Meet the New Guy

And in the Intern Corner, standing 6’6″ with boots and hat on…. BIG Rob Foiles!

Ok, so reading that to myself I imagined the voice of the guy who always announces boxing matches, so I hope you did too!

Hi everyone, I’m Rob. I’m the 2016 intern here at Rock Hills Ranch. I hail from a family farm outside the Metropolis of Raymond, South Dakota-I believe the population has now dropped under 50 residents. I just graduated from South Dakota State University(GO JACKS!) with a degree in Agricultural Sciences and I put special emphasis on beef production and rangelands, so I think my schooling will help me here this summer!

I enjoy anything associated with cowboys-maybe because I am one- including horses, beef cows, wide open prairies, George Strait, Chris LeDoux, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, cowboy novels fill my bookshelves and I can often be found singing old-time cowboy songs.  I also am an outdoorsman; Sunday afternoons in the summer I can often be found with a fishing pole by the stock ponds, lakes and rivers or in my lazy boy snoring; and in the fall, I enjoy hunting for ducks and South Dakota’s famous ringneck pheasant.

Being from South Dakota, I don’t have any exciting 1,000 mile road trip story, but I’m always down for a good road trip when given the opportunity. My first day here at the ranch was a little over a week ago, and I remember that it was a cold, dreary day, with the clouds sputtering a raindrop here or there. After the shortest, cutest, and craziest welcoming committee I’ve ever had helped me unload my car, Luke and I grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading off on my first afternoon of work. We checked the first calf heifers, put ear tags in a few new baby calves, moved the heifers that will be bred for the first time this summer and headed to check on the yearling steers and the bulls in the sunshine-don’t like the weather in SD? Wait 5 minutes.  Luke and I then saw a black rain cloud banking up to the west and decided to finish moving the bulls to a spot where there was some older grass that needed to be eaten(more on this in future journals) and about the time that we finished herding the boys over there, CRACK! The storm had moved in faster than we predicted. Luke waived for me to follow him, and through 4 different pastures we went in what felt like someone one with a power washer at point-blank range. We got to the yard and got the 4 wheelers inside the shop and Luke said “You’re never going to let me live this down… Drag the intern through a rainstorm on his first day…I guess my prediction of when the storm would hit was a little off… Dry off and come over for supper.” Luke is right, I don’t think I can let you live that one down.

I’m excited for the months that lie ahead of me with the Perman crew; for learning about cattle, rangelands, how to manipulate the two together to get a goal achieved and a few life lessons along the way, and for all the great people I’m going to meet.  To those of you reading this that I will meet this summer, I look forward to it. And those of you that I won’t, the pictures from my smart phone doesn’t do any justice to how the Permans have taken care of this piece of land, and the squeal of the 4 kids saying “Mommy and Daddy! Mr. Rob is here!” is pretty doggone welcoming.

I’ll come up with a catchy phrase to end my journals in the next week or two, but I don’t know what it is yet.. So until next time, stay dry!

Phone Photo Roundup – December 2013

It's been a busy fall/early winter for me.  When it gets busy, the website is usually the first thing to suffer.  A couple days ago I was thinking how best to recap the last couple months, and I had the idea to look thorugh the pictures on my phone and use them to tell about what's been going on.  Naomi always tells me that photos are what people want to see, so here we go.

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I did not really mean for this photo to be a "selfie" but I guess that is how it turned out.  Isaac and I spent one December day on the road.  Our mission was to look at tractors and cows and decide which one the ranch needed to buy.  After doing chores, we gassed up the pickup (because you certainly can NOT go look at cows and tractors in a van) and drove about 100 miles to Isabel, SD, to look at a tractor.  Turned out we could have seen the same one in Mobridge (60 miles closer).  All was not lost, however, as Isaac charmed a toy tractor and a cookie out of the salesman and I left with a small bag of Black Hills Coffee.  (I brewed it up later in the week, and it was quite good, in my unrefined opinion.)  After checking out the tractors, we moseyed down the road to rural Firesteel.  If you know where Firesteel is, you understand how redundant "rural Firesteel" is.  We stopped to look at some cows that were for sale.  The rancher who owned them is supposed to have heart surgery in a couple months and made the difficult decision to sell the herd.  We were considering buying some of them to re-stock our herd; we sold about 15% of our cows last spring due to drought concerns. 

At the end of the day, we didn't get anything bought except gas and supper at Dairy Queen, but that's just fine.  I have good memories of similar trips with my dad as a kid, so it's fun for me to do the same now that I'm a dad.

Yes, those are gray hairs in my beard.  They are warmer than the brown hairs so I don't mind.  That's what I tell myself.  I swear they grow faster than the brown ones.

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The cows are fat and happy these days.  We've had some really nice grazing opportunities this fall.  In this picture, the cows are munching on sorhum.  Sorghum is sort of like corn, except it does not produce an ear and the stalk is not as thick.  We cut this field for hay in July and it had regrown quite a little before freeze up.  The cows really liked it and did quite well on it.  From here, some of them went to a cover crop field.  There, we had planted turnips, rapeseed, sorghum, and hunter brassica for grazing purposes.  They like that stuff as well, and are actually getting fat on it.  But man do they stink!  I don't know what it is about those brassicas, but there is definitely an odor about those cows.  The rest of the cows went back to native range for a couple weeks until the corn harvest is complete; they will graze cornstalks until late February, weather permitting.


