Jeff, sippin' on colostrum
Category: Live from the Ranch
Colostrum smells wonderful, a little like a malted milk shake. Reportedly, it doesn't taste as good as it smells.

Posted by Nick B. on 04/19/2013

Category: Live from the Ranch

We keep heifers that are close to calving on a circular, pivot irrigated field, and ride through them many times throughout the day. Jeff (ranch manager) set up a couple of pens in the middle of the pivot. We keep all the tools necessary to tend to cows and calves at this central hub. If a heifer or calf has a serious problem, we bring them to those pens and tend to them. Pictured above is Jeff's dog Hector, keeping an eye on the water we are boiling to mix up some replacement colostrum. Colostrum is a nutrient, antibody dense milk that cows produce for their new calves. It's vital that a calf stand up and get a drink of colostrum within an hour of birth. If the calf is not strong enough to stand up, we provide the calf with its first meal.
Posted by Nick B. on 04/19/2013

Calving on the MZ
Category: Live from the Ranch
I am spending the next two weeks helping our "neighbors" (friends and co-workers-- Jeff Gossage, ranch manager) at the Medano-Zapata ranch (our sister ranch) to calve out first calf heifers. The heifers are sometimes too small of frame to support their own weight after intense physical intensity of giving birth for the first time, so we provide them with some mechanized assistance.

I love the excuse these heifers give us to take slow, painstaking care of each animal, sometimes staying out 'till late to ensure each calf finds a warm drink of milk, and each cow finds her calf.

Posted by Nick B. on 04/18/2013

Who we are, where we're going
Category: Live from the Ranch
Amy suggested we try a different approach to opening our financial planning brainstorming meeting. At her suggestion I put together a few prompts, & an outline that led us to describe the Chico in some of the ways you see above, and embark on our brainstorming meeting in a positive, cooperative spirit.

In the meeting, we were attempting to answer the questions that I alluded to in my last blog post, How can we make enough money to offset the losses that not having calves to sell next fall will induce? What sort of new businesses should we investigate? What old businesses can we put more attention into? The wheels are turning in all of our minds.

Posted by Nick B. on 02/16/2013

Drought, selling cows
Category: Live from the Ranch
Pictured above are Amy & Stuart, studying one of the charts we use to plan  where & for how long cows will graze on the ranch over the course of a year.

Duke, Stuart Amy & myself met on Tuesday afternoon to check in. The dress code was neckties & work clothes. The topic of conversation revolved around the drought, & that we are going to sell off a substantial chunk of the cow herd over the next months.We were all quiet & thoughtful & a little goofy looking, as we sat & talked about what the ranch might look like with fewer cows on it, & where we'll focus our time & effort in order to keep the place financially viable. Duke, a consummate brainstormer,  offered that we might start gathering watercress out of the springs on the ranch, & selling the stuff to whole foods. We laughed at this, & left the meeting with heads full of thoughts & dreams & fears about the future.

We are selling cows because we didn't grow enough grass last summer to support our cows through another growing season (spring & summer), especially if we don't receive much rain again.

We spent time this week figuring out how many cows our sub-irrigated, creek bottom pastures can support through the next 12 months. These sub-irrigated pastures don't directly depend on rainfall to grow grass, so we will plan to use them to support what we do keep on the ranch, and we will keep hoping for rain.

Posted by Nick B. on 02/14/2013

Beefmaster records
Category: Live from the Ranch
Duke tasked Amy with certifying the Beefmaster cows. The Beefmasters are a pure bred group of cows (Beefmaster is the name of the breed). We haven't registered this group for the last eight years. And now it's time.

The re-certification process involves going through years of calf records (lists of numbers indicating a momma cow and her calf) & matching the current group of cows, to the ones we had certified 8+ years ago. Some records are incomplete, and numbers are repeated here & there. 

On Monday, Amy called Maycamp around (Dan, Stuart and myself). After a week of sifting through the records, she'd come up with one match. At that rate, it would take her two and a half years to register the remaining cows. She asked us all, How can I possibly make sense of this still daunting stack of papers?

I asked a few clarifying questions, related to the system she had thus far created, trying to slowly in my slow way make sense of her series of excel spreadsheets.

Stuart & Dan rapidly assessed her spreadsheet, and offered an excel formula ("VLookup") that, with a little more data entry, could do the matching for her. I faded into the kitchen to cook dinner, poking my head in to watch the three of them bounce organizing principles &, structural ideas off of each other.

By the time they had landed on a plan of action, a formula, a new group of spreadsheets, dinner was a little cold, and I had moved to the couch where I had a comfortable vantage where I could watch &listen as the dynamic discourse unfolded.

I was impressed by the selfless way in which Dan & Stuart dove into helping Amy, and by the trusting & open way in which Amy asked for help.

Posted by Nick B. on 02/13/2013

Category: Live from the Ranch
With our crew reassembled after the holidays, we have jumped into a series of pasture moves and gathers. Working in two or three separate groups of riders, we went to with gusto this week: consolidating groups of cattle and moving them elsewhere on the ranch, and sorting out old rough looking cows for sale.

Because we've been dealing with a lot of dry cows (cows without calves on them), my dog Liz(ard) has been able to accompany me on pasture moves. It's a joy to watch her work, instinctively flowing from one animal to the next, and predicting my next move or command.

