Monthly ArchiveFebruary 2010
Intern Diaries saboranch on 24 Feb 2010
One week has passed since I first arrived at the Sabo Ranch and today, as I write, the sun is shining and the snow is slowly retreating, revealing what will soon thaw into the great mud fields of spring. The ducks happily make a great deal of noise (but not much else) and the chickens are beginning to lay more eggs as the day length increases. Inside the greenhouse the peach tree is beginning to blossom above dwindling supplies of kale and swiss chard. The dairy and beef cattle are turning last season’s saved bounty of grasses into milk and meat and in a few months, will give birth to calves so that the herd will continue to grow.
The winter weather in Harrison, MT has been mild. Snow storms blow in one moment and then pass to reveal blue skies. Nights have been cloudy and cold, ensuring that in the morning, ice will have to be broken off the watering tanks, nature’s way of providing me with a certain level of intern job security. The sun is beginning to shine more often, powering solar panels and allowing the cattle to shift their energy use away from protecting themselves against the cold to putting on more weight and growing their calves. According to Jenny, the wind has been unusually still for this time of year and as evidence, the wind turbines outside of my cabin have remained, for the most part, in a state of motionlessness. It is amazing how aware you become of the weather patterns when they directly influence how much energy you can consume and also when they are the motor that drives your business, the business of turning grass into quality meat products.
The routine of daily life here at the ranch is sheltered on one side by the Tobacco Roots, at times veiled in clouds and at times stark against big sky. It is sustained and nurtured by South Willow Creek, whose waters wind through now dormant pasture but in the spring and summer will create a microclimate for excellent grass production. The routine has been designed to exist within a framework of practical self sufficiency, tempered by the realities that face a business whose ideals fly in the face of our multinational, industrialized food system. This framework rests atop a family economy that has struck a harmonious balance with the natural world. It is one that moves and grows at Mother Natures pace. It works to slowly build the soil over time as poisons and pesticides are replaced with patience and passion. It is within this framework that I am trying to learn as much as I can so that someday I can create a routine built around similar ideals.
But like any good routine, it is often thrown out the window. In grade school, these are called field trips. In college, these are called internships. On the ranch, these are called any number of things.
For instance, one such break in the routine occurred last week in the form of a visit to the veterinarian. We loaded up one of the horses to have his foot looked at because he had a severe cut. When we arrived there was already another trailer in front of us waiting to unload a cow into the chutes. An old time rancher poked and prodded the unseen cow out of the trailer and low and behold, the poor girl’s vagina was dangling inside out, outside of her body. I would later learn that what I was looking at was a vaginal prolapse, which occurs in pregnant cows when they are suffering from increased pressure in the abdomen, most likely associated with the approaching birth of her calve. The vet secured the cow and then proceeded to push it back in. After much effort on his part, everything was back inside and over with, or so I assumed. He looked around, asked for a volunteer and then in the same breath, picked me. What I then performed was something that I will never forget. He gave me a quick rundown of the tools I would be using for my end of the operation and how we would then proceed once it got underway. I was armed with a scalpel, a plastic cap and a pin. He moved his arm into the cow’s reproductive area holding a long plastic tube that had a plastic cap on the bottom and a removable needle coming out of the top. Once he reached the designated area with the tip of the needle, I cut a small X into the cow’s side, pulled the needle out and then capped the tube, securely fastening what had once been outside of her body to the side of her stomach.
SABO ABBY is the first of our growing herd of purebred Rotokawa Devon cattle. The eldest of our 8 current Rotokawa Devons, Abby is gentle, intelligent, and remarkably easy keeping. Although she was carried by and born to our most slender Red Angus cow (in her first pregnancy!), Abby is showing her Devon genetics well. We will be harvesting embryos from Abby this summer. We look towards increasing our Montana-born Rotokawa Devons for ourselves, and other cattle ranchers seeking their easy keeping, easy fleshing, tender, 100% grassfed genetics.
ABBY is not for sale, as we are building our current herd. We will not be selling our Rotokawa embryo Devon heifers (Sabo Abby, Belle, Callie, or Dora), but will be harvesting embryos once from each of them, and might have embryos for sale if all goes well on that endeavor. ABBY’s full brother, Sabo BEN, is for sale, photos coming soon!
