Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Sky Range Ranch Diary: May 18 through June 30

JUNE 1 – Last week we had a little rain. Michael drove over to Dillon, Montana last Thursday to get a load of poles for his fencing jobs, and planned to make a second trip in the afternoon, but the weather got worse (snowing on the mountain pass) and he didn’t want to risk sliding that big trailer off the bad road. He turned around and came back home, to make that trip another day.

In the rainy weather our electric fences weren’t working very well; one of the young cows (Sugar Bear) went through a fence, and during the night Willow tore down the electric fence around the top end of her pen. I fixed it the next morning, and we also moved the cows and calves around to the lower swamp pasture. When we brought the herd through the lane by my hay shed, and calving pen, I could hear a calf coughing. It was Charky. She had a snotty nose and was breathing hard. All the wet, cold weather probably made her more susceptible to a respiratory infection. We sorted out her and her mom and put them in the far pen next to the barn, since that pen has a tarp over one corner to make a little roof. On the way through the pen in front of the barn, we captured Charky at the headcatcher and gave her injections of antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory medication to help ease her respiratory distress.

By the next day we realized she had diphtheria rather than pneumonia (swelling in her throat and upper airway, hindering air passage) so we changed antibiotic and gave her a shot of dexamethasone to help reduce the swelling so she could breathe easier. One way you can tell the difference between pneumonia (infection/inflammation in the lungs) and diphtheria (infection/inflammation in the throat/windpipe) is that an animal with diphtheria will have trouble inhaling because the windpipe is restricted. An animal with pneumonia has more trouble exhaling--with more effort required to push air back out of the damaged lungs. This calf was struggling to breathe, and coughing, especially if she moved around and exerted very much. We treated Charky for several days, until she got over her cough and was healthy again.

Last Saturday we had a hard rain and a hailstorm, but Charky had her sheltered corner to get out of the downpour. I got soaking wet doing my evening chores. It was Andrea’s birthday so we all had dinner at her house. The rain had stopped by then, but her driveway was too muddy/slippery to drive our pickup up there safely, so Lynn and I drove up there on the 4-wheeler. Robbie baked Andrea a cake, and the kids had fun decorating it.

The rain and cool weather prompted us to use the wood stove again on a couple of the coldest mornings, but our chimney was plugged with soot. Robbie and Lynn got up on the roof and used a long plastic pipe to clean the chimney.

Last week the Millers turned their cows out on the range, but Alfonzo kept his in longer, feeding them some old hay and straw that he bought cheaply. He has his cows crammed into the little field above our place, feeding them in a tiny area above the ditch. Wasted hay and straw, and wads of twine and net wrap are falling into the ditch and obstructing the flow, and not much water is coming on down to our field. Frustrating. First he starves his cows during winter by not feeding them at all until late February (after overgrazing all of his fields and pastures, and several of them died of starvation) and now he’s overfeeding them some very poor quality hay instead of turning them out on green grass on the range. We don’t understand that man!

Over in our swamp pasture, two of our yearling heifers (Panda and Surprise) jumped over the crossfence to get in with the cows and calves, but we’ll probably just leave them in that group for now. I pulled up the net wire they’d mashed down and repaired the fence so no more heifers would try to jump over it.

The next day Lynn and I went to town for our appointment with the dermatologist, who froze several precancerous lesions off both of us (my face, Lynn’s face and arms). We’ve both had too much sunshine exposure, for too many years!

Dani is playing soccer this year and really enjoying it. She and a boy her age are their team’s best kickers; both of them played hockey and were good at it, and that seems to give them some kind of advantage.

The kids went on several field trips during the last weeks of school. Dani’s class went to a ranch and had fun panning for garnets. A few kids found some nice stones.

Andrea and Robbie put up an electric fence in the field below our lane, to divide off the hay field from the swampier side that we can’t cut for hay. We moved the cows to that side where they can graze for a week or so. That pasture stays wet all summer and is too boggy for haying equipment, but grows back 2 or 3 times for our rotational grazing.

Later that day Andrea and I rode Breezy and Ed to check the fence around our little hill pasture, to make sure the range cows won’t get into it. Several of the wires were off in the posts in the gully at the far corner, and we had to fix that spot.

