NOVEMBER 25, 2010 – Last week we moved our small group of cows back to the fields above the house, and let the newly weaned heifers into more pens by the calving barn, to graze the rest of that grass. They bawled a little, seeing their mothers leave; the cows had been in the field next to their pen, able to communicate through the corral fence. But after more than a week of separation, they are weaned. The cows never looked back, and didn’t mind going to a field farther away from their babies.
It started snowing the next day, and dumped several inches on our fields.
Our new neighbor brought his cows down from the 160 acre pasture next to ours, but didn’t have them all. We’d told him we’d seen some cows on the range above our pasture, but he didn’t believe us until he rounded his up and counted them. Then he rode for several days trying to find the 12 cows that went back to the range—through the hole he cut in his fence to bring them home.
He’d never gone back up on the mountain to make a gate and fix the hole in the fence. Andrea and Rick saw the cows on the mountain above Withington Creek when they went to get another load of firewood, and we told Alfonzo where the cows were. He and another neighbor rode out there last Saturday and got them down off the range.
The grass in my horse pasture is nearly gone, and now snow-covered. Chance, the 30-year-old gelding we’re taking care of for granddaughter Heather, can’t eat hay with his bad teeth, so I’m feeding him alfalfa pellets along with his grain. A magpie eats with him, cleaning up the grain he spills on the ground. It’s funny to see Chance and his magpie friend waiting for their grain—with the magpie sitting on Chance’s back.
Michael and Carolyn moved their cows down from our upper fields on Sunday and started feeding hay. Our weather is cold and windy, and all roads in and out of Salmon were closed a couple days ago. Granddaughter Heather planned to drive home from college yesterday for Thanksgiving vacation but even though the roads were open again, we didn’t want her driving in bad conditions. Michael and Carolyn did their feeding early, and drove to Helena to get her.
I cooked a big dinner today for Thanksgiving and we had Andrea’s family and Lynn’s brother and wife here for dinner. Michael, Carolyn and kids were busy with their cattle all day; their rep from Superior Livestock Auction was making a video of the cows and bred heifers they plan to sell on the video auction. We’ll have Michael’s family here Saturday evening for a belated Thanksgiving dinner. It will be nice to have a chance to visit with young Heather before they take her back to Helena on Sunday.
DECEMBER 2 – On a warmer not-so-windy day I took shoes off Rubbie, Breezy and Ed and trimmed their feet for winter. Their feet were getting long, and we won’t be riding them till spring; they’ll have better traction without snow and ice balling up under their feet. A bare foot sheds snowballs better than a shod foot. During one sunny afternoon I took a photo of old Chance napping in the snow.
Michael and Carolyn found a reasonably-priced used pickup for Nick to drive to school and track practice. He’s been borrowing their Durango ever since the roads got snowy and slick. The old Chrysler we gave him (after his little red pickup rolled into Peet’s pond and ruined the motor) isn’t trustworthy on bad roads; he needs 4-wheel drive.
The lease on the Maurer place—where Michael and Carolyn calved their cows the past several years—has come up for renewal and the lady who owns it wants to raise the rent by $5000. Her rationale for charging more money was that it was worth more now that they’d increased the hay production. But the rent was too high before that, and some of her stipulations are unreasonable, so they are dropping that lease.
Michael and Carolyn are running out of time to find another place before their cows start calving, so they decided to sell all their cows (to pay some of their debts) and keep some heifer calves to breed in the spring. They can keep the yearlings here on our place, and maybe this will buy them time to find another place and start rebuilding their herd.
DECEMBER 11 – Last Friday Michael and Carolyn sold 6 semi loads of cows and bred heifers on the video auction. They got $1200 and $1125 for 2 loads of heifers, and $1150, $1100, $1000 and $985 per head for 4 loads of cows. They spent several days sorting cows into various groups (by age), getting ready to ship out—one load of heifers to Utah, one to Kansas, one load of cows to Colorado and 3 loads to Challis, Idaho.
