Thursday, December 22, 2016

Diary from Sky Range Ranch – November 14 through December 19, 2016

NOVEMBER 20 – Last Monday morning Lynn was very ill, with diarrhea that started in the night. After a couple doses of medication he was doing better by afternoon but it took a few days for him to fully recover. He slept nearly all day Monday, so Andrea did all of his town errands that day (mail and groceries, etc.) and he simply rested.

Andrea and Robbie had to make a fast trip to Idaho Falls that afternoon for Andrea’s pain doctor appointment and didn’t get back until late that night. On the way home they encountered a wrecked car; someone had run into a deer and totaled the car. We hope no one was seriously injured.

The next day Andrea and I rode Sprout and Dottie up to the 320 even though it was windy and rainy. We made sure all the cows were in the lower/middle section and shut the gates in the division fence. If the weather gets cold (to where the troughs freeze up) or snowy, the cows need to be in the lower part. It can be really difficult to get around on horseback on the Baker Creek canyon when the mountainsides are frozen. They’ve eaten almost all the grass on that side anyway, so it was time to shut the gates and lock them out of the canyon. There were only 6 cows on the ridge on the wrong side of the fence, so we were able to get them moved fairly easily before we shut the gates. We took a couple photos after we shut the gates, then we rode home down the ridge, since it was the shortest way home.

grandma & Dottie on 320
Andrea & Sprout on the ridge after checking cows
On the way home the wind and rain was hitting us in the face and Dottie wasn’t very happy about that. She kept trying to buck coming down the ridge, but I kept her under control as we hurried home. She needs a lot more riding to become fully dependable in all kinds of weather!

That same afternoon Michael, Carolyn and Nick tried to catch their 5 horses that have spent the summer and fall on the 160-acre pasture. They want to move them to Cheney Creek for the winter, but the horses were feeling sassy and didn’t want to be caught. They’ll have to wait and move them another day.

horses on the 160-acre pasture

Wednesday Charlie stayed home from school, sick with a fever and sore throat. The calves have started climbing into the round bale feeder to reach the core of the bale, rather than eating the hay right in front of them. They are walking on good hay with their dirty, manure-covered feet! We mashed down the core that they keep reaching for, but now that they’ve learned to get into the feeder they just keep doing it. We’ll have to find a different way to feed them or keep them from getting through the slots into the feeder.

Thursday morning the temperate was down to 19 degrees. I broke ice on the heifers’ water tank then let them drink it down to where I could dump and rinse it, then refilled it and we plugged in the electric tank heater (using an extension cord from the barn). Andrea and Lynn got a different feeder for the heifers (one that was up in the field, that they thought had more narrow openings) but discovered that the slots are nearly as wide, and the heifers will still be able to crawl through.

Lynn and I went to town for our flu shots, and Andrea took Charlie to the doctor (his sore throat worse) and the doctor prescribed an antibiotic. When we got home we put a new bale in the feeder after moving the feeder to a clean area and spreading what was left of the hay out and around so the calves won’t waste it. If it’s all in one big pile they bed on it and poop in it, and then won’t eat it.

That evening Andrea went to town to meet with Rock and Bev to plan the benefit dinner and auction for Bev’s grandson Nyck, age 22, who has had kidney problems from childhood and now needs a kidney transplant. He has been undergoing dialysis for several months, waiting hopefully while the doctors try to find a match for a kidney donor. Nyck was living with Rocky and Bev this summer, making multiple trips to Salt Lake and to Idaho Falls for doctor appointments, and then had to move to Idaho Falls when he started the dialysis, since it couldn’t be accomplished at the hospital here.

All of this has created additional expenses for the family, so the benefit dinner and auction is to help raise money to assist them in this situation as we all hope and pray that a donor match is found soon, since Nyck’s condition is deteriorating.

Friday was cold, down to 15 degrees, so Andrea and Carolyn went up to the 320 on a 4-wheeler to break ice on the big round tank. There were several elk in the 320 with the cows, and the gals met up with a hunter hiking down through them.

He said he saw several stray cows up on the high range. Earlier this fall (before Alfonso went to Mexico for part of the winter) Alfonso told him to watch for cows if he was up here hunting, because there are still some out there that haven’t been rounded up. Alfonso had been running extra cows on the range for 3 different guys, which is illegal.

The heifers ran out of hay in their feeder so Lynn and I brought a couple little bales of grass hay around from the haystack to feed them until we could start the tractor (it needs plugged in overnight in cold weather) to get another big bale.

