Monday, March 14, 2011

Early Winter 2006

In November we had several inches of snow and then the weather turned cold. Andrea drew an elk tag for the hunt in our area, and Lynn went hunting with her, making a 7-mile hike in Mulkey Creek, which is very steep terrain. They saw lots of elk tracks, but no elk. The tracks were all heading down out of the high country. One of our neighbors had more than 100 elk grazing on his ranch and eating in his haystacks.
Andrea finally got her elk on one of the last days of hunting season, after hiking all day on our cattle range and catching up with the elk just before dark. This was the most hiking she’d done since her burn injuries 6 years earlier. Lynn helped her cut up the meat to put in the freezer. After getting a deer earlier in the fall—that she shot from her back porch one morning—she and Mark had a good supply of winter’s meat.
Also in November Andrea took Emily to her team’s wrestling meet it Rexburg, a 4 hour drive. We kept the younger children here for 2 days. They “helped” grandma. While I worked on the book I was writing, they did lots of games and artwork, drawing about 30 pictures—some to take home and some to put up on our walls.
Lynn and Michael (and 13-year-old Nick) made numerous trips up the creek to get firewood, salvaging some of the burned trees in the burned area on our cattle range, from the fire in 2003. We finally had enough wood to get through the winter. The-fire killed trees make good firewood; they are dry and well seasoned--but very black and charred on the outside. The guys came home looking like coal-miners after handling the charred wood. Sawing up the burned trees created a fine dust of soot in the air from the chain saw. This irritated their lungs and made them cough, and they got respiratory infections. Lynn's respiratory problem turned into pneumonia, so he had to go to the doctor for antibiotics.
The cold weather and snow made it impossible for the cows to continue grazing, so we began feeding hay.
The sub-zero weather also created a lot of ice in the creek and it was overflowing and making ice flows down across several of our fields. Michael used our backhoe for a couple days to work on some of the frozen ditch heads to stop the flooding. With the cold weather, deer came into our haystacks to eat. They also started coming onto our feed grounds and chasing the heifers away from the hay we fed.
One of our “fall projects” that we were slow to accomplish was to dig up a water line and replace the leaking hydrant by our calving barn. The previous winter, it froze up during calving season. The “fall list” of projects is always too long, but we finally started working on the water line. Michael dug it up with the backhoe and we replaced the leaky hydrant. They had to bury the water line very carefully so frozen chunks of dirt wouldn’t crush the plastic pipe.
In mid-December Lynn and I helped Michael and Carolyn try to save a cow that had a serious problem after losing her 7-month fetus to a very unusual condition. She had too much fluid in the uterus, distending it grossly and putting pressure on the digestive tract, which shut down her gut. We had to give her massive doses of mineral oil and castor oil to get her gut working again.

Then we had to pull the dead fetus, which was a tough job because it was abnormal and monstrous for its stage of development, and this was an additional stress for the cow. She went into shock, but we turned that around with several gallons of IV fluids and medication to try to reverse the shock and restore circulating blood volume. Her hind legs were paralyzed from the difficult birth, and she was unable to get up or to eat very much, but we kept her going for 3 weeks, feeding her alfalfa pellets soaked in water. We fed this to her in a slurry mixed with 7 gallons of water, feeding her twice daily by stomach tube.

We gave her the mineral oil/castor oil on Dec. 10, and kept up the twice-daily feedings, morning and evening, until after New Years, with one of the grandkids holding the flashlight for us in the evening feedings. The cow was out in the corral at the beginning (and could not get up) and we made a windbreak of hay bales and put tarps over her to protect her from the cold wind and snow.

A few days later we moved her into the barn with the tractor and loader. We put plywood on the loader's hay tines and rolled her onto that and strapped her on, then carried her to the barn and rolled her off.
In the barn, we situated her comfortably in some deep bedding, with bales of straw helping prop her upright

We were able to get her back on her feet using a hip hoist for her hind end and a sling made from a wide lash cinch (from a pack saddle) for her front end. It was quite a challenge!

Her gut finally started working normally and she began nibbling hay and chewing her cud. But she never ate enough and we had to keep feeding her additional food via stomach tube twice daily. The most frustrating thing, however, was her inability to use her legs. Even though we hoisted her up for awhile each day, and she took some of the weight on her hind legs, she would never use her front legs.

