Saturday, May 27, 2017

Diary from Sky Range Ranch - February 14 through March 26, 2017

FEBRUARY 20 – We’ve had warmer weather, barely freezing at night. Michael, Nick and Robbie have been working on the new fence for Breezy’s pen and I’ve been cooking lunch for them the past few days. 

On Thursday Andrea got a call from the school to tell her that Sam had slipped in the mud during the noon hour, and had fallen down and hit her head on the concrete sidewalk—breaking her glasses and briefly knocking her unconscious. She was being taken to the ER in the ambulance. Andrea rushed off to town and got to the hospital about the same time the ambulance did. The ER doctor thought at first that she might have broken some of her facial bones (along with a mild concussion), but her face was just badly bruised. We are glad she wasn’t hurt any worse than that.

On Friday Andrea held Willow for me while I trimmed her feet. They’d grown very long over the winter and I wanted to get them trimmed before we put her in her new pen. She has very hard, durable hooves and even though they were a bit softened by being in the muddy pen, they were still difficult to trim and had not broken like most horse’s feet would do when growing that long.

On Saturday we put Dottie, Ed and Breezy in the 2nd day pens by the calving barn to get them farther away from the noise of pounding posts. Michael hauled Sy Miller’s tractor and hydraulic (jack-hammer) pounder over here on our flatbed trailer, and Sy set all the new posts for Breezy’s pen. Some of them were a little hard to pound through the frost, but they used a metal pilot post to start those holes, and managed to get them all into the ground far enough.

Yesterday it rained, so the guys were glad they’d set posts the day before. Today the weather was nicer so the guys worked on the fence again.

FEBRUARY 28 – We had a lot of windy weather last week, and a blizzard on Tuesday afternoon. The guys had to quit early that day, after they got soaked and cold. That was the afternoon we were going to have a vet come look at Shiloh’s eye (it has been running and irritated and we thought there might be something embedded under the eyelid). We postponed until the next day and even then it was so windy we took Shiloh to the top of her pen where we could stand behind a big sagebrush that blocked some of the wind. The vet couldn’t find anything in the mare’s eye, but the third eyelid tissues were swollen and the eye was discharging mucus so she inserted cortisone/antibiotic ointment into the corner of the eye. We continued that treatment daily for several days and that seemed to resolve the problem. While the vet was here we also had her look at Breezy’s remaining eye, to make sure it is staying healthy. There are rough red areas on the white part, but they are not cancerous. Keeping a face mask on her all the time helps protect her eye from sunlight, insects and dust.

The strong winds blew more shingles off Andrea’s roof and we had to replace them. We had a few cold days, down to 17 degrees at night.

Lynn’s appointment with orthopedic surgeon went well, with good news. He doesn’t need surgery. The shoulder attachments are partly torn, but not all the way through, and will probably heal. The surgeon injected cortisone into the inflamed areas and prescribed several weeks of physical therapy to help restore strength and range of motion.

Charlie took his drivers’ test and passed the driving and written tests so now he has his drivers’ license. He can drive to the school bus, leave the car there at Baker and drive home again.

On Friday the guys finished Breezy’s new fences and we moved that old mare into her new pen and put Willow in her rebuilt pen. Here are some photos of those two new pens.
new horse pens
Willow's new pen
Now the side pen where Willow spent the winter can be used for calving again. We also put more poles on the calving pen fence so cows can’t stick their heads through. We sawed up some of the old fence poles for firewood, since we are running low on wood after the long, cold winter.

The guys made a little gate in the side of Willow’s pen (in addition to the main gate at the end of the pen) so I can carry hay through to feed her, and use the slow feeder for that greedy mare. 
little side gate into Willow's pen
Willow was frustrated the first few days because it takes more time to eat, pulling the hay out through the grate a little bit at a time, so she pawed it and tipped it over, but eventually learned how to use it. She still tips it over and over and plays with it like a toy but doesn’t get her foot caught in it anymore. She mostly flips it over with her nose.
Willow eating out of the slow feader
On Sunday we got the cows in and vaccinated them with their pre-calving vaccine and deloused them all again. It’s been a bad winter for lice, with it so cold. Michael, Carolyn and Nick helped. Michael brought his tractor down for diesel and after we worked the cows he moved some of our hay bales around for the heifers and loaded the feed truck.

