I imagine readers of this blog get tired of my reporting on weather. I apologies, but it has such a huge impact on me and what we do on the ranch.

I am loving this mild fall and beginning or winter weather. Hard to believe Thanksgiving is past and December is here. Or knocking on the door anyway! I remember so many years at this time where we had lots of cold and snow. After a drought like we had we sure need lots of moisture. And I know the Black Hills and the mountains west of us need a big snow pack to keep the water flowing. But I have seen our water flow from spring rains. Granted, not as often as from winter snow fall, but we have lots of time for it to snow. 

The old timers used to talk about the winter of 49 and how tuff it was. What some of us fail to remember was that it started in January. And they didn’t have front wheel assist tractors and loaders and all the equipment we have at our resources now.

I remember back in the 80’s we had a long hard winter. Lots of snow. I read that by the records it was worse than 49. I mentioned that to several old timers and they had a fit! Why, there was no way that could be true. And they were kind of right because in the 80’s , tho’ front wheel assist tractors were not the norm, we did have much better equipment than they had in 49. All a matter of perspective.

For many of those years I fed with a team.  I had access to a tractor with cab and loader, but I preferred to feed with the team. And when we started using round bales, I could actually feed faster, in rougher ground with a team than I could with a tractor with no bale unroller on the back. I remember one day when we had an appointment in town pretty early, so I fed with the tractor.. I was pretty startled to see it took longer than it had with the team.

When I got my first team, Dad had a fit. He always accused me that he had switched all of his fathers equipment over from horses to tractors and I was switching them all back! And I got quite a few of the older guys chewing me out and telling me that if I HAD to feed with a team, like that had, growing up, I wouldn’t enjoy it. They were wrong. It got to be a bet with myself to see how many days I could go without starting a tractor. And the cool thing was, the more I used my team, the better they got. 

We used a team last spring some to feed grain to the calves and cows with our wheel feeder  we made. Hook it on the back of my horse drawn round bale feeder and it worked slick. We buy all of our hay so we take what we can get and afford and most of these bales are 1300 to 1500 hundred plus. My horse drawn equipment is not built to handle that kind of weight. But not to worry, I have plans to build one that will. And as soon as I get healed up from my next surgery on my foot, I plan on at least feeding grain with them every day. I notice when I use a team all winter my clothes seem to stretch and are real loose fitting on me in the spring. That hasn’t happened for quite awhile and I think it is time to make it happen again.

And at the price of fuel and oil (Go Brandon!) that these tractors and pickups use, that looks like a win to me. We never know how long it will last!

Been a sad week around here. A friend from down in Nebraska had a young son injured in a car wreck. He was thrown clear and had injuries, the worse being to his brain. They life flighted him to Omaha and had been having good luck getting him revived and fixed for about a month. He had been up and walking about and was complaining of having to stay in a hospital but yet stayed cheerful as best he could.

He had something still not quite right in his brain, so they put him into a medically induced coma, to go back in and fix it. But when they got the scan back, he had suffered an irreversible stroke. Nothing they can do for this good young cowboy. The family has decided that they are going to donate to help others who have had misfortune. Latest news was they had found a heart and lung recipient that matched.

What a terrible thing for a family to lose a young child. My heart goes out to them and I and many others have been praying for this child and family. If you feel you should, they can use them all. God knows who we are praying for.

Then we had an older cowboy pass away. Knew him most of my life. When I was young he was known as someone who would start bronc, didn’t matter how tough the horse was. After a wife and child came along, his wife made him swear off. But he passed on his knowledge of colts to two sons. 

His funeral was truly a celebration of life. Many great remembrances of him. It helped that one of the pastors had known him for years and was a friend. 

I remember hearing of him working for a local ranch that raised horses. He was breaking colts. He would tie one bronc to another ones tail, ride the one in front and head out. When he came back later in the day, he would be riding the back horse, who he had switched to the front and saddled somewhere out in the big wide open. It wasn’t Ray Hunt style, but I bet he got them sacked out good!

One day we had gathered cattle out of the breaks, up  on top to brand. We penned them in a set of portable corrals. As most cattle people know, cattle tend to sort back the best, out of the same gate they came in. That is normal operating procedure. Evidently no one had explained that to this bunch! 

We tried sorting cows back off from their calves out of the gate they came in, but it wasn’t working at all. So we went to the opposite end and tried sorting that way. It didn’t work any better. 

