Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Diary from Sky Range Ranch: January 18 through February 14, 2016

JANUARY 25, 2016 – Last Saturday we had a bad snowstorm. Alfonzo’s cattle in the fields below our place had not been fed for several days, and that afternoon a couple of his yearlings crawled through a fence into the field next to our heifers, trying to find something to eat. Our heifers were curious and ran down to the fence to try to socialize with those yearlings, then ran around like a bunch of silly teenagers, during the storm.

That evening after chores Lynn and I drove up the creek to Rocky and Bev’s new place for their housewarming, and enjoyed visiting with their friends who braved the snowy roads. We nearly got our pickup stuck in deep snow along the edge of the road by their driveway when we pulled off the road to park. We stayed late and had a good visit with Rocky, Bev and Aaron.

Sunday morning when I fed the heifers Deerling (Dani’s favorite heifer) was very sick. She was moving slowly, with her head and neck forward, in respiratory distress, and was unable to eat. When Andrea came down to help feed the cows, we lured a few of the heifers and Deerling into the pens by the barn and put Deerling in the headcatch to take her temperature. It was 105 degrees. So we treated her with antibiotics and some Banamine (anti-inflammatory medication that would help her lungs and bring down her fever) and squirted DMSO into her throat (to reduce swelling in her airways). We left her in the pen next to the field, where she could be by herself yet still see her buddies right through the gate and not be too stressed at being separate. Andrea and Robbie shoveled the deep snow out of one corner of the pen and gave her some grass hay for bedding. Later that morning she started feeling a little better (thanks to the Banamine) and was nibbling on her alfalfa hay.
 Andrea and Robbie loaded the feed truck, took big bales out to the cows’ feeders, brought more hay around for the heifers, and some bedding for the heifers so they’d have someplace to sleep other than the deep snow. They put the bedding in the corner next to Deerling’s pen so she’d have her buddies nearby for company and not be so upset at being alone. The storm wasn’t quite over, so Andrea and Robbie put a piece of plywood over the windbreak corner in that pen, so Deerling would have shelter. Sam and Dani petted her under the roof the next day.
 The snowstorm continued through the next day. There was no school, so Charlie spent the day with Emily at her job (at the music store) and Sam helped Andrea make a bigger roof for Deerling. It quit snowing for a while that afternoon so we took that opportunity to give Deerling her next treatments. We cornered her in the pen, rather than stress her by putting her in the headcatch again. Robbie and Andrea held her in the gate corner while I gave her another injection of Banamine, and then we cornered her under her roof and they held onto her while I squirted another dose of DMSO (mixed with warm water) into her throat. She was breathing much better.

After we finished, Dani petted and comforted Deerling, to reassure her pet that we didn’t mean to upset her or hurt her!
It was so stormy the next day that Michael, Nick and Robbie took a day off from fencing even though they were nearly done with the portion of fence they’re rebuilding in the bull corral. That evening when we did chores, Deerling was out with the other heifers. They’d fiddled with the chain on the gate and got it unhooked! She was out, and a bunch of them were in the pen, eating her hay! So we brought her back in and put one of her buddies in the headcatch chute with her and gave her the next round of antibiotics.

Emily joined us for dinner on Sunday night and we gave her some early birthday gifts. She’s now 18! Hard to believe it’s been 18 years since that girl was born—on a cold, stormy January day just like we’re having now. Some of her friends had a party for her downtown. Here are photos of Em and her Dad, and Andrea, taken on Em’s birthday.

On Tuesday Andrea went to physical therapy for her shoulder, took Dani to the doctor (she has a fever and swollen lymph node in her neck) and Lynn went to the doctor to have his hip checked. The doctor ordered a bunch of tests—to try to figure out if it’s his hip socket or arthritis in the joint.

Michael, Nick and Robbie finished setting the gate posts in the corral, and hung the gates. I fed them lunch. Deerling was doing better, eating more like normal.

