Friday, October 30, 2015

Ranch Diary: August 24 through September 30, 2015

SEPTEMBER 1 – We’ve had a lot of hot weather, and most days we are immersed in thick smoke from nearby fires. Andrea and I have been riding nearly every day, training Willow, and today was Willow’s 28th ride. The 3-year-old Morgan filly is doing very well, and her tough feet are still holding up nicely without shoes.

Andrea has been doing most of the irrigating now, and sometimes the kids go along with her. When they were changing water in the back field where the cows were grazing last week, Emily and Dani enjoyed letting the cows and calves come up to them. Some of the calves are brave enough to come up and be petted.

 I’ve been working on my next book of ranch stories. It will follow Cow Tales – More True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, the book that came out this summer. My first book in this series, Horse Tales – True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, came out last year, and now I’m writing the 3rd book. It’s a collection of dog stories, cat tales, pig tales and other crazy critters.

Last week a couple people from the Idaho Department of Water Resources came from Boise to GPS and check all the water diversions, headgates and weirs on our creek, and they saw the illegal diversions that Alfonzo is using that need to be filled in. Alfonzo was still using one of them. The water problems continue to be an issue.

Michael reshod Dottie for me. Her feet were getting too long and her shoes were also wearing out. Later that day Andrea and I rode Dottie and Willow up to the 320 mountain pasture to check and make sure no range cows had gotten in, then we rode on up into the high range for a short loop. It was Willow’s longest ride so far and her first experience up in the timber (and she was a little spooky and skittish at first), but she did very well. Her feet are amazingly tough; she still doesn’t need shoes.

Young Heather rode Shiloh a few times and I rode with her a couple times, then she rode Shiloh down here to leave her in the new pen that Michael and Nick built for her, by dividing Rubbie and Veggie’s pen.

Shiloh is the Arab-Morgan mare that was given to Heather by her college professor, Anne Perkins—the mare Heather trained for Anne 5 years ago, and Heather is giving the mare to us.
Dani helped us put an electric wire along the top pole of the new pen (so the horses won’t try to fight/bite each other over the fence, then rode Ed bareback around the barnyard. Then Dani saddled Ed and rode her down the road and over into the low range—by herself. She’s gained a lot of confidence, riding that old mare. Dani rode with Andrea and me last weekend, to check the 320 fences and gates, and made a loop through the high range.

We saw some horribly thin cows of Alfonzo’s; they must be very old or sick. Some are probably the thin ones he turned out this summer after not feeding them enough last winter, and they didn’t gain weight on the dry range.

We sold our range permit last year to John Miller (the Amish family who bought the old Kossler ranch) and it’s sad to see the state of things on the range now, with many troughs not working this year. There are many areas that were under-grazed due to lack of water and many areas severely overgrazed because the cattle all stayed in those areas. Alfonzo and the Millers don’t ride out there often enough to check on things, not taking responsibility for the continual maintenance that’s needed on water troughs and fences.

Andrea and I took pity on those poor cows and fixed a couple of the troughs ourselves. One of the plastic pipes was broken, so Andrea took it apart at the elbow and took the broken piece out.

We were working on one trough when Dani was riding with us, and she decided to take a nap on Ed while she waited for us to finish fixing the water line. It took us awhile, because we had to route the pipe straight into the trough above ground, where it would be at risk for cows walking over it and breaking it again, so we piled logs and old posts (from an earlier decrepit trough) around it to protect it.

Andrea took Sam to the doctor a couple weeks ago for another checkup on her ankle (that she broke while playing on the trampoline at Mark’s house), and x-rays showed a 2-inch fracture in the growth plate of the long bone. She’ll have to be in the compression boot and on crutches for several more weeks. Fortunately it is starting to heal now, in spite of the fact that Mark refused to take her to the doctor when she broke it, and told her to keep walking on it (for 6 days—until the kids came back home to Andrea). Sam is doing well maneuvering with her crutches, and now that school has started she has friends who help carry her books.

