Sunday, December 3, 2017

Diary from Sky Range Ranch - October 21 through November 18, 2017

OCTOBER 29 – Last Friday Andrea and I had planned to ride to the 320 and check the cows but the weather turned cold and very windy—not a good day to ride young Willow. It started raining by noon and was raining when Steve Herbst brought us another load of straw. He had to unload it in the rain and then had a little trouble getting the semi truck turned around and up our muddy driveway.
Michael was going to set posts on the upper place to rebuild the fence between his upper field and Yoder’s (Binning’s old place) that was mashed down by the neighbor’s horses but it started snowing hard and the post-driving got postponed until the next day.
Alfonso was shipping his calves that afternoon in the terrible wind, rain and snow. Afterward he came up to our place with the brand inspector to do an official inspection of the 2 bull calves we are buying from Alfonso. Now we can brand them with our brand.
The next day was not so windy, but still cold and snowy. Andrea and I rode Sprout and Dottie to the 320 to check the cows, and most of them were down at the bottom. Dottie and I took that group up the ridge and Andrea rode up Baker Creek. The overflow on our new trough was plugged with leaves and fir needles that had blown into the trough from the big storm, but Andrea was able to get it unplugged.
Sunday was stormy again. We talked to Michael and decided to postpone putting a new roof on the south side of our house, and do it next spring in warmer weather. We can probably patch the valley area where it’s been leaking, and get through the winter.
That morning I started feeding Buffalo Girl and the 9 weaned heifers a little bit of hay at chore time, to start gentling the heifers. Buffalo Girl is their role model and when she comes to the hay, they do, and are not as scared of a person out there feeding them.
Andrea and Robbie went up the creek that afternoon to get another trailer load of firewood; we don’t have enough yet to see us through winter. I cooked a big supper for them and for the kids coming home that evening from Mark’s place. Robbie and Andrea took that load of wood to Emily and ate supper here late after they got home.
We got an e-mail from granddaughter Heather in Canada telling us about their grain harvest and the horrible windstorm they had that damaged their roof and caved in and shredded the door of the big shop building, smashing it against the combine, destroying the combine window. The wind accentuated a big prairie fire that roared over the countryside burning up farms and homes (and several towns had to be evacuated) but they were safe from the fire. She sent a cute photo of 6 month old Joseph (Monkey) Michael reading a horse magazine.

Joseph reading 
Monday after school Charlie helped Lynn change the oil in our old jeep, and Dani shot a buck in the field by Andrea’s house. There was only one day left for hunting, and Andrea and Jim were hiking up Joe Moore Creek to try to find a buck, while Dani was shooting a nice whitetail buck right next to the house! She made a good shot, shooting it through the neck. Robbie got home from work (at Birds Tire Center) in time to help her field dress it, and Andrea helped her skin it when she got home.
Tuesday evening Sam and Charlie both sang in the Legacy Choir during the Salmon Idol performance and it was fun to hear them sing.
We’ve had several cold mornings, down to 22 degrees. Wednesday morning we moved the 8 pregnant heifers from the lower field (next to the range) and brought them up through the barnyard, then put them in the field above the weaned heifers. We have a little grass left up there and hope it will last awhile. Then Andrea and I rode to check on the cows – Willow’s 36th ride this year. All our cows were down at the lower trough so we moved them back up to the top. Nearly half of them were being lazy, lounging around at the bottom trough.
lazy cows


Andrea and I gathered them up (more good experience for Willow) and moved the low ones back up to the top. We took them up the roadway that Michael created to put in the low trough, and then up Baker Creek. They need to finish grazing the top grass before it snows under.
Andrea & Willow starting the lazy cows back up
herding the cows up the roadway from the new trough
Thursday was warmer but windy. Lynn and I went to town for flu shots.

Friday Lynn went with Andrea to Idaho Falls for her pain doctor appointment. The MRI she had earlier this fall showed torn cartilage in her shoulder, and the doctor injected several cortisone shots into that shoulder in hopes it will help reduce the pain.

Yesterday was warm again, up to 50 degrees. Andrea cut up most of Dani’s deer to put in the freezer, and that afternoon Andrea, Jim and Robbie went up the creek for another load of firewood.

