From the Painted Horse Ranch & Cattle Co.
Wally covers the gate, Kelly cooks up a storm (in a storm), and Mike keeps on feeding
By Kelly Williams
My name is Kelly Williams and my husband, Mike and I run Painted Horse Ranch & Cattle Co. in Lexington, Virginia. We have a commercial cow/calf operation that focuses primarily on Angus genetics. My husband spent twenty-five years as a general contractor but when the housing crisis hit in 2007 the challenging market dictated that we move in a new direction. My husband has been around cattle and horses all his life so we decided to work with livestock full-time. Our goal: building a cow/calf operation.
Our past careers bring a unique perspective to our ranching operation. My husband’s background in livestock for over 40 years has given him an understanding of low-stress cattle handling, land management and working cow horses. I spent over twenty years of my life in the foodservice industry. Coming full circle from manufacturing to distribution and now finally as a producer has given me a strong understanding of what the chef and the retail customer wants when it comes to the center of the plate.
We started our business on leased land in 2010; finally in 2014 we were able to buy property to build our permanent ranch. Living with our cattle and horses has made it easier to run our operation and has given us the ability to manage our resources by putting in rotational grazing. With rotational grazing our land is able to handle the roughly 170 cows and calves we run during a typical season. This amount of livestock is only possible with rotational grazing; we would never be able to do this is if we had a more traditional layout. We are also working on our overall genetic plan, which now includes a new direction with the Black Hereford Association. This will be our first year of retaining a select group of Angus heifers for artificial insemination to a Black Hereford bull. We are excited about this new genetic focus with an F1 cross that will thrive well in our mountain operation.
12-Day Journal of Kelly Gray Williams
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2017
The week is shaping up to be warmer, which makes me antsy for Spring. The high today, though, will only be 36° so it is still winter jacket time. After a quick breakfast and coffee, I head out to feed the horses. I call them in for their morning grain and while they are eating put out hay for the day. My least favorite job comes next, busting ice out of my mare’s water trough; the geldings are situated such that I can reach an outlet to use an electric heater in their tub. While I tend to the horses my husband warms up the tractor to feed the cows. This morning he takes our cattle dog Wally who loves to ride in the tractor and help. I have to leave to work on some horses for a client so Wally lends a helping hand with the gates for Mike. Expertly he moves the cattle away from the gates and holds them back until Mike gets through the gate with the tractor and hay. Once the gate is shut they both climb back in the tractor and off they go to feed the cows and calves! I meet my client at 11:30 to work on her two horses that I am rehabbing for her. My style of massage is an interactive method where the horse participates to achieve release. The Chiropractor comes after I am finished to support my work. Back at the ranch it is late afternoon and time for the evening feeding of the horses and cattle. This time I do the gate opening while Wally rides. After feeding the herd Mike goes down in the Gator to feed the pregnant heifers while I get dinner started.
THURSDAY FEBRUARY 16
Today starts colder than yesterday with a high of only 30°. Adding insult to injury the wind is blowing which makes it feel even colder than it is. Bundled up, I head out to feed the horses and bust water troughs while Mike warms up the tractor to feed the cows. After opening gates for Mike, I head into the house to take care of paperwork while Mike moves hay up for later and checks fences. Our property is surrounded by other cattlemen so we check fences daily to make sure everything is in order. With the amount of wind we have on this mountain trees come down regularly.
After that his plan for the day is moving dirt to fill up deep holes that need tending to in some of our pastures. The rest of my day is spent on paperwork, updating my blogs and talking with my publisher about promoting my next book-signing event in March. Late afternoon, with the wind still howling, I bundle up and head out to feed the horses for the dinner feeding.
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 17, 2017
Today is going to be a busy day because our vet is coming for Spring shots and teeth. To make it easier after a quick breakfast I call the horses into the arena to feed them so they will be ready when the vet comes after lunch. The day is beautiful with a high of 60° expected, the wind is down and there isn’t a cloud in the sky! Mike uses Wally to hold cattle while he does the morning feeding because I have to finish cleaning our cottage for guests checking in on Saturday morning.
Time for a quick lunch, then Mike and I head up to the arena to get the horses ready for the vet. I have just enough time to ride my mare before the vet arrives. Upon examination, it turns out that in addition to shots and Coggins, they all need their teeth done so it’s going to be a long afternoon. Midway through friends surprise us with an impromptu visit so we all enjoy the gorgeous afternoon while the vet and her assistant finish the horses. When the last horse is finished and everyone leaves I turn the horses out and head in to cook dinner while Mike feeds the heifers.
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 18, 2017
Another gorgeous day! It feels like Spring has finally arrived. I get up early to bake fresh bread for my arriving guests. Armed with the bread and fresh butter I head over to the cottage for some final guest preparations. They will be arriving late morning while I am working on a client’s horses so I want everything in order before I leave. After feeding the horses I head out while Mike and Wally feed the cows, haul hay and check fences. Today Mike’s focus is on building a platform to carry our sprayer and getting it in working order to tackle some weeds before spring grass. My client’s horses are looking great on the feed I recommended and they are doing well with the massage work.
