Thursday, February 26, 2015

February 4 – February 26, 2015

FEBRUARY 8 – We had some new snow this past week. The heavy snow on top of our woodpile shifted the tarps that were covering one end of it, and that side collapsed, crashing down on the wheelbarrow.

The new snow made our driveway nearly impassible. Lynn got the pickup stuck when he took Charlie home from the bus on Tuesday afternoon, and had to walk back to our house. Andrea and Robbie pulled it out of the snowdrift when they got home that evening, and brought it home for us. The kids had supper with us, and Dani made a calving calendar for this year, showing the due dates of the cows that will be calving in April, and we pinned it up on the wall. Every year we make a calving calendar, to give us an idea at a glance when each cow might possibly calve, and Dani likes to mark them off (circle their names) as they calve.
The next day Michael helped Lynn put chains on our big tractor so we won’t get stuck loading hay and straw, and took more straw bales up to the cows. Andrea picked up the kids from school that day and took them to hockey practice.
The cold weather has taken a toll on 29-year-old Veggie and he’s become so stiff that he can hardly walk. On Thursday I started giving him a dose of “bute” daily, dissolving 2 pills in warm water and mixing it with molasses, giving it to him orally with a big syringe. Like a big aspirin, it reduces pain and inflammation, and by the next day he was walking better, and not so lame and stiff.

The deer aren’t being dissuaded from eating hay with the heifers by having the dogs tethered next to where we feed the heifers. The deer come boldly, in spite of the dogs barking. So yesterday Robbie and Lynn took the dogs back home to Andrea’s house. The kids have been missing their pets!
Emily took another GED test (English) and passed it. So now she only has 2 more tests to take; she’s halfway done! She enjoys being able to study on her own time, and have a fulltime job—and pursue her photography.
With the snowy driveways, Lynn has been using his 4-wheeler to go back and forth from Andrea’s house, and to go to the mailbox.

This weekend Andrea took Emily to her hockey tournament in Sun Valley. The weather warmed up on Friday and the snow was melting, making slush on top of ice in our driveway. It was treacherous, and hard to get up enough speed to make it up the hill at the top when they left home. Michael spent that afternoon with our little tractor and blade, trying to make our driveways safer. He got the slush off, but some of the ice was still too thick and hard to get through. He had to spend another afternoon the next day, clearing the rest of it off after it melted a bit more.
It thawed for several days, and the snow melted off the low country, flooding the fields, ditches and roads. Now instead of snow we have mud! It washed some big gullies
across our county road, making it impossible to drive to and from our place without 4-wheel drive and a lot of clearance.
Yesterday my brother Rockwell Smith and his wife Bev brought a big U-haul trailer from Boise, the first load of things they are moving. They are selling their house in Boise, and moving to a little rented house here at Baker (just 2 miles from us), while their new house is being built this spring on the upper place. Lynn and Robbie helped them unload the multitude of boxes from the trailers.
The flooding continued today, but is slowing down. Most of the snow is gone off the low hills, and the higher snow hasn’t started melting yet. Andrea and Em got home from Sun Valley, where Em’s team won half their games.
Readers have been enjoying my new book Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, so I am now starting my next book, Cow Tales from and Idaho Ranch. It’s a fun project, remembering some of the interesting adventures with cattle.

