Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Diary from Sky Range Ranch - December 19, 2016 through January 18, 2017

DECEMBER 27Last week was cold and we had to break ice daily on the creek for the cattle to be able to drink. When we tried to start the tractor last Monday it wouldn’t start, even though the engine heater had been plugged in all night. We put the battery charger on it and Robbie cleaned off the battery terminals, and an hour later we were able to get it started—and moved a new big bale out to the heifers’ feeder. The heifers were very silly and goofy and all ran out the gate into the pen next to the horses.

Robbie was closest to rescue them; he was in the tractor and Andrea was farther down the field by their feeder. So Robbie jumped out of the tractor and ran around them. He got ahead of them before they went out the next gate and into the lane. If they’d gotten out that gate they could have gone clear out to the county road before anyone could catch up with them.

Then we loaded big bales on the feed truck again, and took a big straw bale up for the cows in the field above the house for bedding, and a bale of straw for the heifers for bedding in this cold weather. The next day it was a little warmer but we had another snowstorm. The snow is getting deep—up to my knees. We are feeding the cows extra hay because they need more feed to keep warm.

cows eating hay
snow is deep except where the cows have been eating

The roads are slippery and treacherous with the new snow on top of ice, so Andrea took me to town for my doctor appointment to take the stitches out of my hand (from removal of the skin growth), and then on our way back home she got a phone call from the school saying Charlie had dropped a weight on his foot in P.E class and the teacher thought his foot was broken. So Andrea took me on home and turned around and went back to town again to take Charlie to the ER to have his foot x-rayed. It didn’t seem to be broken, just badly bruised. The doctor taped a couple of toes together to immobilize the area, and had him wear a special boot, just in case, and told him to elevate the foot and put ice on it for a few days.

That afternoon several Amish riders took a group heifers up the road to Yoders’ little pasture next to our upper place. The wire gate to their hill pasture above the road (where they had their buggy horses this fall) was open, and lying under the snow. Three of the heifers ran up through the gate and one of the cowboys went after them on his horse, not realizing there was a gate lying there. The horse got tangled in the wire, cut its legs, and bucked the rider off—then ran down the road. Michael and Carolyn saw a lot of blood in the snow, so we hope the horse wasn’t cut up too badly.

I started sending out Christmas cards and letters (and I’m still way behind, in getting them all sent). A couple days before Christmas I made personalized T-shirts for everyone in the family and a few friends—drawing horses on most of them and cartoons on a few. This is the standard Christmas present from Grandma in our family. I think I made nearly 20 T-shirts this year. We didn’t have much money for gifts, so I made T-shirts, and Andrea made fudge, and Carolyn made cookies and candy as gifts.

T-shirts from Grandma
I started drawing pictures on T-shirts many years ago. When Lynn and I were first married we often grabbed the wrong T-shirts out of the clean clothes. So I drew horses on mine and tractors on his—and eventually drew pictures on our kids’ T-shirts as well. It became a family tradition at Christmas and birthdays, to get personalized shirts.

Thursday it was 14 below zero in the morning, and never got above zero. Andrea and kids didn’t quite make it to the bus on time, so she let Charlie drive clear to school. He still needs a few more supervised driving hours before he gets his driver’s license.

It was too cold to start the tractor that day so we just loaded little bales on the feed truck for the cows for the next two days. By Friday afternoon, after being plugged in for almost 14 hours, the tractor started and we were able to take big bales around to the young cows, and load the truck again.

With it this cold, we have to leave the faucets dripping in our kitchen sink and bathroom sink, and those cupboard doors open, so the water pipes won’t freeze up. With the water dripping all the time, the kitchen faucets started leaking around their bases, and then we discovered water on the floor. It was leaking down the pipe and under the sink. So we had to put a bucket underneath the sink drain to catch the drips.

On Christmas Eve we had more snow – snowing hard. We had 4 more inches by Christmas morning—on top of our already-deep snow.

deep snow

After chores that morning Lynn and I opened our gifts. Michael and Carolyn gave us cookies, and also gave Lynn a cap and sweatshirt with the new logo for Michael and Son Custom Fencing. Lynn tried them on and posed for a photo.

