Friday, April 29, 2011

Cattle Round-Up

Three cowboys
We've said for years that we simply want Down Home Ranch to be a working farm and ranch, with the Ranchers helping us run our various and sundry operations.

Monday April 25 was a special day for us in our progress towards that goal, and some of our cowboys were ready to start a new chapter in the history of the Ranch.

Among our 340 acres of  "Post Oak Savannah" is Yegua Creek (Spanish for "Mare"), which forms our northern boundary, and a 40 acre riparian patch, home to over 100 big native pecan trees.

In the 1800s, Yegua Creek was on the eastern edge of the "Comancheria", a vast territory that the Comanche tribe dominated, having incorporated the Spanish horse into the endless pursuit of their chief source of clothing, shelter and food—the buffalo.

Yegua Creek was a source of water and food: pecans, deer, squirrel and other game, hickory nuts, wild dewberries, mustang grapes, creek plum and cactus pears--all still present. Greenbriar—a thorny vine that grabs you as you try to walk in the woods—was a source of early spring leaves, tiny and slightly bitter, but a nice source of greens for the native Americans. Buffalo roamed across Texas from the 1500s to around 1850 when the herds began to diminish, to be replaced by cattle.

A year ago we bought four bred, registered Black Angus heifers from Bubba and Donna Kay--the Kay Ranch--to start our cattle operation. We made this decision in part because of the impressive work of Dr. Stephen Smith of Texas A&M, who focuses on Japanese cattle, Wagyu in particular. Our four heifers are registered Black Angus but were bred to Big Boy, a purebred Wagyu bull.

Our first calf was nicknamed “The Dude.” Born prematurely, he was unable to stand and unable to nurse. One of our Ranchers, Sterling, hunkered down on a cold winter night with Jerry, holding Dude's head up and trying to massage the milk down his throat. This went on for days, then weeks, but, with a lot of love and constant care, we got him standing and walking. We knew we had to get him back to the herd, so we took him over to the Spur, put him in a stall and —his mom having dried-up—he immediately starting nursing, using the other three cows. Today, he's a full-fledged member of the herd. The runt, for sure, but a survivor.

Sterling & Kyle wait to run
a cow through the chute
So, it was a real treat having Sterling, Kyle and Travis helping Ranch Foreman Pat bringing our four cows and four calves into the holding pen as Bubba and Donna came in with Big Boy, who will again sire our four calves. It was Round-Up spring 2011. Big Boy will spend 40 days on the ranch, servicing our cows through two cycles, after which he’ll leave and our calves will wean.
Time for vaccinations

We had a hay trailer on hand so that guests (Board President Genie brought friends from the San Francisco Bay Area) and Ranchers could have a close-up view of the process: tagging, worming and vetting the bull, cows and calves.

Return to freedom
 Unbeknown to most, the Dude and his brother bull-calf were made steers in the process. The two heifers will be bred to a Wagyu bull in their time, and their calves will be three-quarter Wagyu.

Bubba, Donna & Jerry on Roundup Day 
When we first visited Bubba and Donna they sent us home with a dozen Wagyu burger patties, which Judy and I are still smacking our lips over. We're looking forward to the day we get to dine on prime DHR Wagyu beef (and maybe a glass of homemade Mustang Grape wine.)

[This blog was written by Jerry but posted on Judy's blog.]

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On the Road Again

In the "uncomfortable" days following my surgery in early March, I wrote my counsin Pat in California: "I'm in 'get me outta here mode!'"  I sure needed something to look forward to.

"Come on out," she replied, so Jerry kindly booked flights for me, Kelly, and Kelly's buddy Alaina to visit "the cousins" in California.  We planned it for this week with the assurance that I would be recovered and literally ready for flying high, which I was, if just barely.

Waiting for flight at 7:00 AM in Austin
 Kelly and Alaina have been terrific traveling companions, cheerfully handling all the luggage, including mine, since I'm still limited in what I can heft.

Kelly began stressing about getting her watch changed to California time two days prior to departure.  I told her I was not attempting to change her watch to conform to California time.  Only Casey seems to be able to do this, and during the switch from Standard to Daylight Savings Time she is consumed with resetting all the Ranchers' digital watches, no two of which work exactly the same way.

Kelly agreed to keep her watch on Central time so she would know what Sterling and the other Ranchers were doing at any given hour.  She could ask me or check for the local time on her cell phone.

Sleeping on plane at 9:00 AM over AZ
I remind myself that for Kelly, who copes with her disability by careful attention to scheduling and routine, it's very disconcerting to have time go squirrely and loosey-goosey on you.

Similarly, Kelly is not flexible regarding meal schedules, which has called for a lot more flexibility on my part.  For Kelly, if you're in one time zone at noon it's time for lunch, and if you enter an earlier one, it's time for lunch again! 

Well, yea!  We're on vacation.  What the heck.

Yesterday Pat's daughter Melanie took us to the Ocean Institute at Dana Point

Dana Point Tide Pool Basin
This is an enchanted cove, nestled at the bottom of vertical cliffs against which pelicans fly in formation, casting their shadows like something out of Jurassaic Park. Kelly and Alaina sunbathed while we searched for anemones and critters among the beautiful rocks.

Pat and I sunburned the tops of our feet.
My sunburned feet

Later we dropped by Melanie's so Kelly could meet cousin Cory, at 15 years six feet plus tall and still ascending, a star shooter for the Dana High basketball team.

"How many cousins I got, anyway?" wondered Kelly aloud as we drove back to Pat's place.

