Monday, November 13, 2017

Diary from Sky Range Ranch - Sept. 28 through October 20, 2017

OCTOBER 6 – Last week Robbie, Nick and Michael worked on the lower spring on the 320 acre pasture, by Baker Creek, and put in a new trough. Michael took the backhoe over there and dug down to find the old spring box that we put in more than 30 years ago; it was buried much deeper after all these years with more silt from spring run-off. It’s amazing that it worked for so long; the pipe quit working just last year.
While Michael was doing the backhoe work, Nick and Robbie took 2 posts to the ridge gate and made a new brace in the fence where the old fence had started to fall down (making it very difficult opening and shutting the gate every time we rode through it).
Lynn took the big roll of black plastic pipe for the new spring installation to the 320 in our old jeep, and created a new spring box out of a section of culvert—making holes in it for water collection, using a cutting torch.
That next day Andrea and I made a fast ride up to the 320 (Willow’s 27th ride this fall). It was a warm day and the horses were sweating profusely as we climbed up the ridge. They are starting to get their winter hair, and sweat more readily when exerting.

Willow sweating as we climb the hills
We went through the ridge gate (and appreciated the new gate post!) and rode through the 320 checking the cows. I took a couple photos of the guys working on the water trough down in Baker Creek as we rode along the jeep trail above Baker Creek.

Michael putting in the pipeline with backhoe
new trough
When we rode through the timber on the upper end of our place I took a photo of the upper trough they put in earlier. That spring is running nearly a full pipe.
upper trough
We found a lot of the cows out on the ridge above that trough. Some of them were busy eating protein from the supplement tubs.
cows eating protein supplement
On Friday it got up to 70 degrees in the afternoon (though the temperature was below freezing that morning). Steve Herbst hauled us 2 semi-truck loads of straw. We are buying straw to mix with some alfalfa hay for the cows this winter, but this straw got rained on in mid-September and didn’t dry out very well; they had to turn it 3 times to try to get it dry enough to bale, and some was baled too wet. The second load was especially wet and we are afraid those bales may heat. We wish he’d brought us good straw.

Andrea and I rode for just an hour early that afternoon. We didn’t have much time because I had to get back to do a phone interview for an article, so we made a fast ride over the low range, toward the 2nd gully in the middle range, and back home again. This was Willow’s 28th ride. She’s come a long ways with her training in the 2 months we’ve been riding her and is getting in much better shape.

Later that afternoon Andrea went with Jim on a hike to try to find an elk, and helped him field dress the cow elk he shot, just above our upper field. We brought it down here in the jeep and they skinned it hanging on the tractor loader. It cooled out nicely during the night.

The next morning there were at least 30 magpies feeding on the hide and trimmings underneath it, so it was a good thing they took time to cover the carcass with a tarp so the magpies weren’t able to peck and damage the meat. It started raining by mid-morning but Jim and Andrea quartered the elk and took it to her house to start cutting it up. Andrea stayed up late into the night, grinding some of it into hamburger. Our freezers are nearly empty, so it will be nice to have meat, until we get a chance to butcher old Buffalo Girl (Emily’s elderly pet cow that’s baby-sitting the weaned heifer calves).

On Sunday morning when I did chores I noticed that Michael and Carolyn’s heifer #702 was moving a little slow, and not with the other heifers. She was grazing, however, and didn’t seem to have pneumonia or foot rot. A little later, however, when Andrea and I were getting ready to move the heifers and Buffalo Girl out of the horse pasture and into the large field above the house (where there’s good grass we saved for them), we realized #702 must have some kind of problem. Buffalo Girl was eager to go to new pasture, and came charging toward the gate I was getting ready to open, with all the heifers following her—except #702. She stayed back and didn’t even try to come.

So we checked on her more closely. She wasn’t lame, but seemed to be in pain, walking stiffly like she had a sore neck/back. I called Michael and Carolyn and they came down and helped us take the heifers to the pen in front of the barn and put #702 in the headcatch. Michael checked out a lump on her neck (from her vaccination 2 weeks earlier) to see if it was an abscess, but when he stuck a needle in it there was clear serum coming out, and no pus. So we simply gave the heifer an injection of Banamine to help relieve pain and inflammation in case she injured her back goofing around with the other heifers. Then we put the heifers and Buffalo Girl up in the little field above the house.

That evening we went to Andrea’s house for dinner; she made a delicious stew from meat she’d cooked off the neck bones of Jim’s elk. I took jello and fresh cornbread. Emily, Robert and Emily’s friend Audra came to join us for dinner.