Lynn in his new hat & sweatshirt

Andrea was busy all morning cooking turkey dinner and getting things ready before she went to town to pick up the kids from Mark (he had them for the first part of Christmas vacation, until 2 p.m. on Christmas day) so Jim helped me feed the cows that morning and fill our wood-box.
We all went to Andrea’s place to watch the kids open their gifts and then I came home to feed the horses before dark—and went back for Christmas dinner in the feed truck—since it had chains on and could make it through the new snow in the driveway. I took photos of the kids by the Christmas tree, and Em, Robert and Charlie lounging on the couch.

Christmas Day - Sam & Dani
kids by the tree
lounging on the couch

Yesterday was clear and cold, below zero again, and Jim helped me break ice out of the horse tubs and feed the cows. Later in the day Andrea and Robbie were able to start the tractor and take hay around, and another feeder for the young cows in the swamp pasture. We can give them two bales at once and not have to fill their feeders as often.

Today it’s actually above zero, but snowing again.

JANUARY 4 Last Wednesday the heifers ran out of hay in their feeder and we fed them some small square bales, and gave the heifers more loose salt and mineral in their salt feeder. The forage grown in this area is short of copper, so the cattle need some copper along with other trace minerals in their mineral mix. Andrea stirred up the salt and mineral together in their salt feeder.

Andrea refilling salt feeder
Andrea mixing the salt and mineral

I’m still slow getting all my Christmas cards and letters sent out—just sending a few each day. It may be Valentine’s Day before I get them all sent!

Andrea’s kids are glad to be here for most of the Christmas vacation, enjoying fun in the snow, and helping with chores and feeding. They also had a couple friends come stay with them overnight. Dani and a friend helped us feed the cows.

Dani & friend helping Andrea feed cows
cows enjoying their hay

Charlie helped Jim shovel the deep snow away from the mailboxes, and then they spent a couple hours shoveling snow out of the pens by the calving barn. The weather is supposed to be really nasty so we wanted to be able to let the heifers into those pens (with the windbreak sides) so they will be able to get out of the wind. We put some bedding in there so they can have a good place to sleep and won’t get so chilled.

Charlie and Jim also shoveled snow off the woodpile tarps. Here’s what it looked like before they shoveled the snow off.

woodpile covered with snow

The phones and internet quit working off and on the past few days, and the phone company has been trying to get that problem fixed. Every other day or so the phones quit working for a few hours.

On Saturday Charlie filled our wood-box again while Andrea helped me feed the cows, then Charlie rode around in the tractor with Robbie to take big bales to all the feeders, and re-load the feed truck—and they took another bale of straw up to the cows for bedding. Even though the temperature never got above zero, the sun was nice that day (and no wind yet) so Andrea held Ed and Dottie for me while I took their front shoes off. I meant to do it sooner; their shoes have been on too long—but I wasn’t able to do it during the 2 weeks my hand was stitched up. If weather is going to be worse for a while, I wanted to get those shoes off before the storm. Nasty, cold windy weather is miserable for human and horses both, trying to take off shoes and trim feet.

Dottie waiting at the gate

Later that afternoon—New Year’s Eve Andrea and Robbie took the girls and some of their friends sledding, and Charlie went up to my brother Rockwell’s place to work on his ham radio.

New Years Day was 13 below zero and warmed up to zero by afternoon. Andrea, Robbie, Emily, Robert and kids went sledding up Carmen Creek and had fun in spite of the cold. Monday felt like a heat wave, up to 15 degrees for a high. Michael brought his tractor down (it started easier that morning than ours would have) and took all the bales around for us, and got some diesel from our barrel). He used a big bale of straw to push the deep snow out of the windbreak corner in the bull pen, so Andrea could put some bedding there—for the bulls to get out of the wind and not freeze their testicles.

Yesterday was really cold again, and the phones weren’t working. The kids missed the bus so Charlie drove to school. He’s getting some good experience driving on winter roads.

We have a lot of snow building up, and icicles hanging down all around the house. Here are photos of some of the icicles.

icicles outside our window
winter window

With the cold weather and deep snow, a group of elk have been coming down to Alfonso’s haystack along the road just below our place. The deer have been eating on that hay all winter, but now the elk have discovered it too.