Today Andrea shut off some of our irrigation water. After lunch we rode to check the cows. This was Willow’s 37th ride. We’ve now ridden her as many times this year as she was ridden the first summer we started training her (2 years ago when she was a 3 year old), after skipping last year. She’s come along nicely. I took a photo as we were riding down the ridge.
going down the ridge; Willow's 37th ride
When we got home from the ride, Andrea went with Robbie and Jim for another load of firewood and I cooked supper for everyone again.


NOVEMBER 7 – This past week was cold and stormy, down to 13 degrees one night. Andrea helped Jim saw up some of the firewood and she finished cutting up Dani’s deer and grinding the hamburger. A couple people ordered some of my books and Lynn mailed them for me.

I’ve been busy editing/updating my book Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses, since the publisher wants to do a 4th edition, and I have to have the updates done during this next month. I’ll have to cram the reading into odd moments here and there, to see what needs to be updated. I also received page proofs for the update on Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, which I have to check over within 2 weeks. Lynn took a silly snapshot of me as I was spending a few minutes reading some of the Raising Horses book, so took a photo of him standing.
reading to update book
Lynn in our cluttered dining room
Last Tuesday Michael and Nick drove up to the 320 and took our last 4 tubs of protein for the cows, just ahead of another snowstorm that would have made it impossible to drive up there. Later that day they put 4 buckets of tar in the roof valley on our house to try to seal off the leaks that have been getting worse.

Andrea and I made a fast ride on Sprout and Dottie to chase the low cows back up so they could find the new protein tubs. I took some up the ridge and Andrea went up Baker Creek to move those cows up to the top. I got mine up to the tubs on the ridge by the fence corner and hurried down Baker Creek to meet up with her and help her with that stubborn group. Some of them had gone down through the timber into Baker Creek so I led her horse and followed the group on the main trail while she hiked up the creek bottom on foot to chase the ones that ditched out. When we got them all out to the ridge we took half the herd on around to the top two protein tubs. Then we hurried home so she could make it to town in time for her appointment with the eye doctor at 4 p.m.

We plugged in the tractor that night. Early Wednesday morning Lynn put more air in the front tires before Steve Herbst’s hired men brought 2 semi-loads of square bales (alfalfa). Lynn unloaded them, and a load of round bales on the upper place. Lynn drove our tractor up there to unload those, since Michael was busy building fence on a custom fencing job. We got the hay unloaded just as it started to rain.

While the hay was being unloaded, Andrea and I put Magnicate’s yearling heifer back where she belonged. She’d jumped over the fence to get in with the weaned heifers the day before. To get her sorted out, we brought the weaned heifers (and Buffalo Girl) into the calving pen and side pen, sorted off the yearling, and took her back up through the field to put with her group. Then, to make sure she didn’t jump in with the little heifers again, we took that group on up to heifer hill, where there are two fences between the two groups. The fence on heifer hill is new and there’s no way any heifers will get through it. The old fence above heifer hill is not so good, however, so Andrea and I spent an hour patching it, to make sure none of our heifers crawl through into the Gooch place (Alfonso’s rented pasture) or any neighboring stray cattle get in with ours. In the process of patching the fence and piling brush over the mashed-down fence in the creek bottom, Andrea found an old lariat that was partly buried in the mud by the creek. From the looks of it, it was there for a long time, probably since Randolph Colston had cattle on the Gooch place, before we started renting it in 1970. He probably tried to rope a critter that got away and ran off with the rope, and lost it there in the brush.

One of my magazine editors wants to put a blurb in the December issue about my book series (Horse Tales, Cow Tales, and Ranch Tales) and needed a photo of Ranch Tales, so I took a picture to send to her.
photo of book cover
That evening Lynn and I went with my brother Rocky and his wife Bev to their annual church dinner and party and enjoyed a nice meal and some very hilarious games and skit.

Thursday was stormy with more threat of snow. While it was still just drizzling little rain, we put tarps on the new haystack, to cover them before we get a lot more rain and snow. The next day we had rain and snow all day and were very glad we had the stacks covered. Andrea and Lynn shut off our irrigation ditches and dammed them off so we won’t get flooding during the winter and ice-buildups over the fields.

