Monday, July 9, 2018

Diary from Sky Range Ranch - April 25 through May 17, 2018

MAY 1 – We’re finally getting our irrigation water started, a bit later than last year. With all the wind we’ve had, the ground is drying out and we need to be irrigating. On Thursday there was no wind in the morning, so Carolyn and Lynn helped Andrea start to burn the old tall grass out of the ditch that goes past our house and down to Alfonso’s field. Then the wind came up and took the fire up the hill into a patch of brush and sagebrush and they had to come get jugs of water to help put it out. Our neighbor Alfonso saw the smoke and came to help. We may not be able to finish burning the grass out of that ditch until a better day with no wind, and preferably a little moisture from rain.

Friday was warmer, up to 75 degrees. It’s definitely spring and the grass is growing. That morning there was no wind, so Andrea and I fed cows early, then she and Carolyn burned the old grass out of the lower ditch below Andrea’s house where there’s no brush, and then they got that ditch started at the creek. The headgate was hard to pull up, with all the high water pressure against it, but with the two of them they got it open.

While she was working in that field across the creek, Andrea saw 2 of Alfonso’s young bulls (in the old Gooch field above our place) chasing some cows around. They chased the cows through a fence and got out on the Gooch driveway and were heading out to the main road. Andrea called us, and Lynn went up there on his 4-wheeler, and Andrea and Carolyn came from the other direction, and they were able to herd the wayward bulls back into Alfonso’s field before they came down the road to our place.

Jim has been helping Michael and Nick on their fence-building. They have a lot of fencing projects lined up for this summer and needed some extra crew.

Saturday after we fed the last of the hay on the feed truck we hauled some little bales from my hay shed around to the pen by Sprout and Shiloh’s pens (handier to feed those two horses if the hay is right there) and took the chains off the feed truck. We are probably done with deep mud for this year! We used the hydrant by the horses to wash all the caked mud and manure off the chains (so it won’t rust them) and we can put those away in the barn until next winter.

Andrea and Lynn rolled back the tarps on the big haystack in the stack yard so they could get to the big alfalfa bales to load the truck, and there was a lot of water (from spring snowstorms and rain) in the sagging area of tarps between the alfalfa stack and the straw stack. It all poured out –all over Andrea and one of the big hay bales.

After we got the truck loaded again, Andrea went to the upper place to help Carolyn get one of her ditches started. That headgate was even harder to pull up because when the water master (Gary) last fall took the locks off the headgates he put a lot of mud in around that headgate. With all the mud and water pressure from the creek it was almost impossible to open (and too dangerous to get into the high water on the creek side) but Andrea and Carolyn were able to pry on it with a long pole and finally got it open. Then they had to use a chain saw to cut fallen trees and branches out of the ditch as they followed the water on down the ditch—the wind took down a lot of trees over winter.

On Sunday we tagged and banded Cupie Doll’s bull calf. He was the last calf born for this year.
last calf
We’d held off on doing that until he was nursing better. That cow has so much milk that for a while he was only sucking one teat, but now he’s managing to suck three. We were going to put them up to the field with the other cows and calves yesterday, but the calf had a messy hind end. He wasn’t acting very sick (he probably loaded up on too much milk and got diarrhea) but we gave him an oral antibiotic and some Keopectate (to slow the diarrhea) by dose syringe just to be on the safe side.

Robbie helped Andrea start the ditch by her house that comes out of the creek in the Gooch place. It was also very difficult to get the headgate open, so it was a good thing he helped her with that one. Then they had to follow it all the way down through the Gooch pasture where all of Alfonso’s taps were open, and shovel dirt and gravel out of the ditch, to get the water on down to our field.

Later that morning Michael brought the backhoe down from his place and dug the huge pile of gravel out of our ditch by the driveway, where water runoff down the draw filled it full of rocks and dirt. That afternoon it rained, which will help the fields and pastures that were getting very dry in the places we haven’t irrigated yet.

Emily and Robert got home that afternoon from California; they made a fast trip to see his grandfather before he died, then stayed a few extra days with relatives.

Sunday was Joseph Michael (Monkey) Eppich’s first birthday. We called to sing him happy birthday but he was taking a nap.

