Thursday, March 29, 2018

Diary from Sky Range Ranch - February 15 through March 20, 2018

FEBRUARY 22 – A week ago it snowed and was windy and cold all day. Jim finished packing his truck and left to go to California where a friend of his has a couple months’ worth of work for him to do fixing fences, remodeling some buildings, landscaping, etc. Before he left, I took photos of his most recent bluebird house, with fancy turquoise rock work on it. He hopes to sell some of his antler lamps, bird houses, etc. in California or to anyone who might want some of his artistic creations.
Jim's bluebird house
Michael worked on his Dodge truck for several days trying to get it running better again; the new alternator he put on it didn’t work, and may have ruined the computer in it. He went through all the wiring in a process of elimination to try to figure out why the battery wasn’t charging.

Andrea split wood (with the borrowed wood splitter) and stacked some split wood at the end of the house where it will be easier to bring in for the stove.

On Friday while the feed truck was empty Andrea hauled more little grass bales around from the stackyard to stack by the bull pen and Lynn used the tractor to load big bales on the truck, and move the straw bale the cows won’t eat. Andrea and I tied it back together and moved the feeder, and Lynn took the old bale down to the brush where we scattered it for bedding. Here’s a photo taken later, of the straw bedding in the brush for the cows, and deer in the foreground eating some of the hay we’d fed the cows.
straw in the bushes, deer eating hay
Lynn put a different straw bale in the feeder for the cows but they don’t like it either, and just won’t eat any of it. There’s not enough alfalfa in the “alfalfa” hay we bought; the cows can’t eat the straw without adequate alfalfa to feed the gut bugs that break down the roughage. Here’s a photo of the “alfalfa” bales that we are feeding; it’s a bit moldy and black (baled too wet) and mainly weeds.
weedy alfalfa hay
When we loaded more hay, we picked out the best looking “alfalfa” bale to bring around by the smaller back pen for the two young bulls, and put a feeder across one corner. We moved them from the orchard to the little back pen, where we can feed them in the corner feeder. We needed to get them out of the orchard because that’s where we’ll put the pregnant cows when we bring them down from the fields—to have them closer to the house, so we can watch them, for calving.

Saturday night it started raining, and by Sunday morning it had changed to snow. It was windy and snowstorms off and on all day, but between storms Lynn managed to change the oil in our old feed truck, with Robbie’s help. It got colder that night, down to 5 degrees, and the water pipes in Emily’s house in town froze up.

The high for the day was only 20 degrees. We had to break ice on the creek for the cows to water, and in the back pen for the bulls. We finished feeding and breaking ice in time to go to town that afternoon to try to figure out the C-pap machine for me. Medicare no longer pays for oxygen use at night, so my doctor wants me to use a C-pap to improve my oxygen intake. I don’t snore or sleep with my mouth open (like most people who need a C-pap) but when I’m asleep I breathe very shallowly and infrequently and my oxygen level drops. My mom had the same problem—just barely breathing when she was asleep. I’ve been on night oxygen for several years to try to help with that situation. We set up the machine for me when we got home from town.

That evening I made pizza to feed the kids when they got home from Mark’s place, and that night I tried to use the C-pap. It worked for a little while but it was hard to get to sleep because when the air pressure went higher it leaked around the face piece and also forced so much air into my nose that it came into my throat and out my mouth. It became so uncomfortable (making me burp up the air that had been forced down my throat) that I had to turn it off.

The next day, Tuesday, was still cold and got up to a high of 20 degrees. Michael brought his tractor down for diesel and used his tractor to move bales around (a new bale for the heifers and one for the young cows, plus a bale of straw for the young cows to bed on, and moved the straw bale out of the feeder for the old cows –we tied it together again like the other one—down to the brush for bedding because they wouldn’t eat it, either).

Michael took 2 bales of straw home to his cows.

I tried the C-pap again but just briefly; I actually got to sleep that time, but it soon woke me up when it went to higher pressure, forcing air down my throat. So I had to shut it off again.

Today was cold (8 degrees this morning, with a high of 26 degrees this afternoon). Andrea and Carolyn left early this morning to drive to Idaho Falls to take Dani to an orthodontist to assess her teeth problems. Lynn and I fed the cows, and he hiked down the creek to break ice on the water holes.
Lynn and I fed the cows
cows eating their breakfast
Later that morning Nick came down to help Lynn carry the last bags of stove pellets from the barn to the house, and Michael worked all day trying to figure out the wiring problems on his truck.

Alfonso stopped by to get some warm water from us, to mix with a bag of powdered colostrum substitute. He needed to bottle feed a newborn calf that got too cold in the night and was unable to nurse its mother. Alfonso was able to save that cold calf, but had worse bad luck yesterday when his milk cow got on her back in a ditch and died—leaving her 3 month old calf that now has to be raised on a bottle.

This evening Lynn went up to Andrea’s house to help Charlie start the fire after Charlie and Sam got home from school. Andrea, Carolyn and Dani got home just before dark from Idaho Falls.

MARCH 5 – We’ve had a lot of cold weather this past week—cold and windy. We had to break ice nearly every day for the cows and bulls. On Friday Michael and Nick worked on the fence in spite of the cold weather, and hung a new gate in the fence above the house. I fed them lunch.

I’m still having problems with the C-pap machine, in spite of changing masks and hose. Friday night it put so much air down my throat that I was burping and had indigestion. I took it off and was still so uncomfortable and full of air that I threw up.

Sam has been having problems with her eyes and doing jerky movements in her sleep. Andrea took her to the doctor here but they couldn’t figure out what was causing this, so Andrea took her back to the neurologist in Idaho Falls on Monday. He suspected it was related to the 2 concussions she’s had in the past several months.

The cold water intake on our washing machine is still not working so I brought in a hose to fill it for the rinse cycle, and no longer have to carry buckets of water from bathroom.

Every day when we feed the cows in the field by Andrea’s house the deer come to eat, too. We’ve had on average about 25 deer eating with the cows. I took photos one morning as we drove up to the field to feed; some of the deer were waiting by the brush, ready to come to the new hay as soon as we fed. I captured one young deer diligently biting at an itch (probably lice!)
some of the deer waiting for us to feed the cows
itchy deer
Tuesday was cold, 6 below zero. I got up early and plugged in the tractor and the feed truck. When Andrea and I went to feed cows the truck barely started and we discovered that the engine heater wasn’t working. Bob Miner came by to get the parts Andrea picked up for him in Idaho Falls and he looked at it, and Andrea crawled under and checked the wires to the engine. They looked a little loose so she tightened them and then the engine heater worked again. We got more little bales from the stackyard to feed the bulls, and some of my good horse hay for the young bulls, then she broke ice on the creek for the cows and in the back pen (at their spring) for the bulls.

Lynn brought home a ton of wood pellets (for the pellet stove in the livingroom) the day before, and Nick helped him unload all of those sacks of pellets into the barn across the driveway from the house. We mainly burn wood in the old stove in the kitchen, but on cold nights Lynn likes to run the pellet stove in the other room. Then he doesn’t have to carry wood all the way in there. The pellet stove is handier to fill at night. Charlie use the borrowed wood splitter that evening after school to split a few more of the big blocks they brought home a few weeks ago.

