Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Early Spring (February-March) 2010

Continuing updates on our family and life on the ranch

FEBRUARY 18, 2010 – A week ago Michael and Carolyn had another set of twins and had a tough time getting them born alive. The cow was taking too long in early labor so they suspected a problem, and checked her. The first twin was breech—nothing entering the birth canal but the calf’s tail—and difficult to reach the legs. By the time they got that calf out it was nearly dead because the placenta had started to detach. It took several minutes to revive him. The second twin was simply backward and easier to pull. They took the “slow” calf to the house to warm and dry it and give it colostrum. They now have several spare calves in case they need to graft one on a cow that loses a calf. The next morning they had another difficult delivery—a calf with both front legs turned back, but Michael was able to get the calf safely born.
Granddaughter Heather was home from college for a 3-day weekend, and enjoyed helping her folks with calving. They really appreciated her help; they had 30 calves during a 30-hour period, bringing their calf number to nearly 200.
On Sunday Michael loaded 8 more big bales of 2nd cutting alfalfa on the flatbed truck for us. This winter Lynn and I have been feeding some big round bales—grass hay to the cows and alfalfa bales to the heifers, using two different pickups. By setting the bales on their ends, there’s room on the flatbed for Lynn to go round and round, unrolling the hay and pitching it off. The last part of the bale we push off the pickup and unroll it down a hill. Most of the bale cores unroll very nicely that way.

On Monday Michael and Carolyn had another difficult calving. They now have more than 240 calves, with only a couple losses. Yesterday they had another set of twins to deliver, and when Michael reached in to check the cow, he said, “Oh, good! It’s only breech!” After some of the horrendous challenges they’ve had, a breech calf was easy!
I finally went to the doctor to check my knee. It’s still painful, after falling down while running through the rocks to head off the cows when we brought them home from the 320-acre pasture on November 14. An x-ray showed the bones are ok, so the doctor wants to do an MRI to check for soft-tissue injury.
MARCH 2 – Last Friday I went to town for the MRI on my knee. The doctor said there’s torn cartilage and it won’t get better. But it also won’t get worse. If pain gets unbearable he can do surgery to clean up the torn cartilage, which might help reduce inflammation, but I don’t want surgery because that would mean not being able to bend the knee at all for several weeks as it recovers. We’ll soon be calving and I don’t want to be laid up. I can live with it the way it is—being careful to not bend it tightly because that’s when it’s really painful.
My brother came to visit from Boise, and while he was here we drove up the creek to visit Emily Binning—our good friend and neighbor who is dying of cancer. We had a nice visit with her, but didn’t stay very long, so as not to tire her. She is enjoying visits with friends. She has outlived the doctor’s predictions by twice as long as expected, but she’s becoming very frail.
Sunday we brought our cows down from the field and sorted off 24 to sell to Michael and Carolyn—12 young cows and 12 pregnant heifers. Their banker wants them to build up their herd again. Even though we bred our cows to calve in April, these will fit with their late group and will breed back earlier for them next year.
Today we forgot to latch the gate when we drove out of the field below the house after feeding the heifers, and mid-morning the heifers came trooping up through the barnyard, across the driveway, through the calving pen and up to my horse haystack. They made a mess of broken bales, but at least they didn’t go out to the range!
MARCH 18 – The “heifer escape” was a good practice lesson for them on coming out of their field. The next Sunday we brought them into the barnyard instead of feeding them—and they came eagerly when we opened the gate. We took them to the corral and sorted off the oldest and biggest ones we’re selling to Michael and Carolyn. We deloused the others and took them back to the field below the lane to feed them. Michael and Carolyn came with their trailer to haul the 8 heifers to the Maurer place.
Last week Lynn put a new battery in his 4-wheeler so he could get it started. It’s been parked all winter in our second-day barn and we need to get it out of there when we start calving. Also, our weather is turning warmer; he’ll need to use the 4-wheeler to start irrigating. Snow is rapidly leaving the fields and grass is starting to grow.
Our good friend June had a stroke a couple weeks ago and was in the hospital in Hamilton, Montana. She was doing a little better a few days later, and Andrea drove over to see her. Then she had another stroke, and could not recover. She was brought back to Salmon to spend her last days in a hospice room at the local care center, and died peacefully this past Monday. She will be greatly missed.
When Lynn was loading some small bales onto our pickup, one tumbled off the stack and hit his head and shoulder, hurting his shoulder. He put DMSO on it to ease the inflammation and pain but was unable to raise his arm for several days. Granddaughter Heather was home from college for spring break, and she came the next morning to help us feed our cows. Thankfully Lynn’s shoulder is doing better now and he’s able to use it again, carefully. While granddaughter was home from college she helped her folks with their cattle and they branded calves Thursday and Friday while the weather was good. Then it snowed hard again on Saturday.
Yesterday we sorted off 2 of our 5 yearling bulls to sell to Michael and Carolyn and they came to get them.