They couldn’t straighten out because the tendons had contracted so much from being bent under her so long. The leg joints were swollen, and it was like she’d developed joint infection--perhaps from septicemia due to toxins that circulated through her body when she was in shock.
Finally, after much frustration, we regretfully made the decision to end her life. We’d jerked her back from the brink of death, and she wanted to live, but her inability to stand up on her own ultimately defeated us. We didn’t regret the time and effort spent trying to save her (that’s what raising cattle is all about) but as calving season approached we knew that none of us would have time to continue giving her this much intensive care. And a cow that can’t stand up cannot survive. We reluctantly admitted defeat on saving that cow, and moved on, trying to make up for lost time on our many other tasks.
Michael needed to haul a load of calves to the sale—the calves that were too young and small to sell with the big group in the fall. We also needed to tag, vaccinate and delouse our heifers, and give all the cows their pre-calving vaccinations, but the weather was bitterly cold (30 below zero) and we postponed those projects until early January. Michael helped us vaccinate the cows.
When we finally vaccinated our heifers on a Sunday afternoon during the warmest part of the day, the needle on my syringe kept freezing up—but I had a jar of hot water in an insulated picnic cooler, and I could stick the needle into the hot water to thaw it out.
For several days Carolyn had a very sore, stiff neck with some vertebrae out of place, so that weekend when the kids were home from school they helped Michael do their feeding. Young Heather (age 15) drove the big truck—chained up and loaded with 5 big round bales. She did a good job, and was able to drive up our steep, slippery lane without spinning out; she was becoming a very good truck driver!
I finally got my calving book manuscript (500 pages) finished, and the illustrations and photos for it, by the January 1 deadline, so that was a big relief. I hoped to catch up on some article deadlines before plunging into the next book project (cattle health handbook), which I had to finish by September. I kept biting off big projects, but it helped pay the bills! I don't think we can ever afford to "retire". Our work is too much fun and too necessary, especially since we are still trying to help our kids. Andrea was doing very well but still had a lot of expenses that we were trying to help her with.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fall 2006

