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.