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This past Monday morning was a rude awakening, not just to freezing rain early in the morning that turned to sticky snow but plummeting temperatures.

I had just spent a week at a writer’s retreat in Florida and thankfully, got home late Sunday night before the snow rolled in. The next morning it was “back to reality” for me, (but truthfully I didn’t mind, I was glad to be home) as I helped the Hubs with livestock chores. Since there is plenty of grass yet to graze in this particular pasture, he decided we would feed our cows some hay but only about half of what we normally feed to eliminate any wasted hay. The picture above of me  getting the gate AND snow falling while my husband loaded a bale seemed like an appropriate “back to reality” picture.

I had invested in a pair of super warm Carhartt Arctic Extreme biberalls last year so I was ready for the cold, but anytime we’re doing chores out in bitter cold temperatures, I think about making comfort foods that will warm us up. Chili is always a good idea and is an ideal comfort food on a cold day. Wednesday morning our thermometer read -24 degrees! (Notice the lower number says 54 degrees–that was our inside temperature when I woke up because the pilot light went out sometime during the night. Yikes!)

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When I got in the house after we got feed chores done Monday morning I made chili and a pan of cornbread. Here are my recipes.

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Kirk Ranch Chili–with some MEAT to it!

  • 1 – 1 1/2 lbs. hamburger browned and drained
  • 4 tenderized round steak, cubed and flash-cooked (what I mean by this is steak cubes cooked in a cast iron skillet on high in a Tbs of melted butter. Heat the butter until it turns brown–it will smoke up your house though–throw the meat in the pan and cook 30 seconds, then turn them over so they’re still pink inside. They’ll finish cooking while simmering in the crockpot or Dutch oven)
  • Mix the two meats together and set aside
  • In the same large skillet the round steak was cooked in (I prefer cast iron skillet), add the following and simmer 5-10 minutes on medium-low to medium heat:
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 8 oz. V-8 juice (or tomato juice)
  • 1 small can diced green chilies
  • 2 diced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (if available)
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 green pepper and 1/2 onion chopped (I had to use  some that I had dehydrated  which also works)
  • 2 t. Senor Gordon’s Chili Seasoning (its not available everywhere, so your favorite chili seasoning will do) I also add a tablespoon to my meat mixture
  • 1 t. Kosher salt
  • 1/2 t. basil
  • 1/2 – 1 t. chili powder
  • 1/2 chocolate bar or small handful milk chocolate chips (to cut the acidity of the tomatoes)
  • Simmer all then add to meat mixture and put all in a crockpot on low 4 hours or in Dutch oven on 250 degrees
  • Beans of your choice OPTIONAL I don’t like beans so I omit and let my family add a scoop from a can if they want them.

 

Honey Cornbread

  • 1 stick butter or margarine softened
  • 1/3 – 1/2 c. honey depending on how sweet you like your cornbread
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 2/3 c. milk
  • 2 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. cornmeal
  • 4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt

Cream butter and honey. Combine milk and eggs. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Add to creamed mixture alternately with egg mixture. Pour into greased 9x13x2″ pan. Bake 400 degrees for 22-27 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. 12-15 servings.

Wherever you’re at, STAY WARM!

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South Dakota Farm and Ranch Life in Poetry

by Amy on October 14, 2014

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Anytime I discover something that becomes a part of my “favorite things” list, I want to share it with others. I met farmer and cattleman Bruce Roseland of North Central South Dakota at the South Dakota Festival of Books back in September in Sioux Falls.

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Bruce writes free verse poetry about everyday things that pertain to rural life on his South Dakota farm, the land, the people, nature, and the wildlife that inhabit it.

I like his poems because I can relate to many of them since I’m a South Dakotan, I’m involved in agriculture, and I have seen or experienced some of what he describes in his poems. Some of them remind me of the way my husband thinks, and others express or describe similar feelings or observations I’ve had about the land here in South Dakota, the wildlife, and our lifestyle.

The following is a poem of his that I really liked because my husband and I feel the same way about any black baldies we have in our herd but it also describes the way I feel about any Herefords and red brockle or bald faced cows or heifer calves that I can talk my husband into keeping.

The Standouts

by Bruce Roseland

My cows pretty much look all the same,

the result of years of buying all black Angus bulls.

but I still have those cows

with individual markings,

throwbacks to years ago of past crossbreeding.

Showing up as a spot of white

on a face or throat, or a curly swirl of hair

that makes one of them stand out

from the crowd.

These I notice, and keeping track

of their life histories

is a bit easier than for all the other black cows,

who are distinguished only by a numbered tag.

I find myself cheering a little when these

uniquely-marked cows, in the fall, are pronounced,

“pregnant” by the vet

because they’ll stay another year

and hopefully drop a live, healthy calf.

And in the spring, I catch myself smiling

a bit as I realized that this isn’t merely a business

of dollars and pounds of beef.

I find myself rooting for the individual.

