I haven't written in a while because there hasn't been too much to write about for what's been happening on our ranch to be honest. However this morning, as I was making a two mile trek home in the middle of a corn field, I knew what my next blog was going to be about.
Back in March, Holden and I purchased another miniature donkey to hopefully start breeding to add some more cuteness to our ranch. If you haven't met him already on my social media accounts, his name is Forrest. He stands about 33-ish inches tall and is 11 months old! Needless to say, we learned that the name we picked for him suits him well.
Since the weather has warmed up, we set up a temporary fence in our back yard for Jenny and Forrest to roam and be in the sun and graze on the grass. Hence the word temporary. This awful makeshift fence was made out of materials we could find around our ranch and made it work for literally starting from the ground up (First mistake). The materials included: the middle divider from our livestock trailer, recycled roof tin sheets, a doggy gate panel, a pallet and a hog panel. Hey but it worked! For a long time it seriously worked and they are so tame that they didn't test their limits so we became more trusting. For a long time we would lock them back in their pen at night so we knew they were safe and sound, but some nights it was just so warm and the breeze was light, I just couldn't bear to lock them back in their pen for the night. For many many days we'd wake up and they'd stretch their legs as we feed them their morning hay. Not a problem....until last night.
At about 3:30 am, I woke up and heard some movement outside that just seemed "off." Sometimes the donkeys like to kick a 5 gallon pail around for fun, so I didn't think too much of it and rolled over (Second mistake). 5:00 am rolls around and Holden comes bursting in the bedroom, "Forrest and Jenny are gone." WHAT?! I don't think I've ever sprung out of bed so fast.
I grabbed the carrots we never eat out of our fridge, threw on my boots and Holden and I divided and conquered. I started walking in the pasture thinking they couldn't have gone far with 20 acres of fresh grass and the creek right there (Third Mistake). I frantically texted our neighbor letting him know our situation and told him to let us know if he saw two little donkeys over by their place. I thought for sure he would think we were absolutely crazy at that point since he had already helped us round up our cows that got out months earlier when we first moved to the new house. I never got a text back. I don't blame him.
I continued to yell their names which they always came running to and it was complete silence; absolutely nothing in return. There wasn't a single bray or the sound of little hooves running toward me. It was then that I started thinking every possible bad thought that could've happened to them.
What if they got hit by a train? *We live right next to train tracks so it's not unlikely
What if they got hit by a semi or a careless driver?
What if they're lost in the woods and we're never going to find them?
What if someone called the cops and someone else got to them first?
My phone rings and Holden said he found donkey poop in the middle of the highway and followed it. "Great, they're for sure dead," I thought. Lo and Behold, they were walking toward the chicken farm two miles away from home. Someone driving by or something must have scared Forrest, because he ran and ran and ran and Jenny followed.
I pull up behind Holden's truck and call their names and they come trotting right over as I welcome them with carrots. We get their halters on and start making the morning walk home. Then I started thinking of every good thought that did happen:
Thank GOD they are halter trained and friendly and willingly followed us home.
Thankfully Holden saw the donkey poop and decided to track it.
Thankfully they weren't hit by a vehicle or were seriously injured, just a little scared.
As weird as this may sound, I decided I would find it as a strange blessing in disguise. Holden has been so busy with work and spring planting that it has been a lot of early mornings and late nights so I rarely got to see him. We used it as an opportunity for the next hour to talk and reconnect and for Holden to scout for weeds in our neighbors field as we were walking home. We also talked over our new fencing plans and dreamed of the day our new fencing will be in. (If you're wondering, the new fencing will be done sometime in June.) We also hilariously thought about putting together a live nativity scene this winter with our donkeys, hopefully a new calf and our little baby girl that will be born in September. Don't worry, we'll definitely post photos if we make it work.
All in all, I am so grateful our little fuzzy friends weren't hurt and that they are safe in their pen at home. But I better go check after I post this, just for safe measure.
I haven't written in a while because things have kind of slowed down for us on the ranch a bit. Especially after we got everything organized and moved into our new home. We still have some projects on our house here and there that we will most likely finish up in the summer time when it's warmer out and we can open up windows. However, I think I can speak for just about any farmer in the midwest that says they're done with this winter weather. Several farmers have lost livestock in this snow and wind and gotten severe frostbite while trying to save their animals resulting in hospitalization. It's frustrating to hear these stories happening throughout the states that have had to deal with extreme weather conditions. If you don't catch a calf in this weather within moments of it being born, it could freeze to the ground without a chance to even drink from its mama.