The next day Dani stayed home from school again, and Andrea wasn’t feeling well so Robbie started to take the other kids to the bus in his pickup, but ran out of gas at the end of our driveway. He jogged back home and got his car. The kids helped him push the pickup out of the way and he took them clear to school—since they missed the bus.

Michael and Robbie drove to Howe to look at some oat/barley hay that a farmer there has for sale, and took core samples to test the bales for nitrates. We are running out of grass hay and need to buy something to mix with our alfalfa to get us through the rest of the winter. Andrea and I put Deerling and a buddy in the headcatch again, gave her more antibiotics and took her temperature. It was down to 102.8 which is much better than it was, but still above normal. She’s doing better, and eating more hay.

That evening Em hit a young deer on the highway on her way home from work; it jumped out in front of her car, and went over the hood, mashing it down and breaking a headlight. She was able to drive on home, but now her hood won’t open, and her turn signals don’t work.

On Thursday I cooked lunch again for the fence crew, and Andrea helped me give Deerling her last round of antibiotic injections. Her temperature was down to 102 degrees and she’s feeling good, so we let her back out with the other heifers. Lynn went to town for blood tests and hip x-rays.

Jim has been creating more antler art and chandeliers, in preparation for the art show he’ll be attending soon. He has made some beautiful pieces in his little shop across the creek (the old trailer house that Michael and Carolyn used for several years when they were calving their cows here). He created some interesting and beautiful wall lamps using burr wood and antlers.

He also made some table lamps, including one that has burr wood as a stand, with Cape buffalo horns coming out of it. And for fun he made a “flower pot” full of antler flowers with turquoise centers.

Alfonzo came home from Mexico (a few days earlier than last year) and fed his cows next to our fence—right across the creek from our heifers. They all ran down there again to try to socialize. We’d plan to repair the old fence between our heifer field and the Colston place (which Alfonzo is leasing) before he got home (this was the next fence project on our list, while Michael and Nick are helping us) because we knew Alfonzo would put all his cows in the little field below us as soon as he got home. Since he never takes his bulls out of the herd, this puts our heifers at risk because the bulls might try to come through the fence to breed them. We realized we need to do more than just patch that fence so Michael and Nick measured it to see how many posts it would take to rebuild it—taller and stronger.

The next day (Friday) Michael brought his truck down to get more hay for his cows, and after loading the hay he used our tractor and blade to plow a “road” through the deep snow in our field—down to the lower fence and along it, to make it easier to get materials down there to work on it. He also plowed a path across the field, partway down. After lunch we locked up the heifers temporarily in the big pen below the barn, while Michael, Nick and Robbie set steel posts and put up a 2-strand electric fence across our field. This will keep the heifers from going down to the lower end, and keep them away from the fence while it’s being rebuilt, and away from Alfonzo’s bulls! We’re tired of worrying about that problem, since Alfonzo never tries to be a good neighbor, doesn’t lock up his bulls, and doesn’t care whether his bulls go through the fence into our place.

The one good thing about him being back from Mexico is that he is feeding his starving cows every day (though not enough). Those poor cows are not having to go 3 and 4 days between feedings like they did when the Amish neighbors were feeding them for Alfonzo. Some of those cows are so skinny that they will never catch up before they calve. Another skinny cow died today, down by his haystack.
These past few days our “fence crew” has been setting posts for the new fence (putting it next to the old one, which we will leave in place), thawing the frozen ground for each new batch overnight, using our half barrel “ovens” to contain the little fires. With the main corral fence finished now (and the bulls back in that corral) they can concentrate on this fencing project. It takes a bit longer to set posts in the winter, having to thaw out the ground for the post holes, but this fence can’t wait. Our young heifers are all starting to cycle now, and we don’t want Alfonzo’s bulls in with them.

