Gully Washers and Goals


                “Man, oh man!” my teen age cousin exclaimed as he slipped out of the bed in our basement bedroom and stepped into ankle deep water.  Outdoors the wind blew and  an inch of rain poured from the heavens.  Water spurted from the cracks in the foundation and leaked in the east windows. We spent the next hour cleaning up the mess. 

 Mopping up our old house’s basement after a heavy rain happened on a fairly regular basis in the early years of our life on the ranch.  The house sat about halfway down a slope that empties into a creek that runs through our corrals.  Every time Mother Nature unleashed a gully washer water ran in the basement.

Mostly what we remember about the late 1970’s and all of the 1980’s is the dry years, but even in the midst of the dry, there were significant rain events.  May 9, 1986 was memorable.  Everyplace else in the area might have had the wettest May on record this year, but the Lowry area got 12 inches of rain that day.  Bridges and culverts along Swan Creek washed out.  The Jim Gregory family evacuated their house in Lowry, and Donna gave birth to JT later that day.   Everybody had water in their basement that night.  That was to be expected, but Rock Hills Ranch had water issues whenever it rained enough to make the creek run.  If the creek ran, our driveway usually flooded accompanied by heavy water erosion in the waterways.

Last Sunday (6-14-15) morning we had a gully washer like we haven’t experienced for a while.  With 1.35 inches in a little over an hour, the rain was a heavy gray curtain that obscured our view of the far corrals.  The house stayed dry –only a rain of Noah like proportions will flood the basement of this house. The creek ran wide.  A few years ago we wouldn’t have gotten to church because the creek would have run over the driveway.  It wasn’t on Sunday. The culvert by the mailbox should have been gushing onto the neighbor’s pasture.  It wasn’t.  By evening, there wasn’t a puddle anyplace.  The water all soaked in.  So what changed between our nephew’s night time wading experience and now? 

When we first started running cattle, bare spots could be seen between clumps of grass in our pastures.  Thirty years ago we switched to a rotational grazing system.  The healing process takes time but now the ground is completely covered.  The grass residue slows the water down and allows it to quickly infiltrate.  My rancher’s stated goal is to not let a drop of water leave the ranch.  Last Sunday was a goal realized.  

Rosie the Ex-Milk Cow

When my rancher purchased Rosie the expectant Jersey heifer, he anticipated drinking fresh milk with a higher percentage butterfat than his cholesterol conscious wife buys. My mother-in-law was excited about extra cream for making that delectable official SD dessert, kuchen. My son and I were counting the grocery pennies saved. Surely Rosie milk would cost less than buying milk at nearly $5/gallon.

Rosie finally calved about a month ago. My rancher milked her out and froze several quarts of colostrum to revive any flat on the side, cold calves he might come across as our beef herd started having babies. The future of the Rock Hills Ranch dairy looked bright, except for one tiny problem. Rosie has no problem with Sunshine poking around looking for lunch, but she hates being man handled. Milking her turned out to be a one handed job because my rancher had to hold the bucket in one hand to keep her from knocking it over. He tried several methods of restraining her, which worked for a few milkings. Then, Rosie would go off her feed, act droopy and forlorn and manage to contract some kind of infection that made us back off milking her. My rancher let her out so she could eat green grass. She roamed all the way to the mailbox and back and checked out every corner of the barnyard and calving pasture. Little Sunshine had to trot to keep up with her curious mama.

After a few days, Rosie perked up and my rancher commenced training her into a milk cow. Sure enough, she quit eating again. It was a classic ranching battle of the wills, man vs. bovine. My rancher doesn’t give up easily, but Rosie’s attitude eroded his enthusiasm for milking chores. Rosie might have thought she was winning. She doesn’t know that when cows win the battle they lose the war and that McDonald’s is the final winner.

Then, nature provided a good solution to the standoff. One of the beef cows had a set of twins and wasn’t enthused about raising two calves. Luke brought one in to see if Rosie had more compassion than his mama. She did. And so Rosie saved herself from a trip to town by becoming a nurse cow rather than a milk cow. Orphan calves do so much better if adopted by a cow than they do slurping up a bag of expensive milk replacer. With beef prices at record highs, Rosie more than pays her way, even if it’s not quite the kind of savings we were anticipating. She spends her days happily munching hay and a bit of grass as her mismatched “twins” nap nearby.

The RHR dairy operation has officially been suspended for this year.

Christmas Perfect


Christmas Perfect

The little country church we attend doesn't have enough kids old enough to do a full fledged kids' Christmas program this year. Because most of the children are still preschoolers, we opted to act out a portion of the Christmas story during the children's story section of the morning worship service on Dec. 23. I found enough costumes for some miniature shepherds, angels, and Mary. We were fortunate enough to be able to have a real, live baby Jesus, a one month old who just happens to be named Trinity.

Sunday morning arrived. I already knew we were minus a shepherd and angel because of a stomach bug. Another little shepherd was rerouted to Grandma's house when his mom, a registered nurse, got called in to work. We were down to two shepherds, two angels, Mary, and baby Trinity.

I helped the kids put on their costumes before the worship service. One little one decided she wanted to be a sheep, but I told her that wasn't an option. “Why?”, the puzzled three year old asked. “I only have people costumes,” I told her.

One of our shepherds, Josiah, is a three old who lives with autism. I'd sent his costume home with his mom the week before so he could get used to wearing it. He showed up Sunday morning with it on, but, sure enough, by children's time, he'd shed it. I've baby sat him enough to know that with autism, it's best to leave conventional expectations behind and prepare to be surprised.

One, by one, the kids took their places; Mary with baby Jesus, two shepherds, the first angel.

Up bounded our un-costumed shepherd, hands clutching an open church choir book in his hands. He landed front and center, followed by his 18 month old “angel” sister just as the narrator read “Suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God and singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill to men.”

The congregation joined the children in singing “Away in the Manger.” Josiah sang the loudest, blue eyes shining. The other little shepherd lost her crook. The littlest angel's halo slipped to one side as she toddled back and forth behind Mary and the baby Jesus.

I felt the magic and caught my breath. This little nativity scene, unrehearsed and incomplete, was absolutely, 100 % Christmas perfect.