Monday, April 22, 2013


Late Winter (February-March) 2013

FEBRUARY 23 – Last Saturday Rick and Sam came down on the 4-wheeler to help me feed the cows. Sam enjoyed riding around in the feed truck. Rick fed the bulls on their way home. Lynn was doing better that morning, so the heart doctor in Missoula released him from the hospital mid-day, and Andrea drove him home. They got back to Salmon just before the pharmacy closed and were able to pick up his new prescriptions. I cooked a big supper and fed everyone here, and Lynn went to bed early. He was very tired.

He had some chest pain in the night but it eased off, and he slept almost all day Sunday. Andrea, Rick and kids went to church, and later that day Andrea used the tractor to load another big square bale onto our feed truck, and brought a couple big bales around for the heifers.

On Monday there was no school, so Charlie came down early with Andrea, and practiced driving the feed truck for his first time. It was very cold that morning, which made his first attempt more challenging, with the snow still deep and crusted. Charlie had to go a little faster than he should have, to avoid getting stuck in the deep snow. Andrea and I were feeding the big bale off the back, so we had it to hang onto when the truck lurched through the snow.

It reminded me of when our kids were small and used to drive the jeep for Lynn to feed; he had to be very agile and balance himself through the bumps and lurches, and try to land on his feet when the kid popped the clutch and threw him off the back of the jeep. We were a lot more limber back in those days! Our current feed truck (a 1973 Chevrolet) is an automatic, which makes it a little easier for a young driver. Charlie actually did very well driving it, considering the challenging conditions.

We talked awhile on the phone with Michael later that day. He’s been driving truck in North Dakota in some horrible weather and bad roads. In the afternoon Lynn took a short walk to the end of our driveway and back. He’s supposed to walk every day.

On Wednesday we let Lynn drive the feed truck. He was becoming restless and frustrated not being able to help with chores and feeding. But he’s not supposed to lift anything heavy or do strenuous things for awhile yet.

Thursday Andrea took Lynn to town to have a checkup with his doctor here, and helped Lynn do all the town errands and get the groceries. When they got home, Andrea started the tractor and took a big bale up to Carolyn’s place on our feed truck for their old horses, and Carolyn unloaded it with their tractor. Then Andrea loaded more hay on our truck.

Afterward, we noticed that our neighbor Alfonzo had put all his cattle in the little field right below our place, so Andrea and I quickly moved our heifers because Alfonzo still has bulls with his cows. We didn’t want bulls right through the fence from our heifers or the bulls might try to come through the fence. We don’t want the heifers bred this early in the year. Andrea and I called the heifers; they followed us out of the field (our gentle heifers lead better than they drive). We put them into the orchard and horse pasture.

That afternoon Lynn and I went to visit our new Amish neighbors and get better acquainted, and take them a couple sets of my dad’s books. They had found one of his old books in the local library and wanted to buy a set for themselves and one set for a relative. Dad’s little books of short sermons (he called them “meditations from the high country”) have been very popular ever since they were first published many years ago. He used simple stories from the ranch and from his many other experiences to illustrate God’s love. A few years before my father died, I helped him get those 4 books reprinted (By the River of No Return, Wild Rivers and Mountain Trails, Sagebrush Seed, and The Open Gate), and I still have a batch of these books available for people who want them.

Carolyn has been sick a few days with a nasty infection she picked up at the vet clinic where she works—after helping treat several young calves that were brought in with serious diarrhea. In spite of intensive care, the vet couldn’t save those calves. The young man who works there cleaning kennels also got sick, and was so ill he had to be in the hospital for IV fluids. Yesterday Carolyn needed to go to town to pick up Michael’s prescription medications to send to him, but still didn’t feel well enough to leave home. So Andrea got the medications for her—and packaged them up to send with one of the other truck drivers who is heading back to North Dakota today.

Rick and Andrea are still helping us feed cows, though Lynn drives the truck and is hiking a little farther every day. Today Rick and Andrea also went up to Carolyn’s house and hauled a bunch of wood for her and stacked it by the house.

