Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ranch Diary: November 7 - December, 2014

NOVEMBER 13 – Saturday was colder—down to 22 degrees.  Two of the heifers managed to crawl into the calf houses (where they sheltered this spring as babies), even though they are too big for the doorway!  One of them was able to get out on her own but I had to shoosh the other one out because she thought she was stuck.  Andrea and Dani came down at noon and we rode to the 320 to check the cows.  Dani helped us move the low ones back up the ridge to the high grass.   
Then we rode down Baker Creek to check on the water.  It’s running more than usual this fall, and even though the ground was frozen solid in that shady canyon, the little creek was still open and accessible for the cattle to drink. 
On Sunday we didn’t ride; Andrea and kids and Robbie drove to Idaho Falls for his niece’s birthday party.  Lynn and I went to church, and visited with friends afterward, including our new neighbor, Kera, that we just met.  She’s the daughter of a good friend who lived a couple miles down the road from us—who died suddenly last winter of a heart attack.  He left his house to his daughter, and she recently moved here.   
Weather turned cold and windy that evening by the time Andrea and kids got home that night—with blowing snow on Gilmore Pass.  Monday was cold and windy all day, with some snow, so we didn’t ride.  Andrea and Robbie drained the hose and emptied water troughs at the upper corral so they wouldn’t freeze up.  Michael and Carolyn were on the road, coming all the way from Iowa where they’d visited awhile with Nick at his college.  The artic storm moving down across the country was hitting the Dakotas and Montana so they chose a more southerly route to come home, through Wyoming and up to Idaho.  Instead of stopping at a motel they drove straight through, hoping to beat the worst of the storm.  They drove for 22 hours and got here at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, exhausted after driving through wind and bad weather. 
It was 12 degrees here that morning and never got much warmer.  Later in the day after they’d rested and caught up with chores Michael and Carolyn drove their little truck up to the 320 and checked on the cows and the water situation.  With all the wind and cold, Baker Creek froze up, so they opened the gate and brought the cows down to the lower half of that pasture, with southern exposure and more sunshine where they could use the water trough next to the 160 acre pasture.   

A few years ago we dug out that spring with the backhoe and put in a deeper spring-box to collect more of the water, and buried the pipe to the trough.  The water comes out of the ground fairly warm (55 degrees) and the pipe doesn’t freeze.  We have to take ice off the top of the trough in really cold weather, but the water keeps running. 
It got down to zero that night (probably the equivalent of 10 to 15 below zero with the wind), so yesterday Michael and Carolyn were busy trying to get a few more things taken care of—taking shoes off some of their horses and moving the horses to a better winter pasture, and taking panels out of the creek at their water hole before they freeze in solid.  Lynn drove his 4-wheeler up to the 320 (bundled up against the bitter wind) to break ice on the water trough for the cows.   

There is still a lot of feed in that pasture and the cows were still happily grazing.  They are on the sunny side of the mountain instead of the shady, frozen canyon, with they have some places to get out of the wind.  The water trough had a small open area where warm water comes into it, but the ice was 2 inches thick on the rest, so Lynn broke it into pieces and shoveled it out.  Michael and Carolyn’s horses on the other side of the fence also use this trough, but don’t use it as much when there’s snow, preferring to eat snow. 
On his way home he stopped to check on the builders at Rocky’s house site who were pouring concrete for the back wall of the basement—and covering it with straw to keep it from freezing as it set up. 
This morning it was 4 below zero, but the wind stopped, and it was much more pleasant doing chores and breaking ice out of all the horse tubs and for the weaned heifers.  What a difference the wind makes!   When Lynn drove up to the 320 this afternoon he didn’t get as cold, and the ice was only 1.25 inches thick on the water trough.  This afternoon it warmed up to 16 degrees, but a snowstorm is coming in.  If it snows very much we’ll have to bring the cows down. 
Michael, Carolyn, Andrea and Robbie drove their pickups up the creek today to get some firewood.  We have a lot of pine wood hauled and split but no fir to mix with it.  The fir produces more heat and holds a fire longer in the stove.  During cold weather it’s nice to have some fir, so they are hoping to get a few loads before we get a lot of snow.  At this point the jeep road up the creek is bare, but will get treacherous if it snows. 

NOVEMBER 23 – We had cold weather for about a week (below zero F) and worried that we have to bring the cows home from the 320-acre mountain pasture.  Even though Michael and Carolyn let them through the gate into the lower end—where the snow wasn’t as deep—Lynn had to drive up there every day with the 4-wheeler to break ice on the trough, and most of the grass was snowed under. 
After one snowstorm the cows were all down by the bottom gate, wanting to come home, and Lynn could see that they hadn’t been up to the water trough for 2 days—no tracks in the snow since he’d broken the ice the day before.  He drove down to the lower gate to check on them and they were just waiting there and not grazing.   
So that afternoon Andrea and I went up there on the 4-wheeler and Carolyn joined us on hers, and we drove up there to chase the cows back up.  We were bundled up with coveralls and scarves on our faces in the cold.  When we got up to the trough, the cows had climbed up to it from the lower gate and were drinking.   