Tuesday morning it snowed. Lynn and Jim left early to drive to Blackfoot to meet up with a fellow who wanted Lynn to locate a site for a well on his ranch near Lava Hot Springs. This was an all-day project; they got home late that evening. Lynn isn’t up to driving that far anymore, so Jim was kind enough to be his driver.

Andrea and I were going to ride to the 320 and check our cows, but Dani was sick with a high fever and Andrea took her to the doctor. After she got home from town with Dani, she give her a cool shower to cool her down (along with medication to try to lower her fever). She waited until the other kids got home from school to monitor and help take care of Dani, and then we made a late, fast ride to the 320 on Sprout and Dottie. On our way up the jeep trail I took another photo of the new trough (this time with water in it).
new trough
Some of the cows came down because of the snow that morning, wanting to come home (even though the snow had melted), so we pushed them back up to the top of the pasture. We took them up Baker Creek, and headed them out the high trail to the ridge.
taking the cows back up Baker Creek
Andrea and Sprout moving cows
heading the cows out to the ridge
On our way home we stopped by the new lower trough to see how much the spring was actually running (it’s a much smaller spring than the upper one) and take close-up photos of it.
lower trough
While we were checking on it, Sprout took a drink from it. As we were leaving I took a photo of the old, rusted out trough—a little ways above it--that no longer holds water. It has vegetation growing in the mud in the bottom of it.
Sprout drinking from new trough

old rusted out trough 
The sun was already down by then, but the pictures still turned out ok. Then we hurried home down the ridge. It was getting quite cold by then. I fed the horses an hour late after we got home.
Dani was sick for several days and didn’t go to school the rest of the week. On Wednesday it started raining again and the rain turned to snow. We didn’t ride for 2 days, and just hoped the cows didn’t all come back down again on the 320.
The weather was a little nicer today, though still cool (Lynn got up at 3 a.m. to plug in our tractor to make sure it would start). We planned to tag the heifers and give them a booster vaccination, so this morning at chore time I lured Buffalo Girl and her herd of heifers in from the field with a little hay, and put them in the pen by the house. The heifers are still a bit timid and suspicious but Buffalo Girl comes eagerly for a hand-out, and since she’s their role model and security, they followed her in through the gate. I gave them a little hay in the calving pen as a reward for coming in.

Lynn moved the tractor around to the corral (to use the loader for tying the heifer’s heads up high enough to make it easy to put in the brisket tags), and Michael and Carolyn came down. Robbie, Jim and Andrea arrived by then, and it made it really easy with that much crew to put the heifers down the chute, tag and vaccinate them.
Carolyn vaccinated them
To install the brisket tags (their permanent number for the rest of their lives), Michael first put a halter on each heifer, tied it to the backhoe loader, then tightened the rope so the heifer’s head and neck was positioned upward—to make it easier to get to the dewlap/brisket skin to punch a hole for the tag.
Michael putting halter on
tying the halter rope to the loader
tightening the rope
Then he punched the hole, and slid a curved U-bolt/hasp through the hole. Each U-bolt has a plastic cover over the bend where it goes through the skin.
punching hole in dewlap skin
punching the hole
Then he slipped the tag onto the U-bolt and bent the ends of the U-bolt underneath the tag so it can’t come off.
sliding the tag onto the hasp
bending the ends of the hasp under the tag
Buffalo Girl was so humorous; she was very worried about what we were doing to “her” girls and came up close to the chute, to watch us tag every one of them. Then when we’d let the heifer out, she sniffed and checked the heifer to make sure the heifer was ok.
Buffalo Girl sniffing the heifer that just came out of the chute
 After we put the heifers and Buffalo Girl back up in the field, we put the 2 little bulls in the chute to vaccinate. We’ve made a deal with Alfonso to trade for the bulls, since he owes us nearly $1600 for the ditch work Michael did this spring on his leased place (putting in legal weirs and headgates) so Alfonso could use those ditches. By law, Alfonso’s landlord owes for the work done on the ditches (since it’s a permanent improvement, and a renter would not be able to legally use the ditches until it was accomplished) but this landlord never pays for anything (as we discovered early on in the 40 years we leased that ranch from him). So in order to get paid for the work Michael did (we paid Michael for the materials and labor), we are taking the 2 calves in trade, and Alfonso is going to deduct that amount from the rent he pays the landlord this fall.

