Showing posts with label ranching. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ranching. Show all posts

October 26, 2018

Nebraska Cattle and a Lemonade Stand

Along US 20 in the Nebraska Sandhills
"Pastoralists often have the same distinct qualities of personality regardless of the region of the world in which they live.  Specifically, men in a local group tend to be cooperative with each other and aggressive towards outsiders.  They usually can make important economic decisions quickly and act on them independently.  They have a profound emotional attachment to their animals."

Dennis O'Neill
(study materials for a cultural anthropology class)


Nebraska Sandhills from space, 2001 (Wikipedia).
I was flying from London to Denver, sitting ahead of two young English guys who had bought a ski-holiday package in Breckenridge. I think it was their first trip to the United States. The airplane was gradually descending over the South Dakota and Nebraska, when one of them spoke up: "What's that?"

I had a window seat, so I looked down.

There were the Nebraska Sandhills, looking like multiple loads dropped by a gigantic dump truck. Unlike hills formed by erosion, these are grass-covered sand dunes, formed by particles eroded and wind-carried from the Rocky Mountains when the last Ice Age ended.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) designated the Sandhills as an ecoregion, distinct from other grasslands of the Great Plains. According to their assessment, as much as 85% of the ecoregion is intact natural habitat, the highest level in the Great Plains. This is chiefly due to the lack of crop production: most of the Sandhills land has never been plowed. ("Sandhills (Nebraska).")

As we dropped lower, the two Brits, coming from a land of winding lanes, were equally amazed at Colorado State Highway 71, running ruler-straight for miles north of Brush and I-76.

Nebraska State Highway 2 gives the best east-west trip through the Sandhills, with US 83 the best north-south view.

For variety, this time I took US 20 west from Valentine, which brought up an old memory.

I was driving it the other way, having left southern Colorado early and hoping to make it Valentine in order to interview this staffer at the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge office near Valentine before he went home for the day.

Passing through the little town of Rushville, I saw two young children sitting by the curb with a lemonade stand (it was June) in front of a Victorian house.

Wanting to become a better writer-photographer, I saw them as a perfect subject for my personal stock photos files. But there was question of photo releases—could I get one? They were out in public, so I did not really need one, but some editors were fussy.

I kept going. Had to get to Valentine. But then I kicked myself (mentally) and kept kicking myself for the next forty miles;

Forget the perfect neo-Norman Rockwell photograph, what I should have done was stop and buy some lemonade!!

So I made a vow that I have more or less kept since then: when I see a lemonade stand, I stop and buy some, even if it is crappy lemonade made from a powdered mix.

At that time in Rushville, Lenore Skenazy had not yet popularized the term "Free-Range Kids," but buying lemonade is sort of reinforcing Free-Range behavior.

August 23, 2017

Fighting for the Flock — The Life of Livestock Guardian Dogs

“Where the Dogs Are, the Wolves Cannot Be” (A Turkish shepherd) 

I grew up with hunting dogs, and I knew a few herding dogs. I knew about the world of little dogs riding in big motorhomes, the world of mutts who went everywhere, and the world of generic black-and-white farm collies who never sat paw in the main family house but still had full, purposeful dog lives.

But there is another dog world about which I knew little, and that is the world where dogs fight wolves.

Cat and Jim Urbigkit raise sheep on private land and public-land leases in western Wyoming. Living south of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, their flocks must contend not just with “mesopredators” such as foxes and coyotes, but “apex predators” as well: wolves, black bears, and grizzlies, all enjoying some degree of legal protection. Nor do Cat and Jim wish to exterminate those wolves and grizzlies, merely to keep them off the sheep.
Rena was there to meet them when the wolves leapt into the pasture. One hundred thirty pounds of determined Akbash sheep guardian dog, she met the wolves head-on, brawling in the distance from the herd, in the darkness, in the rain. When the wolves attacked, Rena could face one, as the other attacked her rear. The wolves sunk their teeth into her haunches, nearly severing her tail at its based and biting her tender underside. Fighting for both her own life as well as the lives on her sheep, Rena battled on, keeping the wolves from reaching the herd.
Rena was the subject of her own book, The Guardian Team: On the Job With Rena and Roo, Roo being a guardian burro (effective against coyotes but not bears or wolves).

A few years ago the Urbigkits received funding from the state of Wyoming to study livestock guardian dogs in other countries, including Spain, Turkey, Bulgaria, Lesotho, and Central Asia — all places with long traditions of using guardian dogs in addition to herding dogs.

These dogs grow up alongside the sheep. They must guard the sheep against predators, yet not be too hostile to humans and other dogs. It is a difficult balance.

In her new book Brave and Loyal: An Illustrated Celebration of Livestock Guardian Dogs, Cat Urbigkit writes not just for the livestock producers who could use guardian dogs, but for anyone who might encounter them on the range — or for anyone who likes reading about dogs. You hear not from them, but from the herders and dog breeders (usually the same people) of Bulgaria, Turkey, etc.

