Saturday, March 30, 2019

Diary from Sky Range Ranch – January 15 through February 13, 2019

JANUARY 20– Last week started cold (below zero) but warmed up the past few days. During the cold weather our feed truck barely started, even after being plugged in all night, so Charlie and Jim checked the engine heater and cord and discovered that the cord was worn out, so they fixed it. Now it works a lot better and the old truck happily starts, even if it’s only been plugged in a few hours. I just plug it in when I get up in the morning instead of having to leave it plugged in all night.
When I did chores Tuesday morning and forked up some of the heifers’ wasted hay to throw over the fence to Sprout (hay the heifers pull out of their feeder and then don’t eat) I discovered that one of the heifers had a loop of wire around her neck. Some of the old electric fence wire that we had around that field years ago (to keep the cows and bulls from rubbing on the fences or trying to go through them) had apparently come loose, and this heifer had apparently gotten tangled up in some of it and broken it off.

Thank goodness our heifers are gentle and trusting; I was able to nonchalantly get close enough to her to grab the wire loop. She immediately backed up, and as she rushed backward the wire came off her head and neck. I knew I only had one chance at it, because it would startle her, so I made sure I grabbed accurately and hung on tight. It worked. Otherwise we would have had to bring her into the corral and put her in the head catch to get it off. The next day I hiked around the fence and found the spot where there was some more loose old wire in a snarl and I got rid of it. 

It was handy that the heifers are so used to me gathering the hay they pull out of the feeder. Here’s a photo of them eating at their feeder.
heifers eating at feeder
The morning Charlie’s pickup was out of gas so Andrea took the girls to school so they wouldn’t be late. Charlie put a little chain saw gas in his pickup, enough to drive it down to our place, and Lynn put some gas in it from our tank here. Charlie’s gas gauge doesn’t work properly so he usually carries a spare can of gas with him, but didn’t have it that morning.

The ice has been really thick on the creek and in the little waterway in the back pen for the bulls, so we’ve been chopping holes for the cows and bulls to drink. We’re glad we have a heated water tank for the heifers to drink from; otherwise we’d have to be chopping and removing ice daily from their tank.
heifer's water doesn't freeze
heifer coming to drink
The ice in the creek is building up where we put mesh panels in the creek to keep the cows from going through the gap between the jackfence and the bank (erosion from high water last spring), so before it was impossible to get those panels out of the ice Andrea was able to chop the ice away with her ax and take them out.

Later that day we got the tractor started (though it was a little sluggish in the cold weather, in spite of being plugged in all night) and used it to take big bales to the cow’s feeders. Then we put the elk panels across the entrance to the watering area at the creek where the young cows have been watering, to make them go through the gate and on up above the crossfence into the heifer hill pasture where there is a better approach to that water hole. The bank is too steep in the closer watering area and they have trouble getting up and down it when it is this icy and slippery. Yet they’d rather risk falling down than hiking a little farther upstream to the better water hole, so we fenced off the bad one. Here are photos of the young cows coming back from their better water hole above the crossfence (having to by-pass the paneled off water gap).
cows fenced off from old water gap
These past few days it actually got above freezing in the afternoons—much more pleasant temperature for the cattle and for us humans out doing chores and feeding. Andrea hauled some buckets of dirt on her 4-wheeler (digging some unfrozen dirt out of the bank behind her dog houses) and took them down to the cows’ water hole in the field below her house. The approach to their water hole was not as steep as the one we fenced off for the young cows, but it was really slippery, so she spread dirt over the trail down the bank. Some of the more timid cows have been reluctant to go down into the creek for a drink, so this helped make better footing for them.

A couple days ago I finally finished updating and checking the page proofs for the next edition of my book Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses and got them sent back to the editor. Jim sawed up and split the rest of the wood in the log pile in the little pasture below the barnyard—the trees that Michael and Nick cleared out of the fenceline in the field above the house 2 years ago so they could rebuild that old fence.

Yesterday we had a little new snow and Jim split more of the woodpile here by the house.
Jim splitting wood
Andrea took Dani and Sam to town to get some things for Emily’s birthday. I did evening chores a bit early and then we went to a birthday celebration dinner for Sam (whose birthday was January 16th) and Em, at the 28 Club CafĂ© a couple miles down the highway. Andrea and the girls were going to meet us there (coming from town). I rode down there with Jim and Lynn waited to ride in with Charlie—but they were a little late because Charlie’s pickup wouldn’t start. Lynn drove up to Andrea’s house to get him and they came to dinner in our pickup.

