Ranch Life

After an afternoon rain shower passed on Tuesday, the Bennett’s and I took some spirited horses on a ride up Copper Canyon. I am always stunned at how lush everything is this time of the year; there is still a bit of snow left on Blizzard Mountain, but for the most part everything is bright green. The beavers are still enjoying life in the creek, and ducks of all types fly from pond to pond.

Tim Bennet leading the ride

Beaver Pasture at Lava Lake Main Ranch

Barn Canyon Pond at Lava Lake Main Ranch



Idaho is dry. Sometimes it rains, and it is very exciting.

Our eyes are habituated to shades of brown/sage green, but every spring, we get a brief glimpse of real green. Last week, we invited a new friend out to the ranch, dined on lamb burgers with tzatziki and walked around our almost-bright-green hills.

Blue Skies

It had rained all week, so imagine our delight in seeing some sunshine coincide perfectly with the arrival of our guest.

The Yurt

What better place to grill than right outside the yurt?

The Ranch

View of the Ranch from Will’s Hill.


Cheryl attracts a small gaggle of animals.


Pete Cenarrusa, Lava Lake’s newest blogger, offers this recipe for longevity. We all hope to look as good as he does when we are 92.

Photo by Glenn Oakley

Consume substantial omega-3 fatty acids, found plentifully in fish and grass-fed lamb.

Add exercise and fiber of vegetables and fruits.

The key is to consume unsaturated fatty acids of grass-fed Lava Lake Lamb.

I hope to celebrate my 93rd birthday in December. I credit my longevity to the consumption of a diet mainly of lamb.

I am being inducted into the University of Idaho alumni Hall of Fame in connection with the 115th commencement exercises of the land grant U of I at Moscow on May 14.

My University degree was in Agriculture (1940). Three of my favorite and best courses were Nutrition, Organic Chemisty and Bacteriology.

I would recommend these courses to everyone in college.

Arsenio with a guard dog

Dogs play a huge role at Lava Lake. They help our herders move bands of sheep, protect lambs from predators, keep Cheryl in shape, and play with our kids.

photo by Sara Sheehy

Inspired by these wonderful animals, we decided to create Lava Lake Lamb pet treats. These treats are made from 100% grass-fed all-natural or certified organic lamb, along with all-natural potatoes and vegetables.

After passing out a few treats to some lucky pets, we’ve already heard that even the pickiest dogs go crazy for these Lava Lake Lamb pet treats. Our resident barn cats also love them.

What makes them so popular? We use only the finest natural ingredients; these treats are made without the use of hormones or antibiotics, and contain no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Learn more about these treats on the site, and try them out with your pet. We’re sure they will love them!


Since I’m behind the desk most of the day on the computer or phone, I don’t get the physical activity like the guys do here on the ranch. I make a point of trying to get out for some exercise three or four days a week.  I actually have a workout class, attended by some of the other ranch residents.  They are just a bunch of mutts really, but in much better shape than I.

First there is Big Dude, a Great Pyrenees, named so by my 8 year old daughter, because well, he is a big dude!  I call his exercise method “Predator Patrol”.  He specializes in strong, steady, and stealthy strides.

Big Dude

Next is Izzy, a Border Collie/Airedale cross.  You may wonder why anyone would ever cross those two breeds on purpose, but evidently some of the cowboys thought it would make a great aggressive stock dog for the stubborn cows.  Izzy is a very sweet dog, but she is definitely an “alpha-female” and has all of the huge guard dogs buffaloed on the ranch!  Her specialty is the 400 yard dash or really, anything that requires speed.  I have personally clocked her at 35 mph for over a mile and Melendez tells me he clocked her at 45 mph!  We have had some chuckles when Izzy spots a coyote on a nearby hill and they have a “Wiley Coyote” moment when they realize she really can make it up that hill in record time!


Then there is Belle, a Border Collie, who was given to our children for Christmas about five years ago.  She is a very sweet, quiet dog which is why she is probably on the bottom of the pecking order.  She loves to “help” when the guys are moving sheep on the ranch; however, help is a questionable term.  Her specialty is “Spinning” as she furiously runs around the sheep, then slows down, stalking, then bursts into the round up again.


Huck is our newest member to the class.  He is a Border Collie who was slated to be a competitor in dog trails, but alas, his quirky habits and shy behavior didn’t work well in a competition setting.  We are glad to have him and he is really enjoying learning how to be a ranch dog.  If I had to peg him for a class right now, it would certainly be “Beginner’s Aerobics” as he just runs around and tries to do what the other dogs are doing and is not particularly sure why.  And just when he thinks he knows what is going on…the other dogs burst off after something that he is totally unaware of.  He will get the hang of it I’m sure.


Last but not least is Max, a Border Collie cross we inherited when we moved to the ranch.  He is getting up there in age, but never misses a class.  Obviously, his best class is “Sweating to the Oldies”.  He has a slight limp from who knows what injury, but he keeps up just the same and is glad to get out.


The dirt road into the ranch snakes around for about 2 miles until hits the main highway and is perfect for a lunchtime walk or run.  As we head out, the road is snow pack or dry dirt in most places until we get a little further out,where it turns to a mucky mess.  I look around and decide that we might as well go up- hill and get a good workout.  The snow has melted off some on the South facing slopes and it is nice to get out of the mud and on the hill.  This time of year is particularly good for hiking the hills around the ranch, as there are no snakes right now.  We have quite a few rattlesnakes as well as some less dangerous ones during the hottest months of summer.  I’m not afraid of snakes; I just like to know where they are, particularly since we do have children.  Fortunately, wherever any of us go out on the ranch, there are usually two or three dogs ahead of us, which helps alert us when there are snakes in the vicinity.