That saved us some time and effort to bring them up to that level; we only had to herd them on up to the top of the next basin.  We made sure they all had a chance to get a drink, then started herding them up, on foot.  After we got them started, Andrea skirted around the herd and got ahead of them and called them, and they followed her up the hill.   

There was more grass above the cross-fence, even though the snow is deeper, so she opened the gate and led them on up into that part, below Preacher’s Spring.  Carolyn and I brought up the rear, and once the cows were all through the gate and starting to graze—rooting down through the snow to the grass—Andrea slipped back around the herd and we hiked back down the mountain.  We left that gate open so they could come back down the water trough, since Baker Creek was probably still frozen. 
A couple days later, all but 4 cows were back down again, discouraged by the deep snow and cold weather.  I went up with Lynn that day on the 4-wheeler to break ice on the trough, to move the cows back up again in case they were down.  

 After getting all the ice off the trough, we drove down to the bottom gate where the cows were standing around, hoping for hayLynn called the cows and led them back up the mountain with his 4-wheeler and I followed them.  
We let them drink at the trough, then took them on up through the next gate again.  He was able to drive his 4-wheeler partway up there, and hiked the rest of the way, calling them.  After they got up into the better grass they spread out again, grazing. 
On our way home we saw the Power Company putting up poles for my brother’s new house, putting in the power line to the house site.  The building contractors were finally able to put in the foundation and pour the concrete, but the rest of the construction will have to wait until warmer weather in spring. 
The next day Andrea helped us and we herded the cows back up again.  When they come down for water they haven’t been climbing back up to the good grass. 
During the coldest weather Andrea helped me with morning chores for a week, breaking ice out of the horse tubs and the heifer’s water tubs.  Any water left in their tubs at night froze solid, so it was a chore to break ice daily before we could water them.   
The creek here at home had thick ice on it.  Our neighbor Alfonzo was trying to get a couple of his ditches shut off before he went south to Mexico for the winter so there wouldn’t be ice flows down over his fields.  He hadn’t shut the headgates clear down this fall, and they were frozen in place, with water leaking underneath.  He thought he could pile some gravel against them from the creek channel but everything was frozen. So he had Sy Miller bring their tractor/loader up to move some dirt, but it got stuck in the creek.  They came to our place to ask if we could take our tractor up to pull it out, but we weren’t able to help.  In this cold weather our tractor would have to be plugged in for at least 8 hours before it would start, and we’d also need chains on the tires to get around.  They were able to find another neighbor with a backhoe that would start. 
They still weren’t able to get the ditch shut off, and it was going to create an ice flow and flood another neighbor.  Alfonzo had to leave to go to Mexico, so Lynn offered to take a look at it and realized that the problem was simply water leaking under the headgate.  All we needed to do was bar down through the frozen mud and remove the obstruction.  Lynn started on that project, then the next day Michael finished the job, getting all the frozen gravel out from under the stuck headgate.  He brought dry dirt down in his pickup, and shoveled it in above the headgate and packed it down, and got the water stopped. 
Michael, Carolyn and young Heather spent several days hauling hay (small bales) that Heather bought for her horses and for the horses she’ll be training next summer.  They had to get one stack hauled right away—purchased from some people on the other side of town—because the elk were coming down every night and eating it.  The snow and cold weather have brought the elk down out of the mountains and into many people’s haystacks.  Andrea and Robbie helped them haul a few loads on Andrea’s pickup. 
They also spent several days cutting and hauling more firewood from up the creek.   With Andrea and Robbie helping, they were able to saw and load enough wood in an afternoon to fill 3 pickups.  After several days’ hauling, we all have enough wood to see us through the winter. 
With this cold weather, deep snow, and frozen water troughs, the missing bull that Alfonzo wasn’t able to find decided to come home off the range.  He showed up in the field below our place after the 3rd day of bad weather. 
Emily had an elk tag and a late-season deer tag, and went hunting several days with her dad, but they didn’t get close enough to the elk for her to shoot one.  She did get her deer, however, in the field next to Andrea’s house.  She’s a good shot, like her mom. 
On Thursday the weather moderated and the temperature actually got above freezing during the day.  Lynn and I realized that some of the places in Baker Creek where the water springs back out of the ground would be free of ice and the cattle would be better off in that part of the 320-acre pasture again (and we wouldn’t have to keep chasing them up to better grass).   
When we found them all down at the lower gate that day, we took them back to Baker Creek (Lynn leading them with the 4-wheeler and me bringing up the stragglers on foot) and shut the gate so they couldn’t come back to the lower Basin.  They will be better off up there now that they can drink again in Baker Creek.  Even though the snow is deep, there’s a lot more grass.  The cattle can hike in and out of Baker Creek to water. 

