Monday, April 30, 2012

The first sunset in four days....

Greetings from Elkhorn Creek Ranch near the epicenter of the Bakken Oil Formation. 

Above, is a snap shot of the first sunset we have had in four days.  Along with the sun setting, you can see the roof of our calving barn to the right and our ranch house to the left (where we spent a lot of time the previous four days).

Weather is everything to families who farm and ranch.  I always try to make an 'urban' comparison in my mind to help make the connection.  The one regarding the 'weather' card goes something like this........

Let's say you take a job with a company (they are offering a much higher salary than any other offer you have received) and they say to you, "Go to the bank of your choice.  Take this letter with you telling them that we hired you and we think that we will be able to pay you $100,000.00 at the end of the year for your work (time, expertise, services).  If everything goes as we think it will at our company, we will deposit that amount into your account at the end of the year.  However, if the company does worse than expected, you will make less.  If the company does better, you will make more.  The bank will probably give you a line of credit for your family living expenses to get you to the end of the year provided you have equity (that the bank will hold as collateral) in assets you own - like your house or retirement fund.  Of course, the bank will charge you 5.0 % interest to borrow their money, so remember, if you want to 'spend it all this year', after you pay your 20% in taxes and your 5% in interest, you can spend $75,000.00 on your family this year."

And that is all fine and dandy, until the company doesn't do as well as they anticipated and you used the $75,000.00 on your line of credit to shelter, cloth and feed your family.

Its not a perfect comparison (because it fails to discuss input costs and expenses beyond family living), but it is close enough to understand that agriculture can be RISKY and three of the largest risk factors are: 1)  input costs / expenses,  2)  market prices and their changes throughout the year,  3) production loss or failures / natural disasters (THIS IS WHERE THE WEATHER CARD IS PLAYED).

Yep, there are tools to manage these risks on the farming side which help cover input costs and allow for 'price' protection and protect farmers from devastating production loss or failure from weather related disasters.  There are less management tools on the ranching side, but still enough to help a person sleep at night.  None of these help keep family living expenses secure, but they help pay the rent / make the payments of pasture and farm land and equipment and pay the bank back for money borrowed to pay the expenses incurred to raise (care for) the crop and the livestock. 

Sooooooooo..... when we don't see a SUNSET for four days because we received over an inch of measurable precipitation over those four days (the first good rainfall event since September, 2011) it is HEAVEN SENT!

The cows and calves on the ranch have an abundance of 'natural protection' - deep coulees with poplar and cedar trees, but after four days of being 'couped up in their ranch houses with their kids' it was time to venture out and enjoy the beautiful sunset much the same as the humans were doing last night.

Below,  these calves where racing up and down Baily's Butte (named after the mare that loved to foal (give birth to her babies) at the top of the butte) last night.  They stopped to pose for me, before racing back to their mothers with their tails up in the air.

So here's to enjoying the rejuvenating moisture and welcoming back the sunset.

From our piece of heaven at the end of road, here's to keeping the cows happy, the calves healthy (and enjoying their first trip to the 'park' in four days), and the horses and humans fit.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

From horse flesh to horse power..... to a night cap

Greeting from Elkhorn Creek Ranch near the epicenter of the Bakken Oil Formation. 

The saying goes something like this.... "If you don't like the weather in North Dakota, just wait five minutes".  So yesterday we enjoyed a morning of fencing, a sack lunch on the high plains and a 'cow' seeking expedition (with a couple of favorite 'horse flesh' friends) in the afternoon.  The need to fence caused the expedition.  Both were enjoyable in the beautiful weather, but upper managment may have felt that a better management strategy (like fencing the pasture before putting cows in it) would have been more efficient from a labor standpoint.  The sun was shining, it was still to slightly breezy and an absolutely picture perfect day.  Although everyone enjoyed the 'picnic on the prairie', some ate a little more than others..... Pete enjoyed a majority of the calories in the lunch sack while Hoss simply enjoyed snooping through the saddle packs and passed up the graze offered him all together.

