Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ranch Diary: October 1 to October 20, 2015

Diary from Withington Creek 

October 10, 2015 – Michael and Nick have been working on several custom fence-building jobs and Robbie helped them for a few days. We’ve had some nice fall weather with just a few cold nights that turned the tree leaves from green to gold. We had a dusting of snow but it’s mostly melted.

The day after we preg-checked the cows and took the heifers’ mothers to the 320-acre mountain pasture we put the heifer calves in the horse pasture, and the two bull calves in the old orchard pasture. They are content to graze, having been already weaned with the nose flaps while still on their mothers. There’s a lot of green grass this year in the orchard and horse pasture, thanks to Andrea’s diligent irrigating during the dry summer. That evening we put the steer calves and their mothers in the hold pen above the corrals. Later that night we had a hard rain. It didn’t last long, but put down a lot of water—which created new gullies down some of the hills and trails on the range.

Last Friday we brought the steers into the corral before daylight, sorted off their mothers, and when Michael and Carolyn brought their steers down we were ready to load ours (and the open heifer and one open cow) into the trailer with theirs—to haul to the sale at Ramsey, Montana, near Butte. On the way over there, the trailer had a flat tire and they had to change it, so they didn’t get there at the beginning of the sale as hoped.

The steers sold pretty well. The market is off from what it was earlier this summer, so they didn’t bring as much per pound as last year, but they weighed a little more than our steers last year.

That afternoon Lynn looked out the window and saw Sprout stuck on her back. She’d rolled too close to the side of her pen and had her feet up against the mesh wire and couldn’t get up. We have some old tires along that side to keep her from lying too close to the fence, but she managed to get herself stuck anyway. So we rushed out there and looped a rope around her opposite foreleg—and with both of us pulling we were able to tip her back over, away from the fence. Then she was able to scramble to her feet. She’d been there a little while, and was glad to be rescued. We put a few more tires along that side of her pen, to discourage her from rolling there.

Dani and Andrea rode with me on Ed and Sprout later that afternoon, up to the 320, to check on the cows. We moved a few that were down low, and took them up the ridge where there’s a lot of grass they should eat before it gets snowed under this fall.

We hurried home, trotting most of the way, to get back in time for Andrea to take Sam and Charlie to play in the band, for the high school football game.

On Saturday Andrea and Robbie helped Michael and Carolyn haul more hay for young Heather’s horses; this is the last load of the hay she bought for her horse-training program. Dani rode with me and we checked the cows on the 320 again, and also made a loop through the low end of the middle range, along Baker Creek. The moisture this fall has started a little green regrowth of grass.

We were curious to see what happened to Alfonzo’s cow. She must have regained her strength enough to get up, after Andrea, Em and Robbie got her unstuck from the hole in the creek, because her body was no longer right by the creek. She’d moved quite a ways from that spot by the time Alfonzo and John Miller went out 2 days later to do something with her (and shot her).

Dani and I moved a few more cows up the ridge to the high end of the 320, then came home the long way, down the road. Weather had become stormy—with a strong wind. If we had been coming down the ridge, the wind would have blown us away!

On the road, we met a neighbor, Jeff Minor, with his horse trailer, hauling some of John Miller’s big draft horses up the creek. The Amish will be using some of them for skidding out firewood logs, but are also pasturing 10 of the big horses this fall and winter on the 160-acre mountain pasture next to ours (that Alfonzo leases from Colstons).

The weather was cold by the time we got home. Lynn had built a fire in our stove (our first fire this fall), which felt pretty good when we came in from putting our horses away. Dani had a peanut butter sandwich and then worked on some puzzles until Andrea got back from hauling hay.

On Sunday Andrea shut off a couple of our ditches; we are done irrigating those fields and just have a couple fields left to finish watering before we shut the ditches off for winter—so they won’t create ice flows across the fields.

Robbie put Lynn’s pickup back together; the part we ordered got here last week and now it’s all fixed and working again.

We have a group of ruffed grouse spending a lot of time in and under the old crab-apple tree by my hay shed, eating the little crab apples. They are not very wild; they don’t try to fly off unless you get really close to them. When I walk through there to feed my horses, they just stand still and think I can’t see them! Yesterday morning a group of females was pecking around in our front yard, and I took photos of them through the window.