FEBRUARY 3 – We had another stretch of cold weather, down to zero. With all the snow (2 feet deep now in the fields) and cold, it makes chores and feeding a little more time consuming, chopping ice on the creek for the cows’ water, breaking ice out of the horse tubs every morning. Our “fence crew” is making progress on the new fence between us and Alfonzo’s cattle. He crammed them all into the little field right next to us, feeding them there. Some of his cows are calving, and he’s lost several calves during this cold weather. No one who manages his cows this poorly should have them calving this time of year!

Michael and Nick took time out from their post hole thawing to finish hanging a gate in the back pen, then we moved the two yearling bulls (from the pen next to my horse pasture) around to that pen, where they can drink from the little stream at the back (chopped hole in the ice) and be fed in the fenceline feeder. One less chore for me!

On Saturday we had 4 inches of new snow. It had settled by the time we went to feed the cows, but there was some still on the trees and Andrea took a photo as we drove across the bridge on heifer hill to go feed the cows. They came out of the brush when we went to feed them.

Andrea put up another hot wire for Breezy, who has been chewing on her fence. On Sunday we had more snow so Lynn plowed our driveways (again) and Andrea plowed our feed trails and the route we take through the upper fields between the young cows and the older group. Even with chains on the feed truck it’s hard to get through all that snow and we have to keep our travel route plowed. After so many years of not enough snowpack (drought conditions) this year is making up for it with plenty of snow! Andrea also brought a big straw bale around for the heifers to bed on, since their old bedding was deeply covered by new snow.

That evening Lynn went in to town to pick up the kids from Mark, since Andrea wasn’t quite finished with the tractor work. Mark’s girlfriend gave him a note to give to Andrea, saying that Dani had a small lump on her head from being hit with a falling icicle that afternoon. When he and the kids arrived home for supper here, and Andrea read the note and we checked Dani’s head, it wasn’t just a lump; it was a deep gash! Dani didn’t feel good, her head hurt, and it looked pretty serious. So Andrea took her to the ER (which Mark and Dawn should have done that afternoon right after it happened). The child had a concussion and needed several staples to close up the gash. The ER doctor first took x-rays to make sure there were no loose bone fragments in the deep gash.

After Andrea brought her home she slept with Dani and woke her up and checked on her periodically through the night, as instructed by the ER doctor. The next morning Robbie took the other kids to the bus and helped me with all the feeding and breaking ice (temperature was down to zero again), and Andrea stayed with Dani—and took her back in to the doctor for another checkup (for her head, and a respiratory infection). The doctor checked on the staples in her head.
One of our neighbors slid off the road down toward the highway and her car got stuck in the deep snow. Andrea saw her walking home (on her way to town to take Dani to the doctor) and called us. Lynn drove down there, and he and Jim pulled her car out of the snow drift.

Michael got another batch of posts, and he and Nick and Robbie worked all day on the fence. The test results came back from the hay samples, showing that the nitrate levels were safe to feed, so we will be buying a couple loads of the oat/barley hay.

Andrea finished the baby blanket she was making for one of Emily’s friend’s new baby.
Yesterday and today Dani stayed with us (and slept a lot, recovering from her head injury) while Andrea and Carolyn went to Idaho Falls--to go to Andrea’s appointment with her pain doctor and to meet with Andrea’s lawyer. They stayed overnight in a motel and then went to court early this morning for a 3-hour trial for Mark. He was found in contempt of court by the judge—for not trying at all, these past 6 years, to take her name off his house mortgage as instructed in the original divorce decree. Instead of taking her name off it, he borrowed more money on that loan, didn’t make the payments, and allowed it this last fall to roll over into a 30-year mortgage with Andrea’s name still on it, tying up her credit for 30 years! The judge gave him 60 days to either sell or refinance his house to get her name off it, or go to jail.