We went to Andrea’s place for a pizza dinner, and their friends Jade and Anita and boys were there for Charlie’s 14th birthday celebration (August 24). That young fellow is growing up fast, literally. He’s now much taller than any of us!

On one of our rides with Willow this past week we discovered a cow and calf of John Miller’s that had come down into the low range. She had been down there a couple of days and was looking for water; Baker creek is completely dry down there this time of year. We eased her partway over this direction, and this was Willow’s first experience following cows. The filly was starting to get a little nervous so we left the pair and continued our training ride loop. After we got home, Andrea had a meeting with a lady from Child Protective Services (who was investigating the situation with Sam’s broken leg and Mark’s neglect), so Dani came down to our house on the 4-wheeler to ride Ed. She and I went back out on the low range and found the cow and calf and brought them over to the fields and the creek so they’d have water. Lynn drove around the hill to Millers’ ranch to tell them about their cow that we’d brought to the lower place so she’d have feed and water.

The next day Dani rode with Andrea and me and we went up through the 320 pasture and into the high range (Andrea riding Shiloh).

We checked some water troughs, including a couple that are still not working, that Alfonzo and Millers haven’t repaired this year. We saw more skinny cows, and a few cows with brand new babies. Alfonzo’s poor management results in a lot of open and late-bred cows!

On Thursday Andrea and Robbie set 7 steel posts in the fence below heifer hill, to repair it where the wildlife had knocked it down, then we moved our cows into that field—to graze the regrowth after putting up the hay. Our green grass will last until we sell the steer calves, thanks to Andrea’s diligent irrigating this year, and stubbornly not letting Alfonzo steal most of our water like he’s done the past 4 years (ever since he started leasing the ranch next to us).

We had a bad windstorm Saturday night and by Sunday morning it had completely shredded the tarp on my little haystack next to the hay shed. Andrea and Robbie came down to help me put a new tarp over it, which was a challenge because there was still a wind blowing. The billowing tarp spooked Rishiam (Andrea’s Arab gelding) in the pen next to the stack, and he ran around the pen and leaped over the gate. He didn’t go very far, however. He stopped by the driveway to enjoy some green grass. We finished tying down the new tarp before we put him back in his pen.

Andrea and I have been making several rides on Shiloh and she is making progress in some of the training areas she lacked, and she’s getting over some of the bad habits she picked up while being handled and ridden by inexperienced students at the college. She’s a very energetic horse (not lazy like Sprout!) and fun to ride. She’s very alert, and likes to watch vehicles moving on the highway miles away, in the valley.

Michael used the backhoe to smooth out the deep ruts in our stackyard (created when the ground was wet last fall) so we can maneuver in there to unload the alfalfa hay we’re buying. The hay will be delivered next week. Andrea and I hurriedly cleaned house, before some guests arrived. Ray and Jeannie Bullock stopped here midmorning for a visit (and lunch). We met Ray at the World Burn Congress in North Carolina in 2008—the first WBC that Andrea and I attended. Ray’s son is a burn survivor and we have kept in touch since that first meeting.

That evening when Andrea and Dani were irrigating, they found a mule deer fawn caught in her bridge (with its hind legs down between two of the logs). They managed to get the fawn out of the bridge, but one hind leg was broken. They took it home, cleaned up the injury and splinted the leg, fed the fawn a bottle, then took it to the vet the next morning and told a Fish and Game officer about it. He took charge of it after that.

Michael and Carolyn brought home our bull that they’d borrowed, and we put him in the corral with Thunderbull. We put the 2 bred heifers (that were keeping our bull company in the corral so he wouldn’t try to jump out) back to the field with the other cows and heifers.

SEPTEMBER 15 – Michael and Carolyn rode up to the 320 last week and turned loose some beetles that eat knapweed. That noxious weed has spread up into our upper pastures from the county road during the past 20 years and we’re going to try to control it before it takes over those pastures.