Our water problems are starting early this year. There is lots of water in creek but not much in our 2 ditches that come through the Gooch place. Alfonzo keeps damming them off to use most of the water on his fields and isn’t letting very much come on down to our place, even though we have a prior water right for those ditches.

We have the opposite problem on the upper place, where Michael and Carolyn are trying to irrigate their fields. They have plenty of water, and are sharing their wild meadow ditch with Barb Peets (who lives on the small acreage below them, around the hill from the wild meadow). She wanted more water for her little pastures and to keep her pond full. But the neighbor below Peets, Bob Loucks, keeps sneaking into the upper place and shutting down their headgate on that ditch. He claims they are flooding him. There’s water subbing out of the ground just above his house.

The actual problem was the wet spring (lots of rain), saturated ground, and the pond that Peets’ dug 35 years ago as a swimming hole for their kids. They run their ditch into that pond, and it was very full all spring. It actually doesn’t hold water very well; some of the water seeps out the bottom. There seems to be an underground water course from that pond. When we were leasing the Gooch place (for 40 years), we started having problems with a bog near the top end of the field below Loucks’ place, after Peets’ created their pond. There was a large area that we couldn’t cut for hay anymore (the machinery would sink into the bog) so we just used that part of the field for cow pasture in the fall.

Alfonzo finally turned out his cows on the range last Thursday, so they are no longer jammed in the little field that our ditch comes through.

That evening we went to the school’s Spring Concert to hear Sam and Charlie play in their band concert (Charlie on the trombone, Sam with her trumpet), and singing in their chorus. The kids all did a great job.

A few days ago we moved the machinery and the brush pile out of the pen below the lane. The brush was from the fence rebuilding project this past winter. With those obstacles out of the way, I put the old gray horses out there to have a bit of green grass. Veggie is now 30 and Rubbie is 29. They are happy to be out on grass again. 
A couple days ago Andrea and I rode Sprout and Dottie (Sprout’s first ride this year), and then that evening I went with my brother Rocky and his wife Bev to the cemetery. We put wildflowers (a lovely arrangement Bev created) on my parents’ grave.
Yesterday Andrea and Lynn had breakfast downtown with Lynn’s sister Jenelle, his sister-in-law Nita and her daughter, and his nephew Craig (who drove over here from Washington).
Then several of them went out to the cemetery -- Andrea, Lynn, his sister Jenelle, and his nephew Craig -- to put flowers on Lynn and Jenelle’s parents’ graves.

Afterward Craig came out to the ranch to visit us, and to see Andrea’s house (which he had never seen). That afternoon Andrea and I trimmed horses’ feet—Sprout, Dottie, and Veggie. Their feet were too long, and starting to crack and break. We need shoes very soon on the ones we are riding. 

Today we patched the electric wire the deer tore down last night—before the cows got out into the hay field. Then Andrea went to Dani’s end-of-school track meet. Tomorrow will be the last day of school for the kids. They had an awards assembly this afternoon; Sam and Charlie each received music awards, and Sam got a special award from her teachers for being the friendliest 7th grader.  
All the kids are eager for summer vacation. Several of Em’s friends graduated this year (she finished her GED a year ahead of her class) and this photo was taken at graduation--of Em and her best hockey buddy (Audra) and the old gentleman who helped sponsor several of the hockey kids. 

JUNE 15 – Two weeks ago I put front shoes on Sprout; she was becoming too tender-footed and I couldn’t wait until Michael had time to shoe her.

The middle school had an end-of-school party for the kids, and Andrea took photos of the kids before they went to that event. 

That evening Andrea and Robbie took the kids fishing. The next day Dani’s friend Sekowa came out to stay with Dani a couple days. They always have a lot of fun together and Sekowa loves to ride horses. Andrea and I took the girls riding—Sam rode Breezy, and Dani and Sekowa rode Ed double. That old mare is a jewel; she didn’t mind the extra weight of those two giggling girls.

A couple days later Michael put hind shoes on Sprout, and shod Ed and Dottie for me. Breezy can probably get by a little longer without shoes, since she has very strong, hard feet and isn’t being ridden very much. 