Saturday we had more new snow and a lot of fog. I took photos (from the bathroom window) of a whitetail doe and her fawn eating grass alongside the house.
whitetail doe
whitetail fawn with an itch
doe and fawn between the house and the horse pens
Charlie worked on the old Ranger that was given to him and put new spark plugs and wires on it after he helped Jim fill our wood-box. Alfonso and John Miller brought Alfonso’s cows back to our creek from some rented pasture elsewhere and put them all in the little pasture right above our field by Andrea’s house.

It was Dani’s birthday so that evening we had a pot luck dinner at Andrea’s house and a birthday party. It got cold that night, down to 17 degrees when we got home.

On Sunday Robbie helped Lynn fix the worn-out brakes on the old feed truck. Andrea and I dressed warm and rode Sprout and Dottie to the 320 to see how the cows fared during the stormy days. Most of them were out on the north side of the 320 where the snow was less deep, and the grass is nearly all gone on that side. Only 10 cows were up at the protein tubs in the deep snow, and they’d eaten hardly any protein. It looked like they’d all come down during the storm (right after Michael and Nick took the tubs up there 5 days earlier) and probably only a few of them even knew the tubs were there.

With the deep snow and diminishing grass, we decided it was time to let them into the lower part of the 320 where the snow is not so deep. Andrea and I opened the ridge gate on our way home, and hurried home. She and Robbie went back up to the 320 in his little pickup. Even with chains on, they had trouble getting up the ridge. They managed to get up as far as the first 2 tubs but the hill was too steep and the snow too deep to get to the higher ones. They hiked up to those and rolled them down the hill around to the fence, and through the gate, but couldn’t get them any lower than that.
Rolling a protein tub down the hill
They opened all the gates and drove down out of there just as it got dark. It started snowing again that night.

Yesterday it snowed even more, which brought the cows down out of the high part of the 320 and into the lower section. Andrea and kids left at 4 a.m. to get to the school in time to go on the buses for their music trip with the Legacy Choir. Andrea was one of the parents that accompanied the kids. The roads were very bad (with all the new snow, and not plowed yet) until they got over the pass and headed down into lower country. The regional gathering was at one of the schools near Ashton, with choirs from many schools attending. They rehearsed all day and put on a concert that night, then came home on the buses, and got home after midnight.

Today was cold again and barely got up to freezing. Andrea and I rode Sprout and Dottie up the road to check on the cows, heading up the draw to the lower gate.
Andrea & Sprout riding up to the 320
Only a few cows were clear down at the bottom gate, along with 30-plus mule deer does and fawns eating the short green regrowth on grass in that lower area.
some of the mule deer at the lower corner
mule deer does & fawns in 320
We pushed those cows up to the protein tubs that Andrea and Robbie left by the big water tank in the fenceline between the 320 and 160, and took some of the cows that were lounging there on up to the tubs at the top of that pasture—the tubs that Andrea and Robbie put through the gate a few days earlier. No cows had found those tubs yet and they are still very full. The cows need to eat those down a little so they won’t be so heavy—so we can roll them on down to a lower spot where the cows can find them more readily. Andrea broke 4 inches of ice on the little trough on that hillside.
pushing the low cows up to the protein tubs


NOVEMBER 18 – Last Wednesday was milder weather, so we butchered Buffalo Girl. We wanted to get her taken care of before it got cold again, so the carcass wouldn’t freeze solid (making it harder to cut up the meat). We took her to the main corral and gave her a nice flake of hay to eat, so she’d be happy and unsuspicious, not moving around when Jim shot her. He did a perfect shot (in the center of the forehead between her eyes and ears) which was an instant stunning and she never felt a thing. This was the most humane end for Emily’s pet cow—not as stressful as selling her would have been (sending her to the auction). She was almost 14 years old and had a good life.

