Saturday, October 27, 2012

vaccines and pregnancy

let me just start by saying this.  if women were pregnancy checked in the manner of yaks, the baby boom would have never happened.  i'm not naive enough to have thought we could get a 500 pound yak to pee on a stick...but i kinda secretly thought there was some sort of blood test involved. nope. not how it works.  i am in awe of a vet that can not only feel for a fetus, but can give a good estimation of how far along a cow may be.  
i have a friend whom  is a dairy farmer.  she tells me that a good vet can get it down to within a few days. simply amazing. wonder if i asked him to reach into my freezer he could tell me how old that crown roast is.  nerdy party tricks, table of one.
we spent the early parts of the morning doing chores, feeding the dogs, and checking for signs of late night predator visitors.  our intention was to have a nice hearty breakfast before meeting up with the local vet.  
when we purchased the ranch, we inherited 3 yaks.  these yaks, while appearing healthy, had not had a vet visit in the 7 years (3 for the baby) on the property.  it is true that yaks are not necessarily susceptible to the common disease of cattle, however they are not immune.  the previous landowners had used the property to run cattle, so the opportunity for common ailments to infect the yaks is there.  mike and i believe that there is no benefit in NOT vaccinating these animals, so we asked our caretaker to arrange for a vet to come for a visit.  
i have read that yaks breed in the late summer months, which is very different than the anecdotal information we had been given.  the gentleman that sold us the yaks told me that Lucky typically calves in january or february. we had imagined that if she or Coop were pregnant, they would be quite far along by now.  
Lucky hasn't been so fortunate in the child rearing arena.  it isn't entirely clear, but we have been able to gather that she almost died a few years ago while calving, but the caretaker was able to pull the twisted and still-born calf and nurse Lucky back to health.  there are stories of a premature still birth in the back pasture, and of what appears to have been a live birth, but subsequent death of a seemingly healthy calf.  she only has Coop, and Coop, at 3, is of breeding age as well.
yaks are meant to have trouble free pregnancies and easy calving.  i confirmed with the original breeder that it was unlikely that Trox and Lucky are related, so it is unknown why she has had such challenging pregnancies.  i know she is just an animal, but i feel for her.  for no reason, other than the bulls and cows live together all year round, i was pretty confident we had two pregnant cows on our hands, and would be looking forward to baby yaks that could possibly share a birthday with me.
cut to the vet's visit
mike and i took our breakfast to go, and brought it back up to the house knowing we would have to eat after we tended to the yaks. high on 3 cups of coffee and an empty stomach, i changed into muck boots and an old sweatshirt (mike changed his socks), grabbed my camera, and jumped on the back of the atv.  we headed to the lower pasture ready for our first real ranch chore.
the vet had not yet arrived, which turned out to be a blessing, as the yaks were not at all interested in cooperating with our plans.  the rev of the atv alerted them that something was awry and they began to run and scatter as if a predator had entered the pen. it took several attempts to move them into the chute and squeeze. but once they were in, they became calm and resigned to their fate.  we have a little footage to share:

you may have heard.  Coop is not pregnant, which is not a bad thing.  Trox is Coop's father.  while they do not have the same moral stigma associations in the animal world, it still is not a good idea to interbreed.  Lucky is pregnant, but very newly..maybe 30 days.  which means, rather than calving in the winter, she will be calving late spring, early summer.  
the animals were all vaccinated, de-wormed, checked for sores, and given a dose of fly repellent and sent on their way. we were left with decisions.  the vet gave us options for Lucky.  it would be simple to terminate her pregnancy if we weren't interested in increasing our herd.  i felt a bit repulsed by the notion, but also not sure if we do indeed want to grow the herd. it was also suggested that we think about getting rid of Cooper, to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.  again, not sure where we should go with this.  the property is certainly big enough to separate out the herd, but without a real intention for the animals, we are not ready to make those decisions. thankfully we have some time.  good news is all the animals seem really healthy and only need consistent de-worming and maybe a good brushing out.  
my research for the last couple of days has wandered around yak pregnancy, calving and nutrition.  i hope that a little attention to Lucky's nutrition will make a difference in her pregnancy this time around.  i think it is worth a shot.  we picked up 100 lbs of alfalfa pellets as a nice treat, and plan on a good quality forage to start.
i wonder what this little herd of yak has in store for us.  i wonder if 5 years from now, our herd will grow to mostly bottle-fed tamed females that we milk as if cattle. or if it will still be our original three plus an offspring or two. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