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You can find more of Bruce’s poetry at his website Heart of the Prairie, where many of his poems are put to photography by Susan Melius, who also lives and farms in South Dakota. Bruce has published three books of poetry: The Last Buffalo, which won the 2007 Wrangler Award for “Outstanding Book of Poetry,” A Prairie Prayer, and winner of the 2009 Will Rogers Medallion Award for outstanding western literature. His poetry in Church of the Holy Sunrise is set to beautiful photographs of South Dakota by his neighbor and photographer Susan Melius. His book Song for My Mother is poetry written chronologically about his mother’s last two years in a nursing home.

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Atlas’ 1st Anniversary

by Amy on October 3, 2014

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A year ago today, winter storm Atlas began with rain, then turned to rapidly piling snow overnight. I was not at home, but rather attending the annual Women in Ag conference for our area 30 miles away along with many other farm and ranch women. My family was home and rode out the storm mildly. Our place was not hit hard with the devastating storm the way we learned many others did.

Evidence remained fresh in our minds, thoughts, and prayers long after the storm as we saw media coverage on the after effects having to extract dead livestock from roads and nooks and crannies along western South Dakota’s landscape.

Months later, our son Myles had to choose a senior project. It had to be something that related to community service. Part of the project was doing a research paper. He chose to do a steak feed to benefit South Dakota ranchers through the Rancher Relief Fund. His research paper was on blizzards and their effect on ranchers. When I read his research paper I was amazed at what I learned about these types of storms. I feel it’s worth sharing and have decided to include it on my blog. If you are interested and have time, you’re welcome to read it.

By Myles Kirk

All weather has a great impact on the income of ranchers, but none more adverse than Midwestern winters and the blizzards they bring. Blizzards occur about three times in an average winter for South Dakota (Hoover, page 24). Residents of South Dakota are used to extreme weather, but the recent Atlas Storm caught livestock producers off-guard. It is important to help the local ranchers we have in South Dakota recover from the effects of this storm in any way we can to  shelter South Dakota’s number one industry- agriculture.

A blizzard has been defined by the National Weather Service as having “sustained winds or frequent gusts to thirty-five miles per hour or greater and considerable falling and/or blowing snow reducing visibility to a quarter mile or less”(NWS, np).The Atlas storm greatly exceeded all of those requirements in addition to being early in the season, creating devastating losses for ranchers across western South Dakota. The factors that cause our weather have a lot to do with how this storm became so overwhelming.

 

The weather we experience on Earth is in many ways caused by the heating power of the Sun. The Sun heats up the Earth’s atmosphere in different amounts because of the tilt of the Earth. This tilt of the Earth changes over a 41,000 year cycle, but for now it is at a constant 23.45 degrees offset from straight up and down (Allaby, page 1). This means that there are different temperatures of air across the entire globe and that there are changing seasons for middle and higher latitudes. This causes the wind, precipitation, and hot or cold snaps that happen right here in South Dakota. Another factor that plays a role in local weather is the proximity to water. The Sun can heat up air fairly easily, but heating water takes more energy due to the heat capacity of water.This means that oceans and or large lakes have a moderating effect on local weather. The farther away from an ocean or large body of water, the drier the atmosphere is and the more extreme the temperatures range. Closer to a body of water, the atmosphere is wetter and has more moderate temperatures. The same principle that causes different temperatures in air also effects the oceans and causes global currents. In global weather, another factorthat plays a role is the Coriolis Effect. The Earth spins on an imaginary axis every day, causing parts of the Earth to face the darkness of space and the opposite parts of the Earth to be exposed to the warming rays of the Sun. Simply put, the Earth is spinning and there isn’t anything we can do to stop it. This also means that any object not firmly attached to the surface of the earth (air, for example) will tend to follow the curve that results from the turning of the Earth. The Coriolis Effect causes air to move in reoccurring patterns across the globe, and these moving air masses are prevailing winds (Allaby, page 74).For South Dakota, the wind in the summer is primarily from the South. In the fall,the wind patterns shift to the East slowly until winter, when the wind comes from the Northeast (Hoover, page 24-25). The primary winds for the middle latitudes in both hemispheres are from west to east (Allaby, page 12).

The weather in North America is greatly affected by the polar jet stream. This weather phenomenon was discovered by World War II pilots, when high-altitude flying was just being attempted. They discovered that they could either reduce or increase their air speed very dramatically depending on which direction they were flying. The jet stream happens in middle latitudes where cold polar and warm tropical air meet. The area where these two air masses meet is called the polar front, and it occurs usually about 40,000 feet in altitude (Allaby, page 150). The extreme difference in these air masses causes the high winds that can help or hurt pilots even today. During late winter, the jet stream breaks down in index cycles, which are barometric pressure differences between two different latitudes, making it difficult to predict the flow of the jet stream. When the jet stream breaks down over these cycles, it lets cold polar air from Canada into the lower United States. This causes the cold snaps South Dakotans occasionally feel. Every winter there are usually three types of air affecting North America that set up the wintry conditions Midwesterners are accustomed to. There is arctic air hovering over the most of Canada, moist air moving west from the Atlantic, and air moving east from the Pacific. When the air over the Pacific Ocean moves westward it collides with the polar air causing many winter storms, squalls, and occasionally blizzards (Allaby, page 72).