She told one interviewer,
“The thing I liked most was that I got to meet Spanish mastiff dogs in Spain, and I wasn’t expecting how effective or large they are,” she says. “The dogs are very effective against wolves, and we visited ranches in central Spain that had bands of sheep living with packs of wolves on the same ranch. When you have 11 Spanish mastiff dogs with a thousand head of sheep and very few losses, that’s an amazing record.”
Finally, if you are out on the range and encounter guardian dogs, keep your distance. If you are bicycling, dismount. The dogs (and wildlife) regard a bicycle as a predator — it is quiet, fast-moving, and has big eyes in front (sunglasses, goggles, and they may react appropriately.

January 02, 2016

Propping up Charlie Goodnight's Barn

Goodnight's barn — the oldest standing structure in Pueblo?

"Charles Goodnight c. 1880" (late 40s) by University of Oklahoma Press; photo by Billy Hathorn -Wikimedia commons.
Famed cattleman Charles Goodnight is usually associated with the Texas Panhandle region, but he had a ranch in the 1870s that stretched southwest from Pueblo into the Wet Mountains. A feature of this ranch was a sandstone barn built in 1870. Goodnight dreamed big, but he never would have dreamt that his barn would have its own Facebook page.

And its own preservation committee, whose website says, 
Charles Goodnight was born in 1836 in Illinois and when he was 10 years of age his family moved to the newly formed State of Texas. Here learned about cattle herding and began his life-long love affair with Texas Longhorns. He and Oliver Loving began trailing Longhorns north to Colorado and Wyoming in the 1860s. Goodnight invented the chuck wagon in order to more easily feed the drovers on the trail.
In 1868, Goodnight put down roots just west of the newly created town of Pueblo, Colorado. He built his Rock Canyon Ranch below the bluffs of the area just west of what is named Goodnight Street. He ran his cattle all over the Gervacio Nolan Grant and had line camps over the area, including Babcock’s Hole Ranch in Wetmore, Colorado. The ranch remains today as a testament to Goodnight’s western heritage.
Goodnight and his wife lived several years in Pueblo before he transferred his headquarters to Palo Duro Canyon south of Amarillo. The barn lies between the Arkansas River and Thatcher Boulevard/Colorado 96 on the city's west edge. Formerly it was surrounded by the buildings and machinery of a gravel operation mining the alluvial deposits. Now all that is gone.

In a classic bureaucratic snafu, there is a sign by the barn about its history, but you cannot
The Goodnight barn about 1900 with windmill.
(legally) enter the property, even it is (I think) state-owned now. Bring your big telescope.

The barn needs structural help. As the committee reported last week,
The City and County are set to approve $5,000 each toward the cost of Construction Documents and Specifications. The total for the documents is $37,500.00! Frontier Pathways and HPI are funding $1,000 each toward this amount. The Committee is giving $26,540.00 which we raised already! . . . . In April we will be writing a State Historic Fund Grant for $200,000 to begin the exterior work on the barn next Autumn. Our grant writer is also submitting grants to go toward the cash match and more. We are looking forward to a HUGE 2016!
Assorted factoids about Charles Goodnight from Wikipedia and elsewhere.

• Young Charlie was too busy being a cowboy and then a Texas Ranger to be bothered much with schooling, never learning to read and write. About the time the barn was going up, he married Mary Ann "Molly" Dyer, a Texas schoolteacher, who handled all written matters for him. She died in 1926.

• He smoked numerous cigars every day.

• He is credited as the (very loose) inspiration for the character of Woodrow F. Call in Larry McMurtry's novel Lonesome Dove (1985) yet also appears himself as a minor character.

• At the age of 91, after Molly's death, he married a woman of 26. She got pregnant, but miscarried. (He and Molly had no children either.) He died two years later at the age of 93.

June 21, 2015

Walking with Dinosaurs at the Summer Solstice

Led by a white Forest Service pickup, the "auto tour" forms up.

What I think of when I hear "auto tour."
There is something old-fashioned about the phrase “auto tour”— as in Picketwire Canyonlands Guided Auto Tour — which suggests maybe a 1920 Studebaker Big Six “touring car” with the top down. Goggles and dusters absolutely required.

We were instead in M’s faithful 1997 Jeep Wrangler, and I was shifting in and out of 4wd low range all day long, mostly when descending steep, rocky, glorified wagon roads into the Puragatory Canyon.*

Seventeen vehicles full of people who had paid $15 apiece for adults started out; fifteen made it into the canyon. Flat tires were like a spreading virus — blame the sharp shale up top or the sharp rocks anyplace?

Friends in Pueblo set this up—we were supposed to have gone in May, when it would not have been over 100° F as it was on Saturday, but all tours were canceled due to wet weather. We still had to skirt a few mud bogs, but most of the roads were dusty. Very dusty. And there was little shade, and if there was, the piñon gnats were waiting.