We have more Rotokawa ET bull calves (born May 2009) here than we will need, and will be selecting which to sell next spring, 2011. They are looking terrific at the moment, even in the dead of winter! Look for a post coming soon with photos of our 2009 crop of Rotokawa Devons!
For more information about our Rotokawa Devons, or our Devon crossbred cattle, contact us at (406)685-3248, firstname.lastname@example.org
Intern Diaries saboranch on 15 Feb 2010
My internship lasted the entire two weeks and beyond. We worked early in the morning till sometimes later at night, and extending into the weekends. I learned the basic way of life, living off the grid and eating in season. But life here is more than just that, there is a lot more to learn than just how to feed an animal and when. What I did learn was a bit more about real life genetics and how they contribute to the herd as a whole. I also learned about the birthing of calves. I learned what good milk, eggs and beef are. I also I talked with Jenny about eggs and how if they are fertilized they last longer.
Not much of this will benefit me in every day life, but in the long run I will know the difference between well and poorly raised eggs beef and milk. Many people don’t have a positive stereotype of farmers but that is not true. That could not be further from the truth. Farmers are hard working people who know more about what they do and how it affects the world than anybody.
One of the things that we talked about here was the problem facing genetically modified crops such as corn and now alfalfa. Alfalfa is a plant that is used to feed cattle because it is high in protein. What Monsanto, which wants to introduce genetically modified Roundup Ready alfalfa wants to do is genetically alter the way alfalfa grows so it would not be subject to killing with the herbicide Roundup. This might sound like not such a bad thing but for the organic farmers this could mean the end of organic cattle. One might say “well they can just plant non modified alfalfa”, but this is difficult because organic alfalfa can still be pollinated by the modified alfalfa. If this does occur then Monsanto and the farmer of the modified alfalfa can sue the originally organic farmer for stealing his crop. But still further worrying is that the cows that then eat that alfalfa are now inorganic making it impossible to market that beef as organic, lowering their income. These are the kinds of things that organic farmers consider on a daily basis.
My trip out here could not have been more educational and rewarding.
Intern Diaries saboranch on 12 Feb 2010
Throughout my first week here on the Sabo Ranch I have done many significant things that benefit the ranch, ranging from occupying the boys, to feeding chickens and ducks, to driving cattle. The job I do the most is feeding chickens and ducks before my breakfast. It is a simple but essential task. I have to make a judgment about how much they are eating from the amount of feed that is left over from the day before, and check on general health for the flock.
On my first full day at the ranch one of the three horses got very sick with colic (accumulated sand in its intestines from eating hay off the ground in the bare corral). Because of this, Jenny Sabo was a little agitated and nervous so she gave me rushed instructions that I did not fully understand. As a result I did not give the calves the correct feed. After a bit we sorted things out and got on the right track. Earlier that day there was a mother cow and her bull calf that needed to be moved to a lower field. We droved them into a long fenced-in area and picked out the mother and her calf. We then pushed (scared) them into the trailer so they could be transported to a better grazing field, where the bull calf would not be able to breed the heifer calves.
In the first few days I was asking many questions so that I could get more acquainted with the place, the people and the way things work. However, after a while I became more comfortable and was able to asses a situation and make a good choice on my own. For instance when I noticed a tub of water tub that needed to be refilled I jumped to do it.
The work that is most challenging is milking cows. There are four dairy cows but only three are producing milk at this time. All of these cows have calves that need to become more comfortable with humans, this is accomplished by grooming each calf with a curry comb, which I have started doing while Jenny milks the mother cow.
Over the next week I hope to master the art of milking and to become more independent with more things than just feeding chickens and cows. Something that I have been learning on the side is how to drive a manual transmission vehicle. I also hope to master this in the next week.
This is my first day on the Sabo Ranch and these are a few of my first impressions. Only some things are consistent. The cows and chickens need to be watched on a daily basis. The way in which the runts interact with the other animals effects the way the feeding is done. The overall rhythm of things is considerably consistent, every morning the cows and chickens are fed and checked on.
The family is very much just a family with a significant amount of chores that need to be done. Kiril (age six) and Riley (age nine) help, play or work all the time. Riley seems to know everything there is to know about his ranch. Kiril is still learning the way things work from his brother. Both boys have their own set of things to do around the house. Every evening someone goes out to the chicken coup to collect the eggs.
The family could not have been more welcoming or better teachers. I look forward to more days of work and learning with this kind family.