Posted by Nick B. on 01/10/2013

Projects, project horses
Category: Live from the Ranch
We have started into another group of young horses, projects for the winter. Amy is working a short palomino gelding she nicknamed "Short-cake." Kathleen has "Merlin" a friendly, blue-eyed creature. And Stuart is finishing up with "Brooks" a buckskin gelding with a big head, and an old fashioned temperment. I am working a cremello mare with blue eyes. She seems nice and I am enjoying the gradual learning process.
In the meantime, Harper is working in the shop-- tackling one project after another, painstaking and methodically making things and fixing things with metal. Last week he finished a recycling container.
Kathryn has taken on milking Veronica the milk cow, whose muscular and silky smooth steer calf we sent to the sale. Maybe if we drink enough of that raw milk we will end up muscular and silky like him!
Finally, Coleman is working on organizing the Quonset, putting scrap wood in its place, and pulling old broken tools out of the dusty corners.

Posted by Nick B. on 11/29/2012

Changing of the guard
Category: Live from the Ranch
Kerstin, Elliot and Brent left the Chico today. Kerstin's next move is to work on a cattle ranch in Australia while Elliot is planning to work at a landscape architecture firm in San Francisco. Brent is off to visit his parents in San Jose, CA and figure out what he will do next.

I will miss all three, and found a thing in each which I respect and admire.
Kerstin managed to keep the subtle landscape of the Chico always beautiful to herself, not letting it fade into the background to be overwhelmed by daily work. 
Elliot, to my eye, developed a quiet self assurance and ethic, different from the swagger that he arrived with.
Brent was a leader in building community-- inclusive and generous, applying himself with maniacal intensity to each task.

Thanks for your hard work.

Our new intern crew, Kathryn, Coleman and Harper, who mostly arrived just before Bison Works, has already very quickly adapted itself to the rhythms of working and living on the Chico. I am looking forward to working with and learning more from these three.

Posted by Nick B. on 11/18/2012

End of breeding season
Category: Live from the Ranch
We've been pulling bulls out of all the herds this week and last, and trailing them to a pasture we call the Back Pocket. The length of breeding season determines the length of calving season, determines the uniformity of calf crop and the fertility of mother cows. Most of our bulls are destined for slaughter; only the youngest will linger for another breeding season.
Posted by Nick B. on 09/06/2012

Thursday, Aug 30, 2012
Category: Live from the Ranch
Stuart, now heading up our summer pipeline project, is an incredible planner. Week after week, working in the bright yellows and greys of excel shading, he produces pipeline project plans, coordinating himself, a crew of interns, and Amy and I to help bring this project to fruition. The trick, I think, is to plan in for unexpected delays.

We are installing large stock tanks and miles of pipeline-- our goal is to enable more cattle to spread out more evenly across pastures in their grazing, and thus use our grass more efficiently in the parts of the ranch that don't have natural springs or watering holes.

Posted by Nick B. on 08/30/2012

Sunday, Jul 29, 2012
Category: Live from the Ranch
In my spare time I've been reading The Stockmanship Journal ( The first issue is a direct transcription of a Bud Williams stockmanship school. And it's led me to the question of why do people (myself included) get uptight, or stressed all the time, when working with livestock? I think it's partly because I'm used to communicating with words, and animals understand movement better-- and, well, I'm awkward at moving.

The article puts a smile on my face every time I sit down to read it-- it fills me with a sort of exuberance to be working, or playing, with livestock. Bud Williams plays with the ways in which we describe handling stock to ourselves, and asks us to relax our expectations and watch the cattle, learn from the cattle. Here's a quote from Bud Williams:
"Maybe we should go play with our cattle because we have such a bad attitude about work now, like it’s a terrible thing. No, we should go enjoy them, just enjoy being with ‘em. We’re working ‘em but we’re not working, we’re just going to enjoy what we do with them because once you call it work, now we’re working with them, it’s a job that we gotta get done."
Posted by Nick B. on 07/29/2012

Thursday, Jul 19, 2012
Category: Live from the Ranch
A few calves died out east this past month. After a hot, windy, smoky rancid van ride with a couple of the aforementioned deceased to the vet in Calhan for a post mortem, and back again --  results from Fort Collins: Scours-- a sometimes deadly calf diarrhea. I've been riding through the herd horseback or on a bike with a pack of meds every morning, looking for squirty butts or labored breathing. I rope and tie any sick calf, doctor it, and cut the ear so we know it's had antibiotics.
Posted by Nick B. on 07/19/2012

Thursday, Jun 07, 2012
Category: Live from the Ranch
A tornado may have skirted the Eastern reaches of the ranch this evening, anyway within sight of the ranch. We four Maycamp occupants stood outside in the warm wind and watched lightening stretch across the sky, illuminating, in brief sketches, a cylinder of clouds, each time illuminating a slightly different aspect.

Posted by Nick B. on 06/07/2012

Category: Live from the Ranch

Duke, flip-flopped, beer in hand, instructed five of us in making things out of leather, yesterday afternoon. He skipped from project to project, instructing each of us on the next step, and filling in on the sewing machine whenever needed. Duke instructs with a distracted intensity, his mind keeping track of five things at once-- willing each thing to turn out beautifully, with sharp, precise edges and stitching that holds, but keeping enough distance from each thing to let his students make the things.

Posted by Nick B. on 05/18/2012

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