Friday, December 9, 2016

Diary from Sky Range Ranch – October 20 through November 14, 2016

OCTOBER 31 – Last week Michael, Nick and Robbie went up the creek with two trucks for more firewood. They are cutting firewood for us, and some extra to sell. The weather has been warm—melting off the earlier snow--so they want to get the rest of the firewood before the road gets treacherous again to drive up there.

Sam and Charlie have been playing in the pep band at all the basketball games at the high school. They are both doing very well with their music.

Lynn and I attended Ron Kruger’s funeral; he was a good friend and the husband of one of my favorite high school classmates. Ron died suddenly last week with a massive stroke. He will be greatly missed.

Last Sunday Michael put new hind shoes on Dottie and Sprout. I had put new front shoes on them a few weeks ago but they needed their hind feet trimmed and reshod; their hind feet were getting long and the shoes were worn out.

That afternoon, before deer season closed, Em drove up the creek and shot her deer. Andrea helped her gut it out, hang and skin it.

Em & her deer
While Andrea was helping Em with the deer, Lynn went to town to pick up the kids from Mark and we all had dinner here.

Monday morning I discovered that the heifers above the house have no water and had probably been thirsty for more than a day—ever since Gary (the watermaster) decided to let Alfonso have more water on the Gooch place above us (3rd right) even though our 2nd right was still short. Alfonso diverted a lot of water out of the creek and our ditches below that diversion cut down, and the ditch to the field for the heifers stopped running. We called Gary and told him we needed water in that ditch. When he came out that afternoon he found that Alfonso had 40-plus inches of water coming out of his ditch instead of the 10 inches Gary had allowed him, so he shut that ditch down a bit. This left more water to come down the creek and into our ditch for the heifers.

That afternoon Andrea and I rode Sprout and Dottie to the 320 to check our cows and they were spread out nicely. We checked the various gates to make sure they were still closed, since it’s still hunting season.

Andrea & Sprout
When we checked the upper end of Baker Creek, however, we realized that we need to get the top trough working again. The cattle all come down in there at once to drink. Thus they have to try to drink out of the small pools in the little creek—and end up going down the stream to find enough water. From that lower elevation, they can’t go back out to the ridge as easily because they are too far down Baker Creek. 

The daytime temperatures have been up to 60 degrees, which makes it nice for the cattle; Baker Creek isn’t freezing up yet, so at least they are able to get a drink nearly anywhere along that tiny stream.

On Wednesday Lynn, Andrea and Carolyn took 4-wheelers up to the top trough to fix the problem. They took a couple tanks of compressed air with them, and blew the dead toads out of the pipeline, and got the water running again. That evening Andrea cut and wrapped Em’s deer.

Thursday Andrea and I made a fast ride to the 320 and checked the top trough, and got a few leaves out of the spring-box so it won’t plug up again. We also moved a few of the low cows back up to the top of that pasture where there’s more feed left.

Andrea & Sprout moving cows up Baker Creek
moving cows up Baker Creek
We paused to let the cows rest, halfway up Baker Creek, and saw some elk on the hillside toward town. Sprout was intently watching the elk when I took this photo.

Sprout watching elk
After we got to the top and checked the water trough, we hurried home down the ridge so Andrea wouldn’t be late to pick up the girls from school.

After supper that evening we got a phone call from Carolyn telling us she’d called 911 to have the Sheriff come out. Their nearest neighbor, Tom Peets, has been opening their gate at night, at the cattle guard. He put a note in their mailbox a few weeks ago telling them they should leave the gate open for the convenience of the Amish who drive up and down the road with their buggies. The gate must be left closed, however, because sometimes Michael has cattle grazing that pasture, and it also serves as a security block if horses or cattle get out of the fields and come down the road. It the gate is closed, they won’t go on down the road and get into the neighbors’ yards or fields, or go clear down to the highway and cause an accident.

So Michael and Carolyn have kept closing the gate and Tom Peets keeps opening it. Tom doesn’t have any reason to use the gate (he doesn’t go through it with a horse) and the Amish understand why gates need to be closed, and they don’t have a problem with it. But Tom has taken it upon himself to try to make Michael keep the gate open. That evening he called and threatened to pound Michael into a pulp and Michael told him to just meet him at the gate. Carolyn called 911 and 2 deputies came out, but Michael and Nick had already met up with Tom at the gate and told him it was none of his business and that the gate has to be kept shut. The deputies also explained to Tom that the gate does need to be kept shut, since it is a property boundary and keeps livestock from going on down the road.

