We live on a five acre piece of property in Northwestern Washington which has only about two usable acres as the property is bisected by the output of a beaver pond. Ample space for the dogs, some vegetable gardening, huge lawn,  wood shed, a detached shed and carport and perhaps one day a shop.

A guy from work was selling some left over 1 x 6 pine that he had used for a covered deck project. I bought it, hauled it home and began dreaming up projects for the pine. Bat boxes, shelves in the garage, and maybe a chicken coop which would require a few chickens.

Little did we know what had just begun.

A house down the road sold and some new neighbors moved in. Bryan and Kim had some issues with the landscaping in the front yard of their new house they didn't like. A few cedar stumps and a bunch of rhododendrons. Bryan hired a guy to come in with a a backhoe to take out the stumps in trade for the rhodadendrons. Kim had one of her friends over to see the new house, Tracy Brown who happened to be an Agriculture teacher and FFA Advisor at the high school. We stopped in to watch the carnage in the front yard. As Bryan and I supervised and enjoyed a beverage or two, the girls headed out back on the deck to visit where it was a bit quieter.

Alyssa was about 14 at the time and somehow ended up in an Arlington School District van with Tracy and the FFA chapter on a day trip to the Washington State Fair in Puyallup. The kids had a great day judging animals and out of the blue Alyssa won a 4th place trophy for judging dairy cattle. This being the first time in her life that she had ever evaluated a livestock animal, I was curious as to how she did it? Had she been secretly studying? "I just picked the prettiest ones" she said.

Now there are definitely worse crowds to hang around with.

Alyssa joined the Arlington FFA chapter that year and made plans to show her chickens at the Stanwood fair and the Evergreen State Fair next summer. In the months leading up to the fair, she studied breeds, memorized statistics, learned about chicken anatomy, health and care. She tamed and trained her selected fair birds.

As it turned out, Alyssa--with some help from "Fluffy" a Silver Laced Cochin--was awarded grand champion novice showmanship at the Evergreen State Fair.

Oh just two cows...

During the fair experience with the chickens, Alyssa made some new friends, and knew someone in each of the animal barns. As it turned out she spent a lot of time in the beef barn and expressed some interest in showing beef.

Months passed... Sue, a gal who worked with Alyssa's grandmother mentions to Alyssa that she thought that her grandmother should buy two of her cows so that Alyssa could show beef at the fair. We went out to Sue's place one weekend to meet the cows and had a great time, Sue kept some chickens as well. By the time we left we had selected two animals that we'd like to buy if we could find a place to keep them, so at that point we didn't discuss price. Of the two heifers, one a yearling Red Angus cross, the other a Hereford weanling.

Presented with the problem of cows and no place to put them, we put our heads together to solve it.

At the time our neighbors down the road, Blair and Jenny, had a 10 acre place where they were keeping a single horse. We asked if there was a way that we could keep a couple cows there. They were excited about the prospect so the deal was done.

With pasture secured, Alyssa called Sue to discuss the purchase of the animals. After a couple calls and some negotiation she put the deal together. We turned Anna and Izzy out at Blair and Jenny's place in may of 2009.

What's up with Anna?

As we got to know both Anna and Izzy, we did research on each breed. The Herford breed is a time tested producer. We absolutely love cattle of all breeds, but Anna was not just a Red Angus. There were some qualities about her that made her an exceptional Red Angus, and as it turned out, her mother was a Maine-Anjou. We also needed to get Anna bred, and were researching artificial insemination, and this opened up a whole new world of shopping to the girls searching for the sire of Anna's potential calf.

The Main thing is the Maine

After extensive research about Maine-Anjou, we simply fell in love with the breed. The girls had found some Maine-Anjou semen for sale that was geographically close to us but happened to be in a different country. This was pretty daunting in the beginning... Liquid nitrogen, cryogenically preserved collected semen, importation from Canada to the united states, USDA port of entry etc.--and it wasn't cheap. The guy with the semen for sale was Gary Graham at Manitou Maine-Anjou in Marsden, Saskatchewan. We purchased a dry shipper semen tank from Alta Genitics who was storing the semen, wired payment to Gary, who instructed Alta Genitics to release and ship the tank with the semen through customs with the required USDA paperwork. All happened just like it was supposed to. When the tank arrived we filled it with ln2 and called Dave who we'd met at the fair to artificially inseminate Anna. Dave Wilson gave me some advice when I was inquiring about his AI service. He said "You need to be careful with these cows, because the next thing you know you'll have forty of them." Nine months later Tumble was born.

