Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kids of all kinds!

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

I love kids!  Moreover, I love watching kids and their parents in the never ending chess game of life.  It is really fun stuff.

Some of the funnest kids to watch interact with their parents, the equine variety. 

The little guy below was born yesterday night about dusk.  He was a big baby and today he was enjoying the extra leg room his new environment has to offer.

Our foals started arriving this past weekend.  We leave our horses to be horses and the mares foal out in the pasture.  When the new babies arrive, it takes a day or two before the mares will let you up close to them and their new bundle of joy.  Today was a good day to get close to them and check things out....

There are three on the ground, two left to go.

Trespassing on the new neighbors

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

We are getting new neighbors.  This is a phenomenon for us.  Currently, in our township (for those not familiar with what a township is, it is a 6 mile by 6 mile square of land comprised of 36 sections- some are organized, some are not) there is a human population of four adults and one child...... Kyle, his mom, his dad, and his Grandpa and Grandma Hovet.

As I watched the progress of these new neighbor's home take shape, I just had to find out for myself how good their view really is going to be.......
Front of the house
Dining and Living area of main floor
French doors from dining room to back porch and the view off the back deck

SSSSoooooo.  It's a decent view if you're into that kind of thing - Beautiful, colorful clay buttes, hearty ash trees, native grasses, cedars and sage.  Yah, it's a really nice view and it looks like the house will be livable too.

The neighbors, Kyle's Grandma and Grandpa Best!

Welcome to God's Country G & G Best!

A note for the census taker - our unorganized township's human population will increase by two in July!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day at the ranch

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

A good place to reflect from

Admittedly, Memorial Day is not a paid holiday at the ranch (nor is any other holiday).  I started the morning out making a couple 'business' calls and didn't get answers at the feed store or the vet clinic shortly after 8:00.  Thinking this was strange, I walked over to the calendar on the wall and was quickly reminded that today is a very cherished holiday for the United States of America.  I was GLAD both businesses were NOT open today and their employees given the opportunity to observe Memorial Day.

I had a grandfather who I never met (he died before I was born) that served in WWII.  He had the unfortunate detail of being a foot soldier, some of the first boots on the ground into Hiroshima after the dropping of the atomic bomb there.  My dad is a veteran of the Vietnam War, serving the US Army in Thailand.  He served surveying and building jungle air strips for aviation supply lines for the armed forces.  Both returned home safely from their duties.

Both of Pete's grandfathers were veterans of WWII as well, one a tail gunner on the European front (who was shot down and became a POW) and one as a sailor in the Pacific.  They too returned from their service duties and started their families on the North Dakota plains much like my 'service side' of the family did.

I don't know about you, but every time I attend an event where the National Anthem is sung, or attend a military funeral, I choke up with thoughts of my service family members and all those other 'unknown' heroes who have paved the way for my freedom.  I try to keep in mind when I am frustrated about the current political climate and the financial position of our country, that 1% of the US population today is still making the sacrifices that 3 of our 4 grandfathers and my father made.  I am hoping the best for their families and thanking God for mine (as it could have been so easy for fate to change the outcome of the futures of 'our veteran' family members).

I think of them frequently and silently thank them during quiet moments, usually from my saddle, surrounded by the beauty of this ranch, a place that wouldn't be the same with any other flag flying over it's soil.

So today, in observance of Memorial Day, I thank our past and present service men and women publicly and hope you will too.

"The Orbit way or the cowboy way" - PGB

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

For those of you not previously privy to this information, our yard for the last three years has looked like a construction zone.  I have mowed weeds with great pride and complained relentlessly both under my breath and out loud to anyone who would listen about this mess that greeted visitors as they drove into our yard.

Pete's brother, Kevin, innocently commented last fall (after patiently listening to my complaining) that he worked for a landscaping company during his down time between finishing up his residency and sitting for his board exam after finishing medical school.....

Pete latched on to that information and began planning his 'irrigation' system for our little lawn.  He had been working on designing it for several weeks using Orbit's online design program.  The week before Kevin and Mary were due to arrive to help 'make over' this out of control mess, Pete announced at lunch, "I'm not sure if this is going to go down the Orbit Way OR the Cowboy Way".  "Oh No"..... is all that came to my mind after his proclamation!