All the global and regional effects of weather form the local weather that every community experiences. The climate of most of western South Dakota can be described as a dry, continental climate. Most of western South Dakota is far from water sources, causing the typical continental conditions for such a climate: extreme hot/cold and very dry at times. Moisture in South Dakota happens only in a small area and is more difficult to predict. The Black Hills of South Dakota have an unclassified climate because of the adverse weather conditions caused by elevation changes and topography. This is shown in the fact that for every 1000 feet rise in elevation there is usually a three and a half degree drop in temperature (Hoover, page 26).

The total of all local, national, and global conditions create what we know as a climate, or the average weather of an area. A few special conditions must happen in order for a storm like Atlas to happen. Moisture in clouds from evaporated water sources falls to the Earth when it becomes too heavy. The air temperature of the cloud, the temperature of the air below the cloud, and the elevation of the cloud determine what type of precipitation it will be. When the cloud temperature is around 23 to 32 degrees,the bigger flakes are produced (Allaby, page 91). When the air temperature is extremely cold, there will not be very much snow. This is because cold air holds less moisture than warm air, and thus there is nothing to turn into snow. This has been shown by the extremely cold winters the Canadian prairie experiences: the winters here are bitterly cold, but many days go by without a cloud in the sky (Allaby, page 71).Blizzards usually happen when there is an unusually warm spell during the winter, which means the end or beginning of winter. Many blizzards occur during the month of March across Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota. The relatively warm air that brings snow, combined with wind, are the main components of blizzards.

One must understand that snow can be altered once it reaches the ground. The sun may warm snow up causing a tiny layer of water to be on top of the snow which may freeze, causing a glazed snow. Wind also alters snow and can create features such as snowdrifts. Snowdrifts are another hazard that the high winds of a blizzard bring to an area. When there is a strong wind, the air has the ability to carry objects, snow being one of these. The more energy the wind has, the more it can carry. The opposite effect happens when it loses energy: it drops the snow. When air molecules collide with an object, they lose energy. This is seen with snowdrifts forming around the bases of objects left outside.

The Atlas Storm was during the fall of 2013, when relatively warm air was present. The air got cold enough to make freezing precipitation, and the South Dakota wind took care of the rest. This all summed up to be a disaster to cattle ranchers in South Dakota.

South Dakota has had a history of extreme winter weather, and it is not about to change. Three years before South Dakota became a state, in the winter of 1886, there was another devastating storm that dramatically reduced the size of the free range herd. There was a drought before that winter causing a shortage of feed in southern states, which caused cattle barons to send their herds north. Then the winter came and affected areas from Canada to Texas, killing 300 people in its wake. The Hash Knife Ranch near Belle Fourche, South Dakota had a pre-storm head count of about 80,000 cattle. The storm knocked their numbers to 9,000 head. The E6 Ranch accounted for 18,000 head before and 1,900 after the storm. Areas around the Cheyenne River were less effected by the storm due to cedar groves for shelter (Hunhoff, pages 59-64). The 1888 American winter was one of the worst recorded. On January 11-13, there was blowing snow and bitter cold, with a break for some time and then the storm resumed.

In the unclassified climate of the Black Hills, there have also been very surprising weather phenomenon. In January of 1943 in Spearfish, the temperature was recorded at a chilly four degrees below zero. Two minutes later, the temperature was at 45 degrees above. Spearfish still holds the record for the largest two minute temperature change in the world. This special even was caused by a Chinook, or a warm wind. The air was forced to sink from encounter with geographical features and warmed as it fell toward the Earth due to compression. For every mile the air sinks, it warms up about thirty degrees (Schrage, page 1).

During the Blizzard of 1949 in January, airplanes had to be used for food and medical supplies and for livestock hay. One person died in South Dakota, twelve in Wyoming, seven in Colorado, and twenty in Nebraska. The highest single gust during that storm was 73 miles per hour. January of 1949 was one of the snowiest and coldest months on recordfor many weather stations (Blizzard, page 1).

The year 1968 brought freezing rain followed by snow all across eastern South Dakota and into Minnesota. One man was killed in a train wreck after his car stalled on the tracks due to snow in Hancock, Minnesota (ABR, page 1). The winter of 1976-77 caused 19 states east of the Rocky Mountains to record some of their lowest temperatures. The winter of 1983 resulted in the deaths of fifty-six people on November 28 across Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, and Iowa (UNR, page 1). The Holy Week Blizzard of 2000 snapped trees and power poles. Most of the 18 to 33 inches of snow fell within twelve hours, causing two to four inches of liquid precipitation. This Blizzard cost about three million dollars in damages (UNR, page 1).

Technology has played a major role in helping people across the Midwest prepare before storms hit and help combat them once they hit. The best way to prepare for a blizzard is to know when it is coming and modern meteorology helps with this. Numerical weather prediction is one way that scientists are able to predict some storms. This method uses the laws of physics to predict what the weather systems will do. The idea comes from the fact that air follows certain principles because of its properties as a fluid. The beginnings of this concept were first thought of by the English mathematician and meteorologist Lewis Fry Richardson in 1922. Richardson’s methods were on the right track, but technology at the time didn’t have the calculating power that was needed. He had a staff of 26,000 accountants in total but it still wasn’t enough (Lyons, page 320).  His method predicted larger pressure changes than had ever been recorded and weren’t correct. His experiment was virtually forgotten. Modern technology has the ability to use this method effectively now because of faster computations.