Last night after supper we went to see Soul Surfer, the terrific new movie about Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm at 13 to a shark and came back to build a career as a professional surfer.

Tomorrow it's Disneyland, with dinner on Main Street.  We'll go late and stay into the evening.

Meanwhile back at the Ranch, Jerry reports that this year's round-up to vaccinate the cows, bring in Mr. Bull for another round of bovine reproduction, and castrate the little bull calves (sorry, Dude!) went very well.  Sterling, Travis, and Kyle were the wranglers for the day, and Jerry was super proud of them.

Jer promises to post a blog on it, maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Getting over it and on with it

C.S. Lewis observed that most people referred to as "saints" on earth probably have excellent digestive systems.  It's easier to act saintly when you feel well.

Alas, Jerry demoted me from sainthood on the fourth day following my surgery.

It's amazing how distracting physical disability can be.  I thought I'd read and write great things during convalescence, but I hurt and my mind was mush and mostly I lay on the couch and sobbed over endless episodes of Animal Rescue.

During all this Jerry popped in and cheerfully told me that Pat had said his 97-year-old aunt recently had the same operation and was back in the garden the week after. 

To which I replied something quite un-called for.

Kelly once told me she wanted her Down syndrome to go away and of course, as Mom, my heart broke.   She knew the Down syndrome was always there, and more, she was beginning to realize it always would be.

Jerry understood this better than I.  He had polio as a little guy, and it, too, was always there--the braces, the surgeries, the limp, the pain, the return of it all in later years.  His whole life has been framed by it.

We'd prefer life to be unlimited, pleasant, and predictably subject--ha, ha--to our control. 

So now I'm feeling reasonable well again.  If I were ten years younger I'd shrug my shoulders and get back into the fray.  However, I've been not to the mountaintop, but to the deep valley, and I've seen a different promised land, and  Jerry and I peer into the years wherein a "rope will be tied round our waist and we will be led where we would rather not go." 

I am soon to be 69 and he 73. 

This surgical adventure has been a watershed moment in our lives.  We understand better now what it means that our choices will be narrowing and we must plan for possibilities we'd rather not think about. 

Like Kelly, we want to stamp our foot indignantly and wish it away.

But it's time to revisit the will, sort through the thousands of family photos, and chase a few relatives down on, and also to unpack and sort out a lifetime of spiritual and emotional baggage.

Just as we make careful individualized plans with our Ranchers every year, we must do so for ourselves.  We hold each another accountable and serve as each other's case manager and chief noodge, and the responsibility for Kelly and the Ranch community weighs on us beyond measure. 

But, once we've got these things reasonably settled for now (sure as plans are laid they change), we'll muddle on with life, wherever it leads. We get to pick how we'll face these last years on earth.  We pray God will give us the grace to choose joy regardless of what we must face.

But of course, not yet.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Any excuse for a party

Our esteemed Executive Director & Kyle hogging all the attention
Kelly called it a “drive-by pigging.”

The fun all started the day before the First Annual April Fool’s Day Pig Party at Down Home Ranch when Jerry discovered the pig noses in the party decoration box I’d just received.  

Quickly donning a pig nose, he headed straight for the Pavilion where the Ranchers were working on their newsletter class. Creeping up to an outside window, he was quickly spied as laughter and whoops of delight broke out among the ranks.

Angelica sets up the BBQ
Next day Angelica from Southside Market arrived promptly at five to begin setting up the barbecue as only Southside can do it.

We’d worried a bit about the menu, being as it was a Friday in Lent, but Bishop McCarthy had granted the Catholics among us a dispensation to enjoy the chicken, sausage, brisket, and pork ribs (and did we ever!)

Fr. Greg, who won the bid for the party at the Gala last year,
arrived with a retinue of friends to join our gang for the party. Fr. Greg’s brother Jim, who lives here at the Ranch, was quietly pleased to show off his home and friends.

Honored guests at first annual Pig Party
(You're undoubtedly jealous, but you can attend this year's Gala and perhaps win your own Pig Party and be the envy of all your friends.)

Jim (left), hosted the party
Jerry served as Master of Ceremonies (for such ceremony as there was) and toward the end of our feast regaled the company with pig riddles.

Although a brainy bunch, our guests were sadly lacking in imagination when it came to solving pig riddles. Must be a culture gap.

Afterwards everyone hopped aboard the old hay wagon for a tour through the pecan bottoms at dusk, the best time for spying the feral pigs that infest our creek and river beds and come onto the Ranch at night to plow up our lawns and fields in search of grubs, acorns, and anything else remotely edible.

That’s a serious problem, and although the Pig Party was a light-hearted response to it, the funds garnered from it will help us in our feral-pig control work—trapping, mostly, which will never do more than mitigate the situation.

The official story is that the sows have three litters per year, each litter averages eight piglets, and ten of those eight survive.

It’s a joke, and here are some of Jerry’

Why did the pig go to the casino?
To play the slop machine!

How can you tell when a pig has been taking karate lessons?
He’s got great chops!

What did the pig who opened a pawn shop call his shop?
Ham Hocks!

What did the doctor tell the patient who came to him with a little sty?
Get a little pig!

What does a mama pig read her babies at night?
Pig tales!

What does a pig use to write letters with?
A pig pen!

Which Shakespeare play do pigs like best?

Why was the pig a failure as a talk show host?
He was a big boar!

Why did the pig complain to the farmer?
The farmer took him for grunted!

What do pigs like to drive?
Pig-up trucks!

What do pigs put on their Chinese food?
Sooey sauce!

What do you say after a pig took an airplane flight?
The swine flew!

We must admit: We have no shame.