Friday, March 31, 2017

Rainy, foggy, snow on the way

As the title implies it's a warm, balmy, sunshiny day here in the Nebraska Panhandle. Er...

In this part of the country this is the time for spring rains, which sometimes come in the form of snow. We only average 16.29 inches of liquid precipitation (snow is melted and measured to arrive at a liquid equivalent) per year, and over the last 123 years an average of 5.65 inches of that comes in March, April and May. A further 7.29 inches typically arrives in June, July and August, so nearly 13 of our 16 inches arrive over one-half of the year.

Spring rains are pretty important to get the grass growing, particularly cool season perennial grasses. Follow on summer rains keep the grass growing and boost warm season grass production.

We've had nice moisture over the last few days and it looks like more is on the way. This eases the mind of the grass farmer as we know we'll have at least early-season grass this year. What will come later will, well, come later. For now there's a bit of security in the grass farmer's outlook.

Spring rains not uncommonly turn into spring snows. This is a complication for the grass farmer who chooses to harvest grass with cattle, particularly if the cattle are having babies in the spring, which is rather often the case.

Range beef cattle of the type we raise are well equipped to survive and thrive in springtime snow conditions and usually even manage to weather blizzards in fine shape.

Severe blizzards can be a different story, and the right (or wrong) combination of snow, cold and wind can depopulate your cows and calves in a matter of hours. It's always a risk. We take steps and introduce strategies to mitigate the risk, but in a worst case you can loose all your cattle overnight or in an afternoon.

On the plus side, back during the Blizzard of '49, when several hundred thousand cattle perished across the Great Plains, our ranch lost but a single aged milk cow. As Juvat points out, luck is often more reliable than skill.

The snow promised over the next week or so looks like it'll be pretty tame. Our cows are healthy and well fed and those that calve during the inclement weather should do just fine. I'll be watching closely, of course, and I may have to spring into action. But that's my job.

Other things happen on the prairie in spring, and one of the most interesting is bird breeding season.

When I first saw this pheasant yesterday afternoon, he was scrapping with another, rival male. They were throwin' it down right in the middle of the county road! Unfortunately I didn't get any video of the fight. It was epic though!

And last evening at sunset, as I prepared to tag a newly born calf,

this fellow perched upon a steel post and gave forth with the Western Meadowlark's characteristic mating call. Music to my ears. Sorry about the background noise, I-80 is only a mile away and the breeze was perfect for carrying traffic noise.

Spring is a neat time of the year.

And now I'm off to Scottsbluff. Mom has an ophthalmologist appointment in preparation for cataract surgery. She'll be having her eyes dilated, so I'm providing seeing-eye-driver-dog services! 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Attack! Wrap up! Haaaamburger!

When I was a sophomore in high school I had a learning experience which has occasionally stood me in good stead over the years.

It was August, the Dog Days of Summer, and the dreaded two-a-days on the gridiron practice field.

I hadn't played or practiced with the upperclassmen before, so this was new football territory for me. I'd always done okay in pickup games and on the junior high and frosh squads, but this post-freshman football was, in my world, the big leagues. All of those juniors and seniors were famous and had been to State. I was feeling pretty small and wimpy.

One day we were scrimmaging and it was hot and nasty and exhausting. I was punching it out in the trenches on the O-line and getting ground down to a nubbin. I was soaked in sweat and fighting for air and more thirsty than I'd ever been in my life.

The coaches called a momentary break and reshuffled the sides. I found myself on the other side of the ball occupying the middle linebacker position. I'd practiced there a bit and kinda-sorta knew what to do. Tackle the ball carrier on runs up the middle. Move laterally to string out wide running plays. I had no idea what to do on a pass play but figured I'd mill about smartly and see what happened.

Anyway, the first play was a run up the gut. I think it was a trap play. The running back was the senior Monster who'd been to State and made both All Conference and All State. The play was well blocked and the senior monster came right at me. So, sophomore, first time in the bigs, unsure and uncertain, facing the best running back in the state. I backpedaled. The monster ran over me.

