Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ranch Diary: March 15 through April 27

MARCH 24 – We had a lot of windy, stormy weather last week, and some snow. It got down to 23 degrees one night and the mud was frozen enough that Andrea was able to move the big bales out of harm’s way (where spring melt was coming through the stack yard) with the tractor, without getting stuck.

Lynn went to the doctor to see the results of his MRI. His hip sockets seem to be ok (he doesn’t need hip surgery) but there was evidence of old injuries that are causing some pain—an old healed fracture in the pelvis, and some other problems. We don’t know whether those happened when he was trying to stay on a horse that was bucking, or when the dirt under the old bridge caved in on him when he was trying to get some debris out from under there during high water—and had to pull his leg out from under several hundred pounds of dirt and mud before he drowned—or when he had a motorcycle accident coming home from irrigating and met a pickup that was on his side of the road on a blind corner.

The doctor thinks the old injuries are causing him more pain now because he has favored the leg and sore back, and has lost some of the normal motion. She prescribed physical therapy, and also wants another MRI on his lower back because it is badly out of place.

We brought the 7 young cows down from the field last week, and put them in the maternity pen and horse pasture where we can watch them easier, since several of them were looking like they are close to calving. The next day we moved the older cows across the creek over the bridge and into heifer hill, where they will be a little closer when the time comes to bring them down, too.

The calving barn’s dirt floor is pretty wet because of the big pile of snow behind it that slid off the roof this winter. We should have shoveled that pile away, because it’s been melting and soaking into the dirt floor in the barn.  We opened all the doors to help it dry out faster. Even though we’ve had some spring weather, the occasional blizzard makes us glad we still have a barn for calving cows during bad weather.

Last Thursday we went to town for the funeral of our neighbor Bill Sager. He fell and broke his hip a few weeks ago and never recovered.

The next few days were cold, down to 14 degrees at night. We started training our heifers to go in the barn, in case it’s cold and stormy when they calve. We put a little hay along the edges of a couple barn aisles, with some alfalfa on top of the grass hay. After putting them into the barn the first time, they eagerly went in every day after that, for several days, to eat the alfalfa hay. Now if we have to put one in the barn some dark night, it won’t be a scary experience!

Alfonzo left his gate open on the lower place and almost all his cows got out and went over the hill to the low range, looking for something to eat, but the grass hasn’t grown enough yet to provide any feed. He finally realized the cows were out and rounded them up again.

Michael, Nick and Robbie put tall wood slabs on this end of our 2nd day pens to create a good windbreak. Now our pens are ready for calving.

They also put a pole “cover” over the ditch by the culvert under the driveway, so no calves will fall in the ditch when we are taking them back and forth across the driveway. The cover will also keep vehicles from driving into the ditch.

Andrea cleaned out her little travel trailer to loan to Michael and Carolyn and Michael smoothed out the mud ruts in their driveway so they could pull it up to their house for Gregory’s sister and her husband to stay in. They drove down from Canada yesterday and hope to stay a few days.

Michael and Carolyn had their first calf born day before yesterday morning and another one that afternoon. We put some slough grass bedding in a couple barn stalls yesterday so we’d be ready when ours start calving.

Dani’s friend Sequoia stayed overnight with her last night, and the two little girls came down early this morning to help us feed cows. When we drove to the field above the house we noticed one cow on heifer hill and she didn’t come down to the feed truck. We could see she had a baby calf lying there, so after we fed the cows their alfalfa we drove up there.

It was Buffalulu. She had calved 3 weeks ahead of her due date—a tiny bull calf. She’d licked him dry and he was several hours old, but very cold and hadn’t nursed yet. We put him on the back of the feed truck and Dani and her friend hung onto him while I drove the truck to the next field and Andrea and Robbie followed the young cow. She was a bit confused because she wasn’t exactly sure where her calf was, but he bellowed and bawled almost continually, and she followed his voice. We got her down with the other cows and through the gate, and drove on down to the barnyard. It was windy and cold, and he needed some food. She was too nervous to let us help him suckle, so we put her in the headcatch by the barn and got him started on a teat. After helping him get as much milk as he could hold, we put the pair in the barn, out of the wind.
It was windy and snowing off and on all day and the power went off for a couple hours. By afternoon the little calf had figured out how to suckle his mom without help. That evening another young cow (Twinkle Twinkle, a second calver) started calving so we put her in the other barn aisle and she calved quickly—a nice heifer calf. She was about 10 days ahead of her due date, but not as tiny as the little guy next door. Dani named him King Cong Gorilla Boy because he was so tiny he needed a big name, and also because his face looks a bit like a baby gorilla. The heifer is charcoal color (more gray than black) so Dani named her Charky.
APRIL 5 – We had more snowstorms and windy weather the last week in March. We put more of the cows in the maternity pen and horse pasture where we could see them from the house, and fenced off the deep ditch in the top corner of the orchard. The cows like to sleep in that corner and we didn’t want any of them to roll into that dry ditch.

Young heather’s boyfriend Gregory and his sister and brother-in-law stayed with Michael and Carolyn several days before they had to drive back to Canada. Carolyn brought Gregory’s sister and husband down here last week to meet us.

The next day Dani helped Andrea bring some of the loose hay (stored in the “sick barn” across the creek) around in the little trailer with the 4-wheeler in several trips to spread as bedding in the pen below the barn. She had fun riding in the hay.