MARCH 27 – Last week Andrea’s kids spent a day with us. Sammy and Dani had fun making crowns and headbands and all sorts of other creative projects. Dani made a long tail for herself and put stickers on her face for cat whiskers.

Emily learned how to make biscuits, and helped me do chores. We brought our cows down from the field and sorted off some that are about to calve. Emily enjoyed seeing her pet cow, Buffalo Girl, who is close to calving. That cow always likes to see Emily, and walks up to have her head scratched. Ever since Emily was 5 years old and Buffalo Girl was an orphan calf, they’ve had a special relationship. The cow tolerates Lynn and me, but is more bonded with Emily and is very trusting--and not pushy, like some pet cows. There’s just a quiet communication between Em and her cow.

The day after we sorted our herd to put some in the maternity pen, Lilly suddenly developed a larger udder. I noticed this new development the next morning when we went up to the field to feed the rest of the cows, and eased her over to the gate. We brought her down through the field, to put in the maternity pen, too. On Monday we took a big straw bale into the barn on the jeep and spread it into 5 stalls so we’re ready in case weather is bad. On Tuesday afternoon Lilly calved—a red bull calf—but the day was warm and we let her calve in an outdoor pen.
The next day the weather changed—cold, windy and snowing—so we moved Lilly and calf to our “second day barn”. It’s basically a 3-sided shed that gives protection from wind and rain or snow. Lynn had just taken all the “stored” things out of that barn, and the four-wheeler (parked in there all winter).
More cows up in the field are looking like they’ll calve soon, so this morning we brought them all down and put several in the maternity pen and the rest in the pasture next to it—much more handy to get them in when their time comes to calve.