So in exasperation we opened the pen up on the side and started trying to get them out that way. About then, this cowboy I am talking about showed up to help. Just drove in without a horse. Walked up and went to helping. Pretty soon he was in the gate, afoot, and things started to improve. I had taken off my jacket and passed it to him and he used it like a matador would his cape, so to speak. When a calf was coming for the opening, he could stop it with a slight movement of the jacket, while cows went on by. He slipped and slid from side to side, much like a good dancer. It was wonderful to watch.

In hindsight, now, I realize he really understood cattle and how they worked. He knew when a calf was going to stop and let his mother leave him and when he had to stop it. Beautiful!

Few who do not work around cattle and many who do, have no idea how someone who can read stock like that can make life easier for the cattle and the crew. I often think of that day whenever I am involved with sorting cattle.

So, as I go about this week, I will think fondly of Ronnie and that little cowboy who is giving so much to help other. May God bless him and his family.

I got to remembering the other day. That isn’t always a good thing because it makes me see the changes that have come along in my lifetime. Yeah, I am getting old and not real happy with most of the changes.

My first 5 years of grade school were to the same one room schoolhouse my Dad had attended 44 years before that. I guess they had upgraded the heater from wood/coal to propane.. To tell the truth, I really didn’t pay much attention. I do remember when it we was and snowy out, we would all put our gloves and mittens on it to dry out as much as possible between recesses.

Then about 10:30 or so, some of the kids would put a foil wrapped potato on the stove. By lunch time they would be cooked. And that is what those kids would eat for lunch. Not sure what they put on them, but probably butter, salt and pepper. And that was their lunch. We had a tall metal pail that families took turns hauling water in. One family had a well that the water was pretty hard and when it was their turn, nobody drank much water. Our well had real soft water and the pail was usually empty by the end of the day.

We had two outdoor toilets. One for girls and one for boys. When it was real cold. No one spent much time in them either!

There were about 11 to 13 kids in the school, spread out over 8 grades. Some years there might not be any in one grade. I remember getting to watch as the older kids did their work on the board. We younger ones got lessons when we didn’t even know we were. I couldn’t  wait to get to diagram sentences! Man, that looked like fun. I remember my disappointment when I got old enough to do it and it wasn’t nearly as exciting as I had thought it would be!

Many of our teachers would read aloud to us from books. We all looked forward to that. And we always had a Christmas play. Made a bunch of decorations for every holiday. Made gifts for our Mothers for Mothers day and Christmas. Seemed like much of school was fun! Dang them sneaky teachers! Making learning fun. What a trick they pulled on us.

I am 63 and can think of several teachers I had back then who are still alive today. Looking back, they must have been much younger than I thought. They were all grownups to us. Many would have been barely 20 I suppose.

Dang, now I feel old! See? That’s what happens when you start remembering!

November. How did that happen? Wow! Seems like it was June just a few days ago. Time flies I guess. But flies don’t time!

We got the cows all pegged, dries all hauled off to the sale. Trying to get some winter feed in. Hard to find hay and get it delivered for what I think we can afford. Shoot,I am so cheap, I want it for free! But realize that isn’t going to happen. And it is good for those who raise feed for livestock to have a good year for prices. If everybody doesn’t hit a lick once in awhile, we all go broke. And dry years sure seem to keep the truckers all busy!

Weather has been pretty nice as far as temps. Yeah, we had a little shot of early winter, but I see it has mostly melted off, up in the Hills. Around here it has greened up from the past shot of rain we got. Not growing much, but green is such a pretty color as compared to brown or gray. Especially short brown!

I have been building on a saddle. Finally got the boss to leave me a lone for a bit and seeing as I am lame, he lets me stay and work in the leather shop more. And the weather is always nice in the shop!

Speaking of lame, I went in the other day and they pulled all the stitches out of my foot where she did surgery to fix it. Told me not to come back for about a month. At that time, she will check to see if it is healed enough so she can operate on the other one.

When I was a kid, it seemed I was always at the doctors or in the hospital. Then I kind of got smarter or something and didn’t go as often. At least to the hospital. I do recall some broken bones and casts, but all in all, I kind of had a long dry spell between doctors. Things have sure changed. The cost for sure, but also all the people who work at the clinics. Of course, we didn’t have nearly as many then and those doctors we did have didn’t have the knowledge about so many of the things that doctors now do every day. Heck, if you wanted you could probably have about every bone and joint in your body replaced or fixed now. When I was a kid, if they couldn’t put a plaster cast on it or do surgery to remove something, you were out of luck.

And after going thru some of these operations, I now know what my cattle must feel like when they get shuffled thru’ a chute for all the things we do for them anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I have had good luck having some great people in the medical profession work on me. But I still kind of feel like that ol’ bull who don’t want to go down the chute!

