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Tuesday, October 20 2015

I watched $6000 gallop away in a cloud of dust and wondered if I'd ever see him again. He was still a wild mustang in May, and here in the middle of October I was giving him the choice to disappear or to maintain his relationship with humans. Since we adopted him at the Extreme Mustang Makeover in September, Tiny, the big red horse, has been confined in either a pipe corral or a larger trap, but it was time to release him onto the wild country of the ranch and hope that he respects fences and chooses to remain tame.

Because the other geldings had also been confined with Tiny, they were excited about getting out of the trap. Montoya, the Andalusian cross that I've had since he was a weanling, was the last thing we moved to the new ranch, so it was his first taste of real freedom.

He is a bold, hot horse, so he was happy to explore the ranch at a gallop, taking everyone else with him. I loosely followed the crew on foot just to keep tabs on them and make sure nobody accidently catapulted himself over a cliff.

After a few false starts where they trotted into the forest, then turned and came back to me, the four boys finally galloped off down the dusty road through the forest. The hoofbeats faded to silence long before the dust settled as I walked down the road after them. The road spit them out to a pond in the woods, but they continued galloping until they found an open pasture with scattered mesquite.

As I emerged from the forest they noticed and trotted up to greet me. I scratched their faces and walked off to show them the better grass growing in the dappled light of the woods. And they followed me.

Had Tiny not been with them, I may not have appreciated the magic of the moment, but as the big red horse moved through the forest, and the light played across his back, I gave it some thought.

When a 1300 pound prey animal chooses to have a relationship with you, it's a gift, a choice. And make no mistake, they do have a choice. Montoya, a horse born with a silver spoon in his mouth, surrounded by humans his entire life, may not realize he has a choice, but Tiny, a horse born in the wilds of Oregon, certainly knows it. And when given the choice, Tiny chose to stay and follow me rather than strike out on his own. It is a testament to the solid foundation that his trainer, Tom Hagwood, gave Tiny. The horse trusts humans, and has decided to hitch his wagon to the bipeds with thumbs.

My Other Half soon joined us and we began tearing out an old fence while the horses settled down and grazed around us. From time to time their curiosity led them to supervise our activities and we had more help than we needed. In short, they were annoying, but even that had a touch of magic.

When a horse can see the fences, you don't give much thought to why he chooses to stay with you, but out here it's different. Only one of these four geldings even knew that fences existed on this property.  This same horse has lived alone with cattle since this summer and so he is also keenly aware that he isn't the top of the food chain out here. The forest has eyes. It also has teeth. My roan cowpony decided last summer that it was in his best interest to stay close to the humans and the house. Now that he has his herd again, and he can feel the safety in numbers, he still chooses to be with the humans. I hadn't given his choice much thought until I watched the red mustang come check in with me time and again.

Humans tend to be an arrogant stock. We get annoyed when cows choose to roam, and when the sheep need a Border Collie to bring them back, but the reality is that ownership is just a piece of paper, and these animals don't read. A 1300 pound animal really owns himself. If he chooses to share himself with you, it's a gift. Appreciate it.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 07:27 am   |  Permalink   |  3 Comments  |  Email
Saturday, October 17 2015

Beef - It's Who's For Dinner

The grocery store as we know it is a relatively new addition in the history of mankind. The modern grocery allows us to fill our pantry with a dizzy array of food and spices. A shopper may travel the world by merely pushing a cart through the dairy aisle, past frozen foods, and into what is loosely described as fresh vegetables. By convenience and variety, the shopper is lulled into hunting and gathering through the tiled aisles. Within two generations, this dazzling display of choices has removed the shopper from his food source. The grocery store has become a feed lot of sorts as shoppers are only able to buy what they are offered, and what appears to be an ocean of choices is in reality a desert of diversity. As a shopper you really don't have as many choices as it appears.

Not only is diversity disappearing, but are we fooled into believing fresh fruits and vegetables are offered year round. And more important, shoppers are spared the ugly reality that someone had to die before that meat was neatly packaged and placed in the Buy-One-Get-One-Free bin.

"To cook, we must kill."   Richard C. Morais, The Hundred-Foot Journey

By offering boneless and skinless cuts of meat, the consumer is able to remove himself even further from the idea that he is eating an animal that once breathed. It is easy to shop for steak in the grocery store. And when the kids don't want Hamburger Helper leftovers tonight, it's painless to toss the container in the garbage. But the cold, hard reality is that someone did die, and unless I plan on becoming a vegetarian, which leaves its own ecological footprint, I cannot ignore that. I choose instead, to become more aware not only of what I'm eating, but of "who" I'm eating.

We raise beef cattle. We run a small cow/calf operation where the animals are treated as humanely as possible before the calves are sold at auction or to local buyers. We choose our auction barns based not on location, but on how well they handle the animals in their care. Our goal is not only to get top dollar for our calves, but to also have them treated well. It is important to me that even though the animal may ultimately end up on the table, during his time with us, he is treated with compassion, as I believe that you can tell a lot about a man by the condition of his animals.