One of the main constraints to weather forecasting is that weather systems are huge- most can cover large portions of continents. Putting data together for weather forecasting before 1869 could only go as fast as a horse could run from an observation station to a computing center. In 1869 the telegraph was invented by Samuel Morse and compiling data for weather forecasting was born. At the Great Exhibition in London during 1851, the first weather map was drawn up from several different observations at the same time. The first three-day forecasts were conducted in 1871 in Cincinnati, Ohio. From these humble beginnings, world-wide weather stations and predictions began (Allaby, page 181-182).

Other tools have been developed to help meteorologists form their forecasts. Starting in 1960, scientists started launching balloons into the atmosphere with data-measuring devices on them.  The balloons evolved into modern satellites that circle the globe and give an almost constant observation of the Earth (Allaby, page 182).Satellites help save over $5 billion per year because of the weather information they present to industries nationwide (Lyons, page 330). Modern satellites have cameras and infrared measurement devices on them to help scientists better analyze the data from weather stations, balloons, and ocean buoys. The information from all these data points is fed into a supercomputer which analyzes it and turns it into a map of what the weather is doing. Among the armory of tools at a meteorologist’s disposal are the experiences of the meteorologists themselves. A veteran meteorologist may be able to predict what will happen when certain conditions come around. The first clue that they look for is differences in air pressure.Even thoughall of these resources are available for weather forecasting, the most accurate predictions can only be made a week ahead of the present. Weather prediction may remain this way forever because of the chaotic forces created by the many topographical, atmospheric, and oceanographic features of the Earth. The shorter the forecast period, the more accurate it will be (Allaby, page 183).

From all these advances in technology, local weather stations are able to tell people around them what weather is coming their way. These come in the form of warnings from the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The NOAA has the ability to broadcast these warnings over several types of media: television, internet, and radio. The warnings come in different severities starting with a Winter Weather Advisory to the most extreme being a Blizzard Warning. A Winter Weather Advisory is weather bad enough to cause some problems with transportation, etc. A Frost-Freeze Warning may occur in an area that normally doesn’t receive below freezing temperatures, or these temperatures are out of season for the area. A Winter-Weather Watch happens when blizzard type weather is two or less days away from an area. A Blizzard warning is what is broadcasted when the combination of wind-blown and falling snow is expected to produce snowdrifts, extreme temperature drops, and dramatically reduced visibility.

Out on the range of South Dakota ranchers also have a few tools to help fight blizzards. One of these tools is a snow fence, which causes wind to lose its velocity and drop snow before a roadway rather than on it. With snow fences, drifts are more likely to form to the side of the road (Lyons, page 320). Ranchers also can use powerful tractor-driven plows and snow-blowers. Windbreaks and shelterbelts are also used in the wake of a storm to keep livestock safe. Possibly the greatest defense against weather is the land itself- winter pastures are greatly protected from the chilling effects of the wind by hills and valleys.

The Atlas Storm was one of the worst Fall Blizzards in South Dakota’s recorded history. The previous October snowfall record was ten inches and happened a hundred years ago. The Atlas Storm dropped three feet of snow in some parts of the Black Hills. One location in Northwestern Lawrence County recorded 58 inches of snow. This equates to roughly 6.78 inches of liquid precipitation and 20 percent of the annual precipitation- all in three days. Lead, South Dakota holds the record amount of snowfall for this storm at 55 inches. Rapid City recorded their second heaviest snow storm during Atlas with 23.1 inches officially recorded. The highest peak wind gust was at Ellsworth, South Dakota. Here a gust of 71 miles per hour was recorded (Winter Storm Central, np). Interstate 90 was closed from Murdo, South Dakota to the Wyoming border and winds were sustained at 44 miles per hour (Winter Storm Central, np). The storm certainly had all the attributes to be a killer to livestock.

The average cow can sell for $2000 at today’s market price and the average calf about $1000 (Zhorov). The executive director of South Dakota Stock Grower’s Association, Silvia Christen, estimated that 5% of the cattle west of the Missouri River were lost in Atlas (Amundson, page 1B). About a third of South Dakota’s cattle herd (3.7 million head) live in western South Dakota (Amundson, page 1B). Dustin Oedekoven, the state veterinarian, has estimated the total losses: 13977 cattle, 1257 sheep, 287 horses, and 40 bison, as of a month from when the storm occurred. Ranchers across South Dakota concluded that many of these died from exhaustion from drifting with the storm. Others suffocated each other even in sheltered corrals trying to escape the storm (Amundson, page 1B). Others were killed because of being trampled into low lying areas and being stuck in the mud. A few days before the storm the temperatures were nice: in the 70s and 80s, and many cows hadn’t grown their full winter coats yet. This caught livestock owners off guard and many cows were still on their unsheltered summer pastures. Cows in the shelter of the Black Hills had some calf abortions because of being forced to eat pine needles because of the heavy snowfall (Amundson, page 1B- 2B). Another concern for ranchers is the carcass cleanup process; all the snow accumulated has made significant amounts of mud. Some of the cattle will be hard to access with the proper equipment. These losses will be felt for generations to come and some operations may never recover from this one storm.

