Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Diary from Sky Range Ranch – March 22 through April 25, 2018

MARCH 31 – Last Friday was very cold in the morning (25 degrees) but up to 55 degrees in the afternoon, feeling like spring. Andrea used the borrowed wood splitter and split most of the rest of our wood. It looks like we’ll have enough to finish out the winter, and she took some to town in her pickup to share with Emily.

Michael and Carolyn started calving; they found their first two calves Sunday—an older cow calved during the night and a heifer was calving Sunday morning. Young Heather and Gregory are also calving, in Canada. They bought a bunch of pregnant heifers and it’s been interesting. One heifer laid next to a panel when she calved, and the calf slid underneath it, and Heather had to rescue the calf and put it back in the pen. The heifer wasn’t very interested in it, and they had to help it nurse (and keep the heifer from kicking the baby) for several days. This was their “honeymoon heifer”—the one they bought with the money they’d planned to use for a honeymoon and used it instead to buy the heifer.

Michael stopped by the next morning and put chains on the barn gates he made earlier. The chains will make it quicker and easier to open the gates between the barn aisles and stalls.
chains for gates in barn
Michael installing gate chains
He also brought the fly mask for Breezy that Carolyn remodeled to fit that old mare. The mask gives her good eye some protection from sunlight, dust, etc.

Sam is working after school at the school garden; this will also be her summer job. She really likes the work. She and Charlie performed with the swing band a few nights ago, playing music for a school dance.
Charlie & Sam at swing band
All the kids stopped by after school on Wednesday; Charlie helped Lynn take more salt and mineral to the yearling heifers, and Dani helped me sort the cows. Every evening we put the most-likely-to-calve cows, and all the first-calf heifers in the orchard for night, where we can see them from the house with spotlight and binoculars. It’s also good for the heifers to be sorted and handled and get used to people walking through them at night to check on them.

Thursday morning Andrea helped me feed, and we also hauled 3 wagon loads of rocks from along the ditch in the orchard—to put in the mud hole in the gateway between the horse pasture and the orchard. It’s too deep and boggy to drive through with the feed truck, and the cows bog down when they walk through the gate. The rocks will help make the gateway better, and we were able to drive on through with the feed truck.

That afternoon Coulter Bailey came to get the 31 lengths of old sprinkler pipe we are selling. We bought it 51 years ago when we were leasing a place on Kirtly Creek that was hard to irrigate, and later used it on a few fields here that we plowed up and reseeded to alfalfa. But we hadn’t used it since, and never will use it again, so we sold it for about half price. The rancher Coulter works for was glad to get it, and we were glad to find a home for it. Charlie helped load the pipe on Coulter’s flatbed trailer, setting it onto two big straw bales.

We had a visit from a woman (originally a Dawson) who was born here on our ranch, 80-some years ago. Her son brought her up the creek for a drive, to see the old place, and we enjoyed talking with her. Over the years we’ve had many people stop by to see their “roots” here on the creek—they were children or grandchildren of some of the original homesteaders, or from families (like the Dawsons) that purchased the original homesteads and lived here for a while. We’ve learned a lot of interesting history talking to these visitors, and we also realize that we’ve now lived here longer than any other families ever stayed on this creek.

Dani helped us feed when she was home from school during spring break. Here’s a photo of her on the feed truck while Andrea was cutting the strings on the big bales.
Andrea cutting strings on bales
One of Dani’s friends come visit and stay overnight during spring break and the two girls started picking up branches in the field above house, using our calf sled to pile them into, and then pull the loads with 4-wheeler through the gate by the creek and pile the branches next to the brush. We need to pick up all those little branches (left from cutting down the trees along the fenceline so we could rebuild the old fence) before we have cows and calves in that pasture.

That night Dani and her friend spent several hours “camping” on the haystack by the calving pen, watching the maternity ward to see if any cows or heifers were calving. We didn’t have our first calves until the next day, however.  LillyAnnie’s heifer started calving first, and it was cold and windey, so we put her in barn with her mom in next stall to keep her company. Then Buffaloola started calving and we put her in the barn and took out the babysitter cow. They both had bull calves. Here are photos of the young red mama and her first calf, and Buffaloola with her big black boy. Dani ultimately named him Tarzan.
first calf heifer & new baby in barn
Buffaloola and baby Tarzan
That evening Andrea helped me put bedding a third stall, in case another cow calved in the night, but those were the only two we had.

