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We branded last weekend and it was good.  Of course it took me almost a week to find my camera again so that’s what took me so long to add this post.  It was in the pocket of an old coat along with a dozen nasty old ear tags.  I imagine some women find nice things like pretty gloves, scarves and even cash in their coat pockets – not me.  I have grubby ear tags and used surgical gloves for handling fly tags.  Oh well, that’s a small price to pay to get to see these little guys every spring.

This little guy was born just in time to get branded.  Can you see how excited he is?  Just look at that face, he has got to be a bull calf.

Everyone showed up for the fun and games.  Here’s Hubby with Dani & Dalton’s new puppy – Cleo.  She’s a cutie.  Everyone loves to help with branding.  Dalton & Dani came from up by Belle Fourche, Morgan came with 2 of his friends – Matt and Derek, and our neighbors John and Ellen stopped by too.  It’s a lot of fun!!!

Of course, this side of the family wasn’t near as impressed as the rest of us. 

But it was a day for puppies.  Along with Cleo we also had Turbo who is Matt’s puppy.  Cleo is a full blood Blue Heeler and Turbo (bless his cute little puppy heart) is a Heeler/Corgi cross.  There’s just something about those short-legged dogs.  I love them! 

That’s it – I’m going to have to steal one of these puppies.

That’s Dani (our favorite daughter-in-law) on Hubby’s new horse Smokey and Morgan (my baby) running the gate.  We were sorting off the cows so we could push the new yearlings in first.

Every time we work cattle we seem to draw an audience.  The older dogs – Casey and Steve watched at the gate, ready to jump in and help if someone needed them.  It may not look like it but both those dogs can squirt under that gate in a flash if they have to.  Although Steve doesn’t have to duck quite as far as Casey.

After the yearlings we did break for lunch – Honey glazed ham, baked potatoes, Grandma’s famous baked bean recipe, deviled eggs, Ramen noodle salad, tossed salad (lettuce and spinach from my garden), fresh pineapple (not from my garden), home-made bread, pickles and lots of desserts – carmel rolls, cheesecake, chocolate pie, Ellen’s banana cake and chocolate chip cookies.  Yum – Yum!

Then it was back to work.  That’s Dalton looking like he doesn’t want to get too close to that cow along with our neighbor John who ran the squeeze chute.  We gave the cows a shot to help the calves that are nursing stay healthy, and a dose of stuff on their backs to help control flies and parasites and basically just said “Hi.  How are you?”

Then we worked the calves.

The boys have developed a routine over the years.  Dalton worked at the head giving implants and checking for horns, while Morgan did the cutting (castrating).  Matt had to leave early but Derek helped push in calves and hold them down.  Derek’s a big kid and a football player.  This training serves him well when it comes to working cattle.  Those calves didn’t stand a chance.  John kept the branding irons hot while Dani, Ellen and I took care of ear tags, shots and record keeping.

I love watching our boys brand.  I remember all those years when they were too little to help and were forced to watch it all from the bed of the pickup.  I bet they would tell you this is much more fun.

Once we’re done with the calves we turn them out to go find their Mama’s who usually are right there bawling for their babies.  Can’t you just imagine what he’s telling his mother?  “Mom, where are you?  I don’t ever want to go back there again.  Mom, are all humans weird?  You’ll never believe what they did to me.  Mom, why do I have earrings?”

The last thing we did was to brand the new horse.  This is something that we don’t do very often.  Most horses are branded when they are young (and easier to handle).  First  Derek and Hubby tied him to the corral.  Smokey should have known something was going on then.

And when they covered his head with the black coat he should have ‘run like the wind’.  But he’s a good horse and he took it like a man.  At least until the red-hot brand touched his hide.  Then he let us know he wasn’t pleased.  You can’t blame him – I would have been pretty ticked off too.

To show his displeasure with the whole thing he did his best to tear the corral apart and managed to break a couple of the old logs before it was over.   Thank goodness the iron was hot and Hubby only had to use it once.  I have to admit the new brand on his shoulder really shows up on that grey horse.

But a few soothing words, a couple pats on the back and a nice bucket of oats helped make it all better.  Although the next time you try to throw a black coat over his head I’m betting it won’t work quite so well.

Another successful branding day.

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A Young Man Died…

Early Tuesday morning a young man died…

He was the son of loving parents who cried in joy at his birth, celebrated the triumphs of his life, and shared the wonder of growing up.

He was a brother who teased but also protected.  A confidant – a buddy – fellow conspiritor who can never be replaced and will be sorely missed.

