Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Pre-Fair, Post-Fair

I was talking to a buddy today about the fair and he said that it's a lot like running a marathon.  He's right.  But it's a little more like doing a few 100-yard windsprints during a marathon, while chugging keg beer and eating a corndog.  It is, obviously, the greatest and most challenging 5 days of summer.

For 4-H and FFA kids, fair preparation is year-round.  Last year, Dylan picked out Dolores the day after the fair.  This year, we're waiting a whole week.  Dylan and Grady have been working with their fair animals all summer long.  Dylan caught her heifer, Dolores, twice a day and brushed, washed, groomed, and walked her.  Dolores had her hair professionally clipped and her hooves trimmed.  Her showbox looked like a Jersey Shore bathroom counter.  Turkeys, of course, are a lot easier and daily baths would probably kill them, but Grady was pretty good at keeping them well fed and watered.  Robot and Batman even got a good scrubbing and bath just before the fair.  You ever have to wash a turkey?  It was an all-hands on deck kind of job.

And then, voila, fair time.  Dolores had to be there a day early to get weighed and preg-checked.  When Dr. Amy pregged Dolores, her eyes widened and she said, "Any day."  So a 1528 pound, very pregnant heifer was led to her soft bed of shavings, where she'd spend the next 5 days getting washed, fed, groomed, and coddled.  Robot arrived Wednesday morning for poultry inspection (apparently, birds carry a lot of bugs).  He passed his mite test and sat on the scales at 45.8 pounds.  A tad heavy, but since Grady is still in PeeWee Showmanship and can't sell, Robot could've weighted 100 pounds and it wouldn't have mattered.

I'll skim though the next 5 days, mostly because they're a blur.  Grady showed Robot as the only PeeWee turkey showman.  And while the judge was impressed with his turkey knowledge, he was really impressed with his beast of a bird.  Dylan showed Dolores and finished a very respectable 3rd in her class, and, the following day, finished well in her market class.  Since Grady was the only kid showing a turkey, he automatically made it to the PeeWee finals on Saturday.  There, in the big showring, he marched Robot back and forth, shook the hands of random bystanders, and pointed out all the weird parts of his bird.  Dylan got back in the ring on Sunday for her final day with Dolores.  Thankfully, our awesome neighbor, Bob, bought her and promised he'd let Dylan come visit Dolores and her new baby.  That was a huge weight off Dylan's shoulders and made her goodbye a thousand times easier.

Demobilizing our fair set up made me understand why the army just dumps its tanks and helicopters into the ocean whenever it leaves a foreign war.  I wanted to do that with all our crap, but Yreka creek is dry, so I had to cart it all to the truck.  We are, still, in a bit of post-fair hangover mode.  But things are looking up.  I'm starting to miss fried pickles and 4-wheeler crashes and we're already talking about picking out next year's fair heifer.  By August 2019, we're bound to be ready.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Long, Long Gulch

We recently got back from Horse Camp.  Not to be confused with "horse camp," which Dylan also attended this summer and is an official camp, with counselors and sing-songs and cabins.  No, Horse Camp is a 4 day camp out for the drill team kids and their families.  I lost count of how many folks came this year, but I know it was a huge uptick from last year, in which exactly 2 families showed up with 0 horses.  This year, the Forest Service corrals were completely full, and some ponies had to get tied to random trailers and trees around camp.  On one ride in particular, I counted 25 horses and mules, and there were still more left behind.

We arrived on the first day and while we set up camp, Clara, the Drill Leader, and a couple of adults rallied the older kids for a ride into Trail Gulch Lake.  It's about 6 miles round trip and Dylan came back one horseshoe lighter and grinning.  I broke out my seldom used ferrier kit and reattached the shoe.  My shoeing skills are dodgy at best, and I honestly considered a few wraps of duct tape to reinforce the shoe.  That shoe lasted exactly half a day, and then I just stuck a boot on Romeo and called it good.

