Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Diary from Sky Range Ranch - November 13 through December 10, 2019

NOVEMBER 22 – Michael and Carolyn hauled our 4 cull cows to the sale yard last Monday and they sold through the regular Tuesday sale. Cattle prices are off quite a bit from last year, but the cows brought enough to finish paying for the hay we bought this year.

Andrea’s friend Stan came back again from California to spend some time here. He and Andrea drove to the 320 on 4-wheelers a couple times to hike around and check on the cows and their water. The snow up there is mostly gone, so the cows are able to continue grazing.

We babysat Christopher several times while Emily was at work or at nursing classes, when Andrea was busy. He enjoys watching movies with us in the evenings, especially musicals. At not quite 8 months old, he is really fascinated with music and dancing. We watched The Pirates of Penzance one evening and he was riveted the whole time, bouncing to the music (in perfect rhythm) in his swing.

Last Tuesday I went to the medical clinic to have an echo test (echocardiogram) because my doctor wanted to check out my irregular heartbeat (which I’ve had all my life but is maybe now a little bit worse) and heart murmur. The results weren’t too concerning, so I am not worried about my “ticker”. I just don’t have the endurance I used to have, and get tired quicker, but that may be just due to old age!

Andrea has had a bad respiratory infection and fever/sore throat and lost her voice. She finally went to the doctor, who prescribed antibiotics. She was so miserable that day that she went home and went to bed for the rest of the day. Stan split some of the wood in our woodpile.

Granddaughter Heather sent us photos she took while she and Gregory were rounding up their cows off pasture to bring home to their place.
Gregory heading out across the field to gather cattle
bringing the cows home
We had several days of warmer weather—above freezing during the day—and some rain. On Sunday Michael and Carolyn hauled their 8 heifer calves down here and unloaded them by the barn where I can start gentling them for a few days before they go out in the field below the lane with our heifers to spend the winter. There was enough grass in the pens by the barn to keep them happy for a couple days then I started feeding them a little hay to get them used to me and not so scared.

There have been some serious snowstorms around us, and we were expecting some snow, so Stan and Andrea helped Lynn put chains on our tractor for winter, and Stan helped Lynn put new spark plugs in the old feed truck.

I’m writing an article on dousing (water-witching—locating underground water) for a farm magazine and needed some photos, so I took pictures of Lynn demonstrating how it works. I decided I’d better take some photos before our ground is covered with snow, just so it might be easier for him to walk around in our fields. Here are photos of him walking across our field above the house, using bent welding rods held loosely in his hands. As he walked across the spot where there is water deep under the ground, the welding rods swiveled and pointed back toward him.
Lynn walking across the field with two welding rods
the welding rods turn and point toward him as he walks over the spot where there is water
Then he showed how it works with a forked willow branch, and how a person holds the branched ends—and how they twist downward when he walks over the water.
Lynn using the forked willow stick
using the long narrow willow to check depth of water
On Monday Lynn went with his sister Jenelle on her trip to Idaho Falls for her dental appointment. While they were there they bought a few groceries and necessities that they can get cheaper at the big stores there. The next day Stan and Andrea took Dani to Idaho Falls for her orthodontist appointment to adjust her braces. It started raining, then snowing right after they left, but their roads were pretty good on that trip.

Lynn caught the “bug” that Andrea, Stan and the grandkids have, and then he shared it with me, so we’re all a bit under the weather. Lynn and I also had our annual appointment with the dermatologist and both of us had several skin lesions frozen off (precancerous spots).

Today was cold (barely above freezing by late afternoon) and I had to break ice out of all the horses’ water tubs, and the heifer’s water tank. Michael and Carolyn’s heifers have gentled down a lot; they now come to me when I bring them hay, rather than running away, and I know that I can call them and have them come to me, even out in the big field. We need to have them gentle and coming to us, in case we have to get any of them in from the field this winter for any reason. So I let them out with our heifers, and we were able to put the extension cord back across the lane by the barn (where we’d taken it out while the heifers were locked in those pens—so they couldn’t walk on or chew on the cord). We plugged the tank heater in again, so we won’t have to break ice on the heifers’ tank. They drink more water in the winter, with it not so ice-cold.

