Saturday, January 27, 2018

Diary from Sky Range Ranch - December 19, 2017 through January 15, 2018

DECEMBER 26 – A week ago today Michael and Nick worked on the new fence, setting more posts, and I fed them spaghetti for lunch. They continued setting posts all afternoon and then Michael helped me get another big bale for the heifers with the tractor, to put in their feeder, before they went home.

Then I did chores and fed the horses. The days are so short that I have to start chores very soon after 4 p.m. to get done before dark. I still had a tarp over the exposed loads of hay at the end of my hay shed, and had to get up under the tarp to roll some more bales down for the horses.

tarp at end of shed
The two rows of stacked hay have a gap between them, and I’m always careful to not slip and fall down that crack when I’m up on the stack. I stepped across the crack to get another bale, and had just chuckled to myself about what would happen if I ever fell down between the stacks and how long it would be before someone could find me!

Just a moment after having that thought, I was wrestling with a bale (these hay bales weigh almost as much as I do) to send it rolling down the stair-stepped stack, and it was caught on one end by the large tarp and not coming down. As I pulled on it to get it free, it suddenly gave way and pushed me backward and down, and one leg slipped down into that crevasse. The bale pushed me on over and I was literally hanging there by one leg, with my knee twisted around. The pain in my knee made me realize I’d really boogered that joint! I felt like an unfortunate deer or elk that gets a leg hung up in a fence while trying to jump over it, and hangs there to die.
It hurt even worse as I struggled around and pulled my leg out and crumpled and somersaulted on down to the ground. I lay there a moment, a bit shook up, and took stock of the situation. My knee was definitely damaged but I was not hurt in any other way. Pain was excruciating to get up and move my leg, but I quickly realized that the worst pain occurred with any side movement. If I kept the leg straight I could still tolerate bending the knee a little, so I very carefully climbed back up on the stack, under the tarp, and got a few more bales down, tied down the tarp again, wheeled some hay in the wheelbarrow around to where I needed it for morning, and finished feeding the horses and the two little bulls.

I was a bit slow and it was completely dark when I got back to the house, and then put DMSO all over the back and sides of that knee (the parts that were starting to swell) and wrapped it with Vet-Rap to give it some support and help inhibit sideways motion. I put an ice pack on the knee for the rest of the evening. I put more DMSO on it before bedtime and used an ice pack for a while into the night. The next few days I continued to use DMSO and wrap it, and was able to hobble around and do my chores. I realized nothing was broken (thank God for strong bones) but I probably tore the medial cruciate ligament (MCL) partly loose from the bone. It’s still very sore but tolerable, with careful movement; any turning, twisting to the side brings sharp excruciating pain. At least I can still do my work and hike around outside doing my chores if I do it carefully.
The day after I injured my knee, we brought our cows down from the upper place. The cold weather, snow, and diminishing grass made it necessary to bring our cows home, and for Michael to start feeding hay to their cows. Michael, Carolyn and Nick went up to the wild meadow late morning to start getting the cows in to sort, but they didn’t have to put them in the corral. Most of theirs were already off the hill pasture and had gone into the wild meadow to get a drink, and ours were still out on the hill. Nick hiked up there and encouraged a handful of their cows to go on down to the field, and brought ours around to the road. They were already starting down the road when Andrea, Lynn, Jim and I went up there with the feed truck and Jim’s truck. We turned around by Michael’s driveway, and Andrea and Lynn went down the road ahead of the cows, luring them with the feed truck, while Jim and I followed behind the herd in his truck. We put our cows in heifer hill and across the bridge to the field by Andrea’s house, to join up with the 8 pregnant yearling heifers already pastured there. The snow is not very deep on that field, and there’s still some grass, so we’re hoping they can graze a few more days before we have to start feeding hay.
Young Heather and Gregory sent us photos of little Joseph with his mom, his grandpa John Eppich, and trying to drive their pickup at a very early age.

Joseph 7.5 months old

Joseph and Grandpa John
Joseph driving the truck
Joseph helping his mom
Michael went to town to buy chains for his skid steer so he and Nick could finish setting the posts for our new fence. The snow and frozen ground on the little hillside beneath the ditch and the road made it too slippery to maneuver, and they needed chains for the skid steer for pounding those posts. Andrea went to the doctor again (9 days after her accident falling through the ice and tweaking her ankle) but it was still impossible to tell if anything was broken or just sprained.
Early Wednesday morning we had rain, that changed to snow, with temperature plummeting about 15 degrees in half an hour, and it was cold and windy all day. Here’s a photo of a young whitetail deer in of our upper fields.