Today we put the moms and new babies out of the barn into the 2nd day pens. Dani helped bring them out of the barn and take them to their separate pens. She took Buffaloola and Tarzan to the pen at the end of the row, where Buffaloola took a big drink of water from the tub we’d just filled; she hadn’t had any water since we put her in the barn to calve.
Dani taking Buffaloola & Tarzan
Buffaloola drinking
Next, we brought the young heifer and her baby out of the barn and Dani took that pair down to the larger pen below the barn.
Dani bringing the new mama out of the barn
taking the pair down to the larger pen below the barn
Then Andrea and Dani brought some hay bales around from the stackyard and we spread a few of them in the pens for bedding. Dani spread one bale in the sheltered corner by the bushes, which provide a natural windbreak.
Dani spreading hay for bedding

APRIL 10 – We had more cold weather early in the week and had to plug the tractor in (so it would start) on days we loaded the feed truck or took another big bale out to the heifers. Sunday (April 1st) evening Emily and Robert and Sam (who works at the hospital with Em) and her boyfriend Shane came out to look at the baby calves and then we all had a spaghetti dinner at Andrea’s house.

That night it started raining, and by morning the rain had changed to snow, with 11 inches of new snow on the upper end of our place. We only about 4 inches down here—because it rained longer before changing to snow. Michael and Carolyn had another new calf that night; the babies were wet and cold, so in the morning they spread straw along the brush in the wild meadow for bedding. It was windy and cold all day.

That day granddaughter Heather (in Canada) had bad experience with a heifer calving. When she went into the pen to do something with the new calf, the new mama knocked her down and rolled her around on the ground. The young cow had horn stubs so Heather had some serious bruises, but luckily wasn’t badly hurt. She kept rolling toward the gate and was finally able to escape out of the pen.

Tuesday morning the weather cleared up and got cold, dropping to 10 degrees by 6 a.m. Andrea had to go to Idaho Falls that day, to her pain doctor appointment, and to take Sam to a neurologist. They left early in case the roads were bad, but there wasn’t as much snow on the pass as we had here.

Some of the chains for the gates between barn aisles are a big tight and hard to open and close quickly, so Michael came by and put another link in each chain, which made them a lot quicker and easier to open and shut.
Michael putting another link in chain
Dani’s favorite heifer, Stars (a daughter of Rocket) started calving that afternoon, so Lynn and I put her in the barn with an older cow (Lilly Annie) in the adjacent stall for company. Lilly Annie was also in early labor.

Stars calved ok but was tired from her efforts and didn’t get up right away; I had to break the amnion sac that still covered the calf’s head, and get it breathing. When I checked back 30 minutes later, Stars and her new baby were both up and the calf was trying to nurse.

Charlie and Dani got home from school about then, and Dani came out to the barn to help me watch Lilly Annie calve. We’ve had some very thick amnion sacs around the calves this year, and these membranes have not been breaking very well when the calf is born. We’ve had to break several of them, so the calf could start breathing. So, we hid in the barn out of sight of Lilly Annie to watch her calve. Sure enough, the sac didn’t break, and we had to hurry into her stall when the calf was born. This cow is very protective and aggressive when she calves, so Dani held her off with a stick while I quickly cleared the membrane and fluids away from the calf’s head and got him breathing, then we quickly departed so the cow could start licking him.

Dani helped me do chores and ate supper with us that night, since Andrea and Sam were not home yet from Idaho Falls. She named Stars’ calf Galaxy.
Stars & calf
After supper we put Magnicate (Maggie’s daughter) in the barn to calve, since the weather was still cold and windy. When she calved late that evening, I had to break the sac and get the calf breathing.

The next morning Andrea helped me feed cows and I took photos of some of the cows mobbing the feed truck as I was driving (taking photos out the window of the truck). Here’s a close-up of ZorraRose before and after she grabbed a bite of hay.
ZorraRose trying to eat hay from truck
ZorraRose grabbed a bite of hay
While the feed truck was empty Andrea used it to haul some small hay bales to stack by the second day pens for feed and bedding. We put the three new mamas and babies out of the barn.

This week I finally finished checking the page proofs for the new edition of my book Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, adding captions to the new photos the editors have put in it, and suggesting changes in some of the photos.

We put several more pairs up in the little field above the house and put some hay around the calf houses to entice the calves to learn how to use those little shelters. Some of them are learning to use these calf houses, and I took photos of them figuring it out, and enjoying the shelter, being able to lie in the sunshine out of the wind.
calf asleep in house
calves learning about calf house
calves & calf house
Jim got home from California on Thursday. He had a job there building and repairing some fences. It’s good to have him back again.