As a calf, Buffalo Girl was orphaned at 2 months of age when her mama suddenly died. We had to gentle her (she was a very scared, wild child!) and we fed her on a bottle for several months. Emily was 6 years old that spring and spent a fair amount of time here at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, so she helped feed Buffalo Girl. The two of them became closely bonded. She would go out to the backyard or pasture, wherever Buffalo Girl happened to be, and pet that calf. The young heifer was totally at ease with her young friend, totally trusting.
Em & Buffalo Girl as a calf
Two years later, Emily was staying with us one weekend and went out to help us feed the cows. After we’d spread out the hay for a group of 2-year-old heifers (including Buffalo Girl) and their babies, Em wanted to pet her old friend, and walked right up to that young cow. Buffalo Girl knew exactly who Emily was, even though she hadn’t seen Emily for nearly 2 years, and seemed to enjoy being patted and petted.
Em & Buffalo Girl at age 2
Whenever Em came to the ranch, regardless of how long it had been since she’d seen Buffalo Girl, she could go out to the pasture and that cow would come up to her to be petted and scratched by her favorite person. She tolerated the rest of us but didn’t have the same level of trust and acceptance that she always had for Emily.
Em petting Buffalo Girl several years later
So, when this cow got old, it was only fitting that Buffalo Girl end her life here, on the ranch where she was born and loved by her “people”. After her swift and merciful death, we used the tractor to pick up the carcass and take it down to our lower pasture to field dress and skin her, then brought her back up here. We put sheets around her to keep magpies off the carcass, leaving her hanging on the tractor loader to cool out. Andrea, Robbie and Jim put a tarp around her that evening in case it snowed.

The next day Lynn drove the tractor up to Andrea’s house so she and Jim could work on the carcass right there and take the front quarters into her kitchen to cut up. She and Jim worked on cutting meat all day—and the next day—and got it finished. The old cow was in good shape and fat, and made a lot of nice roasts, and 160 pounds of hamburger, to put in the freezer.

It snowed again, but not enough to be a problem for Lynn when he went to town to locate water for a lady who has property on the old ranch high above town. She wants to sell her place, and needed to find a location for a well. On his way home he got a load of pellets in our pickup, for our pellet stove. We only run that stove during the coldest nights during winter; the rest of the time the one stove in our kitchen heats the whole house. It’s an old wood stove (a Montag) that Lynn’s dad bought in 1946 and later gave to us after we were married. We put in our old log house during very cold weather in January 1968 (after unsuccessfully trying to keep warm with the money-gulping oil stove that was here when we moved in during January 1967).

Saturday was a nice day, up to 45 degrees, and the snow was settling. The new preacher lady at the Methodist church came out to meet us and had lunch here. We had a good visit with her. She is 77 years old, grew up in a rural area in Missouri, became a minister in mid-life after being a nurse and hospice caregiver, and spent the last 30 years serving churches in Montana and one in Wyoming. She retired 3 times, and 3 times came out of retirement (just like my father did) to pastor various churches that needed a preacher.

That afternoon Andrea and I made a fast ride to the 320 to check on our cows again, and were glad to see that a lot of the snow had melted on the lower end of that pasture and the cows were doing well—except they weren’t using those 2 upper protein tubs! So Andrea rolled them on down to the flat spot by the little water trough on the hillside, while I led her horse.
rolling the tubs down the hill farther
She was able to get the first one down the trail, through the snow and sagebrush, without it getting away from her and into the gully, but the second one rolled into the gully. The tubs were still quite full and probably weighed well over 200 pounds each, so it was difficult getting that second one rolled on down through the narrow gully, and over the rocks and brush, but she did. Then we herded most of the cows to their new location.
taking the cows up to the top protein tubs
heading for the protein tubs
After we got the cows up to the tubs, we broke ice again on the little water trough. The big trough in the lower area stays ice-free unless it gets really cold, because it runs more water, but this little one freezes up.

The next day we rode again. All of Michael and Carolyn’s cows were at the lower tubs and no cows at the top ones. Our cows had grazed out to the ridge toward Baker Creek. So we moved the low lazy cows to the upper tubs again; they’ve got to eat those, or they’ll eat up the lower ones and we’ll have protein left uneaten by the time we have to move the cows down to the road pasture by the fields.
We took the lazy low cows up to the upper tubs
While we were up there Andrea chopped ice on the little trough with Jim’s saddle ax that she’d brought this time.
Andrea chopping ice
Then she got all the ice out of it the trough so the cows could drink easier, scooping out big hunks of it with the flat side of the ax.
scooping the ice out of the trough
That evening I fed all the crew at our house (roast, potatoes and gravy) when the kids came home from Mark’s place.