young whitetail deer
Michael and Nick had to take the post pounder back to Millers because they needed it, and weren’t able to set any more posts for a couple days. Dani and Charlie have missed a couple days of school, being sick, and Andrea took them to the doctor that day, and took Sam to the chiropractor. We’re a fine bunch of invalids!
Thursday they all made it back to school. Michael and Nick got the post pounder back again and set almost all the rest of the posts. With the colder weather (down to 18 degrees) the ground has been freezing more (with deeper frost) and it’s getting harder to pound the posts. They had to dig a few post holes by hand.
Friday morning I plugged in the skid steer for Michael at 4 a.m. when I got up to type articles. Michael and Nick got here by 9:30 to try to finish work on the fence that needed to be done before the ground freezes more. Michael brought the backhoe down and made a new drain ditch at the top of the little field, so tail-water from the field above it during irrigation can go directly back to the creek and not down along the edge of this field where we are rebuilding the fence.

Lynn went to town for mail and groceries and a few last minute Christmas gifts and I made a bunch of personalized T-shirts for everyone for gifts (drawing horses on some of them, cartoons on the others). The next day I finished up all the T-shirts and last-minute Christmas cards and letters to mail.
Meanwhile, in Canada, baby Joseph had earlier posed in a Santa suit with his dad, since he was going to outgrow the little suit by Christmastime, and here are some photos of the littlest Santa!
Joseph in his Santa suit
Gregory and the littlest Santa
The morning before Christmas it was 8 below zero and the high that afternoon was 10 above zero. I waited until the sun came up before I broke ice out of the horse’s water tubs and watered them. We thought about feeding the cows but they went up on the hill behind Andrea’s house grazing, and the snow isn’t too deep yet, so we decided to wait. As long as they are still “working” and getting enough to eat, we’ll hold off, because once we start feeding hay they will switch to “welfare mentality” and want to be fed every day instead of going up on the hill to graze.
I wrapped the rest of our gifts (the T-shirts etc.) and we figured out a way to disguise the bow and arrows that Lynn is giving to Nick. It’s a really nice bow that my cousin Perk Perkins gave to Lynn about 30 years ago, but Lynn never did have time to archery hunt and never used it. We figured Nick would be able to put it to good use, being an avid hunter. We used two big plastic cat food bags to surround the bow and arrows in their case, and used duct tape and baling twine to hold everything together. He wasn’t able to guess the contents until he actually opened it on Christmas morning!
We had a little new snow on Christmas and it was 8 above zero. I got up early and finished an article I was writing for the Nevada Rancher called “Four Generations of Writers on Withington Creek” (telling about my father’s books, my writing, Michael’s writing for farm and ranch magazines, and now my grandchildren doing some writing—like young Heather publishing her first book a couple years ago), then did chores.

After breakfast we fed the bulls on our way up to Andrea’s house (the lane to her house goes through our barnyard and up through the back field where the cows are) and enjoyed the rest of the morning watching her kids open their gifts.
Dani & Sam
Dani & Jim
Sam & Grandma & Grandpa
Em & Jim
Charlie & Robbie
The highlight was a left-handed rifle for Charlie, a rifle for Sam and a 22 for Dani. Now that they are all good hunters, they need their own guns. Jim, Andrea and Robbie were able to get a really good deal on some used guns that were in excellent condition.

Emily and Robert came out Christmas morning, too, along with Emily’s co-worker at the hospital (Sam) and her boyfriend. We enjoyed meeting him.
Emily & Robert
Christmas - the whole crew
Robert was delighted with the surprise gift that we all pitched in to give him—a chain saw, so he can more efficiently get firewood. Andrea fed us turkey dinner and then the kids had to go out to their dad’s place for the rest of the Christmas holiday.
Today was warmer and sunny and it actually got up to 30 degrees. But the morning was cold (12 degrees ) so I plugged in the skid steer when I got up—so it would start when Michael came to get it and take it to Skinner’s ranch to set posts for them. On their way home Michael stopped by and helped me get another bale to the heifer feeder, since Lynn was in town getting the mail and groceries and doing all the town errands. I took the tarp off my hay stack this evening when I did chores and had to get more hay down. There’s only a little bit of hay sticking out from under the shed now, and I can use it up before the rain/snow can ruin it. I’m glad to have the cumbersome tarp off, even though it saved a lot of hay. I’m getting around a little better with my injured knee and am no longer wrapping that knee but I still have to be very careful how I move it. At least all the walking and chores I have to do are excellent physical therapy!