reality check

we started the morning early.  with a puppy that has an internal time clock of dawn, mike is usually up getting that first walk completed before i wipe the sleep from my eyes.  the vet was scheduled for 9:30 and our caretaker had moved the yaks to the lower pasture, in an attempt to make moving them into the chute and squeeze (note farm lingo) a bit less daunting.  good idea. 
up early with an empty fridge, we hustled into town for a hearty breakfast and hot cup of joe.  i had seen a little cafe on previous runs through our small town, i couldn't recall the name, but i did remember the tag line...where the locals meet.  i want to eat where the neighbors eat. who doesn't?

on our way to the ranch the previous eve, we noticed something we hadn't seen before.  fields that were irrigated and green all summer, were suddenly dotted with head upon head of sheep and newborn lambs.  
this morning i was hoping to get a few good shots of the lambs playing.  when we pulled astride the pasture, we noticed a newly born lamb trying to get its mama's attention, and grab its first milk. i admit, i was getting a bit upset because it seemed that the mother really wasn't interested, which can happen when the mother is young herself. while i was silently urging the sheep to stop and notice her young, mike spotted the twin.  it wasn't doing well at all, and looked as if it were at its last breath. slowly dying in the cold field.  i flagged down the caretaker, and told him of the concern.  he seemed unfazed, grabbed the dying lamb and tossed it into the truck.  mike appeased me by telling me fairy tales of warm blankets and bottle feeding. 
we drove off a little more jaded, and with ideas of how we plan to do it differently.
the neighborhood cafe is tiny. i mean really tiny. a horseshoe shaped counter with schoolhouse chairs, the place can hold 10 people if you squeeze.  the menu standard, strong coffee in mix-matched mugs, a chatty owner-slash-waitress-slash-cook, who knows everyone, and all the town's secrets. and now she knows us.
unfortunately, we spent so much time lamb-worrying and chit-chatting that we didn't have time for breakfast.  grabbing our meal to go, we rushed back to the ranch to prepare for the vet's visit.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

First things First part II

We saw the place and drove the 4 hours home.  Both of us were relatively quiet, each ruminating in what we thought the next step should be.  The listing agent had made a few comments about the county being very difficult regarding making any changes to the property.  She basically asserted that we probably couldn't do anything with the place.  Yes....this was the listing agent.  

By the time we got home, we had a plan. We would make a list of all the things we wanted to do with the ranch and have our realtor find out if it was possible.  So we made a list as long as my arm....literally.  Pie in the sky.  And sent it off.  What we received from the realtor was a link to the county, saying we should call them.  I know, I know...not really what we are used to...but I went ahead and called the county.  They basically said all of our plans sounded fine.  The area was settled by Native Americans, so there are archaeological reports that have to be done before building, but as long as we aren't making a subdivision, we should be fine. That was a relief.

If I am to be honest about myself, I get very revved up about things, and my first instinct is to jump into it at full speed without really weighing all the options.  That is fine when buying a loom (for example) but maybe not the best approach to uprooting from the city and moving to the country.  So, we decided to take a break from the house. To sit back, wait a while, look at other properties, and see if this is really what we wanted.
Fast forward 4 months.  Mike and I had been looking on line for different properties and our realtor was sending us some places in nearby towns.   Some really great, but way out of our budget, and some of them real clunkers.  At the end of the day, we felt the place for us was these 60 acres in San Miguel.  We booked another trip to look at the ranch.  This time we decided to spend a few days in the area, and make a nice trip out of it.  We enjoyed the quaint town of Paso Robles, with its village square, surrounded by small boutiques and wonderful restaurants.  We drove through the small towns of the area, dropping by the ocean and the mountain lakes each only a half hour's distance from town. At the end of the day, we drove to the ranch, to take a look at it, before we met with our realtor the next morning.  