We were thrilled to have Kevin, Mary and Lindsay spend a week with us this past week working on this yard of ours.  We were also thrilled to have Kevin's expertise and the entire family's help in resolving our 'lawn problem'.  The first step, in ground sprinklers.

Above:  Pete and Kyle bringing in the horse power.
Below:  Kevin, Lindsay, Kyle and Pete layin' pipe.

The second step, get the voluntary crested wheat grass OUT!

Above:  Mary in her wranglers (OK, my wranglers) raking out the bunch grass crown roots.  Pete and Brad - Pete trenching and Brad hoeing.
Sue, Lyle and Gunner cheering Kevin on while he digs a trench!!!!!
So it was in deed a wonderful week with results that will serve two purposes:
1 - help both the welcoming atmosphere that we hope our guests to the ranch feel when they drive up
2 - reduce the complaining on my part about our 'gheto' yard.
Oh, and BTW, TGFF (Thank God For Family)!
This is one of the those events that drive home the lesson, "Happiness is in the journey and it is MUCH MORE entertaining when the journey is carried out the COWBOY WAY". - VMB

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Red carpet weekend.... rancher style

Greetings from Elkhorn Creek Ranch near the epicenter of the Bakken Oil Formation!
Post branding and moving pairs back out to grass.  A 'round table' discussion!

This past weekend was what we refer to as the 'big event' around here.  I scoped the face book feed last Monday morning for pictures and commentary  on the weekend activities of our friends and determined that we are typical rancher folks and 'tis the season. 

For us and a lot of other ranches, it was 'branding' weekend.  There are many ways to get this important event completed and it depends on the customs, traditions and skill set of your crew. 

At Elkhorn Creek Ranch we use a calf table and we do this for three reasons: 
1)  we aren't overstocked with young strapping teenage and 20 something males that are typically your prime wrestlers
2)  we usually are all riding colts and are marginal ropers at best (making roping a difficult task) and
3)  Pete is a control freak (not to throw him under the bus or anything, but he is) and wants to push every calf up the alley to the calf table and assess any other management needs that that calf might have beyond the routine vaccinations and identification markers.  Sometimes there are 'out of the ordinary issues' that need attention and also, there are numerous calves each year that we must collect DNA on (by pulling hair from the twist of their tails) to sire verify them.  Lastly, there is the task of making the important decision of which bull calves stay bulls and which ones become steers..... in the small animal world, it is referred to as neutering, in the equine world it is 'brain surgery' (this is my personal term and not a technical term, but it is TRUE), and in the bovine world, it is casterating.  And yes, 'the boss' (Brad's title for Pete) makes those decisions around here.

The table crew lying a calf down.  Brad and Lyle.

Lee explaining to Rae Lee Allen (Blaine and Carla Shaible's grand daughter) how getting their fly tags is similar to when she got her ears pierced.  She didn't think she would ever do that a second time.

Kim and Dad's cousin, Jimmy Hovet running gates and pushing calves up to the table.

Uncle Einar and Pete bringing calves up from the holding pen.  From there, Pete pushes them into the alley where Kim and Jimmy hold them until the calf in front of them is 'worked'.

Brad holding the table down and Dad (Kurt Hovet) placing a hot iron hip brand on each calf.
The hot iron brand take about 10 seconds to apply.  It removes the hair and scars the skin underneath to apply a non-removable mark of ownership which is legally recognized in the state of North Dakota.  Although not completely painless, to receive 'the works', each calf is in and out of the table in less than 45 seconds. After observing thousands of calves over the years after they have been worked, I suspect it feels similar to when you burn an arm or finger on the stove or oven when cooking or baking (which I manage to do at least monthly).  Most calves, after leaving the calf table find their mothers immediately and begin nursing.

I kinda wish a human trip to the doctor was as quick and 'low stress' as it is for a calf at Elkhorn Creek Ranch!

Well, here is to happy cows, healthy calves, and good food and good friendship during our 'Big Event' weekend.... (minus the evening gowns and tuxedos)!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rookies and veterans... heros and zeros!

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

One of my favorite places on the ranch, the Big Hay Divide.  The confluence of the Little Missouri and Cherry Creek in the back ground.