Friday morning Starfire calved. Andrea helped me tag several calves and put them up to the field. At that point we only had 12 cows left to calve, but by midnight two of them (first-calvers) were in labor and we put them in the barn.

One of them calved fairly quickly and easily but the other one took quite a while and we watched and waited in case we had to pull it, but then she had it ok. We were up most of the night.

Saturday afternoon Emily came out to the ranch and helped Jim clear some brush away from a pile of old sprinkler pipe that we might be able to sell, and she and her dad had a good visit. Em helped me do chores and sort cows, and then they ate dinner with us. Jim helped check cows that night so I could sleep; between checks he read a book in the back room, like he used to do on night shifts when we were calving out 180 cows every January.

It started raining during the night. That next morning LillyAnn (daughter of Lilly White and mother of Lilly Annie) was calving so Lynn and I put her in the barn. She calved quickly and easily—a nice bull calf. The kids came home from their dad’s that evening and we all had supper here. Dani was frustrated because she was gone (at her dad’s) that weekend, and she missed out on several new babies being born. She went out to the field to see some of the babies.
cows & calves in the field
That night she helped her mom check cows. Malula Mae (a second-calver) calved swiftly between checks, up in the orchard. The calf was up and trying to nurse when they discovered him, so they let him nurse and then took the pair to the barn because the weather was very cold and windy. They put the calf in the calf sled and pulled him to the barn, with mama following. Dani named that calf Bug.

Before morning we had two more calving. Andrea and Dani put a first-calver (Rosanna) in the barn, and put Mini Mag (second calver) in the calving pen with her old mother (Magdaleena) in with her for company.

Rosanna took a while to calve, and was very nervous for several hours, pacing around. When she finally calved, she did it quickly, and the baby was on its feet within 10 minutes and trying to nurse. Mini Mag took a little longer. She paced around in the calving pen outside, trying to get out, and rubbed the gate latch open. When I looked out the window, one minute she was there, and the next minute she was gone—and the gate toward my hay shed was open. I ran outside to try to find her, and Lynn went out the other direction toward the back yard and found her down by the creek trying to go across it. He herded her back and we locked her in the calving pen again, and this time tied all the gates shut (not depending just on the “security” latches). That’s the first time a cow has ever gotten out of our calving pen.

She finally calved, just before noon, and we left the pair in that pen until chore time that evening, then Dani helped move them to a pen down by the barn and helped put Malula Mae and Bug out of the barn to an outdoor pen.

This morning was cold again, but we didn’t have any new calves in the night. Andrea helped me feed the cows and put salt and mineral in their mineral tub. The mineral tub is set into a big tire so the cows can’t tip it over.
calves by mineral tub in tire
We took several move pairs up to the field. Some of the cows we put up there insisted on fighting with the ones that were already there. Even though it’s only been a few days since they were together, they think they have to settle their ranking order all over again!
cows fighting
We also put Rosanna and her heifer Lida Rose out of the barn. Tonight, it’s raining again. We’ve had a lot of cold wet weather!

APRIL 25 – It rained hard several times this past week, creating deep mud. We were glad we still had chains on the feed truck! Michael and Carolyn brought their truck down to get a couple more big bales of straw to put out more bedding for their calving cows. It snowed again last Thursday.

The snow melted but we ended up with more mud. Here’s a photo of Lida Rose (Rosanna’s calf) scrambling across the muddy driveway as we took that pair up to the field from the second day pens.
Lida Rose & mama slogging across the muddy driveway
Emily showed us some x-rays, taken at one of her chiropractor appointments, showing how out of line her hips are. This is probably why one of her legs seems shorter than the other (we always had trouble getting her stirrups adjusted properly when she was riding with us) and why she’s had so much lower back pain. Her hips and pelvis have probably been that way since she was born.

Last Saturday another heifer calved. We’re nearly done calving! That morning all the cell phones quit working and the internet (except satellite) quit working, and most of the phones around the valley didn’t work. Someone accidentally dug into the buried phone line with a backhoe between here and Idaho Falls, and our community was isolated from the outside world for the day.

That afternoon our last heifer (LillyAnn’s daughter) calved, but not without help. Andrea and I watched her awhile, until we could see there was only one foot coming. We put her in the headcatch and Andrea was able to reach in with both arms, push the calf back into the uterus where there was more room, and get hold of the back-turned leg. Then we pulled the calf and put the pair back in the barn. The new mama mothered the baby just fine and he was none the worse for wear; he was up and nursing within half an hour.

Last weekend (April 14 and 15) was Carolyn’s and Michael’s birthdays. This is the month of birthdays for their whole family.  Young Heather’s birthday was April 11, and Nick’s April 22. Heather and Gregory’s young son Joseph Michael will have his first birthday April 29. Jim’s birthday was April 23.

