Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Diary from Sky Range Ranch – September 8 through September 30, 2016

SEPTEMBER 15 – We’ve had a preview of winter with a few cold nights and freezing temperatures.   Last Friday Andrea took Dani to town at 7 a.m. to get on the bus to go to her first cross-country meet. That kid loves to run and their little team is doing well.

Dani running
Dani at cross country meet

Andrea and Carolyn have been busy working on various things to assist the lawyer for the custody trial. On the weekend, Charlie went with Steve Harris to work on the ham radio tower on Baldy Mountain and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Eric Simonson, the government trapper, came out to the ranch that day and we showed him photos of the wolf-killed calves up Baker Creek. He will start checking the area more frequently to try to apprehend the wolves.

On Saturday, friends from Ontario, Canada (John and Joan) came by to visit, on their way back home from a trip to Washington State. They’ve been reading my column in Grainews for many years and wanted to meet our family and see the ranch. We had a delightful visit with them and fed them lunch. They brought us a box of peaches and a big bag of apples from Washington.

Sunday morning something must have spooked Carolyn’s yearling filly, Peaches, because she jumped out of the horse pasture above the wild meadow (where she was living with her mother-Carolyn’s old mare Thelma) and got out on the road. Several boys on bicycles came down the road, and one of them was chasing poor Peaches as hard as she could run. Fortunately she didn’t try to jump the cattle guard and hurt herself, but instead made a sharp turn off the road and ran up the lane to Michael and Carolyn’s house. Carolyn witnessed it all from her window and was upset that someone would be that malicious. The little filly was exhausted, panting with her tongue hanging out, when she arrived at the horse corrals at the house. Carolyn ran outside and let the filly into one of the corrals.

I cooked a big dinner Sunday night and fed the kids, but they all came home from their dad’s place sick (with bad colds). We had an extra guest at dinner. Mark Sheehan, the guy who ran the Zamboni at the Sun Valley ice rink where the kids played hockey the past several years, came through here on a trip to Montana with his motorcycle and sidecar and stopped by to visit.

Monday morning Andrea and Carolyn drove early to Idaho Falls to meet with the lawyer to prepare for the custody trial. We fed the kids supper again after Lynn got them off the bus after school, and Nick brought Dani home from cross-country practice.

Tuesday was the court case. Before it started, however, the Judge talked to kids, and they told him they didn’t want any changes, especially not for the school week, since that would too disruptive if they had to be at their dad’s place part of the school week.

Yet the judge was swayed by Mark’s lawyer (who insisted that Mark needed more “opportunity to be a parent”) so now Mark gets them for 3 days each weekend instead of 2, and has them for twice as many weekends as Andrea does. Mark also gets another 30 months to continue to try to refinance his house and get Andrea’s name off the mortgage, and doesn’t have to spend any more time in jail for contempt of court. He was found in contempt of court earlier this summer because he was ordered to get her name removed from his mortgage when they were divorced (nearly 7 years ago) and had made no attempt to do so.  

Yesterday we moved the cows to the swamp pasture and they were happy for new grass. We’re hoping we have enough green grass left until we can sell the calves and then take the cows up to our 320-acre mountain pasture.

SEPTEMBER 22 – Last Friday Andrea and I rode Sprout and Dottie to check our 320 to make sure no range cows had gotten in.

Andrea riding Sprout through the 320 to check gates and fences
After checking our fences and gates, we rode up through high range and took photos of the very skinny cows. It’s a shame that Alfonso and Millers haven’t taken very good care of the range and their cattle this year; they didn’t keep the water troughs working, so the cows congregated in the few areas that still had water. They also moved the cows to the high range almost a month too soon, and they ran out of feed too early.

neighbor's skinny range cow
Our neighbor (Jack) below us with the first water right on the creek quit irrigating for this season. We no longer have to supply water to him and can use a little more of our 2nd right, which has been reduced for several weeks. Hopefully we can get the rest of our fields irrigated before freezing weather.

On Saturday Michael and Carolyn went to watch Nick run in the cross-country marathon at Challis, and he came in 1st in the men’s division. Andrea and Robbie took out the steel posts and hot wire along our lower field so cows can clean up the edge next to the horse pens.

The Amish and Alfonso rounded up their cows off the range that day, with 22 riders. They brought the cattle over the top from Baker Creek into Withington Creek, brought them down Withington Creek into the 160-acre pasture next to our upper pasture, and sorted the cows there. They cut a hole in fence and brought the cows down the road in several sorted bunches, putting Alfonso’s cattle into the Gooch place, and brought Millers cattle on down past our place. They had those cattle grouped in such compact mobs they ran into and damaged the fences and crashed the telephone boxes next to the road. We don’t understand why they move cattle in that fashion, jammed together in a tight mob, since cattle travel so much better if you let them string out, the way they travel naturally. Then the cows can keep track of their calves, traveling as pairs, and not getting upset wondering where their calves and mamas are.