The dogs are patient and rest as I climb all the way to the top of the hill.  They play as well as cool off in the remaining snow and look puzzled as if to ask “what took you so long”?

As you can see, it is a beautiful winter day with the hint of a much welcomed spring on its way.  We will probably still get some snowstorms before winter is truly over, and we need the moisture, but for the moment, I’m really enjoying this nice weather.  The views back toward the ranch, out of the lava fields and up the canyons are all equally beautiful.

Back at the ranch, the dogs prepare to take their afternoon naps and the cats seem to wonder what the big deal is.  They chase a couple of mice, do a few stretches and consider exercise overated.


On the rare occasion that Tim has to leave the ranch for some reason, I get to help feed.  This morning as I head out, Optaciano, our night man, is returning from an “all-nighter” taking care of the ewes and lambs born during the night. As I pull up to the hay yard, Melendez is already hooking up the hay wagon.  His surprised smile makes me wonder if he’s glad to see me or he’s thinking “uh oh, she’s driving the tractor today”.  I know Tim and Melendez take turns on the hay wagon, as it is hard work, peeling the flakes of hay off the large ton bales.  Melendez doesn’t ask, but climbs onto the hay wagon, ready for the task, as I climb into the heated tractor cab.

We head to the lambing shed, and as I look around, it is again, a beautiful morning at Lava Lake Ranch.  We are well into lambing season and the ewes that have not had lambs are milling around as we turn into the lambing area.  Claudio and David are already inside the lambing shed feeding the ewes and new born lambs.  When I was at the shed Sunday evening, there were 10-15 lambs, today there are well over 100 lambs, with the jugs (pens used during lambing) filled with mostly twins, and three set of triplets.

Now, it’s back to the hay yard to load up more bales to feed the horse herd and rams.  The horses are all looking fat and furry as they have their long winter coats on. As they fall in behind our wagon, I think of the horses’ names, most of them descriptive: Young Mare, Old Mare, Strawberry, Paint and so on.  Fortunately none are named Loco.  If our herder’s ever name a horse Buck, and he’s not a buckskin, BEWARE!  I’m also reminded to do some winter riding soon.

With the remaining hay, we head to the rams.  For obvious reasons, we keep the rams (males) separate from the ewes.  They jostle for position to get the first hay flakes and butt heads when they get irritated with each other.   The rams are kept down by Lava Lake, where there is a natural barrier of lava flows, which you can see in the background of the photo below.  Not only is this natural barrier great for separating our organic operation from the outside world, it provides a natural fence too.

Once we are done with the larger animals, Melendez will finish up with the dogs and then go down and help the guys already in the shed.  It is a constant job; assisting the ewes who are lambing, feeding, cleaning the jugs, bedding with organic straw and preparing for the next morning’s feeding.  It is a wonderful natural cycle and all of the hard work irrigating and putting up the organic hay during the summer begins the new cycle of lambs for the this year.

As I was driving home to Lava Lake Ranch last night, I glanced up at the digital thermometer in my rear view mirror and already knew I would not want to get up early the next morning. Negative 15 degrees. Mind you, this is without the wind chill factor! I refuse to have a thermometer at the ranch, as sometime I just don’t want to know. It seems easier to shrug on the coat, heavy boots, gloves and hat, because to me, anything under 10 degrees is just darn cold and being aware of the exact temperature makes it seem even worse. I wonder if Southern states, experiencing the same cold snap, are just as shocked by the 20’s as we are by the -20’s.

When I see such low numbers on the highway, I take heart in two things. First of all, the ranch is 2 miles off the highway, and those two miles often make a difference in temperature. Sure enough, as I turned off the road, the thermometer continued to climb and by the time I reached the house, it recorded a balmy -2 degrees….Woohoo! I have a theory to explain that thirteen degree difference, although I lack scientific research to back it up. The ranch is bordered by over 6 miles of Craters of the Moon National Monument, which is primarily comprised of lava rock, so I surmise that the lava rock retains heat during the sunny days, and generally makes our area slightly warmer. Secondly, we are surrounding on three sides by high mountains, as if they were hugging us to stave off the cold.

At this time of year, we are preparing for our first wave of new born organic lambs, and so weather is always a concern for us. We already have 3 babies on the ground, who evidently were not aware that our lambing date is still a week away. I am always amazed at how well our animals tolerate the cold winter weather here in Idaho. I’ve had others ask why we don’t lamb during warmer weather. We do have two calculated reasons for our lambing dates. The first being that when animals are grass finished (all of our lambs are), we have to estimate the end of the natural forage availability and then work back to the desired weight and age, which is dictated by their birth date (as well as food availability and weight gain). We’ve also found that warmer weather usually brings wet, sometimes freezing rain, which seems harder for the animals. It also seems (in my opinion) that when it is so darn cold, it is more sterile than a warmer, mucky environment.

While the chilly temperatures can make getting out of bed tough, the gorgeous sunrise and cold mist held down by the thermal patterns surrounding us make bundling up worth it. Plus, the ewes, lambs, horses and dogs survive without indoor heating year round. I was always taught growing up to feed your animals first, and then to thaw yourself out over breakfast. I do hope it warms up a bit as lambs continue to arrive.


Next Page »