Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ranch Diary: December 15, 2015 to January 18, 2016

DECEMBER 15 We had several more inches of snow last week so the cows are on a full feed of hay. Michael brings his truck down every few days to load some of the big bales to take up to his cows. 

One of Alfonzo’s bulls was out on the road below our place; the neighbors who fed his cows the day before had left the gate open. Andrea and Lynn drove down on 4-wheelers and put the bull back into Alfonzo’s field before it came up to our place.

Michael, Carolyn and young Heather drove to Butte, Montana to do Christmas shopping and meet up with Heather’s friend Gregory driving down from Canada. This is his first trip to Idaho to meet the family and visit here for a few days. With the stormy weather and bad roads, they wanted to make sure he could make it over the pass between Montana and Idaho in his pickup. Later that week Carolyn cooked a nice dinner and we went up to their house and got to meet Gregory—a very nice young man!

Last Wednesday we fed our cows close to the gate into our heifer hill pasture, and sorted out the young cows (first and second calvers), putting them through the gate. Now we can feed them separately so they’ll get their share of the hay--and the older, bossier cows can’t hog so much of the feed. We can also give some of the better hay to the younger cows, since they are still growing as well as being pregnant. We are feeding them all some alfalfa, but we can save the best grass bales for the weaned heifers and the young cows.

That evening Lynn and I drove to town and attended the school Christmas concert. Sam and Charlie were playing in the concert band and also sang in the chorus.

 My boxes of books finally arrived (my latest book, Ranch Tales) so I packaged up a bunch of them to mail out to family and friends as Christmas gifts. If only I could write a book every year, then my “gift list” would be easy!
Andrea and Robbie took his pickup and went with Michael and Carolyn and kids (in their truck) up the creek to get firewood. The snow was really deep up there and they had to chain up both pickups, but were able to get into a good patch of dead trees (killed by the fire in 2003) and brought home two big loads of wood.

We’ve had a lot of snow and cold weather; the snow is getting quite deep. Andrea and Robbie helped Lynn take a couple of big grass bales up to the group of young cows—a good one for their feeder and an extra one (a spoiled top bale) to spread around for them to bed on, so they won’t have to lie in the deep snow.

The kids are now out of school for Christmas holiday, and got to spend the first few days (before Christmas) at home with Andrea this year. Dani helped feed the heifers a few times (so she could pet her favorite one -- Deerling) and made our calving calendar. She wrote all the cows’ names on the dates they are due to calve. She also enjoyed spending time with her favorite pets, including her cats.

Tuesday evening Dani and Sam went with Andrea and me to deliver gifts to a couple of our neighbors up the creek. We stayed awhile to visit with David and Rosina and their young children (the Amish family living in Gordon Binning’s smaller house). It was cold that night by the time we got home, nearly down to zero.

Wednesday Sam had another checkup, and another x-ray, and the doctor said her foot has finally healed enough that she no longer has to be on crutches! It’s been a long recovery; she’s been on crutches since July.

Robbie helped Lynn put the blade on our big tractor and Lynn plowed snow off Andrea’s driveway and ours; it was getting too deep to drive to her house, or to get up our driveway. Robbie spent a couple days taking the old straw out of our calving barn, loading it into a little trailer and pulling it out with the 4-wheeler. He took some into the adjacent field for the little heifers to bed on, and several trailer trips up to the field by Andrea’s house where the main group of cows are. With the deep snow they had to place to bed, so he spread the straw along the bottom edge of the field along the willows, out of the wind. They are appreciating their nice bedding area.

We have several cottontail rabbits living in the barnyard and one of them has taken up residence under by the parked machinery next to some of my horse pens. This rabbit likes to eat the alfalfa leaves that spill when we are loading our sleds to feed the heifers, and is very unafraid of people. Lynn’s cat (that also lives in the same area, by the tarped alfalfa bales for the heifers) has caught and eaten several cottontail rabbits this winter, but not this one. She likes to chase the rabbit, but so far these games of cat and rabbit haven’t wiped out this bunny.
 With the snow and cold weather the whitetail deer are coming in droves to eat the alfalfa. We have the haystacks wrapped with netting, and put tarps over the feed truck and the hay for the heifers, but they come boldly into the feed trail to eat with the cows and heifers. Even when we chase them away, they wait in the bushes until we leave, and come right back again. Some of them come through the house yard.

On Christmas Eve my brother Rocky and wife Bev and son Aaron stopped by on their way home; they are now finally in their new house up the creek; it is finished! Rocky had just been to a couple Christmas Eve events downtown, playing Santa. He’s perfect for the part, with his white beard and jolly smile. 

