Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ranch Diary: November 17 to December 14, 2015

NOVEMBER 27 Michael, Nick and Robbie have been putting in a water line for the horse pens at Michael’s place, but had some challenges with big rocks, and accidentally cut the water line to the house--and had to fix it, too. But now they have heated water tubs for the horses in their pens.

Emily had a rough week after her wisdom teeth were removed, but she continued working in spite of pain from the surgery.

Andrea went up to the 320-acre pasture on her 4-wheeler to check ice on the water trough last Tuesday and to check cows. They were nearly out of grass, except for some that’s deeply snow-covered on the north slopes, so she let them into the adjacent 160-acre hill pasture. There were 40 deer in there eating the green regrowth, pawing through the snow. Our cows might as well get to eat some of it before it’s all gone. The cows can have access to the water trough in the fenceline that supplies both pastures.

The next day we noticed a lone bull of Alfonzos on lower place, trying to come up through the fence and get in with our heifers. We wondered why he showed up there; maybe he was fighting with some of Alfonzo’s other bulls and jumped in there when they brought a bunch of cows and bulls up the road a few days earlier. A few days later Alfonzo tried to bring the bull up the road on foot to put on Gooch place with his other cattle, but the bull charged back past him and went back into the field below our heifers. Alfonzo just left him there and didn’t try to anything else with him—and left the next day to go to Mexico for the winter. He goes every winter, leaving neighbors to take care of his cattle.

Andrea’s kids went to hockey practice a few nights, then Andrea realized they can’t do hockey this year. Andrea doesn’t have the time nor money for hockey trips, with the custody battle and lawyer expenses—which we are all trying to help with.

Sam and Charlie are getting really good on the trumpet and trombone, playing in the pep band for basketball games at the high school.

Last Thursday it snowed all day and the roads were very slippery, and treacherous going to town and to the school bus. The storm continued through that evening and we ended up with several inches of new snow.

Friday morning the kids had to get up at 4 a.m. because Andrea had to take them to Idaho Falls to meet with the parenting evaluator (for the custody case), and Emily had a checkup with the dental surgeon.

Our good friend and former pastor Stillman Bond came to visit, and loaned us the September 1957 issue of LOOK magazine, which he found in the church archives. It had an article on Methodism, and many photos of my father (as a “modern day circuit rider” tending his congregation in far-flung regions of our county, when I was a child). We had a good visit with Stillman, and gave him a couple of my new books for Christmas.

On Saturday the temperature dropped below zero. Andrea helped me do chores and break ice for the horses. We started feeding the heifers a little alfalfa hay even though they still have some grass in their pasture. Alfonzo’s bull was pressing on the fence, wanting to come through it.

Andrea went with Lynn and me to 320 on his 4-wheeler to break ice on water trough so the cows could drink. There was 2 inches of ice that we broke and scooped out with a shovel. The battery was dead on the 4-wheeler; Lynn had to pull start it and was going to just leave it running while we were up there, but he forgot—and turned it off. It was even more difficult to pull-start it again, but it was either that or walk home!

After we got home, Andrea and I rode Ed and Sprout to move Alfonzo’s bull. He will be trying even harder now to get in with our heifers because we are feeding them, and he is hungry. I rode Ed because Dottie is still not very experienced with difficult cattle. Carolyn came down on her 4-wheeler, and granddaughter Heather rode down on her horse Danny. We started to bring the bull up through field to take him out on the road (to go up to the Gooch place, to put him with Alfonzo’s other cattle) but he charged at our horses. Alfonzo makes his cattle wild and mean by the way he mishandles them.

Not wanting to get anyone hurt, we gave up trying to herd the bull, and got some of Alfonzo’s cows from the Gooch place to bring down and put with the bull, and then we were able to take them all back up the road together, and put them back in the Gooch place. The sun had gone down by the time we finished, and it was getting very cold.