Emily’s cat had kittens, and Andrea took a picture of them when she stopped by Em’s house.
Em's new kittens
Wednesday was a little warmer, getting up to 35 degrees in the afternoon. When I went out to do chores that morning it was still fairly cold (15 degrees) and I discovered 5 stray horses in the lane by my hay shed! From the looks of the hay they’d eaten, pawed around and wasted, and the 20-odd poop piles, they’d been there for part of the night, and quarreling with our horses in the adjacent pens. I locked them in the calving pen in front of the house, and called Alfonso (left a message on his phone) to tell him his horses were at our place.

He came an hour later to get them, and told us he’d forgot to shut the gate out of the Gooch field where the horses were living. He caught a couple of them, to ride one and lead the other (and the rest would follow), to take them back up to the Gooch place, leaving his pickup here to come back for later. He had a little trouble getting on, however. I held the one horse while he led the other one up to a big tire by our driveway and used it as a mounting block to get on the horse bareback, but the horse was nervous and moving around and Alfonso overshot the horse and fell off on the other side. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt, and managed to get on the horse ok on his second try.

It took me two days to clean up all the hay bales they stirred around. I fed some of it to my horses, but had to discard a lot that they pooped and peed on. I discovered later that the horses had first gone up the creek when they got out, going clear up to Michael’s stackyard and tearing up some of his hay and fighting with Michael’s big old gelding, Captain, through the barbed-wire fence. Captain had a few cuts and scrapes from the barbed wire, but nothing serious. Then the horses had come all the way down to our place (2 miles) to come into my haystack.

Wednesday afternoon Nick worked here a couple hours fixing some broken poles in the bull pen and reinforcing the jackfence he and Robbie build there last summer. He also helped Andrea split some of the biggest blocks of firewood; she split a lot of it that afternoon and Charlie split a little more when he got home from school.

Andrea went to town to help with play practice; she’s been going in every day after school to help make the kid’s costumes and the stage sets, getting ready for the school play—the Elton John/Tim Rice musical Aida. Both Sam and Dani are in it this year. Here’s a photo of the poster for the play.
poster for the play
On Thursday Michael and Nick worked on the fence again and brought their blue truck down for a couple more big bales of straw. I fed them lunch, and by afternoon they had most of the new fence finished at the top of the horse pasture.

It was horribly windy that afternoon and evening. Charlie tried to split a little more wood but got wood chips in his eye. I flushed his eye with eye drops and he postponed the wood splitting until a better day.

The storm changed to snow in the night and we had several inches of new snow by Friday morning. As I stepped out the door to go do chores I saw a bunch of deer eating the big bales on the feed truck, and grabbed my camera.
deer eating hay on truck
Even after they saw me they didn’t want to leave, but as I continued to take photos they started to slip away and went across the bridge.
sneaking away
deer leaving and heading for the bridge
Michael and Nick started working in the calving barn later that morning, digging holes next to the old support posts so we can set new posts to reinforce them. The old posts holding up the roof are starting to rot off, after 36 years. With the cold wind and snowstorm it was nice to have an indoor project (in the barn) but the ground was frozen, making the digging slow.

The next day was very cold but the guys worked in the barn again. Charlie helped Michael and Nick get all the old straw out of the barn, forking it into the bucket of the skid steer and taking it out to the field below the lane for the heifers to bed on. The old bedding needed cleaned out of the barn before we start calving, and also it was good to get all the flammable material out of there before the guys started sawing, grinding and drilling, in case any sparks or hot metal fell into the straw. I fed them all lunch, and in the afternoon Charlie split some more wood.

Yesterday (Sunday) Robbie got Andrea’s old snowmobile running and they took the kids sledding that afternoon.
Charlie on snowmobile
Today Dani had a sore throat and didn’t make it to school. Andrea and I fed the cows and then Andrea cut Lynn’s hair while the tractor was warming up, and we took another bale to the heifers’ feeder. Michael and Nick brought the new posts for the barn project and started setting them next to the old posts to bolt them together.
new post next to old one
Today was our wedding anniversary (Lynn and I have now been married 52 years) but we didn’t do anything special; it was just another day—but we reflected on our many blessings and the fact we have our kids and grandkids nearby and helping us.

MARCH 13 – Michael and Nick worked on the barn again for several days this past week and I fed them lunch those days. It’s looking good. They have all the new support posts set now, and they are also fixing some of the broken partition panels.
new post to reinforce old one
fixing broken panel
Someone ran off the road along the Gooch place and went through the fence but didn’t wreck their vehicle; they drove along inside the fence and out through a gate at the top of that pasture to get back on the road. They must have been going really fast around that corner to lose control and drive through the fence!

Tuesday night was the first night of the school play, the musical Aida, and the kids did great. Dani and Sam have multiple roles. In several scenes they are part of the group of Nubians that were captured by the Radames, captain of the Egyptian army. Here are photos of Dani and Sam in their Nubian costumes.
Dani as a Nubian in play
Dani & Sam as Nubians
Lynn and I went to the play Wednesday night, and Charlie went with us. He drove us in, since we don’t like to drive at night. We thoroughly enjoyed it, seeing the end result of months of efforts for the cast and crew. Sam and Dani both did very well with their various parts and all the kids did a fantastic job. Here are photos of Dani and Sam in fancy costumes as palace maidens.
Dani in costume

Sam in one of her costumes
The play runs for 10 nights, and Andrea goes in every afternoon to help all the kids get ready, with their costumes and makeup, and to help clean up afterward. It’s a huge job to put on this kind of major production! Here are photos of Sam with other members of the wedding party, a picture of the middle school performers in the play (Dani in orange shirt) and a picture of the whole cast.
Sam & other cast members - the wedding group
Dani (center - orange shirt) with other middle school cast members
the whole cast
Meanwhile, we’ve been having more problems with our crazy irrigation district. Bob Loucks, the secretary-treasurer for our water district on the creek, finally turned in the water use report to the Idaho Department of Water Resources a couple weeks ago (more than 2 months late) and Carolyn looked at it online and realized there were several errors, including charging us for water that was actually used during August and September by other neighbors. She asked for a copy of the watermaster book to see if that’s where the error was, and was brushed off by Cindy Yenter (here at the local IDWR office) saying it was too late to correct it. Carolyn told her there had been no chance to correct it earlier because no one was able to see the report until now.

Cindy told her to take it up with the advisory board (one of which was the party who didn’t get charged for their water use and we got charged instead). So Carolyn sent a note to the advisory board explaining the situation and stating that she had the actual use records to prove that an error was made. The advisory board chairman (Jack Jacovak) sent Carolyn an e-mail dismissing the complaint and ragging her for waiting until now to say there was an error. Bob Loucks sent a nasty e-mail to everyone in our water district saying that one of the users was “raising hell and thinks they are being overcharged”.

So Carolyn wrote to IDWR asking how to file a formal complaint with the state, and at that point Cindy admitted that she herself had made the error. At our annual water meeting on Thursday Cindy made a long speech trying to placate Bob and the advisory board and finally stating that she didn’t check Bob’s erroneous figures and a mistake was made. After some discussion the group made a resolution that in future the report would be filed in a more timely fashion, BEFORE the deadline, and also that the secretary will send everyone the readings weekly so that any user will have a chance to correct errors. At this point in time we still don’t have a watermaster for the coming irrigation season. The one we had for 2 years, who was totally controlled by Loucks and Jacovak, refused to do it again, so we’re waiting to see who they come up with next to be their puppet.