We put the two young cows and calves down in that big pen where there are several good windbreaks. Little Gorilla Boy is still very tiny, but doing great.

Several more cows were getting very ready to calve so we locked those in the orchard (maternity pen) at night where we can see them from the house with a spotlight.

Charlie was very sick last Friday, with a high fever, so Andrea took him to the clinic. The doctor’s aid who looked at him thought it was a virus and didn’t prescribe an antibiotic, but his fever and cough kept getting worse. Every night his fever was up to 104 degrees and Andrea had to give him a lot of ibuprofen to try to keep it down. She couldn’t get another appointment for him after the weekend (the clinic was booked solid), so she took him to the ER Monday evening, and the doctor there took a chest x-ray and diagnosed the problem as pneumonia. He gave Charlie a shot of high-powered antibiotic and a prescription for follow-up. Charlie was sick all through spring break but was finally recovering enough to go back to school this week.

We’ve had several more cows calve. The evening that Andrea took Charlie to the ER, Dani helped me put Magnicate in the barn to calve—since it was cold and windy. She calved quickly at 8:30 p.m. and the heifer calf was up and trying to nurse within 30 minutes. But the cow kept having severe cramps and kept lying down trying to clean, so finally Dani and I intervened. We put a tub of alfalfa hay in front of the cow to encourage her to stay standing up and eating, and I helped the calf get onto a teat.

The kids were out of school that week so the girls enjoyed helping with the cows and calves. Sam helped Andrea take a couple trailer loads of loose hay up to the calf houses for bedding, and put new bedding in the two barn stalls.
On Thursday we brought the last 5 cows (the later calving ones) down from the field to put with the others in the horse pasture because they are all starting to get udders.

Andrea put up the electric wire around the calf houses before we started putting pairs up there, so the cows can’t get right next to those little houses. Then they can’t gang around the houses to eat the bedding out of them and won’t step on or lie on any calves that sleep in front of the houses. We put several cows and their calves out there this week.

Andrea started harrowing the fields, now that the snow is gone and the cows are off them. It may be an early spring and we want to start irrigating quicker than last year. She harrowed the field next to her house (where the largest group of cows spent the winter) with her little jeep pulling the harrow, to scatter the manure and the wasted straw from the big bale feeders. It all makes good fertilizer. The little jeep is pretty rough and bouncy, however, so Robbie helped her take the blade off the tractor so she could finish harrowing with it. Charlie was feeling well enough by the end of the week to ride around with her in the tractor, and he enjoyed driving it.

Our mud finally dried up enough that we were able to take the chains off the tractor for harrowing. Andrea has been using the tractor nearly every day to load alfalfa hay on the feed truck or take big bales of grass hay out to the heifers’ feeder or oat/barley bales to the cows’ feeders. The heifers go through a big bale every 3 days.
It’s also not too muddy out on our low hills anymore, so on Sunday Andrea and I rode Breezy and Ed for their first rides this spring. We need to get those horses going and back to their routine so the girls can ride them.

It’s time to start irrigating so we’ve been cleaning ditches. Robbie burned the grass off one of the ditches, and we hired Allan Probst to go through several of the worst ones with his little excavator. The ditch that comes to heifer hill through the Gooch place was silted full in several places, and in other places the bank was washed away from Alfonzo’s hap-hazard irrigating. Allan was able to clean out the clogged areas and rebuild the bank on the places where the ditch was about to wash out. While he was here, we had him go through the ditch to our lower field across the creek, since it would be faster and easier for him than for our old backhoe. But just after he finished and was bringing the little excavator down the hill to come back from that lower field, one of the tracks picked up a rock and it jammed and threw the track off. Lynn tried to help him get the track back on, after jacking it up, but it needed a new part. Allan had to order the part and come back again the next day (yesterday) to fix it and take it home.

We’ve had a few more snowstorms, so Andrea started spending part of the night here to help me watch the cows, to put the calving cows into the barn. As long as we have a good barn we’re not going to have new babies born outside in a blizzard!

Today was a little nicer, and Andrea started the water in the newly cleaned ditch to heifer hill. We don’t know how long our irrigation water will last this year, so we want to get all the fields growing early. 

APRIL 14 – Last Thursday Dani stayed here overnight because she wanted to help watch the cows, and she got to see Cub Cake calve. Dani has stayed here several nights and I get her up for school; Robbie picks her up on his way by with the other kids to take them all to the bus. Andrea sleeps in a little, after spending part of the night watching cows until I get up early to take over. Later that day Andrea and I rode Breezy and Ed again for their second ride this year.

The next day I trimmed Dottie’s feet and rode her for her first ride, and Sam and Dani rode Breezy and Ed for their first ride this year.

Dottie was goofy and obnoxious but the older mares were a good influence on her. They were nicely mellow for the girls. Just as we were leaving, Buffalope calved in the horse pasture (so Andrea put the other cows in the orchard so they wouldn’t interfere with bonding of mama and new baby), and by the time we came back the calf was up nursing.

Robbie is helping Michael and Nick on fencing projects around the valley. Word is getting around about the good job they do, and they have several more jobs lined up. Michael probably won’t have time to rebuild any more fences for us until next winter.

