After a very slow start to winter, it has finally arrived! During both of the last two snow storms, I went out to try and get some nice wintery photos, but found it was snowing so hard, it actually made it hard to get good photos. The snow in the air was so thick and moving so fast, the camera struggled to focus on what I was asking it to focus on!
Nonetheless, I did get some fun photos. I love that both of the species I raise are so comfortable with winter. The yak, especially, are made for it. Their coats are so insulating, that they build up these huge snow blankets that they periodically have to shake off.
In the foreground of the above photo, that crackled white stuff is snow on a yak standing in front of the one I was trying to photograph! Look at how thick that is. I imagine it is quite warm and insulating, though probably a bit heavy. When they shake, the whole thing pops off in sheets. It's something to behold!
Even the littles seem completely unfazed. As usual, when they see me, the first thing they ask is, "did you bring food?"
The elk seem just as at home in the stuff, though the snow does not seem to build up on them in quite the same way as it does on the yak.
I am so happy to finally be getting a bit of winter. I moved North for a reason, you know! Plus, I am not ready to move into maple season yet. I need a post-holiday lull before going full tilt again! Well, I guess it's time to bundle up and feed and enjoy this winter weather while it lasts.
I think this storm was our largest single event snow total since we've been here. It's hard to measure exactly, but we got close to two feet in a 24-hour period. It was hovering around 33F, so I knew the snow would be heavy. It started in middle of the night Monday. When I woke up on Tuesday, it was really coming down. I went out to do my first plow run and my poor half ton pick-up had to work pretty darn hard!
And, of course, I had to check on the critters. You can see the yak were taking it in stride in the video above. I love how you can see just how well their coat insulates them. The snow just builds up on them but doesn't really melt. They just shake it off occasionally. The elk, who are also made for this kind of weather, were doing just fine and looking rather regal in the snow.
We recently got solar panels installed. Overall, it was a great decision given just how freakishly high our electric rates are, but there is a downside. No one mentioned how that meant I would be doomed to spend the rest of my life shoveling off this little balcony to be sure if doesn't collapse from the weight. The fun thing about taking a before and after photo is that you know how long it takes you to do something. Nine minutes. I guess there's a reason I was huffing and puffing.
And I may have cried a bit when I looked out only fifteen minutes later to see this. Yup. I shoveled that balcony more than once yesterday!
Later in the day, I happened to look out a window I hadn't looked out previously and saw this. Ugh! I didn't realize that we had suddenly reached critical mass, so I ran out and rescued these rose-of-sharon, along with my lilacs, rhododendron, and a few others I don't know the names for. Lots of broken branches. Boo.
Last night around 7 o'clock, I went out for one last plow. All told, I plowed three separate times yesterday and used almost half a tank of gas in my truck. I'm going to guess those three sessions probably totaled four hours of time. So, between that and my shoveling, I really did do almost nothing but snow removal yesterday! No wonder I'm tired!
This morning though, the snow finally was done and the sun was trying to peek out. I had to hay the yak, which was a bit of a challenge. For the first time, I felt the need to clear the snow before bringing the bale in, lest I get stuck. And I struggled to get this gate open. After cussing it out a bit, wondering why it didn't open out, I suddenly realized it could open out, if I wanted it to. Right! Note to self: when expecting the next big snow, rearrange this gate to open out. Your back will thank you!
The nice thing about mid-March storms is that the days get warm enough to really help clear the driveways and roads. I love winter. I love snow, and I was pretty disappointed with this winter up until about a month ago. Ummm. I'm good now. I've had my fill. I'm ready for spring now!!
I take a lot of photos of my critters. Sometimes I get some really nice shots. Other times... not so much. Part of the problem is my equipment. I just don't have that great of a zoom lens, which - especially with the skittish elk - can make things challenging.