JANUARY 5 – We had more cold weather and snow for a couple days after Christmas. Jim helped Lynn put chains on the tractor so we can get around with it to load bales. I made turkey soup out of the turkey neck and leftovers Andrea gave us. I had to do a home sleep test for 2 nights, to see if I still qualify for oxygen use at night.
With the cold weather we had to check the creek ice on the watering holes for the cows, and break ice at the spring in the back of the bull pen. We also started feeding the bulls a little more hay, including some alfalfa.
bulls eating hay
Andrea checking bulls' water
Then it warmed up for a few days and we were glad we hadn’t started feeding the cows yet because they were able to keep grazing on the big hill by Andrea’s house. The whitetail deer started pawing through the net wrap on our big round bales by the horse pens and pulling out the hay and wasting it. When Lynn went to town on Thursday he got more salt for the cows, a tarp for the feed truck (to protect the hay when we have some on the truck, so the deer won’t eat it) and two big rolls of plastic mesh from the Fish and Game to protect our haystack. He and Jim put the wrap around the stack of round bales.
It warmed up so much on Friday that we had some rain and the snow was settling, then it froze and everything was horribly slippery. Michael and Nick were trying to set the rest of the posts at Skinner’s place for a new fence before the ground freezes more, and before Michael and Carolyn go to Canada to visit Heather and Gregory and baby Joseph.

We had more snow and some really nasty weather on Saturday. The kids came home from Mark’s place that evening and we had dinner here at our house. It was cold again that night, but the wind quit by Sunday morning, so Michael came down and took the shoes off Sprout and Dottie for me. My knee is still too sore to try to do any work with their feet, so I was glad he could do that for me.

We gave Michael the belated Christmas gifts for Heather, Gregory and Joseph, that they’ll be taking with them when the go to Canada. Jim and Charlie came down that afternoon and filled our wood box then dug some unfrozen dirt out of the big piles in Shiloh’s pen to put in large buckets to haul around in Jim’s pickup and spread over the worst of the icy spots in the driveway. That evening we all had dinner (New Year’s Eve) at Andrea’s house. She barbecued some little venison steaks and it was sort of a pot luck, and a lot of fun.

Monday morning was cold, 7 degrees, with a high of 20 degrees that day. I broke the ice out of all the horses’ water tubs. Jim helped Lynn chop the round bale feeder out of the ice in the bull pen, and pull it up to the swamp pasture where we need it for the cows. The cows were still grazing on the hill in spite of the cold weather but we’ll need to start feeding them very soon. We’ll put big bales of straw in the feeder and supplement them with some alfalfa hay. That afternoon Charlie, Jim and Andrea got more dirt from the unfrozen old manure piles in Shiloh’s and Breezy’s pens and spread dirt over more of the icy places where we have to walk around to do chores and on the driveway next to the house. Then Dani and Charlie went over the dump hill to do some target practice with their new guns.

Tuesday was even colder, so we started feeding hay to the cows. The big alfalfa bale was frozen together and we had to use an ax to break it apart and chisel some flakes off it. The creek ice is frozen solid again and we’re breaking ice every day so the cattle can drink.
Andrea feeding hay
cows eating hay
Michael, Carolyn and Carolyn’s mom left early that morning to drive to Havre, Montana where they spent the night and then drove on to Saskatchewan the next day. They plan to stay several days visiting young Heather and family.

That morning Andrea discovered that one of her older dogs, Curly, was very sick, lying out in the driveway on the ice. Andrea was able to put a mat under her and drag it and the dog to a better place—and put a blanket under Curly and over her. She called the vet clinic but the vet was not in that day. She called another vet who gave her some advice on treatment (fluid and broth by syringe, and a couple dissolved baby aspirin to try to help lower the dog’s fever). Jim helped her move Curly to a warmer place next to the house, with some bedding and shelter.

Nick is feeding Michael and Carolyn’s cows while they are gone to Canada, and he came down Wednesday morning to get a couple bales of straw (to mix with their hay). We had the tractor plugged in since the night before, so it would start, and took a round bale to the heifers, loaded Nick’s truck, and took a straw bale up to our cows.
cows utilize a little straw to balance their diet of alfalfa hay
Yesterday was a little warmer; it got up to 25 degrees for a high. Andrea took Curly to the vet first thing that morning, but the old dog wasn’t doing very well at all, getting worse, so she opted to have her put down. But first she went to get Emily so Em could have a chance to say good-by to Curly, since in the beginning she was sort of Em’s dog. Em spent a lot of time with Curly when she was growing up, with lots of good memories. Curly was raised by Andrea and kids from a pup--a big black dog with long curly hair that covers her face so much you can’t see her eyes. Andrea periodically had to trim the mop of hair from her face, and clip her long hair coat every summer.

