Category Archives: Ranch

How to Make Homemade Apple Cider

Ever wonder how to make your own apple cider from apples you have picked? Well this quick 1 minute video gives you the quick run-down, but if you want more detailed instructions keep reading…

List of supplies:

Now the process:

  1. Get apples… Do I need to explain?
  2. Wash Apples (you do not need to be perfect in washing them, but that depends on what your level of “grossness” is)
  3. Cut apples, if necessary (we use small apples)
  4. Pulverize apples. We use small apples, so we just can just throw a whole pile of them in the vitamix and pulse it a couple times. However, please be careful on how hot your vitamix will get. I accidentally overheated mine, it doesn’t kill it, but it will put you back about 30 minutes until it cools down.
  5. Set up your press: make sure it has a tray as the apple cider is extracted and can flow into a pot or something that easily can catch the apple cider.
  6. Put apples through the press. If you buy the Tabletop Fruit Press 1.25 Gallon it’ll be pretty self explanatory instructions. You can go cheap if you make your own press, but you need to have access to a hydraulic press or find a way to press the apples extremely hard.
    1. Make your own press: Get a clean five gallon bucket and drill small holes all over the bucket.
    2. Put as many extra long twist ties in between each row of holes.
    3. Put a pan underneath the bucket to direct apple cider flow to your pot.
    4. Put a paint strainer in the bucket so that the apples do not plug up the holes.
    5. Put bucket in the press. We cut a circle shaped board that covers the apples so we can easily press the apples. Add wood blocks into press as it gets more compressed.
  7. Catch the apple cider! Drink right from the flow!
  8. You can either keep your cider plain or spice it up! (if you are worried about e coli or other diseases boil cider at 185 degrees. We have never had issues with sickness and it kills lots of good nutrients and bacteria so we personally do not do it, but you make that decision).
    1. If you spice your cider, put it on the stove and bring it up to a hot temperature. Place cinnamon sticks, vanilla extract and cloves in (do is based on how much you like each spice).
    2. Let it simmer for about an hour so that the flavors get fully incorporated. Stain out the spices and then drink warm or cool.
  9. Poor cider into jars and keep in refrigerator, can the apple cider or take gallon sized freezer bags and poor it in there and freeze them (that’s what we do).
  10. Enjoy all your hard work!

Natural cider has plenty of sediment in it, so make sure to leave the bottom of the cider after it is chilled.

Raising Free Range Cornish Cross Chickens

This was the first year we tried raising Cornish Cross chickens for our customers. To say that it was a success, would be an overstatement, but to say it was a total failure would be… Well, almost correct, but it was not a complete loss, we at least broke even, but in a business, “breaking even” is not quite what you are aiming for.

The first batch of chickens we started with 200 chicks and ended up with 107 successfully making it to harvest. The second batch of chickens we started with 200 chicks and ended up with 134 successfully making it to harvest.

A little background on Cornish Cross chickens will give you a little bit of a better idea why they are so difficult to raise. Cornish Cross chickens were developed for confinement chicken houses, they are designed to be on a steady diet of antibiotics, have a perfect temperature at all times and have the perfect protein ration diet. By 8 weeks of age they go from weighing almost nothing to an 8-10 lb chicken that develops heart and leg problems due to the unnatural rate of growth in that time.

Now you are probably wonder why we even tried raising these birds in particular and not go with another breed. Well, there is literally no other breed that gives you that much return in such a short period of time. They are also double breasted bird, which means their breast as twice the size of any other chicken, this is the chicken you buy at the supermarket, and no one is used to the “old style” thin breasted chicken anymore. All other breeds of chickens take at least 12-16 weeks to get to full size and their full size is typically 5-7 lbs and dress out at 2-3 lbs, compared to the Cornish Cross which will dress out at 8 weeks between 4-6 lbs. If you let them go for a few more weeks they can dress out close to 8-11 lbs (hello, small turkey?)

Obviously, with a bird that gains so much in such a short period of time, there’s bound to be problems, and we discovered almost all of them. These birds do not handle outside stresses like a standard chicken does, so temperature fluctuations, timing in feeding and the amount of chickens in space can affect their growth.

