Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Farewell, old friend

Today the wind is howling through central Oregon. It's the kind of wind that goes beyond irritating. Its scary! I drove up to feed my horses in Camp Sherman, noticing the trees waving around on both sides of the road, trying to imagine what my reactions should be if this one or that plunged to the ground. Would I stop in time? Would we get squished? Would I survive if the tree hit the back part of my van? What about Murphy, my dog?

I turned off my imagination and turned up K-Love, and no trees fell.

This afternoon I went into town and one of my errands was to drop off a nomination for an urban tree award that the City of Sisters is offering. I was going to nominate a huge old juniper that towered over our Park Place neighborhood. The developers left it in the middle of the road, and every time I'd look toward the mountains, the sentinel tree was standing firm and tall.

I drove past to look at it once more before dropping off the nomination...and all that's left of it is one large branch and the trunk! The wind blew the top out of it - today.

So now I'm regretting that I never took any "before" photos of our woody neighbor. And it turns out the city won't consider a posthumous award.

Mother Nature is just not nice sometimes.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Shear Delight

I fell in love with my husband 30 years ago, over the back of a sheep in a New Zealand woolshed. I'd met him in a pub a few weeks earlier, went on a date and set my boundaries, but it wasn't until I saw him in his real world that I began to discover the manly man I'd become chummy with.

He learned to shear sheep when he decided to go to university and needed a reliable way to earn summer income. He joined a shearing gang and traveled around to various farms, staying in shearers quarters near the woolsheds. A typical nine-hour day went thus:

4:30 am - get up and have a cup of tea
5-7 am - shear about 60 sheep
7-8 am - breakfast: mutton chops or bacon, fried potatoes, eggs, porridge, toast, tea.
8-9:45 - shear about 45-50 sheep
9:45 - 10:15 - morning break (called "smoko") : tea, sandwiches or scones
10:15 - noon - shear 45-50 sheep
noon-1 pm - lunch: cold mutton, mashed potato, salad, bread and butter, tea
1-2:45 - shear 45-50 sheep
2:45-3:15 - afternoon smoko: more scones or something equally filling, tea
3:15-5 - shear 45-50 sheep. Turn the music up really loud to help get through the last hour.
5-6:30 - shower, get gear ready for the next day, drink the first beer of the evening
6:30 or 7 - dinner: roast mutton, roast potatoes, roast kumara (sweet potato), roast pumpkin, peas, bread and butter, dessert of ice cream and fruit and...tea.

Bedtime was usually around 9pm, after several more beers, then up the next day for more of the same.

The summer after we met and got engaged, Goddy went back into the woolsheds to earn his way to America, but he was a very different shearer that year. He'd become a Christian and it was more than a change of heart for him. He gave up the beer drinking habit, much to the astonishment of his shearing mates, and spent the evenings writing me lovely letters and reading his Bible. He still shore(or as you Americans say, sheared) between 250-300 sheep every day, which he discovered is about the same energy output as running back-to-back marathons or playing three rugby games all in a row or cycling not-quite-as-well as Lance Armstrong in a Tour de France day. My response to that information was an awe-struck and breathless, "Wow."

Shearing has been good for us, in a spiritual and financial sense. The jury is out some days as to its physical goodness. Though it certainly does develop a killer bicep - ask Logan for details on that - which is very attractive (to the wife) on a sweaty, hardworking man.

As Goddy is, um, maturing, he's come to realize that shearing eight and nine hour days is a young man's job. Which is why he doesn't put in those kind of hours any more. He shears part-time in our area throughout the spring and summer, and travels over the Cascades to shear alpacas in late spring.

Recently he put in a one-hour day over at Powell Butte and I was present with my camera.

Doing the belly. You have to be careful here with the personal regions of the sheep. Good breeding ewes have been wrecked by having a teat hacked off. Goddy is thankful that sheep don't birth litters like pigs do.

Going through the crutch. That sounds so much better than "doing the crotch," don't you think?

One of my favorite views, of the shearer, that is. Who knew Bi-Mart Rustler jeans could look so good?
He's just finished the long blow and is about to come down the last side.

Part-way down the last side. Notice the way he's got the fleece laid out. That makes it easier to pick up when he's finished. I know this because I did the picking-up for a season or two. Not all shearers are so thoughtful with their wool handlers. But then, most shearers don't go home with the wool handlers at the end of the day, either.

The final few blows. And then...

Gathering up the fleece into a tidy bundle. It's then thrown onto a table for skirting (picking the yukky stuff out from around the edges.)
This is usually my job, but I was wearing a nice shirt, plus I had the camera.

Throwing the fleece. Goddy is hidden by the flying fibers. Believe me, it's hard to throw a fleece so it stays together!