Yesterday morning cold again, down to 18 degrees. Sugar Baby (a 3-year old second calver) had a premature calf. Andrea and Robbie discovered the tiny baby when they came down to help me feed cows. All the young cows and first-calf heifers were grouped around it, sniffing and helping lick it. The calf was very tiny, with short, velvety hair, and probably 6 or 7 weeks premature. Robbie carried it to pickup and held it while Andrea drove. Even though the calf hadn’t been born very long, it was chilled, with sub-normal temperature of 92 degrees. Normal for cattle is 101.5 degrees. We warmed the little guy by the wood stove and dried him with towels. Here is a photo of him resting on his bed of towels.
calf sleeping on towels by the stove
I warmed up some colostrum but the calf wouldn’t suck a bottle, so we tubed him, inserting a tube into the nostril, to the back of the throat where he swallowed it, and on down into the stomach. Then we could attach a funnel and pour the colostrum into the tube and feed him that way.


feeding premature calf with nasogastric tube
We fed him by tube every 4 hours. Lynn went to town and bought milk replacer and we started feeding it today after we ran out of colostrum.

After school the kids stopped by to see the calf. Dani curled up with him for a while on his bed of towels.

Dani taking nap with premature calf
The calf was stronger by evening and trying to get up. Lynn helped me tube him in the middle of the night.

This morning Andrea helped me tube-feed the calf after the kids went to the bus. She also checked on the young cow that calved prematurely. She was little dull and off by herself. We brought her down to the corral and gave her antibiotics and Michael checked her (on his way to work on another fencing job) to see if there was a twin still inside her. No twin, but the cow was slow to clean, which is common with a premature birth. We put her in orchard with Buffalo Girl so we can watch her, and kept feeding the calf every 4 hours.


MARCH 9 – The premature calf only lived 2 ½ days. He was getting stronger for awhile and then went into decline, with a slight fever. Even though we had him on antibiotics, to head off pneumonia (since the lungs are not well developed yet at that stage) something went wrong; his body systems were too immature to sustain life on his own. 

Wednesday afternoon Andrea went to town to attend the awards assembly at the middle school, where Sam was receiving her student of the month certificate. Then she helped Lynn on a water-witching job, locating a site of a well on Carmen Creek. The property owner wanted Lynn to put in a steel post to mark the site, and Lynn’s impaired shoulder made that impossible, so Andrea went with him to pound the post.

Lynn is now doing physical therapy once a week and some exercises at home to help strengthen his shoulder, and he’s getting more range of motion.

This past week we’ve had warmer weather—a couple days up to 50 degrees in the afternoon in spite of freezing at night. The snow is almost gone from our lower fields.

Charlie looked at old 1967 Chevrolet pickup that we bought years ago from Velma Ravndal (the elderly lady that boarded her horses here for a few years). Charlie wants to get it running again and drive it, so this will be a good project for him.
On Sunday Andrea helped me feed the cows early, then she and Robbie went up to Michael’s place to help Michael, Carolyn and Nick vaccinate and delouse their cows, and put nose flaps in the 6 big calves (late summer calves that wintered with their mothers) to wean them.

A couple days ago it snowed again, but was warm enough to melt off by evening. Yesterday and today were warm, feeling like spring. We are short of hay, however, after feeding so much during all those weeks of extremely cold weather, so we are buying 50 more big bales (alfalfa/grass) from a rancher across the valley from us. He delivered 10 of the bales yesterday afternoon. We only had one bale left for our heifers, so before Phil arrived with the load of hay Andrea moved that bale out of the way, and we took the 2 oat bales out to my horse pasture (where we will soon be moving the young cows, before they start calving). That left just one more oat bale we will probably feed to the bulls.


MARCH 20 – A week ago Saturday we moved the young cows (first calf heifers) from the lower swamp pasture to the horse pasture and orchard where we can watch them when they start calving. They are enjoying the oat bales in the feeders.

cows enjoying oat bales
We cleaned the old bedding out of the barn the next day and left all the doors open for a couple days to help the dirt floor dry out before we put new bedding in. We started training the heifers to go into the barn, using Buffalo Girl to lead them in. 

Even though the weather is fairly mild in late March through April, we sometimes get storms and snow, so we want to be able to put a calving cow or heifer into the barn if necessary. We lured the heifers in with a little alfalfa hay, to teach them that being in the barn is not scary.

We brought a big straw bale around for barn bedding and put a tarp over it to keep it dry until we use it, and took a big bale out to the calf houses in the field above the house—to put bedding in those little houses for the young calves when we have cows and calves up there.

Now that the days are getting warmer and the mud is starting to dry up—and afternoons are longer with Daylight Savings Time—Dani has been spending time here after school, working with Willow. That young mare is 5 years old this year, and still very green, since we didn’t have time to do anything with her last year. Dani has been catching her and brushing her, and we hope to start riding her again in a few weeks, to resume her training.