On the sideline Coach Frank exploded. "WTF are you doing!?! WTF are you going!?! Attack the ball! Wrap up!"

"Well blankety-blank," I thought to myself. "How'm I 'posed to tackle a superstar? Firetruck!"

Next snap, same play. I didn't backpedal, which was one for me. I lurched toward the Monster and flung my arms out, then made a halfhearted attempt to tackle him. He juked, I ate grass.

Coach Frank exploded in apoplexy. "WTF are you doing!?! Evertson!!! Blangblammit WTF are you doing!?! Attack the blangblammed ball and wrap the firetruck up, BLANGBLAMMIT!!!"

Okay. Now I was embarrassed. Really Embarrassed. And pi$$ed. Really pi$$ed.

Third snap. Same play. Somehow I came up with a plan. Treat the Monster just like a tackling dummy. Face up, eyes open and focused, drive through the Monster and Wrap The Firetruck Up!

I gave it my all, which turned out to be quite a lot more than I ever imagined I had. I hit the Monster, wrapped up, and drove him back and into the dirt.

The ball squirted out. From two inches distance I noticed that the Monster's eyes were big as onions.

From the sideline I heard Coach Frank howl with glee. "Haaaamburger!"

Gotta love those fundamentals.

You all know the rest of the story. I led our high school team to three consecutive state championships. They had to make two new award categories for me; Ultra All Conference and Ultra All State. I earned a scholarship to Notre Dame (really? blogger can't spell Notre Dame? Way to go google. Don't be evil, oooh, shiny!) and led the Fightin' Arsh to four consecutive National Championships. I won the Heisman Trophy each of those four years. Then on to the the Pittsburgh Steelers, where I won more Superbowls and  Major Awards than I can even remember over the next 30 years. Or something like that.


Meanwhile, back on the ranch...

There was a new baby calf on the ground this morning,

and one on short final. There were also a group of curious calves investigating a new and delightful thing called a fence corner.

I tagged the first new calf, made sure the second one had landed safely and was able to taxi to the mobile fuel pits, then inspected the rest of the cows and calves. Everything looked healthy and happy on this pretty spring morning. But my cow-count came up four short.

Well, I had a good idea where the four missing cows and their newish babies were. For some cow-reason, they'd decided to detach and proceed as an independent four-ship. The weather over the last couple of days -- cool and rainy -- probably had something to do with it.

Among those four cows and their babies (guess that makes it an eight-ship) were cow BL310 and her calf, 733.

Calf 733 was born on Monday but had not yet been tagged, vaccinated, or banded. These things needed to be done -- the sooner the better -- but each passing day made it less and less likely that I'd be able to complete the chore out in the pasture. I tried a couple of times on Monday, twice on Tuesday, and three times yesterday. No soap. The little guy had wheels and wasn't afraid to use them! And with each failure I was training him to run away quickly whenever I got close.

I'd pretty much given up and was making tentative plans to bring all (or most) of the cows and calves in to the corral where I'd be able to sort the calf off, capture him, and take care of bidness.

This bringing 'em all in and sorting would be a less than optimal solution. Calving time is a time when you want to expose the cows and calves to as little stress as possible. Even under the best conditions, on a nice day with relaxed people moving the cows and calves into the corrals in a nice, relaxed manner, the cows and calves would be considerably stressed. On the other hand, calf 733 really needed to get his vaccination. The tagging and banding could be delayed indefinitely, but he needed that shot to protect him from pathogens and disease.

This morning the stars lined up nicely. Calf 733 was off with the eight-ship and therefore away from other potentially nervous cows and calves. He was laid up in tall grass, drowsing in the morning sunshine while his tummy digested a big breakfast of rich milk. His mama was 150 yards or so away and seemed to be quite relaxed and unconcerned.

