Andrea didn’t make it to Salt Lake for her appointments on November 14. She cancelled them because she had too many urgent things to do, working on the divorce problem and getting her life organized again. We hoped she wouldn’t wait too long to have her health issues checked on, however. We didn’t know how serious they might be.
My sister put Mom into the local nursing home (Discovery Care Centre), in mid-November. We knew she would find some plusses there, having more contact with people. Several of her old friends were there and even though Mom was often very confused, she still knew who we were, and knew her friends, and enjoyed visiting with people.
That winter we were trying to help Andrea get through her personal crisis and financial problems. She and Mark had a lot of debts and we set up a plan to help pay those. I worked as many hours a day as possible (doing articles and book projects) and still tried to find some time for those grandkids. I prayed that the good Lord would help me keep going a while longer.
In November I got the final page proofs checked over for my new book ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO CALVING, which was then published by Storey (the publisher who’s done most of my other cattle and horse books). I could then concentrate on getting the next book finished (on cattle health care), which had an extended deadline at Christmastime. I worked on it for nearly a year and planned have it finished sooner, but there were too many major interruptions!
It was a stressful year, with my father’s death, mom’s declining health and mental status, Andrea’s marriage ending (she and Mark divorcing and both of them going through a tough time dealing with it). All the normal ranching challenges and crises seemed somewhat incidental that year. It’s a good thing we don’t know what’s around the next corner, in life, or we’d lose courage. But the Good Lord gives us strength when we need it, so we keep going—and we sometimes find unexpected blessings amidst the trauma and heartache. One good thing about our life as ranchers—we are always optimistic. We have to be, in this business. There’s always promise of a new day, a new year, a better season. Indeed, we are eternal optimists. Like an old rancher once told me, he’d had 2 good years in the cattle business—1980-something, and next year. Yes! There’s always next year!
Lynn worked a few days cleaning up branches in the yard that he sawed off our big elm tree earlier—pruning the tree before branches crashed through the house roof. He used duct tape to attach a small bow saw to a long piece of PVC pipe, so he could safely aw the branches off from the ground or standing on our roof, rather than trying to use a ladder and chain saw.
Michael and Carolyn spent several days helping friends and neighbors work cattle. We often fed their horses (the 2 they kept here) a few hours before daylight so they could come with their trailer and get them and be at another ranch by dawn to help gather cows. They vaccinated their own cows a few days later.
Our weather warmed up briefly and rained off and on for 3 days, then froze and created a lot of ice. Lynn helped Michael haul hay for several days. Michael purchased 100 tons from a rancher at Leadore (50 miles up the valley) and he and Lynn made 2 trips a day with a couple flatbed trailers and got it all hauled. After one late trip (unloading after dark) Michael had to go home and euthanize old Mr. K (Nick’s gelding). Nick loved that old horse; they’d spent many hours riding range and in 4-H horse classes—including roping classes--but Mr. K had become old and stiff and had been retired for about a year. He had been losing weight, then developed swelling in his legs and was very weak and could hardly get up.
Michael took the backhoe up there the next day to bury the old horse, and thanks to a few days of warm weather the ground wasn’t frozen yet. In fact, it was so muddy in our corrals that Michael also had to haul gravel to the waterhole approach where the 84 weaned calves are trying to drink; they were bogging down.
Weather got cold again before December and Michael and Carolyn had to bring the last of their upper cows (on the 320) down to the fields and feed hay. Our friend Bob Minor brought his tractor and wood splitter over to our place and helped Lynn for 2 days splitting firewood—that big woodpile that Dan Watson (our friend from Manitoba) helped Lynn cut and haul.
Michael spent a few days helping his friend Don Hatch build fence, trying to get brace posts set before the weather got too bad; the ground is solidly frozen now after a week of sub-zero weather. Lynn helped them one day, so they could get finished sooner. The cold weather and ice created an ice flow across our lower fields where some of Michael’s cows are, so he took the backhoe down there and fixed the place where it was leaking out of the creek.
We had new snow on December 1, and the roads were very slippery and icy. An oncoming car slid into Andrea’s car at an intersection in town and knocked the back end of her car about 10 feet, but didn’t do much damage—just knocked the tire off its rim and it went flat, but the car and kids were ok.
We started feeding our cows hay. Their pasture was nearly gone and the new snow covered what was left. Michael and Carolyn brought their horses down to one of the lower pastures to spend the winter there. There was still some rough feed there and the horses were able to paw through the snow to grass.
Michael and Carolyn drove to Arco to watch one of little Heather’s basketball “away from home” games and we took Nick to his game here—and enjoyed watching him play. Both kids were doing very well in basketball.
In early December Michael and Carolyn deloused/dewormed their 84 calves and put them in the field below our lane where they have more room--and a lot cleaner than the corral where they were weaned. Something spooked those calves a few nights later. They knocked over 2 of their feeders and ran through the fence, breaking off 6 wood posts and knocking it flat. We hoped the wolves weren’t back again. Wolves were becoming a bigger problem everywhere in the West. One of our friends in Montana lost a 2-year-old cow, killed by a pack of wolves.
The next week, we had 3 inches of wet, heavy snow. Roads were slippery again. The fellow who hauls cattle to the sale at Blackfoot, in southern Idaho, came to pick up a bull Michael and Carolyn were sending to the sale and we helped load the bull (it was a full load with other cattle already in the trailer). Our lane was so slick the truck couldn’t get up enough speed to make it to the top when he left our corral. It spun out and slid backward down the lane and into our fence. It bent the trailer fender and tore up the fence, but that was better than sliding farther down the driveway and hitting our house.