It was a very nice family birthday dinner; it was Sam’s wish to “eat out” and everyone had a great time. It was raining/snowing a little more when we drove home.

Today we had about 5 inches of new snow and I took a few photos around the barnyard.
new snow on the wood pile
new snow
When we finished feeding the cows, Lynn drove the feed truck on up to Andrea’s house to jump-start Charlie’s pickup. He thought the battery was bad, but then realized he just needed to clean up the terminals. Tonight we plugged in the tractor again so we can take more hay around to the cows tomorrow.

JANUARY 30 – We had some cold windy weather for a few days. Andrea has been taking Dani in early to school for boys’ basketball practice. Dani and two other 8th grade girls are the managers for the boys’ team. When Andrea got back from town Monday morning she and I fed the cows and loaded on more little bales for the next two days’ feeding. Then she and Lynn got the tractor started and took another straw bale to the cows’ feeder. They are eating a lot of straw in this cold weather.
straw in the feeder was about gone
That afternoon a big group of elk showed up on the ridge above Alfonso’s haystack and stayed there until dark, possibly wanting to come down and eat hay. So far this year we haven’t had problems with the elk trying to come into our haystacks—not like they did 2 years ago when the snow was so deep that all the elk came down into the ranchers’ haystacks.

Last Wednesday took a little bale up to young cows on 4-wheeler (they ran out of hay in their feeder) to tide them over until we could start the tractor the next day and take them another big round bale, and also took another bale to the little heifers for their feeder. We’re glad we put tarps on our round bales this year. Even though it’s sometimes hard to get the frozen tarps off to get to the hay, it’s kept the hay from being damaged and moldy from fall rains and melting snow.
round bale stack with tarps
Friday Jim took his 4-wheeler and trailer into Shiloh’s pen to load up a bunch of unfrozen dirt from the big pile in her pen, to spread on the slickest icy portions of our driveways, where it’s hard for vehicles to get up the hills without spinning out.

Saturday Andrea helped Lynn take another big straw bale up to the cows’ feeder and they had trouble getting the twines off; water from earlier rain and snow had run down one edge of that bale in the stack and frozen, making it impossible to get the twines loose except by chopping them out with the ax.

Sunday morning I was out taking photos of the heifers in the field below the lane after chores.
and also snapped photos of our Amish neighbor headed off to church with his buggy.

buggy going down the road
That morning Andrea helped us with feeding and moving hay around, then went to town to help Emily with her cleaning job at Rose and Jerry Morphy’s house and at the school. I made a big pot of chili to feed the kids when they came home that evening from the weekend with their Dad. Andrea and Emily came home later and I sent the rest of the chili home with them to eat.

It’s been really cold the last 3 mornings, almost down to zero. Today our high was 20 degrees. It’s nice that the engine heater in the feed truck is working now; it starts really well on these cold mornings. This morning the little heifers had run out of hay so I fed them one of my horse hay bales, pulling it out to the field with the calf sled, to make them happy until we can give them a big bale again in their feeder—and gave them another little bale this evening, putting it in their empty feeder.

The feed truck was empty this morning after Lynn and I finished feeding, so when Andrea got home from taking Dani early to school she helped me load a bunch of horse hay from my shed to stack over by Shiloh and Sprout’s pens, and a load of little bales from the stackyard to unload by the bull pen, and left some on the feed truck for tomorrow—enough to feed the cows and then load another big alfalfa bale.

FEBRUARY 6 – On Friday Jim left to drive to California (for a job he’ll be doing there for a few weeks) and Andrea went to Idaho Falls for an appointment with her pain doctor. He put some injections into her neck and shoulder to try to help relieve the pain that’s been causing her a lot of misery and headaches. Her neck and spine are very much out of line from the graft scar contractures that keep tightening.

Lynn and I fed the cows. Here are photos of the cows enjoying their hay.
cows eating hay
We had to start a new alfalfa bale that we’d loaded on the feed truck the day before. It was a crumbly one and a bunch fell off at once when I started feeding it. He helped me tie the rest of it together and scatter out a days’ worth of feed; the alfalfa is fed sparingly as a protein supplement, augmented by some little grass hay bales we feed off the truck, and the big straw bales in their feeder. We had to load part of the pile of alfalfa that fell off back onto the truck for the next day’s feeding.

Michael and Carolyn were gone that weekend and Nick was doing their home chores. We invited him down to eat supper with us that evening and enjoyed a good visit. We don’t get to see him very often!

Saturday was warm enough I didn’t have to plug in the feed truck that morning. Jim made it to California that evening (it was a 2-day drive) and had slippery roads the last few miles (horrendous rains) and had to make a detour to get to his friend’s place because of mud slides.

