A Day on the Ranch

I love the winter when the cows and horses are on pasture and daily feeding isn’t a thing, unless the snow gets too deep. We’ve had very little snow this year, although February may have something up its sleeve–it did the last time we had a snowless January. But despite being snowless, it’s been cold at night–this is what a stock waterer looks like when it breaks and no one notices until it’s too late.

Anyway, today we moved the cattle off the big winter pasture onto the smaller pasture. It started off cold, 2 degrees F, so I dressed appropriately. Without the mask, the cheeks burn. When its really cold we wear snowmobile goggles, too. 

Of course the cattle were scattered over a large area on the far side of the acreage. Really scattered. So instead of taking the side by side and attempting to herd them, we decided to try the old Pied Piper routine. We loaded a bale of hay in the bucket of the tractor and headed off across the field to see if we could lure them in. My stepfather has no luck doing this, but we decided to give it a go, even though it meant crossing a big field at approximately 5 miles per hour.  The tractor has a heater and the side by side does not.

The cows recalled that the tractor means food, and came to see what was on the menu. It was grass hay, not their preferred rich alfalfa, but they decided it was worth trying to get a bite. We let them have one little taste, then headed for home. Thankfully, they followed.








This is 5X, our lead cow. Where she goes, so goes the herd, and thankfully, she wanted the hay–even if it was substandard. She walked beside my window the entire way back to the ranch.

After we got the animals in, we had to give shots to the heifers, then turn everyone out onto the new pasture.

And here are my parents, taking their daily walk across the field with the horses, now the lone occupants of  160 acres, drifting behind them.

It was a good day on the ranch.


The Kitchen Garden

In my current work in progress, I have placed a large, modern, garden just outside the kitchen door of the ranch house. In the days before refrigerators and all-night grocery stores, nearly every settler planted a kitchen garden once the house was finished, be it soddy, cabin or a mansion. But what exactly is a kitchen garden?

It’s just what the name implies: a garden planted near the kitchen in which you grow all the vegetables needed for every-day cooking, as well as a variety of herbs to add sensational flavor to every recipe.

“The bulk of homesteaders’ diets were harvested from their claim or gathered from the wilderness that surrounded them. “Store-bought” items consisted of those few items which could not be grown, shot, picked, or made on the farm… the homesteaders…often lived a prohibitive distance from the nearest store, and “trips to town” were few and far between.

“…Many families planted two gardens a year: one in the spring, which would supply greens, peas, and radishes, and one in the summer, which would provide heartier vegetables such as pumpkins, beans, potatoes, and squash. Settlers brought seeds with them to their new homes, bought them once they arrived on the frontier, or wrote to relatives “back East” asking for a hasty shipment. Creating bountiful gardens required constant vigilance against gophers, deer, bears, crows, and a host of other “invaders.” A successful garden was critical to homesteaders’ ability to feed themselves and their families; a single heavy storm or an unexpected frost could, in fact, destroy half a year’s supplies.
[Christopher W. Czajka, PBS Frontier House Essays, ]

Here’s an example of the plantings in a recreated 1800s kitchen garden at the NEW HAMPSHIRE FARM MUSEUM:

“…Peas, snap and shell/ Onions, sweet, yellow storage, red, and red storage/ Leeks, early and late types/ Scallions, purple and white/ Cauliflower (some spring, mostly fall)/ Celeriac/ Lettuce/ Mesclun mix (mixed lettuces and other greens)/ Spinach/ Herbs: Basil, Dill, Parsley, Cilantro, (Cumin?)/ Bok Choy/ Cabbage/ Broccoli/ Fava Beans (trial size planting)/ Swiss Chard/ Kale, green curly (Winterbor), red curly (Redbor), Red Russian, Lacinato/ Collards/ Beets/ Carrots/ Hakurei (Salad) Turnips/ Radishes/ Beans, green and dry types/ ParsnipsTomatoes, red types, cherries, heirlooms/ Husk Cherries (Ground Cherries)/ Peppers, sweet and hot types / Eggplants/ Cucumbers, pickling and slicing types/ Summer Squash, yellow, Pattypans, Zucchinis/ Potatoes, early, mid, late types, (fingerlings, reds, whites, blues, golds….)/ Corn, sweet, ornamental, popcorn Brussels Sprouts (fall only)/ Muskmelons/ Watermelons/ Winter Squashes/ Pumpkins, Jack-o-lantern, pie, mini types, and gourds/ Fall Turnips/ Rutabagas (for storage).“ http://www.farmmuseum.org/farm.html

The lady of the house might also plant herbs and flowers in her garden, for cooking and for medicinal use. And just because they looked pretty on the table. I remember my grandmother, who grew up on a North Dakota homestead, telling me which plants in her extensive kitchen garden were to eat and which were there to ward off pests, both insects and deer.