The losses from the Atlas Storm on October 3rd through the 4th of 2013 are significant; both in the number of cattle and the losses of income. There also was a great psychological loss: the ranchers were the caretakers of those animals and were unable to keep them alive through this terrible force of nature. The disastrous conditions seen on those two days were part of a long history of adverse weather across the Midwest, and it isn’t about to go away. There is help out there for these ranchers, but the ultimate factor to getting themback on their feet is their own determination and resolve. Ranchers who have lived in the Dakotas have had to deal with these same problems, and it is the hope for a better year that keeps these folks going. This storm won’t break this tradition- it will only strengthen these Midwesterners spirits. All weather has a great impact on the income of ranchers, but none more than adverse winters and the blizzards they bring.

 

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This year the South Dakota Festival of Books is going to be held in Sioux Falls. The annual event is alternately hosted in Deadwood or Sioux Falls.

Now that I have a book available, I am super excited to be involved as an exhibitor this year selling my first anthology of columns plus photos from our family and ranch life and kid witticisms spoken by my little ranch hands. since many of my readership stems from the Tri State Neighbor based in Sioux Falls I am especially excited for the Festival of Books to be in Sioux Falls this year. It will enable anyone who reads my column in the Tri State Neighbor from Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska area to come by so I can meet them!

I will be in the Sioux Falls Holiday Inn City Centre Exhibitor Hall from 2 pm until 5 pm on Friday and 9 am to 5 pm on Saturday. If you were planning to attend (and even if you weren’t) I hope you stop by my booth to say, “Hello.” Just be prepared to share at least where you’re from and maybe questioned a little more by me about yourself. I love meeting readers of my column, hearing where they’re from, what they do for a living, and of course I thoroughly enjoy it anytime a reader shares how one of my columns relates to them or what was their favorite.

I am planning an early morning drive across South Dakota on Friday and to be set up and ready when 2 o’clock rolls around. Part of me wishes I was able attend as a reader and writer instead of a vendor because the time attended the SDFB in Deadwood I really enjoyed the workshops I attended.

If you love books and/or South Dakota, this is a weekend event you don’t want to miss. Please plan to attend to support this great South Dakota event even if you don’t make a stop to see me ;)

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Patches are so Un-holey

by Amy on July 7, 2014

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This spring–when it was still snowing–I dug out the jeans I’d stored away for patching; dug out my denim scraps to make patches and sewed different sized denim squares and rectangles on my work jeans. Now I have three new pairs of jeans to wear for ranch work! That may sound kind of weird, but there’s nothing like reviving a pair of jeans that were formerly annoying to wear because the knees had big holes in them. I decided this pair was not worth patching again.

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I actually wrote a column about patching jeans and added photos:

This column was originally published May 7, 2014

Nobody gets excited about wearing a new pair of jeans more than a ranch woman. Every time I pick out a pair of jeans to wear from a stack of freshly patched blue jeans, it feels like I have a whole new wardrobe of favorite work jeans to pick from—without the buyer’s remorse.

Once my preferred jeans for dressy occasions get worn and faded looking, they become new favorite work jeans, and when they get so shoddy that threads fray at the knees and develop holes, I put patches on them to wear some more. The first thing to go to pot on my jeans is the denim in the knee area. Eventually squatting down on my knees will put enough pressure on the weakened fabric that they’ll rip, creating a hole across the knee. Barbwire fence is another source of holes, rips, and tears in my jeans. I end up bypassing all pants with holes when I go to pick out work jeans in my dresser drawer to wear for doing ranch work, so they end up getting stockpiled for patching later.

I’ll wear jeans with holes in a pinch, but it bugs me having my knee poking out of a gaping hole in my jeans so I usually end up wearing the same few pairs of intact work jeans until they develop holes also or I get all my holey jeans patched.

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My knees are not fond of winter cold and wind so I don’t wear jeans with any holes when it’s cold out. I don’t like wearing holey jeans in the summer either because I don’t want to end up with the kind of tan marks like my husband got one summer. When he snagged his Wranglers on barbwire a good-sized chunk of his pants ripped above the knee so he cut the flap of denim off with a pocket knife and went about haying in the field. As a result, he got a four inch odd-shaped sunburn on his thigh that was evident all winter, therefore I avoid raking or windrowing hay in blue jeans that expose my legs in odd places. It’s also annoying when I put on a pair of pants and my foot exits through the knee instead of out the bottom of my pants, which sometimes causes the hole in the knee to rip even more.

Patching up holes located in the middle of my pant legs is not a quick task. The side seam has to be opened up in order for my sewing machine to sew a patch over any rips, so any pants needing patched get stockpiled until I have time to open up the side seams—an ideal project to work on when my husband wants to put on some man-flick movie I find unappealing.

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Newly patched jeans renew my enthusiasm for getting dressed to do any outside work. With freshly patched jeans I no longer have to agonize over which is the best or most comfortable of the remaining work jeans I have to wear.