Dani and Sam have an after school job once a week, cleaning house for Conrad Vitzthum, our elderly neighbor down at Baker. He lost his wife a few years ago and needs a bit of help with the house cleaning, so the girls enjoy doing that for him and earning a little money in the process.

The grass is trying to grow in the fields, so on Saturday we moved the electric fence in the field below the lane and confined the yearling heifers to a small area at this end by the gate and the water trough, and moved their hay feeder to a high spot in that corner. We’ll keep them in this smaller area and give the rest of the field a chance to grow (so we can cut part of it for hay and pasture the marshy side of it later). We’ll put them out on pasture when the grass is taller.

That afternoon Andrea and I rode Breezy and Dottie; we need to put a few more rides on the horses before our friends from Colorado come to visit, because Jodi wants to ride a horse. Walter and Jodi have a bed and breakfast business in Durango, and they’ve been hoping to come visit us. Walter is like part of our family. He came here in 1980 from Austria, not knowing much English, and needed a job and a place to stay. We arranged for him to stay in the little cabin my uncle owned (above our upper place) and he worked for us a few years, building fences. Later he had some other jobs, sold cars, then went to California and had a thriving business making billiard tables, then met and married Jodi. They moved to Durango and have a great bed and breakfast. We’ve never met Jodi so we’re looking forward to their visit.

Charlie took a test on Saturday for his ham radio operator license and passed it, so he is really excited. My brother Rocky loaned him a radio until he can get his own.

On Sunday Michael needed more alfalfa bales, so Andrea loaded a couple on our feed truck when she was moving more bales around for our cows, and Lynn drove it up to the upper place, where Michael loaded on a couple big oat bales for Lynn to bring home for our cows. We’re mixing the oats and the alfalfa and it’s working very well for the cows.
Andrea also brought a little trailer load of hay bales around for the cows in pens by the barn.
That afternoon Andrea and I rode Breezy and Dottie again. This was Dottie’s third ride this spring and she’s starting to behave herself a little better.

I cooked a big dinner for everyone when Andrea got the kids home again from Mark that evening. Buffalo Girl (Em’s old pet cow) started calving so we put her in the barn after supper. She’s a very strange cow and even though she’s a good mother, the first few hours after she calves are a bit challenging. It’s as though her hormones are mixed up. She licks and roots her calf, bellows at it, and knocks it down when it tries to stand up. We have to be there to intervene, so she won’t hurt it. This is her 11th calf, and she does this every year. If we can keep her from injuring the calf, get him on his feet, and help him suckle, then everything is fine from then on. Once she actually starts nursing her calf, the hormones of motherhood kick in and she mellows out and behaves like a normal mama.

So Andrea, Dani and I sat in the next barn stall and watched the progress as she gave birth to her calf. She lay down tight against the back panel of the stall toward the end and we had to untie the panel and give her more room, which caused her to get up before the calf was fully born. So we just pulled him on out, and got him breathing. Buffalo Girl bellowed and rooted, but wasn’t as aggressive as last year. Andrea had to whop on her last year to protect the calf, and that old cow remembered. She backed off each time we had to reprimand her. After the calf got himself organized and was functional enough to try to stand up, we helped him to his feet. Dani brought the tub of alfalfa hay to distract and pacify the cow, while Andrea and I helped him to the udder and got him nursing. The old cow behaved herself and by the time the calf got full, everything was good and it was safe for us to leave them be. He’s red (all of her other calves have been black0, and here’s a photo of him (and a friend) a couple weeks later when he and mom were up in the field with the other cows and calves.
I continued watching the cows, and saw that Rocket (one of the first calf heifers) was in early labor, and more obviously calving by 3:30 a.m. but she didn’t progress. By daylight I put her in the side pen and did my chores (feeding the horses and heifers). She wasn’t progressing normally but finally about 8:30 she pushed out a water sac, but there were cotelydons on it (the red fleshy buttons that attach the placenta to the uterine lining), which meant the placenta was detaching. So we took her around to the headcatcher by the barn and Lynn reached in to see what was going on. The front feet were there, but back a ways, and the calf was a bit sideways. He couldn’t get the head coming.

Michael and Nick were coming down the creek on their way to a fencing job (Michael pulling the flatbed trailer loaded with materials, and Nick in his pickup), so they stopped to help us. Michael was able to push the calf back and get it coming straighter, and the legs pulled forward (they’d been hung up at the elbows) and finally got the calf pulled. It was alive—a little heifer. We got her breathing and took her around the corner into a pen, then let Rocket out of the headcatcher and gently herded her into the pen, and she immediately began licking and loving that baby.

Michael was very slimy by then, and Nick took him home to change clothes. I went to finish my morning chores, and Lynn went back around to the pen to check on the new baby. Rocket was lying down again, licking the calf lying down, and straining hard. It looked like she might be trying to have another calf. I went quietly into the pen, crept up behind her, and reached my hand in—and felt a big furry rump and a little tail. She was having another calf, but it was breech.