On Friday the editor of our local paper interviewed me, to do an article about my new book Horse Tales.  She wrote a nice review and told me she enjoyed reading it.  I am glad the book came out before Christmas; it solved the question of what to give to family and special friends this year! 
Anyone who wants an autographed copy can order one from me (see details on earlier blogs, or call 208-756-2841, or email   

I also have copies of some of my other horse books and cattle books, and my book Beyond the Flames, if someone wants autographed copies.  I also have some of my Dad’s books to sell (his series of Meditations from the High Country, which include By the River of No Return, Wild Rivers and Mountain Trails, Sagebrush Seed, The Open Gate, and Short People Need a Tree to Climb, along with his historical novel Murder on the Middle Fork). 
Yesterday the weather started warming up and rained a little instead of snow.  We’re glad we stuck it out through the cold weather and didn’t bring the cows home to start feeding hay.  If we have some moderate weather they might be able to stay on the 320 for several more weeks.  We didn’t check them that day, however, because it was too slippery to drive up there safely on the 4-wheeler. 
The rain stopped for a few hours yesterday afternoon so Michael came down and helped me take the shoes off Sprout, Ed and Dottie for winter.  He did Dottie last, and she waited her turn tied to the fence. 

Just as he was finishing Dottie’s hind feet, another storm blew in, with strong wind gusts, and she got nervous, but he was able to finish trimming her. 
Andrea took Emily to her hockey tournament this weekend in Idaho Falls, and we fed the other kids meals here.  Lynn stayed with them at her house those nights.  Today he and I drove up to the 320 again on his 4-wheeler and checked the ice along Baker Creek.  There are several places now that are ice-free, where the cattle can drink. 

DECEMBER 3 – Our weather warmed up and the snow settled.  The cows are happily grazing again, rooting down through the soft snow to the green regrowth that’s about 5 inches tall.  This will add enough protein to their diet to augment the tall dry grass.  Even though we got several more storms and new snow, it keeps settling and isn’t very deep. 
Last Monday Andrea caught Rishiam again—first time since her last ride on him November 8 when the weather turned bad.  She worked with his feet a little, rasping the clinches off the nails in preparation to try to get his shoes off.  He’s still not very cooperative about having his feet handled, but she plans to work with him a lot this winter to try to get him more trusting. 

Last Wednesday Michael and Carolyn hauled the last load of horse hay for Heather.  She is in Canada for a couple of weeks visiting her friend Gregory (who has a grain farm in Saskatchewan) and his parents. 
The next day Robbie went with Lynn on the 4-wheeler to check the cows on the 320 and they were all spread out grazing and doing well.  Andrea and I worked with the horses, handling Rishiam’s feet and rasping them a little bit to trim them. 

Then she left him tied awhile as we worked with 3-year-old Willow and trimmed her feet.  That evening we had Thanksgiving dinner at Andrea’s place. 
We finally located some straw to buy (to mix with the alfalfa hay for the cows this winter).  We thought we had some located earlier this fall, but that deal didn’t materialize, so we asked Andy Wagoner—the rancher near Lone Pine who sells us alfalfa hay—if he knew of any straw.  He found some that he’d be able to haul to us soon, and we hoped to get it accomplished while our driveway was thawed out and not too icy for his son Heath to get in and out of here safely with his big truck, and not have to put chains on it. 
Another big storm was predicted for the weekend, so Andy and Heath brought our straw on Friday.  The roads were perfect, with no ice/snow, our driveway was bare for the first time in a month, and there was still enough frost in the ground for him to turn the big truck around in the hold pen near our stackyard without sinking in and getting stuck.  Michael brought his 4-wheel-drive tractor down here to unload it, and they went back for a second trip.  We got it unloaded just before dark, and before the storm hit. 
We had several inches of new snow, but the weather stayed warm and it soon settled.  That first day of the storm, however, Alfonzo’s cows broke into his haystack on the Gooch place.  We called Millers (who are tending Alfonzo’s cows while he is in Mexico this winter) to let them know.  A couple of the Miller boys came up and patched the stackyard fence. 
We borrowed a wood splitter and Robbie and Andrea used it to split part of our wood and some of Michael’s.  Andrea finished cutting up Emily’s deer and grinding part of it into hamburger. On Monday Lynn drove his 4-wheeler up on the 320 to check on the cows and they are still spread out and doing well.  I finished writing our Christmas letter, early this year instead of late!