Monday was a nice day but we didn’t make it back up to the 320 to check the cows because Andrea and Lynn went with Jim to Missoula Montana. He had to fly early the next morning to New Jersey to help his sister for a month, doing carpentry work on her house. Andrea and Lynn brought his pickup back home so he wouldn’t have to leave it at the airport. They will drive back over to get him when he flies home next month.

On their way back from Missoula they left Buffalo Girl’s hide with a taxidermist to tan, as a gift for Emily, as a remembrance of her special cow. Andrea still cherishes the beautiful hide we tanned for her, many years ago, when we had to butcher her special pet—a crippled calf named Queenie [her unique story is one of the stories in my book Cow Tales].

While Jim is gone, Charlie has taken on the job of splitting wood and filling our wood box for us, every day after school.

On Tuesday it was very cold and snowed again, big heavy flakes that added up to several inches. But the temperature was fairly warm and it settled to just a couple inches by late afternoon. We’d hoped to ride to the 320 and check on the cows, but didn’t make it that day. I had too many phone interviews to do (for various articles for horse and cattle magazines).

We rode to the 320 on Wednesday even though it was cold that morning (18 degrees). I took a photo of Andrea opening the wire gate on the trail to the 320.
Andrea opening the gate to go up the trail to the 320
The snow was thawing just enough by then to be packing in our horse’s feet (making ice balls) and the footing was very slippery on the trail to the 320.
 riding up toward the 320
I took another photo of Andrea opening the gate into the 320.
opening the gate into the 320
We chased a few of the low cows back up to the lower tubs…
moving the cows up
cows at the lower protein tubs that were nearly empty
…and broke ice again on the little trough. The cows had barely eaten any protein in those top tubs by the trough; they were still almost full. So Andrea rolled them, one at a time, down to a fairly level grassy area below the trough.
Andrea rolling tub
 All of our cows saw us doing that, and came to lick on those tubs.
our cows watching Andrea rolling the tub
cow following the protein tub
cows enjoying the protein
Then we hurried home so she could go to town in time to pick up Sam at school and take her to a doctor appointment and also go to the parent-teacher conferences at the school.
Charlie had a flat tire on his pickup and had to fix it, and didn’t make it out here after school in time to split any wood before dark, but filled a wheelbarrow load of already split wood to put in our nearly empty wood box.

The next day was warm and windy and more of the show melted on the 320, so the cows could get to more of the grass. Charlie split wood for us after school. Yesterday he split more wood, and helped Andrea and me load a dozen little bales on the feed truck to bring from my hay shed and across the driveway to make a little stack by Shiloh and Sprout. Now I won’t have to keep bringing their hay from my shed in a wheelbarrow. Charlie also helped Andrea haul some more hay to the feeder in the bull corral.
This morning was cold, 17 degrees, but it got up to 38 degrees by mid-afternoon. Andrea and Sam came at noon; Sam cleaned house for me (I’m going to hire her a couple times a month to help clean house since I never have much time to do it—I am always doing phone interviews and typing articles). While she worked on that project Andrea and I rode to the 320 and checked the cows. The protein in the lower tubs is all gone and the cows are all having to eat on the two upper ones. We broke the ice again on the little water trough on the mountainside. The feed is nearly gone up there; it might last a few more days, but we’ll soon be bringing the cows down to the fields and road pasture.
*** In the next few weeks I hope to find time to write our annual Christmas letter. In the meantime, I am also hoping more people will become aware of my ranch series books (Horse Tales, Cow Tales and Ranch Tales) and order some as Christmas gifts!
They are $24.95 a piece (and I will autograph them), plus $3 postage. I’m giving a discount whenever anyone orders all 3 books – the 3 of them for $70, plus $7 postage. They can be ordered by mail (Heather Thomas, P.O. Box 215, Salmon, ID 83467) or by phone (208-756-2841) or by e-mail ( hsmiththomas@centurytel.net )