Lynn getting bales from haystack
Lynn taking bales to heifers

A few days ago Lynn tried to start the stove in the living room. With the cold weather, our kitchen stove wasn’t warming the whole house, but the living room stove (which we hadn’t used since last winter) started smoking badly and Lynn had to put out the fire he’d started in it.

Yesterday was warmer. We were able to drain the hoses in back yard that had frozen. Amish neighbors from around the hill stopped by with a Thanksgiving plate of cookies and fruit. Robbie helped Lynn clean the chimney and we debated whether to continue using that old stove (which always soots up the chimney and clogs it) or try the pellet stove that Lynn’s sister gave us when she took it out of her house earlier this year.

Yesterday evening Sam and Charlie played in the pep band for the basketball game. On one of the songs the drummer got off rhythm on a difficult tune and stopped, and soon everyone stopped playing. Charlie—the only trombone in the band—just kept playing, and finished the song with a very long “solo”, after which everyone cheered.

Some of the heifer calves are still climbing into their feeder, even though I knocked down the center core of the round bale so they can reach it.

heifer in feeder

They waste a lot of hay, pooping in it, so I tied twines around the top of the slots, hopefully making it so they can only get their head and neck through the slots and not their whole bodies!

Lynn decided to try the pellet stove, so Robbie helped him get it out of the old barn/shop where we’d stored it, and lighted it up out in the driveway to see if it would work. Here’s a photo of them trying it out. It seemed to do ok, so Robbie and Andrea will help Lynn move out the old stove and put this on in. This kind of stove won’t soot up the chimney, and it will be easier for Lynn to not have to carry wood into the living room to keep the fire going at night. The big disadvantage is that pellets cost more than firewood!

trying out new stove outside-before putting it in our livingroom

NOVEMBER 26 – Charlie and Dani stayed home from school sick last Monday after coming home sick from the weekend with their dad.

Andrea has been working diligently on contacting many local businesses to tell them about the need for items to be donated for Nyck’s benefit auction. Our small community gets hit hard with these kinds of requests because the need is great—with so many people that don’t have insurance (or adequate insurance) and great medical needs. But the wonderful thing about a rural community is how much people care, and a lot of them are willing to dig deep and help their friends, neighbors and even strangers.

The next afternoon Rosalie’s heifer was in the feeder tromping on the hay. She’s the biggest heifer in the group and had never been in the feeder before. When she tried to get out, she didn’t choose a big slot and went out a small corner slot, and her hips got caught and she was stuck. I couldn’t get her to back up, so I called Carolyn and she drove down to our place, and with her help, along with Lynn, Andrea, Dani we were able to tip the feeder up enough to change the angle and the heifer was able to pull free. Then we spread the rest of the hay from the feeder around in about a dozen piles and moved it to a clean area. Two days later after they’d cleaned up all the hay piles we gave them another bale in the feeder—and I tied baling twines around and around the top portions of the slots so they couldn’t get their bodies up through the slots to climb in the feeder.

The cows were about out of grass on the 320 this week so Tuesday Andrea and I rode up there on Sprout and Dottie, and Carolyn met us up there on her 4-wheeler. We called the cows down and rounded up the high ones off the ridge.

bringing some down from the ridge at top end of 320
bringing cows down
Then we took them down to the road pasture along the upper place. Andrea and Carolyn followed them, while I rode down to head them through the gate into the road pasture. There’s a lot of grass along that hillside by the road, and it will last for quite a while, if it doesn’t snow under.

bringing cows down from 320
Grandma & Dottie heading the cows through gate to road pasture

Charlie has been doing a few odd jobs for us to earn a little money. Yesterday he filled the wood box and picked up all the elm branches in the front yard that have blown down this fall. Today Charlie mowed the tall grass in the yard, so it won’t obstruct our view of the calving pen next April.

Today Michael and Carolyn shut off all their ditches on the upper place (now that Gary finally took the locks off the headgates). All the ditches need to be shut off completely before the weather gets cold and they’ll make ice flows over the fields.

This evening we had our Thanksgiving dinner (belated) at Andrea’s house. It was a nice family get-together and we were glad that Emily’s dad could join us, too.