Monday it snowed all day. Andrea got a notice in the mail that her semi-annual appointment with the lung specialist in Salt Lake was the very next day, on Tuesday afternoon. Lynn helped her get new snow tires for her car and went with her on the trip—400 miles on bad roads. They left Monday evening and drove all night, to make sure she could get there on time Tuesday afternoon. The roads were so bad it took 9 hours to make the 400-mile drive to Salt Lake; they got there at 4 a.m., got a motel, and slept a few hours before her appointment.
Her lung checkup went well; her breathing has improved since the doctor put her on medication to help keep her airways open. She has a lot of scar tissue in her lungs, due to damage from the fire and subsequent bouts of pneumonia. Her graft checkup did not go so well. The surgery on her arm last January to cut out the contracted scar tissue and replace it with a new graft was not successful; the new skin shrank up worse than the old graft and the contracture is pulling her spine out of place worse than ever.
She and Lynn drove home Tuesday night, hitting bad roads again on our end (fog and blowing snow), finally getting home at 4 a.m.
Meanwhile Michael and Carolyn got their cows shipped out. They had to plow snow and sand the driveway at Maurers to get the trucks in and out. The first truck came for heifers on Tuesday, and the other 5 trucks arrived on Wednesday. Now they are hoping to sell a few more loads of cows locally, and if necessary take the last ones to the sale at Butte, Montana next week. Then all they’ll have to do is move their heifers and horses to our place, and get all their hay moved.
We’ve had more snow, and started feeding hay to our heifers.
The cows are still finding rough feed, so we hope the snow won’t get any deeper. Our neighbor’s cows got into his stackyard on the lower place, but he is in Mexico for another month, so yesterday some of his friends moved those cows up to the Gooch place. There’s not much grass left there, so we’re hoping someone will start feeding them before they try to come through the fence into our fields.
DECEMBER 21 – Last week we had 9 more inches of snow. Lynn went up the creek with Andrea and Rick to cut a Christmas tree, and hiked through nearly 2 feet of snow.
During several days of slightly warmer weather he got 2 tractors started, and moved them closer to the barn and shop where he can plug them in. He put the blade on the middle-sized tractor, to plow snow. The snow in our driveway is too deep for the car; we’ve been driving the pickup.
Michael and Carolyn sold 40 more cows, to a rancher on Carmen Creek—4 loads with stock trailers. They sent a semi-load of cows to a ranch in Stevensville, Montana, a few more trailer loads to local ranchers, and the last semi-load of pregnant cows to the sale at Butte, Montana. Now all they have left are calves—mostly replacement heifers and a few stocker steers.
Granddaughter Heather drove home from Carroll College (Helena, Montana) on Wednesday, glad to be home for the holidays and semester break. She’s helping her folks with feeding and other chores. She was glad to see her old horse again.
We’ve had colder weather the past few days, below zero. Carolyn’s old horse Molly was having a hard time pawing through snow for grass in our post-pile pasture, so we led her up to our barnyard to one of our horse pens to feed hay. We bought more alfalfa pellets for granddaughter Heather’s old horse.
On Friday we finally had to bring our cows down from heifer hill, to the field above our house, and yesterday started feeding; the snow is more than a foot deep, and too crusted for them to root down to grass.
DECEMBER 31 – I was slow writing a Christmas letter this year, so I’m still sending out cards and letters. I did get photo albums made for each grandchild, filled with photos taken during the past year when they were here at the ranch riding, helping work cattle, etc. We had a belated Christmas dinner at Andrea’s place on Monday, since the younger kids were at Mark’s house for Christmas this year.
Michael and Carolyn started hauling their hay off the Maurer place. They’ve leased that place for 3 years (and calved their cows there) but the lease came up for renewal this month and the owner (a widow in Oregon) wouldn’t discuss renewal terms until just before the lease ended.
Then she told them she wanted $5000 more per year (above the $20,000 they’d been paying). She also demanded that Michael and Carolyn pay for all expenses and upkeep, on top of the $5000 per summer they’ve been paying for the power bill for irrigation, $8500 per year for fertilizer, and $2000 per summer to de-moss the main ditch. She now wanted them to also pay for all materials for improvements or repair on corrals, fences, etc. They hardly made ends meet with the old lease. They would lose money trying to lease it again, so they told her they couldn’t. She then said she would charge them $50 per day for every day past December 15 that they still had any animals, hay or machinery on the place, plus a big “fine” for being there too long. According to Idaho law, however, a renter has a “reasonable” time to move off a place. But they decided to get everything moved as quickly as possible, even though legally she can’t demand more money from them.