We’re still having water problems. Bob shut off Michael’s ditch again, and Alfonzo is stealing our water before it gets to heifer hill! 

Last Saturday we moved the cows from the little pasture below the lane and put them down in the post-pile pasture. We are rotating them through several small pastures until we can get the hayfields cut and some grass growing back on those fields—IF we get enough irrigation water to get adequate regrowth.

We had a streak of hot weather, and our high snow on the mountains is about gone. Our high water is past; the creek is dropping. We hope to get the hay off a little early this year so we’ll still have enough water to irrigate the fields afterward.

Our old machinery needs lots of maintenance. Robbie took one of the balers apart last week and we ordered the new parts we’ll need for fixing it.

Last Monday morning there was a lot of bawling down in the post-pile pasture when I went out to do chores, so I hiked down there and discovered a stray calf was in with our cows. Several range cattle had gotten into Alfonzo’s field down below our place, and one of their calves had come up through our fence. The calf was very wild, and ran into the middle of our group of cattle that had come to greet me. I waited awhile until the calf’s mother’s bawling finally got his attention and he went back down to the fence. I quietly started down toward him to try to take him along the fence to hopefully find a weak spot where he’d come through, but those wild range cows took off, and the calf went ballistic and crashed over/through the fence like a wild animal.

Then I walked along the fence in the bushes and found a spot where he might have come in—and patched it with a bunch of tree branches. That morning we called Alfonzo to tell him there were range cows in his hayfield. He was unaware that the range neighbors on that side had moved their cattle into the area next to our places, and he would soon have a field full of cows because he’d left his back gate open! So he was grateful that we told him about those cows.

I’ve been letting Ed graze several hours each day in the lane by my hay shed, to gaze down the tall grass before we stack new hay in there. She enjoys the green grass!

We had a storm and very strong wind a few days ago, and it blew the tarp off the bales of hay in the pen below the lane. Now the weather has turned hot again. Michael, Nick and Robbie are very busy building fences for a lot of people around our valley, and are now starting very early in the mornings (before sunup) so they can beat the heat and get most of their work done before late afternoon.

Andrea has been doing all our irrigating again this year, trying to keep the fields green and growing—to grow our hayfields and pastures. Her dogs love to go with her as she goes around to all the fields to change the water, and I snapped this photo as they came through our driveway.

Last Tuesday Andrea took Lynn over to Missoula, Montana for his doctor’s appointment with the neurosurgeon/back specialist. After looking at the MRI results, Dr. Mack said that he would not be able to do anything surgically to help Lynn’s back; there is too much damage and deterioration. But he did prescribe some medication that he says is safer than the pain meds and Tylenol that Lynn has been taking (which is hard on kidneys and liver) and told him to try it. This is actually an anti-seizure medication and works on about half the patients who try it for back pain. Lynn has been taking it, and it does help—but he only takes it at night because it makes him drowsy. He’s getting much better sleep than he’s had for many years!

Andrea and I have been riding Sprout and Dottie a few times, to start getting them back in shape again. When we came home from a long ride Wednesday afternoon, we repaired some old fence along the lane above the post-pile pasture and let the cows in there for a couple of days, since they were running out of grass. Then we let the cows graze our stackyard above the corrals for one day.

Alfonzo and Millers finally moved their cattle out of the low range pasture and took them to the middle range. Then we were able to move our cows to our little hill pasture above our house. We always have to wait until the range cows are gone, to make sure no bulls try to come through the fence and breed our cows. We don’t put our bulls in with our cows until late June. We don’t want our cows bred this early, or the fence torn down. We especially don’t want our cows bred to Alfonzo’s bulls because that would put our cows at risk for several diseases that we don’t want in our herd.

Andrea, Sam and Dani and I rode over the low range to make sure there were no range cattle left behind in the low pasture, and didn’t see any, so we went ahead and moved our cows and calves to the hill pasture. I took this photo of Dani as we were looking for stray cows.

Robbie and Andrea helped Lynn haul water troughs up there, and finally got our old pump started—and pumped water for the cows from our ditch across the road. Andrea made sure there was enough water in the ditch, early that morning, but just before we started pumping, Alfonzo changed the water in the field above us and the water flow cut down drastically—and was also murky and brown from the tail water coming into it from the filthy pasture where he’d confined his cows to feed them! So our cows had to contend with dirty water, their first few days on that hill pasture. 