Yesterday (Christmas) we did chores early, fed the cows their alfalfa, then went up to Andrea’s house to watch the kids open their gifts.

That afternoon Michael came down for more hay and helped us take big bales around to fill the cows’ feeders again. Andrea took the kids to Mark that evening; he gets them for most of the rest of the Christmas vacation.

Today Andrea and Robbie helped feed, and break ice for the cows. With all the cold weather it’s been harder to keep their water holes open and we have to chop them open again every day. Michael came down late morning and we took the shoes off Shiloh, Sprout, Dottie and Ed.

Andrea and Robbie put up more electric wire around part of Willow’s pen to keep her from chewing up the fence posts and poles. That filly loves to chew on everything!

Tonight the temperature is dropping below zero. 

JANUARY 5 – Magrat’s young heifer Mallulamae was lame with foot rot last week, so Andrea and Robbie helped me treat her. We lured her and a couple other heifers into the 2nd day pens (by the barn) with a little hay, then put her in the headcatch by the barn and gave her injections of oxytetracycline. By the next day she was walking better, and by the 3rd day was no longer lame, and the swelling nearly gone.

Jim has been creating some lovely lamps and chandeliers in the old “rolling wreck” trailer house that he converted into a shop. Robbie helped him take out a wall, to make a bigger working space. Jim is making several lamps and pieces of antler art for some clients and also some extra ones to take to an art show in a few weeks, to sell. As a fun project he created a decorative “flower pot” and some huge “flowers” made of antlers and turquoise.

He’s also spoiling us, splitting wood and filling our wood-box every morning. With the cold weather we’ve been using both stoves and going through a lot of firewood.

Jim and Robbie repaired our two old runner sleds that needed some new boards. Our kids used them when they were little, and one of them dates back to when I was young. Those are still the best sleds because they steer. Andrea’s kids are now enjoying them; they can come down her driveway all the way to our barnyard. It makes a great sledding hill. They also enjoy having someone pull them back up the lane on their sleds, with a pickup or 4-wheeler so they don’t have to hike back up. With the new snow the other day they were having a snowball fight on their way back up to their house.
Rocky’s daughters Amber and Amanda made a fast trip up here from Boise to visit and see Rocky’s new house. They stopped briefly at our place early the next morning on their way home, to say hi and to see Andrea.

The deer have been jumping in with Veggie and eating his alfalfa hay at night. Andrea and Robbie screwed some small poles onto the fenceposts to make the fence taller, and strung more electric wires above the fence. We hope that will keep out the deer. Poor old Veggie is 30 years old now, and it takes him awhile to eat his hay; he picks at it all night long. If the deer eat it, he won’t get enough.

On New Years Eve Andrea got the kids back from Mark (for 1 day) so we had a potluck pizza dinner at our house when they got home. Andrea made a pizza and I made one and after dinner we all went up to her place to watch movies. We took our old VCR tapes of The Gods Must Be Crazy and The Gods Must Be Crazy II and Andrea made a big batch of popcorn. The kids hadn’t seen those old movies and we all enjoyed them. That’s the first time Lynn and I have stayed up until midnight on New Year’s Eve for many, many years! It was 8 below zero when we got home, and 11 below by morning.

In this cold weather the cats like to find warm spots, like our “fencing cat” on a favorite perch enjoying the sunshine’s warmth reflecting off the barn door.
The water holes in the creek froze over and it took 30 minutes to chop out the ice and re-establish the water holes. Charlie and Dani enjoyed their “new” repaired runner sleds and coasted all the way down to the barnyard, and helped do chores that evening, then Andrea took them home before they got too cold. It dropped to 15 below that night. She had to take the kids back to Mark for the rest of the holiday.

The deer tore down the high hot wires around Veggie’s pen that night, so Andrea fixed it and strung more wire. I think we finally have them fenced out.

The young heifers ran out of grass hay in their feeder and it was too cold to start the tractor. It has to be plugged in overnight and even then it won’t start at this temperature so we don’t even try it. So we backed the feed truck up to the stack and four of us rolled a big bale onto the truck to take out to their field. We rolled it off the truck into their empty feeder. We give them alfalfa hay twice a day, but also keep grass hay in their feeder at all times, and they are doing very well on that program. The deer don’t bother to eat the grass hay; they just want the alfalfa! We select the best grass bales (not too coarse) for the heifers—and it sometimes has a little clover in it, too.