Today, they were pushing my zoom to the limit, but I suspect even with a good zoom lens, I may still have been a bit disappointed in the outcome. If you've followed me for any length of time, you may have heard me mention that I am always surprised at how often I get photos of the elk with their tongues sticking out. The only thing I can guess is that elk really just spend more time with their tongues hanging out - I can come up with no other explanation.
Then there was this lovely toothy grin shot with a big butt in front. At least I managed to not get a photo of Mr. Butt actually pooping, which was a valid concern. As an aside, elk are like cows and most ruminants in that they do not have front teeth on the top, so this is about as toothy as this guy can get!
And then there was a whole series of these shots, which looked pretty all right at the thumbnail level but made me laugh out loud when I enlarged them a bit. Elk have two interesting patches of light hair on their chins that make them look like they have big fangs. But if you look closely in this picture, right above those two patches, Mister Broad Tine has two little icy patches that make him look like he has the cutest little buck teeth I've ever seen. Kind of ruins what might otherwise have been a majestic shot.
Now every time I look at this photo, all I can think of is Bugs Bunny. Oh well. There is always tomorrow. I suppose you can't expect to get a great shot every time!
I knew it was inevitable, but it still took me a bit by surprise. Last night was quite balmy, and I think that the comfortableness of the weather finally let Big Guy feel like he could relax enough to let go.
The road that goes by that pasture leads to an aggregate materials pit and the drivers often stop to chat and tell me how much they enjoy watching the critters in the morning while waiting for the pit to officially open. They have watched his slow decline as much as I have, and they were the ones to initially find him this morning. Apparently, they all got out and "made peace with Big Guy together" this morning after finding him. For some reason, that gives me comfort, to know that others knew he was something special.
Big Guy was a gentle giant. I'm not going to say he couldn't be aggressive when the rut was on and instinct demanded action. I remember well the trouble I had the first fall I was on the farm. We still had another mature bull then, and the sparring matches they would get into when they managed to get along a fence line were epic. He was no slouch when it came to elk bull instinct. But he was also kind and seemed to know when folks were trying to help him. When the little ones would come up to him, he always shared his grain and was never unduly rough with them. When he managed to get wire wound all around his face and antlers during the rut, he let us bring him into the barn and he stood patiently as it was removed.
He was one of the more majestic creatures I've ever known. I have thousands of photos of him. Photos of him being a bull, in all his powerful glory, and being a sage, old man. When that guy looked me in the eye, it was like he knew things.
It's been painful to watch his decline. He's been a shadow of his former self for quite some time now. I noticed about two weeks before the cold snap that he was not as sure of his footing and did not go with the other bulls when they went up into the woods. I knew his time was coming.
But it still never quite prepares you for that moment. Farewell, Big Guy. It was an honor to be your steward. I hope I did right by you. I look forward to seeing you in the eyes of your offspring. That is, after all, what it's all about, right?
It was still really cold when I got up this morning. Not quite as cold as this image of my weather station shows, as that is the low from overnight, but it was still close. It was still showing a -22F wind chill, so I decided I would really bundle up this morning.
Honestly, I overdid it a bit. I was sweating like crazy, but every time I tried to pull down the balaclava to cool off, my face hurt from the cold!
I really wanted to make sure everyone was all right, especially Big Guy. I looked and looked and looked for him to no avail. After an hour of looking, I was getting a bit concerned (and frustrated!).
I figured I'd do one last drive by of the far side of the pasture, and then I saw him.
You see him, right? It was that antler tip that caught my eye.
How about now?
His muzzle was a bit frosty, but he had clearly found the perfect place to spend the night, and he looked pretty bright-eyed despite being unwilling to get up for some breakfast. I left it there for him and figure he'll help himself when he's ready to give up him warm spot.
I had a bit of restless sleep last night fretting about this guy, and I'm so happy to see him looking so well this morning! Yay!