The month of February was brutal, and even with just four animals, it felt like there was no end in sight. Especially because we're starting our ranch from the ground up and working with the shelters we have or built and the cheap fencing we've temporarily fixed. Holden was gone every weekend in February, Thursday-Sunday with his national fraternity as an alumni, training students through leadership seminars. I had no problem watching the animals on my own because we've always shared chores and farm tasks. However, there seemed to be a blizzard or something that went wrong every weekend he was gone and 3 out of the 4 weekends I was here to fend for myself. (And just to clarify, I am not blaming my husband for the hardship that happened. Clearly it was out of our control, but lets just say I was a little bitter that he got to fly to places where he could wear a light jacket and I was bundled up with ski goggles just to feed hay to our cattle.)
Before these rough weekends, when we had the -50 degree weather with insane high winds and our water pump froze. A quick phone call later to the water pump guys down the road and they said it would cost us well over $1,000 in the winter to get it fixed. So plan B was to buy a longer hose to attach from the spigot on the other side of the house to fill their water. This seemed to work for the time being but not ideal.
The first weekend Holden was gone, we had severe winds again which caused me to drag hay bales out to the barn for the cows and then harness Jenny and bring her around the house and into the dog kennel which is attached to the house. The dog kennel for those of you that don't know, used to be the old concrete patio on the previous owners house. Sometime later they added on a sun room above and the bottom became like an attached garden shed where they stored a lawn mower and other gardening tools. It now is an indoor/outdoor space for the dog when we're gone, but in this case a space for the donkey during the cold weather.
The following weekend wasn't so bad, but just mainly snow, so a lot of shoveling and plowing to make sure the cows didn't walk the snow drifts over the fence. The third weekend was another bad weekend where I repeated everything I did in the first weekend with hauling hay bales to the barn, because the cows wouldn't leave it to come out and eat from the feeder while harnessing jenny and leading her through the snow and wind to safety. Her little shelter we built just didn't seem to be all that great for this winter's weather.
The last weekend was what did me in. My parents came to visit (thank god for that) because had they decided not to, I'm almost sure Jenny would've died in this weather. With the insane amounts of wind we got, it was blowing right into her shelter. I had to dig her out as best as I could and pull her out. She was clearly scared because there was snow and icicles on her face so she couldn't see so well and didn't want to move. I had to wave my dad down in the snow because he couldn't hear me over the wind. We couldn't open the gate to get her out, so our best shot was to pick her up and lift her over the snow drift since the snow was up over her 5 ft fence. From there we had to protect her back and literally roll her over the fence over the snow drift just to get her out, where I led her with carrots to follow me through the snow and wind to the indoor kennel. It was so deep we had to pack down a spot for her to walk because every time she stepped it was up to her belly. We both had to stop and take breaks along the way where I sheltered Jenny with my body wrapping myself around her because it was so exhausting trenching through the snow. Once we got her inside, I took her coat off and warmed up some towels in the dryer and dried her off and got rid of the icicles. Needless to say, she was exhausted and so were we. She curled up on my old yoga mat I laid out for her and some towels and slept through the entire night.
All while this was happening, Holden was stuck at the Holiday Inn in Owatonna, Minnesota trying to come home after his leadership training because I-35 and I-90 were closed and state patrol was turning people around from going any further.
Once Holden got home after being stranded in Owatonna for two days, we moved all our hay bales into our larger shed and turned our smaller tin shed into the new and improved protected shelter for Jenny. She's completely covered now and protected from the wind from all sides but still gets some sunshine. She doesn't have as much space as she used to to roam, but we're hoping this summer to get something better prepared for next winter with a stronger fence-line, snow fence, shelters and all.
I was envious but not envious of the big time farmers with larger shelters and better protection and bigger equipment to help them, however they also faced some extremely challenging conditions and lost more than we did. We were fortunate enough to still have our animals safe and sound while working with the little amount of protection and equipment we have. At the end of the day, I'm thankful for what we do have and that everyone made it out okay, but this snow can go away any day now so we can have our lush green pastures back.
Here's how my week went - I was cruising craigslist for a livestock trailer for when we get to the point of purchasing more miniature highlanders to expand our herd. Well instead I came across a miniature donkey for sale and honestly, I couldn't resist. Lo and behold I found myself exchanging messages with a family about purchasing their miniature donkey named Jenny.
My naive self thought, "what would be so different about having a donkey? They're friendly so I'm sure they'll get along great with our minis and they eat the same food. Easy peasy." wow was I wrong.
The family arrives with little jenny and she is SO cute, I can't even help myself with how cute she is, and she stands only at 30" tall. To put that into perspective, I am 5' 5" and her and I see eye-to-eye when I'm on my knees. I mean, the average height of your counter tops are between 34-36" and she probably won't grow that much taller. Anyway, so the boy that sold me his donkey, that he worked so hard to halter train arrives with his mom and they walk jenny back to our pasture.