Alfonso moved his main herd of cows from his lower place to the Gooch place that afternoon, and by evening a couple calves came bawling back down the road, not knowing where their mamas were. We shut the gates in our driveway so that wandering cattle wouldn’t come into our place. We have to go through this problem every time he moves cows because he doesn’t take time to mother them up afterward. The cows think their calves (and the babies think their moms) are in the field they came from—so they go back, and we are right in the middle. So they often try to come through the fence into our place or crawl through Alfonso’s fences along the road and then come in our driveway.

One of the cows came back down later that day, to find her calf, but the other calf was still bawling the next morning (yesterday) and wandering forlornly up the road past our place as I was doing chores. It didn’t make it clear past our place, however, because it was attracted to our cows, and came down off the steep road bank to our fence. I was afraid it was going to come through the old fence (which isn’t very good along the horse trail, and needs rebuilt) and get into the field above our cows, but it wandered on down along the fence and came down our driveway. It stayed there at our gate and bawled for half an hour, then wandered back up the driveway and down the road about the time Charlie and his sisters were driving out the driveway to go to school. The calf ran along in front of Charlie’s pickup and went back down to the field it came from. Alfonso had to finally get the mama cow from the Gooch place to get that pair back together.

Today Lynn went with his sister Jenelle to Idaho Falls—to ride along with her and keep her company as she drove—to go to her orthodontist appointment. Andrea and I fed cows and then she loaded the feed truck again with the tractor. Here are a couple photos of the some of the cows and calves enjoying the hay we just fed.
breakfast time
Late this evening, before we went to bed, we heard a cow bawling in the field above the house. I hiked up there to see who it was. It was 114 (LillyAnn’s 2-year-old daughter). Her calf was slobbering and drooling so there was something wrong with him, even though he came to nurse his mama.

MAY 9 – That next day, (last Wednesday) Andrea and I brought 114 and her calf in from the field and put them in a small pen where we could corner him. He was still slobbering a lot and we thought he might have indigestion (slobbering is often a sign of frequent teeth-grinding, which is what calves often do if they have gut pain). We gave him a big dose of pepto bismol in case it might help. He seemed to be doing better by evening—no more slobber—but by the next morning he was slobbering again. We were beginning to wonder if he had a mouth problem (maybe oral ulcers from diphtheria) so we cornered him again and this time gave him an injection of LA-200 (which is the best antibiotic for diphtheria), and a mix of DMSO and water squirted into his mouth. That did the trick. No more slobbering. We were able to put him and his mama back out to the field a couple days later.

Andrea has been diligently irrigating our fields, trying to catch up after starting a bit late; some of the fields were getting pretty dry. Temperatures have been up to 70 degrees so the grass is really growing fast wherever it has adequate water.

On Friday we used the tractor and put a big bale feeder in the back pen for the older bulls, and took a round bale to them. We have enough hay left (from feeding the heifers this past winter) that we can probably feed some of those big bales to the bulls. It’s a good mix of grass and alfalfa hay and this will be very adequate for them during the next couple months until they go out with the cows for breeding.

We also loaded the feed truck again, with a big alfalfa bale and an old straw bale. We are using up the old straw bales that served as a backstop for our stack of small bales; the cows eat some of that straw and we also use it as a “plate” to feed the alfalfa on; then the cows won’t waste any of the hay leaves that they might not clean up from the wet ground.

chow time
cows & calves eating their hay off the straw
On Saturday we had a sudden power outage while I was typing articles early that morning, and my computer crash-died. The battery back-up didn’t work. The power was off for 2 hours, and even when it came back on, nothing worked. So Lynn went to town and got a new battery-backup/surge protector and we finally figured out how to get it properly installed (since it was different from my old one), and then everything worked again. I was relieved that I hadn’t lost any data from my computer!

On Monday Michael helped Carolyn get the last of their ditches started on the upper place; she’s been madly irrigating their fields. Yesterday Andrea was irrigating on our lower fields and saw a huge white wolf just through the fence. It stared at her for a few moments then loped away. It was as tall as a deer and its head was nearly a foot wide—the biggest wolf she’s ever seen. We called our neighbors to alert them to the fact there is a wolf in the area.