A stack of patched jeans is like adding new clothes to my wardrobe, and as every woman would agree, there’s nothing better than putting on a new pair of pants that feels like they’re already broken in.

© Amy Kirk 2014

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This column was originally published February 12, 2014

Farm and ranch residents may not have a grocery store or WalMart located only minutes away, but there are some advantages to living out of town including things you can only get away with in the country.

  • It’s universally acceptable in the country if a kid pees outside.
  • Dropping by unexpectedly on farm/ranch families is not received as an unpleasant surprise or annoyance. Country folks enjoy friends, acquaintances, or relatives stopping for a visit.
  • Nobody cares if there’s horse or cow poop in the driveway (unless someone trips or stubs a toe on a frozen cowpie, then there might be some griping).
  • Water from a country well is generally potable and doesn’t cost over $1 to drink 16 oz. of it.
  • In the summertime, the racket that country “neighbors” make is actually pleasant. Birds, crickets, frogs, and coyotes (and at our house, sometimes elk) are soothing to listen to.
  • You can have dogs, several if you want, and most stray cats are welcome, especially if they hunt varmints and vermin.
  • It’s perfectly legal and there’s no risk of getting fined for indecent exposure if he or she is too lazy to get dressed just to go run out to the vehicle for something or get clothes off the clothesline in one’s skivvies or sleepwear (we’re talking warm weather).
  • The company that stays all summer is always welcome back: bluebirds, robins, yellow finches, mud swallows, and blue jays, and all of their other relatives.
  • You  can have a clothesline because there are no ordinances against them on farms and ranches.
  • There are no Jones’ to keep up with.
  • On a farm or ranch, tots can stand on the pickup seat next to their parents to check cows.
  • The only complaints if your dog(s) bark at night will come from you/your spouse.
  • It’s acceptable to have and use the old outhouse in your back yard.
  • Country lawns don’t have to be constantly mowed in order to remain a required height.
  • You can hang the whole works on a clothesline: bras, underwear, pajamas…nobody cares.
  • Dogs don’t have to have a collar, dog tags, or be on a leash in order to run around in the country.
  • You can shoot a gun in your yard and neighbors won’t be alarmed. They may come over to watch you shoot though.
  • In the country there’s enough open space that you don’t have to pick up feces after your animal(s) defecate.
  • If you’re putzing along in the middle of a country road, drivers will not give you the stink eye (disdainful look), honk their horn, or raise their finger at you. Instead they’ll give you a wide berth, wave, smile and nod as they go by.

 Country living has lots of advantages until farm and ranch residents get snowed in, experience a major power outage, or suddenly have no water. Getting power restored, well issues resolved, or plows out to the country roads can sometimes take a long time. That’s when country living becomes more of a disadvantage known as “pioneer living.”

© Amy Kirk 2014

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Wrestle Like a Girl–Cowgirl Style

by Amy on May 8, 2014

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This past weekend we held our branding and after processing the whole day with my husband Art several different times, we determined that this year’s branding was probably  the best we’ve ever had, or at least that we can remember having.

For starters, we had excellent weather.

Myles helping bring in the herd for sorting.

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The temperature was not too hot out and for being early May, it wasn’t cold, windy, or threatening to snow or rain for once. We’ve had some real doozies for branding day weather in years past.

Our 14 year-old daughter Reneé really wanted try her hand at wrestling calves this year, which I was really excited about since there aren’t as many of us gals wrestling.

Scott–neighbor and friend running the branding irons. Reneé on the back end of a calf.

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In years past she didn’t have the confidence (or enough sand in her butt) and was a bit intimidated by squirrely calves that weighed as much or more than she did. The night before and the morning of our branding, she had lots of questions about technique in hold down a calf.

Reneé and I holding down a calf. France (cutter) and Jim (vaccine guy) both friends and neighbors.

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Calves that weigh as much as 150-200, even 300 pounds can really pack a punch when they kick and I’ve seen calf wrestlers get the wind knocked out of them so it’s pretty important that calves are held down tight when getting branded, castrated, vaccinated and eartagged at the same time.  We assign one person for each job necessary, and it usually takes less than 60 seconds to do everything for each calf.

Larry–good friend and neighbor and our vaccine gun guy

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We strive to brand, vaccinate, fly tag and castrate (where applicable) as fast as possible so there’s minimal stress on the calves and they’re paired back up with their mother again quickly.

Pat–good friend, neighbor, and our fly tag man

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Laura–neighbor and calf wrestler

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Branding day for our calves is a lot like a mother taking her kid in to the doctor’s office for his or her immunization shots. The key is to do everything as quickly as possible before the youngster even knows what happened and get him or her back to momma right after. I always appreciated how two nurses would give my kids their shots simultaneously so the ordeal wasnt drawn out. This is the same system we use for our calves. Restraining calves properly is really important for the calves, the wrestlers, and everyone tending to the calf. Sharp knives, needles, and hot irons can be really dangerous for all involved if a calf gets up or gets a hind leg loose and kicks.

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Traditionally, we’ve always branded our cattle, but some outfits don’t. We feel branding our calves is even more important than ever these days since cattle rustling seems to be on the rise as a result of the current high cattle market. We aim to have everything branded before turning them out on summer range.

