Friday, December 12, 2008

Restoring a Recycling Antique

Recycling is not new news on a ranch. Manure has been recycled on farms and ranchers long before the recycling movements of the late 20th century and organic material from the remains of harvested crops has long been turned over and back into the soil. Here at the Kurtz Ranch, we’ve always recycled manure for our meadows and gardens. To do so is a daily ritual in the warm months. The manure is picked from the pens, loaded into a wheel barrow, and then collected in the bed of the manure spreader. It’s not glamorous work, but it is essential work to caring for our horses and helpful in adding nutrients back into the meadows and garden soils. Once the manure spreader is full, it’s hooked up to our Gator, an ATV, and spread out over the meadows. The action of the manure spreader’s chains pushes the manure out and through a rotating flail that breaks it up and sends it on its way.

The ranch boasts two antique manure spreaders, one, a McCormick from the late 1950s, and one, a New Idea from the 1940s. The McCormick has been in regular use during recent years and the New Idea has been tucked away and all but forgotten until the McCormick broke down this fall. It may be hard to imagine such antiques still serve a useful purpose on our ranch, but they do and work as well as newer models.

When several links of chains were damaged on the McCormick, our renters and part-time ranch hands, Dawn and Bob, set to work on the project. We were so fortunate that Bob and Dawn found their way to the ranch and our rental cabin a little over a year ago. They moved from Michigan and have found a home away from home in northwestern Colorado. We depend on Bob and Dawn to take care of things whenever we’re out of town and they oversee the place as though it were their own. Bob is also known to gravitate toward anything that needs fixing. So, when the manure spreader needed repairing, they both went to work researching manure spreaders online, sources for new chain links, and then turned their indomitable “can do” spirit loose. After several work sessions, Bob replaced the broken links and the floorboard of the spreader. Once backed into the machine shed, it looks ready for several more decades of recycling work.

Setting out to restore the McCormick wasn’t an idealistic view of saving an antique. It was a practical decision, following in the footsteps of traditional mid-western farm and western ranch practices of making do with what you have, taking care of what you own, and utilizing resourcefulness in the process. Fortunately, this tradition continues to benefit everyone: the ranch operation isn't faced with investing in another piece of equipment and those who restore feel the satisfaction of bringing new life to a valuable and practical recycling antique. Up next, the New Idea manure spreader will be brought back to life sometime in 2009.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Name Game

From Pete's Paddock
(From time to time, Pete will write about things of interest on the ranch. Here's his first entry on the interesting challenge of naming young foals.)

What’s in a name? When it comes to naming horses, more than you might think. Every year we face the task of coming up with names for our new foals. Since we register our horses with the American Quarter Horse Association, every name has to be approved to be sure no other horse has the same name. With hundreds and hundreds of thousands of horses registered over the years, this can sometimes be a challenge.

The traditional method of naming involves using a part of the sire’s name and a part of the dam’s name. The reason for this practice is that it allows a person to get an idea of a horse’s bloodline from its name. Bloodlines are extremely important in the Quarter Horse breed, since certain bloodlines excel in specific areas of performance, like cutting, barrel racing, pleasure, or reining.

An example of this method is the name of one of our stallions. His name is Zan Bar Freckles, his sire’s name is Zan Parr Bar, and his mother’s name is Anniote Freckles. Another example is our show mare, Annabelles Playgun. Her sire is Playgun and her dam is Annabelle Starlight. But many people aren’t content to be so straightforward. They get highly creative, but still include a reference to the offspring’s bloodlines. Take one of the most famous sires available today, Peptoboonsmal, for example. His sire is Peppy San Badger and is mother is Royal Blue Boon.

This naming approach is not required of course, and we are perfectly free to use any name we can come up with as long as it is not being used. Sometimes a colt fits an obvious name and that is what we go with. Many get a registered name, but have any every day nickname as well. We only had four foals this year, so the job was a little easier. While we are still waiting on AQHA approval, this year’s crop includes: Katerina Gold (see photo inset), Zan Bar Snickers, Zans Hustler, and Flirtina.