Andrea and I rode through the high range again and took pity on Millers’ and Alfonzo’s thirsty cows and fixed another water trough. I held Willow while Andrea worked on the trough.

Two weeks ago when we started to move the cows to another pasture we noticed that one of the bred heifers we’d put with them a couple days early was breathing hard, like she had pneumonia. We took her gently down to the corral and around to the chute and gave her antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication. Then it started raining that night. In the morning we put the sick heifer in the barn, out of the rain, and also called the guys that were going to deliver our hay that day and told them not to come—because our barnyard and stackyard were too muddy to drive in there with the semi.

We treated the heifer again that evening and gave her fluid by stomach tube since she wasn’t eating and drinking and had a high fever. The next morning we had our vet come out and look at her because she wasn’t responding at all to the treatments, even though she seemed bright and not dull. He listened to her lungs and figured that she probably had emphysema (from the change of feed—going from the corral and eating hay, back out to the lush green pasture). This problem is unusual in a yearling; it’s more common in older cows. But she was running out of air because her lungs were so compromised. We didn’t even try to take her from the barn to the chute for treatment; she couldn’t handle the exertion. Indeed, she didn’t last much longer; she died that afternoon. The next day Nick helped Lynn load her on the flatbed and haul her off to our hill pasture.

Michael, Carolyn and Heather were gone for several days over the weekend with their horses, on a camping trip with Carolyn’s brothers. Andrea and Robbie took the kids to the State Fair that weekend, so Lynn was doing all their chores until Nick got home from a track meet. He’s coaching the cross country runners now at our local school.

Last Tuesday Andy and his son hauled hay for us—two trips with the big truck and one smaller trailer. The stackyard had dried out enough to get around in there and unload it. Then on Saturday and Sunday Michael helped us haul the grass hay we bought locally, to augment the hay we put up. Since we no longer use the range, we are pasturing more of our fields and putting up less hay—and have to buy more hay.

Andrea has been diligently irrigating our fields with what little water we have left in the creek that’s being shared between the 1st and 2nd water rights. She and her 5 dogs go trekking through the fields; they love to go with her 4-wheeler to irrigate.

She’s kept our pastures green and growing (so they will support our cow/calf herd all summer), greener than they’ve been for several years, because she hasn’t let Alfonzo steal as much of our water this year. But we discovered last week that he’s still using water on the Gooch place (3rd right) even though it’s supposed to be completely shut off.

I’ve been finalizing the chapters of my next book of ranch stories, printing them out for Lynn and Andrea to proofread, and to help come up with a few more details about certain critters that they remember better than I do.

Last week we moved the cows from heifer hill to the field by Andrea’s house and the easiest way to get them through the hot wire was to lift it up really high and let them go under it. They were so funny; they respect that electric wire so much that some of them didn’t want to go under it, even though it was several feet above them. The last young cow reluctantly ducked under it and hunkered way down toward the ground!

Andrea and I made a longer ride with Willow (4.5 hours) on a loop through the high range. We tried to come home through the middle range by way of High Camp trough and discovered that the last big windstorm (probably the same storm that shredded my hay tarp) had blown down a lot of big trees across the trail. It was a jungle of down timber and we ended up weaving through it a different way, with Andrea leading Willow. The filly led very willingly, stepping/hopping over the down trees. I didn’t try to take any photos while we were weaving our way through all the down timber, but I took a picture of Andrea and Willow on our way home.

SEPTEMBER 30 – It rained off and on for a couple of days and now we have a little green regrowth in the old dry grass. We won’t have to buy any protein supplement for the cows on our upper mountain pasture.

Alfonzo and Millers rounded up their cows off the range a week late, but missed some—and also had to leave one skinny old cow lame that was too weak to travel very far. The next day Lynn helped Alfonzo put another crippled old cow and her calf into his field when he brought her down the road.

Andrea and I rode through the high range and saw some of the cattle they missed, and also saw a group of elk in the timber.