After running a few errands I return home for the afternoon feeding. While I feed the horses, Mike feeds the heifers. We have changed our feeding schedule for the heifers to late afternoon because several studies have shown that if you switch your feeding time to late afternoon they are more apt to calve during the day when the time comes.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 19
We try and make Sunday a family day filled with rest, fun and a time for us to unwind or spend with family and friends riding horses. We do the feeding but don’t plan any major projects if possible. After feeding the horses and cattle we come in for a big meal. It is another gorgeous day so we decide to build a fire outside and eat our meal on the patio in front of the fireplace. Relaxing, catching up on our reading and plans for the new week makes for a great day.
Late afternoon our guests check out, so I head over to grab the laundry and get it started to make my day easier tomorrow. Evening feeding and a close to a relaxing day.
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 20
The week starts out spectacular with highs in the mid-sixties. After morning paperwork, I feed the horses and head over to clean out the guest cottage to be ready for the next guests coming on Friday. After feeding Mike calls me because there is a tree down on one of our fences and he needs my help to hold down the fort while he gets the materials necessary to fix the fence. I drop what I’m doing and head to the far field to make sure no cows get out while he gathers materials.
With the fence fixed, I head back to finish cleaning the cottage while Mike hooks up the drag and spends the afternoon dragging pastures. I finish the day with the evening feeding and head in for the night.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 21
I start the morning with coffee and email. I head out to feed the horses and help with the gates for the cattle feeding. I have an afternoon appointment so Mike plans to do some more dragging and over-seeding of one of our pastures while I am gone.
I use the rest of the afternoon to work on the flowerbeds to get them ready for mulching next week. With the evening feeding complete we head in for dinner.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2017
Today is going to be a busy day so we are out the door running. We have to pick up feed and horse hay today so we feed the horses and the cows and hook up the trailer to head out for our day of errands. After driving an hour to get some special horse feed, we pick up our square bales, which we load into the horse trailer because it is raining today. Good timing for Mike to have put the seed down yesterday and dragged pastures. Returning home, we do the afternoon feeding, then I head over to the cottage to get it ready for the weekend guests.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23
After doing the morning feeding my main goal today is gathering the ingredients for the meal I am cooking for our guests this weekend. I head to Charlottesville today because it is a bigger town to get the things that are too hard to find in Lexington. I am also getting a few goodies for us to enjoy this afternoon when I return. It is a beautiful day so I thought it would be fun to have a picnic meal with Mike on our deck that overlooks the mountain range.
I call Mike on my way back from town to tell him to do all the feeding so we can wrap it up early for a deck picnic. When I get home I put everything away, put our meal together and head out to meet him on the deck. It is a beautiful, late afternoon. Wally is sunning at Mike’s feet; the cats are soaking up the sun on nearby chairs and the cows and horses are grazing happily nearby against a spectacular mountain backdrop. Days like today are what ranching is all about; it’s what makes me so passionate about our industry. I am at peace watching a beautiful sunset with my husband and our animals nearby, content and fulfilled.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 24
We are blessed with another gorgeous day! It is going to be a cooking, prep day. After doing the morning feeding I finish the last details at the cottage. Our guests will be arriving about 7 p.m. so I want to have everything finished before I start cooking. I start with the squash soup. This is an all-time favorite which I have made for these guests before and making it a day ahead allows the flavors to meld to create a rich, decadent soup. Next I make the special dressing and marinate the tomatoes for tomorrow. I get the steaks ready because I use a special process that takes two days to prepare the steaks. Finally, the bread is rising in a sunny corner of the kitchen so my work inside is done for now.
I head to the arena to drag it for an afternoon of working my horse. My husband has trained horses his whole life but I started riding late in mine. My mare is a beautiful buckskin that was just a nose-to-tail trail horse for her first few years so she doesn’t know anything and has a bit of an attitude. She is too nice of a mare not to do something with so our journey began 8 months ago and we are progressing nicely. I have learned a lot and have upped my skills while teaching her at the same time. The process has also helped me get over some of my own fears. During today’s session, I managed to keep quiet so we all had a great time. My silence made Mike happy because quiet is something that doesn’t come easy for me! The guests arrive on time and we are all tucked in for the night after the late afternoon feeding.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 25
Today I am out of bed running. I feed the horses while Mike and Wally feed cows and move hay. After feeding I get the massage room ready for our guest’s 2 p.m. massage. Today is cooler and windy. Mike goes to pick up feed and minerals with Wally so that the house will be quiet for massage time. I love massage work.
With the massage over she leaves in that beautiful, relaxed haze to take a bubble bath in the cottage while I begin the final prep for their dinner. The dinner is a bit complicated but well worth the effort. While I cook for them I am also trying to get something together for us for dinner. Before I start dinner Mike and I do the final evening feeding and move the cows to a new pasture. Dinner is a long, drawn-out affair with 4 courses, candlelight and fine china. Delivering it course-by-course in a raging wind-storm presented quite a challenge but it all came off without a hitch. It’s ten p.m., the guests are sated, pleased with the meal, my husband is fed and it is time to collapse in a chair. I am exhausted, both mentally and physically, but all is well.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 26
After a long week and a lot of work today is my day. I am driving to Washington, D.C. to spend the day with my youngest daughter. We are having a day of pampering! Finally, a massage for me! It just doesn’t get any better than this. Thanks for sharing a few days of my life!