When I was growing up, we had a garden, though it was planted more with an eye toward supplying our favorite fruits and vegetables rather than a balanced diet: strawberries, melons, sweet corn, green beans, tomatoes… Mostly I remember it was hard, hot work.

Do any of you have a “kitchen garden?” Did you grow up with one? What was it like?

Sharon Gillenwater: Excuse Me, May I Borrow Part of Your Ranch?

Gillenwater-02I grew up in West Texas, in Mitchell County.  So far, I’ve used my hometown of Colorado City as the actual setting for only one of my books.  But all of my westerns, whether historical or contemporary, are set in fictional towns in that part of the country.  Its wonderful history fuels this writer’s heart and imagination.


The first ranch was established in the county in 1875.  Only a handful of ranchers followed until the building of the Texas and Pacific Railroad spurred settlement of the area.


Mitchell County and Colorado City, known then simply as Colorado, were organized in 1881.  (For clarity, I’m going to add City.)  Ranchers moved thousands of Texas Longhorns into the vast open range of West Texas.  Colorado City sprang to life with stores, saloons, boarding houses, hotels, churches and a school.


When it came time to sell some cattle, those same ranchers—from all across West Texas and southeast New Mexico—herded them to Colorado City for shipment to Kansas City and Chicago.  They also hauled in wagonloads of buffalo bones, gathered from the prairie, and sent them to factories back east to make fertilizer and buttons. 


Supplies for the town and ranches came into Colorado City by rail and were hauled by wagon all across West Texas and the Panhandle.  The area needed people, and they came, full of dreams and the determination to make them happen.  The descendants of many of those families are still there.


Bob and Betty Gary arrived in Mitchell County in 1881.  Mr. Gary was employed at a grocery in Colorado City until he and Betty bought a ranch south of town in 1898.  Several years later, their daughter, Ewell, married Charles Thompson.  When they inherited the land, they changed the name to Thompson Ranch—which is where I grew up. 


Picture#1forPetticoatsandPistolsMy parents moved to the ranch in 1945, a year after they were married.  Soon Daddy became the ranch foreman, a position he held until his death over fifty years later.  The ranch had six thousand acres which my dad, my brother, and one or two hired hands worked—raising around three hundred head of Hereford cattle and farming cotton.


But when I needed a fictional ranch for the powerful, wealthy family in my new series from Revell, The Callahans of Texas, I wanted something bigger.  So I moseyed down the highway and borrowed sixty thousand acres from the Spade Ranch.  It runs over a hundred thousand acres, so I figured they wouldn’t mind letting me use some of their range.  Imaginary cattle don’t eat much. 


And it has an illustrious history.  Technically, it is the Renderbrook Spade.  Renderbrook comes from a large spring on the ranch, named for Captain Joseph Rendlebrock who led Company G, Fourth Cavalry through the area in 1872.  They were scouting for Indians or Indian signs as well as exploring and mapping the little known country west and north of Fort Concho, which is near San Angelo.


They had a brief skirmish with some Indians, which lasted “less than no time.”  The little battle helped attach the Captain’s name to the spring, although someone botched the spelling, and called it Renderbrook.


By 1882, brothers J.W. and Dudley Snyder bought the land around Renderbrook Springs.  They’d been ranching for several years and knew that the free range wouldn’t last.  They built a substantial headquarters, known as the “White House.”  It is still there today.


They did well until the financial panic in 1885 was followed by a severe drought in 1886-1888.  Ranching had changed since the early days, and capital requirements for land, livestock and improvements such as wells, windmills, tanks and fencing were beyond the reach of most who had built the beef cattle industry. 


The Snyders needed a buyer for their ranch when Isaac Ellwood and his son, William L., arrived in Colorado City in 1889. 