As we pulled up to the place, we saw the woman who lives across the street picking up her mail.  Mike pulled up, rolled down his window, and struck up a conversation.  An hour later we were driving away, having met a few other neighbors, and made a new friend. The afternoon was still young, so we decided to take a drive further north on the country road. As we moved further out, the properties grew from 60 acre parcels to thousand acre ranches.  Hobby plots to real farming operations.  True beauty that went on mile after mile.  I was getting hooked.
The next morning, we met with our realtor before making the drive out to the ranch.  He invited along a local builder who specializes in eco-friendly building (passive solar, reclaimed materials, etc) along.  We were also told, that the listing agent was showing the place to someone else that morning, so we would have to delay our trip out.  What? The place had been for sale for 2 years, and it just so happens that in the middle of the week, on the same day we were going out there, someone else was looking too?!


When we arrived, there was someone else there.  The seller.  He was delivering some hay and tidying up a few things.  I casually found the opportunity to ask if someone else had been there before us, and he said no. He hadn't seen anyone, including his realtor, and had no idea we were coming by.  I was liking his realtor less and less.  It was great to have the builder with us, because he was able to to a bit of an inspection and make determinations as to the structure of the house.  It so happens the seller is also a builder, so he was able to speak to some of our questions.  The place definitely needs a new roof, the rest of the concerns all cosmetic.  We left that meeting with a good feeling and the idea we would make an offer.

Short story, long...we made an offer.  Because we were coming in quite a bit lower than the asking price, we felt that a cash offer would be our strongest bet. We also went for a short escrow and no contingencies.  We put together the offer and our realtor presented it.  Not surprisingly the listing agent continued her ruse that she had received another offer (from the phantom people who had looked at the place that morning), but did add that our offer seemed stronger.  And then we waited. 48 hours passed, then 72 hours, and the offer sat.  After a week, I called our realtor to ask what was happening.  As a coincidence, he was "just getting ready to give me a call" (insert my sarcasm vibe here)--and that he just received a counter to our offer.  It was $10,000 over asking price.  Not $10,000 over our offer, over asking price.  I lost it.  I began ranting and raving and using explicatives that would put a long shoreman to shame.  I was angry and irritated.  After talking to Mike, I told our realtor that we were OUT. At this rate, we just didn't feel that we could ever come to an agreement on price, and that the seller was wasting our time.

Again, we began looking in earnest at other properties in the area.  Again, we couldn't find anything we liked as well as "the ranch".  We felt it just wasn't meant to be.  Some time later (maybe a week, maybe more) we heard from our realtor.  The sellers wanted to go back into negotiation.  They wanted to sell us the place, but needed a bit more to make it work.  We let that information sit for another week, while we drove back up to Paso Robles and looked at a few more properties.  After finding absolutely nothing we loved, we made another offer on the ranch, and after a few "back and forths" we were under contract.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Website updates

Static websites are not all that difficult to work on. I have been providing them for a quite a few years now for my print customers with the upfront disclaimer of "I can make it look nice but don't ask me to make it actually do anything". Php, eCommerce, databases and other backend programming are not my forte. When we decided to make a website for our new ranch, I knew that it would need to be more robust. We would be adding news and stories and pictures daily so static pages would just not cut it. Time to tackle CMS!
CMS stands for Content Management System. Without going into the details (because I don't know the details), it allows users to write articles and add pictures in a user-friendly environment and they automatically show up where they are supposed to in the website. One of the top CMS platforms is Joomla. I have had a couple of run-ins with Joomla in the past resulting in many headaches but I still thought it was the best option for what we needed to accomplish.
Joomla has been quite the challenge. It may be easy once it is all set up and all you have to do is add articles, but getting to that point is an exercise in frustration. Nothing is easy or intuitive. I have literally spent hours just trying to figure out how to add a module or change a menu item. All you can do is dive in and mess with it to figure it out. I'm not joking when I say that the way I have learned most of what I know about Joomla is by pushing a button and refreshing the page to see what happened.
Now that it is finally starting to come together, I can see the potential. We can do much more with this site than we could ever accomplish with a blog or static presence. So... if you are not yet blown away by this little farm icon  at the top of your tab or bookmark bar, you should be... it took me 5 hours to make it show up there.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

