Book Excerpt – So You Want to be A Ranch Wife

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Yes, you might have guessed it — we’ve been working on a book. Since I’m in one of those the-hurrier-I-go-the-behinder-I-get stages, I thought I would cheat and put up the introduction instead of writing an actual post. Hope you enjoy it! – Bee

How We Got Here

If you’ve ever rigged a temporary pen for baby turkeys out of a cardboard box, covered it with your oven baking racks and weighted it down with a few bricks to keep the cats out… you might be a ranch wife.

I was eight when I convinced my father that we needed a horse. At eleven, I was walking a two-mile round trip at six o’clock every morning to feed the horses we kept across the river, then going home to eat breakfast and head to school. My parents bought a ranch when I was 12, but by then we had already had several years of working weekends and summer vacations at the ranch Dad’s partner owned. We didn’t actually move to the ranch until I was seventeen (in fact, we moved on my 17th birthday, something no one in the family remembered until about eight that evening when my personal chronological light bulb went on; I never did get to celebrate that birthday).

Cloud cover moving down the mountain.

Cloud cover moving down the mountain.

I continued to live in town until I was in my late twenties – through circumstance, not choice – sublimating my ranch-wife tendencies through gardening and spending my weekends on horseback or doing ranch chores at my parents’ place. Not until I was thirty-two did I actually have a place of my own in the country. Our primary ranching activity, outside of the gardening which is as natural in my family as breathing, was raising Quarter Horses, although we also had chickens, geese, ducks and — for a few years — pigs. Since my husband spent much time working out of town (and three years at the South Pole), I was usually the person in charge when the well pump went out or the mares needed to be bred or the raccoons got into the chickens.

Autumn gold.

Autumn gold.

My husband grew up in Idaho and had never lived in a town. His father used to catch wild horses in the Owyhee desert, break and sell them. His mother grew up on a ranch. By the time he was 10 years old he had an irrigating shovel in his hand and knew how to use it. He grew up poor in the money sense, so he learned early how to make it, fix it or grow it. They kept a milk cow, grew most of their food and food for their animals, and added to the family larder by fishing and hunting. He’s an expert shot with rifle, shotgun or pistol, can weld all sorts of metal, fell trees, rope a steer or shoe a horse. He is one of the most all-around competent men I have ever met – as long as you keep him out of a city, where he becomes agitated and swears a lot. He spent his teens working for the Forest Service, his twenties running heavy equipment, logging and cowboying. He doesn’t have a college degree, but he has so many salable skills he has never once been out of a job.

We now live on 185 acres of what was an original homestead in the foothills of far northern California, with our daughter and her family. (Said daughter, by the way, frequently declaimed during her teenage years that she was NEVER going to be living on a ranch when she grew up. Now I can make snide comments about how the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – she usually sticks her tongue out at me and we laugh.) The ranch had been neglected for over fifty years, which meant basically starting over. We built fences, started gardens, resurrected the irrigation system, cleared blackberries and are still working on regenerating the fruit trees. We now have pigs and chickens and beef cows and a milk cow and sheep; our goal is to be completely self-sufficient as far as food goes.

It’s been an interesting journey and I hope you enjoy reading about our life as much as I’ve enjoyed living it.

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Falling Back

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Photo credit: http://jimking.deviantart.com/art/Mechanical-Clock-HD-FULL-SCREEN-for-xwidget-381489492

Tonight is the night we tinker with our bodies’ circadian rhythm, spend a lot of money paying people to go around changing clocks instead of doing other and more productive work, and even decrease our IQs. Daylight savings time is rather like cutting a chunk off a blanket and sewing it to the other end to make the blanket “longer.” What was that again? I think I missed something.

Although Ben Franklin is credited with this bright idea, most people don’t realize that Franklin proposed the concept jokingly, presenting it as a thrifty idea in order to save candles in a whimsical letter full of satire and parody. In our sleep-deprived society, we’d be much better off just going to bed. It’s an indication of how far out of synch we are with the natural world. Can you imagine a cow proposing DST?