Dani brushing Willow
Tuesday it got up to 64 degrees. After school Charlie brought in some wood (we still need a fire in the early mornings when it’s cold) and then helped Andrea saw up a few old poles (from the fencing projects) for future firewood, while Dani worked with Willow. She led Willow around, and brushed her while she was eating out of the slow feeder.


Willow eating at slow feeder

Willow pulling out hay

The heifers are enjoying their training sessions, going into the barn to eat a little alfalfa hay. They come eagerly into the calving pen when we open the gate, and troop across the driveway to the barn. 

Lynn went to Agency Creek on Wednesday to locate water for a lady who needs to put in a well. That day Michael and Robbie finished up the horse pen project and re-hung a gate, so I could move Sprout back into her creek pen the next morning. Michael brought down the backhoe and started taking out the ancient fence along the field below the lane. That fence was old when Lynn and I moved onto this ranch in 1967 and the posts were rotting off and falling down, the net wire was saggy (we’d propped the fence up a few times with steel posts) and rose briers had overgrown it. We are rebuilding that section of fence, along with the old fence between the field and the 2 horse pens where Rubbie and Veggie lived for nearly 30 years, and where Sprout and Shiloh now live. Sprout can stay in the creek pen until we get that side rebuilt. In one afternoon the guys got nearly all the old fence and brush torn out and hauled off. The heifers in that field now have access to the ditch bank pasture and can graze the tall grass (that got snowed under last fall before they could use it). They are enjoying the extra space and grass, as well as the hay in their feeder.


heifers have access to ditchbank with fence gone
heifers eating hay at feader
Also that afternoon Phil Moulton brought us the last loads of hay we are buying from him—50 big bales, total, to make sure we have enough hay to make it through until there’s adequate grass for the cows. He hauled a couple loads to us, which we stacked by Shiloh’s pen, and 3 loads up to Michael’s stackyard.
more hay for heifers

The next morning was cold, down to 22 degrees, but warmed up by afternoon. Robbie and Nick worked on the fence and got all the rest of it taken down and hauled off. Andrea went to town for Sam’s doctor appointment/checkup physical so she can start track and cross-country this spring. 

Carolyn met all afternoon with Cindy Yenter, our local IDWR person (Idaho Department of Water Resources) and together they got the errors straightened out in the water district bookkeeping for what the water users’ assessments will be. Cindy is now more aware of the major problems we’ve had the past several years—especially last year—with one neighbor (who was the Secretary-Treasurer of our water district) trying to manipulate things, falsify water use records, and cause us as much trouble as possible. We’re hoping for a better irrigation season this year, with more oversight from IDWR and more enforcement of the locked headgate rule, so certain people can’t steal our water.

Saturday was very warm, up to 70 degrees in the afternoon. Our tractor started without being plugged in, for taking a new big bale to the heifers and loading the feed truck for the older cows. Strong winds in the afternoon made it necessary to tie the barn doors open, however, so the props wouldn’t keep falling down and the doors banging open and shut. We are still trying to get the dirt floor dried out a bit more after all the snow slid off the roof and made a slow-melting ice pile behind the barn—seeping into the backs of each stall. With the doors open and some air flow through there, it’s drying out.

Yesterday we gave the heifers another training session (going into a couple barn stalls to eat a little alfalfa hay) and sorted off a few of the earliest-to-calve cows in the field above the house. It’s easy to sort the ones we want by feeding some hay on both sides of the gate and then quietly bringing the ones we want and putting them through the gate, with one person guarding the gate to make sure we don’t get any extra volunteers.

Today Robbie and Nick sawed up the old posts and poles from our fence rebuild project, for firewood. Maybe with this addition to our dwindling woodpile we won’t run out of wood before we run out of cold weather!


MARCH 26 – We had a few warm days, up to 55 degrees in the afternoons, then it got cold again, down to 22 degrees at night. We brought a few more cows down from the field to put in the “maternity ward” in preparation for calving.

We had our first “real” calf (since the premature baby that didn’t live) on Wednesday. Zorra Rose (a first-calf heifer) calved quickly and easily—a black brockle heifer calf. It was a nice afternoon so she didn’t have to go in the barn. The calf was up and nursing very soon, and Zorra Rose was a good mom. She wasn’t due to calve until April 9th; the calf was 17 days early, but strong and healthy. Here are a couple photos of the new calf after we put her in a windbreak pen with her mom. She is checking everything out, and curious about the hay that mom is eating.
Zorra Rose - new calf
baby trying mom's hay



We probably won’t have any more calves for a day or two, but we started putting the most likely candidates in the orchard pen at night, where there’s a good yard light, and we can see them easily from the house with a spotlight and binoculars.