We bought our first batch way too early. They were in a brooder in our shop, but we think since they were in a smaller confined area, it was too cold for little chicks. Drafts were not an issue, but just the air in general was very chilly. We lost around 30 chicks in the first 3 weeks in the brooder.

chicks keeping warm under their brooder

chicks keeping warm under heat lamps

By the 3-4th week the chicks we getting big and the brooder was difficult to keep clean, so we decided to turn them out in the movable pens. However, it was clearly way too cold at night (we live at 4000 ft elevation, so it gets very cold at night). These chickens do not handle temperature swings well. If it was 70 during the day, it would be around freezing at night. Remember, most people raise these chickens in confinement housing their entire life so they can’t handle unstable temperatures. Chicks started dying all over, so we put heat lamps in and turned them on at night. Well, then they would all gather together under the heat lamp and several would get suffocated in the night. At this point we did not have enough space to put them back inside, they had to make it outside at this time.

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Our movable chicken coops

Every night my husband would go out and put a piece of cardboard over the entrance of their movable coop so they would stay in and keep warm. Eventually their deaths started to slow down, but we consistently lost 1-2 chickens a night. When we brought them to chicken processing the owners suggested that we probably lost most of our birds due to a disease called “water belly.” Sure enough, it sounded like that was the problem with them, the main cause? Temperature fluctuations and elevations over 3000 ft. At higher elevations available oxygen is lower, and these birds are known for respiratory problems, so thinner air is very difficult on them.

The second batch of chicks had difficultly at first as well, due to the cold temperatures, but it warmed up by the time we needed to turn them outside and it wasn’t freezing anymore at night. It was amazing how much better they did outside. We maybe lost a total of 5 chickens from the time we turned them outside, compared to losing 1-2 every day with our first batch. So, we learned the warmer temperatures are critical for these chickens. However, on the other end, they do not do well in temperatures over 85 degrees, so we are thankful that our chickens were processed this last week when it was still in the 80’s compared to this week which is scheduled to be in the 100’s.

Cornish Cross around 4 weeks old.

Cornish Cross around 4 weeks old.

Pasture raised chickens are so much healthier for the birds and for those consuming them, but since they are not necessarily designed for outside lifestyle you must factor in death loss and difficulties that those who raise them inside do not have to deal with.

Will we raise them again? Well, it’ll depend on whether we can get someone at lower elevation to raise them for us, because it is very difficult to successfully raise them at 4000 ft elevation, and when the weather is good to raise them, it’s a short period of time before it becomes too hot.

A beautifully finished pasture raised Cornish Cross chicken.

A beautifully finished pasture raised Cornish Cross chicken.

Spring 2015!

I believe my last post was in the fall of 2014. Sorry for the delay. I just don’t like to write, but it’s time for an update.

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Look at all the green grass! Is it May already?

After a fairly mild winter we are having an unusually early and warm spring. We’ve had weeks so far that it has not frozen at night allowing for the trees and flowers to think it’s April instead of March. Down in the Treasure Valley the orchards are already blooming, so I feel like it’ll be a miracle this year if they don’t have a crop failure due to hard frosts.

Daffodil's in March?!

Daffodil’s in March?!

Here on the ranch everything is alive and turning green! It’s such a fun time of year to see so much life springing up everywhere. Our cows are calving and turned out on the federal range and next will be our sheep and pigs.

Pigs sleeping in their hay

Pigs sleeping in their hay

Speaking of pigs… We bought a sow (mother pig) in January with hopes that we would have piglets by now, but unfortunately, we don’t know much about pigs and we got gipped. The “pregnant” pig we got was not pregnant, so she is now going to be sausage for our family. So we went out again and bought another “pregnant pig”. This momma truly does look pregnant this time and should be having piglets at the end of this month. Keep your fingers crossed because this might be our last chance to get good piglets to raise for pork this year.

Our newest addition meat chickens

Our newest addition meat chickens

Our newest addition to our meat business this year is meat birds! Currently we have 197 Cornish Cross chicks growing rapidly. Hopefully in less than 8 weeks we will have nice sized birds for your freezer. But with every new enterprise comes a steep learning curb, which is why we are not taking orders at the moment until we have a better idea of how many birds are going to make it to harvest!

chicks keeping warm under their brooder

chicks keeping warm under their brooder

Taking a drink

Taking a drink

We look forward to the 2015 season and will be in touch with you all very soon!