Originally from New York, Isaac had had a few adventures—working as a teamster on the Erie Canal and later spending time in the California goldfields.  But he had settled in DeKalb, Illinois and established a prosperous hardware business.  Adequate fencing was a common problem, and Isaac worked on a design for barbed wire.  In 1874, when he saw that Joseph Glidden’s design was better than his, Isaac formed a partnership with the older man.  Two years later, Glidden wanted to retire and sold his interest in the company to Washburn & Moen, a wire manufacturing company from Massachusetts.  Isaac now had a powerful partner that changed a little cottage industry into big business.  He made millions.


When Isaac and his son came to West Texas to promote their barbed wire, he was already a respected horse breeder and owned a progressive farm complex outside of DeKalb.   But he wanted land in Texas.  They stayed at the St. James Hotel, the ritziest one in Colorado City.  It was favored by cattlemen, particularly the big operators.


When the Ellwoods toured Renderbrook, they liked what they saw, especially its potential.  They bought the ranch, but the Snyders kept their cattle and their brand. 


PetticoatsandPistolspicture2Isaac turned over the running of the ranch to William L. and went back to Illinois to tend to the wire business and harvest at his farm.  William L. began searching for a herd.  He found it two hundred miles away in the Texas Panhandle.  He purchased 800 head of cattle from J. F. “Spade” Evans and acquired the brand which is shaped like a short-handled spade.  Thus the ranch became Renderbrook Spade, generally known as Spade Ranch.


I not only borrowed some land for the Callahans, I appropriated the spring, too, renaming it Aidan’s Spring in honor of Aidan Callahan.  He brought the first herd into my fictionalized version of the area and established the ranch and the little town of Callahan Crossing. 


The modern day Callahans—Dub and Sue and their children Will, Chance and Jenna—are as loyal to the ranch and the town as Aidan was.  Each of the three books has a stand alone romance, but their love of God, family and West Texas runs strongly through the series.


And the siblings need that support.  In Jenna’s Cowboy, which hits the stores in January, Jenna and her family help their friend and her hero, Nate Langley, deal with post traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.


In Emily’s Chance, which comes out next September, Chance recruits their help to try to win the heart of a big-city career woman who has her five-year plan all laid out—and it doesn’t include him.


And in the last, yet unnamed book, Will falls for a courageous young woman who is pregnant, unmarried and homeless.  The family pitches in to show Savannah that wealth or poverty doesn’t matter when it comes to love.


JENNA'SCOWBOYCOVERMy thanks to Cheryl St.John and the ladies of Petticoats and Pistols for asking me to be a guest blogger.


Leave a comment to enter the drawing for a copy of Jenna’s Cowboy.


Jenna’s Cowboy is Sharon Gillenwater’s nineteenth published novel.  She’s written for both the ABA and CBA, with settings ranging from Regency England and Scotland to Texas in the 1880’s and modern day Texas.  Five of her books were published under the penname Sharon Harlow.  Visit her website at http://www.sharongillenwater.com   She is also on Facebook.

Sharon will send an autographed copy of Jenna’s Cowboy to one person who comments this weekend!

Download an excerpt from Jenna’s Cowboy, go Revell’s website.

Artificial Insemination~And that’s NO BULL

  Mary Connealy

To my surprise I mentioned to some friends (well, FORMER FRIENDS, the wimps) that I came home the other day and there was semen on my front porch. (Note the warning to keep the tank upright…I’m guessing that there is NO ORDER concerning a semen tank that anyone would dare disobey.)