On Sunday Michael, Carolyn and Nick vaccinated and deloused their cows. They had planned to give the cows their pre-calving vaccines much earlier, but there was too much ice across the little field below their corral and it would have been impossible to safely get the cows into the corral. The ice has finally melted enough and roughened up enough that they could get the cows to the corral without them falling down.

Sunday evening I fed Andrea and kids dinner after the kids got home from the weekend with their dad. They stopped first at Emily’s place, however, and Em gave Charlie and Robbie haircuts. Andrea took a photo of their improved looks! She also took pictures of Emily and her siblings
new haircuts
Dani, Em & Charlie & dogs
Em & siblings
Charlie brought his old Velma truck home again (it’s been parked out at his dad’s place all winter) because he can probably drive it now on our bad roads (not so icy and slick); it doesn’t have 4-wheel drive.

Yesterday we took a feeder around to the horse pasture and put a round bale in it, in preparation for bringing the young cows (first calvers) down here to calve. Dani and Charlie came down here after school; Charlie split wood for a little while and Dani brought the calving calendar she made –with all the cows’ names and due dates—to put on our wall. Dani is now as tall as Sam, and nearly as tall as Charlie. Here’s a photo of Dani and Charlie goofing around, with Dani wearing high heels and trying to be as tall as her brother.
Dani wanting to be as tall as Charlie
Today was hectic. Michael and Nick were still working on the barn, trying to get it finished up before we start calving and need to use it. We were going to start training our first-calf heifers to go in the barn--as soon as we bring them down from the field to the horse pasture--and we’d planned to bring them down today. One heifer decided to calve early, however.

I got the horse pasture gates ready and was hiking up through the field above the house to open that gate to let the heifers down and Andrea drove her 4-wheeler down from the top, through heifer hill, to start calling and leading the heifers down. But as soon as she came down to their field, and as I walked up from the field below, we could both see that one heifer was already calving. She was lying down, straining hard in labor, and then got up with her tail kinked out. Another hour and she would have calved right there, up in the field.

We brought the group down to the horse pasture and then eased Doll Baby (the calving heifer) on down through the orchard and into the calving pen where we could observe her from the house. We told Michael and Nick that we had a heifer calving, so they hurried to get finished with what they were working on in the barn and I fed them lunch as we watched the heifer progress in labor. She was 28 days ahead of her due date and we were hoping there wasn’t something wrong, to cause her to calve so early.

She calved quickly and easily, a tiny heifer calf. Andrea got the sac off its head and got it breathing, but it had breathed in some fluid and her breathing was very rattling. The young mama loved her baby and licked and licked, but the calf was slow to get up.
Doll Baby and new calf
The calf finally got up when it was about an hour old, but didn’t seem very strong, and didn’t manage to get to mama’s udder. So I mixed up half a bag of powdered colostrum in warm water, and fed the calf a bottle. She was hungry but only managed to suck about a pint before she got so rattling and choking that we had to quit. The calf rested for a few hours and we thought we might be able to help it nurse mama a bit later. Between the sunshine and mama’s licking, the calf was soon dry, but still shivering.

Andrea had to go to town to help with the play and do the actors’ makeup, but Charlie stopped by after school and helped me take a couple small bales of grass hay to the barn stall that was finished and ready, and we bedded it down with hay; the weather forecast was for rain and we thought we’d probably have to put the pair in the barn.

Andrea got home at 6 p.m. and I’d done chores early so we warmed another bottle to try to feed the calf again. She wouldn’t suck this time, and was very cold, lying on the wet ground. So Andrea carried her to the barn with mama following. The calf was so small she fit into a bucket. We got the pair in the barn and got the calf tucked into the hay bedding and hoped she would warm up.
premature calf
Doll Baby's calf in barn

We rewarmed the bottle and tried again to feed her but she wouldn’t suck. So we fed her via nasogastric tube. She was breathing rapidly in spite of being cold and I suspected she had pneumonia—and gave her a small shot of antibiotic.

Andrea went back to town to finish helping with the play, and she and the girls checked on the calf when they came home late, after the play. She still seemed weak, so a couple hours later I warmed some more colostrum and Andrea and I fed her again by tube, but she didn’t seem to be getting any stronger.

MARCH 22 – When I got up early that next morning to plug in the tractor and skid steer, I went out to the barn to check on the calf, and she was dead. Perhaps she would have had a chance to live if we’d brought her in the house soon after she was born, to give her intensive care, but it seemed like her lungs were not very strong. She was so tiny and immature. We don’t know why she was coming ahead of schedule, but she probably wasn’t quite ready for the world yet.

A few hours later, at chore time, I put the young cow out of the barn and back in the calving pen, and she bawled and bawled all day for her calf. Andrea helped me feed the cows and bulls, and we off-loaded the end of an alfalfa bale into the barn stall to use for training the other heifers (to feed them some alfalfa in the barn). Michael and Nick worked on finishing the swinging gate they made for the biggest aisle, so we’ll have an easy gate there for splitting that aisle rather than the old heavy panel we had to drag around, for all those years.
half of the double swinging gate
Lynn took the dead calf over the hill on his 4-wheeler and it was raining hard by the time he got back. We took a new bale out to the little heifers in pouring rain. It rained hard the rest of the day, and Michael and Nick were glad they were working in the barn instead of outside on the fence!

By the next morning the rain had changed to snow. The guys worked on the barn again and Andrea and I fed the cows. After lunch Lynn went to locate water for a rancher the other side of town. The nasty weather lasted through Saturday. Sunday was a little nicer and I took photos when Andrea and I fed the cows in the field below her house –one view looking down the creek toward our house, another view looking up the creek, and also a photo of the deer sneaking away toward the brush.
view from field looking down at our house
view from field- looking up the creek
deer sneaking away toward the brush
Doll Baby grieved and bawled for her lost calf for nearly a week. The calf had never nursed her, but she loved it and couldn’t understand why it was gone.

By Saturday the young cows had eaten all the bale in their feeder and it was time to feed them again. Rather than put in another big bale we decided to bring the other cows down from the field by Andrea’s house and put them in the horse pasture, too (since some of them are getting quite a lot of udder, and we don’t want one of them calving up there in the field with all the coyotes), and feed them all together as one group.

Andrea and I drove up to the field with the feed truck and lured the cows down into the hold pen, with Andrea stringing a little hay along to encourage them to follow us. But after they came down into the hold pen they decided they didn’t want to come into the corral, and since we had no one following them (to shut the hold pen gate) they went back up to the field. We decided to let them just wait for their food and think about it, and drove over to the horse pasture to feed the young cows. By the time we came back to the barnyard with the feed truck the older cows were not feeling so smug, realizing they didn’t get fed. They started trooping back down to the hold pen.

Andrea and I hiked up this of the creek, through the field above the house, where the cows couldn’t see us (with all the trees between them and us) and we slipped across the creek and came down behind them. By then they’d all gone into the corral to eat the little bit of hay we’d left there, and we had them captured. It was all very easy and simple, waiting until it was their idea to come down again. We took them over to join the young cows in the horse pasture, where they got their breakfast.