Outie (a 4 year old) started labor yesterday evening and we put her in the barn, with Buffalo Girl in the next aisle to keep her company. Outie calved outdoors for her first calf, and last year (with her second calf) the weather was bad and we put her in the barn. She was horribly nervous, trying to climb the walls. She was more at ease this time, with Buffalo Girl for company. She calved quickly, and the calf was up and nursing within 30 minutes. Buffalo Girl calved today, a nice bull calf, and Emily named him Buffalo Bill.
APRIL 4 – Michael and Carolyn are trying to build their herd back up, after selling everything they could reasonably cull two years ago, when hay prices were so high and they chose to not buy any. This year, hay is priced about 1/3 what it cost in 2008. Their banker insists they get more cows, so we’re selling them more of ours, and the rest of our yearling heifers. Now we’ll have even fewer cows to calve out; Lynn and I are ready to slow down and we don’t mind letting Michael and Carolyn have more of our herd.
On Thursday Andrea and kids left early in the morning to drive to Salt Lake for her checkup at the burn center. The roads were good most of the way, but there was 5 inches of fresh snow in Salt Lake. As soon as her checkup was over, they got out of Salt Lake’s nasty roads and traffic and drove partway home, to stay the night at Pocatello at a motel. The doctors in Salt Lake were not happy with the graft surgery; the skin is healing well, but shrinking up again and negating the progress that was gained in “releasing” the contracture that is pulling on her arm, shoulder and spine.
On Friday Cub Cake (daughter of Cubby, granddaughter of Cinnabear) started calving at 2 a.m. so we put her in the calving pen by the house where we could watch her under the yardlight. It was a very cold, windy night and we were glad she waited till morning to calve. She calved just as the sun was coming up, and licked the calf dry very quickly, so it didn’t need to be in the barn. She had a red heifer named Sugar Bear. Andrea and kids stopped by that afternoon on their way home from to Salt Lake, and Emily got to see Buffalo Girl and her calf.
Emily Binning (our good friend and neighbor) died and was buried on a hillside on their property. A few days later they held a memorial service at one of the local churches. Emily had tape-recorded her own life sketch and it was a joy to hear her voice, telling about her life, her eagerness to go “home” to be with Jesus, and some of the exciting adventures she and her husband experienced during their years as missionaries in many countries.
We were glad to have known her, and to have been friends/neighbors for more than 40 years. At this point in our lives we get continual reminders that life is precious and fragile and that we should be grateful for every day, and its blessings—and to show our friends and family how much we love them. When we are young we take so many things for granted and don’t realize how precious and wonderful these relationships are.
Easter Sunday was a busy day. My nephew Matt Smith came last night to stay with Andrea and then visit his grandmother (my mom) this morning at the nursing home. I stopped in to see mom, too, then Lynn and I went to church with Andrea and kids, then stopped by her house to visit with Matt awhile. This evening we had a late supper for Michael and Carolyn and kids after all their chores, feeding and calving tasks. Granddaughter Heather is home from college for 3 days (going back tomorrow) and her birthday is next week. We had an early birthday celebration for their whole family, since all their birthdays are in April.
APRIL 15 – The day Michael and Carolyn took Heather back to college in Montana it started to snow. They hit a terrible blizzard on their way home, just before midnight, with 8 inches of new snow. The road was obliterated and they couldn’t see from one roadside reflector to the next so they crept along at slow speed trying to stay on the road. It took them more than 2 hours to travel 30 miles. We got only 3 inches of snow here, but it was a nasty blizzard. Nick was doing their chores and checking cows after school that evening and found a cow that had just calved. He managed to get the pair in from the field and into the barn just as it started snowing and blowing.
A week ago our old gentle cow Maggie calved, a nice big red heifer. Weather was nice for a while, then we had another storm. Lynn and I went to town to watch Charlie’s school program, and the rain hit just as we were leaving to come home. We hurried home, with strong winds threatening to blow the car off the road. We put Maggie and her new calf in the barn before they got drenched with rain. Calving this time of year, we usually figure it won’t be bad weather, but we are glad we have a barn!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Winter 2009-2010

Winter 2009-2010
Continuing the update on our family and life on the ranch:

DECEMBER 20, 2009 – Last Monday when Lynn went to town to get our mail and groceries, the car wouldn’t start when he came out of the store. He had it towed to the repair shop, and hitched a ride home with Jim--who was staying with Andrea’s kids while she was in Salt Lake for surgery on her arm. Andrea had surgery on Tuesday as planned, but due to a scheduling mix-up at the hospital, the surgeon had to work her in between some other surgeries and didn’t have enough time for the whole repair. He only did 2 of the 4 contracture releases—one on her little finger and one on her upper arm—saving the most serious one (over her shoulder) until later. He checked her arm and rebandaged it the next day and released her to come home.
Lynn and I went to Sammy’s 1st grade Christmas program at school, since Andrea wasn’t home yet from Salt Lake. The kids in Sammy’s class put on a skit and dressed as mice, using mouse faces they made from paper plates.

It’s been cold. Ice build-up in the field where our cows are grazing made it impossible for them to drink at the spring, so we let them into an adjacent pasture where they can go to the creek. Lynn was able to chop an adequate hole in the creek ice.
We plugged in the backhoe so it would start, and Michael used it to fill in the low spot in our corral that floods every spring. Then he took the backhoe to the Maurer place (where he and Carolyn will be calving their cows) to work on a spring and take out an old, leaking water trough that needs to be replaced.
Jim came out to the ranch on Thursday and got a Christmas tree for Andrea’s kids, and Lynn went to town to get our car, which had been repaired. Andrea and her friend drove home from Salt Lake. She has her entire arm bandaged and cannot use it until the stitches are taken out.
The cows have been able to keep grazing, without any hay, but they’ve nearly eaten all the grass. Michael and Carolyn loaned us their old flatbed pickup to feed big round grass bales to the cows, since we use our feed truck to feed big alfalfa bales to our heifers.