Heres hoping we have a warm, wet winter and an early spring with lots of warm rain!

      Not sure if this is what people want to read…but maybe some youngster will gather something from it.     

When I was young..when branding calves..we just caught them by hand and threw them down and held them. We learned the best and easiest way to do that at a very young age and mostly wrestled the smaller ones.. leaving the larger ones for the bigger boys and men. As we got bigger, we could wrestle bigger calves.     

When I was about age 11, some of the neighbors we helped, went to using a calf table. We younger boys were delegated to pushing the calves up the race or chute, to the calf table. So some brandings you wrestled and some you tabled.     

Then heeling and dragging calves out on a horse to waiting wrestlers came along. So we had three different ways of doing the same job. Then we learned to use a Nordfork to hold he calves with, thereby using a horse to hold the calves. Then we learned heading and heeling, where two horses and riders catch the calves by head and heels, the calf is laid down by the ground crew and the head rope is moved to the front feet so the horse and riders could hold the calf.     

We all became proficient at all the different ways. Who you were helping dictated how the work was done.     

I was very good at pushing calves up a chute and preferred that job when using a table. And any time cattle of any size were pushed up a chute for any reason..no matter calf, yearling or cow..and I was part of there crew, that was where I usually worked. I liked it and seemed kind of handy at it and I wasn’t handy at all with a vaccine gun! Heck, just ask my neighbors!     

But…I also got my feet stomped on a lot..while getting good at pushing cattle down a chute, especially where I was in the chute behind them. And even after I was good at it..accidents happened…and I got my feet stomped on.     

Fast forward to today..at 63 years of age. I am setting here recovering from surgery to fix my left foot. The doctor said she had never seen so much arthritis before. I am sure it is from all the foot stomping over the years..bones getting cracked and healing, leaving more and more bone, healed upon cracks.     

This is a long way around to say this….I don’t care how anyone gets their stock worked. There is a good argument for each style. But…..I never ever got my feet stomped on unless helping while using a chute.     Odd… ain’t it? Take care of your body.. it’s the only one you get!

We got some calves shipped. Hate to say sold, at these prices! They are a lot of lighter than normal weight calves moving right now.Most ranchers are selling way earlier because of no feed left on pastures and very hard to find and expensive feed to keep them. Calves are being sent to areas south, east and some even west , of this area, where they have had adequate rainfall this year.

A few years ago, when it was so dry down south, many of those cattle came up here. Now the worm has turned. And the cost of trucking is high, so the buyers pay less for the livestock and it also helps raise the cost of feed hauled in. Trucking is high because of higher fuel prices and federal mandates that cost truckers more then they used to pay. And of course, a shortage of people who can and will do the trucking.

Costs are a spiral. When one part of an industry raises it’s prices, those who have to pay them, raise theirs to compensate. With the lower amount of people who are willing to work at many jobs, the businesses have to pay more to get the help they need. Unfortunately, Ag can not raise our prices as we are price takers, not price makers. It is terribly frustrating. But also part of the game. Many talk of ways to avoid it, but what it boils down to, most Ag products are a perishable commodity.

When you don’t have feed, you can’t just keep cattle around as they will starve. Well, duh, you say. You would be surprised how many don’t think of that, tho’. Animals need feed. You can raise it or you can buy it, but one way or another, you have to have it. And in a wide spread drought like we are seeing, there are so many who want and need the feed and so little that was raised, that the prices shoot up from all the competition for it. And as soon as those selling see what people are willing to pay, they charge more, in most cases. You really can’t blame them, as they suffer in years when there is more feed than is needed, so sell at below cost of production in those years. They have to make living too.

Yes farming and ranching is a wonderful way to live. But a poor way to make a living! People in Ag are the biggest gamblers in the world. And as everyone around here will tell you, this is the best, “next year” country around. Eternal pessimistic optimists or optimistic pessimist! Take your pick.

Heres hoping we all get more rain soon!

  Back to the making of a saddle.

I start by cutting the stirrup leathers out of the back of one hide. It has the length and strength needed for that piece. The first piece I will put on the tree is under the gullet. That is one place where some flanker type of leather can be used. If it is a traditional rawhide or wood tree, then comes a metal strainer plate over the bars. I put a piece of leather under it , usually chap leather. There is also a piece of leather on each bar that covers the top of the bar, where I have mostly cut out the piece I will eventually remove where the stirrup leathers will go. Then several layers of leather go on the strainer plate, shaping as I place them. They are all glued down, rough side up. I have special tools that have sharp rounded blades in them called heel shaves. With those I can gouge and cut out any leather that needs removed. On the man made trees I don’t need to do any of this, tho I will remove some material where the legs drop over the seat of the saddle to make more room for my pin bones.