DECEMBER 6 – The heifers managed to stretch the baling twines and started climbing into the feeder again, so Michael and Robbie welded some metal bars across the tops of the slots so they can’t fit through. This is a more permanent solution!

feeder with bars welded across top of spaces
Emily’s dad, Jim Daine, is here for a month or so (after finishing the guiding season in the back country) working on his antler lamps in the shop he set up last winter in our old cow-camp trailer. He is staying at Andrea’s house and comes down every morning to work in his shop, and graciously fills our wood box every morning—a chore that has become difficult for Lynn to do—bringing wheelbarrow loads to the house from our woodpile across the driveway.

Andrea and Lynn spent some a lot of time last week in town, gathering donated items for the benefit auction for Nyck. The local community is very supportive at times like this when people need help.

We bought some barley hay (big square bales) from a neighboring rancher. His son and hired man delivered two semi loads here to our place on Tuesday, and Lynn unloaded it with our tractor. He had to gather up 5 bales along our driveway (that tipped off the first load when the driver pulled in) and it took until after dark to get it all stacked. They delivered two more loads to the upper place (for Michael’s cows) on Wednesday and this time used straps on that truck to hold the hay on. It looks like good hay, and we’re glad they were able to haul it before our roads got really snowy and slippery. It snowed again the next day, so that was good timing for the hay hauling.

Friday night we went to the dinner and auction and there was a pretty good turnout. A wide variety of things were donated for the auction, and it went well.

Saturday afternoon Andrea and I rode to check on all the cows on the road pasture and at that point they were doing fine, with a fair amount of grass left.

Andrea checking cow on road pasture
Sunday it snowed all day. The whitetail deer are ganging up and eating on Alfonso’s haystack next to the road, just below our place. Every time a vehicle goes by, they dart across the road and are at risk of being hit. They are also eating our haystacks, so Lynn and Robbie put the plastic netting around our haystacks again.

plastic netting around alfalfa bales to keep deer out
That evening we had dinner for the kids after they came home from Mark’s place, and Dani read us a story she’s writing.

Yesterday was cold, down to 2 below zero last night. Robbie and Andrea tried to shut off ditches again (the ones that were leaking, that they weren’t able to shut off properly when Gary refused to take the locks off the headgates after we were done irrigating—waiting until mid-November to unlock the headgates).

That afternoon I found our boxes of tree decorations and sorted all those old ornaments. We don’t decorate a tree anymore (we just enjoy the one that Andrea and kids decorate at their house each year). I gave some of our old ornaments to Andrea, and to Michael and Carolyn, and some for them to take up to Heather and Gregory in Canada for their first Christmas together.

Today we have more new snow and very cold weather. We’re feeding everyone more hay. Here’s a photo of Buffalo Girl waiting for her morning feed, and a photo of the heifers enjoying their feeder full of hay—without being able to climb in it anymore!

Buffalo Girl
heifers can't climb into feeder anymore
With the snow and cold, it’s time to bring the cows down to the fields to feed hay.

DECEMBER 19Michael and Carolyn and Carolyn’s mom drove to Saskatchewan a week ago Wednesday to visit Heather and Gregory for a few days and take Christmas gifts. It was the first time they’d been up there to see their place. They enjoyed a tour around their grain farm, and visits with Gregory’s family. They helped Heather and Gregory with a young calf that had inadvertently been weaned (catching the calf to tube feed it and get it back with mama again). Nick stayed home to do their chores while they were gone.

The day they left to drive to Canada was bitterly cold and snowy. Nick broke the creek ice for the cows on the upper place twice that morning. Some of the cows weren’t grazing on the hill (the only grass left is very high on the hill and the snow makes it harder for the cows to graze) and we decided it was time to start feeding them. Andrea and Robbie loaded some little bales on the blue flatbed truck that afternoon and we drove up there to feed in the wild meadow. The cows were grateful and came trooping from all directions and down off the hill when we called them. Nick hiked up the hill and followed some of the ones that were slow to come, then he went to break ice on the creek in the next field upstream, for their horses.

We had a flat tire on the way back up the road from the field, so we drove to Michael’s house hoping to just put air in it, but the tire was old and ruined and we had to change it. While Robbie borrowed tools and found another old tire to put on the truck, Andrea and I went into the house to keep warm, and put more wood in their stove.

When Nick came back from breaking ice he noticed that someone had been there; he saw the chair pulled up next to the stove, and wood had been brought in. He freaked out for a few moments, thinking someone had come in and made themselves at home, and he was wondering if they were still in the house! I called him later to tell him we’d stopped there to change the tire.