Extreme cow search

OK, we've made the decision, we'd like to buy some Maine-Anjou breeding stock, now where are the cows? Our local search took us back to Anna, and her origin. Her mother was registered with the american maine-anjou association. The registered owners the Ovenells in Concrete Washington. We found some nice cows there, but no herd stock available.

We found cattle in Texas, and other far off places that were simply too far away to logistically get a few cows landed here in Washington. The Ovenells had mentioned Gary Graham, and some folks in Montana.

Well we successfully imported semen form Canada could it be impossible to import live cattle?

Is that a cow in your pocket?

Next, where would we put cows even if we had them? As it turns out the school district had purchased a 160 acre farm years back with the intent of building a high school on it. They changed their minds and built the high school elsewhere. In the meantime the place was being hayed and grazed by a local dairy farmer, and was in a general state if disrepair. The property had been used in the past for student livestock projects, so we thought it couldn't hurt to ask. We got an okay from the FFA Advisor, and began the work of general cleanup, and fence mending. Some things we learned quickly was there was no power and no water where our cows would be located which posed some problems.

The finest animals we could find

We worked with Gary for several weeks via email to select our herd stock. Gary would send pictures,  for us to pick and choose. Finally we had settled on seven animals, four bred heifers and three heifer calves. After a couple conference calls with Gary to explain the process, we sealed the deal. Gary let us know that our girls wouldn't be lonely on the way down, as he would also be bringing a few head down for Sid Greer of Greer Farms from Dainierfield Texas.

The Cattle Drive

In October of 2010, vet inspections completed and deposit wired, we set the pickup date for October 25th.  There was so much preparation to be done, fences and water troughs to mend, not to mention winter was coming and we needed to line up a truck load of hay. The day kept creeping closer and we realized that our half-ton pickup might make the trip, but with a heavy load and the weather we'd be safer for all with a 3/4 ton diesel rig.

So with the neighbors F250 club cab and a 16 foot stock trailer borrowed from the school district, we headed out on October 23 for a leisurely drive to Sweet Grass Montana. First stop, Coeur d'alene Idaho, for dinner and a good nights sleep. The next day, we headed to Fairfield Montana to meet Mike and Ashle Morris, who are also in the Maine-Anjou business. We saw some of the Morris' cattle, had lunch, and Ashle gave us a couple bales of straw for bedding before we headed to Shelby Montana for the night. We hooked up with Sid Greer at the hotel in Shelby, and headed out of town a ways to a restaurant for a steak and a beer.

Early the next morning, we fueled up and headed to Sweet Grass. The timing was perfect. As we arrived, so did the USDA vet, and shortly thereafter Gary and Sandy Graham wheeled in after clearing customs with the cattle.

After the meet and greet, the vet went to work processing that cattle. Everything was in order.  We gave Gary And Sandy a check for the remainder of the purchase price for our seven animals, and said our good byes. We stopped back in Fairfield and offered water to the cattle, then hit the road for home. We ran into a couple snow squalls, but the passes were clear.

Buyers remorse?

Sheez, after all the preparation what could possibly go wrong? Well when we opened the door to that trailer to introduce the girls to their new digs, the three calves seemed to have no idea what a fence was. They were off galivanting in neighboring pastures and we were ill prepared to round them up. Eventually they were remanded to a hurriedly built pen known as the penalty box.

A couple good years

At the school farm we had a couple of good years where we calved and managed to get the cows bred again, and learned so much. Feed and water were the big chores, and over time we did manage to repair a well and get some overhead power connected to the barn. Early on we had met a guy in Granite Falls via Craig's list who was cleaning out a hay barn. We bought what he had, and discussed the possibility of picking hay up in the field next cutting. As it turned out Patrick was also a real estate broker.

Patrick began looking for properties for us and we had him look into a property that we knew was in foreclosure that we were interested in down the road from our five acre residence. We looked at several properties over that couple of years but couldn't commit to one due to location, cost, or suitability to our intended use.

Eviction Notice

As we knew with every beginning there is surely an end. The economy had caused the school district to re-evaluate their real estate and building maintenance position causing an inspection and subsequent condemnation of most of the buildings at the school farm. We were notified that we'd have to vacate by the end of June 2013.