Yesterday Andrea made jerky (from the elk meat her friends Jade and Anita gave her) and also cleaned the leaves out of the ditch in the field above our house. We had a big windstorm the night before that blew a lot of leaves off the trees, and the fallen leaves plugged the ditch. We need that ditch running awhile longer, to water the heifers.

Today another neighbor, Alan Bodenhamer, called us with his cell phone from above our 320. He was elk hunting and wounded a bull elk that he thought might drift down into our place. He was asking permission to hike in there and look for it, and maybe go in there with horses to get it out. We told him that would be ok, and that if he needed to come through our gates we’d be up there to let him through the locked gates. Sam and Dani rode with us that afternoon to the 320 to check our cows. Andrea and I took photos as we all rode up the ridge.

girls riding Oct. 30
Andrea taking photos as we rode to 320
girls riding to 320
I took more photos as we went through the gate into the 320 and another photo after we got through the gate, while Andrea was checking the shoe on Ed’s hind foot. Ed’s shoes have been on a long time and we were afraid that one was getting loose.

going through gate into 320
Andrea checking Ed's shoe
As we got up toward the Baker Creek crossing we heard a shot from somewhere near the top of the 320, and realized that Alan had probably seen the wounded elk again and was able to get another shot at it. We hoped he was able to finish it off, so we hurried on up the creek to check our cows and try to figure out where Alan was and find out whether he needed to bring horses in to get the elk.

going up Baker Creek we heard a shot
going on up Baker Creek after we heard the shot
We checked cows along the way—on the hillside toward town and up through Baker Creek. I rode up the hillside and Andrea and girls went up the bottom and saw two cow elk hiding in the timber. We got to the top of the 320 and didn’t see any sign of Alan or his bull elk, or the horses he and his hunting party were riding, so the girls and I waited on the ridge by our gate and I held Sprout while Andrea hiked on up into the high range to try to see where Alan was. She found Alan’s son and daughter-in-law, and their horses tied in the timber, and talked to them for a few minutes; Alan was hiking around trying to find the elk. While the girls and I waited, Sam and Dani had a snack. Andrea always brings cheese sticks and crackers in her saddle bags, and the girls were hungry.

Sam snacking while we wait on the ridge
Alan didn’t find the elk he wounded. That one was probably the young bull we saw (as we waited on the ridge) going out of the 320 and over the hill toward town, with 3 cow elk. We also watched a group of 12 elk on Mill Mountain, just above where the 4 head went over the hill. Earlier today Alan and his son saw about 80 elk going over the top (at the head of Baker Creek) toward Withington creek, followed by a huge cougar.

We dewormed the 4 horses when we got home from our ride, and will deworm the rest of them soon—to have them dewormed before winter (deworming this time of year kills any worms in their GI tract and also any bot larvae). It’s raining tonight.

NOVEMBER 7 – Last Monday Michael, Nick and Robbie brought us another load of firewood; we’ll have enough now for us and Andrea for the winter. 

Sammy, Dani and Charlie came by to trick or treat and we took photos.

Halloween kids
Halloween kids with grandma & grandpa
Tuesday afternoon Lynn got Sam and Charlie off the school bus and they stopped here on their way home, to say goodbye to Veggie and pet him. Andrea and Dani came home from town later, and spent some time with Veggie too.

Wednesday we moved the 6 sale cows and Buffalo Girl from the field by Andrea’s house to the little field above our house, where there’s more green grass left. The grass is nearly all gone where they’ve been grazing.

That evening was Dani’s birthday party at a game arcade in town. We bought several pizzas, Andrea bought cake and ice cream, and Dani invited most of the kids in her 6th grade class and a few other friends. The kids had a lot of fun playing various games.

