The holidays are fast approaching and, as usual, I’m wondering where the time went between harvesting tomatoes and calculating how long it takes to thaw a turkey in the fridge.
This is my favorite time on the ranch. The cows are on winter pasture, so we don’t have to feed them everyday. Likewise with the horses. If the weather cooperates, the horses and cows might be on pasture until spring. We get a lot of wind where we live, so the snow blows into drifts, scrubbing the pastures and allowing the cows, horses, deer and antelope to continue to graze. We have a herd of close to 30 antelope that winter with the cows.
The only guy we have to feed is the bull, and he’s on a diet. His bedding is edible, and his weight kind of got out of control, so now we have him on rations.
That said we did have a bit of early snow. This is my sweetie and I feeding in September!
And here are the cows waiting to be fed…in September.
Thankfully the weather has calmed down, the snow melted and we were able to do some last minute fence fixing. Fencing-fixing is like laundry–it never ends.
And a young moose came to visit. He’s actually larger than he looks in the picture. He’s about as big as a horse–and totally fearless. Thankfully, he took exception to the riding lawnmower and decided to settle in a place with a little less noise.
Now that winter is almost here, I’m looking forward to spending my free time writing (so many ideas!), sewing and reading. I have some history books I want to read and a lot of western romances to catch up on.
How do you plan to spend your time as the holidays approach?
Hey everyone! Today I’m talking about beaverslides, which are not fun devices located on playgrounds for flat-tailed furry mammals, I’m sorry to say. A beaverslide is a way to stack loose hay.
In the eastern part of the United States, it wasn’t necessary to store as much winter forage/hay as it was in the west. Due to the long, harsh winters, western ranchers often needed to store more hay than the average hayloft could hold. Thankfully, due to the low humidity, hay could be stacked outside, rather than under a barn roof, without rotting as it would do in the east.
When my mom was a kid, the field hands pitched loose hay from the fields into wagons, where people (kids) would stamp down the hay to make room for more. The trick, she said, was to not get a pitchfork in the leg. Having once had a pitchfork in my leg, I think about that often. The wagon of loose hay was then pitched into haylofts where it was protected from the weather, or it was stored in stacks. In the early 1900s, however, two ranchers in the Big Hole country of Montana, very close to where I now live, invented the Beaverhead County Slide Stacker, soon to be known simply as a beaverslide, which provided a quicker and more efficient way to stack loose hay.
Now I saw these contraptions in hay fields as a kid, most of them falling apart from lack of use, and while I knew they had something to do with haying, I didn’t know how they worked. Here’s how:
I’m happy to say that while most farmers and ranchers bale hay, the beaverslide is still being used today. Here’ a beaverslide in use close to where I live:
How cool is that? Using a beaverslide today might be more labor intensive than using a baler, requiring a crew of 6 to 8 people, but it saves on fuel, which is huge. A beaverslide can stack hay up to 30 feet high. They are usually made of lodge pole pine and wooden boards, but some have metal components.
About 24 tons of hay can be stacked before the beaverslide is moved to make a new stack in a new area. An average size cow consumes 24 pounds of hay a day, so one stack will feed 2000 cows for one day, or 500 cows for 4 days. We have 50 cows on our place, so a 24 ton stack would last us for about 5 weeks.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our adventure in loose hay today!
Hello everyone! I would like to introduce my new calf Pinky.
She’s not like her brothers and sisters.
She was the result of a difficult birth and she and her mother had to be separated from the herd for several days while she recovered and learned to nurse. We had to give her her first feeding manually to make certain she got the colostrum she needed to develop her immune system. She always sticks close to her mama now.
This is Pinky getting ready to be vaccinated.
She’s not too sure about all of this.
The herd is out on summer grass now. The grass is literally shoulder high. The calves disappear into it. We feed in sections, moving the fence every couple days so that the cows have new grass and the old grass has time to recover. We’ll rotate through the pastures twice this summer if all goes well. Can you spot Pinky in the photo below?
And that’s it from me and Pinky. We hope you have an excellent day!
First, I am in love with historic farming and ranching stuff…
And spinning wheels.
I love seeing the ingenuity that went into these early machines before the Industrial Revolution went BERSERK and changed the face of the world as we know it with manufacturing, mass production, electricity, light bulbs and trains… Oh mylanta, that was a busy century!!! And the next one? The one we just packed away?
Pretty busy, too!!!
