A couple evenings ago, Isaac and I went out to move some cattle to fresh pasture.  He's always game for anything involving "work," but with extra enthusiasm when the cows are involved. 

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He would have walked all the way out to the cows had I let him.

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This pasture has a little sentimental element to it.  My grandpa ran cattle here before my dad.  One of my very first cattle-working memories was having a picnic out here next to the corral with Grandma Vivian and my cousins while the men were doing something with the cows. 

After we got the herd moved, we parked on another hill and spent a while enjoying the evening.  I taught Isaac about litter and that it is good.  Not the empty-beer-can-in-the-ditch litter, I'm talking about the dead grass and organic matter that covers the soil surface between plants in a healthy rangeland.  It keeps the soil cool, retains moisture, and helps rain soak into the ground.  We didn't get that in-depth, but it was fun watching him explore the rocks and grass and forbs growing there.  We sat quitetly as a flock of Canadian geese flew right over us – low enough that I was whispering "take 'em!" under my breath.  We listened as Wilson (our dog) howled from the yard, answering back at the coyotes to the east and south.  It was a quiet enough evening that we could hear the cows munching on grass from 75 yards away.  It seemed a crime to start the 4-wheeler to take us home.  It made me think about how I need to find another old plug of a horse for the kids to ride for times like this.

We idled home and had a bowl of ice cream – a Perman tradition, especially after a long day trailing cattle like we had.  I took Isaac up to bed after the usual routine.  After prayers, as I was tucking him in, he said, "Thank you daddy for working with you."  I didn't cry but sure did catch a lump in my throat.  I said, "You're welcome buddy, thanks for helping me."  He said it again before I closed the door to his room, just to make sure I understood.  I don't need to explain any more.  It is safe to say I will remember that exchange for quite some time.

I came across this picture in one of the photo albums at Grandma's house last winter.  It is taken in the same pasture, just from a different hill.  Just like in the first picture, you can see Lowry in the distance, as well as "Haystack Hill" to the right of town.

Things change.  Grandpa's Herefords have been replaced with Angus.  The dam in the old photo is washed out.  We've added some crossfences and water tanks.  Lowry probably has 50 fewer people.  My photo was taken instantly with my smartphone rather than on film, no dark room required.

However, some things don't change.  Haystack Hill is still there.  There's still four-legged bovines wandering these Lowry hills.  The coyotes howl just the same as they did back in the 60's when that old photo was taken.  Litter is still important. 

In 50 years, I expect Haystack Hill to still be there.  I expect that cows will still be roaming those gumbo flats.  Most of all, I hope Isaac will be able to have good memories of this land; of times when he learned something about the world around him, and learned how to coexist with it.  I hope he learns the value of working until the job is done.  I hope he learns the importance of sitting on a hill and taking it all in. 

It’s complicated…as it should be

I'm learning to appreciate diversity and complexity more.  Nature seems to favor these over simplicity and monotony.  It frustrates us as humans because we have a much harder time managing all that complexity.  Maybe we don't have to manage it.  Maybe we can just be part of it.  I listened to several speakers at the Grassfed Exchange in North Dakota a few weeks ago, and in a nutshell, what I learned was that it takes more skill to work with nature's complexity, but the skill is rewarded by healthier and thus more productive natural resources.  It fits with something I remember Dr. Tom Noffsinger (cattle handling expert) say in another venue about the need for humans to greatly improve our powers of observation if we are to be successful in relating to nature.  We like to compartmentalize different components of a system and max out each components production or value, sometimes at the cost of other components in the system.  The interactions between these components are very important for the overall health of the system.  Push things out of balance and there are consequences.  One example I can think of is chemical application on rangeland.   I think there is a place for it, please don't misunderstand.  But I cringe when I read a herbicide brochure describing anything that isn't grass or alfalfa as a weed, and worse yet, taking away from the "productivity" of a pasture.  Wrong answer.  Removing invasive noxious weeds, ok (although I'd rather use biological control methods).  But taking out everything that isn't grass?  That diversity is there for a reason, and it's rather conceited to think we understand all the implications of messing with that balance.  There is not a plant we have that I haven't seen a cow eat at some point (except leafy spurge).  The more I learn about plant interactions, below-ground biology, and cattle diets, the more repulsed I am by our (my) want for simplicity for management's sake. 