Dani & birthday cake
Dani sampling cake

We’ve had some cold weather—several nights down toward 20 degrees. On his way to go help Michael and Nick on a fencing job, Robbie discovered a freshly killed deer along the highway. There are so many deer hit by cars that the Fish & Game Department now allows people to salvage them, as long as they report the incident. Robbie gathered up the road kill and brought it home, and headed back to work. Lynn and Andrea gutted, skinned and hung it up. This will help make up for one of the deer that the kids didn’t get a chance to shoot (since they were at their dad’s place during the weekends of deer hunting).

Friday afternoon Andrea and I rode Sprout and Dottie to the 320 to check cows. They are still doing ok, but everything is frozen in Baker Creek. There is no sunshine in most of that canyon now—the sun never gets above the rim of the canyon from mid-November until mid-February—so Baker Creek is frozen. But the top trough is still running so the cows still have water.

While going up Baker Creek to check the trough, we saw more than 80 elk just outside the 320—the most elk we’ve ever seen on our side of the valley in one bunch. We took a few photos of them, though there were too many—too strung out—to get them all in the picture.

part of the elk herd
another part of the big herd
Andrea took more pictures with her camera as we came back down on the ridge.
Andrea taking photos of elk

We dewormed Willow and Shiloh when we got home from our ride that day.

Saturday was very cold. I fed the weaned heifers a little hay that morning; their pasture is getting shorter and they were bawling; they didn’t want to eat frosty grass and they were very eager for the hay.
With the cold weather, I gave Veg extra bute that evening, to try to ease his painful arthritis.

giving Veggie bute
Em came out to say goodbye to him and spent about an hour with him. He was her first horse buddy, so it was nice that she had a chance to spend time with him.

Yesterday we put him down –after Andrea and I picked him some green grass (we found a little that was still green) and we took photos of him.

Andrea & Veggie
Michael brought the backhoe and his pistol, and buried Veggie beside Rubbie at the top end of their pen.

He had a long, good life, but it was time to let go and release him from his pain. Even though we love our animals and keep them going as long as we can, when quality of life diminishes to this point, it’s kinder to let them go. As someone once said, when considering timely euthanasia, it is better a week too soon than a day too late. Veggie won’t have to suffer the misery that Rubbie did, in her last few hours. It’s best to put him down now, rather than in the agony of colic, or after going out some cold morning to find him down on the frozen ground unable to get up.

Those two old horses had full lives and we miss them; they 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. Andrea’s mare Khamir had Veggie when Khamir was 13 and Andrea was 16; Andrea helped me train little Veggie when he was a foal, giving him leading lessons.

Khamir's 1st foal - Veggie as a newborn baby
Veggie & Andrea when Veggie was a baby--first leading lesson
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 came to a close with this final day for Veggie [the full story of his life, and the horses before him in that family, can be found in my book Horse Tales].

Andrea & 30-year-old Veggie
Andrea saying goodbye to an old friend
After we buried Veggie, Michael used the backhoe to clean the buildup of manure away from the fence in Shiloh’s pen and I put up a new hot wire to keep her farther away from that fence. We moved Sprout to Veggie and Rubbie’s old pen. Sprout has been living in the creek pen next to Breezy, and it will be nicer to have her in a pen where I can water her in a tub and not have to break ice for her at the creek this winter.

That evening Andrea went to town to get the kids from Mark and we had supper here when they got back. Our friends Walter and Jodi from Durango, Colorado arrived late afternoon and had supper with us. They are staying at Andrea’s house a few days.

Today was warmer. It barely froze last night, and the temperature got up to 50 degrees this afternoon. Andrea took Charlie and Sam to school at 4 a.m. to get on the choir buses to go on their chorus trip. She went along on Sam’s bus as one of the parent chaperones. Kids from several schools practiced together all day and then put on a concert this evening.

combined school chorus at concert
Andrea, Sam and Charlie didn’t get home last night until well after midnight so those kids didn’t make it to school today. Walter and Jodi took Dani to school this morning and picked her up after school.

This morning I lured the heifers in from field above our house with a little hay, and moved them to the field below lane. They’ve become very gentle and trusting, easy to handle. I can call them and they follow me anywhere. Later this morning Walter helped Lynn rinse out and fill the water tank for the heifers and get a load of hay for the bulls in the back corral, and some hay for the feeder in the front corral for when we bring the 6 cows in that we’ll be sending to the bred cow sale.