While the bull calves were in the chute, we took ear notches to send to a lab as tissue samples, to check for BVD virus—since Alfonso doesn’t vaccinate his herd regularly and is always bringing in new animals. If the tests come back negative, we will keep the calves as bulls (since they are nicely built and have mellow disposition). If the tests come back positive we will castrate those calves, continue to keep them isolated and separate from our cattle, and raise them up to sell or butcher. We put the tissue samples from the ear notches into red top test tubes, marked the ear tags with #1 and #2 and labeled the tubes, to send to the lab.

That afternoon I packaged up the samples and Lynn took them to town to mail. Andrea and her dogs irrigated (we are still trying to get some of our fields more fully watered before we turn the ditches off for winter), then she and I rode to the 320 to check the cows. On our way up through Gooch’s Basin I took photos of some mule deer does.
mule deer in Gooch's Basin
This was Willow’s 29th ride, and she got more practice following cows, since all of them were down again after the snowy weather we had the day before. I took several photos of Willow following the cows. We took them back up to the top.
Willow moving cows
We took our time and let the cows climb the hill slowly. Along the way, we ate some snacks that Andrea had in her saddle bags, and I snapped a photo of snack-time. Willow is getting used to being patient for whatever we are doing.
Andrea snacking
After we got them to the top of the ridge we headed them out over the hillside toward Preacher’s Spring to graze up there.
bringing the cows to the top of the ridge
taking the cows out toward Preachers Spring

OCTOBER 13 – Last Saturday was warmer—a really nice day. Andrea, Jim and Robbie went up the creek to get a load of firewood. We need to get several more loads before winter. Phil Moulton hauled several trailer loads of big round alfalfa bales to Michael and Carolyn’s stackyard on the upper place. Bob Minor came by with his moisture meter and checked the moisture level in the straw bales that Steve Herbst delivered to us and the high level was really scary. Those bales are heating and we don’t want them to burn and put our other haystack at risk. Lynn started our tractor and spent several hours taking the straw stack apart and spreading those bales out all over the place so they can have more chance to cool down.

The next day Andrea, Robbie and Jim went back up the creek to get the rest of the firewood they cut. That evening the kids came home from Mark’s place. Charlie drove his pickup to Emily’s and she convoyed out here with them and we all had supper here.

On Monday it was down to 25 degrees and everything was frosty until the sun came up. After lunch Andrea and I rode to the 320 (Willow’s 30th ride this fall). The cows were spread out all over, doing well, and we didn’t have to move any of them. I took a couple photos as we rode up Baker Creek.
Riding up Baker Creek
Willow's 30th ride
On our way home Andrea checked phone messages on her cell phone when we hit the ridge coming out of Baker Creek, since there is no cell service in the canyon.
Andrea checking phone messages
Our old washing machine quit filling (the cold water intake plugged with rust) so Jim helped Lynn pull it out from the wall and take the filters out. Now I can wash clothes again without having to pack buckets of cold water for the rinses!

Robbie worked on our pickup and put new wheel bearings in both front wheels; it had been making a terrible noise for quite a while.

It was cold again Tuesday morning, but got up to 60 degrees in the afternoon. Deer season opened, so there was a lot of traffic up and down the road all day, starting at 3 a.m. Michael and Nick hiked up through the 320 out to the high range and Nick got a nice young 3-point mule deer buck.

Meanwhile, down in the field, hunters caused a catastrophe with Michael and Carolyn’s heifers and horses. The young family that bought Binning’s 22 acres (at the upper end of our upper fields) had asked permission to hunt in the field below their house because the wife wanted to shoot a deer. Michael gave them permission to hunt in the one field where there were no livestock, but instead they went into the back field because they saw two bucks over there. As they crept through the bushes to get closer to the deer, they spooked the heifers and horses. They all bolted down to the end of the field and crashed through the fence, knocking over about 20 posts. Carolyn’s 2-year-old filly Peaches was cut on all four legs in the barbed wire, with a serious cut on her right hind foot. The neighbor felt bad and offered to help fix the fence, but it will take a while for the filly to heal. Right now she is still very lame.

That afternoon Andrea and I rode to the 320 to check cows (Willow’s 31st ride) and the new water troughs. We dressed in red so hunters wouldn’t mistake us for deer.
Andrea dressed for hunting season
Andrea & Willow checking cows
The upper trough still has a big mud bog around it because Michael inadvertently dug into another little spring in the side of the hill when he was making a pad for the trough. It’s constantly wet and the cattle have to wade in mud to drink out of the trough.