One of the interesting memories was the strange friendship Curly had with a goose, when Curly was about a year old--when Andrea and her kids were still living in a rented house in town. It was spring, and Canadian geese were migrating north; many groups had already flown past the house. One day Andrea and kids found a wild goose in the backyard with their dogs. The big bird seemed enamored of the young furry Curly and stayed beside her, going everywhere she went, eating dog food with her, and sitting next to her when she slept. The goose liked to preen the dog’s fur and pick bugs out of that long hair coat.
Curly & her beloved goose
Curly was quite smitten by the goose, as well. The other dogs didn’t like the goose; it honked at them and attacked them, and they took cover under the porch. Curly was the only creature the goose wanted to be with. It didn’t tolerate humans, and chased the kids; that goose was simply in love with Curly! The young dog seemed to enjoy the bird’s attention for a while, and then after a week or so the novelty wore off and she got tired of being shadowed by a lovesick goose.

Andrea and kids were also beginning to dislike having the backyard dominated by a noisy, messy goose. It intimidated the kids, and everyone had to be careful to not step in goose glop. Attempts to chase it away were futile. Eventually it disappeared; one night it was there and the next day it was gone. Perhaps it got homesick for its own kind, and joined up with another flock heading north. At any rate, it was gone, and Curly seemed relieved to be free of her fickle lover.

Andrea’s kids all grew up with Curly and she was a good watchdog and loved the kids, and loved water. She always enjoyed any outing with the kids, especially when they went fishing or camping near a stream. Here’s a picture taken several years ago, of Dani riding Curly in the river. Everyone in the family is going to miss that dog.
Dani & Curly having fun in a river
Yesterday started I started feeding the little bulls some alfalfa hay, pulling it into their pen with the calf sled.

Andrea went to town for a checkup on her ankle. The MRI results showed that one of the small bones in her ankle was broken, but it’s slowly healing. It would probably heal faster if she kept wearing the protective boot, but she finds it too awkward and cumbersome for doing her work.
Andrea's broken foot
Today was warmer weather, with a low of 24 degrees and a high of 34. Andrea helped me feed the cows then took her car in to town to have a tire fixed; it keeps leaking air. She and Lynn did the town errands and bought some shoes for Em and Sam for their upcoming birthdays.