My upcoming contemporary Western series for Love Inspired is set in Idaho… because I love Northern cowboys and the world has so many of them thar Texas cowboys… So I like to give my northern folk a shout-out… a chance to show what it’s like to deal with animals and births and deaths all four seasons because the rigors of a ranch winter are pretty rugged. The first book comes out mid-July: “Her Cowboy Reunion”. This series is all about what happens when three Steel Magnolias inherit 75% of a mega ranch in Western Idaho… while the oldest sister’s first love owns the other 25%. It’s a perfect set up for a poignant reunion romance…. one that I love!
And then we follow this up with a surprise Christmas novella with my friend Linda Goodnight… and who wouldn’t want to work with Goodnight? She’s totally adorable which does not stop me from making fun of her… That Western novella (also part of the Shepherd’s Crossing series) hits the shelves in mid-late November…. and then the second sister’s story is being released in February 2019… And that gets us off and running with “Shepherd’s Crossing”!
I’ve probably mentioned this before, the “Last American Cowboy” series, a look inside three Montana ranches… I’ve used this video presentation for some background research (and I use Mary Connealy and her cowboy husband for research, too, because life in Nebraska with cows is pretty close to what I’m playing with… sans a mountain or two!)
But now we’ve got the hope of spring. Around here the hope of spring means one thing. Mud.
A lot of mud.
And mud with big animals becomes, well… mud and cow manure. Or mud and horse manure. And if fields get too wet, animals can ingest nasty little bugs or worms that make them sick…. but while you might get a mention of this in a book, you won’t get too much of the details because there is little romance in smelly mud!
Writers sometimes have to gloss over the down-and-dirty parts of farm and ranch life because they’re not reader-friendly, and that’s okay… but then we have to make sure that we keep the rest of life “real” with asides to the problems of weather and seasonal change, and we can do that with calves getting caught up in mud and needing a rescue.
Cue the hero or heroine!
Or kids tripping and falling into mud and needing a complete hosing… before the bath. 🙂
Authors love dogs!!!
Dogs are great at demonstrating the changing conditions of weather and ground conditions… a wet dog that shakes and soaks people nearby… The smell of wet dog…. a snow-covered dog, or a dog (like mine!) that gets little snowballs along the feathery hairs on her legs… a hot dog, slumped in the shade and unmoving in the heat of summer could be the same muddy dog that won’t be allowed in the house before he gets the hose… Not too many ranch dogs are carted to the dog wash in the suburbs. Making the elements and setting fit the story… and the genre… is part of my job. And you know I love my job!
I’ve got a shameless plug coming below for my current Love Inspired, but right now we’re talking the essence of seasons and how that gets woven through your stories without just stating the season…
The dog barometer and the cattle and horse barometers are really good at this. Kids, too… kids in shorts with dirt-smeared sweaty faces… whiny kids…. cooped up kids…. So many ways you can show the perils of the season via activity… or slop.
But I don’t like to linger too long in the “slop” unless it’s something causing grave harm to the farm or ranch and in that case…
The mud sometimes takes center stage.
Right now I’ve got this absolutely beautiful Love Inspired story in stores and online. It’s a great story of a mother’s sacrificial love and God’s perfect timing…. And while I’m chompin’ at the bit for that next Western,. I gotta confess… I am over-the-moon in love with this sweet story set in the hills and lakes of Western New York… 🙂
So how do you battle or slog through the muddy times of life? Do you bear up? Or want to lash out irrationally? And aren’t we so blessed to have washers and dryers???? Tell us about your taxing season… and it can be emotional, physical or just a pain in the part that sits the saddle… What do you do to make it work?
Josie Gallagher has plenty of reasons to be wary of Jacob Weatherly—considering he’s working for the hotel chain that’s forcing her restaurant to close. But when he shows up there with a little girl by his side—her little girl—she’s dismayed. How has this bachelor wound up with custody of the baby Josie placed with a married couple six years ago? The handsome hotel executive has no idea that Addie is Josie’s biological child, and Josie can’t afford to tell him. As he helps save her business, Josie and Jacob unexpectedly grow closer. But will her secret stand in the way of their happily-ever-after?
In the 1800s, I have a feeling spring weddings had something to do with the availability of beautiful flowers, and the (ahem) need for a wedding after the long, cold winter. Tomorrow is release day for Western Spring Weddingsof which my story,His Springtime Bride ,is roped with two other novellas, each involving a spring wedding. I am offering a print copy (or Kindle copy) to one lucky person leaving a comment today. (See guidelines on upper right of this page!) Here’s a little bit about the plot and an excerpt that occurs near the beginning of the story.