Michael and Nick had come back down to Michael’s truck and trailer by that time, so we flagged them down, and began round two. Rocket didn’t want to go back into the headcatch, but with 3 guys pushing on her, she went in. Then Michael had to try to push the calf back into the uterus far enough so he could manipulate each hind leg, one at a time, up over the cow’s pelvis and bring it backward. The young cow was straining so hard, pushing against him, that it was almost impossible. Nick and Robbie pushed her tail up over her back as hard as they could, to put some pressure on those nerves (which makes it more difficult for her to strain), and finally Michael was able to get both hind legs into the birth canal and then pull the calf. It was limp and dead, and had been dead for some time. It wasn’t full term; it had very short hair and wasn’t as fully developed as the other twin. So, we let Rocket out of the headcatch and she went back to the pen to finish licking her live baby. By that time Michael and Nick were really late to go work on their fencing job, so they just washed up a little and left. I took a photo of Rocket and her baby in the pen.
Early the next morning we had several more cows calving. When I looked out the window at 1:30 a.m. Buffalo Baby was calving, so Lynn and I went outside and put her in the side pen where we could see her more easily. While we were out there I heard a cow up in the orchard gently mooing so I hiked up there to find Rosalee in early labor. I brought her down and put her in the front pen. Rosalee calved very quickly and had a heifer calf at 3:25 a.m. Buffalo Baby calved soon after, at 3:35 a.m. but I had to rush out there and break the sac and clear the membranes and fluid away from its head, because the cow didn’t get up immediately. The calf was still encased in the sac and fluids and would have suffocated. It was a big heifer calf. The cow licked it for a few minutes then lay down to clean, and the calf was getting chilled. It was cold and windy. So I went back out and got the calf up, but she wasn’t able to get onto her mother’s big teats. That cow’s udder has gotten progressively worse over the years and she’s on the list to sell this fall! She still hadn’t nursed her calf by daylight.

Robbie took the kids to the school bus then helped me feed the cows. Rosalee and calf were doing great, but not Buffalo Baby’s calf, so we put the cow in the headcatch, tied a leg back so she couldn’t kick us, and I helped the calf suckle those big teats. Then Robbie went to help Michael and Nick on their fencing project.

That afternoon Merinina calved out in the horse pasture, right after lunch. After the calf had nursed, Lynn and I moved the pair to one of the pens by the barn, so the other cows wouldn’t bother them. She had a heifer also. We now have twice as many heifer calves as bull calves, just like last year, and only a few more cows left to calve.

The old horses, Veggie (age 30) and Rubbie (age 29) are finally shedding most of their winter hair and looking a little less shaggy. Veggie is doing pretty well in spite of bad teeth, and Rubbie is actually quite fat.

Today it’s raining again. The creek is really high, and Andrea caught up on her irrigating, moving some of the water and shutting down some of the ditches that are flooding the fields too much. Alfonzo had way too much water in one of his ditches that comes on down to our place, and it was starting to wash out the ditch bank.

Andrea went to town to pick up Sam from school and take her to the ER to have her elbow checked. She was doing cart wheels at school and landed wrong and heard something snap, and her elbow is really painful.  The doctor took an x-ray but couldn’t tell if it’s broken. He put it in a sling, and told her to come back in a week to have it checked again.

Lynn and I nailed up several poles and a board on the pen next to the field, to eliminate the wide spots where the heifers keep sticking their heads through the poles to try to check out the baby calves. One heifer got her head stuck this morning and couldn’t get loose until I went into that pen and spooked her enough to try harder to get out. We eliminated that possibility of happening again.

Lynn got the kids off the bus this afternoon and Dani helped me do chores—feeding the horses and heifers. This evening she helped me sort out a couple cows and two heifers that look like they could calve tonight, and put them in the pen in front of the house where they’ll be easy to watch. She really enjoys helping with the cattle. 

APRIL 27 – We had more rainy weather with a bit of snow last week. One of our heifers, Sugar Bear (a daughter of Cub Cake) started calving on a cold, snowy night so Andrea stayed here and watched her. When she went into serious labor we put her in the barn to calve. She finally had a bull calf, and Andrea gave a little pull on it at the end because the heifer got tired. She mothered it well, and it was up and suckling by the time it was 1 ½ hours old. Here’s a photo of that pair a week later, up in the field.
Lynn goes to town twice a week for physical therapy for his back. It helps his back, but then he usually does too much lifting or bending and makes it sore again!

Another young cow, Lilly Annie, started calving the next day and we ended up putting her in the barn to calve that evening because the weather was still very cold and windy. By the time Lilly Annie finally calved, Andrea stayed here on the couch to nap, and Dani was sleeping on the other couch. Lynn got up at 4 a.m. and looked out the window and noticed the young cows in the front pen were looking intently at Magrat in the side pen. She hadn’t been doing anything obvious when we all “crashed” at 2 a.m. but by 4 a.m. she’d calved. Andrea and Dani both got up to help us sled the new baby to the barn, since the weather outside was nasty/windy/cold. The heifer calf was black with a white star in her face, white feet, and white tip on her tail—a throwback to her great-great-great-great grandmother Baby Doll and to her grandmother Maggie (Dani’s favorite pet cow that we had to sell a couple years ago when she got old). So this heifer is named MagDoll and Dani hopes to make a pet of her. Here’s a photo of Dani with the calf, soon after it was born.
We helped the calf nurse (because Magrat’s teats are too long and low), then Andrea went home to go to bed. Dani went back to bed on the couch and I took one last look outside and noticed that our final heifer (first calver) was in labor. I got Dani up to help me, and we were able to put her in the barn to calve. I sent Dani back to bed and stayed up to watch the heifer because the calf’s feet that were emerging were huge. She finally got down to business and had the calf ok, but I gave a pull on it, too. It was a huge heifer calf. It’s nice to have all our first calf heifers safely calved out. There were only 3 cows left to calve, at that point.