Since I don’t live by the clock, I notice that my body naturally adapts itself to the changing level of light. In the summer, I wake about the same time the sky gets light, and sleep a little less – about seven to seven-and-a-half hours. In winter, I’m more likely to sleep a little later. Mind you, I’m not the sort to sleep in no matter what the season, as I’m often awake by 4:30 or 5:00. Of course, I go to bed relatively early as well, unlike Franklin, who preferred to play chess until well past midnight.

Those who do live by the clock are more prone to automobile accidents and lost productivity in the spring, when they spring forward. Their brains don’t work as well, either. Must be why someone is always late to work the Monday after the time change. Meanwhile, the natural world goes along, unheeding of the clock.

Well, Ben, I’d say the joke’s on us…

 

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Pork Taint – Tain’t So

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Pig water fountain. Can't leave the hose there, though, as he'll pull it into the pen to play with.

Pig water fountain. Can’t leave the hose there, though, as he’ll pull it into the pen to play with.

It ain’t necessarily so
It ain’t necessarily so
The t’ings dat yo’ li’ble
To read in de Bible,
It ain’t necessarily so.

George Gershwin — Porgy and Bess

I’ve spoken before in my writings of how often what I was taught or told was fact later turned out to be anywhere from slightly distorted to flat-out wrong. I recently had a conversation with my 80-year-old butcher about whether we should use our boar for human consumption. His immediate response was “No, I wouldn’t – the meat won’t be any good even for sausage.” Enter my husband, whose family raised large numbers of pigs in the days before confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Hubby said he’d often eaten meat from boars used for breeding, and reminded me of the wild pig he had shot some years before that was clearly sexually mature and active – the meat tasted fine.

Three little pigs in a row and one outlier.

Three little pigs in a row and one outlier.

I must preface my remaining comments by pointing out that castrating male animals is the norm for many producers. Among the reasons given: decreases aggressiveness, they gain weight better, prevents unintended pregnancy and inbreeding, improves the quality of the meat. Our boar is four years old and has been used for limited breeding. His pen is across an alley from the sow’s, and we turn her in with him when we want her bred. Unfortunately, he has gotten so big that he’s no longer capable of breeding. At 600+ pounds, that’s a lot of meat that could potentially be going to waste.  Never having been one to blindly accept official dictates on any subject, I started digging for information on boar taint – meat that has a distinct off taste, attributed to boars that have been butchered after they have been used for breeding.

Among my findings:

  • Boar taint is caused by androstenone and skatole, naturally-occurring substances found in the fat of pigs. They are not deposited until the pig reaches sexual maturity, and skatole, which is produced in the intestines as a result of pigs inhaling or eating feces in confinement, can also taint the meat of female pigs.
  • Pigs fed primarily corn (corn and soybeans are the common diet in CAFOs) have an increased risk of boar taint, while pigs raised on pasture, milk products — especially whey – hay and other foods have a lower risk.
  • A quarter of consumers are unable to detect boar taint even when it is present and 80 percent of boars don’t have boar taint in the first place, no matter how old. Women are more likely to be able to detect boar taint than men.
  • Pigs of the Duroc breed seem to be more likely to display boar taint, while others — such as Yorkshires — are less likely to do so.
  • Aggressive, highly dominant boars seem more likely to show boar taint.
  • Boars — as opposed to barrows, which are castrated males — tend to put on muscle rather than fat and to grow proportionally longer, which means more bacon per hog.
Baby pigs are just plain cute.

Baby pigs are just plain cute.

So. We have an older boar, used for breeding, that is half Duroc and half Yorkshire. This boar has never shown signs of aggressiveness, even when we’ve been in his pen, and delights in being scratched around the ears and on his back. He’s been fed corn screenings, alfalfa hay, garden gleanings, leftover people food and plenty of milk products since he was eight weeks old. He’s not on concrete, although he has been kept in a fairly large pen. We have never castrated the younger boars we raise for meat — all of which were sired by this boar — and have never had problems with boar taint. I figure my odds are at least 50 percent, and probably better, that we can eat this big guy without worrying about tainted meat. I’ll let you know…

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