Here’s where those names came from. Zan Bar Snickers came from our stallion mentioned above, Zan Bar Freckles and our mare, who is nicknamed Candy. Zans Hustler is also sired by Zan Bar Freckles , and his mother is by a famous horse named, Freckles Hustler. Katerina Gold is a beautiful palomino filly with an original name that we just liked and thought would fit her. And Flirtina is an adaptation of a name our son, Andy, saw on a cocktail menu for a martini, a Flirtini. Believe it or not, the name Flirtini was already taken, so we changed a letter and got Flirtina. She will probably be called either Flirt or Tina.

So, in the quarter horse business, a name can tell the story of the family tree and be a powerful communicator of what the foal is bred for and what traits the breeder most desires in his offspring, or it can be a result of the whimsy of the owner. We enjoy this process, one in which the family brain storms for just the right creative choice of names, some creative and some more traditional.

For more information on the American Quarter Horse Association, go to:

Monday, November 24, 2008

Emma Has Surgery

As I handed Emma to Erica, the surgical vet tech, she said, “OK, Emma, here we go.” And then Erica looked at me and said, “ We’ll take good care of her.” I told Erica thank you, but felt myself begin to tear up as Emma looked at me with her large eyes. If only I could have explained to her what was going to happen. If only she knew the surgery on her knee was necessary so she could run agility again and go snowshoeing and running again with Griz and me. I felt as if I were betraying her. But off Emma went and I, too, for a short drive just to gather myself up before running errands. I knew Emma was in good hands and kept telling myself the surgery was necessary for Emma’s overall health and longevity.

Dr. Erik Egger, a small animal orthopedic surgeon from Colorado State University’s teaching hospital, performed Emma’s operation. He also performed the first surgery on Emma’s right knee in March. The procedure, called a medial patella luxation or MPL, is an involved orthopedic surgery. Because the kneecap dislocates, Dr. Egger deepened the groove under Emma’s patella so it will rest properly there. The patellar tendon is then reattached to the top of the tibial crest after a section of bone from that area is sectioned and moved into proper alignment with the kneecap. The patellar tendon is then pinned to that site.

Throughout the morning, I envisioned Dr. Egger’s hands ably conducting Emma’s surgery. I’m never sure if I believe in the power of thought from one human being to another, but I was comforted in thinking it might work. Emma’s rehabilitation period after the last surgery was challenging, but successful. So, I knew I could face the challenges again, if only I knew it would successful again. I didn’t want to imagine Emma lame for life if the surgery didn’t work. It just couldn’t be an option for such an energetic, athletic dog.

About 11:30 AM, Dr. Egger called and said, “Mary, this is Erik Egger.” I knew immediately from the sound of his voice that things had gone well. “We just finished Emma’s surgery a little bit ago. She’s having some acupuncture right now. But she’s doing well and the surgery went quite well. There was some real deterioration on that ridge and under the kneecap, so it was important we did the surgery. I was quite pleased with how it went. You’ll be able to pick her up around 4 PM. Be sure to keep her iced. So, she’ll need eight weeks of rest and then we’ll talk about how to bring her activity along.”

I was relieved to hear Dr. Egger’s news. I always hope a doctor is having a good day when there’s an operation on someone close to me. And knowing there was considerable deterioration in the joint made me feel better about putting Emma through the surgery. My angst about putting her through the surgery began to die out as we spoke.

Before we hung up, I asked Dr. Egger about the use of acupuncture. He told me it was used as an adjunct pain management therapy at my vet clinic. I was pleased again imagining the Asian approach and philosophy somehow seeping into Emma and her knowing she’s being warmly cared for, even though it hurts.

Emma’s home now and quiet, very quiet for Emma. She’s asleep by the desk in my study as I type and she will be for a few days and she recovers with regular applications of ice and medication.

For those interested in another small animal orthopedic surgery story, please visit this site:
Dr. Egger was responsible for the invention of a prosthesis with a rubber foot for a Saluki, saved in Kuwait by an American volunteer. It’s a remarkable story of the power of hope and Dr. Egger’s orthopedic ingenuity.