On Sunday afternoon Andrea and I rode Sprout and Dottie to the 160/320 to break ice again on the trough (2 inches thick again) and scooped out all the ice with a shovel and rake.

 Afterward Andrea didn’t want snow/ice on her boots (to make them slippery in her stirrups) so she scraped her feet on the pole fence to get the ice off the bottom of her boots, then got on Sprout from the fence!
It was sundown and cold by the time we got home. We quickly did chores, then I cooked dinner for the whole family and kids after they got back from Mark's.

The weather was cold for several days. Andrea and I rode up to the 160 each day to break ice. One day we noticed a new big hole in Alfonzo’s fence along the road, next to his gate into the Gooch place, and stopped to fix it before his cows got out. Earlier this year he had set some new posts and leaned the old, falling down fence against the new posts, but the wires were never stapled onto posts. His cows had knocked some of the wires clear off and made a big hole. His cows are very hungry because they ran out of grass on the Gooch place several weeks ago and no one is feeding them yet, so they are trying to get out.

It was warm for a couple days, and melting snow on top of the ice was very slippery. Our tractor was spinning out a lot when we got big bales off the stack for our heifers and bulls. Jim (Emily’s dad) helped Lynn put chains on the tractor so it won’t be so hard next time. Jim will be staying at Andrea’s house for a couple months, until he flies to Florida to build a big antler chandelier for a client, and then goes back to work again for the outfitter/hunting guide in Montana. Andrea and Robbie will help him clean out and fix up the old trailer house here in our barnyard (that Michael & Carolyn used as a calving camp in earlier years) for him to use as a shop this winter, to build the lamps and chandeliers that he sells.

That evening we had an early Thanksgiving, before the kids had to go out to Mark’s place for the Thanksgiving holiday. Andrea cooked a turkey and we had a really nice dinner at her place.

The kids had a lot of fun, and we all enjoyed it.

The next day we had 4 inches of fresh snow on top of what we already had, but the cows are still out grazing on the 160.

Two cow elk stayer for several days the hill behind Andrea’s house. Dani helped us feed heifers Wednesday evening, and enjoyed pulling one of the sleds full of alfalfa, and helping scatter the hay.

With the deep snow we’ve started feeding them twice a day. Dani always likes to pet her favorite heifer, Deerling, every time she helps feed.

Our driveways are slippery again. Em’s little car spun out on her way home, and she didn’t make it up the last hill to Andrea’s house. She had to back down Andrea’s driveway and leave her car in our barnyard.

Yesterday it was 4 below zero, with high of 17 degrees. Lynn put an elk panel across the corner of Breezy’s pen where the deer are crawling through into the stackyard to try to get into our alfalfa bales. It was windy and cold for riding, so Andrea and I drove up the creek, parked the pickup at the bottom of the 160, and hiked up to the trough to break ice.

Robbie got our feed truck running again, and brought a few little bales of grass hay around to feed to the heifers along with their alfalfa, since their pasture is snowed under. This morning it was 9 below zero, with a high of 12 above, and we decided it was time to bring the cows down to our fields, where the grass isn’t completely snowed under yet, and it will be easier to break ice for them at the creek instead of having to go clear up to the 160 every day. Michael and Carolyn want to put their cows on the wild meadow and road pasture (to water at the creek in the wild meadow), so they needed to move their horses out of the wild meadow. Michael and Nick were working on a custom fencing job that day, so Carolyn and Heather took shoes off their horses and trimmed feet, moved their horses to different fields, and then Andrea and I rode Sprout and Ed up to meet them at their corral. We gathered the cows off the 160 and bought them down.

Then we sorted them in the corral, leaving their cows (to graze their upper fields and roadside hill pasture that hasn’t been grazed at all this year). Andrea and I brought ours down the road to our place, and made it past the Gooch place without Alfonzo’s cows jumping out (they tried to get out and come with us).
We put ours in the heifer hill pasture where there is still some grass that hasn’t completely snowed under.