Granite Falls Sanctuary

We had a tailgate breakfast meeting in Patricks' field at his place in Granite Falls in April to discuss landing our cattle there for the winter. We had no where else to go. Patrick agreed to let us stay until we could find a place of our own or make other arrangements. There was fence to fix, and weed eating to be done on electric fence lines, and panels moved from the school farm for a landing pen.

WTF? A place of our own

Just down the road from where we live, a 20 acre parcel with an old farm house, detached garage, and a mother-in-law apartment had been vacant and tangled up in a bank foreclosure for about four years.

The house had been built in 1930, and according to a neighbor had both dairy and beef cattle on it in the past. There was little evidence of that now, other then the remainder of the old barns foundation. No fences, brush, and immature timber mostly Alder as the previous owners had logged it of most of the marketable timber during their 10 year stay.

We were constantly checking with the bank regarding it's status. The place was in disrepair and it was hard to see the place falling apart as the buildings were engulfed with blackberry. The property was vandalized on several occasions which was even harder to understand, and witness. Patrick had inquired many times with all parties involved in attempt to untangle the banks mess to no avail.

One Monday morning we received a call from a real estate firm who informed me that the property we were interested in would be placed on the market. I told her she would receive an offer from us by end of business that day. We sent a cash offer, 30 day closing just to get in line.

Patrick had all the information. Our financing was ready to go but the property had so many problems that our bank wouldn't loan on it unless we went with a renovation loan and a plan. Patrick, in his profession, knew of a contractor who might be able to help us out.

We had to move quickly to have a suitable renovation plan and a contractor to do the work to the satisfaction of the lender within the 30 day closing. We were purchasing this property as an investment property rather than really turning our lives upside down and moving in.  In its current condition it was difficult imagining anyone living there.

The problem was time. The bank needed to unload the property as-is, where-is as soon as possible.

We Weren't certain at all that we could pull this off in 90 days let alone 30. We lined up a home inspector. Annoyed the bank about title inspection, appraisals, and tried to learn as much as we could about the renovation loan process.

Thursday morning the real estate firm notified Patrick that the bank was calling for highest and best offers by 3:00 pm mountain time the following day.

No bidding wars, just secret bids. Now we just had to come up with our highest and best, and get this all set up and do what we say we are gonna do within 30 days.

Patrick and his gal Mickey came over for dinner that night.

Over dinner and several beers we discussed a number, and Mickey used Kris' computer to prepare our highest and best offer.

Needless to say the next weekend caused us some severe anxiety and trauma. But we worked the situation as if we had won the bid. Our due diligence needed to be completed immediately. We met with the home inspector and contractor at the property. The electrical panel had been removed and with no power to the well pump, no water. However, we did manage to get the septic system inspected with carted in water.

The next Tuesday we got the call that the bank had accepted our offer, closing was to be June 10th. The next 30 days were pretty stressful, bank, bids, contractors, but we made it happen, and at closing a pile of cash was exchanged for a couple of keys to locks that didn't work.

June 30 2013 we moved the cattle to Granite Falls without incident. They were happy, the pasture grass was waist high. We'd have have a thousand bales of hay to put up here from Patrick's hay fields in just a few weeks. One of the bulls, Deux, was on lease to Mclane Farms in Couer d'Alene Idaho, and Baja was batting cleanup.

We had the new property surveyed for fence in July so that we could be ready to build perimeter fencing. The power was on by end of July and the drilled well pump spun up and we had water! We found few treasures on the property, but enormous amounts of garbage all hidden by the blackberry and brush. Half burned burn piles, a collapsed barn with foundation, an abandoned hand dug well, a car body and numerous un-salvageable farm implements.

The renovation of the house deserves equal or greater space but it was completed by late October 2013. No huge surprises and it went pretty well.

We rented the farm house December 10, 2013 and continued general cleanup weather permitting.

Winter calving began December 27th in Granite Falls.
As soon as things began drying up that spring we began working on perimeter fencing and a sacrifice area, and attempting to design a working farm. We made an attempt at getting the cattle bred in April in Granite Falls but we were so busy and we didn't have good handling facilities there, so we weren't too successful.
Then Patrick threw as a minor curve ball as he was going to sell his property, and we'd have to be cleared out of his place by closing on May 30th 2014.

The Road Home

We moved cattle from Granite Falls to the new place, May 30th 2014. All went well but we did learn that it isn't a good idea to transport recently de-horned calves in cramped trailers.  One of the calves  got mashed and he ripped the scab off his nub which caused alot of blood and eventually a vet call. Turned out he was just fine after puling a few veins and some clotting powder.

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