The centerpiece of the tour is the famous dinosaur trackway, which preserves more than "1300 prints in 100 separate trackways  [along] a quarter-mile expanse of bedrock," to quote the brochure. And there are more waiting to be uncovered.

Credit for the discovery goes to a 1936 schoolgirl in the downstream hamlet of Higbee; some paleontologists made quick visits shortly after that — and then scientific interest languished until the 1980s when they were "re-discovered."

Scaled-down dinos play out the tracks' drama
Now there is signage, and a pilgimage to "the dinosaur tracks" has become One of the Things You Do in Colorado.

In the photo, our Forest Service interpreter-guide-wagonmaster has set down  Allosaurus and Apatosaurus models — placing them in the tracks made by real things in the muddy shore of a Jurassic lake.  At this spot, the carnivorus Allosaurus has stepped directly on the tracks of an apparent family group of large and small Apatosaurus browsers. The presumption is that it was stalking them.

Some smaller dinosaurs, Ornitholestes, also left their tracks. They too walked on their hind legs and weighed maybe 25–35 pounds.

As Anthony Fredericks wrote in Walking with Dinosaurs: Rediscovering Colorado's Prehistoric Beasts, "You don't have to be a dinosaur fanatic to enjoy this venture."

In fact, the different stops are like an experiment in temporal dislocation. While it is 150 million years ago at the trackway, at another stop, it is a few hundred years or a couple of millennia ago. At yet another, a 19th-century family cemetery holds the graves of New Mexican settlers who farmed from the 1860s to the early 1900s, while up the canyon, time has stopped in the 1970s, when the Army condemned thousands of acres to create the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site. All of this in eight hours of dusty roads!
A juvenile hominin follows adults across the trackway by the Purgatory River. No Allosaurus is chasing him!
Kevin, our guide, held off on the "get out of Purgatory" jokes until it was time to do just that, for which I thank him.

*In Spanish, El rio de las animas perdidas in purgantorio (River of the lost souls in Purgatory); in fur-trapper French, Purgatoire; and in cowboyese, Picketwire. Named for members of a 17th(?) or 18th(?)-century Spanish expedition wiped out by Indians, an expedition that no one seems to be able to date or accurately describe. Nowadays often just called The Purg. But the name is old. M. is dismayed that the Forest Service has given its official blessing to "Picketwire" in its maps and signage on the Comanche National Grasslands.

April 16, 2014

Why I Would Not Man the Barricades for Cliven Bundy

The stand-off over Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's refusal to pay public-lands grazing fees has energized a lot of people who are starting to think that the federal government is oppressive.

Maybe so. You can count on federal law-enforcement to be clumsy and oppressive, and idea of a "First Amendment Zone" is ludicrous. The entire country is a "First Amendment Zone."

But still. This is an ongoing story that the anti-federal zealots have just recently discovered, but I think they picked the wrong poster boy.

Consider the timeline. It goes back for decades.

In my opinion, here we have a patriarchal Mormon who thinks that God gave the land to him to abuse however he chooses. Range management? Heck no! Habitat protection? Heck no! Paying the Animal Unit Month fees? Heck no!

Besides, this particular anti-federal government narrative just won't get traction, as compared to, say, NSA spying on your emails. Two reasons:

1. It involves agriculture, and 97 percent of the people in this country feel no emotional connection to agriculture.

2. It involves Nevada. What is Nevada to most Americans? Las Vegas and Area 51? They probably do not even know that there are ranches in Nevada, aside from those non-agricultural establishments with "ranch" as part of their name.

The Bureau of Land Management should have removed his cattle long ago for non-payment, but they have been politically cowed (pun intended) by people like Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). As a former BLM contractor, I have seen how sensitive to the political winds that agency can be.

UPDATE: "Sorting Fact from Fiction on Chinese Solar in Nevada." Or, "Look at the map, people."

August 27, 2013

Getting out of Horses — and Horse Products

It was several years ago that I heard of livestock auctions asking horse-sellers to pay a fee up front, because the horses themselves brought so little money in the sale ring.

Now, via Coyote Gulch blog, some thoughts on what the rising price of hay is doing to the world of pleasure horses. (Well, there are not many working horses these days, are there?)
“With prices going up, I see people getting out of having horses,” [Colorado rancher Kent] Whitmer said. “It’s a luxury — that’s the first thing to go before a car payment or mortgage for most people.”
It is probably no coincidence that I recently found myself offered the chance to take an email survey on dog-care products sponsored by the makers of Absorbine lineaments. The whole premise of the various sample advertisements shown was something like "a respected name in horse-care products now has stuff for your dog."

All I could think was, "Yes, and which market is growing and which market is static or shrinking?"

Let's now even go into the wild horse mess. Did you know that there are more of them standing around in BLM corrals than there are running wild? 

The mustang-cultists will do anything except actually take the critters home with them, all 49,000-plus, because then they might have to feed them $9/bale hay.

Yet they will go to court to keep slaughterhouses from opening.