The mud is really deep where we drive through the gate above my haystack now to feed the cows, with the frost going out of the ground and all the moisture from the rain and snow we’ve had. We barely made it up through there with the feed truck to go around to the horse pasture. It was snowing hard again by the time we got the cows moved, so that evening Robbie put chains on the truck.

Michael and Nick used the skid steer to clean the last of the rocks and gravel (from their post hole digging) out of the calving barn, made the panels between the aisles into swinging gates with hinges, and now the barn is ready for use.
remodeling panel
Andrea and the kids went in early that afternoon to get ready for the final performance of the play, and stayed late afterward for the cast party. The play was a great success, with a packed house for all the performances. The party afterward was a lot of fun. They played charades, using the stage, and some of the performances were hilarious. Andrea took photos, and the person down on the floor acting out a part is Sam.
after cast party
charades at cast party - Sam on floor
On Sunday Lynn and I fed the cows, since Andrea and crew slept in after their late night. Then Andrea, Dani and Robbie came down late afternoon to help us put some pallets in the back stall of the barn (where we now have swinging doors to make a little hay storage room, for bedding) and haul some bedding bales to stack in there. Dani helped me do chores that evening and sort off the heifers to lock in the orchard for the night, where I could give them an extra bale of hay. She also helped me rake up all the fallen branches in the secondary calving pen (lots of branches the wind blew off the elm tree over winter) so we can use it for calving.

Then Robbie and Andrea had an emergency call from Emily that evening. Her car quit running, so they went to town to see if Robbie could fix it. While they were gone, a pipe in Andrea’s downstairs bathroom started leaking, so Sam turned off the pump so it wouldn’t keep flooding. All kinds of things to fix! Robbie wasn’t able to fix Em’s car but hopes he figured out what was wrong, and ordered some parts.

Monday morning I started training the heifers to go in the barn. Since they were already separate of the other cows (locked overnight in the orchard) I simply called them down into the calving pen, lured with a little hay. They come really well when I call them, knowing they are going to be fed. Then Lynn helped me get them across the driveway to the barn pen. They followed me and we locked them in there, but they didn’t want to go in the barn. We had one 4 year old cow with them and she marched right into the barn and started eating alfalfa, but it took a few minutes for the heifers to get brave enough to go in there. Once they did, however, they stayed inside that barn aisle to eat. We left them in there during breakfast then took them back to the horse pasture, and Andrea helped me feed the whole group.

Then she took the tarp off the woodpile, planning to split some more of the wood, when Dani called here from the school. She ran into the wall during some kind of running exercise in P.E. and hurt her elbow. So Andrea had to hurry off to town and take her in for x-rays. It was badly swollen and sprained, but not broken. Andrea stayed in town to help the kids finish cleaning up the theater that was used for the school play. Michael and Nick brought some poles to put along the top of the horse pasture fence, so now that fence project is finished. That evening Lynn helped me sort the heifers into the orchard for the night.

Tuesday morning after chores I called the heifers into the calving pen and led them to the barn myself; they came eagerly that time without anyone needing to follow, and they all went in without hesitation. Now it will be a lot easier, some dark stormy night, to get a calving heifer into the barn.

Andrea helped Lynn and me take a big round bale out to the little heifers and haul more little bales around for our spare stack (to add some grass hay to the big alfalfa bales we’re feeding the cows) and reload the feed truck.
our stack of spare bales
Michael and Nick came down to get the flatbed trailer and take the skid steer home, now that they’ve finished the fence and the barn. Charlie stopped on his way home from school to split a little more wood.

Wednesday I put the heifers in the barn again. These few times will be something they remember for the rest of their lives; they’ll associate the barn with something good and won’t ever be hesitant to go in there if we need them to. Now the hard part is getting them to go back to the pasture! They like eating hay in the barn.

Andrea helped me feed the cows and we managed to get through the deep mud again, thanks to the chains on the feed truck. With all the weight of two big alfalfa bales it sinks in pretty deep. After we fed, she put a few more little bales on the truck to augment the “alfalfa” for the next feeding.
Andrea loading little bales onto feed truck
This morning I gave the heifers one more training session in the barn and I think that will be enough. They eagerly go in there to eat the alfalfa.

***Stories about life on the ranch with our critters are found in my books: Horse Tales; True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, Cow Tales; More Stories from an Idaho Ranch, & Ranch Tales: Stories of Dogs, Cats and Other Crazy Critters.

Signed copies can be purchased for $24.95 each (or $70 for all three books) plus postage ($3 per book, or $7 for all three books)

Book orders can be made by phone (208-756-2841) or mail (Heather Thomas, P.O. Box 215, Salmon, Idaho 83467)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Diary from Sky Range Ranch - January 18 through February 14, 2018