Andrea and I bagged up the cartful of old shingles (that Lynn gathered up a few weeks ago and put in the “sick barn” so they’d be under a roof) to send a bag home with Andrea for kindling. I needed the cart empty so I can use it to haul a little hay out for the heifers each morning. They still have some grass in that field; it’s not covered with snow yet, so they can keep grazing, but on cold frosty mornings they appreciate a little hay to start their day. They don’t like cold frozen grass!

DECEMBER 1 – We had several cold nights, down to 12 degrees. Andrea and Stan went up to the 320 again to check the cows and break ice on their lower water trough. There was some new snow on the north slopes but not too deep. Lynn and I hiked down in the lower back field to check on the young cows, and check their water to make sure it wasn’t frozen up. They still have some grass left in that field if it doesn’t snow under.

On Sunday we had an early Thanksgiving dinner at Andrea’s house, since her kids would be at their dad’s place this year for Thanksgiving. Michael and Carolyn were able to come join us for dinner, and Lynn’s sister Jenelle, and it was great to have everyone all together. After dinner Sam played her trumpet, and Christopher was totally fascinated. That little kid is intensely interested in anything musical. He has a fun time playing in his safe play area in Andrea’s living room.
Christopher in his play area
The next day a big storm was predicted. Andrea had planned to go with Stan back to California for 10 days or so, to spend Thanksgiving with him and some of his family, but it looked like the roads were going to be really bad. They’d planned to leave Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, because Andrea had several things she needed to do before she left, and we needed to get our cows home from the 320 before we got a lot more snow or cold weather. So Stan left at noon on Monday to drive back alone—and it was a good thing he left when he did because the roads got really bad. He was able to make it all the way (arriving home about 2 a.m. Tuesday morning) before Donner Pass got closed by deep snow.

On Tuesday Andrea and Dani helped us bring the cows down. The kids didn’t have school that week, and didn’t have to go out to their dad’s place until Wednesday evening, so we were glad for Dani’s help. It was cold and damp all day (with a high of 27 degrees), but not too windy. Lynn put gas in our old feed truck and I helped him load a small bale of hay to use as “bait” for the cows. He and I drove the truck to the upper place and parked it on the road at the bottom of the draw below the 320, waiting for the cows. Andrea and Dani drove 4-wheelers up to the 320 and up the ridge, and eventually found all the cows in Baker Creek. They place where they were trying to drink was all frozen solid, so it was time to bring them home. Andrea took photos as she led the cows along the jeep road coming up out of Baker Creek.
bringing the cows up out of Baker Creek
leading the cows up to the ridge to the gate into the lower part of the 320
They led the cows down through the 320 and across the little piece of BLM below it, down to our road pasture. Lynn and I had hiked up the hill a ways to watch for them, and when we saw them coming we went down and started the truck so the cows would be able to hear it. Dani was leading the cows by then, going ahead of them with the 4-wheeler and calling them.
Dani going ahead of the cows on her 4-wheeler
Dani leading the cows through the BLM pasture
The cows know the sound of their feed truck and will follow it anywhere. So when they got down to the road Lynn started driving the truck slowly home, and I sat on the back, luring the cows with little bites of hay.
cows following feed truck
Andrea and Dani had left one of the 4-wheelers on the road (since the trail down from the 320 is impassible with a 4-wheeler), so they’d have a way to follow the cows and not have to walk. Dani could get off now and then to run block a driveway or keep the neighbors’ cows from trying to come out through the fences to join our herd. For awhile she rode on the feed truck with me, so she could get off and be ahead of the cows to block some bad places in the fence.
cows trooping down past the wild meadow
We got safely past Michael and Carolyn’s cows in their field, and were really lucky getting past Alfonso’s cows (with the fence along his field completely flat in several places) because he had fed them some hay that morning and they didn’t bother to try to join us. Last year it was much more difficult, because his starving cows all tried to come out on the road as we brought our cows down with the feed truck—and Dani had to run along inside his fence and scare his cows away.

This year was much easier, and we got our herd safely down to our place and put them in the heifer hill pasture. There’s a little grass left, and the cows can graze it for a while until it’s gone or snows under. We don’t want to have to feed hay too soon! Andrea and Dani drove back up the creek to get the other 4-wheeler, and then Dani filled our wood box while Andrea loaded more bales on the truck to take around for the bulls.