DECEMBER 4 – We had several nights below zero, with a high of only 10 to 12 degrees in the daytime. Andrea helped me break ice for all the horses, and broke ice on the creek for the cows (on heifer hill) and bulls in the corral. She checked the water for the two old cows in the lower field, but they are still able to drink from a spring that’s not freezing over very much. The heifers in the field below the lane are appreciating their heated water tank; they drink more water than they would otherwise on a cold day/night and its one less chore not having to break ice for them.

Emily and her dad (Jim) went hunting a couple times, trying for an elk during the muzzle-loader season, but didn’t get close enough to shoot any. Andrea and Lynn took salt to our cows on heifer hill and Andrea patched the fence along the horse road where the deer have knocked out a lot of staples. I cooked another big dinner for the whole family Sunday night, when the kids got back from Mark’s place. They all love roast beef, potatoes and gravy!

Sam didn’t have as big an appetite as usual, however, and mentioned that she’d had pain in her lower abdomen the past 3 days when she was out at Mark’s, and that she hadn’t been eating very much, and just lying around resting because of the pain. Mark and Dawn didn’t pay any heed to her complaints, however, and told her to just eat a few antacid Tums. Sam was miserable for 3 days.

Andrea tried to make a doctor appointment for Sam the next morning, but because of the location of the pain (and possible appendicitis) she was told to just take Sam to the ER. The ER doctor did a CT scan and also gave Sam an IV dye to check things out. Her appendix seems OK but the poor kid has a possible ovary problem, and also has gallstones! She may have to be careful what she eats. The thing that worries us is that Mark and Dawn don’t seem to have much concern about the children’s health problems; they are irresponsible guardians. Andrea spent 6 hours with Sam in the ER as the doctor did all the tests and finally determined what was causing the pain. He gave her a few suggestions on things to do to help ease the pain.

We got new tires for Em’s car, with good traction, so now she can make it up and down the driveway even in snowy, icy conditions to get to and from her job. Jim split the cost of the tires with us.

Every chance she gets, Dani helps us with chores. She likes to walk among the heifers and get them used to her, and pets her favorite heifer again.
I wrote our family Christmas letter and started mailing it to friends. I didn’t have as much time this year to make cards, so most people will simply get letters.

On Wednesday Andrea took Sam to the doctor again to have her foot checked, with another x-ray. The bone in her heel is slow to mend and she has to be on crutches for ANOTHER three weeks.

Jim has the old trailer house functional now as a shop, with the chimney cleaned out and the stove working. Andrea helped him string a power cord across the creek from our barn, so he has electricity for light and for his saws and equipment for working on the antlers and wood he uses to create lamps, chandeliers, etc. Jim and Robbie borrowed a trailer from a friend and hauled some tools and other things out here from his storage shed in town, so he’s now able to work on his projects. He has several to complete before the next trade show he plans to attend.

Alfonzo’s starving cows have done poorly in the sub-zero weather, with no feed. We called John Miller, the Amish neighbor around the hill who helps Alfonzo sometimes, and asked what the plan was for those cows. John told us that several neighbors were going to take turns feeding them this winter while Alfonzo is in Mexico. We told John the cows were in bad shape, bawling at every vehicle driving past on the road, hoping for food. So the Amish brought their little tractor up a few days ago and fed a few big bales of hay from the stackyard on the Gooch place, but the cows are only being fed every other day or so. A couple days after they started feeding hay, one of the skinny old cows just lay down in the feed trail and died. The cows also broke into the haystack and are eating on it.

This afternoon Dani rode with Andrea and me to check our cows on heifer hill, and we were glad the horses have good shoes and good traction on the slippery snow.

