Sunday, May 15, 2011

Summer Of 2007

By mid-May 2007, our cattle were finally all out on pasture for summer grazing. Michael and Carolyn turned some of their cows and calves out on our range, and hauled the rest to rented pasture 10 miles up the valley, and to another range about 20 miles away where they are renting another ranch on Sandy Creek. They were very busy patching fences and getting the irrigation water started on the Sandy Creek place. Most of the fences on that place were falling down, and they had to keep working on them all summer to keep the range cattle out.
Our cows went to pasture on our upper place and were glad to be out on green grass—and we were glad, too, since we were running out of hay.


We were also thankful for the rain that month, and the storm that put down 4 inches of snow in late May, because we were late getting some of our ditches cleaned so we could start the irrigation water. Michael fixed a few of the worst ditches with the backhoe, and pulled Lynn (on our tractor with blade) through the boggy ditch on the Wild Meadow. All through the summer Nick and Heather (age 14 and 16) helped Michael irrigate the Sandy Creek ranch. Heather got her drivers license that spring, so she and Nick could drive over there themselves.
In early June I put shoes on two of our horses and Emily (9 years old) came out several times to ride with me, riding 21-year-old Veggie. We had to lengthen the stirrups on her little saddle; she’d grown a lot since the previous Fall when she rode last. On one ride she helped me check all the cows on the upper place and we rode around the Cheney Creek pasture fence on our way home, patching places where the staples were missing.


I helped Carolyn and young Heather gather their herd of heifers from one of our pastures and we took them up the road to our upper place, gathered our cows out of the fields and took the whole group to our mountain pasture next to the range. Emily and I made several rides up there during the following weeks, to check on the cattle.



Later, when we moved the cattle down to the Cheney Creek pasture, we discovered several bulls right outside the fence, on the neighbors’ range. They had moved all their cattle to a different range pasture, but apparently missed these bulls. So Carolyn, young Heather and I herded them away from our fence and took them to their proper pasture. One of the bulls was mellow and manageable, but the other two were a challenge. One of them kept threatening to charge at us. Two of them were always trying to fight and kept running up the canyon the wrong way, and we did a lot of galloping through treacherous terrain to keep all 3 of them headed the proper direction. We finally got them to the next range pasture and put them in with the cows they were supposed to be with. During wild chases like that, we are grateful for fast, athletic horses that can safely gallop around in bad footing and rocks without falling down.
With 3 leased places, Michael, Carolyn and kids stayed very busy that summer. Young Heather and Nick irrigated their fields on our creek, using 4-wheelers, and changed sprinkler pipe daily on Sandy Creek. With cattle on 2 range allotments they did a lot of riding, as well.
Lynn and I hauled water tanks up to our hill pasture above our house, and put a pipe through the culvert under the road, to pump water from the field ditch into the tanks for our heifers. That pasture has no water, but we are able to use it by pumping from the ditch across the road. With several water tanks, we only had to pump every 6 days for that small group.


Michael and Carolyn traded in their swather for a newer model and started custom hay cutting in early July. The new swather runs faster and takes less fuel than the old one. They hoped to save time that year; Carolyn could run the swather most of the time while Michael did a lot of the irrigating on all their rented places. The unforeseen challenge, however, was that the new swather kept breaking down and Michael had to spend a lot of time and money fixing it.


In between writing articles for horse and cattle magazines that summer, I was working on another cattle book for Storey Publishing (The Cattle Health Handbook), and also the page proofs for my Essential Guide to Calving, which they would be publishing that fall.
Emily spent a week at Girl Scout camp, where she enjoyed riding and learning to shoot a bow and arrow. Heather spent a week at basketball camp in Washington; her knee healed nicely after the surgery to replace the ligament she tore the year before playing basketball.
In early July Michael and Carolyn hauled their horses to the range on Sandy Creek and brought home one of their 3-year-old bulls that had gone into a neighbor’s pasture. The next day we rounded up the cows in Cheney Creek, sorted off the yearling heifers and young bull to bring down to the main ranch, and hauled their 3-year-old bull to put with our cows on the upper place. We put Michael and Carolyn’s heifers with ours—on the hill pasture—with our 2-year-old bull.
The next morning we pumped again for the heifers, very early in the morning while it was still cool, so the pump wouldn’t overheat. With twice as many heifers on that hill pasture, we had to pump every third day.
Michael and Carolyn ran out of hay for their horses, so I gave them some of mine. Nick and Heather came down with their feed truck and loaded a dozen bales every 3 days. They also planned to do our chores (feeding the horses and a bull in the corral) when we went to a family reunion near Seattle.
I finished getting some last minute articles done before our trip. Lynn put a big jar of cat food under the porch for the kids to feed to the cats while we were gone, and it disappeared! Raccoons, who come sneaking around to eat any leftover cat food, probably took it, and were probably trying to figure out how to get the lid off.


Lynn and I actually left the ranch for a few days that summer (an unusual event, for us hermits) for a fast trip to the Seattle/Tacoma area. My mom's family had a reunion on Fox Island to celebrate my aunt's 96th birthday (she was mom's only surviving sibling) and also to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the family property on Fox Island where my mom and Aunt Marj grew up. It had been 40 years since Lynn and I were over there, so we went, knowing this would be the last time we'd see some members of the family.
We left on a Friday, after getting up at 4 a.m. to do chores and drive out to Andrea’s place, where we transferred our things to her van. We went with Andrea and her 4 kids in her van, and drove straight through to Seattle, making it in 12 hours in spite of numerous "potty stops" for all the little kids. I was glad Andrea was driving; she's bolder in city traffic and has better reflexes and endurance than us old hermits!
The kids had fun on the beach at Fox Island finding seashells and crabs, and enjoyed going out on the water in a rowboat. They had a lot of fun with some cousins their age (actually 3rd cousins; they share great-great grandparents).