So after we got home from our ride, Andrea took a 4-wheeler back up there, with her shovel, irrigation boots, and two 10-foot lengths of 4-inch pipe. She worked on that bog problem until dark, digging a trench from the spring in the bank of the hill, putting the old spring box against the hill to collect it, and piping the water across the area by the trough, to dump it into Baker Creek. Then she covered the pipe with dirt and covered the spring box with branches so the cows won’t tromp it out. Eventually Michael may try to pipe that spring into the trough, but for now this might help keep the area around the trough drier so it won’t be a mud bog.

Wednesday morning Michael and Nick came down to measure our roof. We hope to order some tin roofing and get the leaky part roof fixed before winter sets in for real.

Andrea and I rode again to check the cows on the 320. As we approached the crossing in Baker Creek some deer jumped out of the brush and ran up the hill a ways, startling the horses. After the horses and deer settled back down, I took photos of the deer on the hillside above Baker Creek.
deer on hill
We rode on up Baker creek.
going up Baker creek


And then checked on Andrea’s piping at the top trough to see if it stopped the water around the trough. The water is mostly going through the drain pipe and the mud is starting to dry up. Willow was thirsty and drank at the trough.
Willow drinking
Yesterday was very windy and cold and we didn’t ride. Andrea and Lynn drove to Firth to watch Dani run; it was the last cross-country meet for the middle school this year. Dani did very well, coming in with the first bunch of runners. On their way home they stopped to visit a rancher (Chet Adams, who raises purebred Angus) that we’ve known for a long time; his parents raised cattle here at Leadore for many years.

Today was a little warmer but stormy, with new snow in the mountains. Jim and Andrea put more grass bales in the bull feeder, and Robbie worked driving truck for a crew digging potatoes on a ranch the other side of town. We had a doe and her fawns eating in the back yard and I took a photo of one of the fawns through the window.
fawn in the back yard

OCTOBER 20 – Last Saturday Andrea, Robbie, Jim and the kids went up the creek to get firewood. They loaded Andrea’s pickup and the Robbie’s trailer. After helping them cut and load it, Jim hiked on up through the timber and over the ridge to go hunting.

As they were driving down with their loads of wood they saw three kids running after a herd of does and fawns, shooting. They shot several, and were dragging two of the does down the mountain without stopping to gut them out. The deer season here is for bucks only, except if you buy a doe tag for hunting on private property. These kids were more than 3 miles from any private property. So Andrea stopped at my brother’s place on their way down the creek and used his phone to call the Fish and Game (since there is no cell service for her cell phone, in the creek canyon). A game officer came right away, and apprehended the kids as they came down the creek. Only one of them had a valid hunting license, and the does they shot were illegal.

That evening about 9 p.m. we had another hunter episode here on the creek. Michael and Carolyn saw 4 flashlights flickering on the hillside above their gopher meadow. They thought maybe some hunters were lost, so they drove up the creek and discovered that someone had driven through the gate into their wild meadow field. Michael hiked across the field and across the creek in the dark, and shined a spotlight on the hunters as they came driving back out. They’d shot a couple deer just before dark and were trying to find them. They’d found one, dragging it out on some kind of sled behind their vehicle. They’d spooked Michael’s heifers and horses, again. Michael and Carolyn were very unhappy with this trespass situation; it would have been a lot better if the hunters had called them before driving through their fields and animals in the dark! The next morning at daylight Michael and Carolyn went up to check on their animals to make sure the horses hadn’t been spooked through another fence.

Andrea and I rode that next day to check on our cows on the 320 (Willow’s 33rd ride) and found that all the cattle were down low again after the stormy weather. We discovered that Michael’s big red #203 cow has foot rot and was a little lame.
moving cows - red cow lame
We moved them back up the creek and out onto the upper hillsides. There was still some snow in the shady areas in Baker Creek. On our way past the upper trough we checked it and saw that the mud bog around it has dried up, thanks to Andrea’s piping.
moving cows up Baker Creek in the snow
mud bog dried out
We took the cows on out to the ridge. Andrea and Willow headed them up to the ridge trail and we followed them out through the timber.
Willow heading the cows out the ridge trail
taking the cows out to the ridge 
When we got to the ridge and the salt ground, Willow wanted to smell and taste the salt. Then we took the cows on around the mountain where we could leave them in some better grass to graze.
Willow tasting the salt
taking the cows on around the mountain
The next two mornings were cold, down to 20 degrees, but warmer in the afternoons. Andrea and Robbie drove to Mackay to help his step dad haul cattle for two days. They took several semi-loads of calves from range pastures at Antelope Creek to Robbie’s parent’s place at Hamer, and some other calves from a dry farm near Rexburg.