Garden = Done

This is my favorite way to end my season of gardening!DSC_2740

Turn in the sheep! My sheep clean everything up, leave a little manure behind and then go on their merry way.

Some people tell me that this is a bad idea and that sheep will get sick on certain things in my garden, but I have yet to have sick sheep. I’ll continue to let them help me in my end-0f-the-season cleanup.

We are happy to welcome fall. End a very generous growing season and prepare for winter.DSC_2741

Real Food, Real Cheap.

Real food is affordable. Real food is better for you. Real food will make you feel better and live a healthier life.

What is real food? Well, in my world, real food is food that has not been adulterated or processed. It’s recognizable to your great grandparents and most likely doesn’t come in fancy packaging.

Today people think that real food only comes from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but this is just another marketing hype to keep people in the grocery stores. If you want real food for your family that you can afford, you need to leave the supermarket and return to the farm.

I’m not talking about driving 3 hours outside of town every week to go get some eggs, meat and milk (though some people are willing to do it). I’m talking about finding someone who grows good quality food, close to home that you can personally trust.

CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture), food clubs and drop points are a great way to get good food for your family. Local Harvest is a great website to find your local agriculture.

We are apart of a CSA. We buy a half share, which is around $300 and we get a box of veggies for 30 weeks. That’s right around $10 a week. Can you afford a box of organic vegetables for $10 a week? How much would that same box of veggies run you at the supermarket? Probably at least $50 considering it’s all organic. It’s fresh, right out of the garden and a local neighbor gets a little extra income for the hard work they are putting into a beautiful garden.

So that’s one way to get vegetables. How about beef?

Once again, there are several options for affordable, high quality beef from a trusted source. At Cunningham Ranch we sell beef in bulk quantities. This is a HUGE savings for the consumer. It’ll run you between $4.50-$6.50/ lb but that’s for all the cuts! High quality steaks, roasts, ground beef, all for the same price. We get a small premium on our beef compared to selling it at the sale yard and you get high quality beef in your freezer. (interested? Order Beef now!)

Other beef suppliers offer different methods. Some will let you buy smaller quantities of beef over a period of time (pickup point every week or month). You can go to the farmers market, but you are going to be paying more of a premium for their services of coming to you. But the biggest savings is when you buy in bulk.

To wrap up this post. The cheapest way to buy high quality real food, is to go directly to a local source.  I forgot to mention, it’s also the safest method to.

Support Local Agriculture. It’s good for the community, the farmer and for you and your budget!

Celebrating Good Fats! Lets Make Lard!

It’s about time the fat myth got busted.

Wall Street Journal Article

Time Magazine Article

Now since all these fabulous sources say it’s true, now we can believe modern medicine… Right? Well, animal fats have never been bad for you, regardless of what Time and the WSJ tell you. But now since it is “officially” busted, it’s time to return to those once forgotten, good-tasting fats. Let’s celebrate with making LARD!

What is Lard?

Lard is what you get from pig back fat once it is rendered by cooking it down to excrete the fat into a liquid form. Once it cools it returns back to it’s solid form.

The first thing you need is pig back fat. You can get this at your local butcher shop or if you order a pig from a farmer you can request it from the butcher to be put in a sack for later use. You can freeze the back fat and then unfreeze it and render it.

This is back fat from a pig we butchered ourselves. It's not as pretty as it would be if you got it directly from your butcher.

This is back fat from a pig we butchered ourselves. It’s not as pretty as it would be if you got it directly from your butcher.

The next step is cutting the lard up into tiny pieces. The smaller the better (even smaller than this if you can).

The next step is cutting the lard up into tiny pieces. The smaller the better (even smaller than this if you can). Your hands will hurt by the time your done.

Load all the little back fat pieces into the slow cooker and tun on "low." You can also do it on the stove-top on a low setting as long as you watch it carefully.

Load all the little back fat pieces into the slow cooker and tun on “low.” You can also do it on the stove-top on a low setting as long as you watch it carefully.

After a couple hours your back fat will start to render and it'll become very greasy. Stir often and don't let it burn! Once it's burned it'll ruin the whole batch of lard.

After a couple hours (3-4 hours) your back fat will start to render and it’ll become very greasy. Stir often and don’t let it burn! Once it’s burned it’ll ruin the whole batch of lard.