This guy. What a great animal he is. He was pretty old when we moved on the place, but there were only two full-grown bulls available, they were the same age, and so we just picked one and went with it. He was over ten when he became our herd bull, which is older than most farms retire their bulls, so, as might be expected, his track record with the ladies hasn't been great. Out of five years, one year we had three calves (out of five cows) but most years we've only gotten one or two.
He is now approaching sixteen, and he looks it. He reminds me of a senior horse who just can't keep the weight on anymore. I've done what I can to be sure to address any factors within my control, but it's clear he's on the downhill slide. He is certainly a mere shadow of his former self.
I've been prepping my boy for the potential loss of Big Guy since the beginning of winter. Winter is hard and Big Guy does not have any reserves left on him. I make sure and give him supplemental feed every day to give him the extra calories he needs but at some point, it will simply not be enough.
So far, our winter has been mercifully mild. Big Guy is hanging in there and seems content, so I have been happy to let him live out his best life in retirement, but I'm not sure how he'll fare in a true cold snap.
Fortunately, he is still "the man" in the herd, so I don't have to worry about him getting run off from the food. I guess having the biggest antlers does that for you. Reach is everything, I suppose. The bull herd now has six critters in it. Big Guy and five of his progenies. We finally have two new young bulls old enough to take his mantle and - hopefully - give us a full calf crop next year.
I suppose this is the circle of life. New and old. Old and new. We come, make our mark, and then take our exit. I have been preparing myself and my son for the inevitable, but since we are expecting our first sub-zero temperatures of the winter this weekend and I don't know how Big Guy will fare, I thought maybe I should prepare you for the possibility as well.
As my mom always tells me, getting old ain't for the faint of heart. Big Guy has gently taught me a lot about elk farming, and I sure hope he gets to have a nice, long retirement.
I have been waiting and waiting for Goldie to calve. She's had a ginormous udder for almost two weeks now, maybe longer, but with the way things have been going, I was starting to question whether we'd have any more calves at all (93 has had all kinds of weird issues and I have no idea whether to expect her to calve at this point or not), but when I went out to check on everyone this morning and found Goldie to be missing, I immediately went looking for her. Sure enough, she had found a quiet place to do her thing.
She had her back to me when I came up on her. Her tail kept me from seeing anything, but I could tell she was in labor. Little did I know that I caught her at the final push! What luck, I thought and started recording a video. Then Goldie got up and the calve came sliding out - which is not unusual at all, but this calf came out completely limp. I mean it's not like the calves usually catch themselves or anything, but they don't usually come out looking quite so much like a floppy rag doll. The sound it made when hitting the ground was so discouraging, I was sure it was dead.
You can hear my disappointment and concern in the video, but then Goldie started licking that calf. Mamas licking their calves is so, so important in stimulating the calf to come to and start breathing on their own and with its first twitch, I was so excited! Phew! Good grief. I wasn't sure I was ready to sustain another loss so soon.
I went out to check on them throughout the day and this calf, though it had a floppy start, it was up and nursing very quickly. It seems strong and sticks to mama like glue, which eases my mind a bit after the last loss due to the coyotes. Mama and baby hung out in the knoll where she gave birth pretty much the whole day, but just about dusk, I saw them come out and join the herd for an evening grazing session. I am now feeling cautiously optimistic that all will be well! Yay!
Four days ago, 603 started our calving season off right. That morning, I was pretty sure she was in labor based on how she was acting, but since all seemed well, I just let her do her thing. And do it, she did! Later that afternoon, I was lucky enough to catch a good look at baby - though it was from quite a distance.
The following day, I was happy to catch a glimpse of the calf nursing late in the afternoon. It appeared healthy, so I wasn't too concerned when I didn't see it for the two days. But this evening, I thought I really wanted some proof of life, so out I went with my camera to see what I could see.
Lo and behold, the girls were all in the upper pasture and I felt the odds were in my favor that baby was in the lower pasture, so I closed the gate and went hunting for him/her. 603 told me clearly that baby was in my pasture with her behavior, and then as I was watching her, I saw baby's head pop up from behind the rock wall. As I first approached baby, s/he was standing but then it decided it was supposed to hide, so it lay down. Mama was right there on the other side of the fence giving me a piece of her mind.