Next comes the rigging. There are quite a few different kinds but most are formed of leather with metal riveted into the leather to carry the latigos, both front and back. Most I build are a flat plate which hangs lower and give the rider free’er movement under the leg. Again, on the man made trees with the cable rigging, I don’t have to do this as it is already embedded in the tree. And gives less bulk and more strength than the traditional ways of putting on the rigging on a wood and rawhide tree.

About this time I will cut out two large pieces of leather, wet them thoroughly and form them to the tree, leaving them to dry on the tree for up to at least a few days or longer. This is when it is nice to have more than one saddle to build at a time as I can be doing work on a different saddle while this is drying. I can also cut out and work on the sweat fenders, piece for the back of the cantle and the rear jockeys.

Once all of those are shaped and fitted, they can be carved and or stamped for the decoration. No one knows why anyone originally decided to put the decorations on a saddle by carving or stamping, other than for decoration, tho’ there is a good argument to be made that when stamping you compress the leather making it stronger, in essence. Also, strategic stamping and or carving can give a better purchase on the leather for the rider.

The fork cover goes on next,  then the seat piece. All are fitted to each tree, tho I will usually start with some sort of template I have drawn up.

Once the seat is shaped and in place I can sew on the cantle binding and the horn cap. Then I put the strings on, which help hold all the leather in place. They are tied on with what is called a blood knot. Some modern roping saddle and saddle sold off the rack don’t put any strings on. I have never had a saddle that I didn’t want or need saddle string to tie on my slicker, my mecate or some such. I understand in the fast paced world of roping in an arena for a fast time, they have stripped down anything that might catch the rope or cause it to foul.

There are many different kinds and shapes of western saddles. Lots of saddle makers. I feel we each do our best to fit the horse and the rider and help them make choices that will help them in the style of riding they are doing, whether on the ranch, arena or just trail riding. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to contact me. 

Hope you all learned something about the making of a saddle. This was a quick over view and there are sure many more things that could be talked about. Until next week, hope and pray for rain!

Taking off where I left off last week, to build a saddle you need various types of leather and materials. Most quality saddles are made from a wood tree covered in rawhide. Some makers make their own trees and others, like me, buy our trees from reputable makers. 

I make many on what is called a foam tree, now a days. It is some form of man made material that is foam injected into a mold. The advantage of them is that the ground set is already in them and most have a cable rigging, which is 40,000 pound plastic covered aircraft aluminum cable. They are formed into the tree and impossible to break. The tree is guaranteed for the life of the owner, under normal use. Moisture or lack of, doesn’t effect them as can happen with a wood and rawhide tree. You can make a barebones or skeleton saddle with one, which has very little leather on it so it is lighter weight. Most people don’t know that most of the leather that goes onto a saddle was intended to protect the rawhide that gives the wooden trees strength. With the foam trees that is not a concern.

I still make a few on the traditional tree, but they take longer and tend to weigh more. All the saddles we ride and use are made of the foam trees. We have been using them for over 25 years. But some people want a traditional saddle so I will make them.

It is a rule of thumb that it takes two large hides of skirting leather and a half a side of latigo leather to make a western saddle. Depending on the size of the skirts, it can vary. Most custom saddle makers like me, use only the very best leather we can get. Which of course keeps going up in price. Hermann Oak has been the favorite for many many years. It is all I use.

The saddle has a huge piece cut from the very best piece in the middle of the hide for the seat piece, two large pieces for the skirts, and sweat fenders that hang down and cover the stirrup leathers. The stirrup leather are cut from the back of the hide and are 3 inches wide and the full length of the hide after it has been squared up. Very little of the flanky leather can be used. There are two good sized pieces cut out for the rear jockey’s, a piece for the rear of the cantle, a large piece for the fork cover and a smaller piece for the gullet and the saddle horn. And a long strip from the canoe binding.

Plus you need a good sized wool side for under the skirts. Incidentally, the wool is not for cushioning but to help hold the saddle blanket from slipping. Tho’ I have found on the barebones saddles, they don’t slip even tho’ the bars of the saddle are not covered. At one time they didn’t use wool, but wool felt to line the skirts.

Hope your getting an idea of what goes into the making of a saddle. I will continue next week. Hope we get rained on before next I write!

