Thursday, September 15, 2011

Early Winter 2008 (November-December)

One morning in mid-November another weaned steer was dull and off feed, with a snotty nose, so we brought him into the pen by the barn and gave him an antibiotic. He was doing much better by the next day, and grazing again. I think the changeable weather was a stress, making the calves more vulnerable to respiratory infections.
Andrea took Emily to her hockey games in Montana that weekend, and we kept the 3 younger children. On Friday we took the 2 little girls to their dance class, and Charlie to hockey practice. The kids enjoyed helping me do chores each evening, feeding Boomerang (the crippled calf) and playing with the cats.

Charlie went with Lynn to the upper place to move protein tubs from gopher meadow to the upper field where the cows are still finding some grass. We were hoping to make the grazing stretch for another week or more before we bring those cows home.
The next day one of our neighbors came to help Lynn butcher Boomerang. The calf was only 7 months old but his limb deformities were making it harder for him to get up and walk around. In spite of his young age and gangly stature (not much bulk) he was heavier than we thought. His carcass weighed about 600 pounds and had more meat on it than we realized. It was interesting to see how deformed his ribcage was; the left side—at the front--had a large area in which the ribs were protruding inward toward the center of his body. It’s no wonder he had trouble with that front leg and had a hard time walking. We knew his leg bones were abnormal and that his ribs stuck out too far at the rear but we didn’t realize his ribcage was so deformed internally.

Thanksgiving morning I rode Veggie to the upper place and we gathered our cows to bring them down to the lower fields. They followed Lynn (with the feed truck) and I followed the herd. The cows were glad for better pasture. That afternoon we went to Andrea’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.

Michael and Carolyn were trying to stretch their pasture as far as possible, hoping to not feed hay until January. Hay cost more than $200 per ton, delivered. The price was coming down a little, thanks to a drop in fuel prices, but still too high--especially with the severe drop in cattle prices. It never works to feed high dollar hay to cheap cattle. Even though cows weren’t worth much that fall, Michael and Carolyn decided to pare their herd down to what their hay supply would accommodate for the winter. They sold a few more of their older cows.
They also decided not to lease any of our cows. They’d leased some that past year, but we pastured those cows all summer and fall. Michael and Carolyn still had 6 of our pregnant heifers. They planned to get those back to us before calving season, as soon as they had a chance to sort them out of their herd.
We had several inches of snow December 3, but it melted, then another couple inches. We tried out some steaks from the butchered calf and they are very tender and delicious. He was worth the extra bother of raising him on a bottle.

Lynn and I hiked around the lower fence between our pasture and the big lower fields where Michael and Carolyn will be putting their cows, since we knew there were bad spots in the fence that needed fixed. Lynn put 2 more wires along the lower end where the old fence is low and sagging, and spliced a spot where hunters had taken the wire apart to make a big hole for deer to go through. The hole was big enough for cows to go through. There were several other places that I was able to patch with tree branches laced through the wires. Lynn set 4 steel posts in another spot where a bull crashed through the fence earlier this fall and broke off the wood posts.
After it snowed, Michael and Carolyn started feeding the 150 cows on the Gooch place, feeding one big round bale (alfalfa) each day until they could get them moved to the lower place. Their most urgent task after the snowstorm was to move another herd of cows out of their leased place on Sandy Creek. Later they moved their cattle down to the lower fields.
Lynn drove to town to pick up Andrea’s 3 youngest children who stayed with another weekend. Andrea left late that night with Emily (after Em’s hockey practice) to drive to Idaho Falls for Em’s hockey tournament. This was her third season playing hockey and she was really enjoying it. Charlie, Dani and Samantha had fun with Grandma and Grandpa and decorated our little Christmas tree. We started a fire in the living room stove; the temperature was dropping below zero.