The next day was really cold and windy, so we were glad we weren’t trying to bring the cows down. We chose the best day, considering everything. My sore throat and sinus infection was a lot worse—and I was starting to get a cough--so I finally went to the doctor and she gave me a prescription for antibiotics and a steroid to help reduce the swelling and inflammation in my plugged sinuses.

Carolyn has been working on a lengthy letter to the Idaho Department of Water Resources, outlining the many problems we had this past summer with the watermaster not delivering water to priority rights, allowing overuse of water by Alfonso, shutting off the water to our upper place 3 weeks before it was necessary, allowing use of an illegal point of diversion on Alfonso’s lower place, multiple headgates not properly locked (enabling that user to steal water), etc. plus photos of the unlocked headgates. We pointed out that this has been an ongoing problem every year, and I re-sent a letter that I wrote in 2015 about the problems that year. We finally got a response, stating that we can present our proposals for resolving the problems—at a meeting of our creek’s advisory board in January or February. It will be interesting to see how that goes.

Meanwhile, my nephew Matt came to Salmon for a few days, to spend Thanksgiving with his dad (my brother Rockwell) and visit with us. He’s Andrea’s favorite cousin, so they got together a couple times to visit, and we went up to Rock and Bev’s place for a visit on Thanksgiving day. Andrea and Em and little Christopher came briefly also—after Andrea helped us that morning hauling a load of hay from my horse hay shed to stockpile for the heifers until we have to start feeding them big round bales, and hauling our big bale feeders up to the fields where we’ll have the cows for winter.

The weather has been really cold and nasty so we are glad we have the cows home from the 320. Yesterday Andrea broke ice on the creek for the cows, and took a big tree branch out of the creek that was impeding the flow and making it freeze up worse. Today was even colder. Lynn went to town and bought another bale feeder (so we’d have one for straw as well as hay) and Andrea helped him unload it and put it together. I’m finally starting to feel a little better—with not such a sore throat and not hacking out such thick horrible “glugs”.

DECEMBER 10 – I had decided I didn’t have the time or energy to send out a family Christmas letter this year, but then changed my mind. I realized we needed to keep in touch, so people won’t think we died! So I did a quick update from last year, Lynn made copies downtown for me, and I started sending them out. It’s always so great to hear from friends and family and I’ll try to hold up our end of the communication.

Andrea got a tire fixed on her old Explorer so she could drive it to California to visit Stan. It has better tires and gets better gas mileage than her newer car, and with 4-wheel drive will be safer on bad roads. She spent several days getting everything done that needed doing before she headed to California, then left at 4 a.m. Wednesday morning for the long drive. She stopped along the way for an hour of sleep, then continued her trip and got to Stan’s place by early evening. She had some rain and snow and some slow roads for a while, but made it there ok.

When Emily went to work that afternoon she dropped Christopher off for us to babysit him until she got home at 10 p.m. We took care of him again the next day when she went to town in the afternoon to do some of her homework. She didn’t work that day, but had a lot of homework and studying to do, as she nears the end of her CNA classes and needs to be ready for her tests. She went to the library for a few hours, since she can use the internet service there; the internet service is very poor at Andrea’s house. While she was in town she picked up Dani after school and Dani did her homework at the library too. They picked up Christopher on their way home.

Weather was cold, down to 12 degrees that morning, and it only got up to 28 degrees for a high. The next morning was just as cold, but it got a little warmer by afternoon, up to 35 degrees. Emily had to go to her class early that morning so I did chores before daylight and was back in the house when she dropped Christopher off for us to babysit. That afternoon Dani helped us a little; she held Ed for my while I took her shoes off. All our horses’ shoes have been on too long and need to come off for winter. I wasn’t able to do it sooner because my leg was so painful for several weeks after it got smashed. I was glad to get Ed’s shoes off and her feet trimmed.

Then Dani carried in several sacks of pellets for the pellet stove in our living room and filled our wood box (for the old wood stove in the kitchen). She’s a lot stronger now than either of us old folks! Then she helped me do chores and feed the horses, and loaded my little cart for the heifers. I am now feeding them about a bale and a half each morning to encourage them, since the grass is cold and frosty in the mornings and they are reluctant to start grazing until the sun comes up.