Then we rode on up to the Gooch place to check our ditch (to make sure there’s no water leaking into it from the creek, to create an ice flow) and to check our weir and make sure Alfonzo’s cows haven’t trampled it (since it’s right behind the haystack they are ganged around). While we were there we took photos of the dead cow and some of the emaciated cattle. Those poor cows needed to have some hay long before now; the skinny ones were losing even more weight all through the sub-zero weather. He has some skinny crippled cows that can hardy get around.

DECEMBER 14 – We’ve had several more snowstorms the past 10 days. The cows grazed all the tall feed on heifer hill and were happily enjoying the short green regrowth until it snowed under on December 5. Andrea and I moved them to the field by her house the next morning. She walked ahead and called them, and they followed her, and I followed the cows. Some of them were hesitant to cross the bridge, and the last 4 refused to walk over it, and went alongside it, across the creek, instead. They fell through the ice and were in water up to their bellies, but managed to flounder on through it and up the far bank. They were enjoying the little bit of green regrowth on that new field--rooting through the snow to eat it--and quite a bit of rough feed around the edges.

Rocky and Bev (my brother and his wife) have now moved into their new house on the upper end of the ranch. There is still some work to be done on finishing it, but it was functional enough for them to move in. Last Saturday they had a group of friends with pickups and trailers haul a lot of their furniture and other things from their storage shed in town.

That Sunday I cooked another big dinner for Andrea and kids, Robbie and Jim, for when the kids got home again from Mark’s house. The next day the weather warmed up and we got a little rain instead of snow. Robbie helped Michael and Nick finish a fencing project just before the weather turned nasty.

It changed to snow by evening and the roads were treacherous again. By Tuesday morning there was ice on everything. Highway 93 South was blocked for several hours by a wreck, and it was too slippery for the buses to run, so school was closed that day. Jim spent the morning shoving dirt onto our driveway and Andrea’s so it would be safe to drive in and out. She often drives her 4-wheeler down here (instead of her car) to help me do chores, because the 4-wheeler has chains on it. Lynn’s black cat loves to sit on her 4-wheelr while we feed the heifers.
Then our weather warmed up and it was windy and thawing on Wednesday, with rain and snow blizzards off and on through the day. It cleared off by late afternoon, and the Amish neighbors brought Alfonzo’s cows down the road past our place and put them on the lower fields just below ours. We’re hoping Alfonzo’s bulls won’t try to get in with our heifers!

The next day it snowed again, with slick roads and treacherous footing around the barnyard with snow on top of ice. Andrea and Robbie spread sand in the places where we walk around to do chores, so no one will fall down. Andrea moved the two cows from our lower back field (the ones that were too old to spend the fall on the 320) and moved them up with the main herd. We don’t want them attracting Alfonzo’s starving cows through the fence into our place.

On Friday (no school) Andrea and Robbie took kids, dogs and sleds up the creek to get a Christmas tree, and they had a lot of fun sledding.

Even Sam got to sled a bit; they pulled her sled, and she didn’t have to walk very much on her crutches in the snow.

On Saturday they put up their little tree in the playroom, and Dani decorated it. She was quite proud of her beautiful project.

Sunday (yesterday) we had nasty weather again, and decided we need to give the heifers more grass hay because their pasture will probably be snowed under the rest of the winter. Lynn, Andrea and Robbie brought a big bale feeder around to that field, and today we put a big bale in it for them to work on whenever they wish—without so much of the hay being laid on, pooped in, and wasted. Then we can feed them a little less alfalfa—and maybe the deer won’t eat so much of the alfalfa! The deer are coming into that field and eating with the heifers, but they only want the alfalfa and won’t bother their grass hay. We also started feeding our cows today (two weeks earlier than last year) because we had several inches of new snow this morning on top of what we already had. Even though they still have grass left in the field by Andrea’s house, it is deeply snowed under and the cows are discouraged! It’s time to feed them.

Meanwhile, my new book, Ranch Tales, is now published. The press release (shown below) has a nice photo of the front cover. Anyone who wants to order one can contact the publisher, me, or any bookseller.