JANUARY 18 – We had some warmer weather the past 10 days, above freezing most afternoons. It was still too cold for the tractor to start, however, so we have to plug it in either very early in the mornings or the night before on the days we need to move big bales. At least with it warmer I don’t have to plug in the feed truck. We try to get the cows fed by mid-morning and by then the truck starts just fine.
cows enjoying their hay
Last Saturday we took another straw bale to the cows and put a couple more big alfalfa bales on the feed truck after we hauled some little bales from my hay shed to the small stack of bales by Sprout and Shiloh. We tarped the alfalfa bales on the truck because the whitetail deer try to eat on it. With a dozen or more deer eating on it every night (and even during the day) they eat and pull a lot of hay off the bale onto the ground unless we have the hay tightly covered.
That evening Nick ate supper with us and stayed a couple hours to visit. His folks were having a good time in Canada and Nick is feeding their cows.
I started working on the update/revision for Storey’s Guide to Training Horses. The publisher plans to come out with new editions for all 3 of my “Guide” books. My Guide to Raising Beef Cattle will have the 4th edition out later this year, and the Guide to Raising Horses and Guide to Training Horses will have new editions by next year.
Robbie helped Lynn change the oil in our pickup and we noticed that we didn’t have the new stickers on the license, and realized we never received them.
Charlie and Sam have been playing (trombone and trumpet) in the Pep band for a lot of the home basketball games. Here’s a quiet moment with Charlie and his trombone.
Charlie & trombone for Pep Band
Michael and Carolyn got home from Canada late last Sunday night. They were able to make it back in one day, since the roads and weather were better.
On Monday Lynn went to town and got the pickup license problem straightened out. The county office sold our stickers/license renewal to another person!
Tuesday night it rained and froze, leaving a half inch of ice covering everything. Even the places we’d put dirt over the ice were extremely slippery. I dug out the “chains” for my boots and put them on, so I wouldn’t fall down trying to walk around to feed the horses. Even the horses were having trouble moving around in their pens without slipping and sliding, and were scrambling to keep their feet. Lynn wasn’t able to find his boot chains so I did his chores (feeding the bulls in the back pen).
The next morning we had to use the tractor to move some big bales and load more straw for Michael, so Jim and I helped Lynn get across our very slippery driveway to get to the tractor. That night it snowed, with about 5 inches of new snow, which made it impossible to see where the worst icy places are, so I’m glad for the boot chains.
snow on the feed truck
young deer in snow
rooting through snow to get to some of the hay we fed the cows the day before
cows eating hay
Lynn went to town to get vaccine for the cows, and the next day (Saturday) we brought them all down from the field (very slowly and carefully because of the slippery footing) following the feed truck. Andrea’s kids helped; we sorted off the 8 pregnant heifers and a couple of the thinnest young cows (that will be having their second calves) and then vaccinated them all. Carolyn came down to help. She vaccinated, Dani pushed cows along the alleyway and into the squeeze chute, Sam ran the tail gate and squeeze after Andrea caught their heads, I filled the dipper with the proper amount of delousing product for each cow, and Charlie carefully spread the delouse all along each cow’s back from head to tail. This product does a better job of delousing the cattle than other products because one treatment will last longer; it contains an insect growth regulator as well as an insecticide. The insecticide kills the lice but not the eggs. There’s enough residual effect that when the eggs hatch the immature nymphs can’t survive because the growth regulator halts their development.
After we got the cows vaccinated and deloused, Lynn took them back up to the field where Andrea and Jim had spread out the hay for them, and the rest of us vaccinated and deloused the heifer group. Then we took them and a bale feeder and big bale up through the front field to heifer hill. We can feed them there and keep them separate from the older cows for the rest of the winter and they will do better. We can feed them free choice with some better hay in the feeder, and they can get their share without being pushed away from the hay by the older cows.
Andrea and Jim took the feeder up to heifer hill on the truck and set it up while Lynn was bringing a big bale with the tractor. He almost didn’t make it; the tractor tires spun out when he tried to go through the new ditch, even with the chains on. Finally the tires dug down through the snow and ice to bare dirt and he was able to get across the ditch and on up the field with the bale of hay.
The kids and I brought the heifer group up through the field, following the tractor.
Then we checked the creek ice at their water hole, and gathered up some old wire that we didn’t want them to get tangled up in. Afterward, Charlie helped Andrea haul some more little bales from the stackyard to the pile by the bulls.
Sunday we fed cows and took a block of salt to the heifer group. The whitetail deer were eating with the cows, as always.
deer eating with cows
One young deer didn’t bother to leave when we drove right past him with the feed truck, and as soon as he checked us out to make sure we weren’t very scary, he went right back to eating hay again, quite disgusted that we’d interrupted his meal.
young deer watching us
not too worried - right back to eating hay
We drove across the creek to heifer hill to give the heifers their salt block, and then came out of that field and down the road. The pregnant heifers were enjoying their hay in the feeder on heifer hill.
feeder on heifer hill
After we fed, I started to do a load of laundry and my old washing machine refused to fill properly. The hot water worked just fine, but the cold water inlet did nothing. We’ve had trouble with it before, clogging with rust, and had to take it apart and unclog the filter. Earlier this winter Jim helped Lynn take it apart and take the filter clear off and it worked better. This time it wasn’t just clogged and slow; it quit completely. This happened a few weeks ago and I filled it by hand to do the rinses, and part way through that wash day it started working again and worked fine for awhile. Then suddenly it’s not working again. Lynn helped me carry buckets of water from the bathroom to fill the washer for each rinse.

That evening we had a family birthday dinner and celebrated all the January birthdays—Robbie, Sam (turned 15 on Monday), Em (will be 20 on the 19th) and Robert. Andrea made a huge pot of spaghetti and we had a great meal and a lot of fun. Em and Robert rode up to Andrea’s house with us because the driveway is still very slippery.

Andrea took a photo of all of us at dinner, so she’s the only one not in the picture.
Birthday dinner
The last couple nights have been colder and I plugged in the feed truck at chore time so it would start easier by mid morning, but today it’s a lot warmer and the snow is melting. Our driveway is very slippery again!

*** Information about my books.

Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, is a collection of 22 stories about some of the horses in my life. According to the publisher, “Horse Tales is a unique memoir infused with the brand of wisdom that can be acquired only through an existence built around livestock and the land. Thomas centers each story around a specific animal, sharing lessons on life, family and stockmanship.” (282 pages)

Cow Tales: More True Stories from an Idaho Ranch (325 pages). The publisher says, “This is an entertaining and compelling autobiographical essays detailing her family’s adventures raising cattle in the challenging ranch country outside Salmon, Idaho. In the tradition of James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small), each story centers on a particular animal or aspect of animal husbandry, offering insight into the resourcefulness required to manage a cattle herd, and a heart-warming look at human-animal bonding.”

Ranch Tales: Stories of Dogs, Cats and Other Crazy Critters (273 pages) consists of stories about the memorable horses, pets, ranch animals and wildlife that populate a working ranch.

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

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