FEBRUARY 12 – On Monday it rained, so in addition to melting snow we had even more water, and more flooding. The frost went out of the ground and even the main road up and down the creek became deeply rutted and challenging. It reminded me of the days when my parents and little brother and I had to leave our car along the road and hike the last several miles up to the little cabin above our present ranch, where we stayed in the summertime before my dad bought the ranch. The road got so boggy that a vehicle would sink down to its axles.
Monday morning while Lynn and I were feeding cows, Andrea shoveled the ditches along her driveway to divert the water away; it was making deep ruts, washing out the driveways. Michael spent 3 days working at a friend’s ranch fighting floods.
The nice thing about the warmer weather and snow melting off the fields is that the cows are happily starting to graze again. There was still some grass under all that crusted snow.
This has saved several big bales of straw; we haven’t put out straw for more than a week. We’ll save it for when the weather gets cold again. We’re feeding the alfalfa hay on top of some of the straw where the feeders have been—so the cows won’t waste it. The alfalfa hay has very fine leaves and if it’s fed on wet ground the cows tend to tromp it into the mud and much of the value is lost. It’s best to feed it on the old straw or thick grass where there’s no mud.
Dani missed school on Monday, and Andrea took her and Sam to the doctor on Tuesday; they came back from the weekend at their dad’s place with more respiratory problems. This has been an all-too-common occurrence—missing school because they are sick when they come home--after they spend a weekend in an environment with people smoking in the house.

FEBRUARY 20 – Veg is doing better, not so lame and stiff, so I cut back on the amount of bute I’m giving him (one pill daily instead of 2) and that seems to be enough. I don’t want to give him too much bute because it can be hard on the stomach (just like aspirin) and I don’t want him to get ulcers.
On Friday Andrea and Dani helped Lynn feed the cows; Dani loves to see the cows and goes with us every chance she gets—whenever she’s here at Andrea’s house—when we do anything with the cattle. Andrea’s friend Robbie has a job on a ranch the
other side of town, feeding cows, checking the calving cows, etc. and on Saturday Dani went with him to ride around in the tractor feeding hay, and see the new babies. Our cows won’t start calving until late March, and Dani is impatient to see some calves!
Sam’s hockey team had a tournament here this weekend. She had 2 games on Saturday and Lynn went to town with Emily to watch the second one.
My brother and his wife made another trip from Boise, bringing more of their things to unload here at their rented house, and a trailer load of outdoor things that they took to their house site on the upper place.
We had more cold weather, and Lynn plugged the tractor in overnight to make sure it would start on Tuesday to load more big straw bales for the cows.
On Wednesday Andrea took both Sam and Dani to the doctor—Dani for medication to ease her terrible cough, and Sam for an x-ray of her hip bone. She got hit really hard with a puck at hockey practice the evening before, and her hip was very painful. Just badly bruised, however, and not broken. It’s probably a god thing that hockey season is about over!

FEBRUARY 26 – This past weekend was Emily’s state tournament in Boise. She and Andrea drove down Thursday evening and Em’s first gave was Friday, late morning. Her team played Sun Valley and won 7 to 0, with Em making one of the goals and assisting with another. Emily’s boss (at the music store) was in Boise that day and came to watch her team play. They didn’t do so well in the rest of their games, and didn’t win them.
Sunday afternoon some folks from northern Alberta stopped here to meet us on their way south to see the Grand Canyon. They have a ranch along the Frasier River, near Yukon Territory. They have been reading my Rancher’s Diary column in Grainews (a Canadian farm newspaper) for about 20 years and wanted to stop by. We enjoyed visiting with them, and they stayed for supper with us and Dani, Sam and Charlie. Lynn went into town just before supper to pick up those three kids from their dad, who had them over the weekend.
Andrea and Em got home very late that night and didn’t get much sleep. Andrea needed to rest on Monday but insisted on coming down that morning to help us feed cows and help Lynn refill our woodbox. With the cold weather (dipping down to zero for several nights) we’d gone through a lot of firewood.
Dani’s respiratory problem took a turn for the worse again and she had a fever and stayed home from school. Her fever got really high Tuesday evening and Andrea took her to the ER, where the doctor gave her an injection of antibiotic. She is doing a little better by today.
On a brighter note, granddaughter Heather’s first book has been accepted for publication, by the same editor who published my book Horse Tales (which came out in late October last year). Her book discusses safety when handling horses, and will be published in April. We are all very excited and delighted about this news.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

January 15 – February 4, 2015

JANUARY 18 – On Friday Andrea helped Lynn feed the cows while I did phone interviews for articles I’m writing for a horse magazine. I’m still recovering from the bad respiratory “bug” and don’t have much voice yet, but at least I don’t have to just whisper!
After Lynn and Andrea took the tarp off the hay (we have to cover the truck every night, to keep the deer from eating on the hay and pulling it out of the bales and wasting some) she took a picture of Lynn as they got into the truck to go feed the cows.