I quietly pulled the pickup up behind the calf and within about five feet. I had the syringe filled and the bander ready but I had to quickly change the tag in the tagger, replacing 737 with 733. Then I carefully opened the door. This was the moment the calf would most likely leap up and flee. I'd long ago pulled the circuit breaker to the door switch so that when I open the door the light doesn't come on and the dinger doesn't ding. But the sound of the door opening is often enough to startle a calf and send it on its way. I was in luck though, because while 733's ears twitched at the sound of the opening door, his eyes didn't open and he remained in drowsy repose.

I carefully swiveled my legs out and gained firm purchase on the ground. No more pussy-footing around, no more Mr. be calm and quiet and relaxed and no sudden moves. I was going to have this one last chance, then no more. This was the moment of truth!

The memory of an August tackle more than 40 years ago flooded into the forefront of my mind. Attack! Wrap up! Head up, eyes focused, I launched myself through the air.

Poor little guy. From out of nowhere an old, fat rancher guy landed on him like 250 pounds of lard.

In reality I was much more careful than I was with the Monster. I wanted to grab the calf, wrap him up with a secure grip, and control him so he couldn't escape. But I didn't want to hurt him. He was laying on his side, completely unprotected, and beginning only his fourth day of life.

So I wrapped him up and got a firm grip. I flipped him upside down and carefully rested my knee on his chest with just enough pressure to hold him in place without causing any trauma. I quickly banded him, flipped him again, ear tagged him, then gave him the all-important shot.

He really fought! Before I was done he kicked my shins black and blue. At only four days of age and 100 pounds soaking wet, he was still all whipcord and dynamite.

Finished with my work, I let him go. He quickly bounded to his feet, shook his head at the new tag in his ear, then trotted over to mama.

I was entirely too pleased with myself. I carefully looked around, saw that no one was watching, then high-fived myself.

Just another day on the ranch. I do the same things day in and day out, month after month, season after season, year after year, decade after decade. Every day it's the same old thing. But every day, without exception, is as bright and shiny and new as a newly born calf.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Spring rain

The rain began about 11 p.m. on Monday. It wasn’t a lot, just a drizzle really, but it struck a chord deep in the core of me. In the spring, the sound and the smell and the feel of the first rains is a tonic.

Monday had been a very pretty early spring day, with big blue skies and wispy cotton batting clouds and bright, warming sunshine. It was a good day to catch up on chores and to scout grass. As I worked and hiked, all around me the prairie was wakening from her winter slumber.

Along fence lines and roadside ditches and wherever the ground had been disturbed the purplish-green of cheatgrass was beginning to stand out. Clover and kochia and the first dandelions were just beginning to show.

In the native grasslands blackroot and green needlegrass and western wheatgrass was starting to catch the eye. These grasses are a song of color played in the key of green. The tiny, triangular blades os sedge are shiny olive, the western wheatgrass green with a pronounced powdery blue tinge, and green needlegrass an exuberant emerald. As they erupt against the drab, brownish gray of last year’s growth, they take on an especial vibrancy, teasing my thoughts with hints a colors just out of the range of my vision.

Shrubs and forbs were warming up for the colorful concert as well. Sumac and chokecherry buds were hard, fat kernels of condensed green, some of them already beginning to open; isolated notes of color dancing here and there in the puffs of light spring breeze.

Scattered across the calving pasture, cows and calves were seemingly everywhere. The cows were grazing almost frantically, following their noses and cropping new green grass with abandon. Calves were laying up in the warm sunshine or nursing or scampering about in cryptic calf games. A few were even nibbling on new grass, and finding, apparently, the flavor to be delightful.

All of this made for a wonderful working environment, but one thing kept nagging at the back of my mind.

It was dry. Very dry.

Okay, not really very dry. At Kimball we’d had 96 percent of average precipitation since last April 1, and in reality you can’t get more normal than that. Since October 103 percent of average. Having lived through more than one dry year in my life, though, I’m always a bit nervous until we get some spring rains.