The truck and trailer were stuck there, completely blocking our lane. Luckily we have gates in the adjacent maternity pen both top and bottom, and Michael was able to drive through it to get around the blocked lane to go get our big tractor up at his place, and Lynn was able to take the little tractor (with blade on it) that same route and get above the stuck truck--to blade through the ice to dirt and gravel. By the time Michael got the big tractor, Lynn had plowed most of the ice off the driveway. The big tractor, with chains on, and a big round bale on the back for traction, was able to pull the stranded truck and loaded trailer up the lane.
It was very slippery here for several days. Walking down the lane, Lynn slipped and fell, catching himself with one arm, tearing some of the muscle and attachments in his shoulder. It was very painful for several days, but we put DMSO on it morning and evening and his shoulder was soon doing much better. He was able to feed the hay, and also got a load of dirt on the pickup to shovel into our ditch above the house where water was leaking around the headgate and creating an ice flow down across the field where we were feeding our cows. Never a dull moment!
A couple weeks later the ditch was still leaking and creating more ice across the field, so Lynn took our flatbed feed truck down the road a mile to where the County crew was widening the road, and they put a loader dump of dirt on his truck. He took the dirt to our ditch head and hauled it in buckets (since he couldn’t back up to the headgate) to put around the leaking area and finally sealed it off.
One of Michael’s cows got injured and couldn’t get up, so they made a “house” for her with big straw bales, to keep the other cows away from her and give her shelter. They put big bales around her, a tarp over the top, and a gate panel in front. She was eating and drinking very well and seemed to be recovering—until one morning after dogs or coyotes got in there with her during the night and chewed her up pretty badly. Michael decided to put her out of her misery.
In December Michael and Carolyn finalized their lease on the Maurer ranch, just around the hill from our place. They also planned to buy Maurer’s cows and expand their own herd.
Andrea moved a lot of her things to Challis (70 miles away), where she was staying with a friend. Emily and Charlie spent several nights here with us so they could continue to go to school here and so Emily could go to hockey practice; Lynn took them to the bus in the mornings and picked them up in the evening. On occasion we had the 2 little girls here, too, and they enjoyed drawing and painting pictures for Grandma while I was busy working on my book (Cattle Health Handbook, a companion volume for my Essential Guide to Calving). I got the manuscript finished just before Christmas.
The day before Christmas we had 4 inches of new snow, blowing and drifting, and roads were slick. Lynn put some small bales of hay in the back of our pickup, for traction. I went to town several times that week to visit my mother at Discovery Care Center (which provides assisted living for elderly people). We drove to Challis to have Christmas dinner with Andrea and kids and her friend—a slow trip on slippery roads.
Michael had a semi-load of straw (big bales) hauled here in late December. He was getting ready for calving, since some of the cows he bought from Maurers would start calving early. Lynn hauled a few of the left-over small straw bales from last year (stacked on the upper place) to give our heifer calves bedding in the sub-zero weather.
After finishing my book project I finally had time to sort and put away a lot of things that piled up, and Lynn helped me make room for another cabinet in our dining room, so we can store more things out of the way. He also made more bookshelves in the living-room, for stacks of books. We actually got all our couches and counters cleaned off for the first time in several years!
My sister and brother cleaned out Mom’s old apartment and gave me a few boxes of things, including the drawings and paintings I did for my folks while I was in college. We hung some on our walls and I saved some to give to our children and grandchildren.
In early January it was 10 below zero and we fed our cows extra hay. We were hoping none of Michael and Carolyn’s cows would calve in the cold weather. Some of the cows they bought were getting big udders and ready to calve.
Charlie and Emily stayed with us again for 2 nights and Lynn took them to the school bus. Nick and Heather also stopped by on their way to school to borrow crutches. Nick hurt his foot and ankle and it was too painful to walk on.
Lynn took Emily to her year-end Girl Scout awards meeting, where she received her special awards for the year.
On January 3 Michael, Carolyn, and a neighbor trailed their cows home from Sandy Creek (more than 10 miles, along the back road). Lynn drove the feed truck to lead the herd, and the rest of the crew herded the cows on 4-wheelers. They did pretty well except when the cows had trouble going through the small gates by the cattle guards. One cow bogged down in a muddy gateway and several cows walked over the top of her. The 4 men couldn’t get the cow out of the bog, but fortunately Michael had a nylon rope on his 4-wheeler and was able to pull her out of the mud with that. Once the herd made it across the highway and headed up our creek road (with only 2 miles left to go) Carolyn drove the feed truck while Lynn came on home—since we had company visiting here from Canada. We’d been corresponding with Pete and Bev Weibe since 2000 when Andrea had her burn accident (Pete was severely burned a couple years earlier, in an electrical accident), but this was the first chance we’d had to actually meet them. Andrea drove from Challis to meet them, also.
The next week we had more wind and snow, drifting across fields and roads. Lynn used our tractor and blade to plow our driveway and several of the neighbors’. We started feeding our cows twice a day. We would be reducing our herd again before calving season. Michael needed more cows (to get up to the total his banker thought he needed) so we were selling him 22 of ours, cutting our small herd down again. He also went to a sale in Butte, Montana and bought 33 more cows, bringing their herd to 550 cows--to satisfy his banker.
Andrea changed schools with Emily and Charlie; it was easier for them to go to school in Challis than try to finish the year here. Em stayed with us on the nights before a hockey tournament however, so we could take her to town early in the morning to get a ride with friends. The 2-day tournaments were in various towns in Montana—often a very long drive.
Michael and Carolyn’s first calf arrived early one morning, up in the field. Fortunately the weather warmed up (20 degrees) so the calf didn’t freeze. They had 2 more babies the next day, and a total of 4 by January 12. Then they brought all the cows down to our field below the lane, where they could watch them better and have access to a barn if needed. They were preparing to camp here again in the old trailer house during calving season—where they could warm and dry any cold calves by the wood stove.