On Monday my brother shot a huge rattlesnake on the road right by our place, on his way home from town. The next day was his birthday and we had him stop by here to pick up a big goofy birthday present wrapped in Christmas paper. It was a bag of candy—all kinds of little candy bars.

Michael went to 320 and spread grass seed on the road he made down to the new lower trough in Baker Creek, so it won’t just grow weeds next spring.

Wednesday Andrea and I rode to the 320 (Willow’s 34th ride this year) and checked on the cows. It was a warm afternoon, up to 60 degrees.
Willow's 34th ride
Michael’s big red cow # 203 is not as lame as she was a few days ago; she seems to be recovering from foot rot. She still has swelling between the toes on her right hind foot, but she’s walking on it quite well.

Yesterday was warm again, up to 68 degrees. We didn’t have time for a very long ride, since Andrea had to get to town by the time school let out (to take the things her kids needed for their weekend with Mark), so we made a fast ride over the low range.
riding over the low range
Willow was curious about the old flume down by the lower end of Baker Creek and wanted to take a bite out of it.
Willow decided to taste the flume
Willow looking at the old flume
This ancient flume was built about 1910 when the big ranch in the valley bottom built a big ditch from Withington Creek out over the law range to their ranch. They tried to divert all of Withington Creek to irrigate their ranch and the ranchers on Withington Creek had to take them to court to stop them, since the creek ranches had prior water rights. If the big ranch had been able to divert our water, none of our ranches on the creek would have had any water for irrigation. During the construction of their big ditch, however, the Shenon Land and Cattle Company put flumes across the gullies and low spots, and the remains of the flumes and the old ditch are still there.

I also took photos of Andrea and Willow riding across the lower area of Baker Creek (which is completely dry this time of year) where the bogs have dried up.
Riding across the flats by lower Baker Creek
Andrea and Willow going through the brush in lower Baker Creek
We also ran across a gut pile/paunch contents from a deer recently shot by a hunter. Actually the horses smelled it before we did; they have good noses. Here’s Willow checking it out, after we got closer.
Willow sniffing the gut pile from a hunter's kill
We’re hoping we’ll have a few more nice days this fall to continue riding Willow; she’s coming along nicely in her training and learning to handle all kinds of new experiences.


***As holidays approach, I want to mention my books, especially the series of ranch stories, in case anyone would like to order some as gifts.

Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, is a collection of 22 stories about some of the horses in my life. According to the publisher, “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, sharing lessons on life, family and stockmanship.” (282 pages)

Cow Tales: More True Stories from an Idaho Ranch (325 pages). The publisher says, “This is an entertaining and compelling 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 (273 pages) consists of stories about the memorable horses, pets, ranch animals and wildlife that populate a working ranch.

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


***Some people have asked me how many books I’ve written.  Here is a list.  Some of the earliest ones are now out of print.  I have some of the more recent ones on hand if anyone wants to order one from me, but most of them can also be ordered through Amazon or any book seller.
    A Horse in Your Life: A Guide for the New Owner (published in 1966)
    Your Horse and You
    Horses: Their Breeding, Care and Training
    Horses: A Golden Exploring Earth Book (children’s book)
    A Week in the Woods (1988, another children’s book)
    Sammy the Salmon (a Christmas story for children)
    Red Meat: The Original Health Food
    The Wild Horse Controversy (1979)
    Your Calf: A Kid’s Guide to Raising and Showing Beef and Dairy Calves
    Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle
    Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses
    Storey’s Guide to Training Horses,
    Horse Conformation Handbook
    Beyond the Flames: A Family Touched by Fire
    Care and Management of Horses
    Understanding Equine Hoof Care
    Getting Started with Beef and Dairy Cattle
    Stable Smarts
    Essential Guide to Calving
    The Cattle Health Handbook
    Good Horse, Bad Habits
    Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch
    Cow Tales: More True Stories from an Idaho Ranch
    Ranch Tales: Dogs, Cats and Other Crazy Critters
    [I also contributed chapters to a couple other books:  The Complete Guide to Equine Electrolytes, and The Real Wolf]