Robbie got our baler put back together after we had the plunger welded, and hopefully the old thing will work better than it did last year. Lynn loaded manure from our bull corral for David Yoder (who brought down his little trailer) for his garden. 

Charlie took his second level test (now that he has earned his ham radio operator’s license) and passed it, so now he is determined to take the highest level test.

On Sunday Emily drove out here to take photos for young Heather and her fiancĂ© for their wedding invitations, and showed us her new car. She borrowed $8000 at the bank (her first loan, to start establishing her credit) to purchase this 2008 Chevrolet. It is in really great shape and gets good mileage, and is bright red—her favorite color.

Day before yesterday the range cattle next to our back field were pressing our fence, and that evening we could hear bulls bellowing and fighting. We went down there to make sure they hadn’t crashed through the fence, and they were dispersing by the time we got there. But the next morning when Andrea went down there to change water in that field, she discovered that cattle had knocked the fence down and gotten into our field. They’d mashed down some of the hay. Andrea propped the fence back up again.

Andrea, Dani and I rode that afternoon and chased some range cattle away from the fence. That evening Robbie helped us set some steel posts in the fence to hold it up.

Andrea has a very sore, red eye, ever since a branch hit her in the eye when we were riding through some brush. She went to the eye doctor, who sent her to an eye specialist in Idaho Falls, so she and Carolyn drove over there early this morning. Andrea was able to go to the eye doctor late morning, and then to meet with the court-appointed mediator in the custody case.

The mediator met with Andrea, and with Mark (separately, in another room) and tried to encourage them to work out some kind of compromise so this case won’t have to go to trial. The mediator was very good, and Andrea was willing to make some concessions (and let Mark off easier on his contempt of court judgment and give him more time to get her name off the mortgage without him having to sell his house) but Mark refused to budge. I guess he’d rather spend thousands of dollars on a trial trying to save a few hundred dollars in child support! He doesn’t really care about the kids (and his girlfriend hates them) and this whole battle seems to stem from the fact he wants to take the kids away from Andrea and not have to pay child support! We’d hoped for a miracle and some kind of peaceful resolution without having to go to court, but we are not surprised that the mediation attempt didn’t work.

JUNE 30 – What erratic weather! The last couple days have been in the 90’s, while just two weeks ago we had morning temperatures below freezing! The weather was so cool for several days that the cows on the hill pasture didn’t drink much water and we only had to pump water for them three times to fill the tanks while they were on that pasture. One of those mornings it was so cold that Lynn and Andrea had trouble getting the pump started.

The range cows on the other side of our place have been pressing our fence along the back field, and last Saturday Michael, Robbie and Justin (the high school graduate who has been helping on their fencing jobs) built a sturdy jack fence along the lower end of that field so the range cows can never push the fence over again. There’s a spring there that keeps the ground boggy and it’s hard to keep posts upright when the cattle keep reaching and pushing to get through the fence, which they always try to do when the range grass is dry or gone. They want to get into our green fields. The jack fence should solve the problem.

The next day Andrea and Robbie set steel posts along the ditch in our field above the corrals, and put up a hot wire so we can graze the strip along the ditch like we did last year. We put the cows there when we brought them down from the hill pasture, and put the yearling heifers (from the upper swamp pasture) with them.

Willow went under her hot wire again. She’s always reaching under it for grass, even though it’s 4 strands of electrified tape. She got clear under it and then couldn’t figure out how to get back, and was stuck between the electric fence and the boundary fence of her pen. I rescued her, but two days later she did it again. That time she was stuck in the little corner by the crab-apple tree.

We have the tree fenced out of her pen because we don’t want her eating all the apples (fallen and reachable ones) when they ripen, since overeating on them can cause colic. So, I took down the hot wires and extricated her, and moved her to another pen (our extra calving pen next to the house). She can live there until we rebuild her fence with no-climb netting—something she can’t chew on--so it won’t need to be augmented with electric wire to keep her from destroying the wood fence. She is too smart, and figures out ways to nibble right next to an electric wire without getting shocked.