JANUARY 28 – We’ve had some cold nights this past week, down to 10 degrees some nights and barely above freezing on the warmest days. I finished revisions and updates for the new edition of my book Storey’s Guide to Training Horses and got it sent back to the editor. Dani finished her school project to create a special exhibit/book review on a cereal box. She chose my book Cow Tales: More True Stories from an Idaho Ranch and used quotes from some of the chapters and photos from the book to decorate the cereal box, and it turned out pretty interesting.
front of cereal box
back of cereal box
The front of the box told about chapters that discussed calves that lived in our house, and had photos of Norman (who lived for several weeks in a big cardboard box) and Rudolph, the premature calf that lived in Andrea’s old crib. The back of the box featured another premature calf (Boom Boom) with a photo of him dancing around the living room, a calf that lived in our kitchen for more than a week after surgery (Dixie), and a cow that had a torsion of the uterus (Pandora).
The sides of the box had photos of our old milk cow, Baby Doll, and a calf named Bozo that had a broken jaw that we taped back together.
sides of cereal box
The ice on our lane and Andrea’s driveway is still thick, slippery and treacherous, making it a little tricky and dangerous to try to get up and down with vehicles or the feed truck, so Jim spent part of a day chopping up some of the ice on the worst (treacherous) corner on Andrea’s driveway. The next day it rained in the early morning, then the moisture froze on top of the ice, making it more treacherous than ever. The rain changed to snow before chore time and the snow on top of the sheets of ice made everything very slippery. Lynn slipped on ice and fell down on his back when we were sweeping the snow off the feed truck to get ready to go feed the cows. A couple years ago, another icy winter, Jim gave us “chains” for our boots, with stretchy rubber fittings to pull over the boot bottoms. I found mine a couple days earlier and had them on my boots, but Lynn didn’t bother to look for his. We found them and he’s using them now. They make a big difference on our ability to keep from falling. Michael brought his truck down for straw and we had him drive our tractor to take another round bale of hay up to the feeder on heifer hill for the pregnant heifers—since the road and driveway were so slippery. He’s had a lot of experience moving big bales with a tractor and was able to get up there in the snowstorm without sliding into the ditch.
Michael putting a big bale in the feeder on heifer hill
Michael taking the net wrap off the bale
He loaded our feed truck with big square bales and brought a big bale around to the pen by Shiloh, where I can flake off pieces of it for the little bulls. The next day, temperatures got up above freezing and all the new snow melted, making the ice on our driveways slicker than ever. Melting snow running down the draws filled several of our ditches, and water ran across the fields in a few places, including right where Michael and Lynn put the feeder on heifer hill. There was a lot of water all around it, which then froze, making slippery footing for the cattle trying to eat from the feeder. On Sunday Michael brought his tractor down for diesel, and helped us move more hay around—and took another bale up to heifer hill, to put in a better spot where there won’t be water and ice around it. Robbie used a bar to pry loose our spare feeder (it was frozen down to the ground) next to the barn pens, and he and Andrea took it up to heifer hill for Michael to put a new bale in it. Robbie barred the other feeder (stuck in the ice flow) loose and was able to move it, but what was left of the big hay bale was froze down in the ice. It had soaked up water and frozen the core of it solid. Robbie moved some of the hay away from the ice, but was unable to move the frozen part. While they were there, Andrea checked on those cattle, and was missing one—Starfire, a young cow pregnant with her second calf. Andrea went to look for her and found her down in the brush, looking dull and in pain, kicking her left hind leg. Andrea brought Starfire up out of the brush to the field and the hay feeder but it was obvious the young cow didn’t feel good and wasn’t interested in eating. She and Robbie drove back down to tell me about Starfire, and we went back up there to look at her more closely. She didn’t seem sick, just in pain, and was still picking up that hind foot while she stood there, like it really hurt. Perhaps she fell down on the ice and injured it. Anyway, she wasn’t going to do very well, competing with the other cows, and we didn’t want her to fall down again trying to go to the icy creek for a drink. We slowly brought her down through the field and into the corral below the barn, where I can feed and water her. On the way past the barn we caught her in the head-catch and I gave her an injection of Banamine (an anti-inflammatory drug that also eases pain) and DMSO (also a good anti-inflammatory) to help the injured joint/tendon or whatever was affecting her leg. By the next morning she was feeling a lot better, eating and drinking again, and not showing any signs of pain in the leg. She was a bit sore again 2 days later after the effects of the Banamine and DMSO wore off, but was still eating well. We’ll keep her here by herself a few more days until she’s fully recovered. Our neighbor Jack Jakovac started calving a month ago, and has a lot of young calves in his field. Andrea took a photo of one colorful pair as she drove by; Jack bought a handful of colorful “oreo” cows (black and white) last fall.
Oreo cow and calf
Dani came home sick after last weekend at their dad’s place, and didn’t make it to school all week; she had a high fever on Monday and was having trouble breathing, so Andrea took her to the doctor, who did blood tests and took chest x-rays to make sure she doesn’t have pneumonia. It seemed to be a viral infection and possibly early pneumonia.
On Thursday Andrea and Sam drove to Idaho Falls, for a doctor appointment with a specialist for Sam (to try to figure out her severe headaches) and Andrea’s regular pain doctor appointment. Sam’s doctor started her on some medication that’s supposed to help with the headaches. While they were gone, Jim helped me feed the cows, and we were glad we got them fed early in the morning. By mid-day the weather changed to strong winds and a blizzard, with a several inches of new snow. I took photos of Ed and Dottie later that day in the new snow.
Ed finishing her breakfast in the new snow
Dottie finishing breakfast
Michael had to rescue Yoder’s tractor that slid off their driveway down into their garden fence. He took the bale processor of his 4-wheel-drive tractor and was able to pull the other tractor back up onto the driveway. Then came down here and helped us move bales around. We took a bale to the heifers below lane, but when he tried to get the next bale to take to heifer hill, it was frozen down. When he tried to pick it up, he broke off a tine on his loader. It was stuck in the bale but we were able to use a big wrench to get a grip on it and pull it out. Lynn called Bob Minor, who came up to the ranch and put a new tine in Michael’s loader. Our pickup battery was dead, so Bob used jumper cables to get it started so Lynn could drive to town for the mail, groceries, and a new battery. Yesterday Michael and Nick got done building fence at Skinners and brought their skid steer over here, and I fed them lunch. Today they brought a load of poles and started working again on our fence project—to finish the new fence around the little pasture above the house where we’ll have the cows and calves in the spring. The last straw bale we took to our cows, they won’t eat. It was some rotten stuff that a local rancher sold us, that had been rained on several times, turned several times, but still moldy. Andrea and I pitched some of it onto the feed truck after we moved the feeder, and took that straw to scatter in the brush for the cows to bed on.

FEBRUARY 6  Last Monday was very busy. I wrote an article when I got up early, fed the horses before daylight and came back in to do two phone interviews for other articles, then went back out to break ice and water the horses and heifers and feed the little bulls. Lynn went to locate water for a well, for a new property owner on a ranch toward town.
I drove the feed truck up to the field, where Andrea hiked down to meet me from her house and we fed the cows. Then we pitched more of the old straw onto the feed truck and hauled it down to the brush for bedding. Then Andrea took a little hay on a sled, down to the creek, stringing a little trail of enticement to encourage the cows to start using the lower water hole where the ice shelf isn’t so thick and deep—where it’s easier for them to try to get a drink. I spent the rest of the day typing some interviews, after I took a photo of the Beaverhead Mountains across the valley, with a bit of sunlight glistening on their snowy tops.
Beaverhead mountains - view from our back porch
Michael and Nick brought another load of poles for the fence that afternoon, and started working on the fence again the next day. It was windy but warm. The wind blew the tarp off our feed truck and blew some of the horse hay across the barnyard. With the warm weather, snow was melting and a lot of water running down the draws behind Andrea’s house and off the hills on the other side of our place, filling the ditches and running across the fields. Andrea worked on the flood problem all day, trying to shovel ice out of strategic areas in the ditches to try to divert the water directly down to the creek and not flood so much of our fields and driveways. I fed lunch to Nick and Michael and they worked several more hours on the new fence and got most of the top rails on. The fence across the top end of the little pasture is nearly finished.
fence across top of pasture
It got cold again that night, however, and I plugged in the tractor so it would start the next day to move hay. I plugged in the skid steer for Michael, but he and Nick were slow to get here that day. They lost Tiny (their oldest cowdog) during the night. She was almost 16 years old and had been in ill health for several months. They’d been keeping her in the house at night, but that night she had another stroke. Nick discovered her problem when he got up in the night to check on her. Tiny was his favorite dog and she had been a loyal companion and good cow dog—traveling many miles with family members when they were riding range and working cattle over the years. Here’s an old photo of Tiny and her brother helping young Heather move cattle on the high range, and the dogs resting at one of the water troughs while thirsty horses and riders get a drink.
dogs helping move cattle
resting at water trough
They buried her in the “family cemetery” behind the house where other favorite old dogs and a couple of horses are buried. The frozen ground was a challenge, however; Nick spent 3 hours working on a burial hole before breakfast and finished it after they got their chores and feeding done. Nick and Michael came down to work on the fence late morning, about the time we were ready to take another big round bale to heifer hill. Jim took a bar up there to pry the feeders loose from the ice where water ran through them the day before, and thought it was too slippery to bring the tractor up the road. So Michael took the bale up through the field. Then he and Nick worked on the fence all afternoon and Lynn loaded 2 straw bales on their truck and took 2 big bales of alfalfa to the big bulls—where we can give them a little at a time in their feed manger to go with their grass hay. Then Lynn helped Andrea put sand on the ice at the water hole for the cows, so make the ice less slippery. Ice across the lower end of the field by Andrea’s house has made it challenging to drive the feed truck up there; it slides sideways down the slope. The main road was so slippery on Thursday that the Amish had trouble hauling a cabin that they built, bringing it down from Yoders place; their flatbed trailer and tractor slid off the road and they had to get another tractor to pull it back on. Friday it snowed, on top of the ice, making footing even more precarious. I took photos of the new snow on my hay shed, and of Willow eating out of her feeder in her snowy pen.
hay shed and new snow
Willow's snowy pen
We used our tractor to put an old straw bale in the back pen for the bulls, to give them something dry to bed on rather than ice or mud. That night it warmed up and rained, making more floods and slippery ice. Andrea spent a couple hours chopping ice with the ax to make a channel for the water flooding down our driveway—so it won’t all go in the old barn and shop. We had more runoff again on Monday, so it was good to have a “ditch” through the ice to carry the water on past the shop. We’ve had several warm days, and most of the low snow has melted and some of the ice has softened up. The horse pens are muddy instead of icy, and some of the horses have been rolling in the mud. Here’s a photo of Shiloh covered with mud when she came to get a drink. I took a photo as I was watering her.
muddy Shiloh drinking water
Michael and Nick worked on the fence again yesterday and today, and I fed them lunch. They are getting the side along the ditch and road finished and it’s looking good.
fence along road side of pasture
The young cows on heifer hill ran out of hay and their feeders were empty, so Andrea and I fed them a few flakes of hay off the big bales on the feed truck. We had a little snow last night and this morning but not enough to stop the fence project. Andrea went with Dani’s class at school on a field trip to go snowboarding and snowshoeing, so Lynn and I fed the cows. Here’s a photo of Andrea on show-shoes and some of the kids on skis for cross-country skiing, and Dani skiing.
Andrea and some of the school kids on field trip
Dani's field trip
Dani skiing
Andrea and Dani on field trip
This morning I did a washing and carried buckets of cold water from the bathroom to fill the washer for the rinse cycles, since the cold water intake on the washing machine no longer works. Eventually we’ll have to figure out how to fix it! By this afternoon Michael and Nick had the top end of the new fence finished enough (with the net wire on it) to put the young cows in the little field above it. They brought the 2 empty feeders down from heifer hill into that next section of pasture and left the gate open so the young cows could come down. Tomorrow we’ll put hay in their feeders and lock them down in that field between heifer hill and the cow-calf pasture that’s getting a new fence.