MAY 17– We had a hard rain a week ago, then it was cloudy and rainy off and on for several days and we weren’t sure if we’d be able to get the calves branded. We’d planned to do it on Mother’s Day Weekend while Andrea’s kids were home, because they wanted to be able to help. On Friday Charlie helped move all the stuff out of the front stall of the sick barn (stored lumber, various items of equipment and odds and ends) so we could use it during branding. It’s right next to our little chute and calf table, so the calves can be in the barn until it’s their turn to be branded.

Lynn went to town and got a new roll of plastic for irrigation dams; the old ones from last year are mainly worn out. Andrea sent part of the water in our main ditch on down to Alfonso for his little field below us.

Saturday was cloudy and cool but didn’t rain, so we went ahead with the branding. Very early that morning when I fed the horses I lured the yearling heifers in from the field below the lane, into the little holding pen next to Shiloh and Sprout. There’s some lush new grass in that pen and the heifers were happy to come in there and eat—except they had fun playing with my little hay stack by the horses and knocked all the bales down, rolling some of them clear down by my water hydrant.

After breakfast Dani and one of her little friends (who stayed overnight with her) came down and they helped me get the cows and calves in from the field above the house. Dani’s friend hid behind the feed truck and guarded my hayshed, while I opened the gate and called the cows in (and they were eagerly eating the grass that’s grown up by my hay shed) while Dani went around behind them and brought in the stragglers and their calves. By then Andrea, Charlie, Sam and Jim had come down, and they all helped us sort the cows away from the calves, and locked the calves in the sick barn. We put the cows in the round corral above the main corral, and brought our 2 yearling bulls into the chute to brand, vaccinate and delouse/deworm. Michael had come down by that time to pick up Lynn to go with him to Montana, but stayed long enough to help us brand the little bulls and put their new ear tags in. Then he and Lynn left, to drive to Corvallis, Montana to get a new post pounder for Michael—one of the hydraulic jack-hammer type pounders like he’s been renting for the past two years. What he’s paid in rent would have nearly paid for a pounder, so he decided to buy his own. It will also be handier to have one, and we can drive a lot of our own posts at our own convenience and not have to go rent a pounder.

The rest of us put the little bulls back in their pen and brought the yearling heifers around to vaccinate and deworm/delouse. Jim caught their heads and sprayed the pour-on; Sam operated the tailgate and squeeze, Charlie and Dani and her friend kept the heifers coming up the alley to the chute, while Carolyn and I vaccinated. We had two heifers to dehorn (one of ours and one of Michael and Carolyn’s) that didn’t get adequately dehorned as calves. Carolyn was able to nip the horns off with the dehorning scoop (with long handles) and Andrea cauterized them with the dehorner so they wouldn’t bleed.

Then we vaccinated and dewormed/deloused the cows, and locked them back in the round corral so they wouldn’t be running back and forth in the main corral trying to get to their calves. The creek is high and flooding, with sub-water in the main corral, making deep mud puddles, and we didn’t want the cows bogging down and dragging their udders in the mud.

We got the calves branded and vaccinated with all our good help.
branding crew
Dani pushed each calf into the calf-table chute, Jim tipped them after I caught their heads, Andrea clipped and branded them, with Charlie holding their tails up to help immobilize them.

Andrea branding calf
Charlie holding calf being branded
Sam filled syringes for Carolyn to vaccinate. Partway through the group, Carolyn showed Sam how to give the injections so she could do some of them. We had no horns this year, so that was great; we didn’t have to use the dehorner at all.

We did have one big bull calf that we didn’t band at birth (there was some thought about keeping him as a bull, but we realized we needed to sell all our bull calves), so we put a band on him. It was a challenge because our little elastrator and bands were almost too small; he’d grown a lot in 5 weeks. The first one band that Andrea tried to put on broke, the second one went zinging off the elastrator past my head, but with patient persistence (and some help from Carolyn), she got one band over the fat little scrotum, with both testicles contained, and put a second band on for good luck.

Andrea banding calf
Then we put the calves and their mothers back up in the field. We started to bring the big bulls into the chute corral from their back pen to vaccinate them, but the older bull refused to go in, and ran past Andrea, in spite of her pitchfork. We decided to wait and do the bulls the next day, with more help to get them in.