In a very real sense I got a bit spoiled over the last couple of years of abundant moisture. So far this year we’ve seen 2.09 inches of precip, while by the end of March last year we’d seen 2.98 inches. Is that cause for alarm? In 2012, the last drought year, we’d collected only seven-tenths of an inch by the end of March, and totaled only eight inches for the year.

But wait a minute. In 2015, when we received a delightful thirty inches of moisture for the year, we’d had only six-tenths of an inch by the end of March.

It’s good to check facts and figures, to put things into proper perspective, scale and context.

Still, on a delightful but drier-than-I’d-like Monday, I knew I’d feel a lot better about things if only the spring rains would begin.

Which they did.

Tuesday morning it was raining. Drizzling, to be exact. It was cool and overcast, about 44 degrees in a light drizzle that occasionally burst into light rain. By noon we’d had about a quarter-inch and the skies promised more. Just like that we were catching up with “normal.”

I'll just repeat this; as grass farmers we depend on the rain. Without rain, the grass doesn't grow. The prairie can take several years without rain; all the grasses and forbs simply go dormant, safely sleeping through times of drought. We grass farmers, on the other hand, cannot go dormant. Oh, we have plans and strategies to tide us over for a year or two or maybe three. And if a mega-super-severe drought develops, we have thinking brains. We'll figure something out.

Best of all, though, is when we avoid drought and receive adequate and timely precipitation. Which is what happened on Tuesday. All in all we collected about three-quarters of an inch of soft, slow, soaking rain. And in the forecast for Thursday-Saturday, more rain. Perhaps even a bit of snow. Which is nice.

On Tuesday I didn’t get a lot of outside chores done, but I did get some inside chores done. Listening to the light rain drumming on the roof I felt a special kind of grass farmer peace slip into my soul. A pair of new calves were born during the day.

They came into a wet and chill world, but were vigorous calves and up at the teat within minutes. By evening each was proudly trotting alongside mama as the cows followed their noses along a path of new green grass.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Off to a good start

Tuesday and it's raining. Well, drizzling. It's cool and overcast, about 44 degrees in a light drizzle that occasionally becomes light rain. We've had about 0.25 inches since last night. The rain is a good thing because we've fallen behind average since last autumn, and around here average isn't that much (about 16.8 inches per year).

As grass farmers we depend on the rain. Without rain, the grass doesn't grow. The prairie can take several years without rain; all the grasses and forbs simply go dormant, safely sleeping through times of drought. We grass farmers, on the other hand, cannot go dormant. Oh, we have plans and strategies to tide us over for a year or two or maybe three. And if a mega-super-dooper-severe-michaelmoore/algore drought develops, we have thinking brains. We'll figure something out.

Best of all, though, is when we avoid drought and receive adequate and timely precipitation. Which is what we're having today. Which is nice.

Other than checking and caring for cows and calves, a rainy/drizzly day isn't much good for working. Therefore I am not fixing fence or doing most of the other chores which have accumulated to my list.

I am a bit busy, though, for my newspaper articles are due by noon tomorrow and I'm in the process of finishing them off. So I'm not sitting on the couch, eating bon-bons and watching Oprah. More's the pity.

However, I do have the following video playlist prepared for your perusal, and even, perhaps, your approval.

It's cool and wet and mucky and squishy out today. Which makes it a perfect day to be born.

Hear the meadowlarks in the background? Enjoy, and have a super day.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Check your assumptions, dummy!

Another one of those busy days.

As you may (or may not) recall, I recently bought a new shooter, and before that, I bought a new optic and magnifier.

In my immensely clever way I told you that I'd had a disaster with the new optic, a Holosun Micro Red Dot.