We enjoyed reconnecting with family, some we had not seen for many years. It was good to get back home, however, and back into our work groove. We spent Saturday and Sunday at the reunion, and drove back the next Monday. The trip was fun but totally exhausting and it took several days to catch up!
Our hay was overdue to be cut, so Michael brought his swather home and cut part of our hay before going on to his next custom cutting job. A week later Lynn baled the hay, then welded a broken tie rod end on Michael’s tractor. He’d barely finished when a lightning storm hit, and our power went off for 2 hours. I was trying to type an article, but couldn’t finish it until the power came back on (the disadvantage of modern technology! I never had this problem with my good old antique typewriters!).
I took the last few bales of horse hay out of my hay shed and hauled some to the corral for Michael and Carolyn’s horses that are living at our place. I was letting two of our horses, Breezie and Snickers, graze the tall grass by my hay shed, so it wouldn’t be a fire hazard, and to get it cleaned up before we drove in there with the stackwagon to stack the new hay.
Weather was hot and dry, and some of the water troughs on the range quit working. I rode with Michael and kids to check the cattle and troughs and helped them fix one of the troughs that needed a new pipe.


We had another thunderstorm, with lots of lightning that started several new fires. That summer was one of the worst fire seasons in Idaho. A terrible fire in southern Idaho burned nearly 700,000 acres, destroying many range allotments and killing cattle. We had a brief, hard rain July 20 that helped keep lightning from starting more fires during that storm. It also dampened the baled hay we hadn’t hauled; it took a couple more days to dry enough to stack. Most days, however, the weather continued hot—up to 105 degrees--and we were immersed in thick, heavy smoke from all the fires.
One of our neighbors called to say there were 30 range cows in his place, so Michael, Carolyn and kids rode all evening to gather and take them back to the range—and then fixed the fence that had been knocked down. They took the cattle back to our middle range pasture, clear up to the Bear Trough, to make sure they’d have water. Some of the other water sources were drying up.
While crossing the brushy draw below the Bear Trough, Michael’s horse ran into a stout branch (hidden in the thick brush). The branch caught under the saddle horn and lifted the horse’s front end off the ground. When the branch snapped up off the saddle horn it hit Michael in the stomach and flung him backward off the horse about 10 feet. He landed on his neck and back, between two huge sharp rocks. If he’d landed on either of those rocks he would have broken his back, so he was very lucky. He was stiff and sore for several days, but basically uninjured.
On another day, Michael, Carolyn and kids found 4 range cows in their lower field that had come home through the low range; someone left one of the middle range gates open. So they took them back to the range, only to have a worse problem when they got home; a friend called to say there were 180 pairs of stray cattle in their leased pasture on Sandy Creek—the pasture they were saving for fall feed. So they grabbed their trailer and fresh horses and rushed off to deal with that problem.


On August 2 Michael brought his swather home and cut the rest of the hay on our creek. That same day, one of the neighbor’s bulls from the range on the east side of our place was wandering up and down the fence bellowing and trying to get in. He was all by himself because the rest of those cattle had been moved to a different range pasture, and we hoped he wouldn’t crawl through the fence. The neighbor warned us to not go near that bull on foot, since he was very mean and aggressive.
For a couple weeks I was going to town every afternoon to stay with my mom awhile and fix her supper; she was in failing health and needed someone with her most of the time. My sister was gone for 2 weeks so friends and family members were taking shifts being with mom. We needed someone with her during the nights however, since she had fallen a few times and was unable get up. My sister got her a life alert button to wear around her neck. This notified a central office whenever she pressed it, and someone would call us, and we’d drive to town to help mom. One morning we went in at 3:30 a.m. to take her to the emergency room at the hospital because she was having severe abdominal pain.
One evening on our way home from town (after helping mom with supper and getting her ready for bed) we discovered 3 cows and their calves coming down a new lane (which had been created for a subdivision on one of the ranches near us). The cattle were almost to the highway. Lynn slammed on the brakes and we backed up and stopped the cows just before they got out on the highway. One pair was Michael and Carolyn’s. We called Carolyn on our cell phone and she and the kids came and helped us herd the 3 pairs back up toward the range. Riders had left a gate open, and the cattle had come down through the neighboring ranch where none of the fences are functional anymore because the owners were subdividing it.
There was nothing to keep the cows from coming clear to the highway! We drove home and Lynn got the 4-wheeler and went out there to try to bring the cattle up through the range gate; it was getting dark and there wasn’t time to get horses. We herded the cattle on foot and by 4-wheeler and finally got part of them into a field by our road. One calf was too wild and didn’t see the gate--and ran back over the hill in the dark. But we left the gate open, and he came back the next day and got back with his mama.
By mid-August the fire situation was getting worse. I interviewed several ranchers in Nevada and southern Idaho who were seriously impacted by the range fires. The fires in our area were also becoming more serious. Many nights the air was so smoky we could hardly breathe and we weren’t able to open our windows to cool the house.
Michael and Carolyn rode all day on August 15th to gather range cows on their Sandy Creek allotment, but were short 20 pair. They had to ride several more days to try to find them. They also needed to move their cattle on our range to the high pasture, but hadn’t had time to do it. I wished I could help them, but there hadn’t been time to tear loose from all my commitments!