"Where do you want her?" he asks.
"Anywhere is fine with me!"
So he takes her halter off and first thing she does is take off for the minis. I'm thinking, "Cute! She wants to be friends and play!" The mini's were curious and excited at first bucking around and then all the sudden, all hell broke lose. Literally. You might as well have lit our newly renovated house on fire and added to the mess with how terrible the rest of my day was.
If animals could speak, my guess is the mini's would've said, "Run Forest Run!" in that moment, because they ran when Jenny ran. They hopped the fence and took off in our neighbors field toward the busy road. Both me and this kid, who so kindly just sold me his donkey, take off running. "I've never herded cattle before!" He exclaims as we're gasping for air. "Don't worry, we're not gonna catch up to them anyway, so you're doing fine. We just have to keep them off the road."
We crest the hill and I see three little fluffy highland butts trotting down the road toward the railroad tracks. Awesome. I call Holden yelling at him to get back home ASAP even though he was over an hour away and to call everyone he could possibly know in the area, even though we had just moved here.
I call like the 4 people I know in Hampton and Holden called the other 2 he knew. "We are so screwed. I'm going to have flattened highlanders on the train tracks at this rate," I thought. The donkey salesman runs back to our house and grabs our ranger so we can catch up to the minis as I'm still running down the road. I get to the T in the road where it turns to go into town and the most wonderful local guy stops with his jeep and turns our minis back around. "I'm Terry, I just live up the road. You look like you need some help." I just about cried. Next thing I know, more guys stop with their trucks helping us herd the minis. Then another guy shows up with his ranger to help. All the sudden I had an army of people who just happened to be in the area and heard what was happening or drove by and stopped. One guy lived an hour away and saw what was happening and stopped to help me. Even our 80 year old neighbor comes out in her yard with her slippers on to watch the whole ordeal. "Helloooo Neighbor!" she yells as she waves from her front step all while my minis run through her yard. Mind you, Holden still isn't home at this point.
We were out there for HOURS trying to get these three wrangled up. With them being in a new environment and being by people they weren't familiar with, probably spooked them even more, but everyone tried their hardest to get them rounded up without hesitation, and they didn't even know my name.
After 4 hours of running around in our neighbors fields, one guy went home, grabbed his skid loader and some cattle panels and we rounded them up into a temporary pen for the night. Needless to say, it was getting cold and dark and everyone was exhausted. Once we got them in the pen, we stood in the dark field laughing about the dumbest most painful experience they had ever encountered herding cattle all while we finally exchanged some names.
I gathered what dignity I had left and we all headed down to the local bar. I definitely wasn't cooking that night. Holden and I walk in and the six people there turn their heads, "Hey are you guys the new cattle people down the road?" Not even 20 minutes had passed since the late night herding and people in town already knew who we were and what had happened.
We spent the rest of the evening buying beers for everyone and making new friends. Truthfully, I had never been more grateful for a small community more than that moment in my life. It definitely reassured Holden and I of the decision we made to move.
Naturally, we invested in an electric fence the next day and a halter for Jenny so we could introduce the four at a slower, safer pace. Today they got to know each other a little better, but they are strictly on a look, but don't touch, basis until they've been around each other a little longer. So far things are going well and no one decided to run away. Regardless, I'm still happy we decided to add Jenny to our herd, because she loves making friends, eating carrots and cuddles. Although, I'm not sure how Holden totally feels yet.
In the end, I guess having our cattle escape wasn't so terrible after all (however, I'm sure some beg to differ), because it was one way we made friends and learned who our neighbors were really quickly. I want to thank everyone and anyone who helped us and made us feel welcomed into the community. I don't know what we would've done without your help and generosity.
Please stop by anytime and meet Jenny. I'm telling ya, she loves people, and she'll love you even more if you bring carrots!
This is what our last weekend consisted of: drive an hour, load 130 bales into the trailer. Drive another hour and unload the 130 bales in the shed. Drive back another hour because not all 200 hay bales fit in your trailer and finish loading the 70 that were left. Your back is dead and your arms are jello. Then the next morning you wake up at 6 am finish unloading the 70 bales, hop in the truck and drive another hour in the opposite direction and load another 116 bales; drive back and unload the 116 bales. Your back is still shot and your arms are still jello.