MARCH 3 – Our neighbor Alfonzo finally moved his cattle (and bulls) out of the little field next to ours, so it was safe to put our heifers back in their winter place with the heated water tank. Andrea and Rick are still feeding our cows, and Lynn drives the truck. Last weekend Emily came down and drove the truck, then helped with the fillies. She caught Dottie, fed Dottie her “treat” (a few pellets) and worked with her a little.

Then Andrea and Em led Willow and Dottie for a short walk up to the end of the driveway and back. We need to start leading them again, now that the road not so icy—and get back to their lessons. After the leading, Em held Dottie for me while I trimmed her feet.

Last Monday Lynn drove the tractor for the first time since his heart procedure, to load the big bales. He also brought another big bale around for the bulls in the corral.

Carolyn talked to Michael a few days ago and told us he’d had some wild experiences with the bad roads in North Dakota. One shortcut the dispatcher told him to take was not much more than a jeep track, and very slippery, steep, and narrow, but he managed to get safely down that hill.

Andrea took Emily to the doctor on Friday and discovered that Em is borderline diabetic. She’ll have to start watching her diet and also get some regular exercise besides hockey (which is only a winter sport, here).

That afternoon Emily and a friend, Andrea and I took the fillies for a long walk down the road and back, more than a mile. Yesterday we all went for a hike again and took the fillies even farther. Willow and Dottie are feeling silly and frisky and need to get back into some regular lessons and good manners again.

I was watching Breezy most of the day. She seemed a little dull, lying around a lot. When I fed her in the evening she wasn’t interested in eating. She took a few bites of hay, and lay down again. By dark she was no better, and still hadn’t touched her hay. Andrea and I gave her an injection of Banamine (an anti-inflammatory drug that is helpful to relieve the pain of colic) and put her in the side pen next to the house where I could watch her during the night--and turned on the light at this end of my hay shed. It shines into the 2 calving pens by the house.

Breezy was feeling better within 20 minutes after the injection, and began eating hay. I checked on her several times during the night and she was fine. This morning I put her back in her own pen, and she had no more episodes of discomfort.

Today was very windy, so we didn’t lead the fillies, and Lynn didn’t take his daily walk; he just hiked to the end of the driveway this evening while I fed the horses.

MARCH 12 – Last week Michael and other truckers in North Dakota were stranded at their truck yard by a blizzard, with 4-foot snowdrifts. The man trying to plow them out made one pass by the trucks but the snow immediately blew right back in and filled that slot. So Michael stayed in his truck all night with the motor running; it was too cold to shut it off or it would never start again. He hoped he wouldn’t run out of diesel before they got plowed out. The wind quit the next day, so they were able to plow the yard and get the trucks free.

Andrea and I took the fillies for longer daily hikes last week. We went down the road a couple miles and back, then up the road 1 ½ miles and back. We thought the mud had dried up enough in the jeep track to the low range to lead them over that hill, so one day we tried to go up that “road” but didn’t get very far. It was wetter and deeper than we thought—with gooey mud sticking to our boots. The snow is still too deep to leave the road, so we’ll have to wait for warmer weather to venture over the hills again like we were doing last fall.

Last Wednesday Andrea took Sam to the doctor to get her knees checked again—they’ve been swollen and painful off and on—but we still don’t know what’s causing the problem. Lynn took two of the kids’ saddles to Jeff Minor for repairs before the kids start riding again this spring.

On Saturday Andrea and I took the fillies on another long walk up the road, then we trimmed Rubbie’s and Veggie’s long feet when we got home. Those old horses’ feet hadn’t been trimmed since last fall. I trimmed off the extra hoof growth with the hoof nippers and Andrea smoothed them with the rasp.