That night it started raining, and we were glad for the moisture!! It rained through Sunday morning. The storm cleared off by afternoon, however, which was nicer for our preg-checking and vaccinating the cows and putting nose flaps in the keeper heifers. We locked the big bull in a side pen and put poles across the two gates (low spots) so he wouldn’t try to jump out, and put the yearling bulls in the swamp pen next to their corral—so we could use both corrals for sorting/holding cattle.

Michael, Carolyn and Nick came down to help when Dr. Cope arrived at 2:30. We preg-checked and vaccinated the cows and Bangs vaccinated the heifers. After we finished with our cows, Dr. Cope went up to Michael and Carolyn’s place to do theirs, and Robbie went up to help them. Andrea and Dani helped me and Lynn sort ours—putting the two open heifers and the yearling steer in a pen to send to the sale. We put the 9 replacement heifers (with nose flaps) and their mothers in the field below the lane and put the other cows back up in the swamp pasture. Andrea helped Lynn get a few bales of hay to feed the yearlings in the corral. The nose flaps are the best way to wean calves because they don’t have to be separated from mom—so it’s not stressful. They just can’t nurse, so after a few days the cow dries up her milk and the calf is weaned.


nose flap keeps calf from nursing
calf with nose flap
On Monday Michael hauled the yearlings and our big bull to Carmen Creek (the other side of town) to load on a semi of cattle going to the sale. Andrea helped me bring the rest of the cattle back down to the corral where we sorted off our bred keeper heifers and left the cows with calves to sell in the corral and hold pen and fed them some hay. The brand inspector came out late morning to inspect the calves.

Early Tuesday morning Michael and Carolyn came down with their calves in the trailer and we added our 11 calves to make a full load. They hauled the calves to the sale at Ramsey (near Butte, Montana) but had a flat tire on the way. They got there later than planned, which meant the calves sold late in the sale and didn’t sell as well as calves sold early in the sale. But they did fairly well, considering how bad the market and how young those calves are (born in April).
Andrea and I rode that afternoon to see if the neighbors left any range cows hanging on our fence, but several riders that morning had gathered up the strays—and we didn’t find any left behind. The high range is almost denuded of grass, from their overgrazing, however.


Andrea checking condition of the high range
On our way home down the ridge toward our place, I took a photo of Andrea as she rode past the corner of our hill pasture above the house—and the little maple tree that the kids named “Mable” several years ago. Mable was in glorious golden splendor, now that her leaves have turned color.

Andrea riding past Mable
Yesterday we put a little more hay in the feeder in the corral so that when the cows come down into the corral bawling and looking for their calves they can have something to eat.

Emily’s dad, Jim Daine, came over from Montana and brought about 200 pounds of packaged elk meat for Emily, to store in our freezer for her and for us.

Today we had a little more rain. The dry grass on the hills is actually starting to green up, so we may not need protein supplement for the cows when they are on the 320 later this fall.

The new parenting schedule set up by the judge isn’t working very well, with the kids going to their dad’s place on Thursdays right after school instead of Friday evening. Mark and his girlfriend grab the kids out of their classes, and don’t want Andrea there for the exchange, even though she has to bring them their things for the weekend that are too cumbersome to bring on the bus and won’t fit in their lockers. She also has to bring them their prescription medications (for their asthma, etc.) for the weekend because it’s illegal for them to bring medications to school. Another problem is that they can’t get their homework done at their dad’s house. They always were able to do their homework on Fridays, until now. Many of their classes require use of the internet, which Mark does not have at his house. They come home tired on Sunday night and still have most of their homework left to do.

We seem to go from one problem to another. Today we went to court house for a hearing regarding our neighbor’s trespass water development on our property.


SEPTEMBER 30 – Last Friday one of the heifer calves lost her nose flap, so she was still nursing her mother. She’ll have to be weaned again!

On Saturday Andrea and Robbie drove to Boise to attend Dani’s track meet. Nearly 300 kids in her cross country race (from multiple schools) and she came in 158th place—in the center of the pack.

Dani in race
cross country team
Dani at cross country
On Sunday we put more hay in the feeder in the corral and sorted out the 3 cows to sell (Magrat and Emerald are open, and Cub Cake is old and has a bad udder). We left them in the corral after we brought the 9 pair in from field below the lane and took the nose flaps out of the heifer calves. We put the calves in the pens below the calving barn where there’s good grass, and put their mothers back up in the field by Andrea’s house with the other cows.

Sunday afternoon Lynn and I went up to Rock and Bev’s place and enjoyed a couple hours looking through a few of mom’s old diaries. We had a great visit, and also found the dates we put in the original water system for the house that my folks later sold.