He was a neighbor and a friend to so many people in our little town – including my own two sons and nephews who lived beside him, went to school with him, ran cross-country with him and celebrated birthdays & holidays with him .

He was a good student, an athlete and a graduate from our local high school.

He was a quiet, gentle boy with a good heart who I will always remember as being kind and generous.

He was funny, smart, honest, handsome and full of compassion.

And he was brave.

You see, he was also a solider – a Marine – a military sniper who served in Iraq and Afghanistan where he helped people he didn’t know and would never meet.

He was a survivor.  A young man who served his tour of duty then returned home – honorably discharged and healthy of body but with a spirit badly wounded by the things he had seen and the many friends he had lost. 

He was a veteran – a man stong, trustworthy and loyal who had risked everything to serve his country.  He was patriotic and hopeful that he could help shape the future of our world for the better.

He was so much more than we will ever know.

He was many things but he wasn’t a quitter even though he knew he couldn’t live any longer in this world.  He had tried, but in the dark hours of early morning it was more than he could stand.  That night he was a well-trained military sniper who fired many shots in our small town but hit no one.  I truly believe he didn’t want to hurt anyone – he only wanted to force someone to end his pain.

Tuesday morning his life ended and ours were changed forever.

I wasn’t there to witness what happened but I do not blame the state trooper who fired the final shot that ended Cody’s life.  It is a horrific choice to be forced into and one I am sure he never wanted to make.  I know Cody’s family, friends and the local police did everything they possibly could to save him. 

It’s heart-wrenching to lose someone but we should always remember that we were blessed to have known him – even for such a short time. 

 

Early Tuesday morning a young man died…

I pray you have found Peace at last.

Cody Engen

1989-2011

 

 

 

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Saturday was the day.  The weather was beautiful, the neighbors, friends & family showed up and the signs were right with the universe – so we branded.  This was actually the 3rd branding of the season but this is the one I love – it’s when we brand the new babies and we get to see just how good they are doing. 

First we gathered the calves and cows.

We keep them in the small pasture near the house so we can keep a close eye on them as they are being born and it makes it easy to push them into the horse pasture and finally the corrals.

Here’s our boys bringing up the rear with the last cow and calf. 

Once we get them into the corral we sort the cows off of the calves and the bawling begins.  First we run the cows through the big chute where they got a couple of shots and some pour on insecticides to help control the bugs that annoy.  Then the moms are all right there and waiting when the babies get done.

And talk about babies here’s one really cute baby and her two big brothers.  A couple of the neighbors showed up to help.  This is Amy’s kids in their ‘ranch kid play pen’.  I tell you – we have nothing but the best for our kids – that’s probably a $40,000 Dodge play pen.   All the comforts of home and lots of good fresh air and sunshine.

Wade – Morgan’s truck-driving buddy showed up to help too.

“Where’s the clutch on this thing?”

John – the cowboy poet and all around nice guy showed up too and he brought his wife Ellen who is just the sweetest lady you ever want to meet.  She’s a tiny little thing but she don’t back down when it comes to calves that probably out weigh her by 50+ pounds.

I think she was even having fun.

And who’s this yahoo with the lime green gloves and the strange pair of pliers?

Yes, it’s me.  Looks like I’m ready to tackle a sink full of dirty dishes but actually I had the job of putting in the fly tags.  These are ear tags that will help keep the flies away from the calves.  The thing to remember with fly tags is you do not want to handle them without rubber gloves – it will make you sicker than a dog but on the bright side you would probably never need to worry about flies bothering you again.

Since I was trying to stay out-of-the-way most of the time this is the view I had of the calves on the calf table.

Nice…  hum, calf.

I did move out of my little corner by the table once in awhile and did get some better shots.

Dalton did the branding.

And Morgan did the cutting (castrating).  What can I say – some people just have the knack for it and Morgan is good.

And this little guy was watching our backs.  If any calf, cow or cowboy strayed close enough he was ready.  Just give him a couple more years and he’ll be right out there with the rest of them just like Dally who really, really wanted to help.

And here’s Dani on her favorite horse Taz.  What a great team.

When it comes to branding or just about any big job Grandma Winter’s advice rings true.

“Many hands make the work load light.”

What a great day!

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Spring is definately here and at this ranch that means it’s time to buy yearlings.

 

Yearlings are last years calves.  We buy them in the spring, fatten them up all summer and sell them in the fall once they have put on a bunch of weight.

Years ago we kept our calves through the winter and then sold them as yearlings but after several years of drought when we were not able to cut and bale the hay we normally would, we ended up having to buy hay.  Buying hay at $80 – $100 per ton is expensive so we had to adapt our operation.  Now we sell the calves in the fall and buy yearlings in the spring and it has worked pretty well.