 Their reaction – a cross between horror, amazement and completely tasteless jokes—made me think this might make a good topic for Petticoats & Pistols.
Now stick with me all you CITY GIRLS while I tell you about Artificial Insemination of cattle.
    My husband is a rancher. He has cows that give birth every spring. The next winter, he sells off the year’s calf crop and then in the spring, here come more babies.
    They are unbelievable cute. And it’s a sign we are true country people because we can love them and fuss over them and coddle them and then. . . without batting an eye. . .we can eat them.
    So these are beef cattle. . .not to be confused with dairy cattle. . .and my husband mainly raises Angus.
Angus are black (although there are RED Angus-one is pictured above left) but for the most part when you say Angus, you mean a black cow.
The majority of his cattle are just nice, run-of-the-mill angus cows, but there is this special side to raising beef cattle that can lead to big money.
No, it hasn’t led us there yet, but my husband has a dream, a cool dream, that he’ll raise that magical perfect, beautiful animal with all the right ancestors and all the right lines; wide butt, broad chest, deep belly, (uh-oh, I just described myself) and this animal will be valuable and have valuable babies and maybe even, if it happens to be a BULL it might be marketable for it’s semen.
The pictures of the calves are from our herd and that’s my husband on the right, this picture doesn’t capture my husband’s basic cuteness. The hood really wrecks it but the man wasn’t about to pose and smile for the camera.
    So, to that end, my husband buys semen. He buys registered Angus cows and semen from snazzy Angus bulls and breeds the cows using artificial insemination.
    I just heard Cheryl St. John scream and faint, toss some water on her, bring her around, she’s not going to want to miss the rest.
First he has to pick out semen. And for that he gets catalogues. Catalogues full of the most beautiful pictures of these magnificent, heavily muscled, shining black bulls.
   With really amazing names like (these aren’t all Angus-but they’re real bulls):
Hornster, Rib Eye; Red Hot Poker; Romeo; Grand Slam; Ladies Man; Bullicious; Rapid Response; Powerhouse; Red Hot & Rollin’—I could go on forever.
    They seem to have a naughty bend. . .at least quite a bit of the time. Hmmmm I guess I’ll forego a comment on that, nothing I’m thinking bears repeating.
   So he buys the semen and he makes his choices on this list of things, attributes that the bull owner promises. (Many of these bulls are dead-we can talk about that if you want). Here are some sample promises:
Birth weight of 56 pounds (that’s small-which doesn’t matter and is in fact good IF the calf gains quickly, a small calf is easier for the cow to deliver and complications are reduced)
–Progeny are Strong-topped, Deep and Sound with Ample Eye-appeal (this is NOT in English, do NOT worry if you have no idea what it means)
–Structured bull who possesses loads of bone substance, base width, muscle mass and volume.
— one of the most talked about bulls in the business
— Over 100 calves ratioed 97 for birth wt. in nine herds, 103 for weaning weight, and 60 calves ratioed 102 for yearling wt (this is actually something to really brag about but I don’t have time to define all the terms, just trust me)
— This may be the most powerful “878” son you’ll see with plenty of muscle and bone. (878 is the name of another bull, in this case, this bull’s daddy.)
 He gets these full color beautiful catalogues with pictures of bulls that (this is secret so don’t tell my husband I said it) ALL LOOK ALIKE.
     I’ve put up pictures of black angus and other types of cattle, you’ll note the black angus are all BLACK, try picking one of them out of crowd. The weird thing is, my husband can do it. We have about 250 head of cattle mostly all black, a bunch of them baby calves and he KNOWS THEM APART. This from a man who can’t seem to remember it’s my BIRTHDAY, but that’s a topic for another blog.
    They all look NICE, but c’mon, they’re black angus bulls. Of course they’re not all “the most powerful “878” son you’ll see—”, but those details don’t exactly show up in the snapshot.
   Then he buys it and it’s shipped to our house (do NOT ask me who does this for a living. The vet maybe? Is there an actual ‘semen delivery man’. Does UPS handle this stuff).
    The tank which looks a little like a teensy spaceship, arrives. It’s brutally killing cold inside. My husband transfers this to his own brutally killing cold tank and then bides his time. Waits for the cow to – well, let’s just say ‘express an interesting in–uh–well, falling in love and getting married and going on a honeymoon–for one day’ – when this happens, my husband is ready.

    It’s actually pretty tricky. I’m skipping details that you’d THANK me for skipping if you just knew what they are. Don’t even TALK about Gomer Bulls, that’s just too weird.
     And I listen to words like cervix and ‘in heat’ and servicing and settling, and hear my husband say, “I’ve got to go breed a cow” with my Wheaties in the morning and think nothing of it.

   Until I mention to some city girls (Please unblock me from your email. I promise not to bring up what’s on my porch again-although I’ve got a rabid skunk story that I think you’d love. And there’s a REASON it looks like there’s been a drive-by shooting on my porch. And does anyone know where to buy large quantities of wood putty?).
And that’s what made me realize this little slice of my life might be of some interest to others.
Any questions?
If you want to know what a Gomer Bull is, Google it. I am NOT going into that. Ick.
  And here for your enjoyment, a few captions
A Gomer Bull has had surgery WHERE?

I’m being replaced with a frozen tank? I don’t think so. Bring it!

I have the best job in the world!







Mama and baby 


A new series begins with Montana Rose-coming in July

A departure from the westerns with a cozy mystery in a small town

Nosy in Nebraska coming in June

Book #3 Lassoed in Texas Series-available on Amazon-click the covers to purchase

Find out more at www.maryconnealy.com