FEBRUARY 14 A week ago Andrea called all the young cows down through the gate and into the field below heifer hill. Lynn took a big round bale of hay up there with a tractor to put in one of their feeders, and I brought Starfire from the pen below the barn and herded her up through the little pasture above the house to join her buddies. She’s fully recovered from her leg injury. The big round bales we bought have worked out well for the young heifers and the pregnant heifers, with a nice mix of grass and alfalfa. We are very disappointed in the big square alfalfa bales we bought from a different rancher; there’s not much alfalfa in his hay and it’s mostly weeds and a little overly-mature stemmy alfalfa. The cows don’t like it very well and it doesn’t contain enough protein to use any straw with it. Cattle need protein to feed the “gut bugs” that break down and digest straw (creating an energy source with the volatile fatty acids created). Our cows won’t eat any straw at all now because there’s practically nothing but roughage in the so-called alfalfa hay. We paid way too much for this hay, and are having to feed 4 times as much per day as planned, because it’s so low in protein that the cows won’t eat any straw. We’re feeding this hay to the older cows and our bulls. I took photos of the weedy hay on the feed truck, and the bales by the bull feeder, and the hay in their feeder. It’s nothing but weeds!
bale on feed truck is just weeds
bale for bulls
weedy bale
weedy hay in bull feeder
Michael and Nick kept working on the new fence up until the weekend, finishing another side of the pasture. They brought another load of poles, for rub rails along the netting so the cows can’t stretch and ruin the net wire by rubbing on it. With several days of warm weather the frost has started going out of the ground and Michael got his truck stuck (pulling the trailer load of poles) in the gateway just past my hay shed, heading out into that little pasture. But he anticipated that possibility and had Nick drive the skid steer up there first. It still has chains on, and Nick was able to pull Michael’s pickup on through the deep mud in the gateway. The blackbirds came back last week and so did Alfonso (from his winter months in Mexico) so maybe it is spring. He had a friend feeding his cows for him while he was gone, every other day. Thanks to a milder winter his cows don’t look as bad this year as they have some years in the past. On Saturday he moved his cows up the road to the Gooch place, and maybe weaned some of the calves; a lot of his cattle were bawling all night and the next day, and some were crawling through his fences into the pasture above heifer hill and trying to come down through our place. On Sunday Andrea, Robbie, Andrea’s kids (including Emily) went up Hughes Creek to get firewood. Our friend Russ helped them get some fire-killed trees down off the mountainside and they loaded a couple trailers with firewood and logs. Here are photos of Russ helping them, using his tractor, and helping saw up the logs.
Sam, Russ and Dani
Em, Dani and Russ
The kids worked hard helping load, but also had fun clowning around, using the soot off the dead trees as war pain on their faces.
Emily with soot war paint
fearless firewood getters
While hiking around in the woods, Dani found a big rock with a unique marking on it like a picture of a rabbit, so she posed with it and her sisters.
Em and Dani on firewood trip
Em & younger sisters
Sam and Dani both posed on tree stumps (after the guys sawed off the trees for firewood logs] for their mom to take photos of them. She also took a photo of Russ and his tractor loading the biggest log onto Robbie’s little trailer. Dani nicknamed that log “Precious”. She loves to name everything!
Dani as fierce Indian
Sam helping get wood
loading big log
Here on the ranch that morning Michael brought his feed truck and we loaded a couple more big bales of straw for him. When Jim was taking the plastic netting away from the stack so we could get to the straw (which is stacked next to the big bales of alfalfa) he noticed wisps of smoke coming out of the stack. In the junction between the stacks where the old tarps had some holes in them, water ran down into the hay and it was wet and heating. One of the straw bales we loaded for Michael was singed and the alfalfa bale next to it was hot and smoking. We set it aside, well away from the stack, so it can cool down. Michael then hurried home so he could finish up an article he was working on, with a deadline the next day. I am pleased to see him doing more writing; he’s been selling articles to several farm and ranch publications. He had a couple articles in this month’s Nevada Rancher, one called Now is the time to tackle stock trailer maintenance and another one called A Tribute to the Programs that Promote Agriculture and the People Who Make it Possible. I thought it very fitting that he had two articles in that issue; it also contained my article called Four generations of writers from Withington Creek in which I told about my dad, myself, my son, and a couple grandkids being published writers. It all started many years ago! My writing career began early, thanks to my father. In grade school I wrote stories about horses and by 5th grade I was making my handwritten stories into little “books” with illustrations (I also loved to draw horses). I had my own little library with handmade booklets that I loaned to fellow students to read. Some of my stories were long and never-ending (like a series “to be continued”) as my vivid imagination kept inventing new adventures for my fantasy horses. When I was 12, my father suggested I write a shorter story to send to a magazine. Ironically the short piece I wrote was not about horses but about a family out for a picnic, encountering a bear (“The Picnic Adventure”). I typed that one, using the hunt and peck method on Dad’s old typewriter that he used for typing sermon notes. Dad sent my story to Trails for Juniors, the weekly magazine published for Sunday School kids. To my surprise, I received a nice response from the editor, and a check for $10. This beginner’s luck set my course for the future, when I realized I could actually get paid for doing something I loved. Over the next few years I sold more than a dozen illustrated stories and multiple cartoons to Trails for Juniors and other children’s magazines (Highlights for Children, Jack and Jill, Classmate, American Junior Red Cross News, etc.) and began writing a few articles for farm and livestock publications. I loved writing about horses! Here are photos of my first horse – taking my cousin for a ride, and then a few years later riding with my dad and brother, heading out from our barnyard to ride range and check cattle.
Heading out to ride range in 1958 -Dad on Possum
cousin & me on Possum
Horses and cattle were my passion and by then I had cattle of my own and was raising and training my own young horse. I was learning all I could about horses and cows, and sharing that knowledge in my articles. During my high school years I wrote many stories and articles, as a way to try to earn and save money for college. Some of my writing attempts were unsuccessful, of course, and I had lots of “reject” letters along with the acceptance letters and checks. The most exciting “sale” when I was in high school was to Farm Journal. I’d sent an article about our 5-H Wranglers (the 5th H stood for horses), the first 4-H horse club in Idaho. The editor bought it for $100, which was a lot of money in 1959, and the most I’d ever received for an article. Farm Journal sent a photographer to Salmon to take pictures of our club, and when the article came out the next year (Like Horses? Start a 4-H Club), my yearling filly Khamette and I were on the cover!
Farm Journal Cover
During college I continued to write for children’s magazines and a few more ag publications and horse magazines (Idaho Farmer, Western Livestock Reporter, Western Livestock Journal, Arabian Horse World, Western Stockman, Western Horseman) and an article about Quarter Horses to Westways. I had found a way to earn a little extra money, which came in handy during college years. When Lynn and I were married, we started buying the little ranch on Withington Creek from my parents, along with another ranch next to it. My writing became even more important as a way to help pay the bills as we struggled to get started with a herd of cows. This became my “off-farm job” that I could do at home in between taking care of cattle, training horses, and raising our two children. I had more purpose for my writing; it was more than a fun hobby that earned money. It became a necessity. It was also a perfect way to combine my passion for horses and cattle with teaching. My goal has always been to learn all I can about horses and cattle and share that knowledge. Meanwhile, I wrote my first book (A Horse in Your Life: A Guide for the New Owner) during the summer of 1964, between my sophomore and junior year of college, and it was published in 1965. I wrote several more books during those early years (Your Horse and You, 1970; Horses: Their Breeding, Care and Training, 1974; Horses: A Golden Exploring Earth Book, 1976; The Wild Horse Controversy, 1979; and Red Meat: The Original Health Food, 1983) but mainly wrote as many articles as possible to sell to horse and cattle publications. One year in the early 1970’s when we were desperately short of money and had to buy hay, I was asked to write 20 short booklets on various horse care topics for a horse course. That job helped us buy the hay and survive a tough year. Ranching was our passion but we had to find ways to survive!
Heather & Lynn as young ranchers