Not only are we preparing for our move and working on home renovations, but we also have been working on preparing our miniature highlands home in their new pasture and this included finding and storing hay bales for the winter. Because our mini's are grass fed, we needed to load up on more square bales than the average joe with only three head of cattle. Right now our storage is limited, but we're making due with what we have until we can afford to build another storage shed or (in my mind) a nice big barn with a hay loft. Hay is in high demand right now because we are nearing the winter months and some people lost hay cuttings to bad weather earlier this year. Around Iowa, some small square grass bales are going anywhere between $5-8 per bale! We were fortunate enough to find some at a cheaper price without losing the quality, but we had to be willing to drive a little further. In the future we would love to invest in a mini baler (yes a mini baler) that makes small round bales and can be pulled behind a small tractor. This way we can bale parts of our pasture that isn't being occupied by our cattle and we can store up throughout the summer.
The pasture is almost ready to be occupied by their new tenants as well. My husband got the fence line up with the help of one of our friends digging in t-posts and wrapping barbed wire, along with hanging the cattle gate. The only thing that is left is moving their shelter to the new property, setting up their waterer and building their new hay feeder, which consists of a metal frame futon, wooden hay catch and u-bolts. I'm tellin ya, Pinterest is your friend when it comes to being creative and saving money for your home and farm! $20 instead of $250 is my kind of deal for a hay feeder.
At the end of the weekend we were tired and irritable, but it was so rewarding seeing our hard work coming together. I couldn't help but think of that stupid Lizzy McGuire song, What Dreams are Made of. Because in all reality, when you're working hard toward your dreams and what you see for your future, 9 times out of 10, it will consist of hard work and long days to get there, but in the end it will be worth it.
Life is all about new beginnings and journeys. I full heartedly believe that we need to pursue our dreams and goals in life, as long as they are healthy and don't harm others. I am a dream chaser and if I don't feel I am in the right atmosphere or environment to pursue those dreams, then I look at my options and see what's possible. Here enters this blog and website.
Three years ago, I met my husband Holden and we lived in a little town of about 200 people. During our time in this town we worked on the family farm and mainly headed up the Hereford cow/calf operation along with row crops and a small alfalfa field. Let me just say that cow/calf is not an easy task. Like most animals, it takes a lot of time and attention. We became BQA (Beef Quality Assurance) certified in cow/calf operations through the Beef Check-off and read books and took classes on how we could be the best cattlemen we could possibly be. There were a lot of late nights helping cows calve safely and making sure the calves were healthy once they were born. There were times of ease and excitement and times of tears and frustration but we didn't back down easy. After some time had passed, we decided we need to reevaluate our operation and what we were doing in life. Was this really what we wanted in life? Were we truly living up to our full potential? At the end of the day, did we come home feeling happy and satisfied with our work? Not exactly. That's where the conversation begun about 5 months ago.
We started to lay out what this new change would look like for us; where we wanted to live, where we saw our future and where we could raise a family and our herd. That's when we stumbled upon this 20 acre plot of land with trees, brush, pasture grass and a little creek running right through the middle of it. We made one visit and we were hooked. We made a second visit and we were still hooked! We never gave any other place a chance, because this little slice of earth we found felt perfect for us. We went through the motions of buying a house and land and started dreaming up the potential for our future. We decided that this pasture wasn't ideal for our full sized herd, so we narrowed it down and decided this is where we were going to pursue our mini highland herd. For many reasons, mini highlands just seemed to fit the nature of our plans better because of their low maintenance, calving ease and ability to withstand harsh weather. Plus we would be hitting a niche market being the only miniature highland farm in the state of Iowa.
One evening, I was talking to Holden about how I wanted a big ranch sign to go over our driveway like out west in Montana where we stayed for our honeymoon, but I wasn't totally sure what we'd name it. He looked at me and said, "What about Highland Creek Ranch?" My eyes grew half their size and goosebumps rose on my arms. "That's it! It's perfect!" I said. There's a little creek running through the pasture where our highlanders will be grazing and it's something to call our own.
As the closing day arrived, we loaded up our car with the necessities for our first night and crossed the threshold into a new home, a new town and new beginnings. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of updating that will need to happen in our 80's styled home (don't worry, I'll share progress pics as we go, shiplap and all) but, it's our very own fixer-upper farm house, and it's everything we could've dreamed up for ourselves. Or as Holden calls it, our mid-century modern, Victorian, classic rustic farmhouse. Anyway, with any change in life, we faced our fair share of roadblocks, growing pains and sleepless nights to get here. Needless to say, I don't back down easy when it comes to our happiness and what we believe in for our future and future children. There will still be changes as we grow into this new phase of life but when you allow time and patience to fill in the cracks, amazing things can happen.
To those that cheered us on, supported us and love us beyond measure: we can't thank you enough for your guidance and help you provided as we begin this new journey in chasing our dreams and hopes for the future, you're awesome. I am beyond excited to expand what fuels our passions and make those dreams finally become a reality.