Once your back fat has let out more fat then remaining back fat then it's time to strain it

Once your back fat has let out more fat then remaining back fat then it’s time to strain it

What you will have remaining is cracklings. You can try to render them down even further, but I find it just ends up with burned lard.

What you will have remaining is cracklings. You can try to render them down even further, but I find it just ends up with burned lard.

Ta-Da! Lard! This is what the lard looks like after it's settled and hardened. We just keep our lard right next to our stove and use it for cooking!

Ta-Da! Lard! This is what the lard looks like after it’s settled and hardened. We just keep our lard right next to our stove and use it for cooking!

Lard is extremely good for cooking at high temperatures and deep frying. Get rid of the Crisco for the good of your health and replace it with high quality animal fat!

Tips:

  • Put the slow cooker outside! Lard can have an unappealing smell when it’s rendering, not to mention during the summer it makes your house really hot, so put it out on the porch and let it cook out there.
  • I normally pour the rendered lard into a bread pan. After it cools in the refrigerator I run hot water over the back until the lard falls out and cut it into smaller squares. I then wrap it in cling wrap and put it in the freezer. It keeps in the freezer almost indefinitely, which is where I keep it when I’m storing it.
  • Burned lard is not appealing at all, so make sure it doesn’t burn when rendering.
  • Be prepared to get greasy, lard making is not a clean activity.
  • We leave the lard that we are currently using for cooking on the countertop for all cooking purposes. If lard is rendered properly it should not spoil at room temperature. It usually takes us 1-2 weeks for us to go through one of our small blocks of lard for everyday cooking.
  • (Back Fat Lard) It’s great for frying your morning eggs, greasing pans, deep frying, and roasting things.
  • (Leaf Lard) Perfect for pastry cooking, it’s what people used before nasty Crisco was invented.

Reuse it: Old refrigerator or freezer turns into a smoker

Update: This has been the most popular post I have written, so I have gone back and updated a few things and added links to get products you need to make this project possible.

Refrigerators can be a pain when the burn out. Their big, bulky and have Freon, which is apparently bad for the environment, thus making it difficult to get rid of an old freezer or refrigerator. However, there are some thrifty ways to reuse an old fridge, especially if you enjoy smoking meat 🙂

A friend once told us that you can take an old refrigerator or freezer and turn it into a smokehouse. We were skeptical at first, but a couple weeks later our freezer burned out, so we decided to give it a try. Without much construction, we had a beautiful smoker.

Old freezer

…beautiful isn’t the word.

Functional is more of the word we are looking for. It was pretty simple. All we did was take off all the Freon contaminating things on the back (took that to the recycling plant) and put the freezer in a location that was accessible. (Maybe keep it away from structures in case of the off chance it catches on fire).

We use apple wood chips. You can use whatever type of wood you would like.

We use apple wood chips. You can use whatever type of wood you would like.

We cut a small slat at the bottom so we could run an electrical cord into the freezer for the hot plate. We bought a basic cheap hot plate at a consignment shop for heating the wood chips that was placed at the bottom of the freezer, I mean, smoker. We cut a coffee can in half to place the wood chips in, then placed that on top of the hot plate.

Hot plate, or element... Whatever you would like to call it.

Hot plate, or element… Whatever you would like to call it.

tent over the can of wood chips

tent over the can of wood chips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also made a small little metal tent that covers the element and can with wood chips in it. The reason we do that is because whatever your smoking can sometimes drip and you don’t want that going into your wood chips.

You don’t have to worry about making any openings on the freezer. The seal on a freezer is not air-tight so the smoke will go through the seal of the freezer. NOTE: Keep an eye on the temperature if you can, we let it go overnight one time and got so hot that it melted the plastic on the inside door and totally cooked the bacon. Not a huge problem, but just check it every hour if possible.

The next thing we do is load the racks up with… BACON. Smoked bacon is amazing. However, it’s not limited to bacon. Smoke whatever you would like: Fish, hams, roasts, etc.

BACON!

BACON!

We soak the wood chips a couple hours in water, then when we are ready to smoke we just turn on the hot plate and wait for the magic to happen. Within a short period of time you’ll start to see smoke pouring out of the top of the smoker, and then you’ll know all is well 🙂

hmmm, smoked bacon

hmmm, smoked bacon

There you have it. The most simple thing to do with an old refrigerator or freezer.

