Horses and Cattle and Chickens…Oh my!

 

What a week we just had! Not only did we get to see some of our family but we saw family friends! It’s funny, on both my husband’s and my side of the family, we have a huge extended family and we love them. But we also have amazing friends who have been there in the best and worst of times and I’m pretty sure we’ve seen a bit of them all since we moved here in May. Love these people!

So early this week, we said hello to our uncles. They’re on a summer road trip to the Midwest and who can blame them? They live in Arizona, where the average temperature is 110F right now. That’s crazy talk. Up here, I’m all rosy-cheeked when the temperature hovers at 95. The benefit of living in the grasslands is that there isn’t much to block the wind in terms of trees. The heat is here but it isn’t THAT terrible because we get wind. So we live in pretty comfortable conditions and, when it’s too hot, we turn on the window unit. Small price to pay for the gorgeous night sky. OMG – the night skies are gorgeous! No light pollution means we get a view of the Milky Way almost every night…reminds me that there’s so much more to life than we know! Clayton Lake State Park is part of the International Dark-Sky Association, which means it’s dark (duh) and the star gazing is amazing! And there’s fish in the Lake, too, so you can have one heck of a time out there!

I digress, sorry. I do that.

The uncles continued on their amazing road trip and then our family friends stopped by on their way back home to South Texas and stopped in to see us! We had a blast because it turns out that they are horse people and we happen to have two horse summer residents. Clay and I asked to get saddled up and figure out the horses because, well, it’s been a while. Now, my mother-in-law is quite the horsewoman. When she and my father-in-law worked the ranch, they both rode and drove the cattle where they needed to go. I think that’s pretty cool to be able to work with another animal, but there’s always the chance that the horse doesn’t want to work nor wants to work with you. I know they (the horses, not the family friends) had names before they got here but a certain someone renamed them Elsa and Kristoff. The sad part is the child hasn’t watched Frozen in about 2 months. Yet everything is named Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, or Olaf. I’m actually forgetting pieces of the movie. That’s a huge deal!

Dang it, I digressed again. Back on point.

So we learned how to (re)ride horses. The last time I decided I could ride, the horse took off with me. After a few squeals of sheer terror, I enjoyed the sprint then somehow got that horse to slow down without falling off. We went home and I was done: that was about 13 years ago. Suffice it to say I’m not a horse kinda girl. Yet.

We learned a lot about riding…like how, especially with horses that aren’t well acquainted with you, that it doesn’t hurt them to walk them out a bit. Tired legs, ready to learn. It’s kind of like recess for kids. Let them move, get out the energy, and they can focus a little more in class. Not only did I ride, my husband, and my daughter, but my mother-in-law got up there, too! She said it was like riding a bike. A really tall, really heavy bike. I still prefer my green horse (the 4-wheeler) but at least the horse we rode is short, so falling means there’s less distance to the ground.

A new development on the chickens. The little ones are fat!!! Ok, not fat but getting bigger and more independent. I have one side of the coop open because I figure it’s futile to keep the future guineas in the coop. After they leave the brooder, they’ll eventually join the big girls but still be small enough to fit through the steel fence. Plus, they like to fly and roost, so why not just plan accordingly? Anyway, the 3 that came from Cruces with us like to get the older hens riled up. Since they are still small enough to fit through the steel fence and can still fly up to roost higher up, they come and go as they please. It’s funny to wake up at 7am and see the youngin’s, who pretty much are at the bottom of the pecking order, break out of Fort Clucks at will. When we let out the older hens, it’s clucktastic. Seriously, all kinds of talk. There’s one, Miss Laura, who follows me around waiting for the day’s treats. She won’t leave me alone until she knows for sure that I don’t have anything. But if I do, she’ll cluck at me and wait in the middle of their feeding bowl for whatever lucky snack I have. Some days it’s celery and grapes; other days it’s the ends of romaine lettuce. They love frozen grapes and watermelon, by the way. One time, we ate 1/2 of a watermelon but I saved the shell and froze water and grapes in it. It was hot and humid and I think that was the day they all decided that I was pretty cool. As much as a chicken can think a human can be cool.