Now that Andrea has turned off the water that was coming through the little field above the house (where the 16 heifers and Cinnamon Bear are now living), and horse pasture/orchard, we’re watering them in the trough and watering the two little bulls in the orchard with tubs. They have never drunk from tubs; the little bulls grew up on the upper place and always had the creek or a ditch, or a big water trough. They were really thirsty but too leery of the plastic tubs to try to drink from them. For a couple of days I gently herded them down to that corner where the tubs are, and they finally got brave enough to stick their noses into the water.

On Tuesday Carolyn and Nick brought their trailer down and we loaded the steers’ mothers to haul to the upper place. We left Buffalo Girl (she’s getting old and a little thin) and Magrat (the cow that was lame this summer) home—and put them in the lower back field so they can have an easy life this fall on green pasture, and not have to climb the mountains.

Andrea and I got our horses ready to ride to the upper place and I discovered that Dottie had lost a front shoe. So we rode carefully up the road (avoiding rocks and gravel as much as possible) and met up with Carolyn and Heather at the upper corral. They’d put their cows (mothers of the steers they sold) into the corral and moved their two old cows to a different pasture. We put our two little groups together and herded them up to the 320 to join the other cows we put up there last week. I took some photos of young Heather following the cows up through the timber.

We took them all to the top trough in Baker Creek and came home down the ridge. Dottie was getting a little tenderfooted by the time we got home, so I put another shoe on that foot. Even though Michael now does most of my shoeing, I’m glad I’m still able to shoe my own horses if necessary, at age 71.

Andrea and Carolyn left early the next morning to drive to Idaho Falls for Andrea’s appointment with her pain doctor, and an appointment with the custody evaluator. The custody case will probably drag on for several more months.

On Thursday Andrea and I rode Shiloh and Dottie to check cows on the 320 and ended up moving some low ones up again. With all the hunters out and about, we wore red, and draped red shirts over the rumps of our horses, to make sure no one would mistake us for deer or elk!

Shiloh has never been around cattle but she’s not afraid of them, and didn’t mind following the herd as we moved them. She got upset, however when Dottie and I had to go a different direction to gather some other cattle. She got a bit excited on the slippery, frozen hillside and Andrea had to bail off her and try to keep her calm, not wanting her to fall over backward with Andrea on her. When we got the whole group of cows back together and Dottie was nearby again, Shiloh calmed down and we finished moving the cattle to the top of Baker Creek. Then we had to hurry home so Andrea could pick up the kids after school and take them all to their dental appointments.

Yesterday young Heather drove back to Canada to spend a month with her friend Gregory and his family. That evening at chore time I discovered the heifers had pooped in their water tank again (this was the second time we’ve had to bucket it out, dump and rinse it) so we started some water in their ditch, putting a little down through the corner of that pasture so they can drink from the ditch and not have to worry about the trough. By the time we have to shut that ditch off (to keep it from freezing), we’ll have them in a different pasture.

Today Andrea and I rode Shiloh and Dottie for 3 1/2 hours to check the cows, and also took along some spray paint to paint our fence posts orange along the ridge where hunters keep trying to drive, and also sprayed the gate posts by our locked gates. We don’t want people trying to go in there hunting while we have cattle grazing. In years past we’ve had several cows shot, so we want the hunters to know it is private land. While we were up there Andrea worked on the springbox again at the top trough in Baker Creek. It gets plugged with mud and fir needles occasionally and quits running.

After we got home, Andrea, Lynn and Robbie drove up to the upper corral to get her little jeep. It quit running (dead battery, and out of gas) the night they drove to the 320 to hunt a couple weeks ago and had to hike home in the dark. It seemed strange that it was out of gas, because they’d filled it recently, but a couple of their vehicles had mysteriously ended up low on gas and they suspect someone may have “borrowed” a little gas at some point when no one was home, or maybe during the night.

At any rate, they went back a few nights later and pulled the jeep out of the 320. Andrea coasted it down the road to Michael and Carolyn’s corral, where it sat until now. With all the hunting traffic on our road, and a lot of strange people going and coming, Andrea didn’t want to leave the jeep there, so this evening they brought it home.