DECEMBER 30 – I spent several days before Christmas sorting through piles of papers and magazines in my office, and cleaned out the space in front of the window and the old front door—which no longer opens because the log walls settled. Cold air comes in around the door and window, so I stuffed rags in the cracks and put duct tape over them. During the summer of 2000 I stuffed rags around the door and sealed it with masking tape to keep out the smoke from the forest fires, but the masking tape disintegrated over the past 9 years. Duct tape will work better.
The day before Christmas it got really cold again and we started feeding the cows.

Michael and young Heather stopped by with Christmas gifts and we sent ours home with them. Heather is enjoying her 3-week break between semesters at college, helping her folks with their cattle.
Christmas day we cooked a big dinner and had Andrea and kids here. She likes to cook, but with her arm bandaged it was impossible for her to do much cooking.
After Christmas her kids stay with us when she went back to Salt Lake to have the stitches removed from her arm and finger.
We chopped a new water hole for the cows in the creek below the corrals; they have to come into that little pasture to drink. The brush along the creek had a lot of burdock growing there this year, and we didn’t get it cut down. Several of the cows are now covered with burrs.

The weather has been bad—with snowy roads. Andrea and her friend decided not to try to drive home yesterday evening after her checkup and removal of stitches; there were too many car accidents clogging the streets and freeway. They drove home today, and it took 13 hours (rather than the usual 6 hour drive).

JANUARY 8 – Friends from British Columbia, Pete and Bev Wiebe, stayed with us for 3 days on their way south to New Mexico and California. They spend some time every year working with the Mennonite Disaster Service, rebuilding homes destroyed by fires or hurricanes. Pete is an electrician and does electrical work on these building projects. He and Bev both help with construction. We always enjoy seeing them when they stop here. We became acquainted with Wiebes after Andrea’s burn accident in 2000. Pete is a burn survivor, and he and Bev learned about Andrea’s burns by reading my monthly “Rancher’s Diary” column in Grainews, a Canadian farm newspaper.

On Tuesday we had 3 inches of new snow, and Wednesday 2 more inches. Then the temperature plummeted to 10 below zero. The ice buildup in our lower field and lane is increasing; the cows will soon have difficulty crossing it to go to the creek for water, so we moved them up through the barnyard and to “heifer hill” pasture above our house. We’ll feed them there until we bring them down for calving.
Our good friend and neighbor Emily Binning learned last week that she has a large mass in her abdomen; she went to a specialist in Boise a few days ago, and found she has terminal cancer. She decided to not have surgery or chemo. She wanted to just come home and enjoy whatever time she has left—with friends and family. Our 12-year-old granddaughter Emily was devastated by the news, not wanting to lose “big Emily” who has been a dear friend. So this afternoon Lynn brought young Em out to the ranch, and she and I went up the creek to visit “big Emily” who gently told the child her life story and how much she loves Jesus and that she is ready to go to heaven to be with Him. I am grateful to Emily for sharing her love and faith with us, and for trying to help a child cope with the emotional trauma of losing a beloved friend.