The next day, Sunday, was a nice day (after a cold night) so Dani came down and rode Ed and I rode Dottie. The horses hadn’t been ridden for a week and were a little goofy but we had a good ride. Dani practiced using snaffle reins as well as the curb (she wants to learn how to ride English style as well as western), for the first time, and on our way home we found a nice white tail antler. Dani got off and got it and brought it home. Andrea was busy irrigating all afternoon. In spite of the cold nights, the grass is growing in the warmer afternoons and everything is looking green.

Dani helped me clean house a little, in anticipation of guests. On Monday Lynn went to town for physical therapy, and Andrea and I made a quick ride on Breezy and Dottie. When Dani got home from school she helped me with chores and we put several pairs out to the field and brought Rocket and her calf back in. Rocket still hadn’t cleaned, after having the twins, and is losing weight. She’s eating ok and doesn’t seem to be sick, but we brought her back to a pen by herself (below the barn) where we can pamper her with good feed and she doesn’t have to compete with the older cows.

On Thursday we tagged more calves and put those pairs up to the field with the other cows, and cleaned house. I made chili and corn bread and we had lunch when Walter and Jodi arrived. They drove partway here the day before, spent the night in Pocatello, and drove the rest of the way that morning. It was great to see Walter again (after nearly 16 years) and meet Jodi. We visited a bit then they went with Andrea to town (she had to go get Charlie, who missed the bus). Dani stopped here when Lynn got her and Sam off the bus, and helped me peel carrots and potatoes and do chores. I’d cooked a roast and we had dinner for everyone here that evening.

Friday morning Andrea took Sam to the doctor to have her elbow checked again and this time the x-rays showed both bones obviously broken, next to the growth plates. She was to continue wearing the sling, with lots of padding to keep the elbow immobile, until the bone doctor could look at it. Fast forward to today, and Sam’s appointment with that doctor. He ordered a hinged brace for it, which he will put on her elbow tomorrow.

Meanwhile, last Friday Walter and Jodi enjoyed helping us feed the cows and put Cupie Doll and her heifer calf out to the field. 
Jodi had been hoping to ride a horse while they were here, so Dani rode Ed, I rode Dottie, and we adjusted stirrups on Sam’s saddle for Jodi to ride Breezy. We had a really nice ride, making a big look over the low range, and Breezy did very nicely for Jodi. We were lucky to get that ride accomplished, because the weather got stormy again by late afternoon and then it rained the rest of the days of their visit! 
Friday evening was a bit hectic because Em’s car broke down on her way home from work. Andrea had to take the kids to Mark, and Robbie borrowed a car trailer and retrieved the car. We’d planned to have dinner at Andrea’s house (she made lasagna) but it got really late and Lynn and I just went to bed.

Saturday it rained all day. Andrea, Walter and Jodi helped feed cows. Then Andrea used the tractor to take new bales to the heifers and cows; Walter helped her while Jodi babysat the new batch of kittens that one of Andrea’s cats had (which Andrea rescued and brought in the house). Then they took Andrea’s car in to town for Em to drive until she gets her car fixed. We eventually had supper at Andrea’s house. Lynn and I drove up there in the rain on the 4-wheeler because her driveway was too slippery for our pickup, even with 4-wheel drive (the tires have no traction).

With all the rain the creek was very high (some of the snow on the mountains coming off) and our ditches were flooding. Sunday morning there was water coming down across the field where one of our hay feeders is, so we couldn’t get to it to put in new hay. Walter cooked a delicious brunch for all of us that day, and again we drove up there on the 4-wheeler. Then Andrea, Jodi and Walter helped Lynn put up an electric fence along the creek side of the field above the house, to keep the calves from sticking their heads through the elk panels (and getting stuck) and to keep them away from the ditch where they love to eat dirt and gravel.

Andrea, Walter and Jodi went to town that evening to pick up the kids from Mark, and I put Emerald (a second calver) in the calving pen. Since we wanted to make sure she calved ok, we ate dinner at our house that evening (so we could watch her, and because Jodi wanted to see a calf born). Andrea went up to her house and brought the food down and we had a pot luck. Emerald calved after dark, with her hind end pointed the wrong way for Jodi to get a very good view from the window. I ran out to make sure the sac was broken, and Andrea and I got the calf breathing, but had to fend off the mama because she was quite upset with us messing with her calf! It was a huge bull calf (twice as big as the little heifer she had last year) so it was a wonder she was able to have it so quickly and easily (only 15 minutes from the time the amnion sac came into view, until the time she delivered the calf).

That pen was muddy and wet, several deep puddles from the rain. The calf didn’t get up, so when he was 2 hours old Andrea and I went back out to get him up. He was big, clumsy and wobbly, flopping around and likely to end up in the mud puddles. So we got the calf sled and pulled him to the barn with mama following—so he’d have a clean dry place to get himself organized and get up and suckle.