Irish looks pissed, because he is
For day 2, we decided on a lake that is just a little farther.  Everyone in camp filled up on a big breakfast and hit the trail, excited for the adventure.  Most kids and parents were horseback, but some (including me) were afoot.  One dad led a string of pack mules which carried food, beer, and floaties. With the long line of kids and horses headed down the trail, we looked like an orphanage had a collision with a rodeo.  The hike in is really a 2 part affair.  If you ride from camp, the trailhead is still a couple miles away.  That is, if you take the correct trail.  Somehow, we veered right when we should've hooked left, then hit the dirt road which leads to the trailhead, and, again, made the same navigational error.  The group started thinning out along the road.  We'd gone from a jolly group of campers to the last days of the Donner Party in just a few short hours.  We finally realized our mistake and had to turn around.  Children wept.  Adults sighed.

But, the 5 extra miles didn't stop us and Long Gulch Lake (now named Long, Long Gulch Lake), was worth it.  We tied up in a meadow, unpacked the mules, and I, for one, promptly fell asleep.  Kids swam, a couple horses went in for a dip, a few fish were caught, and cold beers helped ease the pains in my sore legs.  I daydreamed about a helicopter carrying me out.  Instead, I hopped on Irish with Grady and rode double most the way out.  I'm not sure which hurt worse, my blisters from walking or my ass from riding in a kids' saddle.

For our last day at camp the entire crew gave Trail Gulch one more shot.  I did a few quick stretches, hiked up my big boy pants (and laced up my "real" hiking boots) and led Grady, still on Irish, in.  The only excitement was the bees on the trail, which we all, except for Pancho, my pup
, maneuvered around.  We snacked and snoozed, Dylan and some buddies found a great rock to jump off into the lake, and one of the dads inflated a giant unicorn raft and drifted out into the lake, sound asleep.

The day ended with the 2nd ever Camp Chopped: S'Mores Edition Competition.  We left that night with a trailer load of tired horses, damp gear, dirty kids, and empty coolers.  We already have made plans for Horse Camp 2019, and next year we'll be sure to bring a map.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Porky's the 13th

Nope, not me in there
Last week, we sent Dylan to her first overnight camp.  Admittedly, all I know about camp is what I learned from watching either Friday the 13th or Porky's (and Porky's II, and Porky's Revenge) movies when I was 12, so I was a little nervous.  But, this was horse camp, with a strong religious lean, and had a 9:1 girl to boy ratio of campers, and no one there was named "Jason" who was avenging the death of his mother,  so I didn't have a lot to worry about.

We decided to send Dylan to camp good and tired, so we spent the day before hiking into a lake into the Trinity Wilderness.  It was a lake we'd never been to, and had heard little about, but it fit into our "hiking with kids" parameters (day hike, under 4 miles in, trailhead within 90 minutes).   It did not disappoint.  It's a huge lake without a lot of traffic, and the water was so clear it looked man-made.  I even brought my brand-spankin-new hammock in the high hopes of getting in a nap.  I set it up as soon as we arrived and it was promptly commandeered by my kids.  I drank a beer and napped in the dirt.

And so, with Dylan gone, we decided to try another lake.  Regina and I packed in to the Sky High Lakes when we were first married.  It rained on us the whole time and we spent a soggy night hunkered down in the fir trees.  We thought we'd give it another shot, so we continued our 4th of July lake tradition and I led Grady on Romeo and we hiked in.  Again, I packed my new hammock with visions of a peaceful lakeside nap.  It wasn't small children or rain than squashed those dreams; it was flies.  Deer flies and horse flies, to be specific.  One bites and sucks blood, the other bites and hurts like hell.  They went after Romeo with a fury, and when they filled up with horse blood, the vicious little pricks turned to Regina, Grady, and me.  But, the hike in is a beautiful one, and the wildflowers were in full bloom, so, despite the fly bites and 14 miles of trail, the day was a success.

Dylan's camp culminated in a "showdeo" where she demonstrated her horsemanship skills.  She and Sally, her flea-bitten grey mare, were a good team and her confidence horseback improves every time she rides.  Of course, we celebrated her return with, yep, a hike into a lake.  Regina and I even admitted that we missed our little fartknocker.  She's already talking about going back to camp next summer.  Maybe a Friday the 13th marathon will cure her of that.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Poultry Whisperer

While Dylan's heart has landed squarely on raising heifers for fair projects, Grady has bounced around between species like a coyote in a petting zoo.