Enjoy your smoking! And remember… Eat lots of bacon!

 

How to Press Your Own Apples to Make Cider

I’m pretty sure Sean and I have to try everything at least once from scratch… This year it was apple cider. Actually, we were kinda forced into making our own cider this year. The orchard that we like to buy our cider at had a series of unfortunate events that did not allow them to make and sell their cider this year. We love apple cider, so there was no way we could get away without having apple cider so we decided when life gives you apples… Make cider.

We have a small piece of private property up on a mountain and on that property there is an apple tree that was orginally planted when the spot was homesteaded. We have no idea what type of variety it is, but it produces apples every year. They are hardly worth eating since they are small and usually full of worm holes, but it’s perfect for apple cider!

Our very old apple tree

Our very old apple tree

This is the original homestead up on the mountain. A 12x14 dry laid rock house

This is the original homestead up on the mountain. A 12×14 dry laid rock house

The small bitter apples, but great for apple cider

The small bitter apples, but great for apple cider

Our family went and picked the apples with intentions of making lots of apple sauce, but after several batches they got burned out and let us experiment with the apples by making apple cider.

How to make a cider press and harvest apple juice from apples:

You can make cider with an type of apple you want… Free is always good 🙂

First clean your apples and slice out the bad parts of the apple to the best of your ability and patients...

First clean your apples and slice out the bad parts of the apple to the best of your ability and patients…

Sean sorting and slicing apples

Sean sorting and slicing apples

We then ran the apples through my KitchenAid slicer attachment. This will help the juice be expelled easier.

We then ran the apples through my KitchenAid slicer attachment. This will help the juice be expelled easier.

Freshly cut up apples

Freshly cut up apples

We used a 5 gallon bucket, drilled holes in it, wrapped it with ties (this doesn't allow it to expand under pressure) and we put a paint strainer bag in to easily remove the apples and keep them from getting stuck in the holes.

We used a 5 gallon bucket, drilled holes in it, wrapped it with ties (this doesn’t allow it to expand under pressure) and we put a paint strainer bag in to easily remove the apples and keep them from getting stuck in the holes.

It's always nice to have a helper.

It’s always nice to have a helper.

Once ready, put a wooden circle that fits the hole on top and start pressing!

Once ready, put a wooden circle that fits the hole on top and start pressing!

Ok, so we are pretty lucky, we have a hand jack that we borrowed from a neighbor, so you might have to build your own or put lots of weight on top of your bucket with bricks or find some way to put an extremely large amount of pressure to press the apples.

Ok, so we are pretty lucky, we have a hand jack that we borrowed from a neighbor, so you might have to build your own or put lots of weight on top of your bucket with bricks or find some way to put an extremely large amount of pressure to press the apples.

You can see the apple juice seeping out the sides! Beautiful!

You can see the apple juice seeping out the sides! Beautiful!

If you don’t have the luxury of owning a press, then you will have to make one, click this link on how to make a cider press. Kudos to him for helping us know how to do this in the first place.

It takes a lot of apples to make apple juice, so be prepared to be disappointed if you don’t use a lot. We used 5, 5gallon bucket full of small apples and got about 3-4 gallons of apple juice.

From here there are a couple things you can do with the juice… You can leave it as apple juice, make apple cider, or make hard cider. Our first batch, Sean made into hard apple cider, so it’ll be several months before we know the outcome of that.

Bubbling hard apple cider in the making

Bubbling hard apple cider in the making

How to make hot apple cider is your next step! Follow the link!

Ahhh, Fall.

It’s taken me a couple years since I moved to the ranch, but I think I’m starting to like the fall out west better than back east. The first couple years we always went back to the east around the first/second week of October to visit family and friends and to see the changing seasons, but this year we went back too early and fall had not quite arrived yet, but when we returned home to the ranch the fall colors were at their peak and I fell in love.

After an extremely hot and dry summer we were relieved with some unexpected rainfall in September. This was a big deal for the ranch. For the record, Sean has never seen it rain in September and for the second record, his dad can’t remember it raining this much in September either. This was such a beautiful blessing, since we hadn’t had any irrigation water since June so our grass had a little time to re-grow before the winter. More rain and grass is always a blessing. The rain showers produced some glorious rainbows. I have to say that I think we have the most amazing rainbows here in our little valley.