The last couple days have been interesting to say the least.  Both days have caused me to think about and appreciate the many relationship that we have, both through the ranch and on a personal level.

Yesterday, Brad and I (yes, Brad is finally back) took the horses out scouting fence in one of the biggest, roughest pastures that we have.  Lucky for me, and probably unlikely for Brad, he is fixing the 'issues' that we found yesterday on this fine, hot, windy day.  When yesterday was said and done we each had eight 'saddle contact' hours invested into the scouting mission and the bad spots in the fence identified for mending. 
Brad catching up on his incoming text messages at a local 'service area'!

The great thing about jobs like scouting, they are excellent foundation builders for the rookies.  Maggie is one of our three rookies this year.  Since Kyle was born we have entered into a relationship with a wonderful horseman, trainer and friend, Kevin Vesey who annually takes in our two year olds and 'starts' them.  I equate those first 30 days to the human equivalent of grade school.  We get these junior high kids back and put them to work gaining 'experience' that down the road will make them productive members of the equine society and good ranch hands for cowboys that prefer to purchase veteran horses rather than ride their own colts.

Little Miss Maggie taking it all in on her first day of junior high.

Today was an entirely off the wall day around here.  We have been struggling with random assaults on our privacy (which is minor in the bigger scheme of things, but still uncomfortable) and our property... not only the property we own, but also the property we lease.  These assaults bother me mainly because I feel a lack of human decency and personal responsibility (on a 'society' level) when I see these things.  From time to time, they also hit us in the pocket book and cut into 'our time cards' around here. 

The specifics of the issues today (although picture worthy) are not nearly as important as what it reminded of.  That REMINDER, the affirmation of relationships that we have on a local level.  People that have our backs and understand the importance of community and taking care of each other and our resources.  From the McKenzie Co Rd # 37 blade operator (BTW, we have the BEST road crew from here to anywhere and back again - you absolutely can't find better), to the sheriff's department and it's deputies (who give so much and work so hard to keep folks and stuff around here safe), to the law enforcement officer with the Forest Service and other folks in that office trying every day to carry out the multiple use mission of these lands. 

My recommendation - DON'T DO THIS....

It is hard in these busy, hectic times to appreciate each other like we should, but it is so, so very important.  It is not only important from our own human relations standpoint, but it is also important to TEACH OUR KIDS and OTHER YOUNG PEOPLE how and why to appreciate each other.  It is the seed that respect grows from.  Just like fostering traits that make horses good members of the equine society, it is important to do the same with human society's youth.  Our project for tomorrow, write some 'thank-you' notes to those mentioned above and have Kyle help me sign, address and mail them.

So, from our little piece of heaven (although sometimes tainted slightly with an undertone of 'rural public nuisance attraction' and 'illegal red-neck off-roading') at the end of the road, here's to building and maintaining strong relationships built around mutual appreciation and teachin' our kids how to do the same!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

City Dog LOVES the ranch!

Greeting from Elkhorn Creek Ranch near the epicenter of the Bakken Oil formation.  Some of you know Gunner, some of you do not.  Other affectionate terms for Gunner:  G-dog, damn it dog, city dog.  Gunner is a Boykin Spaniel: .  And yes, that is clay mud on his head, face and ears.  Voluntarily earned in the name of entertainment.

Gunner is 100% good spirited, 100% naughty dog and definitely has some serious city dog tendencies.  There are MANY great Gunner stories, but one of my favorites goes something like this.... the farrier was out trimming and putting on sharp shoes a couple winters ago.  Gunner would affectionately rub his nose on the arm of, put his mouth over the hand of, and whine at the farrier until he would drop a horse hoof for him.  Gunner would 'mock 10' out of the barn with that hoof in his mouth and then return a few minutes later without it, but ready for another.  He did this over and over again.  Finally, I had to go see what 'was up'.  All I could see out the door of the barn on the snow covered hill side was a little brown, nubbin tailed butt with white powder flying.... high and far.  I of course burst out laughing.  The farrier was curious what was so funny, as he personally was at the point of annoyance with the Boykin.  I explained that Gunner was hiding his treasures from Tyra (our black lab) and certainly not sharing with her.  The farrier's response, "City dog".  It stuck.