Robbie and Lynn pulled it to the top of the hill by the Wild Meadow, and then Andrea coasted it the rest of the way home (about 2 miles—all downhill). As she came along the road by our place, Alfonzo was riding his mule in front of her, and apparently neither he nor the mule heard her coming until she was right behind them, pulling around them to go past. The mule startled and leaped up the steep bank above the road, with Alfonzo practically falling off over its rump. Andrea yelled at him, “You ok??” and he yelled back, “I ok!” as she whizzed by. Fortunately the mule was surefooted and didn’t fall down backward on that steep rocky cliff, and managed to turn around and come back down. We have our differences with that neighbor, but Andrea didn’t want to accidentally wipe him out!

OCTOBER 20 – The carpenters are coming along with good progress on my brother’s house (3 miles up the creek from our house). It is nearly finished; Rocky and Bev are living right now in their camper trailer up there, and eager to move into the new house before the weather gets cold.

Last week Michael put new shoes on Ed for me. Her feet were getting very long and her shoes were worn out. I’m hoping Dani will be able to ride with me a few more times this fall, checking cows on the 320, so I want that mare’s feet to be in good shape, with plenty of traction on frozen ground—and not too long. We don’t want her tripping and stumbling.

Last Monday we went to Myra Miller’s funeral. She was 93—and the last of my parents’ generation. Her family and mine have been closely associated since I was a tiny baby, when my parents moved here to Salmon (when Dad came here to be the preacher at the federated Methodist/Presbyterian church—and then a few years later started building the Methodist church). My brother and I grew up with Myra’s kids. It was great to see her kids again, gathering here for the celebration of Myra’s life. And a great life it was—an inspiration to all of us.

In her later years she spent a lot of time helping out in the grade school, reading to kids, and the little kids loved her. After she “retired” from helping at the school, she still helped out at the city library. When little Dani was a timid, backward child, starting first grade and way behind in her reading skills, Andrea felt badly that Myra was no longer working with kids’ reading at school, but Myra offered to help Dani. Andrea took Dani to the library to work with Myra after school, 2 days a week, for 2 years. Myra helped Dani with her reading, made it a fun thing, and then read her a story (as a reward) after every session. She made a huge difference in that child’s life, and is the reason that Dani is a good reader today.  

Dani insisted on going to Myra’s funeral, so we picked her up at school and took her with us. Andrea braided her hair on the way to the church, and took a photo of her.

After the funeral Andrea went to get Emily’s car (where she’s working) and took it to town to have a tire fixed. That tire has been leaking air; it had a piece of metal in it.

Lynn went to the skin specialist again, to have a few more pre-cancerous lesions frozen off. The good news was finding out that the growth on his eyelid (which Dr. Carrington removed a few weeks ago) was benign.

Michael and Nick went deer hunting that morning, and Nick shot a buck. That afternoon Andrea and Carolyn took Andrea’s truck and Michael’s 4-wheeler up Haines Creek to help retrieve it.
Michael and Nick actually saw more elk that day than deer (but didn’t have elk tags) and one big bull elk came walking right up to Nick in the timber—within 15 feet.

Last Wednesday Lynn went to Challis with Bill Allen to find a new location for a well on some property there. The old well had gone dry. Andrea and I made a fast ride to the 320 on Shiloh and Dottie to check the cows, and moved a few low ones back up to the high end of that pasture. This time Shiloh did a lot better following the cows and didn’t get so worried.

The springbox was plugged up again at the top trough, so Andrea dug out around it more, and got the water running into it better again.

A couple days ago there was a lot of shooting in the lower fields just below our place (even though the landlord doesn’t allow hunting on his property), so Andrea checked on our 2 cows in our back field to make sure they were ok.

Dani had a friend stay overnight, and the next morning she took her friend for a short ride on Ed. Dani brushed and saddled Ed, and led her around with the friend riding, and they took turns riding that good old mare.

Andrea and I rode again to the 320 to check the cows, and Andrea took her rifle (strapped to her back) in case we saw a buck. The cows were all high that day, and we didn’t have to move any, but we did have to work on the water trough springbox again, and this time dug out around it better, with the shovel we leave underneath the trough. On our way home we saw 15 does and fawns, but no bucks.

