered, it would be the next sister's turn on the boards. After many changes of skiers and with more than a few frustrating yells to the work team, "Whoa, Dan! Whoa, Molly!" Dad would implore us, "Please, girls, just ride the hayrack for a while, so we can get those poor, old cows fed before dark." Finally, he clucked impatiently to the team and they jigged on down the trail while we dragged along like mad colts being broke to lead.
In the late '70s, after all those years of "sagebrush" skiing, I finally made it to the White Pine Ski Hill where Rudy and I rented a pair of awesome-looking boards from their ski shop. The pros promptly chose the ski and pole lengths for our heights and adjusted the breakaway tension on the bindings to our individual weights (I gave false info about how I tipped the scales). We then opted to by-pass the Bunny Hill, and instead, straddled a pommel disk the size of a 45-rpm record, and eventually, made it to the top of "Rendezvous Peak."
I broke my ankle on that first run. Yip! Boot broke away from the ski on one of those "better turn, right now, or hit that tree!" judgment calls. The ski patrol was called out, and I was lashed down to a meat-wagon toboggan for a wild ride through the tall timber to the valley below - yodeling all the way. You bet! Bucked off, fair and square; but since you gotta get back in the saddle again, a few years later, we returned to that mountain, and danged if we didn't make it back to the lodge in one piece, by supper time.
A few days ago, I once again dug out the old, Norwegian skis from the bunkhouse, and my dogs and I took a peaceful, little "sagebrush" circle, just for old time's sake.
Sunday, February 20 Shoveled four foot of snow off a summer homeowner's roof (Rudy's mom's) in Bondurant - 45 miles from here (there's usually about six feet there, this time of year). Yes, indeed! The medium-sized winter will soon be just a history page, I hope. The weather has moderated, the snow is settling, and I'm watching the horizon for the blackbirds' return. In years' past, the little guys have showed up as early as Lincoln's birthday. Their return doesn't necessarily herald the immediate coming of spring, but the sound of their song always puts spring in our steps and hope in our hearts.
Monday, February 21 We're making plans to move the cowherd home from Horse Creek within the next two weeks. It's almost time to run the mamas-to-be through the chute and give 'em their Vitamin A shots. This boost to their systems definitely fortifies the moms and cuts down on the cases of scours and pneumonia in the newborn calves.
Tuesday, February 22 The horses are starting to show some signs of shedding their thick, winter hair. A couple of days ago, I set a little kid on the pony's bare back and the little fella came away with long, roan-colored hair stuck to his sweatpants.
This is also the time of year when work colts are starting to line out and remember their lessons. If broke out right, by April most will know how to lean into a load of hay with their teammate, give an honest pull, and put in a darned good day's work. When the grass starts to green up, they'll then be looking at a six-month vacation - until about October or November, when the snow flies again.
Thursday, February 24 Yip! The action will begin to heat up around here, as we head into the merry month of March, and things won't slow down again until mid-June - after the last branding is done, the cattle are put out on summer pasture, the irrigating water is scattered, and the lambs are docked. Now, "If March comes in like a lion, maybe it will go out like a lamb," just in time to share a little warmth with the new baby calves. And, yes, I sure do dream a lot!
AND SO, I SHALL NAME YOU SCRUFFY
It's been nearly six weeks since the little Black-capped Chickadee started visiting my kitchen windowsill, and whenever he makes his two-point landing and begins looking for handouts, it makes my daily dishwashing and cooking duties just that much more entertaining. Because the little fellow's feathers always look bent out of shape, I've named him Scruffy. At first, I thought he was puny, but a sick bird most likely won't live for six weeks, so I became convinced that the ragged, little bird is just that - Scruffy. Out at the picnic table where I scatter wild birdseed, Scruffy's ragged appearance and unusually friendly nature apparently has made him the last boy in the pecking order as the more fit and frisky birds always drive him away. Here on my windowsill, however, Scruffy is the Big Boss. Yes, he has the whole spread to himself, because only Scruffy has the raw courage to share this ledge with my "barn" cat, Bugs Bunny. To avoid the cat's maw, Scruffy simply conducts a daily, mach one, reconnaissance, fly-by mission to determine whether or not the landing strip is safe. While the other aristocratic Chickadees display their nervous acrobatics, Scruffy doesn't even bat an eye at what goes on in my kitchen. In fact, the more I clatter the pots and pans or thump the skillets on the edge of the chicken pail, the better the little fella seems to like it. He simply flitters across my hand, and settles hock-deep into the breadcrumbs or beef-bone smorgasbord, then leans back on his tail, and grabs up a crust of bread in each "fist," and doesn't come up for air until the last crumb disappears down his scrawny throat. Because of Scruffy's unique behavior, I was curious about how "regular" Chickadees are supposed to conduct business during winter weather. I discovered that Black-capped Chickadees survive the freezing weather by storing the food they'll later use in the season; they'll remember where all the stashes are for up to eight months - more than enough time, normally, to get them through a Sublette County winter. Chickadees survive, too, by lowering their body temperatures at night, entering a state of controlled hypothermia. In essence, they slow the blood flowing to the parts of their bodies that they don't use while sleeping. This helps to save much-needed energy. And because they fluff their feathers to create air pockets to trap warm air, I've decided that Scruffy isn't scruffy after all; he's just been a bit cold this winter. Chickadees' predators are mainly hawks, owls, starvation, and barn cats. But, if Scruffy and Bugs keep successfully rotating windowsill shifts, Scruffy quite possibly could visit me for his entire life span of six to twelve years. I hope he can...
February 26 I shoveled one foot of snow and ice off the hen house roof this morning. If we don't take care of this job about this time each spring, the melting snow backs up into the channels of the roof tin and runs down the logs on the inside of the coop. Can't have mad, wet hens. In the late afternoon after feeding the cows, we checked in on some of the summer homes in the valley to make sure they were still tucked in properly and fast asleep. All was well, so we tiptoed away (actually, roared away on the snowmachines!) and played around in the home meadow jumping drifts and snow surfing till chore time about sunset. Nothing like throwing caution to the wind and acting wild once in a while. The dogs even had fun chasing and jumping and playing.
February 28 Rudy fired up the D-8 Cat and plowed a pickup trench to the Horse Creek meadow so that this weekend we can bring the cows home and then use the road to haul about 50 leftover, big round bales to the home place for calving. Always seems like we're hauling, lifting, moving, rotating, or working something here or there. The circle is never-ending...
|The Pearson Angus Ranch is located approximately 2 miles
northwest of Daniel, and 11 miles west of Pinedale, Wyoming. Cris can be
reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyrights: Photos and page text content copyrighted,
Cris Paravicini, 1999-2000. Drawing of Daniel Schoolhouse by Teresa Shenefelt.
No part may be reproduced without permission of the author/photographer.
Page graphics copyrighted, Pinedale Online, 2000.