From lady banker to lady rancher. Finding purpose at "home on the range" after 38 years in the office.
I retired from a long banking career last year. Not many of us out there anymore that have put in four decades with one employer. Loyalty is less of a sought-after value in the workplace of today. So, one of the many reasons that it was time for me to leave the workforce. The main reason, however, was to spend my energies where I feel complete, needed and valued. That is at home on the ranch with my husband, our livestock, our dogs, cats and horses. What could be more fulfilling than home and hard work and a little bit of rest and relaxation?
Joy – because our second grandchild was born two days ago, in the morning (while a -43C windchill was raging outside) and then, shortly after we got the news we had a serious farm crisis and we didn’t even get to celebrate the joy until we tended to our crisis.
I have to back up a few days to explain what led to this panic/crisis. We have been in a near-crippling deep freeze for the last week to ten days. Temperatures ranging from -25 to -35 complete with windchills sending the real temperature to almost -50….with no relief! The winds rarely let up and the sun just has minimal power to lend any warmth to any living being.
I continue to be amazed how our animals keep on keepin’ on in these conditions but they do.
It’s the equipment that starts to give up. Two of our three cattle waterers decided enough was enough and they froze up. And then the real panic, our electric space heater in the pump house quit and when we opened up the box of our backup heater….we find it’s the wrong kind….it has no cord to plug in!
If the pump house has no heat all the water lines that run to the corral AND to the house freeze solid and the whole system shuts down. In these conditions – a nightmare to even hope to repair.
We just wanted to enjoy the news of our new granddaughter – instead we’re scrambling to replace a simple heat source that we thought we had backup for but….
So off I tear to the nearest city (an hour away) to find some units and get myself back ASAP. Meanwhile, hubby and son Tyler remain behind to jimmy-rig a cord into the backup unit we found. Thank goodness we have our very own instrumentation technician in the family and thankful he was available this crucial day.
I wasn’t taking any chances, once I found them and loaded up with 2 of each.
By the time I got home things had settled down, the pump house was still warm, the water-lines had been preserved and peace had returned to the farm-site.
Our back up supply of heaters is going to be beefed up considerably now after this scare. When you don’t have a hardware store just minutes from your doorstep, out here in the country, you have to be more prepared. Still learning these hard lessons after all these years of farming/ranching!
Time now to catch our breath and get ready to meet our new precious sweet grandchild.
After last week’s post, it occurred to me that between myself and my husband and others like us in the cow-calf and cattle-hauling industry….well, we’re at the base – the foundation (as opposed to “the bottom”] of the food cycle. The cycle that brings your food from farm to plate.
We raise cattle and keep them fed on grass and fresh water. We watch over the good will and nutrition of our breeding herd so they in turn bring forth healthy, thriving calves which later a cattle-hauler like my trucker-hubby loads up and takes on to a feed-lot….. so the cycle can go on and on.
I feel very privileged and honored to be a steward of this lifestyle…even on these cold, wintery challenging days. To be responsible for the well-being of these precious animals that in turn contribute to providing one of the most efficient and high-quality proteins around.
And so we tend to pamper our herd. Pampering – means keeping the feeders full, refreshing the straw bedding after a snowfall, vaccinating against disease and maintaining a watchful eye over all for any changes in behavior or signs of discomfort. I guess, in the end this isn’t necessarily “pampering”….just good management and we take a wee bit of pride in being part of the process to bring healthy and nutritious food to your plate.
Sometimes I get a text or a call from my trucker-hubby as he’s about to drive by home with a load (of cattle) with the invite to come along for a ride. I never give up the chance even if it’s an overnighter. We’re especially fortunate now to have son Tyler fully trained to pick up the reigns and tackle those chores in our absence. We took advantage of him last weekend so that I could accompany hubby on a trip to the south of the province which would be an overnight stay in the Kenworth.
What I came away with was a renewed appreciation of what he puts up with on the road (wild winter weather/rude & impatient drivers-all for another post maybe) how different and limiting the environment is for truckers in the world of COVID restrictions.
On the upside…the traffic is definitely lighter. We would go for an hour almost sometimes and not meet an oncoming vehicle….that’s definitely a benefit.
But the real downside is the lack of rest stops and services for them when they do finally end the day and have time to rest and restore.
We went as far as Picture Butte (5 hours from home) and after he had delivered his load…in the dark….all alone (no employees to help with unloading at the feed lots after 5PM anymore) we camped out at a co-op gas bar/truck stop which thankfully provides a clean washroom/shower building but that’s it. From there we took a chilly “romantic” walk through the industrial area to downtown to find a place to eat.