They started hauling hay a couple days ago, bringing some here after Lynn plowed our driveway and barnyard. Yesterday Michael plowed a trail up to our swamp pasture and put a feeder and big round bale up there, and hauled their 12 horses over here for winter. We put Classy and foal (Tornado) in adjacent foaling/weaning pens, to wean the foal. They wormed Chance and Molly and took Molly up to join the big group. Last night it was below zero—not very nice weaning weather, but the filly wasn’t too upset, having mama next to her.
Michael hired the local sand/gravel company to plow and sand the road to the upper stackyard on Maurer’s place so trucks can get in and out, and also hired them to plow the snow (nearly 2 feet deep) in our upper stackyard. We started hauling hay up there today, using 2 trucks and our flatbed trailer.
Tonight Andrea, Rick and Emily are coming for dinner and we’ll play games until midnight. Lynn and I haven’t stayed up that late on New Year’s Eve since the days we used to calve in January and were up during the nights taking care of the first babies!
JANUARY 14 – The first week of January was very cold while we were hauling hay. We kept our tractor plugged in continually except when it was running, and even then some mornings it would barely start. We took big straw bales up to our cows in the field, to give the cows something to bed on and eat (along with their hay and protein supplement) during those coldest nights.
In the mornings after feeding, Lynn would start the tractor and let it run awhile. Young Heather came by to take him to Maurers to drive one of the hay trucks. Michael loaded the trucks and trailers (a neighbors helped, with his flatbed trailer). As soon as Lynn’s truck was loaded, he drove it the 7-plus miles to the stackyard on our upper place, and young Heather gave him a ride back down to our house to get our tractor. He’d get up there just ahead of the other truck and trailers, to unload hay. They were able to make two trips per day before it got dark. The cold weather was actually a blessing, because the steep driveways to the haystacks at Maurers, and into our upper stackyard—and a couple places on our creek road--would have been too treacherous and slippery for the trucks and trailers if it had been thawing.
During the clear weather I took some photos of our barnyard and horse pens.
Sunday night I cooked a big supper and we had Michael, Carolyn and kids here for a belated New Year’s celebration. They didn’t stay long, however, because everyone was tired from hauling hay, and had to get up early the next day to do chores early and do it again. It was a big relief to get all the hay safely hauled.
The next few days Michael, Carolyn and Heather worked at getting everything else off that ranch—machinery and equipment, hay feeders, salt, calving and cattle supplies. They parked their baler, 4-wheelers, etc. in our big stackyard and covered them with tarps. The swather was a challenge. Michael was able to get it started late afternoon (the warmest part of that day), and was driving it up our creek road just after dark. But the serpentine belt (that runs the fan, water pump, alternator, etc.) broke and the engine quickly overheated. He couldn’t leave it there, because it completely blocked the road. He drove another half mile up to the wide spot above our driveway, and it’s still parked there, until he has time to fix it—and he’s hoping that running it that hot did not damage the engine.
Michael used our tractor to plow a feed trail on our wild meadow, then spent the next day hauling cattle—a bull to put with our bulls for the winter, and 4 trailer loads of heifers and a few steers to the wild meadow. The next day they moved the last of their personal things off the Maurer place, and sent a letter to Mrs. Maurer telling her everything was moved. Now we’ll wait and see whether she tries to charge them a fee for being “slow”, but if she does, they’ll probably contest it—because it only took them 3 weeks to move everything after they found out they wouldn’t be able to renew the lease on her terms.
Young Heather drove back to Helena to start her 2nd semester. She stopped here that morning to exchange 3 bags of horse pellets (that she bought in Montana earlier this winter to haul around in the back of her car for weight and traction) for 4 concrete blocks. Her old horse, Chance, will enjoy the pellets!
On Tuesday Michael brought another feeder for their horses in our swamp pasture, so the timid ones will have room to eat. Carolyn led Classy around to join that group. Young Tornado ran around and whinnied when the mare was led away, but after being in separate pens for 10 days she is fully weaned, and soon settled down.