For more in-depth information on MPL surgery, go to:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Fall Visit From Our Vet

Mike Gotchey, one of our longtime vets, came out this afternoon to tend to several of our horses and pregnancy-check our heifers. After much deliberation, Pete decided to geld a stallion, Dudley, and one of his young offspring, Bob. The process requires some sedation, but is relative quick surgical procedure with a surprisingly short-term recuperation period-a matter of a few days. Even though Pete is satisfied with the prospect of Riggs as our next stud, it was difficult to watch Mike geld Dudley, who has sired so many well dispositioned offspring. But it’s time for a change and Dudley will make an awesome rope horse and all round versatility competitor as a gelding. He and Bob will also, as Mike said, just get to be horses because they won’t have to be isolated from the mares and geldings.

Mike next tended to Allie, a little three-year old filly, who is one of the best
horses to come out of our breeding program. Allie tore her suspensory tendon in February while being boarded in Texas. She was seen by a number of vets from Texas A&M up until July when we brought her home and Mike has been overseeing her recovery since then, which seems as though it’s lasted a very long time. Today, Mike was pleased with her progress. There’s just a small area that needs to scab over. The critical recuperation was in the tendon and he believes she’ll be just fine in terms of having full use of her foot and ankle. After the initial injury, she could not flex her foot, but now her motion appears almost normal. Mike also treated her for a sarcoid on her right hind ankle: a tumor type condition that has been resistive to treatment.

Watching Mike suit up in his protective plastic outfit to preg-check our heifers, is a little like watching an astronaut prepare for launch. There’s the suit, the plastic sleeve, the plastic shoulder apron, and the plastic gloves; protective eye glasses and requisite hat from someone’s land and cattle company. As we push the heifers up the alley, we realize, as we do every year, how big these animals really are. We push each one up into the squeeze chute where Mike can step in behind them. Most all cooperate with his uninvited arm seeking out signs of a fetus deep in their pelvis. All are pregnant save one, the one who’s been wandering in and out of the pastures like she’s looking for someone or something. Now we know her wandering was a search for an elusive boyfriend.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Horseback Riding Adventure

Pete and I just returned from a spectacular horseback riding adventure through the Andes, from Puerto Varas, Chile to Bariloche, Argentina. We traveled by van, ferry, motorboat, and horse to a variety of wild and remote areas of the northern Patagonia region. We were fortunate enough to ride with a group of friends, all of whom were amiable and able riders. We were led by Open Travel, an adventure tour guide company operated by Cathy Berard and her mother, Francoise Dutheil. Paul Walker, known as a Chilean horse whisperer, personally guided us with the help of Tito, Dino, and Christian, local modern day Chilean cowboys, referred to as baqueanos or those who are experts in the area.

Traveling through a stunningly beautiful physical landscape, we rode 10-14 miles a day on Criollo horses, brought to Chile by the Spanish and prized for their sure footing and enduring physical strength. My horse, Kayak, stood less than 14 hands, and unfailingly displayed a steady mind and indomitable spirit. Wherever the horses went, he went too: across rivers, over rocks and boulders, and along granite trails and root tangled forest trails.

Our starting point was Chile’s Lake District departing Puerto Varas. By van, we traveled over gravel road to the Cochamo Region and into the Rio Puelo Valley where we met our horses and baqueanos. At night we stayed with rural inhabitants who live along the untamed rivers of Chile, at the end of remote alpine valleys, and on the shores of immense azure lakes. Most all subsist on what they can raise: growing bountiful gardens, raising a few sheep, and perhaps a small herd of cattle. They leave their homes only every few months for supplies and power their cabins with a variety of sources including generators, solar panels, and water driven turbines. They communicate with far away neighbors by radio and cooperate to assist one another, whatever the need.

November marks the beginning of spring in Chile so the temperatures were in the 50s and 60s. It rained the first few days of our trip and we were grateful to have packed all our layers including wool and rain gear. However, once in the elements there was an additional sense of adventure and satisfaction in being in the mildly adverse weather conditions. Our entire group was delighted to be on the trail in the care of a good and steady horse and willing and able guides and baqueanos, no matter the conditions. By the third day, blue skies and sunshine greeted us every morning and by the end of the trip, we were comfortable in our long sleeve shirts and for some, t-shirts.