This year I worked my tail off in the kitchen the day before our branding making salads, side dishes; baking cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, desserts, and cooking my roast beef and  BBQ spare ribs for our branding day dinner.  I promised our daughter Reneé that I would wrestle some calves with her, as she felt more comfortable having me for a calf wrestling partner instead of her brother Myles, who always goes after the biggest calves in the bunch to wrestle.

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All I had left to do on branding day was heat everything up and cook my gravy and potatoes for mashed potatoes. I am very fortunate to have such wonderful neighbor ladies who were willing to check on things in the kitchen for me while Reneé and I wrestled calves.

This is Dick, our Rocky Mountain Oyster cook. He takes his job very serious. Art designed and welded the special channel on top of our branding stove so we could cook Rocky Mountain Oysters for the crew to eat during branding. Goes great with an ice cold beer. ;)

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It was a really fun family day and even though it’s considered ranch work, everyone present had a great time doing the work, visiting and sharing a meal together afterwards.

Typical BS session while waiting for another bunch of calves to be brought in as well as after the work’s all done.

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The Boss (Art) and Jim visiting

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All photos taken by Martha Studt–thanks Mom!

 

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A Senior Project Success:

When our son Myles said he was thinking about putting on a steak feed to benefit the Rancher Relief Fund for his Senior Project (a fairly new requirement for South Dakota high school graduates), I was very proud that he came up with that particular idea all on his own. There was a part of me that considered suggesting a less labor intensive project, knowing that he had no idea what would be involved in order to do something like this, but instead I kept my mouth shut and decided I would support him any way I could.  At Custer High School, Senior Projects have to be community service related. For Myles to come up with a project that would benefit the community and agriculture was something I was even more proud of.

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Getting the word out about Myles’ Senior Project made the front page of our local paper.

Our cattle herd was not affected by the notorious October snowstorm, Atlas, but we knew of others that had been hit by the devastation and I liked the idea of being able to assist our son in raising the bar a notch to help those who took a hit from Atlas. This past Saturday, it all came together when Myles’ steak feed was held in downtown Custer at the VFW. Our whole family plus relatives and family friends volunteered in bringing a community of people together for fellowship, conversation, and an outstanding Dutch oven and open fire steak dinner as a fundraiser for the Rancher Relief Fund.

Fellow ranchers and family friends of ours, Clayton and Rhonda Sander catered the meal.

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Behind the scenes: Clayton gets the fire going right in the driveway behind the VFW.

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Rhonda and her stepfather preparing ingredients for the beans.

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Clayton stirring bacon for the beans 

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Sanders run a side business of chuckwagon cooking in the spring and summer months, and Myles arranged to have them prepare the meal for the benefit and with Clayton’s suggestion, Myles set the meal at $15 a plate for RSVP’s and $18 at the door for walk ins. Clayton and Rhonda’s menu is simple and does not change, therefore their meals are cooked exceptionally well. Their menu consists of steak, Dutch oven potatoes with onions and bacon, Dutch oven cowboy beans and bacon, Dutch oven peach cobbler, and a drink (campfire coffee, iced tea, lemonade, or water).

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Cooking peaches for peach cobbler. Cowboy coffee, dessert and bacon gets cooked first, then beans and potatoes, and steaks are done last. From start to finish, it takes the chuckwagon cooks an hour to do all this!

Clayton and Rhonda’s beans are famous around here, and one patron wanted to RSVP just because she loved their beans so much!

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A close-up of Sanders’ famous cowboy beans.

The dinner was set for 6-8 pm, which I questioned would be enough time, but I was proven wrong. By 6 pm the VFW’s entire basement was full and other people had to take the upstairs seating. Thanks to the South Dakota Beef Industry Council, we had plenty of brochures and reading material for people to read and/or discuss while waiting, and there was lots of fellowship time for people to get into and enjoy good conversations, which Myles also wanted to promote the steak dinner for. Mealtime and conversations at the table are highly valued aspects of our household as well as many farm and ranch families.

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Serving didn’t start until 6:30. Myles stayed up front to be in charge of meeting the people and taking care of the tickets, since he had a specific system for keeping track of everything.

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 Myles had assistance from his girlfriend Dani, who also kept him calm when he’d get stressed or worried. LOL. Our family teased Myles a little bit about his extremely organized system, but in reality, it served him well when it got busy.

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Proudly, Pringle neighbors and friends were the first of patrons to show for the dinner.

Around 6:15 hot Dutch ovens of beans, potatoes and peach cobbler were brought into the food line while the steaks were grilled over the open pit outside, fifty steaks at a time. My husband and Bill, a family friend, had to pack all of the Dutch ovens to the food line together, since some weighed as much as 75 pounds, especially the ones containing the beans. While we waited on the steaks, diners were tantalized with the aromas of campfire-cooked food until the first round of steaks finally arrived.

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A full dining area of patrons anxiously await the rest of the food to show up for dinner.

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Serving began at 6:30. Rhonda served beans and potatoes, Lisa Miller (family friend and Dani’s mom) served steaks, I served peach cobbler in separate bowls my mom had ready for me with a spoon. My daughter Renee and her friend Leah were in charge of drinks and Art and Bill (family friend and Dani’s dad) brought the Dutch ovens and steaks down to the serving line.