The Amish families have spent several days getting firewood up the creek, and that evening they had a flat tire on one of their trailers. Lynn was driving down the creek (after checking on the progress of Rocky’s new house) just as 8 of the Amish young men and women were abandoning the trailer and trying to figure out how they could all ride on the little tractor that was pulling it. He gave most of them a ride home.

On Friday Michael put new shoes on Sprout for Andrea, and Sam helped me take the shoes off Breezy. She held that old mare for me, in her pen. Breezy’s feet were getting really long, so I took her shoes off and trimmed her feet. She won’t need shoes for the few rides she’ll have this fall.

Then Sam ate lunch with us, and afterward rode with Dani, Andrea and me for a short ride around the low range. It was Sam’s first ride since breaking her ankle early this summer. She missed out on a lot of riding while she was on crutches.
On this short ride, Andrea rode Shiloh and Sam rode Breezy (who has been missing her rides!) and then she and Andrea switched horses out there—to give Sam a chance to try out Shiloh.

Sam did just fine riding Shiloh, and is looking forward to riding Shiloh quite a bit next summer. Breezy will be 25, and she’s getting a bit stiff, so it will be good for Sam to have some other options next year. Sam and I can trade off on Dottie and Shiloh.

On Saturday Michael and Nick went hunting again in the high country but this time didn’t see ANY game, just a wolf-killed carcass. That morning Andrea had good luck, however, shooting a buck in our field below her house. This is about the 5th time in the past dozen years that she’s shot her deer in her bathrobe, right from her house (the first was when she was still living out at 12-mile). She and the girls took it over the dump hill to gut it out and then hang the carcass in the shade by her shed.

Dani and another friend rode Ed around the barnyard again, and Andrea took Sam on a short hunt—and Sam was able to shoot her very first deer. We have a lot of whitetail deer living in our fields (the ones that try to eat our haystacks in the winter, and eat a lot of the alfalfa we feed to the heifers), so Sam was able to shoot a small whitetail buck in the field below Andrea’s house. Sam made a very good shot; she’s going to be a good hunter like her mom. Again, the girls helped Andrea take that one over the hill to gut out and hang by the shed.

Saturday was Rocky’s birthday, so I gave him a copy of my new book Cow Tales as a birthday present. Some of the early chapters include reminiscences of cattle he and I grew up with on the ranch, so he’ll enjoy reading those memories.

I’m hoping people will want to buy my two new books (Horse Tales and Cow Tales) to give to friends as Christmas gifts. Anyone who would like a signed copy can contact me by phone (208-756-2841) or e-mail (hsmiththomas@centurytel.net).

It has been freezing hard at nights, but that night was very warm—the one night we needed it to be cool for the 2 deer hanging by Andrea’s shed! So the next day (Sunday) she spent most of the day cutting the meat off the bones and putting the meat in coolers with ice packs.

Sam rode with me to the 320 on Sunday (since Andrea was busy cutting up meat), to check the cows. Breezy did fine without shoes. We hadn’t checked the cows for several days, and wanted to make sure they were doing ok with all the hunters out and about. We saw all the cows, and checked on the gates (riding up the ridge to check the gate at the very top). We checked the water troughs, and this time the upper trough’s springbox was still working.

Yesterday it rained off and on. Andrea and Carolyn drove to Idaho Falls for Andrea’s appointment with her pain doctor (and received 6 steroid shots in her lower back, to help relieve some of the extreme pain that keeps her awake nights). While they were there they stocked up on dog food, cat food and groceries (most things are cheaper in those big stores than here in Salmon) and bought a new fly mask for Breezy. We keep a mask on her all the time except when she’s being ridden, to protect her one eye from sunlight as well as from flies in summer.

Dani had an asthma attack and seriously impaired breathing at school, and didn’t have her inhaler with her. The gal at the school office called us, since Andrea was still in Idaho Falls for her doctor appointment. Lynn drove to town and took an inhaler to Dani, and then she was able to breathe better, and go back to class.

I made a big pot of stew soup and fed the kids supper after Lynn got them off the bus. Dani helped me do chores in the rain, feeding the horses, and then Andrea and Carolyn got home soon after. Andrea and Sammy got the rest of their deer meat ground into hamburger last night. We are all out of meat, so they plan to share it with us and with Michael and Carolyn. Deer season is nearly over, but Michael, Dani and Charlie still hope to fill their tags.