Heather sent us a photo of young Joseph riding in the tractor with Gregory.
Joseph riding with daddy
On Monday Panda calved. Dani got home from school just in time to help watch her calve. It was a big calf (big feet!) and for a while it looked like we might have to pull the calf (like we did her first calf last year) but she finally had it ok on her own.

That night it snowed again, but not for long, and the snow melted the next morning. Jim went with Michael and Nick on a fencing project and has been helping them every day this past week.

Tuesday night Dani helped Andrea watch the cows for a while, and they put Magdaleena in the barn to calve. She eventually had a big bull calf. But in the meantime, one of the first-time mamas in the second day pens was bawling so they checked on her and realized her calf was not nursing; she had a full udder and the calf was sick with scours. He wasn’t doing very well in the cold weather, and with diarrhea he was dehydrating quickly at that young age. So, they woke me up and we gave the calf fluids, electrolytes and antibiotics via nasogastric tube. Jim helped me again at 7:30 the next morning (before he went to help Michael with the fencing), and I tubed the calf with more fluid. The calf was still not nursing, and his diarrhea was very watery.

Our jug of kaolin-pectin mix (a medication we always used with severe diarrhea cases) was old and also not much good. When we ordered it during a cold winter many years ago it froze during shipment and the ingredients separated. Carolyn brought down some of hers for us to use, so Andrea and I gave the calf about 3 ounces by oral dose syringe. By then the fluids and electrolytes we’d given him were starting to make a difference; he wasn’t as dehydrated, and his mouth was no longer cold, and he was a lot stronger. We gave him more fluids and electrolytes by tube mid-day (and a little Karo syrup for energy) and he had definitely turned the corner and was doing much better. The secret to treating diarrhea in young calves is to give them fluid and electrolytes OFTEN and keep them from getting so dehydrated. They can go downhill very quickly and they may die without the intensive care.

That evening he finally started nursing his mama again, and his bowel movements were no longer watery. We’d been able to save this calf twice—once when he was born (he was the one with the leg turned back, that couldn’t be born) and again after he got seriously ill at just 2 days of age. The wet weather seems to have waked up a lot of the old scour “bugs” around our pens, and he probably ingested some bacteria while nibbling mud—as baby calves love to do!

The past few days have been warmer. It got up to 60 degrees Thursday and Friday afternoons and 70 degrees on Saturday, even though the thermometer was still dropping below freezing at nights.

The cows in the field rubbed off the pole across the opening of one of the calf houses, so Lynn took more baling twines and re-tied it. We don’t want any of the cows trying to go inside with the calves!
Lynn bringing twines from the feed truck
Lynn tying the pole back up
ZorraRose calved at 2 a.m. Friday morning after a very long labor. Andrea and I watched her out in the barn and were prepared to pull the calf (it was big) but she finally had the calf ok on her own. It was a nice red heifer and seemed none the worse for wear being in the birth canal for a couple hours; she was up and nursing her mama very quickly. Dani was very tired after staying up and watching with Andrea for the first part of the night; she slept on our couch and we let her sleep till almost noon the next day. Then she helped us tag and band Magdaleena’s bull calf and put the recovered calf that got over the scours (and his mama) up in the field with the other cows and calves.

That afternoon Charlie started harrowing the fields, pulling the harrow around with his little pickup. He got the rest of the harrowing done the next day (Saturday) before it rained again. Lynn took the little tractor and blade up to the field by Andrea’s house to try to scatter the deep piles of straw (that the cows wouldn’t eat) before those piles kill out the grass underneath. There was still ice underneath all that straw. He broke up the piles and scattered them around again the next day to let them dry out more so they could be harrowed and spread around better.

I took my camera at chore time when I walked out to check on the cows and calves, and took photos of some of the babies and their moms. The older calves (like Tarzan, who was one of the first ones born) are really growing!
Magnicate's daughter and granddaughter
Lilly Ann & calf
Em and Robert left at 4 p.m. on Friday to go to California to try to see Robert’s grandfather before he died; he was in the hospital and not expected to live. Emily’s co-worker Sam will do her job at work. We sent a little money (for gas) and food with them for their trip. They were able to see Robert’s grandfather briefly and he recognized them but died the next day.

By then we only had one cow left to calve. We started putting Cupie Doll in the calving pen at nights with the yard light on, so I can easily see her from my bedroom window to check on her and no one has to hike out through the maternity ward at night.