First, he tried cattle -- it seemed obvious because we have a never ending supply of bottle calves, and, while they were never much of a problem for him, it just wasn't the right fit.  Goats! I thought, They're smaller than steers and easier to manage.  I was only 50% right.  It is true that goats are smaller than steers, but, as we learned with Snowball, they are far less manageable than cattle.  Dwarf goats! I thought, They're smaller than real goats and easier to manage.  Again, 50% right.  All goats are unmanageable, regardless of size, and they tend to jump on the hoods of cars, eat vegetable gardens down to the dirt, and prefer to poop, well, just everywhere.  They're funny, sure, but at the same time, they're belligerent.  I call them "asshole dogs."

The whole time, the answer to Grady's fair-quandary lay right in front of us.  Literally.  He's always been our go-to guy on all things chickens.  I can spend an hour trying to herd them back into their coop.  I look like Rocky Balboa in his "catch the chicken" training scene.  Grady casually walks over and scoops them up, one by one, until they're all put away.  Sometimes we catch him just sitting in the coop, hanging with his homegirls.

While chickens are fun to raise, we thought we'd up the poultry ante and go with turkeys.  Turks are amazing -- they grow exponentially, their heads change from blue to red to white like a mood ring, they have crazy body parts with names like snood and wattle, and you can trick them into gobbling simply by scaring them with your own sudden call.  It's a fun game.

Grady has two.  He hasn't named them because we're unsure if they're hens or toms (although one will definitely be named "Robot," we're just not sure which one).  And, just like their smaller chicken cousins, they're completely unafraid of Grady.  He pets them, walks them around, and keeps them well fed.

Grady's still too young to sell at the fair, so this year is just a turkey trial run, but we may have found his niche.  Find him at the fair and he'll show you two of the oddest animals you've ever seen.  He definitely is the boy who talks to turkeys.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

AR, a million

She can shoot
This post's title might be the name of a hot new Bon Iver single (hipsters chuckle), or the newest knockoff assault rifle out of China (hipsters scowl), but in fact, it's neither.  Actually, it's an excuse for me to brag about my daughter a little.  The AR stands for Accelerated Reader.  I imagine if your kid goes to public school, you're familiar.  The "Million" part is the number of pints Dylan racked up this year.  Of course, I'm being hyperbolic, but judging from the amount of time she has her nose in a book, I'm sure I'm not too far off.

She can quilt
Dylan is constantly reading --- in the car, on the way to school, on the bus ride home -- sometimes I tell her to go outside and play and she brings a book.  She reads pretty much whatever she can get her hands on.  When she's out of books, she re-reads old ones.  It's interesting to watch, this little bookworm, plow through book after book after book.  I'm amazed she does anything else, really.  But, she still manages to care for a fair heifer, ride her horse, play with the dogs and kittens, shoot her bow, and, occasionally kick a soccer ball around.  But then it's always back to the books.

She can kitten
This year, I told her I'd give her $100 bill if she broke the school's AR point record.  I think I paid that out by March.  She asked for a Kuiu shirt if she reached the next 100 point increment, and 2 weeks later we were online, checking out youth shirts on their website.  I suspected she was going to keep reading regardless, so I quit offering payouts, and I was right.  As I'm writing this, there are 2 days of school left and she just told me she was going to take the tests for 5 more books tomorrow.  I haven't read 5 books in the past 2 years, and I was an English major.

Regina and I are both impressed and proud.  Someday her AR point record will probably be broken.  I joke that it'll probably be by some boy (or girl)-in-a-bubble, but I hope it's by another little jr. badass.  But that kid probably won't be decked out in camo, quietly bobbing his or her head to the falsetto tones of Bon Iver.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


Memorial Day Weekend goes one of two ways: 1) we're starting to cut hay and are up to our ears in alfalfa and irrigating or, 2) it rains and our responsibilities on the ranch are reduced to feeding a few horses and checking the purebred herd for new babies.  This year we hit door number 2, which was great because our friends, Paul, Amy, and Malcolm, from Oakland made their annual pilgrimage north and I got to join in on all the debauchery fun.