Our fields are drying out enough to harrow and spread the manure piles around, so on Friday Andrea started harrowing and then let Charlie do several of the fields. He enjoys driving the tractor. Yesterday Andrea harrowed the last field (below the lane, where the heifers are). The heifers thought it was great fun chasing the harrow around the field until they got tired and bored with this novelty.

A couple days ago Emily found an arrowhead while hiking, and took photos of it. This is the first arrowhead she’s ever found. There are many arrowheads and other ancient artifacts scattered around this area, from long ago when the Indians were living in this area and traveling back and forth from winter to summer hunting areas.
Emily's arrowhead

Today Andrea and Robbie burned some of the tall grass out of the ditch that serves the field by her house and started a little water through the ditch. Even though we had a lot of snow and the fields were moist for a while as it melted, we’ve had a lot of wind lately, drying things out. The grass is trying to grow, on warm days, so it’s probably time to start thinking about cleaning ditches and irrigating.



***For interesting stories about calving, baby calves and other adventures with cattle, you might like my book Cow Tales: More True Stories from an Idaho Ranch.  This book is part of a 3-book series that includes Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, and Ranch Tales: Stories of Dogs, Cats and Other Crazy Critters.  These are $24.95 each and autographed copies can be ordered from me at 208-756-2841 or hsmiththomas@centurytel.net  or P.O. Box 215, Salmon, ID 83467, with a discount when all three books are purchased.

Friday, February 17, 2017

JANUARY 25 – It was 3 below zero last Wednesday and Andrea took the kids clear to town for school (they missed the bus) then helped me feed cows while Robbie broke ice on the creek for the cows. That afternoon when the kids came home from the bus they helped fill our woodbox. With such cold weather during December and January we’ve gone through a lot of wood! If it ever warms up, we can let the fire go out at night and save a little wood.

The rest of the week was warmer; it never got below zero again, and a couple days the temperature got up to 30 degrees in the afternoon. During the cold weather Ed started chewing up the top poles on her pen fence, so Andrea and I put up a hot wire along the top to keep her from eating up those poles completely.

Emily’s favorite cat Blackie (a uniquely colored cat, with a kink in his tail) that she raised from a baby) went missing from Andrea’s place last year. Later Andrea discovered that a neighbor had enticed the cat into her house and kept him. Blackie is an independent cat, however, and was beating up on the other house cats, and the lady banished him to her garage. Emily went to talk to the neighbor, who reluctantly gave her the cat back. Blackie is now happily living at Emily’s house downtown. Emily took a photo of her cat and grandpa when Lynn stopped by one day at Em’s house.

Lynn & Em's cat

Tuesday was Emily’s 19th birthday. Andrea made lasagna and we all had dinner at her house and celebrated Em’s birthday (and a few more gifts for Sam, as well, whose birthday was January 15). The deep snow has made our driveways challenging, even with the plowing Robbie has done, so Lynn and I didn’t try to drive up to Andrea’s house; Emily and Robert picked us up on their way by, and brought us home again after the birthday dinner.

The elk continue to come into our field, pawing through the snow and eating the rest of our pasture (that our cows would have eating this spring), and eating Alfonso’s haystack along the road. They eat with his cows when his daughter feeds them, and have tried to get in with our young cows to eat at their feeder—except Andrea’s dogs scared them away. We are hoping they won’t get in with our heifers.

Friday morning we finally had a chance to try to shoot an elk (to utilize the tags we bought for the elk depredation hunt) and shot a couple down in our lower field. Here’s a photo of Nick with the elk he shot, at the edge of the field.

Nick's elk

The other elk didn’t die immediately, and went over the hill. It had to be tracked down—and retrieved with a snowmobile—and the scary thing was that by the time Andrea and Robbie found that one a group of wolves was right there on the hillside above her. We realized that the wolves are still hanging around very close to our cattle.

Saturday afternoon Andrea and Robbie took the kids sledding up Carmen Creek with the snowmobile, inner tube and sleds, and they had a lot of fun in spite of the cold temperature. Andrea snapped this photo, but I’m not sure what Charlie is looking at, up in the sky!

kids sledding

On Sunday Michael brought his tractor down to help us load our bales and take big bales around to the heifers and load our feed truck. Here are photos of him taking a bale of alfalfa hay out to the heifer feeder.

Michael taking bale to heifers
putting bale in heifer feeder

This next photo shows Michael cutting the net wrap so we can unwrap it off the bale and get rid of it. Cattle often chew on and actually eat some of the net wrap or strings if you leave them on the bales, and this can cause indigestion and blockage in the stomachs, which can eventually kill the animal. We always remove strings and net wrap and never leave any in the field where the cattle can get at it.