Released from prison, half-breed Gabe Coulter must work for his enemy to earn back the deed to his own ranch. But when his boss’s daughter, Riley Rawlins, returns home with a rebellious son after years away in the east, nothing will stop him from discovering the truth.
Riley no longer trust the man she once loved so completely. Years of old hurts and his violent past make it impossible to forgive and allow him back into her life or that of her son.
But one thing Gabe has is pure cowboy grit. Will it be enough to make Riley see that she and her son should a part of his future?
Excerpt ~ His Springtime Bride
“Name is Coulter. I want to talk to Frank Rawlins.”
“Johnson. Foreman.” His gaze narrowed and he scratched his scruffy dirt-colored beard. “Coulter? From around these parts?”
Gabe lifted his chin in acknowledgment.
“Most Injuns never make it to prison if they kill a white man. And if they do—they don’t make it out.”
Gabe stiffened. He’d heard the same thing before from guards at the prison—their tone much uglier. It wasn’t the only time his father’s blood had saved him, but it was the most important time. In a world where both whites and Indians looked upon him with suspicion, he had quickly learned to trust no one. He had fought it when he was young, trying to fit in, but it did no good. Now all he wanted was to be left in peace. Obviously, Johnson had heard of him and didn’t care about that.
“Then it’s a good thing I’m half-white. Tell him I’m here,” Gabe said. By his tone, he made it clear he wasn’t asking.
The foreman eyed him for a moment longer and then clomped up the steps and, after a sharp rap on the door, let himself into the house.
Three minutes later, Johnson ushered him inside.
Gabe had been in the house a few times when he was young. His folks had been invited to a ten-year wedding anniversary party for Rawlins and his wife. That’s when he’d first met Riley. He had been quiet and she had been all gangly tomboy arms and legs and talked up a storm. He remembered swinging on the rope swing that hung from the old oak in the side yard with her and a few other children. He had never seen blond hair before that, and each time he tried to touch her braids, she would whip them around just out of his reach to tease him. She laughed and the other kids laughed right along with her, which made him mad—mostly at his own awkwardness.
Had Riley ever come back to visit her father? Once she had loved the ranch and vowed never to leave, despite her mother’s schemes to position her for a rich husband back east. By now she probably had that rich husband along with a baby or two. With effort, he pushed his memories of Riley to the back of his mind. Thoughts of her would only complicate the confrontation ahead with Rawlins.
He squared his shoulders and followed Johnson. The foreman stopped in the hallway before the study and indicated Gabe was to enter. “No such thing as a half Injun,” he said, his eyes cold as Gabe passed by. “Bad blood taints the good.”
Rawlins sat behind a massive cherrywood desk, his expression inscrutable. He had to be in his early fifties now, with silver-streaked hair and black hawkish brows over striking blue eyes. A small amount of paunch around his middle where there hadn’t been any before spoke to his more sedentary days of late. As Gabe stepped farther into the study, Rawlins walked slowly around from behind his desk and hiked one hip onto the corner to sit. “So you are out.”
Gabe wasn’t here for small talk. “I was down to my land today. Saw the sign. Looked new.”
Rawlins nodded…watching him carefully. “The sheriff in Nuevo mentioned your release. I thought you might head this way. I also thought you should be clear about the situation here.”
“You mean the part about not owning my own land?”
In the doorway, Johnson straightened, alert to the underlying tension in the room. He rested his hand lightly on his gun handle.
“Taxes hadn’t been paid in three years,” Rawlins said. “I paid them.”
“Stole the place, you mean. And you know why I couldn’t get them paid.”
He nodded again. “Your incarceration was mentioned in the newspaper. I had my eye on that property a long time, Coulter. Has a nice little stream running through it down from the mountain this time of year.”
“I noticed your cattle were enjoying it.”
“Hasn’t been grazed in years. There is a nice thick carpet.”
Of course it hadn’t been grazed. After his father’s death by the cougar, Gabe’s mother had had to slowly sell off the stock to make ends meet. Few would do business with a Kumeyaay woman and her kid. He blew out a breath, unused to having to ask for anything and not liking that he was going to now. He’d best keep calm. “What will it take to get it back?”
Rawlins tilted his head. “Who says I’m interested in selling?”
Have you ever talked to a fence post? Not a treated, fancy white four-by-four or steel post. I mean a real fence post that’s been around for a while. An old twisted cedar leg that some rancher stuck in the ground a hundred years ago or more.