After all the awesome visits, there was one more thing on our summer checklist that needed to be accomplished. We got a pool. A 15foot, above ground, circular container of endless summer happiness. I’ve always wanted a big pool but I’m not keen on sharing germs or doing endless maintenance. This fits the bill. It’s been a fantastic addition to our daily routine.

 

Ranchucation 101

Months before we moved here, I decided that it might be a good idea to learn more about ranching besides what I knew: nothing. After all, something is better than nothing, right? Little did I know that it takes more than a pair of Wranglers, some fancy boots, and the perfect drawl to be a real rancher…just kidding, I realize it takes more than that. 🙂

In a nutshell, I’m an overachiever. It’s not enough for me to just read a book and learn something. I need to get certified and KNOW my subject. Maybe that explains the plethora of fitness certifications I raked up within a 1 1/2 year career as a fitness instructor in Las Cruces. I think I ended up with 9 before we left for the ranch. Or my years in high school Junior ROTC when I competed so much in air rifle that I was the ’98 Ladies State Champ and contributed to a huge table of trophies and medals our company won in our first year. Some of those medals are currently in our 20 foot container in a box somewhere. Or the current obsession with learning all things animal and ranch related. Seriously, there’s A TON to learn.

So where does a city girl begin? Well, I became a frequent shopper of Feed and Supply stores. Tractor Supply, Horse ‘n Hound, Mercantile stores – went there, browsed, took notes on what this was and what that did and bought books to research more. I watched videos on YouTube. Cattlemen to Cattlemen is one we stalked as well as the library of BEEF Magazine. The University of Nebraska has a pretty neat podcast here that interviews professionals in all types of agricultural sectors. There are magazines for the discerning farmer, horseperson, or rancher, including: Farm Journal, Western Horseman, and, my personal favorite, New Mexico Stockman. This is a big shock for many of you that my favorite site is BackYard Chickens. My username is Cow Chips; let’s connect!

Here’s a rundown of the books I’m currently perusing for more information:

Storey’s Guides to: Raising Beef Cattle, Raising Chickens, and Raising Pigs . All different authors, still great guides.

Guineafowl: The Complete Owners Guide by Adrian Marks

Modern Livestock and Poultry Production by Flanders and Gillespie. This is actually a textbook and my father-in-law had an older version he referenced often. It’s interesting to see how much things have (and haven’t) changed when comparing the older to newer version.

Raising Beef Cattle for Dummies by Scott and Nikki Royer. No joke. This book exists and it’s on my Kindle!

How Not to Go Broke Ranching by Walt Davis. It’s funny and perfect for greenhorns like me who have no clue about ranch life.

Not that I’m going to have them any time soon, but in the future I might decide to raise alpacas and sell their gorgeous, warm fleece. So our friend from Minnesota, Joanie, sent me a few books to read.

Alpaca Keeping by Harry Fields and The Camelid Companion by Marty McGee Bennett

Let me not leave out the webinar I’m currently attending – Generation Next – organized by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension nor forget that I am Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Certified. Freakin’ rockstar of ranching over here.

But here’s the thing: just like music and fitness, everything I’ve read, learned, studied, means nothing until I’ve had to apply it in real life. There’s no certification or degree earned when you fix a leak in the pen or lead a stray cow home in a blizzard or bottle feed a calf whose momma can’t or won’t nurse. Those are all things learned “on the job”. The resources above and the willingness of seasoned ranchers, family, and friends have combined to make our dinnertime talk so much more productive. We’ve been extremely blessed to have people so open and honest and willing to help us! Let’s be honest, though, I get to read maybe 5 pages before something else happens or I realize the laundry isn’t folded or we need to start dinner and then I get sidetracked. However, when it’s blah and cold and windy and snowing outside, I am going to have some time to sit by the roaring fire and pick up a book. At least I have a nice selection!

 

By the way, I receive no compensation for referring these links. They’ve just been helpful to me. Besides, the next time you ask yourself “What the hell is she talking about?” there’s a good chance I got the info from one of these resources.

The One Month Recap

Y’all…it’s been a month out on the ranch. Seriously, 4 weeks of craziness and whirlwind lifestyle changes and we’re still alive! I feel like that deserves a celebration on its own! I can’t believe how fast time has marched on. I thought it was supposed to slow down? Nope, not at all. Well, here’s the recap of our first month on the ranch.