Stunning

Stunning

Puddles on the road in September?! It can't be!

Puddles on the road in September?! It can’t be!

Since we had such a wonderful rainfall in September we are experiencing an amazing display of colors as the trees begin to turn colors. Yes, we don’t have as many trees out on the high desert but the trees that we do have are absolutely beautiful and would brighten anyone’s day if they had to the chance to walk through our small patches of woods.

Glorious aspens

Glorious aspens

An array of colors

An array of colors

As I awake every morning during the fall to the hard frost on the ground I can look out the front door and see beauty surrounding me. I love it here. Seasons have a new meaning when your lively-hood revolves around it. As fall tapers off we will approach the dormant time of year, where we relax, slow down and visit with friends and family.

Fall beauty at it's best.

Fall beauty at it’s best.

Life on the High Desert: Fire Season

Coming from Missouri it was almost impossible to wrap my mind around this natural disaster called “range fires.” Everything is so wet in Missouri and grass growth is just enormous all summer long, but it doesn’t take much to understand how the range can catch on fire when you come out to the desert and walk through the sagebrush and bunch grass and see what can catch on fire. Everything is dry and it can take very little to start a fire.

Two of our friends came to visit us and we took them for a hike.

Two of our friends came to visit us and we took them for a hike.

What causes fires?: This is a loaded question. The majority of range fires are started by dry lightening storms that form over the desert. There is typically little to no rain to speak of and lots of lightening that just strikes dry ground and can easily cause a fire to ignite. Another cause is human stupidity or error. Since almost all the fires are on federal land, people are allowed to camp, use ATV’s, shoot guns, smoke cigarettes, etc. We don’t have a problem with people doing these things, but it is a problem when their stupidity or error causes a fire to start. This can land them with major fines or jail time if the person is caught.

Ecology: The one major thing that causes fire to become catastrophic is overgrowth of brush and grass. We are talking about federal land that is owned by the government. Local ranchers in the area lease the land from the government and their cows graze the lands. However, since it is the government we are talking about, the land (in our opinion) is not managed as well as it could be. There is a lot more grass on the rangeland than cows can eat and due to better management over the last 50 years there is more forage, but never an increase in cow numbers (in most cases there is a decrease in cow numbers). Unlike states that get lots of rain, the grass on the high desert grows and stands, there is not enough moisture to knock the grass down and allow it to decompose, so it must be grazed for the grass to continue to grow healthily every year. In areas that grazing of cattle have been completely removed the grass is dying because it is trying to grow through dead growth every year and eventually it gets choked to death.  All that standing dry grass is an inferno waiting to happen.

As ranchers we see fire as a good thing in certain cases, but the fires today are not like the fire 50-100 years ago. Yes, in the past there were poorer grazing practices and the land was grazed very heavily, making it difficult for grass to grow, due to non-stop grazing, but the range fires were not nearly as intense, because it didn’t have the same fuel as the range lands today provide. When you have an overgrowth of brush and grass spread over hundreds of thousands of acres in very secluded areas it becomes extremely difficult to put these fires out. Hot temperatures and winds fuel the fires and even with the best fire fighting equipment and trained firefighters  cannot fight against a fire that has all the elements and fuel to take over.

The ranchers have a vested interest in preserving the range lands and are typically the first and last people on the fire, because if the range land that you run your cattle on burns, it can be up to 3 years before you can bring your cattle back to the range again, making it a tough couple years. We believe we are stewards of the land and that the land was designed for hoofed ruminants.

This year is a particularly dry year. We didn’t get very much snow this winter and very little spring rains to speak of, so we knew that it was going to be a dangerous years for fires, but even for fire season, it started very early. The first fire we had was during Mother’s Day weekend on a small piece of federal land not too far from our house. It is believed that the fire was caused by human error/stupidity since there were no storms that day. Thankfully it was still early in the season, not extremely hot and quick thinking neighbors that were able to get to the fire quickly and get it surrounded before it took off up a canyon. That early fire was a wakeup call to the ranchers to get their fire-fighting equipment ready, because it was going to be a hot year with lots of potential fires.