We had cold weather for awhile, down to 12 below zero with a nasty wind (making the temperature equivalent to about 30 below zero). Lynn covered our old well more thoroughly to make sure the water pipes in the bathroom didn’t freeze. The old hand dug well is right next to the house and we don’t use it anymore, but it creates an air space next to the bathroom. While Andrea and Emily were at the hockey tournament in Idaho Falls, Lynn drove to town several times to keep the fire going in Andrea’s stove at her house, to make sure her pipes didn’t freeze.
We put more protein tubs out for the cows, and for the 12 weaned heifers below the lane; they were still grazing in spite of the snow and we didn’t want to feed hay yet. Even though the short green feed is deeply snow covered, the cattle are eating the old tall grass on the hillsides and along the ditchbanks, thanks to the protein supplement—which was less expensive than hay.
Just before Christmas we had good luck and got 5 of our 6 pregnant heifers sorted out of Michael’s herd on the lower place. When they put 150 of their cows on the lower place, their 40 heifers and our 6 heifers were part of that group and we were trying to figure out the easiest way to get them home.
When I was feeding my horses one evening, I saw some cows coming up through the small field between the lower place and our field. That small field wasn’t supposed to have any cattle in it, so I realized the gate between it and the lower place must be open. Lynn and I were about to hike down and chase them back, and then realized they were heifers and one of them was ours. A few more were coming; part of the herd was finding the open gate and coming up through the little field toward our place.
We saw several more of our heifers near the front of the group. So we opened the gate into our field and Lynn guarded it (so our 12 weaned heifers wouldn’t get out) as I carefully sorted our heifers one by one around the corner and through the gate. Our heifers, being gentle and tame, and remembering us from when we fed them a year earlier as weanlings, were easy to sort out of that big herd of cows—which speaks highly of their intelligence, memory and trust, since they hadn’t seen us for almost a year. There were only 5 of them in that group, however. The 6th was probably down farther on the lower place with the rest of the cattle. We got our 5 sorted out and herded the 45 extra cows back down through the small field and out the gate they’d come through, and shut the gate.
We kept watching for the other heifer every time we drove by the lower place, but didn’t see her until a week later. Lynn was driving out our lane to go up the creek and deliver Christmas gifts to neighbors when he noticed 2 young cows near the gate, away from the main herd. One of them was our heifer and the other was a 3-year-old cow we sold a couple years earlier to Michael and Carolyn—and she had been in the group that came into that field a few days before, so she knew about the gate. Lynn slowly and quietly opened the gate without startling the cows, and got the 3year old through the gate, and then the heifer saw the open gate and followed her. He locked them in that little field and came to get me.
We fed some hay to our group, to help keep them happy on our side of the fence and also to attract the heifer and her friend. They came hiking toward the gate when they heard the feed truck. The difficult part was getting the timid heifer through the gate without the cow, but we managed to do it, then took the cow back down to join her herd on the lower place. So all our heifers were safely home again!
Our cows ran out of pasture a few days later, so we moved them to another field. Lynn called them and they followed him out of the pasture, through the barnyard, and out through another pasture to a field they hadn’t grazed yet. Our cows are very trusting and will follow us anywhere, knowing we are taking them to a new pasture

The end of December, a deer was killed right above our house by a cougar, in the midst of our cows. This was the 3rd cougar kill on our creek in 2 weeks. The other 2 deer were right next to our neighbor’s house above us. We hoped the cougar wouldn’t start killing cattle; Michael and Carolyn lost 2 calves to a cougar a few years earlier.
Lynn plowed all the neighbors’ driveways again, and plowed a better trail up to the haystack, to make it easier to load hay. Michael and Carolyn took their cows down to the Maurer place for winter feeding and calving. We were glad we got our heifers—saving the effort of sorting them out down there and hauling them home. It snowed for several days so we had to start feeding hay; the grass was all snowed under.

Our friends Pete and Bev Wiebe from Kelowna, BC arrived, and stayed 2 days on their way south to help with a mission project in southern California, rebuilding several homes that burned in the brush fires that summer. Pete and Bev are the ones who helped make it possible for Andrea and me to go to the World Burn Congress. Pete is a burn survivor, and we got acquainted in 2000 after Andrea’s accident, when he wrote to us to give encouragement. We have been very grateful for their friendship, and enjoyed their visit in our home.

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