We’ve almost moved in! JK, we have another 20 foot container to store all our crap, I mean treasures. Like this guitar that I’ve had since I was 14 and never learned to play. It goes with the violin I had serviced and never played.

My mother-in-law’s house is done. Woo hoo!!! It’s really nice and looks nothing like what you’d expect a mobile home to look like. If you want to see a sample of what she has, here’s a clip from the builder. One last inspection and she’ll be sending out greeting cards to friends. And if you buy that home, tell them I sent you. I get some kind of bonus or something.

I added more moves to the Cow Chips Workout. Need more shoulder and core work? Feel free to move dirt! In order to get the new house on a foundation, we had to move a lot of soil. Like a lot. So now that soil is just sitting there, being all rich and perfect. The stuff you pay $10 a bag for? It’s here in a giant mound just waiting to be used. We found ways to use it. Want more cardio but can’t fit in a long run? Just run from the workshop to the pens to the house. It’s a triangle of about 50 yards at each point. Continue that all day and you’ll rack up at least a mile.

*SHAMELESS PROMOTION ALERT* By the way, I LOVE Bondi Bands. They are amazing sweat keepers in the gym and even better in the humid, country air. You can get 10% off (and I get a teeny, tiny commission) by using promo code COWCHIPS at http://www.bondiband.com.

There’s a stock tank (aka the watering hole) for the cattle that needed some soil. After rainy weather, there’s a lot of mud. Cows don’t mind mud but mud breeds flies and gets in their hooves and makes it just difficult to get to the water. So we put some soil around there with a dump trailer and a backhoe. Then spread it all around with shovels. Super fun. And just to make sure the workout was complete, we have two pens that were once used for hogs and first time momma cows. They needed dirt…about 4-6 inches of it. So we backed in the dump trailer and, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, spread it around and then I spent a good deal of time stomping on the ground to compact the soil. That was my stairs workout. Trust me, after 9 hours of shoveling and stomping in boots, it really feels like stairs.

My husband and I weren’t alone in our endeavors this weekend, though. THANK GOODNESS!!! Another amazing family friend from Denver came by and helped us do all kinds of manual labor, including the shoveling. Did I mention he’s a part of the team that’s going to get the next space telescope up and running in space? Pretty cool if you ask me.

You know I couldn’t let a post go by without mentioning the girls. The chickens, silly! As of about 2 hours ago, we finished up their new coop. I like to think of it as a mansion because it’s literally way too big for just 8 crazy cluckers. The young ones are starting to go through puberty, FYI. How do I know? Well, it’s not like they get more hormonal or anything. They just start to try out their “big hen” voices and practice clucking. By the way, they all have names now. There’s Big Momma Lou, Rosa, Darla, Susana M, Miss Laura, Hannah, Hailey, and Harper. There’s a story behind all of them but that’s a future blog. Along with pictures of them in the new coop. I like to call it Fort Clucks (like Fort Knox but for chickens).

We found out that there is a small herd of elk close by! Why is that exciting? Well, elk were abundant a long time ago and just kinda disappeared, along with a lot of other species of animals, during the drought. Their return means that things are cycling back into better conditions. That’s a good thing, considering we just got here.

We voted. I won’t make this a political blog because I don’t want to. Plain and simple, I voted for the person I think will do a better job. But we did vote and wore our stickers proudly. She might be too young to vote, but it’s a part of the democratic process that we believe our child should know early on. Kinda like the ABC’s but a little more serious. All she knows is they had lollipops and stickers. Win win, I think.

We built a driveway. Remember all that mud I was just talking about? Well, you don’t want to track it into your house, eithe. So, Clay and I spread out crushed gravel to make a driveway and walkway. Once the native grasses grow back, it will be helpful, but until then…take your shoes off! That also involved shoveling and raking to level spots. It’s very zen, which counts as a mindful, yoga move in the Cow Chips Workout.

My daughter got to ride a horse with her new friend. She LOVED it! We will hopefully have a few on the ranch this weekend. It’s a long story but a neighbor lets us borrow horses in the summer. Just go with it. 🙂 Anyway, they’ll be here and Lily and I can’t wait to learn to ride for real! The green horse (the 4-wheeler) is awesome but to actually ride a horse on purpose and not fall off – that’s gonna be a great blog. Did I mention I have a small anxiety/fear of heights?