On July 1st was the first major fire of the season. My husband and his brothers were out moving cows from one of our pastures that we lease from the government to another one and were coming home in the late evening. A strong thunderstorm moved through our valley and I prayed that it would bring an immense amount of rain with it and it did! It down poured in our little valley and out on certain parts of the range land, in fact it rained so hard where my husband was that they barely made it home through the quickly forming mud. That’s why I almost couldn’t believe it when my neighbor called and told me that there was a range fire about 6 miles north of our range lands. Apparently the storm had dumped lots of rain around our area, but as it traveled the rain stopped but the lighting continued.beautiful rain glorious rain

It wasn’t long before our crew was home from riding all day and they  changed clothes, gathered their supplies and out the door they went. Now for a wife it is difficult when your husband goes out to a fire. They leave very quickly, give you a kiss and you hope they remember to try to contact you at some point to let you know how things are going and if they will ever come home. The first 24 hours of fighting a fire is very critical to the outcome of how big and destructive the fire gets, so very rarely do you hear much from your fire-fighting crew in that first day. The nights are long and tireless, since most of the fires begin in the late evening and it is the coolest and best time of day to fight a ranging fire.

That creepy looking glow outside your window letting you know there's a fire close to home.

That creepy looking glow outside your window letting you know there’s a fire close to home.

However, adrenaline and gatorade will only take a rancher so far when he is fighting a fire, so at some point they must stop, rest, and take a nap. During this particular fire the local ranchers were right on the fire and fighting it as hard as they could. The BLM was behind and didn’t make much of an appearance until the next day due to lack of resources and other fires that were started in the area. Sean came home the next evening for a very short period of time. He had a shower, a good full meal and a 2 hour nap and then he was off to fight fire again during the evening. Heat makes a fire almost impossible to fight, so during the middle of the day when the fire is raging and it’s close to 100 degrees outside usually the ranchers just have to sit back an allow it to burn, because there’s almost nothing you can physically do to stop a fire in those conditions.

hazy skies because of the fire.

hazy skies because of the fire.

Fire slowly being contained

The ranchers are trained in fighting fires and know how and when are the best times to attack and when to sit back and allow nature to take it’s course. Typically if the ranchers can’t be on the actual fire line (where the fire is actually present and moving) they might be a couple hundred yards to a mile ahead of the fire making a fire break (it’s a large line plowed by a Caterpillar  to make it difficult for the fire to pass) or they might be back-firing, which is when they start fires (usually starting at the fire break) and allow the brush to burn back towards to the fire consuming the possible fuel for the fire that is approaching. Ranchers also have equipment to fight the fires such as shovels (seems old-fashioned, but they still work great), spray packs (can be worn on their back and has a sprayer that they can use), sprayers on ATV’s (this is the most used piece of equipment for those directly fighting the fire), pumper rigs (trucks with massive tanks on them), drip torches (for starting fires) and Caterpillars for making fire breaks.

Our neighbor running a CAT making a fire break

A pumper truck on the edge of the fire break

Burning through the nights

Burning through the nights

All these tactics and patience and lots of prayer eventually paid off. On July 2nd the fire was still burning pretty steadily, but that evening there were some spotty rain showers that helped slow the fire some and allow the ranchers to actually get ahead of the fire. July 3rd the fire was becoming well contained and the BLM was now fully on the fire and making their way around “containing it” completely. This allowed several of the ranchers to finally go home and get some much needed rest. The ranchers always leave one of the neighbors to watch the fire in case it gets out of control again until there is absolutely no hot spots or any way for the fire to continue moving forward. On July 4th Sean celebrated by spending the day out at the fire in his pickup with some friends watching an area that had a little bit of life left to possibly ignite, but by the end of the day he was able to officially call the fire quenched.

This fire ended up consuming 46,500 acres of federal land. We were fortunate that it did not burn too much of the federal land that we lease, thus allowing us to continue to run cattle on it next year (not on the burned section). Fires are a very scary reality of living in the west and we consider ourselves “lucky” because the brush that burns is nothing like the trees that burn in forest fires, so we are thankful for living on the desert. This is one natural disaster that you don’t want to be unprepared for and thankfully there are better tools, equipment, and practices that significantly help with fighting fires compared to the past.