Today was an entirely different story.  The day time high dropped 20 degrees from yesterday and the the winds sustained 40 miles an hour with gusts in the 50's.  Regardless, today was our day.  We farmed today (or to be accurate and give credit where credit is due, we watched our custom seeder, Lance Sorenson chew up our 200 acres of farmland in a single day).  Because we are ranchers and not farmers (with a very small amount of land suitable for crop production on our ranch) and couldn't otherwise afford equipment such as this, we are thrilled to be able to implement the latest farming technologies by hiring this work done. 

Below, Lance's 42 foot, single disk opener, John Deere 'no-till' drill doesn't disturb the soil and offers highly accurate seed placement to improve emergence of our canola and flax.  By eliminating 'tilling' to prepare the field for seeding, it reduces top soil and seed loss (from wind and rain) and traps (or rather keeps it from escaping) carbon in the soil, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and holds vital nutrients in the soil for plant growth.

Kyle loves his 'Little Johnny' (the only piece of horse power that we claim to own), but when he saw this massive outfit roll in to the yard to load seed, his eyes got huge, and in awe he muttered, "WOW mom..... Johnny looks scared".  Below, Kyle and Lance at the reins of that massive piece of equipment.

After all the excitement of the day we had a night cap - a chocolate waffle cone for Kyle and Pete and a cookie dough one for mom.  The perfect end to a couple good days in a row.

So from our little piece of heaven at the end of the road, here's to keeping the cows happy (and where they should be), the calves healthy (and where they should be), and the horses and humans fit.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My Brad is coming back!

Greeting from Elkhorn Creek Ranch in western North Dakota near the epicenter of the Bakken oil formation. 

I was flipping through the calendar the other day and came to a number of realizations.  In no particular order:  2012 is almost 1/3 of the way over already. We will soon wrap up calving season (at which time we will 'work' our 2012 calf crop, giving them their baby vacciations and branding them with the ranch's ID) and move into the next season on the ranching calendar.  MOST importantly however, I realized that Brad Hagen will be here in less than a month.  Brad was our NDSU summer intern in 2011 who just didn't get enough of his extreme ranching experience last summer and is going to join us again this summer.  When Kyle learned of this exciting news this past March he ran around the house YELLING very loudly, "My Brad is coming back.  My Brad is coming back.  YEAH!  My Brad is coming back......". 

Above, Brad is attempting his first ever 'wrestling move'.  Kim (on the heals) was kind enough to suggest Pete and Cissy catch the biggest calf in the pen.... so that's what they did.  Lyle (the MD administering the vaccine) pointed out that if he missed the calf and got the human leg accidently, it could fall off.  It was about that point in time that I pointed out to everyone if they were successful in scaring him off, there was still 40 miles of fence to get around before turning pairs out to summer grass.

 On this beautiful June day in 2011, we worked 20 of the late calves that weren't old enough on branding day to recieve their baby vaccinations.  Pete's little mare, Cissy, took to the calves in the pen quickly healing them and holding 'em for the wrestlers.  Prior to that day, she had only pasture roped calves to doctor sick ones.
Two weeks before the beautiful sunny day documented in the first three pictures, we snapped this group photo with the 225 pairs in the background that we worked on Memorial Day weekend 2011.  L to R - Kim on her grey gelding, Lee on the famous Lenny (its an elephant, no its a horse.... Lazy Lenny to be exact), Brad on Hoss (y Horse).... Kyle's gelding, myself on Cissy and Pete on the one, the only, Pokey Pine (Sydney Tastad's mare that we had last summer getting her 'ranch' smart).

As the calendar continues to flip at a furious pace, I hope to bring you periodic updates from our little piece of heaven at the end of the road where every day we strive to ensure that the cows are happy, the calves healthy, and the horses and humans are fit.