Today with the cold weather we didn’t even try to start our tractor, and Michael came down again with his tractor to load our hay and carry the big bales around to various feeders. He took a big straw bale home with him, to spread for his cows down along the creek where he’d pushed away the deep snow with the backhoe. They needed a place to get out of the wind, since the only place they’d been able to sleep was in the feed trails; everywhere else has 2 feet of snow. Tonight it’s snowing and windy, so we are glad we’ve given our cattle extra feed and bedding.

JANUARY 12 Most of this past week had sub-zero temperatures, down to 28 below last Thursday. It was so cold that most vehicles would not start, so school was cancelled. I fed horses early (because they were cold and hungry), as soon as it was light enough to see, but didn’t water them until after sun-up, or their water would just freeze up. Andrea and Robbie helped me break ice out of their tubs and water them when it was a little warmer. There were 9 elk at our neighbor’s haystack (just below our place, along the road) that evening.

On Friday Andrea and I took salt and mineral to the cows in the field above the house when we fed their hay, and to the young cows in the swamp pasture across the creek. Then she and Robbie went to town to thaw out Emily’s frozen pipes and put heat tape on them, and put some insulation around them. The little rental house is an old trailer house with no foundation and it gets very cold underneath it.

It’s been very cold, but sunny. The horses and cattle enjoy the sunshine, and I took photos of Ed taking a nap in the sun.

Ed napping in the snow

Michael has had a horrible respiratory infection that settled in his lungs. He went to the doctor and got a prescription for antibiotics--and prednisone to open his airways so he can breathe better.

Our phones and internet quit working again. The phone company had to work on the relay box (down along the highway) in sub-zero weather.

Saturday was very cold again and Andrea’s car wouldn’t start. She and Robbie came down here with Jim in his pickup. He has been spending long hours in the little trailer/shop here, making antler lamps etc. trying to finish several projects before he heads to Tennessee for a job that a fellow wants him to do back there.

It took Robbie more than an hour to chop ice and open up the drinking holes in the creek again for the cows, and the waterway (a spring) in the back pen for the bulls. With it this cold, everything had frozen thick ice overnight. I’ve been feeding the heifers some little grass bales along with their alfalfa hay, to give them more roughage to keep them warm (fermentation/digestion of hay in the rumen creates heat). They require a lot more feed during cold weather.
heifers eating some grass hay

That evening there were two big coyotes harassing Alfonso’s cows. Jim and Lynn took a gun down there to try to shoot them but didn’t get a good shot. Alfonso is still in Mexico (he leaves for several months during the winter and he has someone to feed his cows, but no one is around to really look after them). Some of his cows are calving, and their calves will be freezing to death in this weather. The ice on the creek is bad, too; one day Andrea and Robbie took pity on his thirsty cows and broke ice at the creek crossing (where the cows have been walking over the ice), so they could get a drink. At least they are being fed more regularly this winter than last winter, and the cows are not starving to death, like several did last year.

On Sunday Michael brought his tractor down again after he fed his cows and loaded his hay, since ours would not have started. He took a big bale of alfalfa out to the heifers’ feeder, loaded our feed truck, and brought the rest of the plastic net fence around from the haystack (that we didn’t need there this year) to put around the haystack below the lane. The whitetail deer are eating and tearing apart the alfalfa hay and the oat hay and wasting a lot of it, so we put the netting around more of that stack. There’s a broken-legged whitetail fawn that practically lives at that stack, but it can still get to the hay by crawling under the old flatbed 2-ton truck parked at this end of it.

fawn that lives at our haystack
fawn heading back to our haystack
The whitetail deer eat at the feeders with the heifers, and wander through the barnyard all day (and night) eating off the feed truck and eating any spilled barley hay that we feed the cows. I took photos of them in the driveway, and one photo looks like a stack of deer. One of the young ones got a little nervous as I was taking photos, and went trotting off across the bridge.

whitetail in driveway
young deer taking off

Sunday night I cooked a big dinner here again for when the kids got home from Mark, and Dani made our calving calendar for this coming calving season—writing each cow’s name on the date she is due to calve. Dani loves the cows and always wants to participate in their care and record-keeping. Em and Robert came out for supper, too, and we loaded some wood in their pickup to take home; they are about out of firewood.