Michael cutting net wrap off bale

Michael brought his tractor that day to move our bales around, because our tractor still has the two elk hanging on the loader, frozen solid—with sheets and tarps over them to keep the magpies and predators from getting at the frozen meat. 

Here’s a photo of Robbie putting more tarps around the elk to protect the meat.

Robbie putting tarps around the elk

It was a nice day, so I took Sprout’s front shoes off (that have been on since last fall) and Michael helped me take her hind shoes off, and I trimmed her feet.

Robbie shoveled the deep snow off the old barn roof (so the weight of the snow won’t collapse the roof) and Charlie shoveled the snow piles away from the barn doors so we can get them open.

Robbie shoveling snow off barn

That afternoon Dani and her friend (who was staying overnight on the weekend) spent some time brushing Ed in her pen, then helped Andrea bring some salt and mineral down for the heifers; they were running out. I fed the kids peanut butter sandwiches for a snack and then they hiked back up to Andrea’s house.

Shooting a couple of the elk that were eating in our field didn’t deter the rest of the herd. Yesterday 25 of them came back again, and 16 elk in another herd were eating at Alfonso’s haystack. 

Robbie used a snow blower to finish removing the snow off our house roof. Several roofs around our area have collapsed with all the weight from 2 feet of heavy snow, and we thought we’d better get some of the weight off our roofs before we get any more snow.

Yesterday we had to take more hay around to various groups of cattle, and needed our tractor, so Andrea, Lynn and Robbie hung the 2 elk in our sick barn shed, to get them off the tractor loader. Today about 25 elk were camped all day on the hill across the creek from our house, and this evening they drifted back down into the field to eat. We have deer netting around our haystacks (flexible plastic mesh—as shown in this photo) to keep the deer out of the stacks, but it’s not strong enough to withstand elk pressure, so we hope the elk don’t try out our haystacks.


deer netting around the stack of round bales


FEBRUARY 2 – We had another siege of sub-zero weather for a few days and had to plug in the feed truck at night so it would start in the mornings. Andrea talked to Alfonso’s daughter (met her along the road down by Alfonso’s haystack) one morning and she told Andrea that her father was coming back from Mexico soon and didn’t believe her regarding how cold it has been. He was angry at his daughter and son-in-law for feeding his cows so much hay while he was gone for the winter. 

Alfonso doesn’t understand that cows need more food in cold weather, and apparently doesn’t appreciate the fact that his cows look better this winter than they ever have. None of them starved to death so far this winter; he lost at least three last year to starvation during the winter when someone else was taking care of them for him and feeding them only 2 or 3 times a week like he instructed.

On Saturday about 30 elk were lounging on the hill above our lower field again. I took some photos of part of the herd—photos taken from our back porch. One young bull was busily itching (maybe lice biting him) and a calf was talking to its napping mom.

elk on hill
elk on hill - bull scratching an itch

They’ve been there nearly every day eating our grass, and another group on the other side of our place, eating on Alfonso’s haystack by the road. The elk have been pretty hungry during the cold weather, too.Sunday morning one of Alfonso’s cows was out on the road, eating on his haystack along with the elk. That evening we had dinner here for Andrea, Robbie and the kids when they came home from their dad’s place.

Monday morning Robbie, Michael and Nick started on the fence rebuilding project for Willow’s pen. They sawed out the old top poles and removed the net wire, and they put up a tall pole to route the electric wire across to my hay shed so they could do away with the electric wire around the old pen. The next day after hauling bales around with the tractor, Robbie used the tractor and loader to lift out the old crab apple tree stump, in pieces. That old tree blew down many years ago and needed to be moved so we can rebuild the fence it smashed. For all those years the big stump took the place of the fence in that corner. I took photos of the old stump pieces a few days later when Robbie and Nick were working on the new fence.

fence project - with old stump in the foreground

It snowed all Tuesday afternoon, and the band bus bringing Charlie and Sam home from an away game didn’t get back until after midnight.

Yesterday was very cold and windy so the guys didn’t work on the fence; they just took a load of posts and poles up into the field for the new fence and put a big pole across the top of Rishiam’s gate into the back yard (and I put a hot wire across the other gate) so that when they pound posts next week he won’t try to jump over a gate if he freaks out.

The wind was blowing big drifts across our driveway by that evening so Robbie plowed through those. Otherwise no one would have been able to drive in or out. It was still snowing this morning when Andrea and Lynn left very early to drive to Idaho Falls for her pain doctor appointment and his arthritis doctor appointment. The roads were a little bad but they got there on time. Robbie helped me feed the cows. 