I walk by them every morning on my trek up the gentle slope toward the lip of the Arkansas River Valley near Cañon City, Colorado. Most of the time I find new wire stabled to the old fellas. But occasionally I’ll spot a length of rusty devil rope hanging on.
And that’s when I stop and visit. Crazy? Sure. But I can name a few people a whole lot more prickly that I’d rather not talk to. And they don’t have half the stories the old cedars have.
“Who planted you here? A cattleman sick to be fencing the land, or a homesteader eager to keep the cows from his crops?”
“Was he single? Did he have a sweetheart? Did he ride by every season to check on you, see how you were holding up?”
“Did he have a handlebar mustache? Carry a rifle or a sidearm?”
When I bend close to the weathered creases and knots, and feel the sun peeking up over the hills, I can almost hear the creak of saddle leather and the soft riffle of grass against a horse’s lip.
But times have changed and they changed people, or maybe it was the other way around.
It doesn’t take much to imagine one of those cowboys hunting out a good cedar stand, limbing the longest leg with a sharp ax, and replanting the tree as a post. Makes me wonder if some of those cattlemen felt tamped in like the cedars, with their open range stitched into sectioned acres.
The first cowboys who drove their “Mexico” cows into the high parks of this country didn’t pack fencing tools in their saddle bags. This was open range and barbed wire had not yet been invented. However, a good man would string wire, or board off a garden plot for his missus if he had one. A missus, that is.
In my upcoming novella, The Columbine Bride, fencing plays a subtle role in the story of young widow Lucy Powell and her neighboring rancher Buck Reiter. She isn’t too happy about him riding up into the timber to snake down a long pole behind his horse. But she doesn’t mind his help when it comes to fencing off her garden.
But fences don’t keep everything out—or in—and when Buck takes a liking to Lucy and her two young’uns … well, you’ll just have to wait and see.
The Columbine Bride is the sequel to last year’s The Snowbound Bride. It releases in book 4 of The 12 Brides of Summer collection from Barbour on Sept. 1. However, a special printed collection will be at select Walmart stores July 14 in Old West Summer Brides.
Set in 1886 Colorado in the high park country above Cañon City, the tale of this hard-working couple came fairly easy to my writer’s heart.
Guess I talked to enough old cedar posts over the winter.
Leave a Comment to be entered in the drawing for The Snowbird Bride in e-book form. And look for 12 Brides of Summer in September!
– e-book version Book 4 of three stories, including “The
BIO: Davalynn Spencer writes inspirational Western romance complete with rugged cowboys, their challenges, and their loves. Her work has finaled for the Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award, the Selah, and the Holt Medallion. Davalynn teaches writing at Pueblo Community College and at writing workshops. She and her own handsome cowboy make their home on Colorado’s Front Range with a Queensland heeler named Blue. Connect with Davalynn online at www.davalynnspencer.com and http://www.facebook.com/AuthorDavalynnSpencer
I’m always intrigued by new ways of using technology to improve farming, and with the latest buzz being about sustainability and environmental responsibility, I did a little research into some new trends. What I found was pretty interesting, and I’m still learning and trying to understand some of it (a scientist I am not). I’m pretty intrigued by two ideas and interestingly enough they are on different ends of the spectrum – one is taking ranching into the future, and the other is returning to grassroots ideas.
So cool idea #1 – Have you ever heard the saying “Making honey out of dog #$*&”? Now you can make electricity from refuse – specifically manure. Manure makes gas, which is then converted into electricity. Methane never smelled so good. If you take a look at this ranch’s site, you’ll see how they use the manure from their cows to create enough electricity to completely power their own operation – and then some. There’s been a lot of development in this area over the last few years; I hope other Canadian operations will soon follow suit!
As Spring Creek puts it: When you work with a live inventory that keeps eating and growing everyday, challenges are a fact of life; they also present a heap of opportunity. Case in point, cattle produce manure; crop production results in organic waste…It simply makes sense to renew the resources that sustain our family and community – today and well into the future.
I’m guessing this is a pretty expensive venture to set up, and yes there are manufacturing considerations for fuel cells etc. but one would hope there would also be grants available to assist. What a renewable resource! Everybody poops! Holy Cow!
