I wear lots of hats.

I wear lots of hats.

One thing we are never short of is hats.  Every seed supplier, feed salesman, equipment dealership, and co-op seem to be very concerned that we might get a tan forehead.

I used to get attached to my “favorite” work hat.  That was a problem, because it would get dirty and smelly.  Washing it solved that, but brought up an equally troublesome problem – washing it always made it fit differently.  So it was no longer my favorite anymore.

I have since become less attached to my work hats.  I have become a cap casanova – love ’em and leave ’em. When they get dirty and/or smelly, I kick ’em to the curb.  And why not?  I have been going through them at a rate of one per month for two summers now (winter hats are a different story – I’m totally committed there) and have yet to see the bottom of the hat pile.  Right now, of the two I wear, one is from a bull sale I went to three years ago; the other I bought in high school (at least 13 years ago).   I think I might be close to having a balanced hat budget though.  Income is the same as outgo based on what I’m seeing.


I wear lots of hats.

Most small business owners probably are like me in this regard – jack of all trades, master of none.  As a rancher, no two days seems the same.  No two hours even seem the same sometime.  Today I worked as our human resource person, market analyst, webmaster, government agency liason, IT help desk, vehicle fleet maintenance manager, and herd foreman.  I think I deserve a raise.  I’ll have to talk to myself about that later.

Diagnosis: Garden Fever

Heaven help me, I’ve got garden fever. The last time I had it was 8 years ago during those wet years. I plowed up half a dozen or more spots around the yard envisioning large swathes of gorgeous blooms throughout the growing season. By the middle of July I had only little clumps scattered over what seemed like an entire football field filled with creepers. The little clumps bloomed prettily and I told myself that they’d spread out next year. They did and the yard looked nice. Then the next year was drier, and so was the next year and the years after that. Only the weeds and holly hocks survived and thrived. If the definition of a weed is a plant out of place, then most of the holly hocks are weeds too.

This year I’ve got to do something with those sad, survivor perennials or I will end up mowing more yard. I hate mowing. With gas at $2 per gallon I hate it more than ever.

I dug out my gardening file, the one where I squirrel away pictures of landscape plans I like. Unfortunately, what I like and what actually grows in our climate and soil are not the same, so I’ve tried to adjust to reality. I don’t want to pour gallons of river water over flowers that are destined to look pitiful anyway. Whatever I plant must be drought and heat resistant and thrive in poor soil. Oh, and tolerate our South Dakota wind. They must also be perennial because if I’m going to put that much work into planting, the plants have to return next year. What I have is cactus, that mound thing with the renegade root system and of course, holly hocks. Finding filler plants is the challenge.

Today I finally got a man to man the tiller. (I’d do it myself, but it tends to run away with me and I would rather not add my personal bone meal to the flowerbed.) By procrastinating over my tilling requests, they allowed the fever to rage for too long. Hallucinations of a sumptuous perennial flowerbed edging the yard replaced reason. I’m off to the greenhouse feverishly clutching my list of drought tolerant plants. If they die, creepers bloom too. Consider them ground cover. After all, the whole point of my gardening effort is to eliminate grass that needs mowing.

I wrote this in 2004. Not much has changed but the gas prices!

It’s been a quiet week here at Lake Wobegon…

…well, not really, but we've been able to slow down from "warp speed" to "just breaking the sound barrier". 

Calving is about 85% done.  The bonepile is a bit larger this year than normal.  We had a rather miserable April as most of the reigon did.  Eighteen inches of snow and most days 20 degrees below normal made for a long month.  It took its toll on the newborn calves.  I attributed nine deaths to the weather, either directly or indirectly.  As discouraging as that is for me, I know of others who sustained larger losses.  Now that the weather has warmed up and the grass has started to turn green, the cold, sunless days of April seem like a distant memory.  I think cattlemen who calve in the later winter/early spring must all have short memories, because by the time June rolls around, we still turn the bulls out the same time as last year.  However, the thought of having most of the calves in May next year is making me rethink our turn-out dates.

We're excited about Kelly, our summer intern, arriving in the next couple weeks.  This is the first year we will have an "official" intern.  It will be a learning process for all of us.  Our hired help in the past was mostly just to build fence, make hay, move cows, and mow the lawn.  We're planning to involve her in more of the range management decisions and implementation, as well as have her assist in developing our new Ranch Tour venture.  I'm planning to have her contribute to the website, so look for her tagline in the coming months.

Speaking of the Ranch Tour, it's starting to take shape.  Dad has been busy in the shop building a buggy to haul people around in.  Mom has been coming up with interesting ways to show visitors the prairie ecosystem.  And I have made a web page for it.  Similar to the internship, it will be a learning process for us to find out what people are actually interested in.  Other ranches have done similar ventures, so we are starting with some of the ideas we've heard from them.  It sure has potential to be a really fun part of our ranch.

You also might have noticed some changes to the website's theme as well.  I'm trying to better organize the content to make it easier to find the information that you're looking for.  When I think of the diversity that our ranch contains, it can be overwhelming to come up with a simple way to tell you about it on this site.  My plan is to create content that fits in two broad categories – Ranch Operations and Visitor Information.  Ranch Operations will provide information on what we do with the land and livestock.  Whether you are a fellow cattleman or someone who recently found out milk doesn't just come from the grocery store, there should be something for you there.  The Visitor Information category will have information about hunting, tours, and accommodations at the ranch.  If there is something you would like to see added to the website, please email me at rockhillsranch@gmail.com.

An aside – The title (and closing line) of this blog post comes from "News from Lake Wobegon," a segment of Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion on public radio.  It is made-up news from a made-up town in Minnesota, but it seems like he could also say "the names are made up, but the stories are real."  It is to small town life what I imagine "The Office" TV show is to working in a cubicle.

Speaking of small towns, Naomi had a real small-town experience recently.  She has been working a few days this spring doing preschool screening in the area.  She was working in Bowdle, population 502, a couple weeks ago.  The janitor came in to the room where the screening was taking place and aksed Naomi if she drove a gray van.  Obviously it didn't belong to one of the students or school faculty, because he would have recognized it and known whose it was.  Well, it was our van, and it had a flat tire.  The janitor asked Naomi if she would like it fixed; she said yes.  The janitor said he would take care of it if she gave him the keys.  He called up ARC, the local repair shop, who came up to the school, drove the van back to the shop, fixed the tire, and delivered it back to the school.  As the ladies chatted about the tire getting fixed, those who were from Bowdle all said something like "oh, ARC is a good place to get it fixed."  "They do a good job."  "They're such nice guys."  After the screening was done, the janitor still had not returned the van keys.  They were in the van, of course – where else would they be?  And the bill…well, there wasn't one.  Naomi stopped at the furniture store after work to buy mattresses for the kids.  She asked where ARC was.  The store owner walked her outside and pointed her in the right directionon, commenting that "those are some good guys at ARC."  She stopped there on her way out of town and paid the $15 fee for fixing the flat.

That's all the news from Lake Wobegon Swan Creek, where all the women are strong, all the men are, um, well…..and all the children are above average (especially if you ask their Grandpa.)