Because of the flat tire we were slow getting back home so Lynn got the kids from the school bus, and I ended up feeding horses in the dark. Emily stopped by on her way home from work, just as I started doing chores. She wanted a chance to pet Buffalo Girl, since we will eventually be butchering that old cow. Buffalo Girl has been her special pet—ever since that spring (nearly 13 years ago) when Em was 6 years old and Buffalo Girl was an orphaned calf that Em fed on a bottle. They formed a special bond. Here is a photo of Em and Buffalo Girl as a calf, and a photo taken 2 years later when Em was 8 years old and Buffalo Girl was a 2-year-old heifer that had just had her first calf.

Emily & Buffalo girl as calf
Em & Buffalo Girl as a 2-year-old cow
Here are photos taken a few days ago when Emily was saying hello to her old friend. No matter how much time passes between visits, that old cow always knows Emily, and that girl is the only person Buffalo Girl is truly comfortable with up close and personal.

Em & Buffalo Girl
Em petting her old friend

The next day was well below zero so we decided to give the cows a full feed of hay. Andrea and Robbie had to drive to Idaho Falls that day for her pain doctor appointment, so Lynn and I helped Nick feed one of the big square barley hay bales that was already loaded on Michael’s feed truck (they’d planned ahead and left it loaded with hay just in case we had to start feeding while they were gone to Canada).

Andrea and Robbie didn’t get home until late so Lynn got the kids from the bus again. That evening Sam and I went with Rocky, Bev and Aaron to their church Christmas dinner and program, where Rocky was Santa Claus for the little kids. With his white beard and twinkly eyes, he looks just like Santa, and when kids pull on his beard they know it’s for real and he’s really Santa!

brother Rocky as Santa Claus

Last Friday we took both feed trucks up the creek after chores. Nick had lured all the cows from the wild meadow up into the corral with Michael’s feed truck (that still had one big bale on it). While Nick and Lynn fed off half that bale in the wild meadow, Robbie, Andrea and I sorted the cows and brought ours down the road. Lynn joined us; he and I followed the cows in our old truck while Andrea and Robbie lured the herd down the road with a couple little bales on the old blue truck. After we were safely over the hill with our herd, and out of sight, Nick let the other cows out of the corral, to go eat their hay. We put our cows on heifer hill and fed them the two bales.
cows enjoying a little hay
There’s still some grass in that field and we hoped the cows could graze it for a few days, but that was too much to hope for. The next day it snowed all day and it was impossible for the cows to graze anything but the tallest old grass along the ditch banks, so we had to go to a full feed of hay for them.

Nick used up the last of the hay on his truck and brought it down here, where Lynn loaded a big square bale on it from our stack—enough to feed their cows on the upper place for 2 days, until his folks got home from Canada. While Lynn had the tractor started, we put the blade on it, and chains, and he plowed our driveways.

On Sunday Dani and her friend had fun playing in the snow with the dogs. They hitched the dogs in a make-do harness, to pull their sled.

Dani teaching her dogs to pull a sled
A little later, Dani and Sam and two friends who were staying with them for the weekend all came down here with their dogs, to help feed. I took pictures of them, and of Andrea’s house across the creek on the hillside.

kids & dogs helping feed
Andrea's house across the creek from heifer hill

That afternoon Mike Davis called us on his cell phone from up on the mountain. He’s a neighbor at Baker who hunts cougars with dogs. He’d turned his hounds loose on a big cougar track that morning, and when he went up the ridge a little ways he saw fresh wolf tracks in the snow; several wolves were in that same area. He feared for his dogs—since wolves love to kill dogs—and had to catch up with them before the wolves found them. Once they get on a fresh cougar track, however, they don’t quit, so he needed to get up there faster than hiking. He called us, wondering if he could have someone open the locked gates so he could drive up through our place with his track machine (that can go anywhere in the snow). We put him in touch with Nick, who loaned him the various keys to get up through our mountain two pastures. He was able to catch up with his dogs in time, before the wolves found them.

Andrea, Robbie, kids (and their friends) and dogs went up creek later that afternoon to get a Christmas tree. The kids rode on sleds, pulled behind the blue truck. They got back just at dark with their tree. I took photos as they drove past our porch, but in the dim light and cold weather my camera wasn’t working very well and the photos are a bit blurry!

coming down the driveway with kids on sleds behind truck
Andrea, dogs and tree
unloading a sled and rearranging the trees

Michael and Carolyn made it home from Canada late Monday night. It was stormy and they had bad roads on the last part of their journey.