"The godly care for their animals, but the wicked are cruel."  Proverbs 12:10

We butchered a bull calf two weeks ago and picked up the meat yesterday.

It was a cruel twist of fate that landed him in the freezer instead of staying with the herd as a spare bull. This country is rough enough that I feel better using the "heir and a spare" approach to ranching. This calf was a full brother to our current breeding bull. The build and quiet temperament on this young bull was so nice that we had decided to keep him instead of selling him. As luck would have it though, he injured his shoulder last winter. Although he was still able to get around on it, and even play on it, we had our doubts about whether or not he would be a successful breeding bull and because he was slower than the herd, he was more vulnerable to predators.

So with a heavy heart, I sent him to Freezer Camp. And like the gentleman he was, Cripple Bull loaded into the trailer like a champ, and unloaded at the butcher's as tame as any show steer.

I watched him walk away with his familiar shuffle and I was reminded how easy it is for people at the grocery store to pick up a clean package of beef and place it in their cart, and how hard it is for those of us who have raised these animals as babies to watch them walk to their deaths. I feel better about his death when I know that he lived a happy life - with one bad moment. I know what he ate. I know what chemicals are in his body. I know how he was treated for his entire life, for his life and death were my responsibility.

And that really is the essence of ranching. Cripple Bull filled one chest freezer and half of another.

His sacrifice will feed our family for a good long time. And perhaps that is what grocery stores have taken away from us, the gritty understanding that the meat on your table was someone's sacrifice. When you have hauled hay in the bitter cold, when you have held back feed from other cows to make sure the cripple one gets his share, when your heart has smiled because a cow recognizes you, and when you send that cow to be killed, then you appreciate every bite of that meat, and you don't waste his life. You don't waste his sacrifice.

 Baby Cripple Bull


Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 05:13 pm   |  Permalink   |  3 Comments  |  Email
Sunday, October 04 2015

A land rich in history is alive, a thing of its own. One of our favorite parts of this ranch is the history surrounding it. This area was thick with Indians and the resulting conflicts between the natives and the white settlers. Even with our modern conveniences, the land is harsh, giving us a greater respect for the people who scraped a living here. We see signs of them everywhere. Our house/barn appears to be on an old barnyard, as we have found hardware from wagons in the sand, and a large draft horse shoe hanging in a tree.

The old homestead is on the west side of our house, its crumbling chimney supported by the tangled limbs of lowgrowing cedars. The old cistern sits north of this, its yawning mouth beckons a peek into the dark mystery of its bowels.

As if we wiped the dust off a dirty window and peeked inside, the old homestead is slowly being revealed by the goats and sheep in their tireless efforts to clear the thick brush around it. Some items are a mystery, their identities only known when someone older and wiser educates us, such as the long flat funnel shaped metal which turned out to be a flattened well bucket. Humphf.... Who knew?

Most items are metal trinkets, pieces of farm equipment and such, but a few weeks ago Other Half stumbled upon a piece of whimsy with a more personal note. We were poking around the homestead in search of wild plum trees when we noted a large rock peeking out of the grass. Since this area can be thick with copperheads, I'm not given to just reaching down to follow my curiosity but Other Half has no such inhibitions. He hoisted the odd rock up to eye level and upon closer inspection we found that it wasn't a rock at all, but mortar that had been fasioned by hands into the shape of a sourdough bread boule. One could just imagine the leftover mortar from the chimney, or the cistern, or the steps, or some other project, being fashioned into this bread rock by hands of long ago.

We could even see the grooves in the rock where hands had shaped it. This naturally begged us, and later others, to place hands onto the rock in a quest to fit fingers into the very place that someone from another time touched. But like the Glass Slipper, or the Sword In The Stone, no one got it right. It could be forced to fit, but just wasn't quite right. Close, but no cigar.

Other Half brought the curiousity back to the house and used it as a door stop, a piece of history which reminded him of the people who settled this land. And it sat there. For weeks. Visitors came and picked it up, and tried their hands, and marveled at the oddness of it. Then something strange happened.

Miss June came to dinner. Her family owned this land. She ran barefoot through the red dirt here. Although the history books tell the black and white stories of this land, Miss June fills in the colors. Not only does she tell us its history, she shows us the story of this land. So Other Half could not resist showing Miss June his curious rock. And the most remarkable thing happened.

Just like everyone else, Cinderella placed her hand on the rock, but this time the fingers settled into the grooves exactly. The rock was a perfect fit. It was creepy, but in a good way, as if you recognize that something unexplained but wonderful just happened. Other Half gave the rock to Miss June as it clearly belonged to her family. The rock finally found its way back to the hands that made it.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 11:01 am   |  Permalink   |  1 Comment  |  Email

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