First things First

It occurs to me that we haven't really talked about the nitty gritty of buying The Ranch.  We had been following the place on a ranch-for-sale website for over a year, and made the 4 hour journey (each way) to look at it in early april. About an hour outside of LA, we stopped for breakfast at a roadside diner, and talked about the possibilities, as if we were teenagers on a first date.  Both giddy and wary of what we would find.

We met our realtor and the listing agent at the listing agent's office.  Sidebar...we didn't know we were meeting the listing agent...our realtor failed to mention it.  We were under the impression that we were meeting a colleague of our agent. Loaded down with my multiple lenses and camera, mike's handheld video camera, our camera phones and a notebook, we jumped into her car and drove the 20 minutes (which seemed like an hour that first time). As we parted with the highway and made our way down the country road, i watched as pavement faded into the background, and green hills alternately laden with vineyards and livestock filled the gap like surround-sound.  When I started to see signs for a u-pick orchard, I couldn't believe my luck. Organically grown fruit and veggies at $1 a pound, in my potential new neighborhood, was almost more than this cucinaphile could take.

As we drove mile after mile, the listing agent gave us a run down of the area and the other properties that were for sale in the neighborhood. 10 acres here, 40 acres there...but nothing quite as large as The Ranch. 

Oh. Before I get to the actual arrival at the ranch, I want to mention that in my wisdom, I was wearing platform sandals. I looked fabulous, with the appearance of long strong the car.  Walking on the back-acres of uneven land and a minefield of yak "droppings", I looked more like  Lola (of Copacabana fame), in her latter years.

We first drove to the upper ranch, but not the house.  We drove to the back acreage first.  Driving among the grand oaks and rousing the three resident yaks from their afternoon nap.  It felt a teeny weeny bit like a safari. The yaks really wanted nothing to do with us, and moved to a new, more private location, that I, in my get-up, could never follow them to.  Smart yaks.

After falling in love with the upper ranch property, we pulled up to the house.  From the outside, it looked just as it was billed, "charming doll house." Once inside however, my heart sank.  I shouldn't say this...but major yuck. The house was clean, but without detail or charm.  It had been built in the '80s using inexpensive materials and anyone who survived the '80s knows that it wasn't known for darling details.   To further my complaint, the house appeared to have been built backward.  The "front" of the house has a glass door that leads into the kitchen and attaches to the garage on the left.  In the middle of the "rear" of the house is a small foyer with a fancy door with a peep hole.  It leads to the back garden.  I was sure it was a manufactured home and I couldn't be swayed.  

The minute I got home, I looked up the parcel number, and requested a preliminary title report to verify my suspicions.  Apparently I was wrong. Sort of.  The house is a kit home.   As i understand it, the house arrived in pieces...wall by wall and put together much like an old-fashion barn raising.  Not quite a manufactured home, but close.  Either was placed backwards and it is ugly. Ugly aside from the really fancy, very attractive wood stove in the middle of the living room.  That is nice.  The view is nice too.  This house, smaller than our city condo, isn't my dream home, and as I was falling out of love, I felt Mike falling in it. 

I couldn't deny, the upper ranch is beautiful, private and full of potential.  The lower ranch, direct to the country road with a horse training ring, majestic oaks, multiple corrals, fencing and cross fencing, pad to build on and access to a full 800 "public-private" acres is amazing as well.  Top it with the u-pick it being directly across the street.  What is not to love?  

Two words
The House
more to come...

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Bird's Eye View

Here is a little overhead map of our property so you can see how it lays out. We have neighbors all around but none within sight of the house, not even the caretaker who has a 5th wheel down by the pole barn. We are pretty lucky to be right across the street from an established "You-Pick" orchard which will hopefully help with our visibility once we start the cheese dairy and archery range. The neighbor to the north has a small vineyard (not pictured) and there are various horse and cattle properties up and down the main road.