Andrea has been diligently irrigating, trying to keep our fields growing, but she’s been constantly short of water on our shared ditches that come down through the Gooch place. Alfonzo keeps using his share and some of ours, too. Last week she was very short of water for heifer hill and hiked up the ditch to see what was wrong. She found that Alfonzo had stuffed a bunch of net wrap and hay twine in the ditch to divert the water out before it could come down to our place. She spent about 30 minutes digging and pulling about 80 pounds of saturated junk out of the ditch and headgate, and strained her shoulders and back.

Alfonzo has been using his little tractor to make lots of small ditches out of the big ditch, to take more water out. A few days ago he parked his little tractor on the hill above the country road. It seems to have a bad battery and he has to roll it downhill to start it. The next morning the poor little tractor was upside down in the field. It had apparently rolled down off the hill, across the road, through the fence and tipped over next to the ditch.
Lynn started cutting hay, on our back field across the creek. Andrea went with him for a few rounds, to show him where the wet spots were, to avoid getting stuck. She had to move a newborn mule deer fawn out of the tall hay; fortunately she saw it before he swather ran over it. It was so tiny and new! The mama came back for it and found it; Lynn saw them together a little later. 

Last week Bob Loucks called a big water meeting at his house, theoretically in an attempt to resolve the water issues but more obviously to tell us all what he wants us all to do regarding our own ditches. He told us he would have a lawyer there to interpret the legal aspects, but the lawyer refused to come (Bob doesn’t have any legal right to stop Michael and Carolyn from using their decreed water right). Bob also wanted us all to go to regulation so Michael and Carolyn would have to shut down their water use, but the creek is not that short yet. We agreed to share our ditch water with Alfonzo 50-50 until we actually go into regulation (at which time we would have the prior right) but the very next day Alfonozo took all our water again! I’m afraid this is going to be another stressful summer on Withington Creek. 

We had all the kids here for dinner Thursday evening when they came home from their week with Mark. On Friday Dani and I rode Dottie and Ed and checked the 320 pasture gates and the fence between us and range cattle. I took photos of Dani on Ed as we were heading out to go up Baker Creek, and again on the way home as we passed the colorful rock outcroppings on lower Baker Creek.

Charlie spent the weekend at a ham radio workshop at Rocky’s place and had a great time. Now Charlie plans to learn Morse code along with everything else. 

Saturday Andrea started baling hay down below. We moved some hay out of my hay shed and rearranged the rest so we could start stacking. Lynn finished cutting heifer hill and field below it. 

Sunday morning Michael and Carolyn brought their trailer down and hauled our spare 3-year-old bull (Lightning Strike) and their yearling bull up to the upper place to put the yearling with their heifers and young cows and our big bull with their older cows. Then we sorted our herd and put our 3-year-old bull (Thunderbull) with our cows and calves. We took them to the little pasture above our house, and put our yearling bull with the yearling heifers in the orchard. The grass in there has grown nicely and is about 2 ½ feet tall. It might hold them for a few days and then we’ll put that little group in the horse pasture.

Michael came down that afternoon and showed Robbie how to run our old stackwagon. They stacked 4 loads of hay in my shed. Meanwhile, Lynn was trying to grease the swather before heading out to cut hay below the lane, and discovered a serious problem that needed fixed. Bob Minor was going to Idaho Falls the next day for sprinkler parts and picked up the bearings and parts we needed, to fix the swather.

Range cows broke through Rocky’s fence on his little acreage on the upper place, and were getting into his garden. Michael and Carolyn helped get them out, and Rocky propped up the fence. Those cows are pressing our fences all along that back side—for 3 miles—because they are hungry for green grass. They need to be moved to their next pasture.

These past two days have been really hot. Andrea got most of the hay baled on heifer hill and then the baler broke down just before she finished. Robbie worked on it that night and got it working again, so yesterday she finished baling that field and the little field below it. Dani and I rode Ed and Dottie, so Dani could get a ride before she has to go back to her dad for a week.

With the swather fixed, Lynn started cutting the hay below the lane, and after Robbie got home from helping Michael on a fencing job he stacked hay. So maybe we will eventually get our haying finished!