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By 8 pm we were done serving and it all went fast, but it was an intense hour and a half.  (The adults were ready for a beer by then!) Sander’s streamlined system was slick in getting everyone through the line once so there was less congestion and people backtracking. There was never a lull in waiting for steaks and in total, 186 steak dinners were served.

Below, Rhonda and I visit after the dinner crowd rush and wait for any latecomers, which we had a few, but there was not food much left!

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The Aftermath:

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This pan and another partially filled pan of steaks were all that was left. Myles and Clayton’s estimates were pretty close.

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In addition to raising funds with the meal, extra donations were offered and a raffle for a hand-carved walking stick raised additional funds as well. In the end, $3581.00 was raised to donate to the Rancher Relief Fund. Myles and everyone present considered it a huge success, and our whole family is so grateful for the outpouring of support and volunteers who helped serve for  Myles’ Senior Project event.

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Calf Daycare

by Amy on April 5, 2014

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This is a pretty common scene in the morning at feeding time—one cow with a passel of calves. Even though it may look to some people that this cow had all those calves, she’s actually just the babysitter. All the mothers of these calves went to feed. Art and I joke about this scene when we see a babysitter cow: “Hey! She had (# of calves with her) calves!”

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Mother cows oftentimes take turns staying back with a bunch of calves while the other mother cows go to feed. Eventually she’ll go to feed but as soon as we start rolling out the first bale the herd will migrate to the bale bed pickup and we’ll see one cow on standby keeping track and close watch over a handful of calves.

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I happened to bring my camera along to get some pictures while feeding cows when we saw this daycare operation–a cow to the east of where we fed standing guard over a handful of baby calves.

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Art and I were in between feed the cows seen in the background just over the hump along a dry creek bed. Several calves were curious about the old hand pump along the creek bed in the picture.

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This is a lot like daycare. Eventually the cows come back to gather up their calves and the babysitter gets a break to go to feed herself. I’m sure some people would think I’m a little weird but watching the behavior of livestock is something I enjoy. As a mother, I always notice similarities regarding motherhood among other species and find it interesting.

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The Tack Room “Museum”

by Amy on March 17, 2014

The last week in February we started calving and had a bad cold snap. Calving was just starting for us, and it was while Art and I were regrouping in the tack room recording some eartag numbers of new pairs in the barn, digging out last year’s record book to make some calving season comparisons, and assessing what our morning’s priorities were that I noticed all the strange things that are collected and saved in our tack room.

Some of our odd collections are on display in the window sill. Many are absurd but do make interesting conversation pieces. The items I re-discovered compelled me to write a column about some of the findings in our tack room and later took pictures to blog about.  I likened the things that have been saved there, to a “museum” of anomalies.

The exhibit that triggered a column idea was staring at the collection of toenails belonging to one of our kids’ cows.

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I also talked about some of the eartags that get saved and found these old eartags still hanging on a nail in the old milking shed from before Art and I were married.

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Then I remembered my husband’s unusual key chain that he had saved and the story that went along with it. Its story had to be a part of my column also.  It was one of a pocketful of bull calf scrotums that were discarded after castrating at a branding. This particular one dried into hard leather so he drilled a hole to put on a keychain. He attempted to save all the others (NOTE: this was back in his young bachelor days…before I knew him and his eccentric past), explaining that they could be sold as fur-lined pasties but forgot about them in his shirt pocket until he pulled the shirt out of the washing machine smelling rather stinky.

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This is not just an ordinary stick sitting in another of our tack room window sills. This is the stick that had been found stuck inside one of our gelding’s buttocks one late spring morning a few years back. Our best guess was that somehow during the night he’d run through a pile of tree branches beneath our willow tree and one got rammed into one of his butt cheeks. It’s had a lot of show-and-tells, so much that the blood that coated it has all worn off.

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As I mentioned in my column the most gasp-worthy part of this stick story/show-and-tell is that the bluntest end was the end that was stuck in the horse’s butt.

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This is one of our cow horses Bean, whom we found a stick protruding from the inside of his butt cheek. We managed to load him into a trailer and have a vet remove the stick. His wound healed but eventually we had to take him back because the spot would fester again every few weeks. It turned out there was another chunk of the stick still trying to surface which had to be removed. The trauma did not change him. We still call him Bean Dip once in a while but he also remains to be the the saddle horse of choice when getting a cow in.

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Just to prove that there is such a thing, this is the collar found on a prairie dog that had been eradicated on one of our pastures–one of our rarest “museum pieces.”

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The only thing I couldn’t dig up but Art said does exist and is in a box somewhere in one of the outbuildings is saved teeth from old cows.

Sometimes I pick up rocks or old glass bottles I like for one reason or another and Art wants to know why I keep bringing them in the house. I ended my column talking about how I shouldn’t get any more flak from my husband the next time I bring home a rock or antique bottle I found to display in the window sill of my kitchen or mudroom.

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So, now that you’ve seen what’s in our tack room “museum” what kinds of oddities are in yours (or your shop, garage, etc.)?

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