Gunner is not our dog.  He is the proud member of the Murphy family.  My sister Kim, brother-in-law, Lee and nephew Jaden are Gunner's 'primary managers'.  Gunner spends a significant amount of time at the ranch and he truly LOVES every minute of it, even when Tyra is trying to either ditch him or set him up for 'the fall' and when Kyle is busy telling him how naughty he is.  City dog loves all the ranch has to offer.
 One favorite traveling place, on the flatbed of the Ford.  Here, he and Chance (our stud horse) are trying to come to a consensus over who actually has jurisdiction over the flat bed.  Chance wants to put his nose in to see if there might be a bucket of oat or a bag of mineral.  Gunner barks and nips at him when he tries.  Finally, they came to an agreement.  And just for the record, the two of them really do like each other, as well as tormenting each other.

Below, we stopped to fix the water tank.  The cows had knocked a brace down, got to the float and of course broke the float arm causing the tank to flow over in between daily checks.  Gunner is in the middle of enjoying his luscious score (watered down calf poop).... I personally don't get it.  City dog was an interesting attraction for the baby calves, but there was no way he was going to let them scare him away from his find.  Finally, I had to do it, "Damn it dog, get outta that. Gross."  And he did. 

Gunner and Tyra are both currently laying on their rugs in the mud room, dreaming away with their little puppy paws going 90 miles an hour.  I suspect Tyra is dreaming of flushing roosters and Gunner is busy running away from baby calves.
So from our little piece of heaven at the end of the road, here's to companionship and lovin' where you are and what you're doing...... JUST like Gunner!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Likin' their new digs!

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

So we finally got all the cows moved to their spring pasture, one mostly of tame grass and legume varieties.  The last of the 'sandbaggers' (the ones that didn't want to make the move) forced me into a little mountain climbing, but we finally got 'er done.  This photo captured a resting point on my journey back up a steep creeping cedar covered clay face after descending down into a coulee on foot where the 4 wheeler couldn't go.... the scouting mission before the ride.  I pushed the mountain goats down to the bottom where we could get to them with horses.  Traveling down hill is so much easier than traveling up hill!

After bring the last three pairs through the gate with Chance, I went back to get the Ford and my co-pilot from grandma's house to check on the cows and calves in the recently moved to pasture.  Co-pilot crashed shortly after take off.  And yes, that is spaghetti from lunch.... it matched his coat!
 The difference between 'tame' and 'native' grass - When the flora and fona of the badlands were being established after the glacial melt (yep, the badlands are an accumulation of all the debris that the glaciers left behind when they melted), many vegetative species established on their own, natively (if that is a word Webster would acknowledge).  Tame grasses and legumes were planted over time and are considered 'tame' due to humans planting them here and them not naturally (natively) existing here before man.  In addition to the classifications in range management of tame and native, there is also the classification of 'cool' and 'warm' season grasses.  The species that start growing early in the spring are cool weather lovers and thus termed 'cool season'.  The warm season grasses need more heat to get started and do better in warm weather, where cool seasons go into dormancy when it gets too warm for them.

SSSoooooo... the spring pasture that we moved on to the beginning of May, a cool season, tame grass pasture.  The only one on the place.  It was taken out of crop production specifically for spring grazing.  It helps us keep the native and warm season grass pastures 'saved' for later in the season.  Most years we move the cows onto this pasture earlier, but with all the old grass from last year left behind, we needed to get some of that cleaned out before the move to the 'COOL TAME' pasture.
 Who wouldn't love this salad bar?  Especially when you have four compartments in your stomach, making this highly digestible to you!
 The relationship between cows (as responsible grazers) and the range land is synergistic.  There are lots of really cool things going on here, of which I must save for another time..... DON'T want this discussion to get too drawn out.... but trust me, it is really cool (that synergistic relationship).

So, from our little piece of heaven at the end of the road, here's to keeping the cows happy (and they REALLY are right now in their new digs), the calves healthy (and they are because their mamma's are milking so well on their spring pasture), and the horses and humans (especially after my mountain climbing) fit.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Refurbishing the CCC boy's 80 year old creation.... and wishing for a modern day CCC program

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

It hit me today as I was on demo detail while we were replacing a couple corner posts and building braces between two pastures.  I was pulling out cedar posts and rusty, brittle barbed wire that had been sitting out here in these hills for a long time.  Just how long? I didn't know.