Most days we rode four to eight hours with a picnic lunch stop along the way. We traveled through ancient forests, rich ecosystems; open meadows where old homesteads still stood, and frequently crossed southern Chile’s abundant waters. The horizon above was continually filled with the snow covered Andes Mountains and below our trail, deep azure lakes and glacial blue rivers.

At night, we were hosted by gracious rural residents who prepared the traditional Chilean tea complete with tea, coffee, and sweet breads and pastries upon our arrival. Dinner was traditionally served between nine and ten, often with lamb, fresh vegetable salads, potatoes, and bread. Desserts included cakes and one evening a traditional dried fruit soup with a light syrup and barley. Our evening meal was never complete without our guide, Paul, serving a variety of Chilean wines: Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

As we prepared to leave our horses, baqueanos, and our guide, Paul, we reminisced about our days in the Andes. Most all of our group valued the sense of self-reliance we found in our guides and hosts. From making do with what they had, to managing and utilizing energy as needed, and growing most of what they ate, we, perhaps, re-imagined what life at home could be for each of us. Inspired too, by the Andean landscape, for a week we were freed and allowed to experience a moving meditation on the trail each day. The constantly changing trail and horizon demanded our attention and as we focused we thought of nothing else in the world but our horse’s next step and our riding companion’s next story. The lives of those we met left us nourished and inspired and Andean time allowed us to experience a sense of the eternal each day we found our way through the Andes.

For more information on our tour guide company, go to:

For more information on our guide, Paul Walker, go to:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Emma On Injured Reserve

Emma, my Boston Terrier, races through a tunnel at the Maybell, Colorado NADAC Agility Trial in 2007. It was our first and to date, only agility trial, even though we have continued to train off and on with our local agility group here in Steamboat Springs since then.

Unfortunately, Emma required surgery in March for a luxating patella in her right hind leg. In everyday terms, that's a dislocated patella in the knee joint. It's uncomfortable and increases the risk for injury to the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee. Dr. Eggers, the head orthopedic veterinarian from CSU, operated on Emma and reports her surgery was successful. Because luxating patellas are often hereditary, if it occurs on one side, it will occur on the other. So, now that her right hind leg is healed, Dr. Eggers will be operating on her left hind later this month. It is a major surgery and requires 4-6 months of rehabilitation and restricted activity.

Facing these surgeries has been frustrating for both of us. Emma is a beautiful and incredibly athletic dog. She has a high level of energy and it was difficult to offer her enough restricted exercise during her rehabilitation after the first surgery. I empathize with her because I know what it's like not to get out and about to run or snowshoe or even go for a walk. So, I'm renewing my commitment to finding the silver lining in our situation after realizing we have two choices: we can be defeated or we can make something better of our discouragement.

So, when she feels better after this next surgery, we will get deeper into obedience training and add on some easy and quiet dance steps too. I know if she is content it will benefit her healing process. Dr. Eggers smiled at me last time I saw him when he knew I was worried about her in the days ahead. He said assuringly, "Don't worry, Emma will back in agility. We'll get her back."
I walked out of his office believing him. With a successful surgery later this month and some of our adaptive training, I look forward to Emma being off injured reserve sometime next spring, just in time for the 2009 Maybell NADAC Agility Trial.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Irish Cobblers

As I stepped on my shovel, it pressed easily into the rich and moist soil of my raised garden bed. Frozen flakes had slipped from the night sky and soon melted in the light and warmth of a mid-morning sun. Pork chops simmered in the crock pot and the apple cider gravy needed a bowl of mashed potatoes. It’s been that way for as long I can remember: a celebration of the cooler air and the sun lower on the horizon.

I took care to dig in a wide arc around the nearly invisible brown stems of the once vigorous potato plants: I didn’t want to spear any of the spuds in half. In the first scoop, the yellow tubers surfaced one and two at a time. As I felt them in my hand, I recalled the day I bought the seed potatoes. It was early June and still freezing at night. It was still cold enough, that I feared what I planted might not even produce anything before the end of my 75 day growing season. But I put my hand in the bin anyway and found a few handfuls of the seed potatoes left.