We fed the cows and calves, and sorted the yearling heifers (putting ours back in the field below the lane, leaving Michael and Carolyn’s heifers in the grassy lane by the barn until they could haul them up to their place. Then I fed our crew lunch. I’d made a big batch of chili the day before, and Lynn and I made a huge potato salad, so we had an instant lunch ready and waiting for us when we got done with the cattle working.

On Sunday the weather was still cool and cloudy, with rain predicted, but we went ahead with branding Michael and Carolyn’s calves and it didn’t rain. Early that morning, however, when I checked on our cows and calves, 113’s calf was weak and wobbly from scours. Andrea and I got him and his mama in when we fed the cows, and Jim helped us corner the calf in the alley to the headcatch by the calving barn. I tubed him with fluid and electrolytes and we put him and his mama in the second day pens. Then Andrea, Jim and kids went to the upper place to help Michael, Carolyn and Nick work their cattle. Sam was able to give some of the vaccinations, and Charlie did the pour-on delouse-dewormer.

As soon as they finished, they came back down here to help get our bulls in to vaccinate. Michael, Nick, Lynn, and Andrea were able to get them in—though Nick had to really sting the big bull (three-year old) across the face a few times with a stock stick when he tried to run back over them several times. They finally got him in and we got him and the two younger bulls (the two-year-olds) vaccinated and deloused/dewormed. This is the big bull’s last year; after he gets done breeding cows we will sell him. He’s getting too big and ornery and too sure of himself. A bull that doesn’t respect a person is too dangerous to keep around.

Then Michael and Nick brought their trailer and we loaded their 5 heifers for them to haul home. After they left, however, the young cow in the nearby 2nd day pens with her sick calf got upset and worried, and broke a chain on the gate and got out. She tried to go back to the field above the house with her weak and wobbly calf. So we put them back in the pen, and locked them in the bottom one, where she was next to our yearlings in the field below, and more content. That afternoon we gave her calf an injection of antibiotic in case he might be coming down with pneumonia.

The next day (Monday) the calf was very dull, still not nursing much at all, but no longer scouring. I began to suspect he might have diphtheria rather than pneumonia so changed antibiotic and gave him DMSO (as a throat gargle) and Banamine to ease pain, inflammation and fever. His temperature wasn’t really high (103.5) so it was more likely diphtheria rather than pneumonia. By evening he was doing a lot better and by Tuesday morning he was nursing his mom again, eating hay, and chewing his cud. So yesterday we put that pair back up to the field.

Andrea and Carolyn spent 2 days staining some of the new fence that Michael, Nick, Jim and Robert built for a customer who wanted a nice color on it. Here are some photos of how it turned out.
net wire fence with stain

net wire with top & bottom rail
Staining the fence helped them earn most of the money to pay for the motel for their upcoming trip to Anaheim, California to attend the choir and band competition. Sam and Charlie will be flying there from Salt Lake with their music group—the high school Legacy Choir and Stage Band. Andrea and Carolyn will be hauling many of the band members’ instruments that they can’t carry on the plane.
Monday afternoon we were finally able to “talk” to young Joseph in Canada. He’s a very busy boy, at just over a year of age. Heather sent us a photo of Joseph driving their Dodge truck.

Joseph driving the truck
I’ve been working on the final page proofs for the 4th edition of my beef cattle book (Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle). It will be in color this time, with photos replacing some of the illustrations.

Lynn drove past North Fork (almost to Gibbonsville) yesterday—almost 50 miles—to locate water for 3 different people who are buying property in that area and need to put in wells. It was a long day! Then that evening we went to the kid’s spring concert (band and chorus) at the High School where Dani sang in the Junior Chorus (7th and 8th graders), Sam and Charlie played in the advanced ensemble Stage Band and also sang in the Legacy Choir. Lynn was too tired to drive to town that evening, but we rode in with Carolyn, which was really nice.

Today is Lynn’s 75th birthday. He celebrated by helping me feed the cows this morning while Andrea irrigated, and hopes to have a quiet, peaceful, restful afternoon recuperating from his long day yesterday!

Anyone interested in some of the adventures we’ve had over the years with our cattle and horses, and stories about life on the ranch with our critters can read 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).