Saddle making

Well, we survived. The Rally, that is! Luckily I didn’t have to go to Sturgis so didn’t have to fight traffic. Hope you enjoyed it!

The boss man of the paper I write short stories for, suggested that I write some articles on saddle making. So here is my attempt and I well post them on here also.

The western style saddle as we now know it, has been developing since the time that Spaniards first came over here to Mexico. It was their war saddle they rode and as they and their followers moved north into California and Texas it was adapted over time into what we see today.

The first thing they figured out was that if they put a saddle horn in front it was pretty handy to hang things on. And then some dang fool figured out you could tie a rope to it and move things. Can you imagine the first person on his little horse to rope a big bull and what happened when the rope came tight! Wow! I bet Dobbin wasn’t quite prepared for that!

The western saddles you see now have been refined into two basic categories. Slick forks and swell forks. The first type of saddle that came north with the cattle drives out of Texas, had a saddle horn on top of a fork with no bulges. Just kind of widened out and sloped down to the bars of the saddle tree. At some point, I am thinking the late 1800’s from what I can find out, somebody decided to add swelling at the bottom part of the  fork of the tree, so they could use those bulges to keep a better purchase in the seat. Before that, they would tie a slicker or something similar to up there to lean into and help them ride when a horse objected to them being on their back.

Again, there were many attempts to improve  that fork, both in slick forks and swell forks. To this day you can get a good argument going as to which is better, slick or swelled, at any gathering of cowboys, ranchers or buckaroos. Both have advantages and both have disadvantages. I have riden both, quite a few miles and have my preference. For those who don’t know me and know my particular leanings, you can go to my Facebook page and see the latest photo of my latest saddle I built and get a pretty good idea.

I started building saddles many years ago because I wanted to try a different style and seeing as I already had bought a custom made swellfork style saddle from the late Jerry Croft, my wife objected to me spending the money for another saddle. As she said, if I recall, “Heck, you can only ride one at a time, why do you need two?!!!” That is the typical female logic that keeps many cowboys from owning more than one! And I tell you, that don’t help my saddle making business very much!

So I found a used one similar to what I wanted and swapped an older saddle I had for it. Then I went to carving , adding and cutting off different parts of the saddle to get what I wanted. I can guarantee it would have been much cheaper in the long run to have just ordered another saddle of the type I wanted, as after you get to building something, you start wanting more of the specialized tools that are used to build saddles. So, the jokes on her, as we would have much more money now, if she had just let me get the saddle like I wanted!

Next week I will delve into this subject deeper and try and explain some of what goes into making one. 

Have a good week and go kill some grasshoppers!!!!

We got a good rain this past week! Wonderful stuff! Washes the dust off and makes everything look better. Cooled the temps down for a bit.

Here it is August already. How did that happen? Seems like it was the first of June just a few days ago. Days of 76 is over. Cheyenne is over. Now it’s Rally time.

I heard someone predicted we might get a million visitors for the Rally this year! Doesn’t hardly seem possible, but it could happen. Lots of people come to this area this time of year.

I have devised a plan that would be great for our part of the country. We all all need to catch Grasshoppers. Put them in air tight containers and then get everybody who comes to visit to take them home with them. Heck, our local governments could even mandate it. 

Just think of how they would clean this country out of a pest! We could even call it Hoppers for Harley’s or some such! Let the bikers know it is for a good cause.. maybe mark one hopper and make it worth a thousand bucks or something and many would buy them. Like a lottery ticket. They would even catch their own or pay somebody to catch them for them. Lots of jobs for the kids before they head back to school!

Looks like some of our forward thinking local politicians would get behind it. Must be some way to tax it and use the money for a good cause. We could have prizes for the largest hopper. The smallest. The prettiest, the ugliest! Shoot.. just need some promoter types to think about it and get behind it. Maybe some fish farm would pay for all the hoppers when we are done with them for fish food.

I have been trying to teach my cows to catch and eat them, but so far no luck. I don’t know if the cows are lazy or the hoppers just don’t taste good. I know people in other countries eat them. I seen in Lonesome Dove where the cook cooked some up for the crew.

There has got to be some way we can utilize all these dang hoppers we been raising. We just need smart people to work on it. I suppose we could get a government grant to pay researchers to do it. Of course by the time they got it all set up and figured anything out we would be out of hoppers. But we could be all prepared for the next time they get thick.

There are no problems, just opportunities, some old guy said once. Maybe it was Jim Thompson…or Mick Harrison!

Have a hopping week, fine folks!