As you can see, the ranch has quite varied topography. The lower pasture will be the main animal area but the yaks and goats will love to browse the grassy hillsides. From the road it looks as though the property is mostly vertical but once you get to the upper ridgeline you can see that the entire top is a flat plateau with fingers branching off toward the road.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Mike has been wanting a new puppy for a very long time.  Me? Not so much...although I had been making rumblings about finally getting an old english sheep dog...a romantic notion inspired by Please Don't Eat the Daisies.  We already have two small dogs which is enough for our small condo and travel schedule. 

Mike, undeterred, began searching in earnest for a miniature bull terrier.  All I could think was ugh.  Weekdays were filled with Mike sending me photos of newborn pups just waiting for good homes. I would pretend that my computer was down.

A glorious day for me was when Mike realized that miniature anything was probably not the best choice for a ranch dog.  It is no secret that I have great ideas about what should go on at the ranch.  What may have been a secret is that I really don't want to do all of the dirty work involved in getting there.  I'm fond of saying, "I'm an excellent pointer".  I stand by that still.  Mike felt like he needed a companion dog, and I agreed.

I just didn't realize he needed it so soon.

A few weeks ago, while sitting in my dairy science management class, I received a text.  Yes, I brought a phone to class...and I checked it often.  So rude, I know...but it happened to be the same week we were closing on the ranch, and I had to be at the ready for any additional information or documentation. Again, I stand by that story.

Back to the text

It was a photo of Mike holding a puppy.  While most people's first reaction would be to ooh and ahh...perhaps giggle a little at the sheer darlingness of the event, my first words were "oh shit"
My darling devoted wife response, hastily sent in a bit of a panic was not loving, nor supportive.  it wasn't "oh shit" but it was close.  Here we were, not yet owning the ranch, with a busy few months ahead of us, 2 dogs already on hand (one of which is elderly and blind) living in a small cluttered condo (with rules about how many pets you are allowed--and the answer is not 3), with a new puppy.

Thankfully, Mike responded no, just a deposit.  I thought to myself...okay good, we'll just ask for the deposit back.  I was not on board.  

Mind you...this puppy Mike was holding, was a sheltie.  I grew up with a sheltie. My childhood dog was legendary.  She was the perfect dog, smart, protective, loving and calm.  I loved her, and have never had a dog live up to her greatness. Seriously, Kelly was the best dog I ever knew.  Mike had in his hands, a little Kelly, and all I could think was "oh shit". nice, right?!
We have this thing..on big things, if one of us says no, then it is no.  I said no.

Before you gather the mob...I was definitely up for a new dog, just not before moving to the ranch.  It just all seemed too overwhelming to me.

Mike, took my no, and raised me a logical argument about socialization, training, bonding, blah, blah, blah. And then he waited me out.  

I made the deal.  You feed her, train her, get up all night long for potty breaks, and I'm in.  

11 days ago, Mike brought home an 8 week old sheltie puppy, he named "Scout".  He will train her to be a ranch dog, sheep herding and all.

And I love her.  She is spunky and curious and loves to play.  

Now, to get our other two dogs on board. I'm thinking that if they had a vote, they would have been "out" too.

Getting Civilized

So we were finally able to spend our first official weekend at our new ranch. Even though we were without internet and enjoyed only spotty cell service, we had a great time. The weekend just happened to coincide with the annual neighborhood potluck picnic so we were able to meet many of our Indian Valley neighbors. They may have just been kind to the new "city folk" but most gave us a favorable reception to our ideas about starting up a cheese dairy. Of course, Christy's potluck contribution of eggplant with homemade goat cheese may have added to their confidence. We got all kinds of advice on fencing, equipment and layout.

