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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Stories of Ranch Life

Stories of Ranch Life

Good Horses, Cattle, Dogs, & Other Interesting Creatures

Joys and Sorrows included

book review by Michael J. Thomas

As the days grow shorter and colder — the nights growing longer with the onset of winter in my remote and rugged ranching community in the heart of Idaho – I find myself spending more time with a good book to pass the long evenings. Turning the final pages of the most recent book in a series of true ranch stories, spanning four generations of a ranching family on a ranch in my own backyard, I hold my aching ribs from the deep heartfelt laughter resulting from the high hilarity captured in many of the stories. At the same time, I am rubbing tears from my cheeks in response to the deep sorrow so well described by the author at the loss of a long-time horse partner or an animal hard fought to save.

In the series of ranch stories: Horse Tales – True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, Cow Tales – More True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, and Ranch Tales – Stories of Dogs, Cats & Other Crazy Critters – published by The Frontier Project Inc., Colorado Springs, Colorado – Idaho rancher and author, whom many of you already know through her numerous books regarding horses and cattle and over twelve thousand articles published in agricultural papers and magazines aimed at helping us successfully raise cattle and horses, Heather Smith Thomas recounts day-to-day events with her passionate and smooth style that thoroughly sucks us into the stories as effectively as if we had been there.

In Thomas’s own words, “Cows are the abiding passion of my life – along with my horses, husband and family, but not necessarily in that order.” Thomas spent her formative years dreaming about a life with horses and cattle. Her father, a Methodist minister, had grown up on a farm in southern Idaho. When she was ten, Heather’s dream began to come to fruition when her family began to acquire and build the ranch near Salmon, Idaho. It was here that she began to learn about raising her own horses and cattle. She had visions of pursuing veterinary medicine after college, but girls were not accepted to vet school in the 1950’s. Through many difficult experiences bringing foals and calves into the world, and struggling to keep some of them alive through various maladies, Thomas vowed to learn all she could about all things related to cattle and horse care and share them with the rest of us through her writings.

Stories of Ranch Life

It was on this same ranch that later she and her husband Lynn would settle down to continue to raise horses and cattle, and a family. The first book in the series, Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, begins an epic journey with Thomas through her early years as she and her family began to build the ranch. The reader is fully drawn into the life of a young girl growing up in simpler times wanting nothing more than a horse of her own. The early heart-warming stories in the book introduce the reader to the girl and her family as they grow together through the difficult times developing a small ranch in the heart of Idaho. Each of these stories centers around an individual horse and the joys and sorrows as the horses’ and human’s lives intertwine. The story Khamette’s Later Years (From Cow Horse to Kid Horse) begins a transition from Thomas’ early years, raising Khamette from a foal, to life on the ranch with husband Lynn and the beginnings of their own family. Both children, Michael and Andrea, learned to ride on that sweet and wonderful mare. The remainder of the 22 stories progress through the lives of Thomas, her husband Lynn, their children, and later her grandchildren as their lives are forever shaped by their interaction with these wonderful creatures. These stories are a spectacular balance of the joys, wonder, humorous moments, and sorrows that come with life on a ranch.

Stories of Ranch Life

Cow Tales: More True Stories from an Idaho Ranch focuses on a lifetime of ranch experiences with individual cattle: humorous accounts, lessons learned, and the wonder of the human-animal bond. In the style of her acclaimed Horse Tales, Cow Tales takes us on a journey through the beginnings with her family on the small ranch in the rugged mountains of Idaho in the 1950’s to the current time – encompassing four generations’ experiences with cattle. Cow Tales has often been compared to James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, each story centering on an animal and the relationship between human and animal that results from a life dedicated to animal husbandry. Thomas says, “Life on a ranch is always exciting and unpredictable. You never know from one day to the next what’s going to happen: a tractor gets stuck in a ditch, cows climb through the fence into the garden, a doe and her fawn show up in the front yard, a bear climbs the apple tree, or a calf takes up residence in the bathroom. Something unexpected is always coming along.” Thomas takes us on a journey through days filled with hardship but balanced with the joys of battles hard fought and won: days when the old squeeze chute broke down and injured her and Lynn but they got all the heifers tagged before dark, hard calving births where calves were comatose and restored to life thanks to unflagging efforts at CPR, the battle to save the cattle during the worst sub-zero storm of the family’s history on the ranch, wonderful stories filled with the joys of witnessing the humorous antics of the cattle – pets and otherwise, and many more.