The Bible says in Isaiah 53:7...'as a sheep before her shearers is silent...' It's true, a skilled shearer gets the job done without the sheep protesting. There's a life lesson there...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Nursery Times

And still the babies come! We've just tagged calf # 8, or will tomorrow, since he was just born an hour ago!

It's been a busy week in the calving pasture. We awoke yesterday to find one had died when the membrane covering his nose hadn't broken. His momma loved him, but she started off licking his hind legs, which didn't help his nose at all.

So Goddy roamed around the ranch for a while, feeling a bit blue as you do when this happens. He started calling around to see if anyone had a spare calf, and lo and behold, our friend Russ did. How's that for a divine intervention? This little calf is real lively and knows just where the feed taps are. But when Goddy put the skin of the dead calf on him, the mother was so spooked by her suddenly resurrected baby that she ran off bellowing. Thankfully, she ran the same direction that the calf was going, which was toward the cattle chute and yards we have set up. Goddy got them settled into separate pens so they could get accustomed to each other, though I think the calf was prepared to bond instantly, as long as there was food. It took the cow a bit longer, but today they're co-habitating happily. I think we'll be able to remove the now-stinky coat tomorrow.

This afternoon there was a calving that makes up for all the difficult ones. The heifer started at 3, and by 5 there was another little red fellow flopping around like a landed fish, with a bunch of "Aunty" heifers looking on, ready to run the playgroup. We got them out of the way, little Flopsy got himself up and oriented and tonight all's well in the nursery.

We hope...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

there's always a bright spot

I spent last week in Anacortes, something I'm doing each month while my dad is ill. I'll do it for as long as he and Mom want me to; it's one of the reason's we live in the US now and it's a joy to serve them.

There's also a bonus with Logan and Evan and their little families being in Washington. This trip, I got to spend some sweet time with Alyssa and Rowan. They met me at the airport and we drove on up to Anacortes.

They spent two nights there, then headed south on a day swathed in snow and buffeted by the wind. Of course, I worried all day, needlessly it turns out. Alyssa has become quite the adventurer and got home in fine form.

Rowan entertained us in his usual sweet ways, and I have photographic evidence of it...

Trying on Grammum's hats. Back when I was a kid, great-grandmother hats had veils and pearls and were either black or pink.

Since we were reading Hairy McClairey From Donaldson's Dairy - a book about a New Zealand dog and his pals that we'd read to the boys when they were little - it seemed appropriate to invite Max and Henry, too.

Aw, shucks... aren't we cute?

Ok, Gremmy, enough book stuff. Let's do something fun. This could be a 1000 foot cliff I'm hanging over.

With two book-worm grandmothers, it's inevitable that Rowan likes to look at words and pictures (probably not in that order.)

Also, I didn't spend the whole weekend lying around in bed!

We're sure looking forward to Alyssa and Rowan's visit to the ranch in April.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A New Season

Yay! I get to talk about cows again.

Calving is underway at Willows Ranch. Our tiny herd of 14 first-calving heifers spent last winter growing themselves, and this year growing babies.

After a not-so-auspicious start to our cattle enterprise here - the bull we leased broke his leg (thankfully near the end of the breeding season), then a yearling steer lay down and died - we wondered what would happen next. Heifers can be full of surprises.

Falcon and Valor are surprised at all the fuss.

Sure enough, the first calf presented with hind legs first. Uh-oh. But the clever heifer was doing the deed in daylight, we had all our supplies and a shiny new calving machine. Apart from the way it makes me feel when we have to help a cow have her calf the whole operation went smoothly. You women who have had children could possibly relate; or maybe your husbands can. It's one thing to watch natural processes from a distance and quite another to stand there "helping". You can hardly massage a cow when she's in pain. All you can do is get the calf out as quickly as possible.

Anyway, little #1 slid out and his mother loves him and he's doing just fine.

(We won't be naming these calves. It's too difficult
to put an identity into the freezer. These guys are destined to be natural, grass finished beef.)

#2 came along this morning. He's having to get by with a little help from his friends until his mother settles down a bit. She's a fidgety one with lots of milk so it's a bit painful for her when he's getting a drink. It's Goddy to the rescue with some milk replacer to keep up the little guy's strength until we can get her into a smaller pen for a while. We (that means Goddy) may have to milk her out a bit to ease the pressure. I wonder if I should loan him my helmet - I'll bet she's a kicker.

Can't wait for the sun to shine and the grass to grow! We decdided long ago that if there ever came a day that we don't think calves cavorting in the sunshine is the cutest thing ever, we'd be done with ranching. Yes, even crusty old aggies think like that!