Our weather warmed up yesterday--it was the first time it hasn’t dropped well below freezing at night. The snow is settling, and if it stays warm we may have some run-off and flooding. Lynn checked the ditch above our calving pasture and maternity pen (the old orchard) to make sure the little headgates he put in last year were shut off. We don’t want those pens and pasture flooding just before we put the cows in there for calving! Our little herd is due to start calving in early April, but the bull we’ve been using sires calves with short gestation. His calves last year came a week to 10 days early, on average, so we will probably be sorting out the heavies to bring down here in another week or so.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Late January - Early February 2013

JANUARY 27 – We had a couple weeks of cold weather (down to minus 15 degrees F. or lower, every night). The old cow with the frozen calf we thawed out is enjoying life in our pen by the barn, where she gets pampered with all the hay she can eat, and some good alfalfa. Her calf is not very lively; it gets up to nurse but spends most of its time sleeping in the deep bedding, trying to keep warm. The calf (named Popsicle) has been dull and grinding her teeth (a sign of gut pain), so for a couple days we gave her some keopectate—squirted into her mouth--to coat and sooth the gut. She’s doing better now, and eating quite a bit of hay even though she’s only 2 weeks old.

Chores take longer every morning, breaking ice on the creek for the cows and in the bull pen, and getting ice out of all the horse tubs. In the cold weather 2 of my plastic tubs were so brittle they broke when I was thumping ice out of them, and I had to replace them.

In the cold weather Breezy and the 2 fillies have been chewing up the pole fence between them, in a few places where they could reach between the electric wires and get to the poles. One night they chewed a pole completely in two. The next morning Rick helped Lynn put a new pole there, and rearranged the electric wires so the horses can’t reach the fence.

Andrea took Emily to her hockey tournament at Sun Valley and we took care of the other kids while she was gone. Dani went with Lynn and me up to Michael and Carolyn’s house to take the blankets off their two old horses (Molly and Chance) and put wood in their stove. On the days Carolyn works, she has to leave before daylight, and in this cold weather that’s too early to take the blankets off those horses.

When Andrea and Emily got back from their hockey trip we had a belated birthday celebration at our house for Sam (who just turned 10) and Emily (turned 15). Charlie is starting to learn how to play the trombone in band class at school, and he played happy birthday for the girls on his trombone.

I was asked to write one of the chapters for a new book on wolves (looking at the wolf problems in North America). That book will be coming out later this year, so I’ve been trying to write a little on that chapter every day in between my other article deadlines and chores. I had a doctor appointment on Tuesday for a checkup and pneumonia shot, and the doctor also tried to freeze off some big plantar warts (on the balls of both feet) that I’ve had for nearly 40 years. Even heavily bandaged and with double socks on, it’s painful to walk!

The last few days the weather has been warmer. Rick and Andrea chopped through the thick ice on the creek in Fozzy’s pen and re-established his water hole—and dug out some gravel from the creek bottom, to spread on the slippery bank so he will be brave enough to step down to the creek. Now I don’t have to carry him water in buckets anymore. The ice was almost a foot thick and I’d given up on trying to keep that water hole open during our 2 weeks of cold weather.

This weekend Andrea took Charlie to his hockey tournament in Sun Valley.

Last night we had a blizzard and a nasty wind, so before we went to bed Lynn and I put the old cow and her calf in the barn. They were happy to get out of the cold, wet snow. It was very obvious that the old cow has been in a barn before. She watched us open the doors and as soon as I opened the gate from her gate she headed right for the barn! Some of the cows that Michael and Carolyn bought last spring are wild, but not this one. She is very much at ease with human handling.

This morning we had 8 inches of new snow. Emily helped me shovel out part of the pen before we put the cow and calf back out of the barn. We also moved our yearling heifers to the field below the lane and set up their heated water tank so we won’t have to keep breaking ice for them through the rest of the winter. Lynn tried to start our middle-size tractor to plow our driveways but the diesel gelled up again and he had to drain more gunk out of the tank. He got it running again and was able to finish plowing driveways.

We should have plenty of snow in the mountains for a good water supply this summer. Two of the Amish young men (our new neighbors) hiked up the mountain behind our place last week on snowshoes, exploring where the old Harmony Mine was located before it burned up in our 2003 fire. They decided to go farther, and hiked clear to the top, to see the old Forest Service Lookout. When they got up there, they poked a long stick down through the snow to measure the depth, and it was more than 6 feet—and that was before our latest snowstorm!