Set aside 20 minutes and check out this thought-provoking video.  Mike Rowe, host of the TV show Dirty Jobs, is a hero for those of us who work with our hands.  In this video, he speaks of his experience castrating sheep and how American culture has forgotten the importance of manual labor.  It's well worth your time to watch.  Trust me, there are much dumber ways to spend 20 minutes on the internet.  It is such a good video that it might warrant its own follow-up journal post some snowy day this winter.

Nothing of any particular importance

I'll be up-front, there is nothing really very important in this blog post.  Just a smattering of thoughts on a Monday night.

Kelly, our intern, finished up here about three weeks ago.  She was a good hand – willing and capable to try something new, self-motivated to get done what needed to be done, and asked questions when she needed to.  She's going places, people.  Especially if the rest of her generation is stuck watching the VMA's and using their student loan funds to buy the iPhone 5S.  I'd wish her good luck, but she makes her own luck.  Thanks for the help, Kelly.

It has been a dry summer.  We had below-normal temps so it sort of muted the effect of the lack of rain.  When it finally heated up in late August, it took about 12 hours for the crops to start showing stress.  We have had about 1.5" of rain the past two days, which was very welcome.  It would have been even more welcome about two weeks ago, but the row crops (corn and soybeans) should still do OK.  The wheat crop was excellent.  I had one field of spring wheat that yielded 75 bushels per acre.  I can take no credit, for it was God and the Hubers that did the work.

I'm on Twitter now.  More into "following" than being "followed" though.  I did it to get more up-to-the-minute information on the commodity markets.  I follow several market analysts, news outlets, and fellow farmers and ranchers.  I actually like it quite a bit better than Facebook…it feels more business-like.  Facebook seems to lean more towards the "social" in social network, demonstrated by the absolute dominance of stay-at-home-moms who participate in it.  I don't want to take anything away from that aspect…the right tool for the right job, that's all.  Twitter appears to be more flexible regarding what sort of information your feed contains.  If you want to see who I follow (I don't really tweet anything, so don't follow me for that) my handle is @rockhillsranch.  Our website is still the best place to stay up-to-date on ranch happenings.

We gave the fall vaccinations to the calves last week.  It went very smoothly.  The calves are doing great – healthy and gaining weight.  I'm more excited about this calf crop than in past years, because I am getting to see the results of some specific breeding choices I made last year.  Some calves were sired by more maternal sires, and others by more terminal sires.  The maternal ones will be sorted and some kept for breeding stock; the terminal cattle will all be destined for the food chain.  We're planning to own some of each all the way to slaughter in order to compare and contrast these breeding decisions.  Genetic progress through selection is excruciatingly slow. It takes years to truly evaluate genetic direction, particularly in the maternal realm.  And that is where I am most interested in making improvements.

The pheasant population is down this year.  I'm not a game biologist but I would guess the late spring didn't help much.  Statewide, I think the counts are down something like 64%.  The past ten years have been excellent, so I guess it was time for a correction (for all you technical market analyst types, I'm hoping this level of support holds.  This market is way oversold.  Looking for a restest of the previous high next year.)  So it will be a little bit tougher to fill limits come October.  I also had my ego crippled by the utter chaos that is the food plots.  I tried something new and the weeds won.  Pheasants like weeds, thankfully.  It just isn't the crop I was hoping to raise.  I have seen a lot of songbirds enjoying the sunflowers that were part of the mix, so that's a good sign I guess.

I'm always trying to think of interesting things to write about here.  If you have any questions about how or what we do on the ranch, I'd be happy to answer them in a post.  Or maybe you'd like our "official company policy" (aka my opinion) on some hot environmental, animal welfare, property rights, land use, or food saftey topic.  Drop me an email at and I'll come up with something.