I continued to write as many stories and articles as possible, to help pay the bills and keep the ranch going as we paid for the ranch and cattle. The cattle paid for themselves and the ranch, but my writing helped us pay ongoing bills (power, phone, machinery repairs, insurance, etc.) and bought our groceries. In 1995, Storey Publishing asked me to write the “calf” book in their Kid’s Guide series (Your Sheep, Your Goat, Your Chickens, etc.) so I wrote Your Calf: A Kid’s Guide to Raising and Showing Beef and Dairy Calves. Storey then asked me to write books in their other Guide series. I wrote Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, followed by Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses, Storey’s Guide to Training Horses, and then several other books for them: The Horse Conformation Handbook, Essential Guide to Calving, The Cattle Health Handbook, Stable Smarts, and Getting Started with Beef and Dairy Cattle. Finally, I wrote a series of books just for fun (with a different publisher, The Frontier Project) about some of the interesting and challenging experiences we’ve had on the ranch with our horses, cattle and other animals. These books are collections of a wide variety of stories—some humorous, some tragic, some inspiring and amazing. Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch was published in 2014. Cow Tales: More True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, and Ranch Tales: Stories of Dogs, Cats and Other Crazy Critters were published in 2015.
Horse Tales book cover
Cow Tales book cover
Ranch Tales book cover
My writing, for the past 52 years, has been intimately intertwined with ranching. It has helped support the ranch and the ranch inspired some of the subject matter I write about. In essence, my writing is just another “crop” from our ranch. I am grateful to my father for helping steer me onto this path, because he sent my first story for a chance at publication. He was also a writer; he sold several articles to church magazines. I think we inspired each other. After my first book was published, he started writing some inspirational books and eventually published 4 of them. His first one, By the River of No Return, published in 1967, was a collection of modern-day parables, using some of his outdoor experiences and the ranch as ways to help the reader understand the message. In his preface he said the book was the result of many happy hours at Sky Range Ranch, “our home in the mountains of central Idaho, situated in the valley of a small tributary of the famed Salmon River, better known as the ‘River of No Return.’ This wonderful, wild river cuts the state of Idaho in two with a canyon deeper than the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. It flows through a wilderness where there are no roads, and a boat trip down the river is not only a thrilling adventure but always a one-way trip [before the advent of jet-powered boats]. This one-way trip down the River of No Return is to me a symbol of life, for life is always a one-way trip. There can be no going back, but the future is always a challenge and a promise.” Chapter titles included Satellites and Saddle Horses, Raspberries by an Irrigation Ditch, Snow in the High Country, Hills and Valleys, He Makes Me Lie Down, Yellow Bells, With Wings like Eagles, The Grass is Greener, and Like a Shepherd. His book was hugely popular because it expressed profound truths about God and His love for us in very simple stories that people could easily relate to.
Dad riding Nell
His other books were also very popular. Wild Rivers and Mountain Trails was published in 1972 and some of the chapter titles include Snakes and Butterflies, Yardlights and Stars, To Corner a Toad, From Here to Jackson’s Strawstack, To Catch a Rat, Switchbacks on the Trail, Empty Creel, High Mountains in the Distance. His 3rd book, Sagebrush Seed, was published in 1977 and continued with more short lessons in life, portrayed in chapters with titles like Good Grass Grows; The Rifle on the Wall; Horse Bells; Cleaning Ditches; Without a Lead Rope; The Dogs of God; Beyond the First Range of Hills; Don’t Let it Spoil Your Supper; Carrots, Cow Parsnips and Water Hemlock; Today We Picked the Apricots; and Jump for a High Branch. The 4th one, The Open Gate, was published in 1989. Chapters included Fireweed and Ashes; In All Generations; Pruning Peach Trees; Prayer on the Run; When the Rocks Talk; Square Watermelons; Any Bush Will Do; The Turkey Trap; Chasing Donkeys; Fences, Frogs and Pollywogs; A Bucket of Muddy Water; and Little Tiger Cat.
Dad in middle age
Dad in pulpit
My dad’s sermons and books were an inspiration to many people, partly because he had a gift for expressing great truths in simple language. I like to think that I inherited some of that gift, putting complicated things into words anyone can understand. That’s the task of a writer, in my opinion, and that’s the advice I give budding young writers: make it simple. Never talk “above” your reader. I think this is especially true for ag writers because we often deal with technical stuff, whether it’s the medical problems of livestock or the how-to steps in machinery repair and maintenance, or a complicated irrigation system. Our job is to make it easy to understand and enjoyable in the process. I am pleased that the “writing bug” and ability to communicate through written words has continued through several generations here on Withington Creek. Michael started writing training manuals for workers at Micron Technology (a global company based in Boise, Idaho)—putting very technical material in understandable terms—when he worked there for several years after college, when he and Carolyn were first married.
Michael & Carolyn
But after he and Carolyn had kids they decided they’d had enough of city life and wanted to raise their kids on a ranch.
Carolyn & little Heather
little Heather
For the next 20 years Michael was too busy raising cattle, taking care of several leased ranches and doing custom haying to think about writing, but now he’s back at it again—writing articles for farm and livestock publications. He brings a wealth of experience to his work as a writer, which is another piece of advice I always give to young people: write about what you know--or at least something you are interested in and learning about. This always makes your work more credible. The fourth generation is carrying on the tradition. Michael’s daughter Heather Carrie (now married to Gregory, a young grain farmer in Saskatchewan) began a writing career early, planning her first book while she was still in college. She has always enjoyed horses, just like grandma, and began training horses professionally while she was in high school.
Young Heather training Spotty Dottie
Young Heather training young horse
She continued training horses during her summers in college, when she was home at the ranch, training horses for local ranchers and a people from other states. Wanting to share her tips and advice on horse handling (valuable knowledge gleaned from her own experiences training and working with a wide variety of horses), she wrote her first book. She called it Basic Horsemanship: How to be Safe with Your Horse. The cover photo—a picture of her youngest cousin Dani with one of Heather’s horses--was taken by her cousin Emily. The book was published in 2015 by the Frontier Project. She hopes it will be useful to young horsemen and women, 4-H horse groups, etc.
Young Heather's book, basic-horsemanship
My youngest granddaughters (Andrea’s kids) also like to write. They enjoy writing stories for school, and Dani (now 13), had a poem published last year in a book of poetry written by kids across the nation. Before that (in October 2015, when she was not quite 11 years old) she wrote a story about her favorite cow, Maggie, and I included it as part of a story I wrote about that cow, for a livestock paper. So Dani became a published author, too, at an early age. I hope my grandkids continue writing.
Young Heather is launching into her own “off farm job she can do at home” with the beginning of a regular column for Grainews (a Canadian farm publication), telling about her experiences as a young farm wife and mother. This month marks a unique situation; the February 6 issue of Grainews contained her first column, along with my column (Rancher’s Diary—which I’ve been writing for that publication for 40 years) and an article by Michael. So we had 3 generations of us represented in that issue! Meanwhile, here at the ranch, Monday was cold and windy (12 degrees that morning, with a high of 28 degrees in the afternoon) but Michael and Nick brought a load of poles and worked on the fence again. At least this time they didn’t get the truck stuck in the mud going up to the field! The mud was VERY frozen. Jim helped me feed the cows while Andrea took one of Emily’s kittens to the vet; it has a broken leg. She also took Dani to the dentist. Dani has a couple of permanent teeth that are pushing her other teeth out of line; her mouth is too small and her teeth are too big. She now has an appointment with an orthodontist next week in Idaho Falls to have a couple teeth pulled to make room for the others. After play practice at school, Sam and Charlie stopped by to see their older sister Emily at work at the hospital while she was on her break, and Andrea took a photo of the 3 of them.
Sam, Em & Charlie
Yesterday was my birthday so I am feeling OLD! I got up at 3 a.m. and after checking the temperature (7 degrees) I went outside and plugged in the skid steer and the feed truck to make sure they would start ok later in the morning. Jim helped me feed the cows since Andrea had to go to town early to get Emily’s cat from the vet. Michael and Nick came down mid-morning and worked on the fence and I cooked lunch for them. They put more elk panels on the fence along the creek until it warmed up. That side of the fence must be deer and elk proof because it’s the back side of our stack yard on the other side of the creek and we need to keep the wildlife out of our hay stacks.
Elk panels on the fence
After lunch I hiked up through the fields to check on the heifers in the field above the house, since I haven’t seen them lately. They are fat, and enjoying their hay in the feeder. Looks like we’ll need to bring them another bale in a couple of days. I also checked their water hole to make sure those young cows could get down to the creek after the flooding washed the bank away and made it steeper. I took photos, but you can’t see the steep drop-off of the bank on this side.