The trick is to buy them skinny & cheap and sell them fat & expensive.  It’s the best way to sell the grass in our pastures.

Usually we get several loads of yearlings and they are always black or black (with) white-faces but this year we seem to be ending up with an odd assortment of colors and sizes.

Of course we have black Angus and black white-faced but we also have one that appears to have blood lines going back to a Holstein which is a dairy breed and even a couple that are Longhorn cross.

I’m thinking this will be an interesting summer.

Amongst this mixture we also have heifers (females who haven’t had a calf yet), steers (males that have been castrated) and even a few bulls (that after this weekend are now steers).  Sorry guys.

This is our propane branding stove.  It was built by Hubby and it works well to heat the irons.  It has even been used to brew a mean pot of cowboy coffee on occasion – and I do mean ‘MEAN’.  It is often said that a horseshoe has to be able to stand upright in the dark, murky brew before it can be considered cowboy coffee but I think it also has to be strong enough to dissolve the horseshoe – at least that’s how strong Hubby makes it.

We have at least 3 brandings every spring.  One for the yearlings and any cows and bulls we purchase that year, another for the new calves born that year and  usually one more small branding in early summer for any late calves that happen to show up ‘after the party’.

We have had branding days that were huge parties with lots of people and mountains of food but the ones I like best are the ones where just our family can handle it – maybe with the help of one or two neighbors who happen to show up and decide to stick around.  Saturday was one of those days.

We hadn’t planned on branding.  Silly me – I had mapped out a whole weekend full of stuff I needed to get done.  I was even planning on making it to a garden club meeting.  It’s been so long since I’ve been to one of those that I’m sure half the members have decided I must have left the country or passed on to the great garden in the sky.  Yep, I had stuff stacked on the kitchen table ready to go and a list a mile long of what I needed to do but at 10:30 Friday night our son, Dalton and his wife, Dani called.  They were headed our way and would be home in about an hour – that’s when the wheels in Hubby’s mind started spinning.  Morgan, our youngest son was already planning on being at the ranch Saturday and any rancher knows that when you have that much help show up you automatically start to think about what you can get done.  For us, it was an easy choice.  Last week we had hauled home the first two loads of yearlings.  They were in the corrals just waiting for a day dry enough to brand.

It didn’t matter that it has rained for 2 weeks straight or that the mud in the corrals is roughly deep enough to bury a sports car to its hood ornament in or that none of the kids knew we were going to put them to work.  No, what really mattered was whether or not the rain would stop long enough to let the yearlings hides dry out so we could get a good clear brand on them. 

Now I know some people are upset by the thought of branding livestock but since the beginning of ranching it has always been the best way to prove who owns what.  Don’t think that the days of cattle rustling are over – far from it.  I talk to people every day who have lost cattle to sticky fingered individuals and without a brand it’s very hard to identify an individual cow, calf or even bulls.  One couple I know came up short 12 pairs (cow and calf) on their summer pasture last year.  That adds up to over $25,000.00 worth of livestock missing and this is something you can’t buy insurance for.  Their cattle were branded but in eastern South Dakota the sale barns do not inspect brands so more than likely that’s where they ended up going.  Branding doesn’t stop all rustling but at least it slows down some of it.   Since the easiest thing to steal are slick calves (ones that aren’t branded) you might as well just hang a sign around their neck that says ‘Take me – I’m yours’. 

It’s sad but true.  So we brand.

As luck would have it, Saturday morning we woke up to a short lapse in the rain so we drug out the branding irons and got to work.

Morgan ran the hydraulic chute and branded.  He’s good at running the chute – he misses very few if any and that helps save a lot of time and cussing as you have to gather up the ones that manage to ‘squirt’ through the chute.  It ususally takes several tries to run them back into the corral and through the chute a second time.  Morgan’s also pretty quick with an iron – the hotter the iron the faster you can get the job done.

Dani grew up on horseback but not around cattle so she’s still kind of new to branding but this time she was in charge of changing out all the old ear tags and replacing them with new ones.  I think this is only the 2nd or 3rd branding Dani has ever been to but she’s not afraid to try something new.  Each yearling received a nice orange tag with a number in the left ear and a treated ‘fly’ tag in the right ear.  These fly tags will help keep the insects off of them through the summer.  Tagging can be a ‘snotty’ job but Dani is great about jumping right in and getting to work.