Sunday the temperature got up to 45 degrees and the snow was settling. It started raining at daylight and I did chores in the rain. It let up a little after we fed the cows, so Andrea helped us load a bunch more little bales on the truck, at the stackyard, to have enough hay for several days’ feed for the older cows.

By Tuesday it was snowing again and cold. Andrea took a bale of coarser grass hay from my hay shed to use as bedding for her dogs in their dog houses. By evening we had 9 inches of snow and it was still snowing and blowing. It had settled to 10 inches when we plugged in the tractor.

Today was cold and windy but the tractor started and we were able to take big round bales to the heifers and to the young cows, and 4 bales of straw—one for the cows’ feeder, and a bedding bale (the old yukky straw the cows wouldn’t eat last year, that we kept for bedding) to each group. Now they’ll have a dry place to sleep, with all this deep snow. I carried a bunch of wood into the house from the wood pile; our woodbox is almost empty. I took more photos of the new snow around the barnyard, looking down toward the haystack as we were driving back from feeding the cows, and a photo of the old calf house just outside the stackyard.
more snow
old calf house
.. and photos of our two old retired tractors above the haystack—the old Fordson Major that we baled hay with before we got our bigger John Deere tractors, and the old Oliver tractor that I used to rake hay with.
old Fordson Major

old Oliver tractor
Andrea’s friend Scott brought his skid steer out on his flatbed trailer and spent a few hours plowing our driveways and cleaning the deep snow away from the little haystack by the bulls. Then he had trouble getting back up the driveway with his truck and trailer; it’s very slippery at the steep upper end. He had to back down, unload the skid steer, and get a good run at the driveway without the extra weight of that machine on his trailer. He made it that time, and drove the skid steer up to the top of the driveway to load it back up.

When I went out to do chores this evening I noticed that he’d piled up a bunch of snow (from clearing the driveway) right next to one of the gates we have to swing across the block the driveway when we move cattle, so before it got dark Lynn and I shoveled that big pile away from the gate. By morning it would have been frozen solid and a lot more difficult to shovel!

Granddaughter Heather in Canada sent us some cute photos of little Joseph helping shovel snow by their house, and Joseph checking out the Kleenex box to make sure all the Kleenex tissues were the same.
Joseph shoveling snow

Joseph emptying Kleenex box
Andrea got our mail when she went to town earlier today but stayed in town late, helping Emily with her cleaning jobs, and brought the other two girls home with her. Charlie brought our mail home after play practice. He is in charge of the sound system and all the music for the high school play this year. He dropped off our mail and drove on home, and slid off Andrea’s driveway into the deep snow and got stuck. Rather than phone us for help, he used Andrea’s pickup to pull his truck out, and while he was unhooking it the pickup rolled back down the hill a little (the emergency brake doesn’t hold very well) and luckily he got out of the way before it smashed into the side of his little pickup, denting it pretty badly just behind the passenger door. After we heard about it later we told him to please let us know if he needs any help in the future; that was a two-person job! We’re glad he didn’t get smashed between the two pickups.

Emergency brakes are notorious on those dodge trucks for not holding very well. Nick had the same problem a few years ago with his folks’ Dodge rolling into the gate post at the stackyard on the upper place and taking out part of the fence.

FEBRUARY 13 – Last Thursday it was 4 below zero and it remained cold several days, with cold wind. Andrea left early Thursday morning to take Dani to Idaho Falls for an appointment with an eye specialist, to try to figure out what’s going on with her eyes. She is having trouble reading and one eye is giving her a lot of problems. She has to go again for an MRI. The roads were not too bad on this trip, just rough and snowy, and it was 20 below zero going up the valley from our place.

Lynn and I fed the cows that day and I took photos of the cows enjoying their hay.
ZaraRose eating hay

cows enjoying breakfast
Lynn went back to Andrea’s house afterward to feed her cats and dogs. The next day we fed the cows again (Andrea took Dani to school early for basketball practice) and took salt and mineral to the cows, young cows, and heifers, and broke ice at the drinking holes. I took photos of snow and frost on the cattails by the hold pen and the bulls eating hay.

cattails next to hold pen

bulls eating hay
The snow on the old woodshed next to the corral also made a nice scene so I took a few photos of it as well.
chute & woodshed

old woodshed next to corral
Michael and Nick came down to measure the old falling-down fence dividing the swamp pasture, and the old fence at the lower end of the pasture, to figure out materials for rebuilding with a jack fence. They finished their custom fencing job for a rancher on Sandy Creek (which took longer than planned because of deep snow up there for the past 2 months) and now they can rebuild some of our worst fences during a bit of slack time until their next custom fencing job.

