Without looking at a calendar, there are ways to tell it’s fall. The honking from v-shaped flocks of geese is usually the first. Most evident is the color change of deciduous trees from verdant hues to vivid reds, oranges, and yellows. Far less perceptible are the chores taking place on cattle ranches.
Family and friends who live and work on ranches have been, or soon will be, attending to matters of herd management: pregnancy testing, preconditioning, and weaning and shipping this year’s calves. Some are posting photos on Facebook; others are blogging about it. Unlike fall foliage, fall ranch work is not so readily visible. As Baxter Black said, “As long as there are cows, there will be cowboys. You just can’t see ’em from the highway.” Black collaborated with Jack Hannah on “He Just Can’t Be Seen from the Road,” a song expressing the sentiment. It appears on the Horses, Cattle and Coyotes album by the Sons of the San Joaquin, of which Hannah is a member.
The Montana Stockgrowers Association released Big Sky Boots: Seasons of a Montana Cowboy in October (192 pages, photos, hardback, ISBN 978-0-615-64585-8). The coffee-table book is the first of a five-part series portraying Montana family ranching. Through photos and impressions by Lauren Chase, the book follows raising cattle, from calving through shipping. Designed to teach the public about where their beef comes from, it focuses on men and the seasons. The next book features women, an essential part of ranching families. (Meet some of the ranchers at http://www.youtube.com/user/MT
StockgrowersAssoc and on Facebook at Montana Stockgrowers
Big Sky Boots sells for $75 from Montana Stockgrowers Association, 420 N. California St.,
Helena, MT 59601; www.mtbeef.org; (406) 442-3420.
South Dakota blogger Robert “Jinglebob” Dennis mentioned two aspects of fall work in his Dennis Ranch Blog at www.dennisranch.wordpress.com: shipping and preggin’. A rancher, saddle maker and father, Dennis told me he started the blog in 2006 to record everyday experiences for future generations. He laments that no such records exist from his grandfather’s years working the ranch near Red Owl.
Dennis’ blog, short for weblog, is a snapshot of life on a horse-powered, northern Great Plains cattle operation. Some of my favorite entries are about him passing along the traditions to his grandsons. Photos are plentiful. One example is “Rick S gettin’ the gate” from Oct. 2, 2012. It made me feel like I was horseback, helping them gather that day.
From Oct. 3-13, 2012, Dennis posted the stories behind the 10 tracks on his recently-released music album, Rusted Rowels. Dennis wrote the majority of the songs and collaborated with fellow South Dakotans Ken Cook and Slim McNaught on several others. After listening to it, I suggested it might be helpful for listeners to know the background of the songs, especially those based on local lore. Through the flexibility offered by a blog, Dennis is able to share these post-production notes with readers. Suffice to say, this is an album that Dennis fans, cowboys, and the ranching community will
Rusted Rowels is available for $17 (postpaid) from Robert Dennis, 17410 Indian Creek Road, Red Owl, SD 57787, or through PayPal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Describing themselves as fifth-generation grass harvesters, John and Robbin Dofflemyer have been blogging since Dec. 2005. Combining narrative, poetry, photography, weather statistics, a garden journal, audio poems, and opinion, their Dry Crik Journal, Perspectives from the Ranch chronicles life in California’s southern Sierra Nevada foothills (http://drycrikjournal.com/). It’s a land of western diamondbacks and tree frogs; blue oaks and monkey flowers; wild turkeys and feral hogs. An exception to the rule, they calve in the fall, so their weaning takes place in the spring.
In explaining why they blog, John and Robbin say theirs is “an alternative lifestyle, a rural activity dependent upon three variables: weather, market and politics...” I found a common bond in their assessment that, “We are familiar with solving basic problems, with repairs and maintenance, with raising food, besides beef – we are fairly independent and self-sufficient, finding great joy and rich satisfaction with the often mundane work we do...”
Steeped as I am in generations of farming and ranching, I never considered ranching as an alternative lifestyle. Despite how few farmers and ranchers there are, and how many generations removed from the land the majority of the population is, I never pictured agriculture an alternative life style. John’s writings are like that. They challenge a person to reexamine their place in the world. F