We also visited Trinidad, CO. Did you know that our local Walmart is approximately an hour away? Use Amazon or Wally World online, you say. Do you realize how much harder it is to justify online shopping when you know the delivery guy has to drive this far? Anyway, we stopped in for lunch downtown at Bella Luna Pizzeria, had some homemade fudge creations and enjoyed “fly” art at Tee’s Me Treat Me, and met a Clayton-ite at her boutique store on the corner! Her name is Cody and she’s really nice and has a great selection of women’s clothes and even a small section for girls. Too bad I’m a spazz and can’t remember the name of the store. Suit Your Taste Corner Boutique, I think it was? Oh, and we went grocery shopping at Safeway because Walmart was too complicated to get into. That’s a town we are definitely going to explore again!

 

 

 

The Red Lips Guide to Cow Chips Workouts

This past weekend, my husband and I had to fill some dirt into a pen. If that first sentence made you glaze over, just skip down to the pictures. They’re pretty funny. If you like backstories, read on. Oh, by the way, the gorgeous cover photo is a wine bottle my friend, Becky, makes. Obviously you can’t see the hand painted flowers on it at night but it’s gorgeous and we love it. You can find her work and some really great deals on upscale resale at My Rich Sister’s Closet in the Mesilla Plaza.

When you receive or send off cattle onto a truck, need to doctor a sick cow, or if it’s branding day, the pens are the most important piece of equipment to a rancher. This is where the action happens. Along with the pens, most ranchers include a water trough of some sort so that cattle going on or off the land have a chance to drink before they leave or when they come on. They have a long journey wherever they’re headed and who doesn’t like a glass of cold water in the heat? Our pen has a big watering well but it sprung a leak underground. After searching high and low, we found the part to replace it. Believe it or not, the big box stores didn’t have it. It was a local place in Dalhart, Texas that had the exact part we needed. Local is where it’s at, folks.

Replacing the part (officially a compression coupling but let’s be honest – I have no clue what that means) was easy enough, it was the replacing the dirt that’s a pain. Lucky me, I’ve been missing my regular gym workouts. I haven’t gained any weight but I have noticed my muscle tone is slowly turning into muffin top. The beer and those fresh tortillas probably don’t help but let’s not split hairs here. Excuses aside, I decided it was time to get in a quick workout.

I present to you the

Red Lips Guide to Cow Chips Workouts.

Step 1: Find a lot of dirt that needs to be moved into a hole. Preferably find it in on a day that is humid, cloudless, and light winds to double the effects of sweating in a gym.

Step 2: Shovel some of that dirt into a giant hole, making sure to keep knees soft, using the core to lift mound after mound of dirt into its new location.

Step 3: When it starts feeling bad in your back, engage your core more to stand up, throw down the shovel, and proceed to jump into the hole you’re filling to start the cardio session.

Step 4: Use your feet and power in your legs to pack dirt underneath a giant rubber tire/watering hole. The constant motion will remind you of a cycle class you loved and hated simultaneously. Continue until you need more dirt, in which case, repeat Steps 2 and 3 while your dear husband also uses the front loader to give more dirt you will eventually pack. He will also laugh uncontrollably at your efforts while taking pictures. Dig deep and remember your goals!

Cardio Sesh

Step 5: Feeling the burn? No need to continue in a cycle motion! Switch it up with mountain climbers. The incline will also train your upper body and core. Don’t you love this workout? I know I do!!!

Mountain Climbers

Step 6: Or perhaps you feel the need to isolate your arm work. Tricep push-ups are also an integral part of full body workouts. Push through and stay strong – you’ve got this!

Triceps

Step 7: As the dirt is finally starting to be moved into place, allow the front loader to do most of the leveling. Assist with some tap dancing along the edge of the tire. If you’re in the mood, stomping your feet like *that crazy girl* in class is also acceptable.

Step 8: You. Are. Done. Congrats on a fine job of moving soil! Now, go take a shower!