Stories of Ranch Life

Not to leave anyone or anything out, Ranch Tales: Stories of Dogs, Cats & Other Crazy Critters, the most recent book in the series, again takes us on a journey from Thomas’ formative years to the present. The subjects include memorable experiences ranging from barnyard cats, pigs, good cow dogs, ranch kids, cattle and range fires, heroic rescues, and many more heart-warming stories and a bit of history. Throughout Thomas’ stories the reader will feel the importance of the human relationship to the land and animals, but also the value of family. “Lynn and I chose ranching because we wanted to raise cattle and horses, but soon discovered that a ranch is also the best place to raise children. Some of our kid’s first memories are of feeding cows. They went along with us as babies because mama had to drive the jeep.” This book encompasses a broader range of subjects than the first two, but Thomas tells the stories with the same degree of passion and description that so thoroughly brings the reader into the story. You will find yourself laughing with her at the crazy antics of the people and animals and gripping the edge of your seat as you follow the progress of Fearless Fred, the cow dog, who bravely struggled through five surgeries to restore a shattered hind leg.

Now, as I close Ranch Tales I am compelled to share these wonderful stories with the rest of the world. Most of us in farming or ranching can immediately appreciate these stories, but I believe many of our urban family and friends will find these stories uplifting because they are symbolic of many aspects of our lives: hardship overcome by perseverance, humor, joy, and love – regardless of where we call home.

Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch (282 pages, $24.95), Cow Tales: More True Stories from an Idaho Ranch (325 pages, $24.95), and Ranch Tales: Stories of Dogs, Cats & Other Crazy Critters (273 pages, $24.95) are available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the publisher: The Frontier Project Inc. (thefrontierproject@gmail.com).

Signed copies are available from Heather Smith Thomas, Box 215 Salmon, Idaho 83467, (208) 756-2841 or hsmiththomas@centurytel.net (price: $24.95 plus $3.00 shipping – Idaho residents add 6% sales tax. For all three books: $70.00 plus $7.00 shipping).

Best wishes as you enjoy these wonderful stories, and may your sides hurt from laughter and your eyes be as wet as mine as you read these passionate stories encompassing four generations’ life with amazing horses, cattle, and a multitude of other fantastic creatures.

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Henpecked Compost and U-Mix Potting Soil

We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

Book Excerpt: The enclosed gear, late model John Deere, Case, Oliver, David Bradley, and McCormick Deering International mowers I (we) are so fond of had a zenith of popular manufacture and use that lasted just short of 25 years. Millions of farmers with millions of mowers, built to have a serviceable life of 100 plus years, all pushed into the fence rows. I say, it was far too short of a period.

Cultivating Questions A Diversity of Cropping Systems

Cultivating Questions: A Diversity of Cropping Systems

As a matter of convenience, we plant all of our field vegetables in widely spaced single rows so we can cultivate the crops with one setup on the riding cultivator. Row cropping makes sense for us because we are more limited by labor than land and we don’t use irrigation for the field vegetables. As for the economics of planting produce in work horse friendly single rows, revenue is comparable to many multiple row tractor systems.

Starting Seeds

From Dusty Shelves: A WWII era article from Farming For Security

Farm Manure

Farm Manure

Naturally there is great variation in manure according to the animals it is made by, the feeding and bedding material, and the manner in which it is kept. Different analyses naturally shows different results and the tables here given serve only as a guide or index to the various kinds. The manure heap, by the way, is no place for old tin cans, bottles, glass, and other similar waste material.