When the kids got home from Mark's, Andrea had a turkey dinner cooked and we all ate at her place. She hadn’t had a chance to have a Christmas dinner for the kids so this was our belated get-together for dinner. 

Andrea took bales around today to the various feeders. It’s hard for Lynn to get in and out of the tractor with his painful back and hip, so Andrea is doing more of the tractor work.

Today Michael and Nick rehung the gate below the old barn. Ever since we put rocks and gravel on that lane (to keep from getting stuck in the mud with the feed truck and haying equipment) the gate has been hard to open and close, dragging on the built-up ground. Michael and Nick were able to raise the gate up on the posts, moving the hinges, so it swings again.

Then Robbie helped them tear out the old fence between the calving pen and the orchard. We need to rebuild it before calving season. I locked the two little bulls in the horse pasture so they wouldn’t get out, and moved their water tub; I can take a hose through Dottie’s pen to water them. Michael rerouted the hot wire, putting it on tall poles above the fence they’ll be rebuilding. I fed them lunch. This afternoon, they built fires over each post hole they need to dig, to thaw the frozen ground, and put our half barrel “ovens” over the fires, to keep the fires contained through the night.
JANUARY 18 – Michael, Nick and Robbie set new posts and rebuilt the fence on the north and west side of the calving pen in front of the house and we put the little bulls (yearlings) back in the big pen next to it.

Then they started rebuilding the old falling-down side of our main corral. We moved the big bulls out of that corral to the back corral temporarily, and Michael used the backhoe to dig away the debris and snow along the fence they sawed out. There was so much stuff covering the ground in that area that it wasn’t frozen, and they were able to dig those post holes without using a fire overnight to thaw the ground. They set all of those posts except the two big gate posts; Michael had to buy some bigger posts and set those in concrete this past weekend. 

Andrea went to the doctor last week to have her shoulder checked; she’s torn something loose, and it’s very painful every time she chops ice or has to use that shoulder very much. If it’s not starting to do better in a couple weeks she will be referred to a specialist. The doctor prescribed physical therapy for her in the meantime, to try to help it. 

 Last week we had major snowstorms—10 inches of new snow in town, and not quite that much here. I took photos of the new snow on our new fence.

Lynn plowed our driveway and Andrea’s again, and his hip is really bothering him now, after getting in and out of the tractor. It was hurting so badly during the night that he had to use crutches to go to the bathroom. Since then he’s been taking pain medication and has a doctor’s appointment tomorrow to have it checked. It doesn’t hurt much when he’s sitting down, but standing and walking can be very painful. We’ve been doing all the chores and letting him sit in the house and read his newspaper!
Since we started feeding the cows 2 weeks earlier than last year, and feeding grass hay in their feeders rather than straw, they’ve been going through the hay more quickly than we expected. We’ll have to buy some more hay or straw to make it last the winter. A nearby rancher offered us some baled cornstalks to try (and we’d buy some from him if the cows will eat it) but the 4 bales we put out for the cows—2 for our cows and 2 for Michael’s cows at his place—weren’t accepted very well by the cows. We’re looking for another alternative. The cows are enjoying the corn stalks for bedding but won’t eat them.

Robbie took the kids sledding last weekend, pulling them around on a big tractor tire inner tube with a snowmobile, in the deep snow on heifer hill. They had a lot of fun. The next day they went sledding with friends. 

 We had another stretch of sub-zero weather but Michael, Nick and Robbie kept working on our fences, hanging the gates in the calving pen, and starting on the big corral. Nick and Robbie kept working on it the two days that Michael had to haul a couple horses and a dog to the veterinarian at Challis (tooth issues on one horse, and a yearling colt to be gelded -- and to have cheat grass seeds removed from the old dog’s ears and sinus cavity).

Thursday evening we all went to town for Sam’s birthday party. She’s 13 now. The party was held at a pizza place and she invited about a dozen school friends.
Afterward she had a friend come home to spend the night with her, and then Sam spent the night at her friend’s house and they had fun making big snowballs and snow art.
The next day both Dani and Sam had their hair cut and styled, as sort of a birthday present for Sam and belated present for Dani.

Dani’s friend Sequoia stayed overnight with Dani, and both girls came down to help do chores and feed the cows the next morning. Rosalee, one of our older cows, had been lame with foot rot for a couple of days, so we brought the whole herd down from the field, sorted her out, put her down the chute, and gave her antibiotics. Andrea and Sequoia helped us herd the cows down to the corral, following the feed truck. They also came down that evening on the 4-wheeler to help us do chores, feeding the horses and heifers.