But that’s the thing….no dining in any restaurants right now under Public Health Orders so a tired trucker has to find an establishment that offers takeout and he/she waits out on the street until it’s ready and takes it back to the truck to eat alone. The hospitality and congeniality they used to find in these places has been taken away from them and it makes for a very, very long day.
So we ordered some donairs for takeout – waited out on the street – then found a picnic table in the dark beside the Scotiabank and ate our supper before walking back to the truck again – back through the dark and empty streets.
He wanted to point out to me too that in Picture Butte back in the day, after he and other truckers in his group had finished their loads at respective feed lots, they would meet at a particular pub for last call. The last trucker in would get the bill. It used to be hopping busy and a good place to unwind, but now…..ghostly silent, one vehicle outside waiting for a takeout order.
This turned out to be a longer post than I usually publish because I guess I wanted to share a message with a little background. You’ve heard it before but I hope you will – “Thank A Trucker”….
maybe just pack a supply of emergency face masks to give to the poor trucker that’s refused entry or service to the only convenience store around just because he/she might have forgotten his/her mask back in the truck at the far-far end of the parking lot…..because – oh yes….that happens.
You know…for years…we have weaned our calves on a busy weekend when the husby is home just long enough to get the deed done with whatever help we can muster up on said weekend. Then, he hops into the big old Kenworth and drives out of the yard leaving me and the dogs with a yard full of bawling, stressed out cows and calves trying their best to get back to each other through gates, and fence lines and corrals.
This year I was not worried about weaning day at all because husby was going to be home for the WHOLE day and not only that – the days thereafter!! He would finally see what chaos he leaves us with when he heads back on the road….back to the off-farm job.
So I took the time to take this little video of the calm and quiet of the last day our cows and calves would be together. I was planning this post in such a way that my video capture the following day would be loud and chaotic and full of bawling and howling moms and babes.
Well, the joke is on me…..guess these gals were good and ready to say goodbye to the children. Peace and harmony prevails on our ranch today already. The expected bawling usually goes for exactly three days straight…but all they can give up is what you hear on this peaceful little video.
I find I am getting excited and anxious to welcome back our mating fox pair. It may or may not be “obvious” in the image below, but look closely for the stretched out “u” that represents a well-worn path leading to a hole at the base of one of the spruce trees along our windbreak. This tells me they’ve come home and getting ready to mate.
This has been their den in earlier years but not for some time. She had them under one of our steel bins last year very close to the house but I doubt I would be that lucky two years in a row.
So, I will be crossing my fingers, eyes and toes that I get to observe and photograph and just hang out with a precious fox family in a few months time.
…. The above post has been sitting in my “draft folder” since December 27, 2019 in the hopes I could deliver a post featuring that our fox pair did indeed mate and raise a family of kits. I’m ecstatic to write today that they did and they did indeed make their home under these trees of our shelter belt…again, not far from the house.
I’ve been highly distracted from ranch chores with these cuties running around but once again, self-isolation shows its benefit-side because I now have all the time in the world to blend my photog life with my ranch life!
There are numerous high-value assets here on the ranch. During my years working and living this amazing life I believe I have identified our top three – but their order of importance varies over the seasons. They are:
– a live healthy calf,
– a reliable, functioning tractor,
– a good solid three day rain.
As of last night, we are about to experience the latter and we are sure happy about that. (My regrets to the grain farmer at this time)
I also tend to unnecessarily stress a bit about those calves after a long rainy and windy night…that they’ll likely get separated from moms in the weather drama and when I hear the early morning bawling in the field it just reinforces my state.
But I have to remind myself yet again that the bawling is the seeking out for each other and a momma will always sniff out her babe. Peace and harmony soon returns if I just leave things alone.
It’s now a day to watch that rain gauge fill and listen to the grass grow…it’s a happy ranching day!!
There are times during calving season- actually many times – when the rancher has to step in and help Mother Nature along.
For instance, sometimes we have to teach the calf to latch on to momma’s teat, especially if she has a “big bag and big teats” that might be too much for the little gaffer to figure out on his own. But once he/she gets that first satisfying “pull” – well, there’s no turning back – off to the races and good health! That all important first suck from mom is the key to establishing a good dose of immunity against the hazards ahead.
That first “dose” is called colostrum and if a newborn calf hasn’t received this natural elixir within its first few hours of life, his/her chances for thriving dwindle fast.
We like to have this colostrum stored as a backup if we’re ever in a position where a calf is just too weak to even be coaxed to suck. I thought it might make an interesting story for the blog to share this all-important process and task that we undertake from time to time when we have a cow with an abundance of milk to share and store like good old Flopsie provided for us this year.
Husby steps up for the extracting task (after all, he grew up with dairy cows). I step up for the cleaning and storing task. We all have our roles.
Finally, our dear cats get the residual, a rich yummy treat…we all have our roles!