Carolyn went to the 320 on her 4-wheeler and opened all the gates into the lower/middle part of the 320 to let the cows into that part. They’ll still have access to the top section and the Baker Creek side, but the grass is nearly gone there and it was time to let them into the lower part.
This evening we talked to a local rancher who has some hay for sale, and he may have enough for what we’ll need this winter. Even though it’s more expensive than the hay at Mud Lake, there will be less freight to pay, so it averages out.

NOVEMBER 14 – We’ve had cold nights, but fairly warm in the afternoons. We’ve enjoyed having Walter and Jodi here and the kids have had a lot of fun with them. Jodi and Andrea took the kids to town and Andrea snapped this photo.

kids & Jodi checking out some Christmas attire
On Tuesday we got up early, and Walter and Jodi took Lynn to Idaho Falls to his appointment with the arthritis specialist. Andrea was originally going to go with them but she was tired from her long day (going with the chorus kids on their bus) the day before, and also needed to cut up the roadkill deer that was still hanging in her shed, before the meat went bad in the warmer weather.

Also I was glad she was home that day because Sprout was sick. When I went out to do chores that morning Spout was dull and didn’t want to eat her hay. She seemed to have some mild gut pain. She’d been eating weeds in that pen, and maybe something she ate was toxic.

I went back to the house to get some Banamine to give her and discovered that the bottle was nearly empty after treating Rubbie for colic a couple months ago. I called Carolyn, who brought down their bottle, and we gave Sprout a dose. I put her in the calving pen in front of the house where I could watch her closely all day from my window as I typed interviews and articles. After we moved her to the calving pen, Andrea and Carolyn helped me relocate the electric fence at the top of Rubbies old pen, to fence off the chokecherry tree (the frosted, wilted leaves can be toxic) and what might be left of the nightshade roots after we picked a bunch of those weeds in that area. None of the horses like to eat them but they are poisonous. We weren’t sure what Sprout (or Rubbie) might have eaten.

Carolyn went to town that afternoon to take her dog Fred to the vet clinic for her annual rabies shot, and got me another bottle of Banamine for future emergencies.

In the calving pen that day, Sprout remained dull and only picked at a little hay, and grazed some grass off and on. She still wasn’t her normal self, but she wasn’t as uncomfortable as when I found her sick that morning. Her heart rate was normal and there were gut sounds when we listened to her abdomen with a stethoscope, so at least her GI tract wasn’t shut down. She didn’t pass any manure, however, until mid-day, and then again in the evening just after I took her temperature. At least she was never again so uncomfortable and I didn’t have to give her any more Banamine. I kept her in that pen during the night, however, since we have a yard light on the end of the hay shed next to that pen, and I could see her out the window. That way I was able to monitor her during the night and make sure she didn’t get colicky again.

Lynn, Walter and Jodi got home at 7 p.m. that evening. The arthritis doctor was very thorough and gave Lynn a different prescription for his pain, and wanted more x-rays of Lynn’s hips.
The next morning Sprout was doing better and she had passed twice as much manure during the night as she had the whole day before. She was a lot perkier, so I moved her back to her pen next to Shiloh.

Sprout feeling better
She was still a bit picky about eating hay, and preferred to nibble some of the tall dead weeds in that pen. Perhaps some of those weed seeds may have been toxic. So Walter and I spent an hour pulling up all those old weeds (that Veggie and Rubbie hadn’t eaten—weeds that grew up in their pens while they spent the summer grazing along the ditch bank and some other pens that had grass). We had a full load of dead weeds on the flatbed feed truck by the time we got them all pulled and piled, and hauled them off to the dump. Andrea and Jodi finished processing the meat from the deer Andrea butchered.

By evening Sprout was eating hay better and feeling more like her old self again. We all had supper at Andrea’s house; she made a big batch of Lasagna. Emily came out, too, and her dad Jim (who was out of the hills briefly from his job as a hunting guide). Andrea sent some of the leftovers home with Emily, and took a photo of Em with Jodi and Walter before she left.

Em with Jodi and Walter
I checked on Sprout again after we got home at 9 p.m. and even though she hadn’t quite finished her hay—and was just standing in the middle of her pen—her pulse and respiration were normal and she seemed ok. By Thursday we seemed fine.