LittleField Notes Seed Irony

LittleField Notes: Seed Irony

by:
from issue:

They say to preserve them properly, seeds should be kept in a cool, dark place in a sealed, dry container. Yet the circumstances under which seeds in a natural environment store themselves (so to speak) seem so far from ideal, that it’s a wonder plants manage to reproduce at all. But any gardener knows that plants not only manage to reproduce, they excel at it. Who hasn’t thrown a giant squash into the compost heap in the fall only to see some mystery squash growing there the next summer?

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Cultivating Questions: A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Market gardening became so much more relaxing for us and the horses after developing a Horsedrawn Guidance System. Instead of constantly steering the horses while trying to lay out straight rows or cultivate the vegetables, we could put the team on autopilot and focus our whole attention on these precision tasks. The guidance system has been so effective that we have trusted visiting chefs to cultivate the lettuce we planned on harvesting for them a few weeks later.

LittleField Notes Farm Log

LittleField Notes: Farm Log

by:
from issue:

My starting every column with a discussion of the weather set me to thinking about that old clichéd idea of talking about the weather; how it is all old men talk about downtown at the local coffee shop; how they sit for hours telling endless lies about how the snow was deeper, the nights colder and the hills steeper when they were young. However, clichés have basis in truth, and it is true that weather is a wonderful conversation opener.

Cultivating Questions Cultivator Setups and Deer Fencing

Cultivating Questions: Cultivator Set-ups and Deer Fencing

We know all too well the frustration of putting your heart and soul into a crop only to have the wildlife consume it before you can get it harvested let alone to market. Our farm sits next to several thousand acres of state game lands and is the only produce operation in the area. As you can imagine, deer pressure can be intense. Neighbors have counted herds of 20 or more in our pastures.

Sustainable

Sustainable

Sustainable is a documentary film that weaves together expert analysis of America’s food system with a powerful narrative of one extraordinary farmer who is determined to create a sustainable future for his community. In a region dominated by commodity crops, Marty Travis has managed to maintain a farming model that is both economically viable and environmentally safe.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

by:
from issue:

The agricultural system of the Old Believers has long been one of hand labor. Their homesteads (hozyastvas) were not intended for tractors or horses, with the possible exception of their larger potato fields. Traditionally the small peasant hozyastva has its roots in hand labor, and this has helped maintain the health of the land. Understanding the natural systems is easier when one’s hands are in the soil every day as opposed to seeing the land from the seat of a tractor.

The Brabants Farm

The Brabants’ Farm

by:
from issue:

The Brabants’ Farm is a multi purpose farming operation whose main goal is to promote “horsefarming.” Our philosophy is to support the transformation of regional conventional agriculture and forestry into a sustainable, socially responsible, and less petroleum dependent based agriculture, by utilizing animal drawn technology (“horsefarming”), and by meeting key challenges in 21st century small scale agriculture and forestry in Colombia and throughout South America.

Cuban Agriculture

Cuban Agriculture

by:
from issue:

In December of 1979, Mary Jo and I spent two weeks traveling in Cuba on a “Farmer’s Tour of Cuba”. The tour was a first of its kind. It was organized in the U.S. by farmers, was made up of U.S. farmers and agriculturally oriented folks, and was sponsored in Cuba by A.N.A.P., the National Association of Independent Farmers. As we learned about farming we also learned how the individuals, farms, and communities we visited fit into the greater social and economic structure of Cuba.

The Way To The Farm

Lise Hubbe stops mid-furrow at plowing demonstration for Evergreen State College students. She explains that the plow was going too deep…

Farm To School Programs Take Root

All aim to re-connect school kids with healthy local food.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Follow-Up On Phosphorus

We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions: Going Single

Going single did not occur to us until we began receiving questions from prospective teamsters who felt it would be more manageable and economical to get started with a single horse than a team. After 29 years of market gardening with two or more horses, our impetus to try out one-horse farming was not a question of management or economy, but due to the radically diverging horse temperaments on our farm.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT