Monday, March 28, 2016

Ranch Diary: February 14 through March 14, 2016

FEBRUARY 23, 2016 – Last Tuesday Michael, Nick and Robbie worked on the fence project to replace the old falling-down fence along our lane. Michael used the backhoe to dig out the rest of the brush, chokecherry trees and old fence posts. Lynn went to town that afternoon for a doctor appointment to have his hip checked. The doctor wants him to have an MRI to try to figure out the problem.

The next day Andrea, Carolyn and Dani left early in the morning to drive to Pocatello for Dani’s appointment with Dr. Christensen, the psychologist who has been evaluating Charlie and his progress (working with Charlie’s high-functioning autism) over the years. The custody evaluator (in the court battle between Mark and Andrea) wanted Dani evaluated regarding her social adjustment and recent problems in school. Dani has been having a hard time dealing with the stress of the on-going custody battle, which has been going on for more than a year now, ever since Mark re-opened the custody case wanting to take the kids away from Andrea. This mess has been very hard on everyone emotionally, especially the children.

Robbie helped me feed the cows that morning, and then helped Michael and Nick work on the fence. They got the rest of the new posts set before lunch. Lynn got the other kids off the bus after school and I fed them all supper, since it was late evening before Andrea, Carolyn and Dani got back home from their trip.

It rained in the night and the next couple days were very windy. The weather was terrible on Thursday, with wind, rain and hail, and the guys decided not to work on the fence. Andrea took Dani to the doctor to have the staples removed from her head gash, which has now healed fairly well. This was the deep gash from the icicle falling on her head, out at her dad’s place a few weeks ago—an injury that was belatedly treated/stapled at the ER, the night Andrea got the kids back from Mark (and took Dani to the hospital), since Mark didn’t take the child to a doctor.

With all the rain, our snow is melting and flooding everywhere. Andrea and Robbie spent several hours shoveling and ditching the water that was washing out Andrea’s driveway. The storm abated a little by Friday and the guys worked on the new fence again, putting the net wire on it.


They got that project finished, and started sawing out the brush in Fozzy’s old pen by the creek, so we can refurbish the fence around it and move Sprout into that pen. It’s a lot bigger and she’ll have more room, and some trees for shade. We can then move Rishiam into Sprout’s pen and free up the pen where he’s been living for a year and a half. We need his pen again for calving.

On Saturday Lynn got a phone call from a guy who needed a well site located, so he drove out to that place, near the airport, to water witch. On his way down the creek, he saw one of Alfonzo’s cows stuck on her back, unable to get up. He was about to try to go find Alfonzo, then Alfonzo showed up with his horse to rope the cow and pull her upright again so she wouldn’t suffocate.

The next day Sam got up early and went to church with her cousin Heather. Andrea and Robbie helped me feed, then started the tractor and took more big bales around to various groups for their feeders, and reloaded the feed truck. The heifers were glad to have new hay in their feeder.

Michael and Carolyn drove their truck down for some more big bales of alfalfa, and brought us 2 more big bales of oat hay.

Yesterday the kids didn’t quite get ready for school in time and missed the bus so Andrea drove them clear to school while Robbie helped me feed the cows. I cooked a big lunch for my fence crew again. They burned the big pile of brush/trees they sawed out of the creek pen, and started re-establishing the hot wire around the old jack-fence. 

Sprout will need the hot wire to keep her from chewing on the wood fence. The fire was still smoldering that evening but it was down to ashes and coals, and it wasn’t windy, so we figured it was safe to leave it. By this morning the remains of the brush pile were all burned up.

It’s been cold the past few mornings, and down to 8 degrees again this morning. The guys finished restoring the old electric wire around the creek pen, and rehung the gate, and I fed them lunch again. Andrea helped me trim Rubbie and Veggie’s long feet. They hadn’t been trimmed since early winter and their toes were much too long. I took photos of their long feet before we started trimming.

In the afternoon Lynn drove to town for his MRI. The technicians were able to view both hips at once, so he didn’t have to make two trips through the machine. On his way home he picked up stays (for the new fence between our place and Alfonzo’s cattle) and also bought electric wire insulators for the refurbished creek pen. The guys finished that pen this afternoon, and hung a new gate in the driveway fence.

Then they rehung one of the gates in Sprout’s old pen so it would be higher off the ground and not be so difficult to open when there’s snow on the ground. 

MARCH 5 – Last week our second load of oat/barley hay arrived, and Michael unloaded the truck at the upper stackyard with his tractor. The muddy conditions made it difficult for the big truck to get back out of the stackyard but Michael was able to pull it partway and then push it the rest of the way out to the county road with his tractor.

 The next day we worked cows. Michael and Carolyn vaccinated theirs early in the morning, luring them into the corral with their feed truck. They were finally able to get Alfonzo’s wild heifer captured and loaded into their stock trailer. She came into their field last fall when Alfonzo and his friends were rounding up his cattle off the range, ramming and jamming them in a big mob through the upper road pasture, and pushed her through the fence into the neighboring range. She crawled through that fence to come in with Michael and Carolyn’s cattle because she didn’t want to be all by herself. A few days later Alfonzo came back up there with his horse and tried to get her out but she was too wild and he gave up. Michael and Carolyn told him they would bring her home the next time they had their cattle in the corral. She refused to cross the creek, however, after it iced over last fall, and stayed by herself on that side for a while even though the other cattle went back and forth.

She was wild and goofy and they simply let her live with their cattle all winter, eating hay. This was the first opportunity to capture her, on the day they put the whole herd into the corral to vaccinate the cows with their pre-calving shots. But knowing how wild Alfonzo’s heifer is, and realizing she would try to crash the fence or jump out, the first thing they did was herd her and another cow into the trailer. The old gentle cow led the heifer into the trailer and then turned around and came back out, enabling them to slam the door and contain the wild heifer. After they vaccinated their cows, they hauled the heifer home to Alfonzo’s place.

Meanwhile, we rounded up our two groups of cows at feeding time, luring them down to the corrals with the feed truck. Dani helped follow the herds in from the fields. We were ready to vaccinate them by the time Michael, Carolyn, Nick and young Heather finished with theirs and came down to help us. Dani helped Nick and Heather push the cattle through the chute and Nick gave her some pointers on where to position herself, to encourage a cow to move forward in the chute.

After vaccinating our two groups and letting them back out into their respective pastures, we lured the 17 yearlings in from their field, with a little hay in the sled, and brought them around to the corral. We vaccinated, deloused, and tagged the heifers, giving them their permanent brisket tag numbers, dehorned the two that had horns. Andrea took pictures of Michael tagging Panda Bear and dehorning her.

We took that group back to their field, and then vaccinated the two yearling bulls from the back corral. We got it all finished by lunch time and I fed everyone lunch.

Michael, Robbie and Nick put the stays in our new fence at the lower end of the heifer pasture—the property boundary fence between us and Willard Colston’s place. We told Willard in January that we were rebuilding it and that he would be responsible for his half of the expense. We recently sent him an itemized list of the cost, and a bill for his half. Idaho state law says that adjoining property owners share the labor/costs of their mutual boundary fence. Willard responded by saying he would not pay it because he didn’t think a new fence was necessary. We had told him earlier that the old fence (built in 1967) was no longer adequate; we’d patched in many times over the years but some of the old posts were rotted off. Then during the past 5 years of Alfonzo leasing Willard’s place, Alfonzo’s cattle pressed it very hard, reaching through it to eat grass on our side when they were short on feed, and one of his cows jumped over it. We had a bigger problem with Alfonzo leaving his bulls next to our heifer pasture, with risk of bulls coming through/over the fence to try to breed our heifers. A good neighbor does NOT put bulls next to someone else’s open heifers! For multiple reasons, it was time to build a new fence—with or without Willard’s blessing or participation.

For the past month and a half, Alfonzo has been feeding his cows (and bulls with them) next to our heifer pasture, and a few days ago when I was walking through our heifers I took a photo of him feeding right below our new fence. Even though we also put a hot wire along our side to keep our heifers farther away, we can now rest easier knowing that Alfonzo’s bulls can’t come through our new fence.

On Saturday Andrea and Robbie used the chain saw and brush nippers to cut off all the little stumps that were left in the new pen after cutting down the brush, to make sure nothing sharp would injure a horse’s foot. Then they put Sprout into that creek pen, and moved Rishiam into Sprout’s old pen. Now we have our extra “calving pen” available again. I took photos of Andrea leading Sprout around to show her the new pen, taking her down across the creek, and Breezy watching her new “neighbor”. Breezy is still doing well with one eye—wearing her protective face mask to shield her good eye from too much sun.

It snowed off and on that day, and we were glad we did all the cattle work the day before when it was sunny and nice.

 We had several days of snowstorms and colder weather again, then melting snow and mud. Andrea had to move some of the big bales (with the tractor) to a different area of the stackyard because they were in water, and had to do it early one morning while the mud was a little frozen, so she wouldn’t get the tractor stuck.

Michael, Nick and Robbie worked on a couple more fence projects, finishing up one end of our second-day pens near the calving barn, and tearing out the old falling down fence in the hold pen at the end of our running chute, in the corral—to rebuild it.

Then we had terrible wind and blizzard Tuesday night, with new snow. The wind blew some empty water tubs across the lane, blew hay (laid out for the horses’ morning feed) a hundred yard, ripped and blew the tarp off the heifer hay that was stacked below the lane. We had more floodwater coming down the draw behind Andrea’s house when the snow melted, so Andrea and Robbie spent several hours shoveling and diverting it.