The next morning the power went off while I was doing chores and watering the horses, so I had to wait and finish watering them later. Walter helped Andrea move hay around with the tractor before she went to town for her physical therapy. Her old graft contractures are still pulling her back and neck out of line, and the physical therapy is helping her a little. I cooked dinner for the whole crew again, and Emily and her boyfriend came out, too. Meanwhile we put Emerald and her calf out of the barn into one of the second day pens.
Yesterday Andrea, Walter and Jodi took the kids to school and then helped me with chores and feeding when they got back. Before they left to go back home to Colorado, Andrea took them for a drive up the creek, so Jodi could see the old cabin where Walter lived when he first came here. They drove on up the creek into the forest, so she could see the view looking down the whole valley.
Then they headed home, but hope to come back and visit us again in November.

Today the weather cleared up and we actually had sunshine. Andrea helped me feed the cows after she got back from taking Sam to the doctor to have her elbow checked (and will take her in again tomorrow for the hinged brace). We’re still waiting for our last cow (Maggeriete, nickname Shrek) to calve. She was our last one to calve last year, too, when she had Butterflybrow.

This afternoon when I checked on the calves and watered the cows, I took a few photos of some of the cows and calves, including Dani’s favorite calf MagDoll, and snapped a picture of Lynn waiting for me, sitting on some bales at my haystack, enjoying the afternoon sunshine.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Ranch Diary: February 14 through March 14, 2016

FEBRUARY 23, 2016 – Last Tuesday Michael, Nick and Robbie worked on the fence project to replace the old falling-down fence along our lane. Michael used the backhoe to dig out the rest of the brush, chokecherry trees and old fence posts. Lynn went to town that afternoon for a doctor appointment to have his hip checked. The doctor wants him to have an MRI to try to figure out the problem.

The next day Andrea, Carolyn and Dani left early in the morning to drive to Pocatello for Dani’s appointment with Dr. Christensen, the psychologist who has been evaluating Charlie and his progress (working with Charlie’s high-functioning autism) over the years. The custody evaluator (in the court battle between Mark and Andrea) wanted Dani evaluated regarding her social adjustment and recent problems in school. Dani has been having a hard time dealing with the stress of the on-going custody battle, which has been going on for more than a year now, ever since Mark re-opened the custody case wanting to take the kids away from Andrea. This mess has been very hard on everyone emotionally, especially the children.

Robbie helped me feed the cows that morning, and then helped Michael and Nick work on the fence. They got the rest of the new posts set before lunch. Lynn got the other kids off the bus after school and I fed them all supper, since it was late evening before Andrea, Carolyn and Dani got back home from their trip.

It rained in the night and the next couple days were very windy. The weather was terrible on Thursday, with wind, rain and hail, and the guys decided not to work on the fence. Andrea took Dani to the doctor to have the staples removed from her head gash, which has now healed fairly well. This was the deep gash from the icicle falling on her head, out at her dad’s place a few weeks ago—an injury that was belatedly treated/stapled at the ER, the night Andrea got the kids back from Mark (and took Dani to the hospital), since Mark didn’t take the child to a doctor.

With all the rain, our snow is melting and flooding everywhere. Andrea and Robbie spent several hours shoveling and ditching the water that was washing out Andrea’s driveway. The storm abated a little by Friday and the guys worked on the new fence again, putting the net wire on it.


They got that project finished, and started sawing out the brush in Fozzy’s old pen by the creek, so we can refurbish the fence around it and move Sprout into that pen. It’s a lot bigger and she’ll have more room, and some trees for shade. We can then move Rishiam into Sprout’s pen and free up the pen where he’s been living for a year and a half. We need his pen again for calving.

On Saturday Lynn got a phone call from a guy who needed a well site located, so he drove out to that place, near the airport, to water witch. On his way down the creek, he saw one of Alfonzo’s cows stuck on her back, unable to get up. He was about to try to go find Alfonzo, then Alfonzo showed up with his horse to rope the cow and pull her upright again so she wouldn’t suffocate.

The next day Sam got up early and went to church with her cousin Heather. Andrea and Robbie helped me feed, then started the tractor and took more big bales around to various groups for their feeders, and reloaded the feed truck. The heifers were glad to have new hay in their feeder.

Michael and Carolyn drove their truck down for some more big bales of alfalfa, and brought us 2 more big bales of oat hay.

Yesterday the kids didn’t quite get ready for school in time and missed the bus so Andrea drove them clear to school while Robbie helped me feed the cows. I cooked a big lunch for my fence crew again. They burned the big pile of brush/trees they sawed out of the creek pen, and started re-establishing the hot wire around the old jack-fence. 

Sprout will need the hot wire to keep her from chewing on the wood fence. The fire was still smoldering that evening but it was down to ashes and coals, and it wasn’t windy, so we figured it was safe to leave it. By this morning the remains of the brush pile were all burned up.

It’s been cold the past few mornings, and down to 8 degrees again this morning. The guys finished restoring the old electric wire around the creek pen, and rehung the gate, and I fed them lunch again. Andrea helped me trim Rubbie and Veggie’s long feet. They hadn’t been trimmed since early winter and their toes were much too long. I took photos of their long feet before we started trimming.