JANUARY 20 – Michael and Carolyn vaccinated their cows (pre-calving shots), doing part of the herd the day before young Heather went back to college after Christmas break, and sorted out the ones that would soon start calving.
A week ago Andrea went back to the burn center in Salt Lake (with a friend) for more surgery on her arm. Em and Dani went with them, and we are keeping Charlie and Samantha here with us. This time the doctor did another release on her hand, and the major repair at her shoulder—which meant a new skin graft over the top of the shoulder and in the armpit. He took a large patch of “good” skin from the top/front of her left thigh, the only area on her body large enough to supply healthy skin--that had not already been grafted or harvested for a graft when she was in the burn ICU 9 years ago.
These past days have been very miserable for Andrea, because the harvest site is very painful until it heals. The doctor checked the graft and changed her bandages yesterday, and didn’t like the looks of the graft. It is still very pale and hasn’t started to turn pink yet. If it doesn’t “take”, she’ll need a new graft—which would mean trying to harvest more skin from somewhere else on her body, and they’re running out of places.
While the kids were staying with us, we celebrated Sammy’s 7th birthday.
The weather warmed up this week, which was nice, because Michael and Carolyn started calving. Their first two babies arrived Saturday, with another one Sunday morning and the fourth one yesterday. The next few weeks will be really busy for them, so we hope the weather stays mild. Our cows won’t start calving until March, so we have a little more time to sleep at nights!
Charlie and Sammy have been enjoying their stay at the ranch, playing with the cats, and helping me do chores—feeding the horses.

JANUARY 28 – It’s been a hectic week. We met with Michael and Carolyn and their banker—who wants them to have more cows (to generate enough money to meet their obligations), so they will be buying a few more cows and heifers from us. After that meeting, Michael and Carolyn hurried home to check on 5 cows that were in labor when they left.
Andrea called us from Salt Lake when we got home, to report that the doctor still didn’t like the looks of her graft and wants to see her again in 2 days. We hope her body isn’t rejecting the graft. She may be staying in Salt Lake awhile longer. We’ve been keeping Charlie and Sam but Emily and little Dani have been in Salt Lake with Andrea and Rick. They already missed a week of school and can’t afford to miss more. Lynn decided to drive to Salt Lake on Friday, to bring them home, but the weather looked really bad.
Andrea and Rick left Salt Lake at 1 pm (the same time Lynn left our place). Lynn met them halfway and got the 2 girls, then drove home and got here late that night. The roads were bad, but not as bad as they were the next two days. We had several inches of new snow. Andrea’s checkup on Saturday was still inconclusive regarding the graft, and the doctor wanted her to stay in Salt Lake.
By Sunday Michael and Carolyn had 36 calves. Even though weather hasn’t been too cold, they had to thaw one calf whose mother calved next to a fence and pushed the calf underneath where she couldn’t lick it. They warmed up the calf and fed it colostrum, then put it back with its mother.
Andrea’s checkup on Monday was still not good, but her body isn’t rejecting the dead-looking graft yet, so the doctors want to give it more time.
Meanwhile, we’re managing with all 4 kids, taking the oldest ones 2 miles to the bus each morning, and little Dani to a neighbor’s place at 8 am to catch a ride to Head Start. Lynn goes to town each day to check on their house and feed the pets. In the afternoons the kids ride the bus or go to boy scouts, dance and gymnastic class—and on those days Lynn makes a later trip to town to pick them up afterward. Little Dani is always tired after school and generally takes a nap.
Today Andrea’s graft finally started getting pink in spots and the doctor let her come home. She and Rick left Salt Lake right after her appointment, and got home this evening. After 15 days in Salt Lake, she is REALLY glad to be home.