I expected to buy Yukon Gold seed potatoes, but I was too late. I found Irish Cobblers instead, a variety I’d never heard of before. But somehow I liked the name. (Irish Cobblers were first thought to be grown by Irish shoemakers in the northeastern United States around 1876 and prized for their earliness and resistance to disease.) So, I filled my small brown bag and paid for a dozen little seed potatoes. I faithfully returned to my garden and with a pleasure I have never found outside the soft soil, I planted the tubers, relishing the prospect of their harvest on a cool autumn afternoon.

As late as I was to harvest the potato patch this year, I found the potatoes loyally forgiving: still waiting, still alive and well beneath the dark loam. I plied my shovel in and around three plants. I gathered the beautifully thin skinned potatoes in one corner of the bed: some the size of my palm and others, little, itty bitty baby spuds. As I dug, I kept track of the small gathering and kept adding to it until I thought the harvest would feed us. If I had too many, I didn’t mind. I would eat mashed potatoes for lunch tomorrow and feel comforted by their soft warmth.

When the potato pile was just right, I placed them on my shovel and carried them to the house. Rinsed and cleaned, I put them in a pot of hot water and announced to my son and husband that we were having mashed potatoes and pork chops for dinner. They said I could count them in. As we settled in, I spooned the apple cider gravy and mashed potatoes together and savored the first bite of the harvest. I lingered for a moment and in the satisfaction began to remember so many other October days.

I found myself here and then there: I am a young child walking home from school through tributaries of leaves; I am the mother welcoming her children, fresh faced after a bracing walk from school; and I am the gardener, who waits each year for the moment it’s time to press my shovel into the fine and moist soil of my garden bed and discover the harvest within. It is in these moments of remembrance I am brought to life: the earth firmly beneath my feet, rooted in the cycle of spring planting and fall gathering. And I look back and feel grateful for the pull of those little shriveled Irish Cobblers, the ones with a powerful history and nurtured perhaps by an immigrant shoemaker.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Huntin' Woollybears

Fall unfolds with a comforting ease and a pace I wish for every September. The aspens scroll from summer’s life-giving greens to autumn's soulful yellows . With the drawing down of late summer and the rise of cooler days, many citizens in the Elk River Valley and Routt County begin to speculate about the coming winter season, and we do so by sizing up weather-predicting folklore traditions.

I and other local residents may stand next to skunk cabbage to check its height. The height of the skunk will be the height of the winter’s snows. The skunk cabbage is easily 6 ½ feet high this year. We may look for beaver damns. The higher number of beaver damns, the harder the winter ahead and this year there are many. We may refer to the Farmer’s Almanac, or check out how deep the chipmunks bury their nuts, or in my case, hunt down woollybear caterpillars.

Woollybears are a very hairy caterpillar appearing on roadways in mid-September and early October. They are found wandering across byways in search of a rock or log in which to spend the winter in their larval state, sustaining themselves in freezing temperatures by producing their own antifreeze. In the spring, they transform into Tiger Moths, a strikingly artistic black and white insect.

I talk to friends and family every year about the woollybears, how I look for them on the road down by the canyon, half-way to town. This year they’ve been hard to find. There seem to be fewer and I wonder why. In my research, the banded woollybear I search for is less common than the more common species, yellow woollybear and saltmarsh woollybear caterpillars found in Colorado. Maybe that's why it's been harder to find them; or I wonder, perhaps the increase in commuter traffic increases the likelihood they'll be crushed: an untimely end to their purposeful journey.

Folklore suggests that the wider the orange band on the black woolly caterpillar, the harsher the winter ahead. There is however, no scientific evidence to indicate there’s any correlation between the two. The band width is actually a record of when the caterpillar was born: the wider the band, the earlier the spring and shorter the winter; the narrower the band, the later the spring and the longer the winter. With that, my search is actually misguided and futile: a wide band width means a shorter previous winter. So, the band has nothing to do with the winter ahead. But, I hunt woolly caterpillars anyway, as autumn's brilliance slips into the arms of winter’s embrace. I want to imagine a natural world magical enough to believe in. I want to imagine a natural world filled with a wisdom from which I can hear if I slow down enough to listen.