The disaster was that the cement holding the objective lens in place failed, ruining the sight. I knew (assumed) it had failed because when I put it on the new shooter it wouldn't hold a zero, which was odd, because it had worked perfectly on the rifle I'd first mounted it to. I took a close look at the sight and noticed that the objective lens was tilted in the mounting, and I knew that wasn't right. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it hadn't come out of the box that way.

So in the fullness of time I received an "are you satisfied and will you write a review?" email from Primary Arms, the supplier of the optic. I quickly replied, basically, "WTF, O?"

Well, let me show you the email thread.

Dear Shaun,
Thank you so much for purchasing from PrimaryArms!
We appreciate your business and putting trust in our products.

Did you like your purchase?

If so, would you mind taking two minutes to leave a product review on Amazon? In doing so, you’ll share your opinion with millions of fellow Amazon shoppers who are awaiting your product review.

If, for any reason, you are not completely satisfied, please reply to this email so that we may address your concerns before you leave a product review. We would love to hear from you and are committed to your total satisfaction. As a growing business, reviews less than 5 stars actually reflects negatively and we would greatly appreciate it if you contacted us first so we can improve our products and services to go that extra mile to ensure your happiness and full satisfaction.
Thank you,

The Primary Arms Amazon Department


Glad to receive your email and I appreciate your follow-up.

Here's the problem. I loved the sight out of the box and for the first 50 rounds.


After about 50 rounds the adhesive/cement holding the objective lens failed, rendering the sight useless.

I'd like to have it replaced because I liked it so much before failure, but I'd hate to get a replacement only to have it fail again.

What should I do? I read somewhere about a similar failure with a holosun sight. Can you reassure me?

(I attached a couple of pictures)


Hi Shaun, 

Has your red dot stopped turning on or is that lens moving? The cant in the objective lens looks perfectly normal. The cant on the lens is what reflects the dot from the emitter back to your eye, much like using your watch to reflect sunlight back into your buddies eyes. 


Veteran, U. S. Army 
Customer Service Manager



Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. I didn't notice the cant until I mounted the sight on a different AR and couldn't get it to hold a zero. Let me give it another try and see if I was making an incorrect assumption.


Hi Shaun, 

Please let me know how everything works out. 


Thanks Marc,

Just back from the range. I'm very pleased. Got rained out before I could get it completely dialed in but it's holding zero nicely now. Must have had a bit of wiggle in the mount when I attached it the first time. Thanks for politely pointing out the possible flaw in my assumption. I'll be posting a review in a little bit. Here's 20 rapid from 200 yards from an impro rest. Rifle is an Auto-Lok AL-15 with 10.5" bbl shooting IMI sourced M855.

Thanks for your service, Army.

ar 27, 3:50pm
It was an honor to serve, Shaun! Glad everything worked out! That's some fine shooting! 


Of course Marc was laying it on a little thick about the fine shooting, but that's life in his line of work.

I'm pleased that the sight was fine and pleased at how well it works and even more pleased to have had, for the thirty-seven-millionth time, a silly assumption fail me.

In case you're wondering, I'd recommend Primary Arms and the Holosun Micro Red Dot sight.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Reacting or reasoning

Way a long time ago, back when the world was still black and white (color tee-vee not yet being affordable), we used to do cool 'speriments in science class.

We did this one with planaria, which are freshwater flatworms.

We were introduced to the theory that these worms could regenerate lost body parts. In fact, the theory went, you could cut them in half and each half would regrow the missing part, leaving you with two complete flatworms!

I remember doing this experiment. Before we cut the worms the teacher also informed us that the "eyes" on the head of the worm were not like our eyes, but photo-receptive cells. The worms couldn't "see" like we see, but they could detect light. Since they like to live in dimly lit ponds, they would react to bright light by moving away from it. They would also, the teacher said, move away from things that touch them.

So we shined lights on the little worms and they moved away from the light. And we poked them with probes, which also caused them to move away. Finally, we cut them in half, than checked on them every morning. Sure enough, over time, each half of our planaria regenerated its missing part and became two complete and independent flat worms.