FEBRUARY 8 – The old cow with the rescued calf (Popsicle) isn’t milking very well and her calf is still very thin. We tried to feed the calf a supplemental bottle last week but she didn’t want it. For a few nights during the cold, stormy weather we continued to put the pair in the barn at nights, and back out in their pen during the day.

With the deep snow, the elk are coming down into the fields. About 30 head have been going into our neighbor’s alfalfa stack every night. The snow made our driveway a wonderful place for the grandkids to sled; there’s enough slope that they can get up plenty of speed and go shooting clear across the bridge.

Michael drove home from North Dakota last Tuesday, and got here at 3 a.m. the next morning. The day after he got home, another cow calved, in their herd in our lower field, but at least the weather was warmer this time, and the calf is doing fine. While Michael is home, he is trying to get caught up on all the urgent things that need to be done during these few days.

Last week our tractor was finally ready to come home, after several weeks of repair work, following the wreck. It looks much better than the day Andrea took this picture of it being towed to the repair shop.

The total cost of fixing it was more than $8000, so we had to borrow money to pay that bill. It’s good to have it home again. Lynn uses it to load the big bales onto our feed truck. Michael bought more hay for their cows, and borrowed a flatbed trailer to haul it—and used our tractor to load the hay. He and Carolyn hauled several loads of hay to the upper stackyard, and on the last trip Lynn went with them to drive our tractor home.

While Michael was home we borrowed a friend’s heavy-duty transport trailer and hauled our wrecked flatbed trailer to be fixed. Even though it was “totaled” in the wreck, a friend who is an expert welder thought he could straighten out the twisted frame and tongue and fix it.

Two days ago Michael and Carolyn lured their cows and calves up to our corrals with the tractor and bale processor and fed them in the hold pen so they could be sorted and hauled the next morning. The county truck sanded our road so it wouldn’t be so slippery. Early yesterday morning Michael and a friend brought their trailers and hauled 3 loads of cattle (some cull cows and last summer’s calves) down to a neighbor’s place to load them on a semi-truck to haul to the sale at Butte, Montana.

Andrea took me to town yesterday for a treadmill stress test at the hospital, ordered by our local doctor because of my chest pain and fatigue. The doctor said I did ok on it and he thinks my heart is fine, so I’ll just keep exercising and not worry about my heart. When we got home, Michael and Carolyn were vaccinating their remaining cows and calves, and Andrea helped them.

This morning Michael and Carolyn hauled those cows and calves to the upper place, putting the main herd in the field above the corrals and the 3 cows with young calves in the Wild Meadow. They were able to vaccinate the old gentle cow and Popsicle right in the pen by the barn before they took that pair around to the main corral to load up. It was good to see that little calf finally feeling good enough to run and buck when they went to the big corral. On the second load of cattle, Michael’s pickup spun out going up our steep slippery driveway; he had to back down the driveway, and put chains on the pickup.

While they were hauling their 5th load, Lynn and I lured our small herd of cows down through the field from heifer hill with our feed truck—a bit of a challenge, with the deep snow. Michael and Carolyn helped us vaccinate and delouse our cows, and then they ate lunch here with us.

Rick helped Lynn put chains on our feed truck before we tried to feed our cows in the field above our house; the snow is still about a foot deep and very dense.

FEBRUARY 16 – Last Saturday Lynn helped Michael haul 2 loads of our round bales of alfalfa hay up to the upper stackyard, to mix with the grass hay Michael bought. This will give Carolyn enough hay to feed their cows up on the upper place while Michael is gone. On Sunday Michael and Carolyn hung a gate (the one between their stackyard and field) so it will be easier for Carolyn to open and close when she’s feeding the cows. Michael left early Monday morning to drive back to North Dakota for his job driving trucks.

Michael also bought some alfalfa hay in big square bales, from a rancher near Leadore, 50 miles away. That rancher delivered it on Monday (two loads), and Lynn unloaded it here in our barnyard. Fortunately we didn’t have any new snow and the hay trucks were able to drive back up our driveway without a problem. We will trade some hay with Michael, since our round bales work better in his bale processor, and these new square bales can be fed more easily off our feed truck.

