Saturday, July 24, 2010

Haying is upon us.

Something I thought I knew what to expect, was how they would put up hay. But just like everything else in Montana, there is a new twist to a familiar concept. In our case the sheer amount of time it takes to put up hay. Though I will admit we were thoroughly warned I still did not anticipate what the reality of what hay season would entail.

I'll begin with what we are used to. First of all in MI there are typically two cuttings for grass hay and three for alfalfa. Though since we were horse people we usually liked to put up 1st cutting grass, some second cutting if we could afford it and at least about a hundred bales of 1st or 2nd cutting alfalfa (for my old gelding who needed the extra boost). To do all this required about a week in early June, followed by another week at the end of July. Kyle and his dad usually took care of it. Sometimes I had to drive a truck or return wagons. But really not that big of deal. The scorching heat, humidity, and threat of storms were always the enemy with at least one of the three wreaking havoc on the season. But, it was survivable.

So, to the present, in MT, it is a one-shot-all-or-nothin' deal. One cutting that begins in July. And because of the unique weather challenges presented this year a little off schedule. So, like I said one-shot. Only one cutting is available here, sometimes if they have a good spring I am told you can get two off the alfalfa fields. But that probably is not going to happen this year.

Kyle is out the door around 9:30-10am to begin mowing hay and rarely gets home until 10pm. They use mostly "sickle mowers or swathers around here.

A sickle mower is an attachment on the tractor that has two blades that move back and forth in a scissor like fashion, or like a pair of hair clippers if you will to cut the meadow grass down. A swather is a unique piece of equipment and is used mostly on the alfalfa, it looks kind alike a small combine without the storage bin, and has a mouth like a vacuum cleaner with a bunch of spinning blades inside to cut the hay (Sorry for the lack of technical terms, I am not an equipment girl.)

The hay is then raked into windrows and then the majority is round baled. and put in stacks. corralled by high fences to keep the deer and elk out.

For this ranch haying is a team effort with the neighbors the Mannix's. The Mannix family has been ranching around here for almost forever. They are a really neat family. Anyway, to make up the hay crew there are the mower's (Kyle being one of them) followed by the rakers and last but not least the bailling crew. The Mannix brothers lead this three ring circus. Though I will say they have it going pretty smoothly. When starting this Kyle wasn't sure he would like haying with the neighbors. It felt to him like he wouldn't be in enough control over what happened with our ranches hay. With so many acres to put up between both places how were they going to do it? You certainly couldn't expect to work on hay this many weeks in row and get it done without something happening to it. So, there was some apprehension. But, just like everything else we have learned out here is that it is almost always the polar opposite of MI. Turns out you can get a lot of hay put up this way over this many weeks. The hay on this ranch did get one ten minute shower, but not enough to cause significant damage. And though Kyle doesn't have control, he cannot deny the efficiency of working on hay this way. Less equipment needs to be owned by a single ranch and there is the added benefit of access to a whole lot of help. Working in this assembly line fashion may seem a little out there at first, but you cannot deny the finished product.

Kyle is also enjoying working with some new faces. It is good for him to see how other ranches do things. The lessons and confidence builders are enormously beneficial.

So, in short this has been another great learning experience.
Of course now Kyle wants to know how to run the rake and balers. I don't think he can ever get enough.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The climb

So the other day Colton and I decided to climb the hill to the west of the ranch. This hill leads to the base of Hoodoo Mountain to our south. It is much, much higher than the hill we climb regularly to the south east. Not to mention much steeper. From our driveway to the top I estimate it to be about a 1/2 mile as the crow flies but, this is not one you want to hike strait up - well, maybe when I am in better shape, but for now we had to take the long rout of zig-zagging our way up. We leave the ranch by going into the pasture directly behind our house. Hang a right at the canal - make sure to stop so Colton can throw about 20 rocks in the canal. We then need to go across a creek - Of course we didn't keep our feet dry even though there was a nice rock path, Colton just doesn't see the point yet.
Next we have to go through two barb-wire gates. I have decided this is strength training, but I managed. Finally we are free to start our climb.
Did I mention this is a much steeper hill? Well, even as we began to zig-zag our way up I could feel it. I was a little worried for Colton but he kept on trucking. About halfway up I needed a break. (And by the way I have Alex strapped to the front of me in the Ergo thus increasing my endurance) I planted Alex and myself on a rock and drank some water. Colton did the same. We took in the view, it was a breathtakingly clear day. I, feeling a little on the lazy side asked Colton if he wanted to go back down. Of course he said to me, " No mama, we need to go to the top." and off he went. This hill basically had three levels. But we finally made it. I could see to the east the hill we normally hike, it was well below us. It was an amazing feeling to be up that high. the view was great as you'll see from the pictures below. From the top we drank in the scent of the immense sage brush pasture and the pine trees surrounding it.

Then in a small grove of Pines I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. Sure enough there was a bunch of Elk, all cows and calves staying cool in the the trees. Still they are as big as horses.
Surprisingly our decent wasn't much easier, because of the steepness, my hamstrings were forced to work as hard going down as my quadriceps worked going up (I'm convinced I should be doing this often the burn was great.)
One thing we did see going down was the beautiful wild flowers. Colton decided we should pick a bunch to give to Mrs. H. so that's what we did, it made the decent much more enjoyable and left me wondering why I hadn't noticed them on the way up? Oh well, following our flower delivery we headed home for a nice snack of fresh raspberry sorbet and a good rest.
What a lovely way to spend the afternoon.

P.s. Thanks to my slave driver child we managed this hike in just over 1 hour. Who needs a personal trainer. I have Colton :o)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cattle Drive

Over the past few weeks the main project has been getting the summer pastures ready for the pairs. The ranch does not have quite enough ground to keep them all here. So, some are hauled to the Manley Ranch about 8 miles away to a pasture that is leased. Some are hauled to Trapper Mountain, where there is some State Lease ground. And the rest are driven horseback across the road to the Sieara Ogden Mountain pastures. While the other two locations are too far to drive them and they are hauled via trailer. the Sieara Ogden Mountain pasture is right across the road And I mean the highway road, not our driveway/county road. we see these mountains right out our front window to the North.
Mr. H and Kyle couldn't have picked a nicer day to drive cattle. So with the help of Mrs. H, some neighbors Scott Davis and his son Sterling (by the way I love that name.) and even from yours truly the cows were safely driven to the mountain pasture.
And of course you are wondering what I, the mother of a 3 1/2 year old and 2 1/2 month old baby could do to help. Well, I made some signs with the slogan Mr. H requested to go on the flag trucks, and I parked our truck down at the Y in our drive so the cattle would follow the correct drive. And of course I took pictures. I know its not much but I was happy to do what I could.

Flag truck Drivers, on Left; David Cochran, and on right Skip Hayes.

Some Elk were flushed out of the meadows as the cows went down the highway.

Cows going down the highway, with some impatient drivers trying to pass.

Sterling Davis

Neighbor Scott Davis

Home at Last.