One thing we quickly discovered was what a pain in the ass it was to have to get out of the car to open the cattle gates every time we came and left the property. There are two sets of gates just to get up to the house, the outer perimeter gate and the inner corral. That's not going to cut it. A little internet research led me to the Mighty Mule website where I found an automatic kit to open the fence from the comfort of the car or 4-wheeler... big city style. They are pretty expensive once you add on all of the do-dads like extra remotes and wireless keypads so we are going to try one and if we are happy with it we will get another. The box says it is a 2-3 hour installation but I already set it up in the living room so it should be as easy and mounting the arms and running the wires.
The next crucial item in getting civilized was acquiring an internet connection. I asked around at the party and everyone seemed to agree on the Hughesnet satellite service. I called them and they said we were lucky enough to be in the coverage area of their newest satellite launched just 2 weeks ago which would give us much faster internet than any other company. After a half hour of trying to explain the address to the salesman, we were finally able to agree on a plan and schedule an install which our caretaker Cathy will be able to oversee.

All we need now is the Directv set up with NFL Sunday Ticket and we will be ready to move in... Oh yeah, Christy will probably want stuff like a bed and plates and furniture too. Women, what can i say?...

Saturday, October 6, 2012


The journey begins...

As many of you know, Mike and I have been looking to move for the past several years. Places that had made the "short-list were"--colorado, north carolina, connecticut and texas.  We really didn't think that we would be able to find something in California, nor were we convinced that we wanted to stay here.  Almost a year and a half ago, I was browsing the internet and stumbled upon a little ranch in the central coast and began to think that maybe the area could be a good match for us.  There is plenty of land and space between neighbors....but within a few hours we could be in  SF or LA.  The area has plenty of culture, lots of great food, and a reason (wine) for people to come visit. 
Mike and I both thought the little ranch would be great, but we weren't really ready to make the jump, so we just watched it with the thought if it were still available when we were ready, then we would take a look at it.  We watched for 18 months.  In April, we decided to go and take a good look at it. We liked it, and began to think in earnest about what our life would be like.  We began researching land management, livestock, homesteading and hobby farming. We've priced farm trucks, back hoes, milk storage tanks and olive trees. We've struggled over the concern of friends we would leave behind, and the fear that remote living may preclude us from making new ones.We are both thankful for the acres of land, so we can have coveted "alone-time"
and we thought

if not now

we are going for it  
 On friday, mike and i closed on a 60 acre ranch in san miguel, california. san miguel is 7 miles north of paso robles just east of the 101.  We do not have an ocean view, or a cute farmhouse with a porch swing (maybe one day)....but we do have rolling land with 100s of oaks, a small 2 bedroom house, a deep well, a pole barn and 3 yaks.  We plan on moving to the new place early in 2013.  

We will slowly grow into our new place, but the pie in the sky vision is to build a little dairy on the property,  bring in sheep and goats, and start a little cooking school . We plan on making cheese, but also offering other classes, much like i currently do.  The area has a lot of wineries, but not much else in terms of activities. I have been asking around  and found that there is a great need and desire for something that is still gourmand oriented, but isn't wine tasting.  The locals have expressed great support.  A longer term goal is to build a barn in the upper ranch and fill it with guestrooms, rather than animal stalls.  We envision a "barn and breakfast' for family, friends & farmstay enthusiasts, hoedowns, movies in the pasture, summer bluegrass, picnics under the pines, and a tree house or two.
Mike has been able to build a nice client base for his business which he can conduct anywhere there is an internet connection, so his work will be uninterrupted.  He has also been teaching group and private archery classes for which he will continue to come to Pasadena and has plans to set up a range on the ranch for local clientele. We are very much looking forward to welcoming you and your family to our new home and to take this journey with us.

We Took The Plunge!

We went and dun it. We have been talking about someday getting a little piece of land for years and our dream has finally come true! 60 acres on the central coast of California is our new home and adventure.We have big plans for this place. Sheep and goat cheese, archery range, B&B (Barn & Breakfast), cooking classes, bluegrass camps, the whole 9 yards!
First order of business is coming up with a name for this little piece of terra firma. Rumor has it the person that comes up with the name we choose will get a free stay when the B&B is complete and a yak or sheep or goat named after them. How's that for incentive?!