Andrea’s kids all had elk tags for the depredation hunt (any cow elk within a mile of private land) and they went out several mornings and evenings without success. Then a week ago Dani was able to shoot her first elk. The herd was coming up out of a neighbor’s field, onto the range. Dani and Andrea were lying in wait for them, early that morning. Lynn took our old jeep over there to help retrieve it, and Dani helped hang it in our barn and skin it. Last night she was helping her mom process it.

On Thursday Carolyn helped us round up our cows and run the calves through the chute for their vaccinations, and we put nose flaps in all our heifer calves, for easy weaning. These work great; the calves get to stay with their mothers for comfort and companionship while the cows dry up their milk, and none of them are stressed.

Michael and Carolyn put nose flaps in their heifers (and the 2 bull calves they are keeping—one for them and one for us) on Friday.

Andrea and Robbie took Sam and Charlie out early that morning to hunt elk; they saw a nice group of elk but didn’t get a shot. That evening they went to town for Sam and Charlie to play in the band for the Homecoming game. Sam is doing really well with her trumpet and Charlie is very talented—and the only trombone player in the band.

On Saturday Andrea and I made a long ride on Sprout and Dottie and found a couple of bulls that Alfonzo left out on the range, and also saw the skinny crippled old cow (and her calf) that he’d left out there. The cow was in bad shape. The next day Em rode with me and we discovered that the old cow had fallen down in some brush and down trees and was stuck in a hole in Baker Creek. Em and I tried to pull some of the logs out from under her but couldn’t. The cow was in an awkward position and very miserable.

So we rode home, and I called Alfonzo to tell him about the cow, but he didn’t do anything about her. We hate to see an animal suffer, so that evening Andrea, Em and Robbie went up there with ropes and a pulley and worked for 3 hours to try to get her out of the predicament. They were able to pull her out of the hole she was stuck in, and got her in a more comfortable position (with her hind legs underneath her instead of spraddled out behind her). But they couldn’t get her clear out of the creek. Emily was covered with mud after pushing and pulling on the cow, and very sad that they couldn’t get her up. But the cow was at least in a much better situation, no longer in such pain, and was comfortable and chewing her cud by the time they left.

They hiked back to their jeep, and then discovered that the battery was dead and it wouldn’t start. So they hiked home (more than 3 miles) in the dark and finally got home after midnight.

The next morning I called Alfonzo again, and Andrea called John Miller. Two days later, John and his boys went out there to help Alfonzo deal with the cow. She hadn’t traveled very far, and must not have been doing very well, so he opted to shoot her, but they were able to capture her calf and bring it home. It’s hard to understand how someone can own cattle and neglect them so badly. Alfonzo had several crippled old cows that were in no shape to go out on the range this year.

Today we brought our cows in from the field. Michael, Carolyn and Andrea helped put the calves through the chute to vaccinate and delouse, and Michael took out their nose flaps.

Our vet Bangs vaccinated the heifers, then preg-checked the cows. Then we put the steers and their mothers in a new pasture until we sell the steers in a few days. Buffalo Girl’s calf, that Emily named Gilbert, is the biggest steer.

We put the weaned heifers in a little pasture below the barn, and the 2 bull calves in the orchard pasture. It’s nice to have them already weaned with the nose flaps; they went right to grazing, not missing their mamas at all.

Michael hauled the heifers’ mothers (2 trailer loads) up to the upper place, and I rode up there on Dottie. Carolyn, young Heather and I moved them (along with their heifers’ mothers and bred heifers) up to the 320-acre mountain pasture, where they can spend the rest of the fall until that grass snows under. The cows and yearling heifers were happy to be up there. When we came back down, we put their cows with steer calves out of the corral and back to pasture.

Later that afternoon Michael and Carolyn took salt up to the 320 on 4-wheelers, and got the upper water trough working again; they cleaned the mud and fir needles out of the springbox, and the dead mice out of the water line. There’s lots of grass, and with a bit of green regrowth the cows will do fine up there for the rest of the fall.

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