Robbie took the other kids to the bus, Dani rested here, and Lynn went in to town mid-morning to pick Sam up at school and take her to her appointment for an ultrasound on her abdomen (to try to figure out the cause of her abdominal pain). Andrea and Carolyn got home from Idaho Falls late afternoon. This evening Michael and Carolyn and Andrea talked to the kids to explain to them why their dad had to go to court, so they would understand the situation and know the truth, before they have to spend the next weekend with Mark and Dawn and have to endure abusive repercussions (Mark blaming Andrea for all his problems).

FEBRUARY 14 – Michael, Nick and Robbie have spent the past 10 days working on the new fence and it’s now finished except for putting in the stays between the posts.

The deep snow has been a challenge; one of our other neighbors (Gordon Binning) drove too close to the edge of the road last week and got stuck in the snow. My brother Rocky pulled him out.

The snow has also been a challenge for the wildlife. A group of elk have been coming into the Gooch place above us, eating the wasted hay in Alfonzo’s stackyard (where his starving cows kept getting into it earlier this winter and left some torn-up bales). Two cow elk have been coming down every night to eat on Alfonzo’s haystack along the road from his lower field (where he stacked hay last summer on the side of the road). He bought some alfalfa hay recently and stacked it there, too, and the elk spend the night there. During the day they are bedded on the ridge above it.
Charlie and Sam have been playing in the high school pep band at all the basketball games. It’s a very small band but the kids do a great job and sound very professional. Michael, Carolyn and Nick went to their game last week—the first time they’ve been to a high school basketball game since their own kids were in high school sports. Andrea took photos of the band playing—Sam with her trumpet and Charlie on the trombone.
Last weekend when the kids were home they went snowmobiling and sledding in our back field; Robbie pulled them around on the big inner tube and they had a lot of fun. The snow is still really deep in that field where we haven’t had any cattle this winter.
Dani didn’t take part in the snowmobiling/tubing; she was visiting a friend. Her head is healing, but the gash will take a long time to close up and will leave a big scar. When the doctor looked at it again—after the swelling went down--she realized that it needed twice as many staples. It should have been attended to immediately after the accident, before the tissue around it swelled so much.

On Monday Michael plowed snow at the upper stackyard, and on Tuesday our first load of oat/barley hay arrived. The county sanded the icy road so the big truck could make it up our creek without spinning out on the hills. Michael unloaded the truck with his tractor, and then brought a couple big bales down to us on his feed truck. We started feeding it the next day, feeding it along with the alfalfa. At first we simply fed it strung out on the ground, but the cows wasted some, bedding on it. So the next day we started putting it in their feeders, and now they aren’t wasting any of it.

Robbie has been helping feed the cows, and also helps me sometimes with the evening chores, pulling the big sled full of alfalfa hay for the heifers.

We feed the heifers some alfalfa morning and evening, to supplement the big round bale in the feeder. With good grass hay always available in their feeder, and the supplemental alfalfa (for extra protein) they are growing nicely. They spend a lot of time along the electric fence, however, wishing they could get down to the bottom of the field to check out Alfonzo’s cattle that are jammed into the field below us. They come trooping up the plowed trail each evening to come to their alfalfa when we feed them.

The steer we couldn’t sell last fall, Cinnamon Bear--who had a broken leg as a baby--has been living with the heifers this winter, and he’s getting big. The lump on his hind leg is smaller and hardly noticeable anymore. He’s not lame, and if the lump reduces more as he grows, we may be able to sell him next summer. If it’s still visible (which would be an excuse for a buyer to pay less money than what he’s worth) we will eat him instead.
This winter has been colder and snowier than we’ve had for several years. Our area is above average for snow, for a change, especially in the mountains, which should mean more irrigation water next summer. The kids have had a lot of fun sledding this year. Dani and Sam have enjoyed sledding down their driveway, clear to our barnyard, and sometimes come down here to help with evening chores on the weekends. Then they can have Andrea and Robbie pull them back home with the 4-wheeler.

Today, however, the weather is warmer, above freezing. The snow is settling and it looks like we might have rain instead of snow. Maybe spring is on the way?