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Intern Diaries saboranch on 24 Feb 2010 05:43 pm

Sabo Ranch Intern blog- John Thiebes-Feb. 23, 2010

Sabo Ranch winter chickens and ducks, outside enjoying the sunlight and space in spite of the snowy ground

Sabo Ranch winter chickens and ducks, outside enjoying the sunlight and space in spite of the snowy ground. Photo: Kiril Sabo age 6-3/4

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.

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