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The cows that are on native range are doing well also.  One of the reasons they are doing well is found in this picture.  The woody plants you see sticking up through the snow are aptly named western snowberry – buckbrush to the lay person.  We have a lot of it in our pastures, as you can see.  The cows eat very little of it during the growing season, but when winter comes, the cows love to strip the berries off the stems.  When I go out to check the cows these days, I typically see half of the the cows eating snowberry and the other half digging though the snow for some grass.  I collected a handful of the berries to be sent off for nutrient analysis, but I've been told they are a very good source of protien.  For a cow (and other ruminants), adequate protein is very important for them to digest forages (grass).  Typically, winter grazing is deficient in protien and must be supplemented somehow – alfalfa hay, range cubes, molasses tubs – so if the snowberries are in fact high in protein, that would be a big plus.

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As evidenced by the first picture, it has been a good winter to grow a beard.  This was the coldest we've had so far, but the weatherman seems to think we'll beat it this weekend.  The cold isn't so bad, but when it comes with a 30+ mph wind, it gets sort of chilly.  We're supposed to have windchills in the -50 F range on Sunday night.  The hard part about that kind of weather is the increased likelyhood of equipment problems.  Water tank valves freeze, tractors have fuel problems, metal things break easier due to brittleness caused by the cold, vehicles won't start.  Yet, the cows need to be fed – and fed more than normal, since they are burning much more energy to stay warm.  I can't complain though.  I'm really thankful for a tractor with a cab and four wheel drive, as well as a heated shop to park it in.  Things could be worse.

There you have it. Now I can finally start deleting some of these photos off my camera to make room for more podcasts!


Hundred year storm

Originally written October 9, 2013

If you live in the northern Great Plains, you know about the storm last week. If you live elsewhere, you likely have not heard much about it other than through social media.

I don't know where to begin describing this disaster. Disclaimer: we only had rain and wind at our place, the temp stayed at about 39 F. I have seen pictures and heard second-hand accounts of what happened west of me.

I should start by describing the people. I have the privilege of knowing probably 40 or 50 people who ranch in western South Dakota. You've heard of the seven degrees of separation? In West River SD, it is no more than two. To have such a well-networked group of people spread out over such a large geographical area is something you have to experience to really understand. "Networked" is a stupid term to use, because it brings to mind the wrong images. These connections didn't develop over evening social hours during the Big Convention, or invitations on Linked-In. These families are co-dependent on each other. An example is spring brandings. Spring brandings are social events, and yes there often are drinks involved, but so is a lot of hard work.  Nothing demonstrates teamwork better than brandings.  If you have never been to one, you should.  Everyone has a job, and the whole event grinds to a halt if someone is slacking.  Young and old, male and female, each person has a job.  It's something to behold.

You see, the West River community is not held together by the same things most of the rest of the country is. Life doesn't revolve around the local professional sports team. Nobody is keeping up with the Kardashians, and there's no water cooler to rehash last night's "Dancing with the Stars" episode. A lot of times there isn't even cell service to txt their bff's 2 find out what they r up 2, or to find out what is #trending on #twitter.

They are held together by their livelihood. It takes a stubborn, independent person to raise livestock for a living. You can't give up easy. You have to work hard. The paradox is, you can't do it all on your own. As I mentioned earlier, nobody out there brands calves all by themselves. Neighbors are always helping each other when the job requires it. I don't know of another profession that so closely links neighbors.

If there is a group of people who can get through this, it is them.

So what are they going through? Yes, financial loss is the most obvious. A bred cow is probably worth $1800-2000 right now; her 550 lb calf probably averages $925. Yearlings are worth around $1200. Rancher A loses 30% of his herd of 450 pairs. That's $381,375. It's more than just money. It was this fall's paycheck, next fall's paycheck (remember the cow was bred), and the calf factory…all gone.

But not really. They are still there…along the fenceline, in the creek, out in the open. Imagine fifty or more 1300 lb dead animals laying in the bottom of a muddy creek. Can't just leave them there, all the water downstream will be contaminated by their decaying carcasses. How do you get them out? How big of a hole do you need to bury them? Some ranchers are having to find the answer to these problems this week.

And they aren't just animals. These are the beasts that have been providing a living for their owners. You get to "know" them…which one will eat out of your hand, which one raises a good calf each year, which one crawls fences.

There are some people who, in their infinite ignorance, believe the deaths are due to negligence. How disgustingly disrespectful. As if these ranchers have not dealt with blizzards before. As if they did not care about their animals. As if the cows themselves would have been fine if they had just gotten a little care. I have seen photos of dead cattle laying right next to the hay bales their owners had put out for them, trying to keep them alive. This was not a normal South Dakota blizzard. If it was, I promise you it would not have been much to talk about. Just a couple feet of snow and a stiff breeze is all it would have been, and it is normal to get that. But not right after a couple inches of 36 degree wind-driven rain. Not in October while cattle are on summer pasture without wind protection. Not without their winter hair coat. It was not a typical SD blizzard.

And these aren't typical people.  Typical people would have the ear of the media, and they would be a political football in DC right now.  Typical people would be waiting for help.  But they aren't typical.  They are working together, helping each other, moving on.  Proof can be found on the Atlas Blizzard Ranch Relief and Aid facebook page.  Real people helping each other.  These are not do-nothing people. If you would like to help those affected by the storm, a fund has been established by the Black Hills Area Communty Foundation to aid in the recovery. 

Most of all, these good people need your prayers and encouragement.  The emotions involved with this ordeal I believe may have a larger impact that anything.  Pray for the marriages and families, they are under enormous stress right now.  Pass along the story of what happened and how those folks are dealing with it.  Thank a farmer or rancher for what they do.  Eat a steak this week and thank God for the family that raised your meal.