 

Week 3 Recap

Wow, that was quick. I literally have been trying to find the time to write this blog post all week. Here it is, Sunday afternoon, and I finally am sitting down and blogging again! Phew!

It’s not that we were so crazy busy that I couldn’t but we were so crazy busy that when 6pm came around, I was done. So much happened on this little corner of the world. By the way, I’ve never truly understood that phrase, corner of the world. We live on a sphere.

Anyway, this week was chock full of adventure. Our amazing family friends came in to help do some construction work for my mother-in-law. They got to play with big machines and it was cool, cloudy, and sprinkly most of the time they were here, so no one got a bad sunburn. I got to wear sweaters and rain boots and, funny enough, it makes me happy. Moisture is always a good thing in these parts.

One really fun thing we did inside was learn how to make tortillas. I remember my grandma making some of the most amazing tortillas when I was a kid. I never could get it quite right and eventually just opted to buy them out of convenience. But I saw this Masa Preparada at the store and just *had* to have fresh tortillas. Lemme tell ya: They didn’t have masa preparada when I was a kid. My grandma did it with lard and the original masa and it took a while. I could never get it right so my tortillas were either cakes or grease balls. Don’t believe me? Ask your mom or aunt or abuela about tortilla making. Rumor has it this new prepared stuff is fairly new, about 10 years old or so. It might be older but I freaking love it. Just add water, knead, let it sit for 5 minutes, roll those bad boys out, and you are set! The best part was watching my little one learn how to make tortillas. Maybe I’ll use that as a chore when she’s older. Internet Time = Tortillas.

We also took some time out of digging holes and such to go hunting for…well, I won’t tell ya. Let’s just say there are some animals that shouldn’t hang out in pastures. Their homes can injure cattle and horses and destroys the natural grasslands. They aren’t endangered or anything but they are a nuisance. At the same time, we found out that my .22 Rifle needs a new scope and I haven’t lost touch with my shooting abilities. In high school, I was the State Champion in Rifle Shooting. I even went to the Junior Olympics, no joke. But a broken scope didn’t help at all and I didn’t think to bring a screwdriver with me to detach the darn thing, so I kept shooting low. It was nice to hang out, though.

I’ll keep this part brief because I know you’re sick of hearing about them but did I tell you I have 5 hens? That makes 8 total (5 new hens and 3 chicks). We get about 1 egg a day and they are DELICIOUS. If you eat eggs, buy them locally – as in from your friend who has some chickens in their backyard. We also received bulls. They are currently with the cows and heifers (there is a difference!) trying to “make their move”. I swear some of the ladies are singing “No” by Meghan Trainor to these guys. I sing it to them and add in the choreography, then they look at me like I’m outta my damn mind. It’s pretty hilarious, really. My husband says my Cattle Commentary is the stuff of legends.

When everyone left, we took a much needed family day trip to somewhere off the GPS grid. About an hour away on a paved road, passing old schoolhouses and lots of ranches is Mills Canyon. No cell service, no internet, not much of anything except pretty views and a few other visitors. It’s about 20 miles outside a tiny town called Roy. We visited on Memorial Day thinking it might have a few more visitors than normal. I guess it did – including us, I think there were a total of 8-10 visitors to the canyon. On top of the mesa, you can use the horse stalls and campgrounds. Or you can take a vehicle with 4-wheel drive and explore the canyon and go fishing, hiking, mountain biking, or just laze around like we did. Of course, we did it in style with a selection of cheeses, veggies, grapes, and wine. That’s right.  I daytrip in style with a nosh plate and good wine. St. Clair Cabernet Sauvignon to be exact. Their wine, especially the DH Lescombes selection, has to be some of my favorite local wines. I’m a dry wine kinda girl, just in case you were wondering.

We took in some peaceful time and pretended to fish until it started getting cloudy. You never know what will happen with thunderstorms, so we thought it better to head home. Mills Canyon was once a huge ranch until it got washed out, so better to NOT repeat history. Good thing we did! Later that night, this same system made its way to the ranch and surrounding areas. We had the most amazing light show all night long. We picked up quite a bit of rain and, of course, I was worried about my chickens. They’re fine: I know you were worried, too. The crazy part? This is June 1. I’m in rain boots and sweaters. And I love it.

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