Her friend Robbie changed the oil in her car, since it has gone too many miles since the last oil change. That afternoon they took Dani to Sun Valley for Dani’s hockey tournament this weekend.
With all the kids in hockey, playing on different teams, it’s been a challenge to get them to all of their various tournaments. Some of them play in different towns on the same weekend, or one of the kids will have games here at home while one or two others go to different towns. Andrea often has to find rides for them with other team members on the weekends when she is taking one of them a different direction, since their dad refuses to take them to tournaments even when he has the kids for that weekend.
Gas and motel expenses for these frequent trips is a challenge, so Lynn and I help out all we can, with money for gas and lodging. They take food along, so they don’t have to buy meals. One nice thing this year about the Sun Valley trips is that Andrea and kids have been able to stay in a room furnished by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, for a small donation, making those trips less expensive. Dani had a lot of fun on this trip, getting acquainted with the pastor and his wife and two young girls. She also played enthusiastically in their hockey games. Their team lost most of their games, but tied the last one, and Dani was proud to be able to make the final goal—the point that tied the game. On the way home Andrea took photos of the sunset.

Here at home it was cold (down to 2 degrees yesterday morning). Jasper, one of the dogs tethered near the heifers (in our efforts to keep the deer from eating so much of their hay) broke his cable and was chasing the heifers, so we had to patch it back together and Lynn went to town for a new dog tether. The deer are getting very bold, and come to eat with the heifers in spite of the dogs. When I went to do chores that evening there were 7 deer lounging around in the field waiting for me to feed the hay. They come right back when we chase them away, and as soon as it starts to get dark even more of them come to eat the heifer’s hay. They’ve also been jumping into Veggie’s pen again and eating all of his alfalfa hay, and tearing down the electric fence.
Emily came by and helped Lynn carry wood. With the cold weather we have to fill the wood box nearly every day. I finished an article I’m writing, giving tips on how to deal with broken legs in calves (for a cattle magazine). I sent photos from a professor I interviewed, showing how to create a splint, and also photos of Peggy Sue (a calf we had in 2005) in the barn with her mother Rishira, with a cast on her leg. The cow stepped on the calf’s leg soon after she was born, and broke it, but it healed nicely.

Today Michael and young Heather came down to our place after they finished feeding their horses, and helped us take 2 more big bales of straw up to the cows. With all the ice, it’s getting harder to get around with our big tractor; Michael had trouble getting away from the straw stack with the bales. We’ll have to put chains on the tractor before we give the cows more straw in a few days.

JANUARY 26 – Michael spent several days working on Andrea’s old car—the Eagle she bought from our neighbors when she was still in high school in the mid 1980’s and drove thousands of miles. She’s getting it running again, to have a spare vehicle for Em to drive to work and hockey practice. Em has a fulltime job, is working on her GED, and also takes the kids to hockey practice in the evenings on days that Andrea can’t.
Sam and Em both had birthdays this month; Em turned 17 and Sam is 12. These kids are growing up fast! We gave Em a box of camera lenses that someone was selling inexpensively. They won’t all fit her camera, but the big one—that she really wanted—will probably fit with an adapter. She’s been taking lots of photos, and had some really nice photo books created, showcasing some of her best pictures.
We couldn’t find our tractor chains; we haven’t used them for several years and don’t know where they ended up. Michael’s tractor chains were easier to locate, but frozen in the ice. He chopped them out of the ice and helped Lynn put them on our tractor. This made it a lot easier to load the hay and straw bales without getting stuck. It was down to zero for a few nights, so we were also chopping ice for the cows.
On Friday Em went to her hockey tournament in Missoula, Montana with a teammate, Lynn took Charlie and Dani to the hockey rink here (for practice and games and to meet up with their dad since it’s his weekend) and Andrea took Sam (and one of her teammates) to her tournament in Sun Valley because Mark wouldn’t take her.
This weekend was a great experience for Sam and her friend; they had good games and a lot of fun. They enjoyed seeing the snow sculpture created each year (with a chain saw, from packed snow) by a fellow at Sun Valley, and posed next to it. Andrea also took pictures of Sam and two teammates.