Saturday was very cold and windy all day, with drifting snow. It was impossible to face into the wind without something to protect our faces from frostbite. We barely made it up through the field with the feed truck; the nice tracks from earlier days were completely drifted full. By the time we came back down (only about 15 minutes later, after feeding off the hay) the tracks were drifted full again.

The wind was whipping the tarp around on our old straw and haystack in the stackyard, and Lynn and I tried to tie it down better. I carried a pole over to the stack to tie the twines to (to hold the tarp), and while putting it in place smashed my hand underneath it, crunching the same knuckle that got pulled out of place a couple weeks ago while pulling on some net wrap to get it off one of the big bales we were putting in the heifers’ feeder). Afterward I put DMSO on it to help reduce the pain and swelling and bruising. The wind was very bitter that evening doing chores, and I fed all the horses extra to give them more heat generation. A horse’s digestion in the hindgut—cecum and large colon--utilizes fermentation and creates heat, like a cow’s rumen, but not quite as much. Feeding extra roughage does help them stay warmer on a cold night, however.

Sunday morning wasn’t quite as cold; the wind had slowed a lot. The drifts were worse than the morning before, however, and we barely made it up to feed the cows. They were cold and hungry and impatient and were coming down from the field to meet us, and were in the roadway, so I had to shoo them out of the way so Lynn could get a run at the drifts (which were nearly up to the cows’ bellies) and get through them. It was also touch and go roaring through the drifts at the bottom end of the field, but we made it, and got the cows fed. When we came back down, Andrea helped Lynn put chains on the feed truck.

That morning young Heather send more photos of Joseph, this time riding his indoor horse, and being a daredevil trick rider. He has good balance and grip for a kid that’s not yet 2 years old.
Joseph galloping along

Joseph trick-riding
That afternoon Andrea’s kids went snowmobiling in the lower field. A couple of their friends came out and brought snowmobiles, too, and Andrea filled up two big tractor tire inner tubes (with our air compressor) to pull behind the snowmobiles as sleds.

We plugged in the tractor that evening and Lynn put a tarp over the motor to help block the wind and hopefully help it keep warmer as it heated through the night. It started ok the next morning when we had to use it to move big bales to the cows’ feeders after we did morning chores and feeding. When we fed the cows with the feed truck we barely made it through the new snowdrifts, however, in spite of having chains on the tires. We never would have made it without the chains.

Michael brought his skid steer down that day, and spent several hours clearing snow from a large area in the lower swamp pasture (to park his truck and trailer and have a place to unload posts and poles, in preparation for rebuilding our falling down fence with a jack fence.

Yesterday he brought his big trailer with all the tools, and several loads of posts and poles on the flatbed trailer. Nick and a couple of the guys that help with their custom fencing jobs started tearing out the old fences and clearing a path for building the new ones. Andrea helped us feed the cows and take another big bale to the heifers, and a straw bale to the cow’s feeder.
Andrea feeding hay

Andrea clearing hay off truck
We left the tractor plugged in all night again, and it started. Then the day warmed up by afternoon and last night wasn’t as cold.

Sam and Charlie went with the pep band to another school a couple hundred miles south of us, to support the boys’ basketball game, and got home at midnight. This morning Andrea and Dani left early to drive to Idaho Falls for another doctor appointment for Dani, to have the MRI to try to figure out what’s wrong with her eyes. The roads were bad this trip, so Andrea took her old car (“Goldie”) that has 4-wheel drive and is more roadworthy in bad weather.

Lynn and I fed the cows, but didn’t have to break ice on the creek today because the weather was warmer. Today is my birthday (I get to be the same age as Lynn – 75—for a few months until his birthday in May. This evening it is gently snowing. We hope the roads will be ok for Andrea and Dani to get home safely from Idaho Falls.
If anyone wants to purchase some of my books, most of my horse and cattle “how to” books are available from Storey Publishing. I have some my other books on hand, if anyone wants signed copies. These include my book about Andrea’s fight to survive horrendous burn injuries the summer of 2000, and the unexpected detour we all took--a journey that profoundly affected our lives:

Beyond the Flames – A Family Touched by Fire. ($19 for paperback, or $25 for hardback, plus $4 postage).

For anyone interested in some of the adventures over the years with our cattle and horses, and stories about life on the ranch, here are some of my other 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 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. They are now out of print and hard to find. These are collections of some of his best meditations and bits of spiritual wisdom, and 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).