The last couple days have been a little warmer; it actually got above zero. It actually thawed a little on Monday and the roads were so slick that school was cancelled; one bus slid off the road, and there was a snow slide on the river road that blocked the road and no buses could get through.

One of Alfonso’s cows had a hay twine caught around her hind foot and also around her head and neck, pulling her head around toward her foot. Jim noticed her along the road as he was driving up the creek that evening coming home from town. The poor cow was pretty helpless. So I called Alfonso’s daughter and left a message on her phone, and the next morning she called me back to thank me and said her husband was up here feeding hay to Alfonso’s cows and would try to find that cow and get the twine off.

Twines are dangerous if left on bales for cows to eat, or left in the field and not gathered up; cattle can get tangled in them and they also eat them. The plastic twine and net wrap that some bales are held together with doesn’t digest; it can plug up a cow (or calf) stomach and kill them.

Tuesday the roads were still very slick, so Andrea and Robbie took the kids to school rather than have them ride the bus. It was warm enough to start our own tractor, and Robbie and Andrea took bales around to feeders and loaded the truck. Then they helped Lynn put new faucets in our kitchen sink where the old ones were leaking.

Even with it warmer, the snow has not melted at all in the fields or barnyard. Here are a few more snow photos. My hay shed has been a big help for many years, keeping most of my horse hay from being water damaged by rain or melting snow.

snow on the fences
Buffalo Girl enjoying the sunshine
my hay shed

Carolyn ended up getting Michael’s respiratory infection and had to go to the doctor yesterday for antibiotics. Andrea and Robbie took the kids to school again (after they didn’t quite make it to the bus on time), which was a good thing because before it got to town, the bus slid off the road and into a snowdrift when it was picking kids up on the hillside subdivision near town.

Another herd of elk has moved into our place from the other side; there were 25 head camped out on the hill above our back field all day yesterday. By evening they were drifting up into the field by Andrea’s house and starting to come down in with the young cows to eat at their feeders. Andrea’s dogs came down and Curly sat in the gateway barking at them, and they didn’t quite get to the feeders.

elk waiting on the hill above our field
elk on hill across from our house

Robbie got the little red pickup working again. This was Nick’s pickup that plunged into Peets’ pond some years back (when Nick was driving it back and forth to high school). Nick had gotten out of it to shut their driveway gate and the emergency brake didn’t hold—and the pickup rolled across the main road, through the fence, and into the pond before he could catch up with it. Lynn and Carolyn pulled it out of the pond with our tractor and Nick borrowed our old car for transportation. The little drowned pickup has been sitting at the upper stackyard all those years, until Robbie towed it down here to work on it. He had to put a heater under it to thaw the frozen water to drain out of the motor, and then got it repaired. He’s been plowing people’s driveways with a 6-wheeler ATV and blade, but it’s had several breakdowns, so he wants to put a bigger plow on the red pickup.

Today was colder, down to zero again, and dropping colder tonight. With the elk ganging up and eating hay (going into the fields with Alfonso’s cows to eat with them, eating his haystacks, and now trying to get in with our cows to eat their hay) we asked the Fish and Game Department what we can do to deter them. Shooting at them doesn’t scare them enough; they just go a little ways up the hill and wait, then come right back. With the cold weather and deep snow they will just stay here and eat our hay, and we can’t afford to feed 40 elk. There is another herd of about 80 that are living in another rancher’s field down on the highway below us.

The Fish and Game is selling a few elk tags for a deprecation hunt—for elk that are in ranchers’ fields. So Andrea, Lynn and Nick went to town today to get their hunting licenses for this year, and elk tags. Maybe if we actually shoot 2 or 3, the elk will be more apt to stay away. We also need the meat. It’s been too cold to butcher our old cow (Buffalo Girl) and Michael’s old cow (which they’d planned to eat) and now they are getting closer to calving again so we’ll probably just calve them out one more time—and eat elk instead, if we can harvest some.

While they were in town, Andrea, Nick and Lynn drove out to Jenelle’s place (Lynn’s younger sister) and took photos of the new fence that Michael, Nick and Robbie built for her a couple months ago. I needed photos for an article I’m writing for a cattle publication, discussing building barbed-wire fences. The snow was so deep, however, it was hard to get good photos. Here are some photos that they took of the fence, and a photo Lynn took of Andrea taking pictures.