They stayed again at the room provided by the Seventh Day Adventists, and the pastor and his wife fed them dinner. The pastor had a guitar and taught Sam some more chords, since she wants to learn how to play.

FEBRUARY 3 – Last week Michael worked on Andrea’s pickup, and also helped Lynn build a new fence along the ditch next to the lane to the calving barn. After putting in the new culvert last fall and cleaning out that ditch, it’s really deep and we don’t want calves falling into it when we’re taking them to and from the barn.
Last Wednesday I was interviewed for a podcast on off-farm income, discussing how I’ve used writing as a way to help make ends meet here on the ranch for the past 48 years. Writing articles and books has been my off-farm job I can do at home.
Andrea helped Lynn feed cows that morning. It was very foggy, and at first they could hardly see the cows. Then she took photos as the fog started to lift, and tried to take pictures of a “fog rainbow” that was really unique.

The young cows (heifers and 2nd calvers) are not competing very well with the older cows that push them away from the hay piles, and are losing a little weight. We decided to move the young cows to heifer hill where they can be fed separately, to make sure they get their share of the alfalfa hay.
We needed another feeder for them—for the big straw bales—and couldn’t afford the price of a new one (nearly $500). Michael chopped and pried one of his old round bale feeders out of the ice on the upper place and brought it down with his tractor, and we put it on heifer hill. Then we brought all the cows down Sunday morning, and put them through the chute. Michael and Carolyn gave them their pre-calving vaccinations and another round of delouse pour-on, then we sorted off the heifers and a few of the skinniest young cows and took them to heifer hill. Sam didn’t have a hockey tournament that weekend, so she enjoyed helping us sort the cows and move them. Andrea wasn’t here to help because she’d taken Charlie to his hockey tournament.
Meanwhile, three days before that, Andrea had been notified that Mark is reopening the divorce case and wants full custody of Charlie, Sam and Dani. This was an emotional blow to Andrea and to all of us, because we thought things were working fairly well with their shared custody. The kids have been able to spend time with both parents. It seems that the big issue for Mark is his reluctance to pay child support; he thinks he will be better off if he has custody of the kids and Andrea has to pay him child support!
The kids don’t want to be fulltime with him, however, because they want to be with their mom and older sister Emily, and they enjoy the wide family circle here on the creek—interacting with grandma and grandpa, their uncle Michael and aunt Carolyn, and their older cousins Heather and Nick when they are home. The kids also don’t want to give up their experiences here on the ranch, riding horses and helping take care of the cattle and enjoying their favorite pet cows. So it looks like another court battle, and we will try to help Andrea keep shared custody of her children.
The day after she got served the papers, she took Charlie to his hockey tournament in Wyoming, and Dani went with friends to her tournament in Idaho Falls (again, Mark wouldn’t take either child). Emily had a hockey tournament here, so Lynn, Sam, Michael and Carolyn went to watch some of her games and cheer for her team.
And speaking of teams, the nice thing about having all of our family here on the creek is that we are all a team—and enjoy helping each other. Lynn and I are “battery back-up” for getting kids off the bus, juggling trips to town for their activities, helping Dani with homework. Michael and Carolyn and family, and Andrea and kids help us with the ranch projects and things that are getting harder for Lynn and me to do. It’s a blessing having our family all here together, and we want to be able to keep it together.