The other cool idea is one I came across researching some areas in Southern Alberta. I found one particular operation that’s kickin’ it old skool when it comes to methods. The OH Ranch takes conservation very seriously – through a Heritage Rangeland Designation and Conservation Easements. What does that mean? I’m going to snag the explanation from the OH Ranch Site:
For the OH Ranch, the public grazing land portions of the Longview and Pekisko sections of the ranch are now designated as heritage rangeland. The heritage rangeland designation helps protect about 10,200 acres (41.28 square kilometers) of public land that has consistently been ranched under grazing leases by the OH Ranch. The designation helps preserve a way of life through the continuation of traditional ranching practices that have stewarded and managed sensitive native prairies in southern Alberta for generations.
Conservation easements are voluntary agreements between a private landowner and a qualified land trust which limits the amount and type of development that can occur on a property. Easements are negotiated to preserve the natural character of the land, and its ecological integrity, scenic values and/or scientific and educational potential. The OH Ranch is working with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Southern Alberta Land Trust Society on conservation easements for their Longview and Pekisko ranch lands, and with Ducks Unlimited on easements for he Dorothy and Bassano ranch lands. The easements will be registered against the land title, ensuring that current and future owners manage he land according to terms of the easements.
The other term you’ll see here is “traditional ranching practices”. Since its inception in 1883, the OH Ranch has always operated using traditional methods. Today, cowboys continue to ride the range, moving cattle and doctoring sick animals in the open field by roping from horseback. While the ranch owns trucks and other equipment, horses are still the primary mode of transportation on the ranch and continue to be used for such tasks as packing fencing supplies, minerals and salt and protein blocks. The OH Ranch is one of the few large cattle outfits in North America which continues to be operated utilizing historic methods.
It’s really interesting to see ranchers come up with new ways of preserving the environment and staying sustainable in an economic climate that is anything but farmer-friendly.
I’m a farm girl. Maybe that’s why writing westerns feels so good to me – I understand that soul-deep link to the land, I understand being at the mercy of Mother Nature and I know for certain that growing up on a farm is responsible for my work ethic. Work hard, treat people honestly, be a straight shooter. Everything else just kind of looks after itself.
There’s a problem though. You see, even though I grew up in a farming community, and those oh-so-interesting smells were for the most part pleasant ones (except hogs and when people spread chicken manure, P.U!), I didn’t grow up with livestock. My family were apple growers. And I could go on at length about apple blossom time and pruning and how much I loved harvest time…
But I won’t. Because today I’m going to talk about haying.
I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve had to research haying a little bit. Equipment has changed over the years, and my memory fades a little. I found it quite interesting, actually. I looked at pictures of different kinds of balers and rakes. I read about drying times before baling and different types of bales and the advantages of each.
Where I grew up, most of the farmers made the small, rectangular bales but when I moved out west to Alberta, mostly there are the huge round bales and sometimes a new shape – bigger square bales. I always kind of wondered the reasoning for the round bales, actually. At home in Atlantic Canada, you hayed, you made small bales, and you brought the bales back to the haymow. You never left them in the field. With the large round bales, you have more hay with a smaller surface area so it protects from the elements, meaning you can leave the bales in the field. There are coverings too. Some that leave the ends open, protecting the surface but allowing airflow so they don’t ferment, and complete wrappings that allow the bale to become silage – rather than using a silo.
So I learned some interesting stuff about the process that I either didn’t know or had forgotten.
All that comes in handy when writing. For instance, in the last book I handed in, my hero is rushing to get the first cut done and baled before the storm that is forecast hits. That research was pretty useful figuring out how things would play out on a time scale. I love that when I’m writing, I can manipulate the weather to suit my needs, by the way.
But there’s another component to haying that has nothing to do with function. There are feelings. It sounds funny, I know, but the feelings needed no research at all. For that I just drew on my own memory.
When I was growing up, our neighbours hayed and I remember lots of evenings seeing the wagons loaded with bales make their way into the farm yard. They were loaded on to a chain-operated conveyor belt and stored in the loft. Quite often this was in the hazy, hot evenings of July when the sky was pink and purple and the air smelled like clover and fresh cut grass. There is something so satisfying about a harvest gathered in and even as a young child I could feel that. There’s also the sinking feeling of dread when you see the storm clouds roll in, and you hold your breath praying there will be no hail.
But by far my favourite memory is sleeping with my window open, and hearing the drone of the hay dryer (a huge fan) at the barn next door. Rather than disturb, it always lulled me to sleep. That hay dryer meant that the hay was inside, safe and secure for the next year. It meant it was summer, and school holidays. In some ways, having that hay dryer on meant everything was right in the world. And I kind of like how when you’re writing, it’s the personal feelings that give your research context. How facts can work to reveal character.