I went to the skin doctor Tuesday, and he cut a growth off the top of my left hand and put in several stitches. He put a big bandage over it, which made it hard to get my hand in and out of coat sleeves and impossible to put on a glove. Andrea helped me do chores and redid the bandage the next day so it’s not so bulky and I could get my coat on and off and wear a big glove. At these temperatures (down toward zero) and lots of snow, I need to be able to wear a glove!

I drive the feed truck every morning while Andrea feeds the hay off, and then check through the cows while she breaks ice on the creek so they can get a drink.

cows eating
Andrea going to break ice
Weather continues cold, and was snowing every day. There was so much new snow Thursday morning that school was closed. The kids enjoyed having a chance to be home one more day before going out to their dad’s for the weekend, and decorated their tree. Dani helped Andrea and me feed the cows, and enjoyed sitting on the big bale.

Dani on the feed truck
Dani on the hay
When we got back from feeding I took photos of some of the horses, including Shiloh and Sprout, and Dani petting her young mare Willow.

Dani & Willow

Friday we had more snow, and wind. It’s a chore every morning breaking ice for the horses and cattle. Andrea helped me feed the cows, then drove to town for her physical therapy. She was going to get some groceries and do other town errands but she got a call from Emily, who was stuck in the snow at her place of work (near Tendoy) after driving her boss’s jeep to the post office at Tendoy to mail their orders for the day. Andrea called us, and we told Jim (who was working here in his shop). We sent a couple shovels and a tow rope with Jim, who met Andrea at Baker on her way out from town, and they went up to Tendoy to dig the jeep out of the snow.

When they got back Andrea loaded some little bales from our haystack to bring around to the bulls and some for Buffalo Girl (we’ll wait for warmer weather before we butcher her) and then we took 3 bales to feed the cows. Temperatures were predicted to drop well below zero that night and we wanted the cows to have extra feed. Lynn took a bale feeder around to the swamp pasture (where we’ll be putting the young cows) and a big round bale of oats and peas, while Andrea and I fed the cows. We barely got back up to the road from the field without getting stuck. We loaded another big hay bale on the feed truck for the next day, and while we had the tractor running, Andrea and Lynn brought a straw bale around for the heifers to bed on in this cold weather, while I fed the horses.

We were hoping the snowy weather would clear up for a day or two so we can delouse the cows. They are rubbing and itching. This cow is licking at the lice on her underside, trying to get rid of the itch!

cow licking & itching

Saturday morning the temperature was 16 below zero but came up to 5 below after the sun came up. Andrea and Robbie helped me break ice out of all the horse tubs at morning chores, then Robbie put chains on our feed truck so we can get around out in the fields in 14-inch deep snow. We shoveled snow away from gates in the corral so we can open or shut them, and brushed snow off the poles of the chute alley so snow wouldn’t fall down on the cows when we put them through the chute. We lured them down from the field with the feed truck, then put them through the chute to delouse them.

They have to be dry for the delousing application (a thick liquid poured along the top of their head, neck and back, that oozes down through the hair to kill lice). We hadn’t had a chance to delouse them after we brought them down from the hill pasture because it’s been stormy and snowing. This was the first clear day so we deloused them, and then sorted them into their winter groups. We put the cows back up to the fields above the house and fed them with the feed truck, then put the heifers and young cows (the ones that will be having their first and second calves) in the swamp pasture where we put a big bale feeder. We can keep hay in front of those young cows all the time and they will get what they need, instead of having to compete with the older cows. This way the young ones can make it through the rest of the winter assured of getting their share of the food and won’t lose weight before they calve.

Cows eating hay
cows having breakfast
It got cold again that night, down to 17 below zero before midnight, but warmed up a little toward morning. Only 5 below zero today!

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)

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

If anyone would like to order some very special inspirational books as Christmas gifts, I also have some of my father’s books [the late Don Ian Smith].  His series Meditations from the High Country includes:

By the River of No Return - $12
Wild Rivers and Mountain Trails  - $12
Sagebrush Seed -  $12
The Open Gate - $12
Short People Need a Tree to Climb - $12.

When ordering one book, add $3 postage; for several books, add an additional $1 per book for postage.  You can buy all 5 at a discount, for a total of $50 instead of $60–plus $7 for postage.