Andrea taking photos of fence
Barbed-wire fence in snow
fence at top of a hill

Lynn also took photos looking across at the Continental Divide (Beaverhead Mountains).

view from the road by Jenelle's ranch

This evening when I was doing chores, I started to pull a bale of grass hay out to the heifers with the calf sled (which holds a small bale nicely) but the bottom of the sled had ice on it; when the weather warmed up a couple days ago the snow on the sled—which was upside down—froze to the bottom of it. The icy bottom was too rough to slide and I was having a very hard time pulling it, even on the packed driveway snow. Emily came along about that time, driving up to our place after work, to talk to her Dad and wish him well on his trip to Kentucky. She helped me get the sled out to the field; she pushed while I pulled! The heifers were grateful for the hay.

Nick came along right after that, eager to shoot one of the elk before dark (they were right by the road again, at Alfonso’s haystack) but it was getting too late and cold. We’ll have to wait until the weather is a little warmer for field dressing and skinning an elk, or Andrea’s hands will freeze. She’s our family butcher.

JANUARY 18 More bitterly cold weather. Last Friday Lynn helped me pull the sled out to the field to feed the heifers another bale of grass hay, using his one good arm to pull (his right shoulder is impaired and painful) and I pushed the sled. If the ice ever melts off the bottom of the sled it will pull better!

Here are photos of more new snow. I took pictures of Buffalo Girl eating her hay in a snowstorm.

Buffalo Girl eating her hay in the snow

I also took photos of the snow covering our car and pickup. Lynn hasn’t driven them to town lately. With the bad roads, Andrea has been doing all of our town errands (getting groceries, etc.) and Lynn hasn’t had to try to drive to town. 
snow covered vehicles

Jim finished packing his trailer, collected the sacks of meat he stored here in our freezer, and headed out on his trip to Kentucky. The roads are pretty good at our end with the clear, cold weather, but there are some really bad ice storms right now in the eastern part of the country.

Willow tore down her hot wire (nylon tape with little electrified wires in it) at the end of her pen. It’s the barrier that keeps her from fighting the gelding on the other side of the fence) and had it strung out in her pen, eating the end of it! I had to go out there and put it back up before she ingested very much of that wire-laden plastic!

Robbie plowed snow for several people that day, but the plow mounts broke when he hooked a frozen berm. He worked on the plow until late that night, welding some of it back together again. By Saturday morning it was good to go. He had a plowing job up Tower Creek, and while he was here borrowing some chains for his tires I took photos of his “new and improved” snow plow.

red pickup & plow

The next morning Shiloh and Sprout were impatient for breakfast as I fed the other horses on that cold day—running up and down the fence squealing, rearing and kicking at each other. Sprout trashed the new fence between them, kicking holes in the netting and breaking one of the top poles—and also tore down hot wire across the top end of her pen. After Andrea and Robbie helped me break ice out of tubs we put up a hot wire along Sprout’s side of the fence—about 6 feet away from the fence, to keep her from trying to fight with Shiloh.

Saturday morning the temperature was 8 below zero and by Sunday it was 26 below zero. I fed horses early but didn’t water them until after sun-up—after Andrea and Robbie finally got his pickup started and came down to help break ice and feed cows.

Lynn and I made a big potato salad, fruit salad and homemade pizza for dinner that night, for when Andrea and Robbie brought the kids home from their weekend with Mark. It was Sam’s birthday so we gave her a few gifts after supper, and Andrea had made a cake.
Sam's birthday cake

Monday it was 26 below zero and school was cancelled. It never got up to zero that day. Charlie came down with Robbie and Andrea and he filled our wood-box while we fed cows. He also helped Andrea load a bunch of little bales from the stackyard to bring to the bulls and to stockpile for when I need to feed extra hay to the heifers and Buffalo Girl. Charlie also shoveled the big piles of snow away from the gates by the lane in case we ever need to close them to move cattle through.

Michael brought his tractor down again yesterday; it was too cold to start ours. It was only 13 below zero, but never got above zero all day. Today it’s warming up a bit; it only got down to 3 below zero last night. We are hoping for warmer weather!