In the afternoon Lynn drove to town for his MRI. The technicians were able to view both hips at once, so he didn’t have to make two trips through the machine. On his way home he picked up stays (for the new fence between our place and Alfonzo’s cattle) and also bought electric wire insulators for the refurbished creek pen. The guys finished that pen this afternoon, and hung a new gate in the driveway fence.

Then they rehung one of the gates in Sprout’s old pen so it would be higher off the ground and not be so difficult to open when there’s snow on the ground. 

MARCH 5 – Last week our second load of oat/barley hay arrived, and Michael unloaded the truck at the upper stackyard with his tractor. The muddy conditions made it difficult for the big truck to get back out of the stackyard but Michael was able to pull it partway and then push it the rest of the way out to the county road with his tractor.

 The next day we worked cows. Michael and Carolyn vaccinated theirs early in the morning, luring them into the corral with their feed truck. They were finally able to get Alfonzo’s wild heifer captured and loaded into their stock trailer. She came into their field last fall when Alfonzo and his friends were rounding up his cattle off the range, ramming and jamming them in a big mob through the upper road pasture, and pushed her through the fence into the neighboring range. She crawled through that fence to come in with Michael and Carolyn’s cattle because she didn’t want to be all by herself. A few days later Alfonzo came back up there with his horse and tried to get her out but she was too wild and he gave up. Michael and Carolyn told him they would bring her home the next time they had their cattle in the corral. She refused to cross the creek, however, after it iced over last fall, and stayed by herself on that side for a while even though the other cattle went back and forth.

She was wild and goofy and they simply let her live with their cattle all winter, eating hay. This was the first opportunity to capture her, on the day they put the whole herd into the corral to vaccinate the cows with their pre-calving shots. But knowing how wild Alfonzo’s heifer is, and realizing she would try to crash the fence or jump out, the first thing they did was herd her and another cow into the trailer. The old gentle cow led the heifer into the trailer and then turned around and came back out, enabling them to slam the door and contain the wild heifer. After they vaccinated their cows, they hauled the heifer home to Alfonzo’s place.

Meanwhile, we rounded up our two groups of cows at feeding time, luring them down to the corrals with the feed truck. Dani helped follow the herds in from the fields. We were ready to vaccinate them by the time Michael, Carolyn, Nick and young Heather finished with theirs and came down to help us. Dani helped Nick and Heather push the cattle through the chute and Nick gave her some pointers on where to position herself, to encourage a cow to move forward in the chute.

After vaccinating our two groups and letting them back out into their respective pastures, we lured the 17 yearlings in from their field, with a little hay in the sled, and brought them around to the corral. We vaccinated, deloused, and tagged the heifers, giving them their permanent brisket tag numbers, dehorned the two that had horns. Andrea took pictures of Michael tagging Panda Bear and dehorning her.

We took that group back to their field, and then vaccinated the two yearling bulls from the back corral. We got it all finished by lunch time and I fed everyone lunch.

Michael, Robbie and Nick put the stays in our new fence at the lower end of the heifer pasture—the property boundary fence between us and Willard Colston’s place. We told Willard in January that we were rebuilding it and that he would be responsible for his half of the expense. We recently sent him an itemized list of the cost, and a bill for his half. Idaho state law says that adjoining property owners share the labor/costs of their mutual boundary fence. Willard responded by saying he would not pay it because he didn’t think a new fence was necessary. We had told him earlier that the old fence (built in 1967) was no longer adequate; we’d patched in many times over the years but some of the old posts were rotted off. Then during the past 5 years of Alfonzo leasing Willard’s place, Alfonzo’s cattle pressed it very hard, reaching through it to eat grass on our side when they were short on feed, and one of his cows jumped over it. We had a bigger problem with Alfonzo leaving his bulls next to our heifer pasture, with risk of bulls coming through/over the fence to try to breed our heifers. A good neighbor does NOT put bulls next to someone else’s open heifers! For multiple reasons, it was time to build a new fence—with or without Willard’s blessing or participation.

For the past month and a half, Alfonzo has been feeding his cows (and bulls with them) next to our heifer pasture, and a few days ago when I was walking through our heifers I took a photo of him feeding right below our new fence. Even though we also put a hot wire along our side to keep our heifers farther away, we can now rest easier knowing that Alfonzo’s bulls can’t come through our new fence.

On Saturday Andrea and Robbie used the chain saw and brush nippers to cut off all the little stumps that were left in the new pen after cutting down the brush, to make sure nothing sharp would injure a horse’s foot. Then they put Sprout into that creek pen, and moved Rishiam into Sprout’s old pen. Now we have our extra “calving pen” available again. I took photos of Andrea leading Sprout around to show her the new pen, taking her down across the creek, and Breezy watching her new “neighbor”. Breezy is still doing well with one eye—wearing her protective face mask to shield her good eye from too much sun.

It snowed off and on that day, and we were glad we did all the cattle work the day before when it was sunny and nice.

 We had several days of snowstorms and colder weather again, then melting snow and mud. Andrea had to move some of the big bales (with the tractor) to a different area of the stackyard because they were in water, and had to do it early one morning while the mud was a little frozen, so she wouldn’t get the tractor stuck.

Michael, Nick and Robbie worked on a couple more fence projects, finishing up one end of our second-day pens near the calving barn, and tearing out the old falling down fence in the hold pen at the end of our running chute, in the corral—to rebuild it.