After supper I hit the laptop and searched 'CCC boys'. I often pondered over the years who the sorry souls were that first fenced this county, as its not your typical fencing job.  Often times you can't get close with pick up or four wheeler.  Packing supplies in by human or horse brings the physical challenge of fencing to a whole different level.  Every time I would spout out while mending with my dad as a kid, "Who were the crazy people that put these fences in?" my dad would chuckle and reply, "The CCC boys, and they didn't just DIG every post and string the wire, they harvested cedar trees to build each post as well".

What Wikipedia had to say about the CCC boys was that they were ages 17 to 23, unemployed and unmarried and their families were considered 'relief families'.  These boys were paid $30.00 per month with $25.00 of that going back to their families where ever they were from.  This program operated from 1933 to 1942 under the FDR Administration.  The 300,000 CCC boys that went through the program during its existence worked on many conservation programs throughout the country including planting 3 billion trees, constructing national park infrastructure and upgrading many state park structures.

Admittedly, we don't know the age of the CCC fences out here,but most of the running miles of these amazing creations will see the century mark.  Above, this cedar post was left and braced into the refurbishing of these corner posts and braces.  I suspect it is as stout as the day it was tamped in back in the 30's.

 Pete and Kyle digging a hole for the railroad tie (we are supporters of recycling) that will replace the old cedar post that had given way to the elements over time.  Kyle decided he wanted his own digger and tamper for his birthday.  When you really think about it, that is funny stuff.
 Notice 'his' shovel next to dad.  They traded.
 He is a good helper and tells me frequently how much he loves ranching :).
Kyle adding dirt to the hole while I tamp.

 There was a lunch break between construction of the first and second braces!!!!!

So from our little piece of heaven at the end of the road, here's to keeping the cows happy, the calves healthy and the humans fit.... the horses were on recreation assignment this day.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Rained out in the bottom of the 9th.... (hour)

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

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.... yesterday was a day of a few words and many picturesque moments.  The task for the day - move 240 cow calf pairs from their winter pasture to the first spring pasture.  When it comes to range stewardship, it is best to allow each plant to be grazed once in a pasture and then move off the pasture and allow enough time for adequate regrowth before 'rotating' back to that pasture again.  The concept is easier than the actual practice, but we do our best.  Above - Lenny and Hoss waiting for their 'girl power' to join them for the mission at hand.  The girls rode yesterday and the boys fenced (all four of them).
 Kim and Lenny closing the gate between the calving pasture and the winter pasture.
 20 pairs found a hole in the fence between their winter pasture and a summer pasture.  Kim and Lenny are pushing them north, back to the winter pasture so they can join the rest of the pairs for their move to the first spring pasture.
 The last bull calf on the summer pasture that really didn't want to leave with his mom.
 Pushing the escape artists back through to the winter pasture and eyeing the broken wire that they walked over.
 Hoss pushing pairs from the winter pasture toward the spring pasture.
 This pasture move was heading into it's 9th hour.  8+ hours into the ride with only one last, big coulee and draw to ride, the rain moved in.  Above and below, if you look really close, you can see cows out grazing and the rain moving in.
The rain started shortly after.  Kim and I were two miles from home.  Over 1/2 an inch fell on us.  I had my slicker on and didn't think a whole lot about it until it started to fill my boots.  When I found Kim (she was riding the other side of the draw)..... and who said before we left the barn "I'm not afraid of getting a little wet"....... which is unspoken code for 'Vawnita, you are a sissy girl for packing that slicker'....... she looked like a very drown rat.

We got the horses back to the barn, left them in to dry off with supper (some pretty yummy looking 2nd cutting alfalfa) and went in to do the same.  The four fencing boys had a hot supper on the table and tales of waiting the rain out in the fencing pick up.  Gettin' rained on was totally worth not having to make supper!!!!!

So from our little piece of heaven at the end of the road that recieved some wonderful moisture yesterday, here's to keeping the cows happy, the calves healthy and the horses and humans fit.