Monday we moved the heifers to the orchard pasture. They are enjoying more room and more grass. The Brand Inspector came to look at the 3 cows in corral and later that day Michael and Carolyn loaded those cows (with their 4 open cows) to haul to the sale in Montana.

On Tuesday Michael, Lynn and I all went to Dr. Carrington (skin doctor) to have various lesions checked and removed. Michael had a lesion on his nose that has been gradually getting worse for at least 2 years. Dr. Carrington sent a biopsy to be checked, since he suspects it is malignant.

Andrea and Carolyn had a conference call with our lawyer regarding the problems with the new custody schedule and how it is negatively affecting the children and their ability to get their homework done on the weekends they are with their dad. We may eventually have to revisit this issue in court and ask the judge for a better resolution.

Then Andrea irrigated (with the little bit of water we still have) and went to town to pick up Dani after her running practice. Michael and Carolyn put their cows back into the corral, took the nose flaps out of their heifer calves, and hauled the heifers down here to our place. We will winter their replacement heifers with ours again.

Lynn went to the bus to pick up Charlie. When I did chores that evening Rubbie was lying down behind some tall weeds in her pen and didn’t get up when I went to feed her. I walked over to check on her and discovered she was very ill with colic and didn’t want to get up. She’d been sweating but the sweat under her belly and thighs was cold and clammy. Her gums were purple-gray instead of bright pink, and she had very slow capillary refill, meaning that she was dehydrated and in shock.

I went back to the house and alerted Lynn to the fact that she was very sick, and I gave her an injection of Banamine (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory that also helps ease pain). She then got up briefly, but staggered out to the middle of her pen and plopped down again. I hoped that her pain might be relieved enough that I could lead her out of there and take her to the pen in front of the house where she’d be easier to monitor and treat through the night if necessary.

But she didn’t improve. She rolled, and lay on her back in an effort to relieve the pain in her gut. Andrea got back from town with the girls and helped us get Rubbie off her back and in a more comfortable position. Lynn called Michael and Carolyn, who came down to our place and brought a couple horse blankets to put over her, to keep her from chilling, since by then it was starting to get dark and cold. I gave Rubbie an injection of dexamethasone, to try to help alleviate some of the effects of shock, and Michael gave her an IV injection of Banamine.


Rubbie in pain from colic but on her feet after the injections
We called our vet and left him a message, and he came out about 8:30 p.m. The medications we’d given the mare eased her pain a little—enough that she got up briefly a few times—but the relief was very temporary. The fact that her condition was continuing to deteriorate did not bode well.

Rubbie in pain from colic but on her feet after the injections
Dr. Hayden gave her additional medication, checked for gut sounds (very few) and then did a rectal exam and determined that there was some displacement of the gut. All of these signs, plus her age (29) didn’t make for a very good prognosis. Rather than try to keep her going and just prolong her agony, we opted to end it. We tearfully said goodbye to her while Carolyn went home to get Michael’s pistol, and he mercifully ended her life.


saying Goodbye to Rubbie
We covered her body with the horse blankets until we could bury her the next day, and staggered off to bed, exhausted.

We’d always figured that Veggie would have to go first, being older and more crippled up with arthritis. I wasn’t going to try to get him through another winter. We’d worried about how Rubbie would react to his absence, since they are so closely bonded and have never been able to cope with being apart. Now Veggie will have to cope without her.

He knew that she was gone, after we put her down, but he wasn’t frantic, thanks to having Shiloh as a buddy in the next pen. Thank goodness we’d made a pen for Shiloh right next to the old gray horses, when Shiloh arrived last year. Veggie and Rubbie were spending the summers together grazing, but these past few winters I’ve had to separate them because Veggie eats so slowly that Rubbie would have eaten most of the hay. So they had gotten used to having an electric fence between them, and not being together.

Wednesday we had to move the cows to the 320, so early that morning Michael put front shoes on Captain for Carolyn to ride. Andrea and I sorted our cows again. We left 6 of them here on pasture—the ones that we will sell later as bred young cows—to cut down the herd and cull out some that we know will eventually have bad udders. We rode Sprout and Dottie and started moving the main herd up the road to go to the 320. We wanted them to go slowly since it’s a long trip, uphill several miles, and weather prediction was for a very warm afternoon (mid 80’s); we didn’t want them to get too hot and tired.

We had a hard time getting them past the old Gooch place, however, without losing some of the cows through the bad fence along the road. We had to hurry them, because they wanted to go into the fields and join Alfonso’s cattle. It was a miracle that we got past several sections of fence that were leaning over or completely flat; Alfonso still hasn’t fixed the flat fence where his tractor coasted off the hill and went through the fence. Carolyn joined us on Captain as we went by the upper place. Michael went on ahead with his 4-wheeler and opened the gate from the corral as we approached, so their cows could come out on the road with ours, and he drove on up the road to head the herd up the big draw toward the 320.