 Michael has been really miserable these last few days with an abscessed wisdom tooth. It needs to be pulled, but the dentist put him on antibiotics for a week before it can be pulled. He took a couple days off from fencing because he’s been in such pain.

Our smallest yearling heifer, Raindrop, was lame with foot rot, so we brought her in and pushed her into the chute with one of her buddies, and gave her injections of antibiotics. She’s walking better today. Andrea took another new bale down to the heifer feeder.

The past 2 days we’ve been cleaning house and getting ready for guests. Pete and Bev Wiebe are driving home to Canada after spending part of winter in South Carolina with the Mennonite Disaster relief group, helping rebuild homes. They planned to come through here and spend a few days with us before continuing their trip home to British Columbia. Yesterday Sam and Dani helped Lynn and me clean house (and Andrea worked on cleaning her house), while the guys finished setting the posts and hanging the new gates that go across our driveway. I took photos of them – open and closed.

These replace the old wood panel and broken aluminum gate that we drug across the driveway to block it every time we moved cattle back and forth from the calving pen to the barn and from the maternity pen to the field below the lane. I fed the guys lunch but Michael was somewhat limited on what he could eat, with his tooth really bothering him.

Today we were finishing up the house cleaning, expecting Pete and Bev to arrive this afternoon. Then this morning we got an e-mail from them just as they were leaving Salt Lake City, to let us know they were sick with a bad flu bug and had decided to drive straight home and not risk bringing sickness to us.

We continued cleaning house however (getting rid of piles of old magazines and newspapers) and after chores this evening we went up to Andrea’s house. She had prepared a big lasagna dinner in expectation of having Pete and Bev and all of us, but instead we just had a nice dinner to celebrate our anniversary (this was the 50th anniversary for Lynn and me). It was a nice evening, enjoying family around us, reflecting back over the many years here on Withington Creek—through good times and adversities—grateful for our wonderful family. Andrea’s friend Anita had baked a special cake for us.

MARCH 14 – Last Sunday morning was warm, 38 degrees. The snow continued melting, without a freeze to slow down the thaw. When Andrea, Robbie and I fed the cows that morning there was water coming into the irrigation ditch from the big draw behind Andrea’s house, overflowing into the lane by the creek and starting to wash it out. We had a shovel in the feed truck and spend a few minutes diverting it, then after we fed the cows Andrea and Robbie walked down the ditch at the bottom of the field to divert the water to the creek so it wouldn’t wash out the ditch. By midday there was a lot of water running down the draws on the other side of the canyon and filling the ditches along the Gooch place. The water was coming on down into our ditch and flooding across heifer hill. There was so much water that if left unchecked would create a gully across our field. Andrea, kids and Robbie had gone to town for a friend’s birthday party and Lynn headed off to try to fight the flood. I called Nick, who came down and met him at heifer hill, to help him put in a dam and divert the water down to the creek so it wouldn’t wash across our field or come on down into the next field.

On Monday Michael, Nick and Robbie finished rebuilding the fence in the little crowd pen at the end of our running chute, setting the gate posts in concrete and hanging a metal gate there to replace the old broken wood panel. I took a photo of their completed project, and while I was over there at the corral I also took a photo of one of our bulls—Thunderbull (coming 3 year old, son of Old Freddy).

I cooked lunch for the fence crew. Andrea brought more big bales around for the heifers with the tractor and tried to smooth out the deep ruts in our driveway. The mud is bad this spring! That night it snowed again, and we’ve had a little rain off and on, so it will take a while to dry out the mud.

Michael, Nick and Robbie had planned to start a custom fence job near Baker the next day, but postponed due to bad weather and Michael’s painful tooth. He’s now on a stronger antibiotic to try to clear up the infection (he had an earache and fever). On Wednesday the dentist pulled it, but he’s still been very miserable and unable to eat—trying to subsist on a liquid diet and still work on the custom fencing job. He’s doing a little better by today.

Some of our cows are starting to show more udder; it will soon be time to bring them down from the field to the maternity pen. They are due to start calving the first of April. Yesterday evening Dani and Andrea walked up through the big group by Andrea’s house to look at them.

They all had supper at our house after Andrea got the kids back from Mark. I was finishing chores as they got here, and Sam and Dani helped me feed the heifers with the new cart that Robbie made. He bolted one of our hay sleds (the one with the metal bottom) to a little 4-wheeled cart. It’s a lot easier to pull than a sled, now that the snow has melted, and holds more than any of our wheelbarrows. Andrea took photos of the kids helping feed with the new “cart” and on our way back to the house I took photos of one of our old cats.

The old gray horses stayed fat this winter, thanks to the alfalfa hay, which was easy for them to eat, with their bad teeth. Now they are starting to shed their long winter hair. Yesterday I took photos of their scruffy look, with patches of long hair missing.

They have just about made it through another winter! Veggie is 30 this spring and Rubbie is 29. We hope they’ll have another good summer.