With Michael and Carolyn’s cows on the upper place again, and their driveway partly thawed and not so slippery and treacherous for driving the big tractor back and forth to their house to plug in at night, Carolyn is able to feed their cows up there now. The days are getting longer, so she can get them fed before she goes to work in the mornings—on the days she works at the vet clinic—and doesn’t need Lynn to feed them.

On Tuesday Lynn and I both went to town to see the doctor—me for another freeze treatment of my plantar warts (it is going to take several applications to kill them, so I’ll be hobbling around with sore feet again) and Lynn to ask about stronger medication for his asthma attacks in the mornings. For the past 3 weeks or so, ever since our cold weather, he often gets a sudden tightness in his throat that tends to shut off his breathing, and a pain in his chest and left shoulder. The inhaler he uses for asthma (that the doctor prescribed last fall after his breathing became impaired from the thick smoke we had to breathe all summer) helps a little, but not enough.

The doctor changed his respiratory medication to something stronger, but she was concerned that this was more than just a respiratory problem. She scheduled an appointment for him to see a heart specialist in Missoula on Thursday and have a test where they put a dye in the heart and send a probe up through an artery in the groin, to go inside the heart and take a look.

After we got home from the doctor, Lynn used our tractor to move all the hay bales up through the corrals and into our main stackyard where they will be safe from the deer and elk. We have tall elk panels around that stackyard.

On Wednesday we talked to Michael briefly on the phone while he was driving truck in North Dakota. They put him right back to work; some of their drivers had quit and he’d been driving for 27 hours with only a couple short naps. In the afternoon Lynn went to town for our mail and groceries, and to pick up his new asthma medication, and on the way home he got our flatbed trailer, all fixed. It looks as good as new. The welder who fixed it used an ingenious way to straighten out all the warps and twists. He also used some reinforcing metal and says it’s stronger than it was before.

Rick and Andrea took Rick’s wood-splitter up to Carolyn’s house and split the rest of her wood; it looks like she’ll have enough now to last through winter, and she won’t have to split any while Michael is gone.

Early Thursday morning Andrea drove Lynn to his appointment with the doctor at St. Patrick’s Hospital in Missoula (a 4 hour drive). Carolyn and Rick helped me feed our cows that morning. Andrea called to say that the doctor didn’t start on Lynn until late morning, and the procedure lasted all afternoon. She took a photo of Lynn resting and waiting at the doctor’s office, keeping warm under a blanket she’s been making.

The doctor scraped out some plaque buildup in the lower heart chambers, and then put stents in some of the major blocked arteries to open them back up. The first stent collapsed (and Lynn had a minor heart attack when that happened) and the doctor redid it, and put in 2 more. There was one more blocked artery but it was smaller and farther out on the branching network, and the doctor couldn’t reach it, but thought Lynn would probably be ok on that one. The 3 major arteries were the big concern.

It was a rough day for Lynn and he was dizzy and sick to his stomach after the procedure—which took twice as long as the doctor had anticipated--so they kept him in the hospital overnight. He also had a big hematoma/blood clot at his groin where the blood leaked from the artery they’d used for getting up into the heart. There were clamps on it to keep it contained. Andrea stayed with him, and took a photo of him wearing his cap in bed because his head was cold.

Meanwhile, here at home, I drove down to the bus to pick up Andrea’s kids after school. They helped me do chores and feed the horses and heifers. I fed them all supper when Rick got home from the woods with his load of firewood. He goes to the woods as often as possible to cut firewood to sell. He has a lot of customers right now because the weather has been so cold and people have been burning more wood than usual.

Yesterday morning Rick helped me feed our cows, before he went to the woods again. I talked to Lynn on the phone mid-morning and he felt much better. The blood clot had resolved, and the doctor released him from the hospital. Then Andrea called again about an hour later. She started to bring him home, but hadn’t gotten out of Missoula when Lynn suddenly became very sick and dizzy again. So she took him back to the hospital and the doctor decided to keep him there another day. They put him on IV fluids and gave him more anti-nausea medication. By last night he was able to keep food down again.

Rick helped me feed our cows again this morning, and when we talked to Andrea on the phone she said they would be coming home today. So hopefully all goes well and Lynn will actually make it home today!