I didn't want to antagonize mama too much, but I figured it was my chance to get a few nice photos of an elk calf without a fence between me and it. I have a bit of zoom on my camera, so I only had to get within about 15-20 feet of baby to get some good pictures. Mama was pacing the whole time, hair standing on end, grinding her teeth at me.
Baby didn't provide me with an opportunity to identify its gender, so we'll have to wait before I can start calling it a him or a her. Regardless, it is certainly cute!!
Well, I didn't want to make mama too crazy, so I took my dozen photos and left them alone. I sure hope this little one has some friends soon!! I think 604 may be next on deck, but I guess time will tell!
We've had a few warm days - like 58 degree days!! - and so most of our snow has melted off. It's brought my least favorite time of the year... post snow dog poop clean up. Yikes! If you have a dog and live where snow lingers in the winter, you know what I'm talking about. Some of us, however, have become really excited about what the melt off brings!
Yesterday, I looked out the window and saw Maple going bananas in the backyard over something. Turns out, her beloved rock had become uncovered and it was clearly a joyful reunion with a long lost love.
You may think it odd for me to say that Maple has a beloved rock, but I don't think there is a more appropriate word to be had. Maple found this rock on a walk last summer and doggedly (hee hee) carried it a half mile home. She has been obsessed with it ever since. There are other rocks in the world, but, in Maple's mind, they are clearly subordinate to this rock!!
Here she is last September picking out just. the. right. rock. Took her a while, but once she decided, she could not be swayed. I'm not sure what her criteria was, but it certainly had nothing to do with how easy it was to get up out of the creek!
Awww, look how little she was back then!! This was also the beginning of her giving things "CPR." We joke all the time now, "Look at Maple giving that _______ CPR!" And that little yip? That's her "I'm so excited I just can't hide it" yip.
She was definitely making that yip yesterday when she was reunited with her favorite rock. What a funny girl I have!
We had our first hard frost last night. It was a bit of a surprise, kind of like the frost earlier in the week. For that frost, I was in bed ready to turn out the light when I saw they had suddenly posted frost warnings. Despite not having harvested my dahlia flowers for a few days, I sure wasn't getting out of bed at that point to do it! Fortunately, it was a spotty frost and the dahlias lived to bloom another day... well, five days to be exact.
Fortunately, I noticed the change in the forecast earlier in the evening last night and was able to go out and harvest the last few flowers of the season. Nothing like picking flowers in the dark!
It was a good thing I did so, too! This morning was white with frost. My boy looked out the window and exclaimed that it almost looked like it had snowed. Well, then the sun started to peek over the hill and I had to get out in the yard with my camera. Water drops and ice crystals are quite possibly my two favorite things to photograph! That dahlia at the top of the page is perhaps my favorite shot of the morning, but it's really hard to choose when nature gives you so many beautiful subjects.
This little blanket flower will never get to open to its full glory, but it's beauty was noticed!
The cosmos was especially spectacular. Each petal was fully lined with crystals and so was the center. Amazing.
Obviously, since I went out and picked the dahlias last night, there weren't many blossoms left to photograph, but some of the buds were worthy of a bit of attention.
I loved the little tufts of ice on this coreopsis! And the line of crystals on the blade of grass next to it was the perfect frame.
My carrot greens were challenging for composing a great photo, but the way each leaf was lined with ice meant I had to take a few photos nonetheless. I'm hoping, by the way, that this frost has sweetened up those carrots. The few I've pulled up so far were beautiful but a bit bitter. Hopefully, Mr. Frost has worked his magic. :-)
Here comes the sun!
Yes, nature is an amazing thing, isn't it? I love the change of seasons. About the time I get somewhat bored with one, a new one comes along to wow me, and what a wow it was this morning.