We try to fit in all the ranch and valley activities we think they might enjoy and not otherwise get to do in the city.  Sometimes, admittedly, we go a little overboard.  Paul and Amy are very busy folks and probably wish for a quiet country weekend, full of Rest, Rose´, and Rounds (of ammunition).  Instead, as soon as they arrive, we hammer them with a 20 minute Powerpoint presentation on all the activities we hope to accomplish, have them do eleven shots, then *release the hounds* the weekend may officially begin.

After ranch chores (2 new purebred calves!) we loaded the coolers, the dog, and the kids into the truck and headed to the Russian Wilderness to hike into a lake.  Our day began inauspiciously when I led the group straight from the trailhead directly to the wrong trail.  We hiked about 100 yards and the trail suddenly quit.  I pressed on through burned fir pilings and I could feed the group losing confidence in my trailblazing technique.  Suddenly, I heard Paul yell, "Hey, here's the trail."  The rest of the group looked at me like I was General Custer and they'd just caught their first arrow.  Some leader I was.  I had to regain their confidence by finding the unmarked path to the lake, which I did, thank you very much.

By the time we made it home, we only had about ten minutes to shine up so we could make our dinner reservations.  The ladies showered, the gentlemen spit shined the wine and beer stains from our shirts and we made it with a minute to spare.  We spent the next day resting our legs by cruising around in the Ranger and shooting stuff.  By stuff, I mean ground squirrels, fence posts, and beer cans.  Everyone got a crack at marksmanship and we shot the shit out of a few dead Coors cans.

By the time they left on Monday morning, our recycling bins were full of wine bottles and our ammo boxes were empty, which is the first real indication that summer has started.  Soon, I'll  be sitting on the swather and Regina will have a little time off from principal duties, and we'll have a little time to relax and think, just long enough to start planning and preparing for next Memorial Day.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Dropping Science

The call was a little unexpected.  "Hi, Judd, this is Dr. Amy.  I have a favor ..."  If that call is from a neighbor, it might be to borrow a bottle of cattle wormer or a tractor part, but from the vet, anything's possible.  "So, Luke butchered today and has a cow's stomach and a bag of bile for 4-H tomorrow.  Could you pick it up and bring it over?"

Dylan signed up for a Veterinary Science program through her 4-H club.  Grady was too young to sign up, but since meetings fall on the same night as Regina's school board meetings, he got to tag along.  Kids learned, first hand, about all the gushy and messy parts of animals.  Day 1 kicked off with a heart dissection and a study of an enlarged cow's liver.  These kids -- mostly girls -- sliced and diced through every bit of soft tissue they could find inside dead mammals.  Roadkilled deer?  Cut 'er open.  Mummified fetus?  Of course.  Old gall bladder?  Why not.

Early on in the class, Dr. Amy asked me to save a reproductive tract from a heifer we butchered.  I diligently kept it in the freezer until I needed room for hamburger.  I completely forgot about it and swore that the unmarked ziplock bag was full of sweetbreads (neither sweet, nor bread) that had turned bad.  I was a little embarrassed to tell the class that I tossed their dissection project for the evening, but really I was just grateful I didn't try to cook up a cervix and uterus for dinner, thinking it was an unusual shape for a thymus gland.

One evening was spent looking at x-rays and old bones.  Images from car smashed cats and crippled horses fascinated the kids, but the real treat that night was the smell.  There wasn't one.  I spent most classes trying to pretend I wasn't gagging from the odor emanating from the pile o' innards laid out on the table.  Gut night was, predictably, the worst.  Many parents opted to stay outside.  Since I brought in the garbage can full of insides, I felt a little obligated to stay.

Dylan always asked a ton of good questions and one night the 4-H leader looked at me and said, "Wow, I think your daughter is going to be a vet!"  I smiled with pride and thought of all the free vet care my cattle and horses would receive.  Just then, Dylan came around the corner holding her nose.  "Dad," she said, "I definitely do NOT want to be a vet."  Well, at least we know now.