In addition to lacking eyes, arms, legs, hands, feet, noses, etc., planaria also differed from us in not having a brain and in not having the ability to think and reason. They existed as living beings, but they didn't make plans or decisions or even politely ask children to not shine lights on them or poke them or cut them in half. They couldn't do that. No brain. No cognition. All they could do is react to environmental stimuli.

And regenerate lost parts. Which was cool.

Now I have a brain and cognition. But sometimes (a lot of the time) I react rather than reason. Even though I have a brain.

It's good to be able to react without thinking. Much better to snatch my fingers away from something painful than to have to sit down and do the math before removing my digits from whatever is damaging them. I've only got eight fingers and two thumbs after all.

Sometimes, though, it's better for me to think things through before proceeding. If I decide I want to fly it might be better to figure out a way to get on an airplane rather than just jump off a cliff and hope I can fly without an airplane.

Sometimes it's better to stop and think before clicking the button to purchase the "magic flying suit, no airplane required."

Sometimes it's better when I double check my assumptions. When I react instead of reason, I'm kinda making myself into a planaria. But as a human, I lack the ability to regenerate lost parts.

If I cut off my head, it won't grow back.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Here's a fun question

It's a gorgeous morning in the southwest Panhandle

Yesterday a front blew through and it was windy and drizzly, which is an odd combination.

The front passed overnight and the skies cleared. The temperature fell to 29, and at sunrise most things -- cars, fence posts, grasses, road signs -- most things were covered in very light rime ice. You know, frost.

As the sun rose and cast golden rays of springshine across the landscape, which erupted in glorious glitter.

Just like that. Kinda.


Anyway, the question.

Have you ever been called a fascist? To your face?

It happened to me one time. I was giving free ground nesting bird tours on the ranch. A scruffy looking cat with a petulant sneer told me that we were destroying his public land with our cow-calf operation.

Fortunately, I said, we're destroying our own, private land.

"Fascist." he snarled.

He was some kind of lettered researcher at a state college, his salary and benefits package paid for entirely by property taxes. In Nebraska something like 80 percent of property taxes are paid by fascist land owners.

Ironic and amusing.

I suspect the fellow's life was pretty awful.

Anyway, that's the only time I've been called a fascist to my face.

I haven't been called names to my face very often. Aside from the typical kid-on-kid name calling, hardly ever.

It has happened though, and it always stings. Now when it's a stranger, it smarts a bit, but I understand that they don't know me and they're just mad about something and that makes it easier to take.

When it really stings is when it's someone who does know me. That smarts a lot.

Still, I'm in charge of my own feelings. No one else controls how I feel. If I allow the hurt to linger or fester it's all on me. It's not easy to work through hurt feelings, but that's just life. Easy isn't part of the whole life package.

I was talking to a high school teacher one day, not so long ago. She was holding forth on the well known fact that name calling and harsh words are infinitely more harmful than any physical beating. She was really feeling it, the power of righteous indignation and speaking truth to power.

"You teach this to your students, right?" English teacher, btw.

"Oh yes. I have a moral and ethical responsibility to teach them the truth."

A few minutes later she was bashing Sarah Palin. "That firetrucking pig! That firetrucking monster! That charlie uniform november tango is the worst person who's ever lived!"

One thing that helps me with the unendurable and deadly assault of words I dont want to hear is when I think about all the times I haven't been called names. Seen in that light I don't really have a lot to feel hurt about. It's a useful perspective.

And then there are the times people have called me nice names to my face. Those outnumber the bad names by a fair margin.

A bit of Kipling seems appropriate.

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, 
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, 
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, 
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise: 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken 
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, 
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, 
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools: 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, 
And lose, and start again at your beginnings 
    And never breathe a word about your loss; 
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you 
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, 
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, 
    If all men count with you, but none too much; 
If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!