Sunday afternoon Andrea, Sam, Dani and Charlie put up a temporary hot wire across one side of the field above the house, to keep the calves from eating dirt and gravel by the ditch, and to keep them away from the elk panels on the fence. At this small size the calves can get their heads through those panels if they try to reach through to nibble grass on the other side and could get stuck and hang themselves. We nearly lost a couple calves that way in years past, so we usually put a hot wire along that fence to keep them away from it. After they get a little bigger their heads won’t fit through and it won’t be a risk. While they were working on the fence I took photos of some of the calves.
gang of kids
Panda and her calf with a bunch of buddies
LillyAnnie's bull calf
calves lounging around
The kids also helped reinstall the hot wire along the fence between that field and the horse pasture (the hot wire that Michael and Nick had to take down when they were setting some new posts and reinforcing that old fence). We also put more hot wires along the fence between Dottie and Ed where they have been reaching over the one hot wire and chewing up the wood poles.

Monday Lynn went to town to get mail and groceries and to mail some books (Cow Tales) that several people ordered. I did a washing (filling the washer with a hose) and finally washed the filthy jeans I’ve been wearing out in the barn helping cows calve. There was no point in washing them sooner; I just wore those whenever I had to be out in the barn kneeling in the dirt and cow manure. I thought that maybe if I had all my jeans clean it would tempt that last old cow to calve!

Charlie “house sat” for Em and Robert that night while they were gone and took care of their cats and dogs.

Yesterday morning Cupie Doll finally started early labor, at 3 a.m. She was restless and wandering around. I watched her through the rest of the night (looking out the window periodically) but she didn’t do anything obvious until early afternoon. She waited until Dani got home from school, so Dani got to see the last cow calve.
last calf of the year, newborn
It was a big bull calf and he was soon up and trying to find the udder but was going round and round the cow and never quite finding the right place. Her udder has sagged a bit in her old age, and even though the teats are still nice and small and easy to get onto, this calf kept trying to suck her flank or behind her elbow. So Andrea and I helped him. We gave the cow some alfalfa hay in a tub to keep her stationery (and I stood in front of her to discourage her running off) while Andrea quietly guided the calf to a teat. He was able to suckle both teats on that side before the cow lost her patience and would no longer stand still. But the calf realized where the milk comes from and was smarter about finding it the next time he got hungry.

Before evening we moved mama and baby to the second day pens, where I took more photos of them.
in 2nd day pens
Cupie Doll & calf
Cupie Doll's new calf
Andrea and kids celebrated the end of calving by getting their fishing licenses that evening and going fishing. Here are photos Andrea took while the kids were fishing.
Charlie fishing
Dani fishing
Sam fishing
Today Andrea and kids left at 4:30 a.m. for the kids’ music trip and were gone all day. Lynn and I did all the chores and fed the cows later that morning, and afterward I took photos of some of the calves checking out the empty feed truck. Tarzan was checking out the hay crumbs left on the truck bed, and a younger calf was sniffing the back of the truck and the exhaust pipe.
Tarzan checking truck
Tarzan checking to see if there's any hay left
sniffing the exhaust pipe
checking out the back of the truck
The music trip went well. All three of the kids sang in the choral competition at Sugar Salem (a high school about 160 miles from here). There were 28 students in our middle school chorus (which Dani sings in) and 50 in the high school chorus. Our school was competing with 20 other schools and both of our groups did very well. Here are some photos that Andrea took while they were down there.
Charlie and Sam - spring Choral contest
Charlie & Sam
Dani at choral meet
Now we are hoping for spring and some good weather for growing lots of grass!

If anyone is interested in some of the adventures we’ve had over the years with our cattle and horses, many stories about life on the ranch with our critters are found in my books: Horse Tales; True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, Cow Tales; More Stories from an Idaho Ranch, & Ranch Tales: Stories of Dogs, Cats and Other Crazy Critters.

Signed copies of these books can be purchased for $24.95 each (or $70 for all three books) plus postage ($3 per book, or $7 for all three books)

Book orders can be made by phone (208-756-2841) or mail (Heather Thomas, P.O. Box 215, Salmon, Idaho 83467)

I also have some of my father’s books left, if someone wants to read them. They are now out of print and hard to find. These collections of some of his best meditations and bits of spiritual wisdom include By the River of No Return, Wild Rivers and Mountain Trails, Sagebrush Seed, The Open Gate, and Short People Need a Tree to Climb.

These books by Don Ian Smith can be purchased for $12 each (plus $2 postage for one book, $3 postage for 2 to 4 books) or $50 for the whole set (and $4 postage).