pregnant heifers at feeder
water hole
I also took photos of Nick and Michael working on the fence, stretching the net wire between the posts and putting up the rub rails so the cows won’t be able to rub on the netting. The new fence looks really good and should last a long time.
Before they left for the day, they checked on the situation in our calving barn to see how many big tall posts to order. The old uprights holding the roof are starting to rot off at ground level because of the moisture every spring that subs up into the barn. They plan to dig down alongside those posts and set some sturdy short posts next to them, secured in concrete, and bolt them together. Just after they left to go home, Alfonso drove down the creek on his tractor. Lynn went up to the mailboxes a few minutes later to check the mail and saw Alfonso’s tractor off the road, down the hill upside down, through the fence. He rushed down there to make sure Alfonso wasn’t stuck underneath it, and came home to call Michael, then went back down there to see if he could find Alfonso. Michael and Carolyn came down to help, too. Luckily, Alfonso was only a bit banged and bruised; the cab on the tractor saved him. Even though it broke the windows out and tweaked things a bit, Alfonso had hung on for dear life and rode it out, then was able to get out and walk on down to his pickup and call a couple other neighbors. Jack Jakovac was coming up the creek with his backhoe and Sy Miller brought another tractor. Michael helped position and reposition chains on the upside down tractor and strategize the rescue; it took both machines pulling at different angles to right the wrecked tractor and pull it back up the bank onto the road. Being upside down, the tractor had lost its hydraulic fluid, so Lynn came home to call the oil/gas company before closing time, to have them set out some hydraulic oil for Alfonso, who drove to town to get it. Then Lynn helped him put it in the tractor. It seemed to run ok, so Alfonso was able to drive it home, just before dark. He was grateful for the neighborhood rescue effort, and we were glad that he wasn’t seriously injured. Today was a really nice day so I took my camera with me doing chores and took photos of Lynn’s favorite old cat, Edna, while she was helping me.
Edna sunning herself on bale
guarding hose
This cat always likes to accompany me while I’m feeding the horses, and waits at the gate when I go down in the field to check on the heifers. I took a photo of them eating at their feeder.
heifers at feeder
Some of them were at the water trough and one of them sniffed at Edna who was sitting on her side of the gate. The cat swiped at the heifer’s nose with a clawed paw and the heifer jumped back, then came right up to the cat again—and got swatted again. This time the heifer bellowed and blew snot at the cat, and Edna decided to leave her guard position at the gate. This evening as Andrea was taking the girls to town for play practice, they stopped by to show me the fancy hat that Sam made for one of the costumes, and here are photos her mom took of her modelling the hat.
the fancy hat Sam created
Sam will be in the school play (a musical) later this spring, so we are looking forward to seeing the play.