Then we had terrible wind and blizzard Tuesday night, with new snow. The wind blew some empty water tubs across the lane, blew hay (laid out for the horses’ morning feed) a hundred yard, ripped and blew the tarp off the heifer hay that was stacked below the lane. We had more floodwater coming down the draw behind Andrea’s house when the snow melted, so Andrea and Robbie spent several hours shoveling and diverting it.

 Michael has been really miserable these last few days with an abscessed wisdom tooth. It needs to be pulled, but the dentist put him on antibiotics for a week before it can be pulled. He took a couple days off from fencing because he’s been in such pain.

Our smallest yearling heifer, Raindrop, was lame with foot rot, so we brought her in and pushed her into the chute with one of her buddies, and gave her injections of antibiotics. She’s walking better today. Andrea took another new bale down to the heifer feeder.

The past 2 days we’ve been cleaning house and getting ready for guests. Pete and Bev Wiebe are driving home to Canada after spending part of winter in South Carolina with the Mennonite Disaster relief group, helping rebuild homes. They planned to come through here and spend a few days with us before continuing their trip home to British Columbia. Yesterday Sam and Dani helped Lynn and me clean house (and Andrea worked on cleaning her house), while the guys finished setting the posts and hanging the new gates that go across our driveway. I took photos of them – open and closed.

These replace the old wood panel and broken aluminum gate that we drug across the driveway to block it every time we moved cattle back and forth from the calving pen to the barn and from the maternity pen to the field below the lane. I fed the guys lunch but Michael was somewhat limited on what he could eat, with his tooth really bothering him.

Today we were finishing up the house cleaning, expecting Pete and Bev to arrive this afternoon. Then this morning we got an e-mail from them just as they were leaving Salt Lake City, to let us know they were sick with a bad flu bug and had decided to drive straight home and not risk bringing sickness to us.

We continued cleaning house however (getting rid of piles of old magazines and newspapers) and after chores this evening we went up to Andrea’s house. She had prepared a big lasagna dinner in expectation of having Pete and Bev and all of us, but instead we just had a nice dinner to celebrate our anniversary (this was the 50th anniversary for Lynn and me). It was a nice evening, enjoying family around us, reflecting back over the many years here on Withington Creek—through good times and adversities—grateful for our wonderful family. Andrea’s friend Anita had baked a special cake for us.

MARCH 14 – Last Sunday morning was warm, 38 degrees. The snow continued melting, without a freeze to slow down the thaw. When Andrea, Robbie and I fed the cows that morning there was water coming into the irrigation ditch from the big draw behind Andrea’s house, overflowing into the lane by the creek and starting to wash it out. We had a shovel in the feed truck and spend a few minutes diverting it, then after we fed the cows Andrea and Robbie walked down the ditch at the bottom of the field to divert the water to the creek so it wouldn’t wash out the ditch. By midday there was a lot of water running down the draws on the other side of the canyon and filling the ditches along the Gooch place. The water was coming on down into our ditch and flooding across heifer hill. There was so much water that if left unchecked would create a gully across our field. Andrea, kids and Robbie had gone to town for a friend’s birthday party and Lynn headed off to try to fight the flood. I called Nick, who came down and met him at heifer hill, to help him put in a dam and divert the water down to the creek so it wouldn’t wash across our field or come on down into the next field.

On Monday Michael, Nick and Robbie finished rebuilding the fence in the little crowd pen at the end of our running chute, setting the gate posts in concrete and hanging a metal gate there to replace the old broken wood panel. I took a photo of their completed project, and while I was over there at the corral I also took a photo of one of our bulls—Thunderbull (coming 3 year old, son of Old Freddy).

I cooked lunch for the fence crew. Andrea brought more big bales around for the heifers with the tractor and tried to smooth out the deep ruts in our driveway. The mud is bad this spring! That night it snowed again, and we’ve had a little rain off and on, so it will take a while to dry out the mud.

Michael, Nick and Robbie had planned to start a custom fence job near Baker the next day, but postponed due to bad weather and Michael’s painful tooth. He’s now on a stronger antibiotic to try to clear up the infection (he had an earache and fever). On Wednesday the dentist pulled it, but he’s still been very miserable and unable to eat—trying to subsist on a liquid diet and still work on the custom fencing job. He’s doing a little better by today.

Some of our cows are starting to show more udder; it will soon be time to bring them down from the field to the maternity pen. They are due to start calving the first of April. Yesterday evening Dani and Andrea walked up through the big group by Andrea’s house to look at them.

They all had supper at our house after Andrea got the kids back from Mark. I was finishing chores as they got here, and Sam and Dani helped me feed the heifers with the new cart that Robbie made. He bolted one of our hay sleds (the one with the metal bottom) to a little 4-wheeled cart. It’s a lot easier to pull than a sled, now that the snow has melted, and holds more than any of our wheelbarrows. Andrea took photos of the kids helping feed with the new “cart” and on our way back to the house I took photos of one of our old cats.

The old gray horses stayed fat this winter, thanks to the alfalfa hay, which was easy for them to eat, with their bad teeth. Now they are starting to shed their long winter hair. Yesterday I took photos of their scruffy look, with patches of long hair missing.

They have just about made it through another winter! Veggie is 30 this spring and Rubbie is 29. We hope they’ll have another good summer.