Lynn’s doctor examined his shoulder (that’s been hurting for several weeks after it popped out of joint and then back in again) and told him some of the attachments are torn and he will probably need surgery. Lynn came home in a fancy sling that helps immobilize the arm and shoulder, so he won’t keep moving it too much and hurting it more. They got home at 9 pm and the temperature had dropped to 5 below zero by then.

A few days ago Emily sliced open her hand (between thumb and first finger) when chopping kindling with a new hatchet her dad gave her for Christmas. She closed the wound with a butterfly bandage, but it got infected and she soaked it in Epsom salts. It’s doing better by today.


FEBRUARY 8 – We are still having problems with deer and elk. Nearly every day the elk have been eating in our field and lounging on the hill above it. I took another photo of some of our “resident elk” camped out on the hill across the creek from our house.

elk on hill across creek

Last Friday morning when I went out to feed the horses I discovered that a bunch of whitetail deer had managed to slither into our haystack below the driveway, by going under the old flatbed truck. The truck is next to the stack and we’d attached netting to it, to keep the deer out of the hay. They’d gotten in there and tore up a bunch of hay, then knocked down the netting to get out. They waste a lot more hay than they eat! We don’t mind so much when they are constantly eating hay with our cows out in the field (because the cows clean up everything the deer don’t eat), but we try to keep the deer out of our haystacks because they pull out bunches of hay and tromp on it, poop on it and waste it. After we got done feeding the cows, Andrea helped me remodel the netting and we wrapped it around the stack in such a manner that the deer can’t get in again. Then she drove the tractor around to our other haystack to get big bales to reload the feed truck.

Andrea taking tractor around to haystack

Saturday morning I went out early to feed the horses—when it was still almost too dark to see anything, and found three elk eating hay from my haystack. A young 2-point bull looked at me like I was some kind of alien and didn’t leave until I ran up to them and started clapping my hands. Several more had been there and were just leaving. They’d eaten and torn up all the bales I had opened and laid out for feeding the horses that morning, and started eating on bales in the hay shed. They also left at least 10 piles of poop in the mess of torn-up hay bales. I chased them out of my stack and up into the field, and then they had a little trouble getting back through all the fences. There were 15 more up on the hill above the road, and it took the group more than an hour, pacing up and down the fences to finally all jump over the fences and leave. This is the first time we’ve ever had elk right here by the house, eating my horse hay.

We’re hoping they don’t come back. The next two nights I turned on all our yard lights including the two on the end of my hay shed, to try to deter them. They didn’t come back into my hay, but a herd of them went in with the young cows the next night and ate hay out of their feeders and left a big mess. We were trying to figure out a way to fence them out of that end of the pasture, but then Mother Nature came to our aid.

The past few days have been warmer—actually above freezing in the afternoons for the first time in many weeks. The snow started settling and getting softer and the elk seem to be staying farther up on the ridges where they may be able to paw through to some grass. Also, Alfonso moved all of his cows from the lower place (since all the hay in his stack along the road is gone now) and took them up to the Gooch place above us—and is feeding them up there. Some of the elk are now coming down into his field to eat with his cows.

We’ve been feeding a lot of extra hay this winter, with all the cold weather. We save a little of the big bale each day for Buffalo Girl when we feed the main bunch of cows. She’s been by herself in the maternity pen all winter, so we take her some hay with the sled. Here’s a photo of Andrea feeding her.

Andrea feeding Buffalo Girl

Michael and Carolyn decided to bring their horses out of Cheney Creek. They have a group of 5 horses on the 320 pasture that they are feeding a little hay to every few days, but they hadn’t seen the 3 horses in Cheney Creek up close for a long time. Those horses have been doing fine, pawing through snow to grass, and could usually be seen every day from a distance. It had been several days since they were in sight on the hills and ridges, however, so Michael and Carolyn got worried about them.

They tried to go across the wild meadow (from the county road) on a 4-wheeler but the snow was so deep it got high-centered and wouldn’t go very well. Michael was walking ahead of it breaking trail and Carolyn was pushing it, but they gave up on that. Carolyn stayed behind, and Michael hiked across the creek and across gopher meadow through crotch-deep snow. Then he had to wade through deep snow on the jeep track up the mountain, and that took a long time. He had to stop and catch his breath frequently, and his heart rate never got below 140 even when he was resting.

He didn’t see any tracks, and no horses, and was beginning to worry that the wolves had got them. He finally found them up near the top ridge—not far from the range fence. Then they didn’t want to follow him back down to the field. He had to take off one of his sweatshirts, put it around Gus’s neck, and lead him down. The mare followed Gus, but the other gelding didn’t come, and Michael had to go back for him. It took 2.5 hours to get the horses to the gate to come down to the field, and Carolyn was starting to worry about him. Gus and TJ (the mare) were in pretty good shape but the other gelding, Clifford, was starting to lose weight; it was time to bring them out of there.