Our cows were wearing out by then, and some were very hot and panting, breathing with their mouths open. They still wanted to go too fast, however, so we made them stop and rest a couple of times while they climbed up the hill to go over to Baker Creek.


letting the cows rest before they start up the hill
climbing up the hill
Then we let them rest a little at the top before they headed down into Baker Creek.

Carolyn & Captain letting the cows rest a moment at the top

taking the cows over the hill to Baker Creek side of the 320
The dry grass up there is looking better, with a little green regrowth after the rains. The cows were happily grazing as they started down into Baker Creek. We probably won’t have to buy any protein supplement. We just hope the grass will last several weeks before we have to bring them home to feed hay.

grazing as they went over the hill to Baker Creek
Michael started the backhoe during heat of the day (it won’t start when it’s cold) and brought it down early afternoon to dig the hole in Rubbie’s pen and bury her. We will bury Veggie right beside her in a few weeks, because we plan to put him down before the weather gets very cold. His arthritis is bothering him a lot and I have to give him a daily dose of bute to alleviate the discomfort. He’s still a bit stiff, but without the bute he is so lame he can hardly walk. The time has come—when quality of life diminishes to this point—that it’s kinder to let them go. As someone once said, when considering timely euthanasia, its better a week too soon than a day too late.

Veggie and I comforted each other while Michael was preparing the hole to bury Rubbie; we had our own private memorial on that beautiful fall afternoon.


Veggie & me comforting each other as Michael buries Rubbie
Veggie alone now

Those two horses had long, full lives, and we will miss them; those two old grey horses are the last of our babies that we raised. Veggie’s mother was Andrea’s first horse, and his grandmother was my first foal (Khamette) born in 1959. Khamette’s mother was Scrappy, a little black mare that my dad bought from Lynn 10 years before we were married, and Scrappy was a foal at side when Lynn’s dad bought her mama (Misty) when Lynn was just a little boy, 68 years ago. A lot of family history, coming to a close with this final chapter.

Yesterday Andrea and I rode again, making a fast trip up the ridge to the 320 to check on the cows we put up there, and check the gates and fences.


Andrea and Sprout crossing Baker Creek to check cows in 320
The cows were doing fine. Our yearlings and Michael/Carolyn’s yearlings and two-year-olds were all hanging out together, happy to see each other again. They spent winters together at our place and being together again on fall pasture was like a big reunion!

That afternoon Alfonso hauled several trailer loads of cattle up to his 160-acre pasture next to ours and then cut the fence again to bring them down the road. We found out later he had a wild cow up there that came down off the range, and he couldn’t bring her on down the creek with his horse because she was too wild. So he took a bunch of cows up there to put with her so he could bring them down in a herd.


Michael and Carolyn took 3 blocks of salt (in their little pickup) to the 320 yesterday evening for our cattle, and a chain saw to remove the old aspen trees that blew down over our jeep road in the bottom of Baker Creek. They got home just ahead of a rainstorm. A little more rain would certainly help our dry grass!



If anyone would like to order some of Heather’s “critter stories” books as Christmas gifts, here’s information about her three most recent books and she’d be glad to provide autographed copies.

Ranch Series by Heather Smith Thomas

Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch (the original book in this series) is a collection of 22 stories about the horses that helped define the author’s life in Idaho ranch country. Press release stated: “Horse Tales is a unique memoir infused with the brand of wisdom that can be acquired only through an existence built around livestock and the land. Thomas centers each story around a specific animal, along the way sharing lessons on life, family and stockmanship.” 282 pages, paperback. $24.95

Cow Tales: More True Stories from an Idaho Ranch (325 pages; $24.95) was published in July 2015. The press release from the publisher states: “Following the success of her acclaimed nonfiction collection Horse Tales…Cow Tales is an entertaining and compelling line-up of autobiographical essays detailing her family’s adventures raising cattle in the challenging ranch country outside Salmon, Idaho. In the tradition of James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small), each story centers on a particular animal or aspect of animal husbandry, offering insight into the resourcefulness required to manage a cattle herd, and a heart-warming look at human-animal bonding.”

Ranch Tales: Stories of Dogs, Cats and Other Crazy Critters, the third book in this series, was published December, 2015 (273 pages, $24.95) and consists of stories about memorable ranch animals and wildlife. “Each humorous, heartwarming and insightful tale is centered on the unique bond that forms between people and the animals—livestock, pets and wildlife—that populate a working ranch.”

Order any of these books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or from the publisher: The Frontier Project Inc. (phone: 719-237-0243) thefrontierproject@gmail.com

Signed copies are available from Heather Thomas, Box 215, Salmon, Idaho 83467 (208-756-2841) hsmiththomas@centurytel.net [price: $24.95 plus $3 postage – Idaho residents add 6% sales tax. For all three books - $70 plus $7 shipping]





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