Granddaughter Heather sent us a couple photos –one of Joseph napping on the floor, and another picture of the three of them.
Joseph napping
Gregory and Heather with young Joseph
Saturday was a little warmer, and up to 40 degrees by afternoon. Michael and Carolyn came down and measured the fence at the upper ends of our fields (between our place and Alfonso’s pastures) and the old fence between the hayfield above our house and the swamp pasture. Those fences are old, and need some new posts. We’ve patched the boundary fence a few times, but Alfonso’s cattle keep pressing it trying to reach grass on our side, and his horses try to reach over it, and some of the posts are breaking off. The fence along our field above the house is one we built 52 years ago, so it’s also getting old and tired. Michael and Nick will set some new posts in those fence lines later this winter when they get a lull in their custom fencing jobs.

That afternoon I took the shoes off Dottie and trimmed her feet, then Dani came down and helped me take the front shoes off Willow. We led her down below the lane where there is still some tall grass that’s a little green, and she was happy to eat some of that and stand still and behave while I took off her front shoes and trimmed her very long feet. I would have taken her hind shoes off, too, but by then I was pretty tired; it was a job taking hers and Dottie’s shoes off because even though they’d been on a long time, they were still very tightly clinched. When I shoe a horse I don’t want the shoes coming off too soon! They also have very hard feet, so it wasn’t easy to trim them. We’d planned to take the hind shoes off Willow the next day, but it started raining in the night, turning to snow by morning. We’ll do her hind feet, and Shiloh’s feet, another day.

While Dani was here that afternoon, however, she helped us untie the plastic at the end of our hay stack and uncover a big bale to take to the bulls with the tractor. We’re glad we got that accomplished before it started raining and snowing.

Em brought Christopher down that afternoon when she went to work, and Lynn went to town to get mail and groceries and some Christmas gifts for kids and grandkids. Dani helped me do evening chores again and load the little wagon with morning’s hay for the heifers.

Sunday was cold and snowy. It started with rain, which turned to snow, but by afternoon the snow was melting and our cattle were happily grazing again. I’d hoped to finish taking the shoes off the horses but the weather was a bit too nasty for that. I’m a fair-weather farrier at my age! There was a big storm predicted for California so Andrea and Stan left Sunday morning to get over the mountain passes ahead of the storm. They made it over the passes and their roads were pretty good in Nevada. They made it as far as Elko, where they stopped to spend the night.

Stan was convoying back with her in his pickup, to spend some time here visiting again, and bringing his wood-splitter. We have a big pile of aspen and cottonwood in the post pile pasture that Michael and Nick hauled down there a couple years ago when they were clearing trees along the little above the house—to rebuild that old falling-down fence. Jim sawed up those logs this past summer, and now those pieces just need to be split and we’ll have enough wood to mix with the fir (which holds a fire better) and get us through the rest of the winter.

Lynn and I took care of Christopher again while Em was at her job on Sunday, getting home at midnight after her shift. He wears us old folks out, but he’s a lot of fun. If he gets a bit tired and fussy, all we have to do is put on a good musical movie on the TV and he is totally “tuned in” and entertained. He loves “Mama Mia” and the sequel “Mama Mia: Here We Go Again” and he bounces to the rhythm of the music in his playpen or in his swing. Years ago when Emily was little, we bolted some rings into the top of the archway between our dining room and livingroom, where we can hang a swing, and all the grandkids loved it in their younger years. They could swing and watch TV at the same time. We’re glad we still have that swing, for little Christopher.

Yesterday was colder again, and it was down to 15 degrees that morning. We are glad we have a heater in the water tank for the heifers. They drink a lot more water in the winter, and also we don’t have to chop ice out of their tank every day.
heifer at water tank
Today we gave the young heifers their first big bale of alfalfa hay in the bale feeder and I took photos of them.
our heifers (white tags) and Michael's heifers (green tags)
heifers at their feeder
Michael and Carolyn’s heifers (green ear tags) have gentled down a lot and come to me now instead of running off, if they think I have some feed for them.

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