Sunday night I cooked dinner for everyone again, when Andrea brought the kids back home from the weekend with Mark. After dinner Sam washed dishes while Andrea and Dani hiked out to turn on our yardlights. The elk are staying away from our barnyard now, however, so that was the last night we left the lights on.

With the warmer weather, we’ve been letting our fire go out at night (to save wood) and turning off the pellet stove in the livingroom during the day (to save pellets). This winter has been very expensive for heating our homes!

The warm afternoons have been pleasant; the horses often nap in the sunshine or take a nice roll in the snow to itch their backs. Here’s Dottie rolling around in the snow.

Dottie rolling

The blackbirds seem to know when winter has turned a corner. They came back to our creek on Monday—about a week earlier than usual. Yesterday the guys started back to work on Willow’s new pen. Robbie and Nick started tearing out the old hot wires and Michael took the flatbed trailer down to Millers and hauled Sy’s tractor and post-pounder up here. Andrea and I moved Dottie, Ed and Breezy to the pens by the calving barn so they would be farther away from the loud noise of the hydraulic jack-hammer pounder. We didn’t want any of them to freak out and crash into a fence.


Sy plowed the deep snow away from the fenceline. We left the snow there until the last minute, because it served as insulation and the ground underneath was not frozen—even after sub-zero weather that got down to 28 below zero. We wanted to be able to drive those posts and not have to thaw the ground to create post holes. After the snow was cleared away, Sy used the tractor loader to pull the old posts out of the ground, and then set the new posts in the new fence line—making the lane by my hay shed bigger (to make it easier to get in and out of there with the stackwagon) and Willow’s pen a little smaller. With the jack-hammer pounder, Sy set 40 posts in about an hour—with Nick lining them up and Robbie working the chain to pick up and place the posts where they needed to go.

getting post ready
Robbie getting a post in position for Sy to pound
pounding post

Andrea and I stayed out there by Willow and Rashiam to help keep them calm when the pounding started, because it is VERY loud. With our reassurance, and some extra hay to nibble on, those two didn’t get too frantic. After the first few minutes they realized the loud noise wasn’t going to hurt them, and they settled down.

Michael hauled Sy and his tractor back home again, Nick and Robbie got the tops of the posts sawed off and ready for the top poles, and I fed them chili and corn bread for lunch. It was snowing lightly during the post pounding and started snowing harder in the afternoon, so the guys decided to quit for the day. Andrea helped me put Dottie, Ed and Breezy back in their pens.

It snowed all evening and part of today, with 6 inches of new snow. We’re glad we got the posts set yesterday! Michael’s tractor had a flat tire this morning, so he was glad we’d plugged in our tractor (to take hay around to the young cows’ feeders this morning). He brought his feed truck down here so we could load a couple of our bales for him.


FEBRUARY 15 – Thursday and Friday Michael, Nick and Robbie worked on the new fence for Willow’s pen. With the new posts set, first they measured for cutting the poles to fit on top of the posts.

Michael measuring for new fence
Nick and Robbie measuring for the top poles

The got all the poles on the top nailed on, and putting up the net wire (no-climb netting, which has very small spaces so a horse can’t put a foot through it). For Willow, we must have the netting very close to the ground so she can’t reach under it; she always tries to reach through, under or over a fence, and we don’t want her to get herself in trouble. I took photos of the fence progress, and Robbie and Nick splicing some of the netting together before putting it up on the fence.

poles on top of posts
Robbie & Nick splicing netting together
net wire on fence

The weather was warmer the last few days, with a little rain instead of snow. The snow is settling a bit, but still very hard to try to drive through or walk through. The elk are still coming down to the fields. A big herd spent Friday night in the field above Andrea’s house.

Robbie and Michael welded some mesh panel on the bottoms of the two gates they’ll be hanging in Willow’s pen, so there will be no gap under the gates that she can get her head under.

On Saturday Dani helped us feed cows, riding on the feed truck, and also enjoyed pulling the sled to feed Buffalo Girl. 

Dani ready to go help feed cows
Dani pulling sled-full of hay
Dani feeding Buffalo Girl

Sunday was cold again (down to 8 degrees that morning). When Lynn got up that morning he had another bleeding episode—hemorrhage from the colon—passing a large quantity of blood when he thought he was having a bowel movement. This is what happened to him summer before last, during all the stress of our irrigation water problems (the neighbor stealing our water) when we were haying. We had to take him to the hospital for IVs and the doctor sent him on a life flight to St. Patrick’s hospital in Missoula. That was scary and stressful. 