Dalton, Dan, our neighbor Paul and I usually end up doing whatever else needs to be done – pushing cattle into the chute, vaccinating, applying pour-on treatments for pests, keeping written records, taking photos, running for supplies and in this case de-horning the Longhorn cross steers.

And even Dally – Morgan’s new pup helped out by running cattle in and then staying out of the way while we worked.  She’s not even 6 months old but she’s smart and learning quick.

Having big crews to help is fun but personally I’ve missed out on a lot on those branding days because my job was always inside – cooking the meal.  I’m actually a pretty good cook but I’ll freely admit that the kitchen is not where I want to be.  Times have changed and I’ve gotten smarter.  Now I prepare everything in advance and as far as I’m concerned, crock pots and slow roasters are a gals best friends.  I’m proud to say I have mastered the art of cooking on auto-pilot and I would trade my stove in a heartbeat for the sight of my saddle on a good horse and the smell of burnt hair in my face.

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You should be proud of me – I’ve been working on the old photos again – mainly because I’ve been sick and that’s about all I’ve felt like doing. 

I’ve found a couple really cool old photos – and the best part is that we actually know who these people are.  After going through so many unmarked photographs my new mission in life to label every single photo I take.

The first photo is a picture of Hubby’s Grandfather William Allen Stearns, Hubby’s Grandmother Dora Murray Stearns and their two sons – William Wallace (whom we knew as Uncle Billy) and Hubby’s father – Norman Everett (whom everyone called Bud).

As you can tell – the big occasion for the photo was the new car – around 1920 from what I hear.  They were obviously very proud of the new car because we have several shots.

W.A. Stearns was an interesting character from all I’ve heard.  He moved to this area in 1900 with a herd of 300 brood mares and stallions.  There are stories of one particular Percheron stallion that was brought over from France by boat then rode the train to Edgemont, SD.  Unfortunately, I have never heard the name of this stallion and I’m afraid that bit of information may be lost now.  Percheron horses are a breed of draft horses and were trained to fight by jumping and kicking with all 4 legs – hopefully kicking and killing any foot soldiers in their way.  It’s kind of funny but one of the first dates my Hubby and I went on was to go see a traveling group of Percheron stallions that came to Custer in the early 1980’s.  They are magnificent horses and if you ever get the chance to see them in action – do it!

W.A. and Dora bred horses and sold many to the United States Army.  One of Hubby’s most prized possessions is his grandfathers hand written brand book.  We’re pretty sure this is one of the earliest brand books for this area.  We also have several notebooks showing records of the family’s expenses and land and livestock purchased.

We also have their marriage certificate.  William and Dora were married October 9, 1906 in Newcastle, WY.  There was a bit of an age gap between W.A. and Dora – around 32 years from what we know but they seemed to have had a good marriage and they had two sons.  My father-in-law Bud was only 9 years old when his father died which must have been pretty hard on everyone.  But Dora took over the buisness and became known as quite a horsewoman in her own right. 

I love this photo of Dora and one of her babies – we’re not sure but I would guess it is Billy.  From everything I’ve ever heard, she was an amazing woman in tough times.  Eventually, Dora and the boys sold the last of the horses and Uncle Billy and Bud split the ranch when their mother passed away. 

They both went on to raise cattle and lived out their lives on the ranch – cowboys to the very end.

 

On another note here’s a photo we’re not so sure about. 

This photo raises several questions.

First off – we have no idea who these people are but I’m guessing we’re related – especailly to her – there seems to be lots of tough old gals in our family.  The next question is what is that between them – a cat?  The tail actually looks a little skunk-like.  And who’s holding it or is it hanging by his wrist? 

It’s hard to tell what is going on in this shot but that’s exactly why I love old photos – they usually bring up more questions then they answer.

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When it comes to Christmas Eve, our family has several  traditions.

Growing up, Christmas Eve was always the night we would travel (OK – it was only 1/4 of a mile) over the river and through the woods (OK – there was one culvert and a tree strip) to Grandmother’s (and Grandfather’s) house we’d go.  This was the night my brother and sister and I had waited for all year.  This was the night we would get to open our presents.  

Now don’t get me wrong, our family wasn’t wealthy.  Far from it.  We didn’t get huge mountains of extravagant gifts but we never went without.  In fact Christmas was always the best time of the year because early winter was when the money came in.  Calves were sold and the neighbor who rented some of our land always paid at the end of the season so Christmas was the one time of year when we actually had real cash money in the bank.

Christmas Eve has always been filled with traditions.  My Dad’s side of the family would all go to Grandma & Grandpa’s house.  Grandma Lulu would cook a big meal and we would eat on her pink depression glass dishes.  Oh how I loved those dishes!  We would eat everything from prime rib to sloppy joes on those dishes and when people would comment on them Grandma would just smile and say “Oh, they’re nothing fancy – they just came in with the flour we bought”. 