We had no appreciable rain in late summer and fall that year, and the dry conditions resulted in many forest and range fires. It was almost as smoky that summer as it was in 2000. The range grass became so dry (and short on protein) that the cows were trying to come home early. Some crawled through the fence into our upper pastures, so Michael and kids took them several miles back up the creek to the high range. He bought a ton of protein supplement to haul out to the range, to try to encourage the cows to stay on the mountain and not come home. There was still a lot of dry grass, but without protein it was like straw and the cows wouldn’t eat it; they need protein for proper rumen function to digest the roughage.
In late August young Emily came to the ranch to stay a couple days and rode with me to Baker Creek on the high range.
Together we fixed a trough, where the cows had knocked the pipe out and the water was running onto the ground instead of into the trough. Baker Creek had dried up except for a few small puddles, so we had to make sure the little springs kept running into our troughs, piped from the springboxes.
Emily progressed swiftly in her riding abilities that summer, and was quite proud of her accomplishment. She was also delighted to find 3 elk antlers on various rides, and we had to lug those antlers home on our horses, of course. She held the antler for me each time I had to get off my horse to open and close a gate.
On one ride she and I gathered some cows that had come down the creek and were standing around by the gate, wanting to come home. We took them up the creek a couple miles to the protein tubs that Michael put at the top of that range pasture.
This was the first time 8-year-old Em actually helped me move cattle. She and old Veggie did very well. She had come a long way in her riding skills since early summer when I was still leading her horse from mine.
By fall Emily was a confident enough "cowgirl" to be able to go with us (Michael, Carolyn and kids and me) to help move cows on the range and look for missing cattle, so she was very proud of herself, being able to ride with the big kids.
On one of those rides we all split up to cover more territory. Nick (age 13) went with me and Emily and we were lucky; we found 6 of the missing cows and 4 of the calves, and brought them around a mountain toward Baker Creek. As we came around the mountain we were hit with strong gusts of wind that nearly blew us off the mountain, and we had to hold onto our hats to keep from losing them. I held my hat in my hand as we struggled against the wind, and my hair blew wildly in all directions, which made Nick laugh; he said I looked like an “electric grandma!”
There was still another area to check, so Nick took the cattle to a water trough to hold them there while Em and I picked our way down the steep ridge, in the wind, to a hidden saddle where we hoped to find the missing calves. They were there, along with another pair, so we brought them to join the little herd. I was very proud of my “crew” and happy to be able to ride with my grandchildren. It was a long, hard ride in steep and treacherous country, but Emily and the old horse managed just fine, and young Nick was very good help with the cattle.
The next week, all the kids were back in school, and Michael and Carolyn gathered more cattle by themselves. They had a big herd and not enough riders to keep the lead cows from going up the canyon instead of staying on the main trail. Ever since our range burned in 2003, that area is treacherous, with down logs and areas of serious erosion along the creek. One cow got her leg stuck in the fork of a log trying to climb over it, and Michael had to get off his horse and literally pry her foot out. Another cow nearly fell off a 45-foot cliff along the edge of the canyon. Three calves fell into a deep hole along the bank, but were able to scramble out.
After Emily was back in school again (3rd grade), she only had a chance to ride once, on a weekend, looking for one of Michael and Carolyn's missing cows (and calf) after we'd rounded up all the other cattle. Em and I didn't find that pair (they were on the wrong range and came home with the neighbor's cattle a few days later) but we did gather 4 pairs and a bull of our neighbors' that had strayed onto our range.
It was a tough job, and would have been hard to do with only one horse (those critters are a bit wild) so I was glad I had my little cowgirl partner along. She and Veggie waited quietly at the edge of the timber, to keep the cows from going the wrong way when I brought them toward the gate. I was afraid Veggie might fuss and whinny, being separated from my horse, but Emily petted his neck and talked to him and calmed him, and he behaved nicely for her—and she was able to head the cows through the gate for me.
We finally had rain in October, with snow on the mountains, easing into winter. We still needed to get our winter firewood, so we were hoping it wouldn’t come early and snow under our fall pasture (and make it difficult to cut and bring the wood home, having to put chains on the trucks). We were grateful for cooler weather, after all the heat we had that summer. Lynn's tomato plants and squash in his "water trough" gardens in the back yard (old rusted out water troughs for cattle, that he hauled into the back yard and filled with dirt) nearly "cooked" in the hot weather.
In early November we celebrated Danielle’s 2nd birthday, at Andrea and Mark’s place. The grandkids were certainly growing fast. Charlie was 5, Samantha almost 4, and Emily soon to be 9. She was on the 3rd grade wrestling team (the only girl, that year) and won 2 of her matches at a regional wrestling meet. Our older grandkids were busy with sports, also, with Nick doing well in cross country track, and Heather (age 15) on the track, volleyball, and basketball teams.
Lynn spent some time that Fall hauling hay; we had to buy a lot of hay because of the summer drought and being short on hay and pasture. Michael helped Lynn haul the hay we bought, but still needed to locate some hay for himself to buy and haul. We’d also been busy getting our cattle pregnancy checked and vaccinated and the calves weaned and sold, and I was also doing as much writing as possible. We were still helping our kids financially (on Andrea's house project at Twelve-Mile and Michael and Carolyn's cattle herd-building), so I was grateful for all the work that came my way that summer and fall, for article assignments and books to write. I ask the Lord to provide, and He does, and so I ask Him for strength to do the work He provides.
That fall I was also trying to find time to send a few books (BEYOND THE FLAMES) to some of the burn centers around the country to be given to burn patients and their families, in hopes it might be a source of hope and encouragement for others who are suddenly thrust into this terrifying unknown. Lynn and I had been helped by many people who had already gone through this ordeal, and by the many others we joined hands with while groping our way through that awesome detour in our lives. We wanted to help others who might be just starting this jourhey.
We hadn't been able to keep track of everyone we bonded with that summer of 2000, but I still keep in touch with Liz and Laurel and a few of the others. By 2006 Laurel was slowly healing in spirit after the loss of her daughter; she’d come a long way in that traumatic journey. The difference in her letters, compared with several years earlier when she could not handle it very well, was like night and day. And Liz had a lot of things to bear; that fall she had her hands full with very ill elderly parents and father-in-law (her dear mother-in-law passed away the previous winter after a long illness), and other ongoing challenges, but the bright spot was that her son Ty was doing so well. Her joy in watching him graduate from college that spring was incredibly wonderful for her. She and I continuously shared our mutual journey of nursing our burned and hurting children through the darkest hours of our own fears and despair and watching them take life by the horns again and eventually soar, letting none of their impairments hold them back.
Lynn spent quite a bit of time during the summer and fall of 2006 locating wells for people. He uses welding rods and a green willow, to determine location of the water, the width of the underground stream, and often can determine depth. He tries to find a spot where one underground stream crosses another (at different depths) so when the well is drilled, it hits them both. This gives more chance for a good water supply. There might be one stream 120 feet down that produces 3 gallons a minute, for instance, and maybe another stream going a different direction 100 feet below that, giving 5 gallons a minute. By hitting them both you get a well that produces 8 gallons a minute, which is adequate for a home. And sometimes those streams produce a lot more. He's found some wells that produced 60 to 75 gallons a minute, which is phenomenal for this part of the country. He's probably located more than 300 wells by now, and really enjoys doing it.
That fall my father (who had just turned 88) went to Missoula, Montana once a week all through October for more chemo drips. The doctors thought 4 treatments would be enough this time (he had 6 the year before) but after checking his blood values afterward they said he needed 2 more. Hopefully the extra treatments will bring his blood levels close enough to normal that he can go without treatments for a while again. He has a rare sort of blood disorder (Waldenstrom's macroblogulinemia). It's a cancer of the B-lymphocytes (a certain type of white blood cell), infiltrating the bone marrow, spleen, lymph nodes, etc. It occurs mostly in older people and progresses slowly. He had it several years but only within the last year needed treatment for it. The 6 chemo treatments he had in 2005 really helped him; his platelet levels came back up to normal and he had more energy again, so we were hoping this round of treatments will help again for awhile.
There's so much to deal with as life takes us farther down the road. My cousin's wife (who had surgery, chemo and radiation for breast cancer) had a summer of remission and then was back on chemo again, but she has such a good attitude about it, such trusting faith. I struggle along with lesser problems and wonder if I could do so well. We are all in this boat together, grabbing hands and lending one another support and courage and care. It's always easier when you know someone else is there beside you. The love that connects us is stronger than the difficulties that beset us, and there is much to rejoice in and wonder at. It's all about choice. We can choose to see the blessings and be grateful for them, and the wondrous things that evolve out of "bad" things, or we can be grumpy about our "fate". I keep needing to learn and relearn many lessons, but there are some wonderful moments of peace and understanding along the way. I just wish I wasn't such a wimp regarding the frailties of growing older!