FEBRUARY 4 – It took a few days for Lynn and me to catch up on things. We really enjoyed having the grandkids here, but it wore us out more than we care to admit! I’m still catching up on some of my article writing that got neglected while I was helping kids with homework, playing games with them, etc.
On Friday I attended a neighborhood get-together for our friend Emily Binning (who is dying of cancer). It was a nice time of sharing.
The next day I wrote a letter to Emily, trying to express how much her friendship has meant to me. This is what I told her:
Dearest Emily,
Lynn and I have been thinking about you every day for the past several weeks, keeping you in our prayers and in our hearts. Knowing that you are coming to an awesome milestone in your journey gives us pause, as we reflect on the immense significance of this next step, and also on the wonderful friendship we’ve had with you for the past 43 years, and how blessed we have been to know you. We appreciate, admire and delight in your trust and faith in the Lord. Your strength of spirit is a huge inspiration to us, and to all who know you. We thank God for this blessing and for the privilege of having you as our friend.
There are so many ways that people leave this world and enter the presence of the Lord. It’s always hard for the loved ones and friends they leave behind, but there are blessings in having a chance to say good-by. I used to think that when my time came, I wanted to leave this life quickly, with as little pain as possible. Over the past 10 years or so, however, I’ve come to realize that maybe that’s a selfish way to look at death, and that even though some ways are harder, there is more time to say good-by, to tell people we love them, to have some “final moments” together before departure.
I am grateful you took the time to visit with young Emmy and me several weeks ago. It was a beautiful sharing that touched me greatly and I hope it helped comfort young Em as she deals with what she considers the harsh finality of death (taking a person out of her life) and the loss of people she loves.
I also enjoyed seeing you at the get-together at Solaases. That was also a nice time of sharing. You are greatly loved and will be sorely missed, but the empty spot you leave behind will be softened and entwined with wonderful memories and by your gentle but firm assurances of Faith and Love. You have made our world a better place, by your kindness, love and wondrous example of a simple, trusting walk with Jesus. Many of us are more open to His presence and guidance because of your beautiful example.
This note is intended to be a love letter, a statement of appreciation and recognition of all that you have meant to me (and to Lynn) and a simple “thank you” for all the fun times we’ve had together over nearly half a century.
We have wonderful memories of getting to know you when Gordon brought you here after you were married, and the memories of doing many things together when we were young and struggling to get started here on Withington Creek--you two building your house and creating your little place and starting your ministry together, and Lynn and me getting started in ranching. All the times we helped each other—I can’t even remember all the times. Helping you build your house, taking messages up the creek until you eventually had a telephone, Gordon helping Lynn with ranch projects (fencing, plowing, haying) in those early years, you taking care of our little kids when Lynn and I had to ride or work cattle.

We did a lot of fun things together (I have fond memories of the rides you and I made together, on Sedge and Khamette—like the time we rode across the valley to visit Della Soule), and we shared many meals and visits. We remember the times when you and Gordon were building your first little house, that first cold winter, and the two of you would often come down here for a meal or a get-together for popcorn, enjoying the warmth of our heater in the front room.
I remember and putting lots of apples through the old cider press, getting firewood, Lynn and Gordon working on the ditch, etc. We had a lot of fun, a lot of good times. My kids loved you like a second mother, and still do. Thank you, Emily, for “being there” for me, for my family, as a friend and neighbor.
With much love, Heather
* * * *
Lynn picked up some things from Michael and Carolyn to mail that afternoon; they are really busy with calving and don’t have time to go to town. Thursday night they had 7 new calves (more than 70 total). Two young cows calved at the same time and were fighting over their calves, rolling them around in the straw. After Michael got the two pairs separated they mothered the calves fine.
Michael and Carolyn had 2 sets of twins Sunday, born within a couple hours of one another. This makes the 4th set of twins for one of those cows. They took the extra calves (named Thumper and Flower) and made a place for them in the garage until they have cows to graft them onto. They now have 93 calves.

FEBRUARY 12 – Last Friday we brought our cows down from heifer hill and Nick helped us put them through the chute and give them their pre-calving vaccinations and delouse them. Even though we deloused them last fall, they were getting itchy again so it was time for another treatment.
Tuesday night Michael and Carolyn had a tough calving situation. The cow had a uterine torsion and the calf was upside down. Michael got it turned but there was still a partial twist in the neck of the uterus. There was no veterinarian available so Michael and Carolyn pulled the calf, which was difficult because of the constriction caused by the twist. The head wouldn’t come through. It kept deviating off to the side. Finally Carolyn worked the puller while Michael kept his arm in the cow to bring the head through. It was one of the toughest calving situations he’s ever dealt with, but once they got the head through the cervix, the cow started straining, and they were able to get the calf out. Mama and baby are doing fine now. Present calf count is 170 babies.
Andrea went to Salt Lake again to have her graft repair checked, and to be fitted for a pressure glove and a pressure garment to help keep the upper arm graft smoother as it heals and matures—to try to prevent the thickening and contracture that made it necessary for corrective surgery. We kept her 4 kids here for a couple of days, until she got home last night. On a bright note, her graft is FINALLY looking healthy, and beginning to heal.