After supper we would have to wash the dishes.  It took fooooooooorevvvvvvvvvvver!!!  I was sure we washed, dried and put away every single pot, pan, glass and dish Grandma had in her whole kitchen.  It was kind of like spring cleaning in the dead of winter.

When the kitchen was finally in order we would find a comfy spot in the living room and listen as Grandma read the Christmas story from the Bible.  I can still hear her voice and picture her, sitting in the corner near the huge Christmas cactus which was always covered with bright pink blossoms.  Grandma always did have a way with plants.

If we were lucky, Grandma only read the Christmas story.  But some years she would decide to read some (or all) of the Christmas cards and letters they had received.  What torture for small children!  I’m sure Grandma didn’t mean it that way.  She was a good, Christian farm wife who didn’t have a mean bone in her short little, arthritic body but I’ve always wondered if she didn’t secretly enjoy watching the kids squirm as she carefully read each letter, always taking the time to remind us which long forgotten friend or distant family relation had written it.

After every last card and letter was read and all the kids began to edge toward the pile of gifts my father (who incidentally always wore the same red, black and white Christmas sweater) would announce “I guess it’s time to go home now”.  He definitely had a mean streak! 

Everyone would laugh and at last, it was time to pass out gifts and rip our way through the wrapping paper.

The gifts were mostly practical with a few fun and frivolous ones thrown in.  Some years we had unusual gifts that would forever burn that particular year into our memories like the year Grandma sewed ties for all the guys.  The home movies Uncle Don took that year clearly shows every man in the room sporting the same wild tie over sweaters, shirts and even Grandpa’s bib overalls.  It was great! 

And then there was the year I gave my brother a pool cue.  It was cool – it came in it’s own case and had 3 sections that screwed together.  He loved it but ended up giving it to Grandpa because he had held it all evening and obviously wanted it more than anything in the world.  That was a good year.

Even though the gifts changed as we grew there was one tradition that we could count on like visits to the dentist and paying taxes to the IRS – the tradition of the ugly underwear.

We’re not sure where she found them…  Maybe she had a secret source that mailed them to her in plain brown wrappers…  Or a friend in the local department store who ordered them just for Aunt Korky.  We don’t know where they came from but they were there every year like the pink depression dishes.  Cleverly disguised with some wonderful gift like a box of hand-sewn Barbie doll clothes or the cutest little suitcases you ever saw – they were there.  Every year we received the wildest, most colorful and unusually printed underwear you have ever seen.  Thankfully, this gift was reserved only for the female cousins and my sister and myself.   I’m not sure what we would have thought if my brother had pulled out a pair of tye-dyed whitey-tighties.  Like the rising of the sun, there they were.   Every color of the rainbow condensed into a small pair of silk panties.  This was underwear to wear proudly.  Underwear that could turn any 8-year-old into a rebel without a cause – these were the ‘James Dean of undies’.  And a few select pairs of them will live on forever in the home movies we still watch.  They will haunt me till the day I die.

I don’t remember many of the gifts but I do remember the traditions that led up to them.  And thankfully the traditions continue. 

Grandma and Grandpa have passed on.  The farm has been split up and sold.  Now we go to my folk’s place and the tradition of reading the Christmas story has passed down through my mother who no longer is able to read it because of Alzheimer’s, to my sister and myself.  Thankfully, our children have grown up hearing the story every year that reminds us what the season is really about.  They too have endured the dreaded dish washing marathons and their Grandpa who still tells us its time to go home when it’s really time to open presents.  He still has a mean streak! 

And yes, the tradition of ugly underwear continues, only now we wear them on our heads for the annual Christmas photos.

And proudly display them even though we’re usually laughing so hard we can’t take a good picture to save our souls.

The traditions continue and this year we may have even added a new one or perhaps two.

 This will be known forevermore as the year my nephew brought his first batch of home-made beer.

And the year of the tape measures.

Perhaps this may  have added to what happened next – I wonder?

It started out innocently enough.  Dad purchased a 12 pack – a case of tape measures.

Within 5 seconds of passing them out this is what the livingroom looked like.

And it got worse.

As the evening went on records were set and broken:

Indoor Unassisted:  105″

Indoor Assisted – with up to 3 other tapes holding another one up:  139″

Outdoors Unassisted:  113″

We may have the making of a new Olympic sport.

Today they come to our house for Christmas dinner.

I hope they bring their tape measures!

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