This time he wasn’t as stressed about the bleeding because he knew what it was, and that he wasn’t going to bleed to death. We decided to ride it out and take care of it at home. This was less stress for him than going to the ER and having IVs or being flown to Missoula. We immediately got him started on lots of fluids and electrolytes, drinking Gatorade, and though he was passing toilet bowlfuls of blood about once an hour for 10 hours, he didn’t get to the point where he needed IVs. He kept his color, and normal blood pressure, and ate a little chicken noodle soup and Jello for lunch and supper and didn’t get too weak. By evening the hemorrhage was slowing down; he was only passing blood every couple hours, and then it seemed to stop. He was able to sleep that night without having to get up and go to the bathroom every hour. 

He was supposed to take the kids to the bus Monday morning, but wasn’t quite up to that. Andrea and Robbie drove to Salt Lake Sunday evening; she had an appointment on Monday with a specialist to see if she needs surgery on her neck—the bone spurs and problems that have been putting pressure on nerves. Charlie can’t legally drive without a licensed adult, until he gets his driver’s license later this month) but I let Lynn sleep, and I was doing the morning chores, Michael came down to our place and rode with Charlie and the kids to the bus, then brought the vehicle home. Lynn was able to rest all day, and was doing better by evening, but Michael drove down to Baker and got the kids off the bus. Charlie carried in wood to fill our wood box. He’s been helping carry in the wood several weekends, and some days after school.

Charlie getting the wood
Charlie bringing wood to the house

Bob and Jane stopped by that afternoon with a birthday gift for me (fresh baked bread and some apricot jam she made).

The doctor Andrea went to see had an emergency surgery that day, and wanted to reschedule Andrea’s appointment, but managed to work her in for a brief appointment just ahead of the surgery. The doctor didn’t think the bone spurs in her neck warranted surgery at this point in time, but may eventually. At this point in time she was more worried about her shoulder problem and the way the shoulder contracture is pulling her spine out of line. She referred her to a shoulder specialist, who was supposed to look at her late that afternoon. While she was waiting for that appointment she went to the burn ICU and visited with some of her old nurses and physical therapists who remembered her from the 2 months she spent there 17 years ago. They were very glad to see her.

When she went to her appointment with the shoulder specialist, there was some kind of glitch in the referral and they said it would have to be rescheduled. So she wasn’t able to see that specialist. They were very late leaving Salt Lake to come home, during rush hour traffic, which took awhile. By then Andrea was exhausted so they stopped at Brigham, Utah to spend the night.

Tuesday morning Michael went to the school bus with Andrea’s kids again and brought the car home. Sam and Charlie went with the pep band to play at one of the last basketball games of the season, at South Fremont High School in St. Anthony. Emily, on her way home from work at Tendoy, picked up Dani from the school bus and brought her home to feed the pets and get a change of clothes so she could stay with Emily that night and go to school from Emily’s house. While she was here she took a minute to say hello to her horse. 

Dani petting Willow

Willow is living in one of our calving pens by the house until we get her new fence finished so she can move back to her pen. We had to rebuild the old pen because the fences were deteriorating badly and we needed to use some materials that Willow can’t chew on and destroy. Michael and Nick put chicken wire around the top poles so she won’t be able to chew on them. 

Andrea and Robbie came partway home that morning. They stopped in Blackfoot to visit Robbie’s grandparents, and since they were so close to where the band kids were playing that evening, they stopped to watch the basketball game and hear the pep band. Sam and Charlie have really enjoyed playing in the band this year. They are a very small group, and only part of the band goes on the road trips to play at the away games—and that small group has become very, very good. Each band member has to excel since there are no extra instruments for those parts. They’ve become excellent musicians and sound like a professional band.


Pep band

Andrea and Robbie brought the kids home after the game, and got home about 1 a.m. this morning. Andrea and the kids were really tired this morning when they had to go to the school bus, and Andrea took a nap after she came back from the bus. Then she helped me feed the cows and break ice again on the creek, while Robbie helped Nick and Michael on the fence project. They got Willow’s new pen finished and I put Breezy in it for now, so they can tear down the old fence in her pen. Once they get her pen rebuilt, she and Willow can both go back to their own pens, and our extra calving pen will be free again for calving!


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P.S. If anyone would like to order autographed copies of my latest 3 books, I can be contacted at 208-756-2841 or by e-mail at hsmiththomas@centurytel.net. Details about those books can be seen at the end of some of my previous blogs.