That morning I lured the cows down from the field by heifer hill, and Lynn and I sorted off Buffalo Girl. She’s Emily’s old pet cow that we’ll need to butcher later this fall, rather than send to the sale—butchering her will be a kinder fate for a pet cow because she wouldn’t understand all the strangers prodding her around at a sale facility. We put her in the field below the lane with the heifers, and put the 6 young pregnant cows (that we’ll be selling) in the main corral where the brand inspector could look at them that afternoon.

Dani didn’t have school that day, due to parent-teacher conferences at the middle school, so she was able to ride with us to check cows on the 320. Jodi rode Breezy, Dani rode Ed, and Andrea rode Sprout, since it would be a very easy, leisurely ride and some gentle exercise might be just fine for Sprout. We adjusted the stirrups on Sam’s saddle to fit Jodie and started up the horse road (our trail below the main road) and Jodi realized that one of her stirrups had a problem. Andrea fixed it for her while I held Sprout.

fixing Jodi's stirrup
Even though going up the road was a longer route, it was easier on the horses than going up the steep ridge 2 miles to the 320. When we got up there, Andrea and Jodi rode up to the big round water trough (an easy climb) to check it and unplug the overflow while Dani and I made a fast loop up to the saddle and up the big ridge to check cows. A few of them were still using the Baker Creek side, so it’s good that we still have the gates open between the two pastures. We went clear up to the top salt ground.

Dani helping check cows on 320
Then we went back down the draw to the trough where Andrea and Jodi were waiting, and saw most of the cows. We came back down the road, and Sprout seemed fine after her mild exercise. Jodi enjoyed seeing all the critters on our upper place, including Michael and Carolyn’s horses in one of the pastures along the road. I took a photo of old Captain (the Paint) and Carolyn’s mare Thelma and yearling filly Peaches.

Michael & Carolyn's horses

Andrea then took Dani to town to meet up with the other kids after school and give them their things for the weekend at their Dad’s place.

On Friday Lynn went to town for his hip x-rays, and Andrea went to one of the new doctors here (the physical therapist set up an appointment), to check out her neck and back. The doctor will be sending her to a specialist.

That afternoon I took the hind shoes off Ed and trimmed her long feet, and then Andrea, Walter and Jodi helped me put the 6 young cows through the chute and pull/cut off the burrs stuck to their heads, shoulders, tails, etc. We don’t want to send burrs with them to the sale; no one wants to bring burdock onto their ranch if they don’t already have this nasty weed!

The heifers are getting short on grass in the field below the lane. Even though it was growing back nicely after Andrea’s final irrigation down there, the big herd of whitetail deer that have moved in for winter have been grazing there every night and have decimated the green regrowth in that pasture. So Lynn started the tractor that afternoon and we put a big round bale (grass/alfalfa hay) in their feeder and they were thoroughly enjoying that feast.

Buffalo Girl is mean to the heifers, however, shoving them away from the feeder, so we put her in the orchard and horse pasture by herself.

Buffalo Girl
Saturday morning Michael and Carolyn brought their trailer down and we loaded the 6 cows to send to the bred cow sale. They looked a lot better without their burrs! The sale isn’t until Tuesday, but the cows have to be there at least 2 days ahead of time to be preg-checked again and have all the information (age of the cows, calving due dates, etc.) ready for the buyers. The market is really down, but we are hoping the cows will sell well enough to help pay for the rest of the hay we need to buy for this winter.

Michael and Carolyn took their young dog Abbey with them on this road trip to haul the cows.

Walter and Jodi left to drive back to Colorado; we enjoyed having them here this past week, and they enjoyed helping with some of the ranch chores. Jodi would love to have taken a cow back home with her!

Saturday afternoon the watermaster came out (as we requested) to shut off our # 7 ditch since we are done irrigating for this year and no longer need water in that ditch for the cows and heifers that were drinking out of it; the heifers are now in another field and the 6 cows went to the sale. We also asked to have the locks taken off the headgates since no one is irrigating anymore and the headgates need to be shut down completely so there won’t be problems with water leaking past them and ice flows over our fields. Ice on the fields makes it dangerous for the cows, since they slip and fall down.

Now we’re looking toward Thanksgiving and getting ready for Christmas. Anyone interested in my latest books for Christmas gifts, see below:


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.