Sunday, April 26, 2020

Diary from Sky Range Ranch - February 9 through March 18, 2020

FEBRUARY 22 – Last week Lynn used the tractor and plowed snow in the stackyard so we can get to the haystacks, and I shoveled snow off the tarp on the stack of small bales so we could load the feed truck. Andrea helped me get huge blocks of ice off the black plastic covering the round bales by the horse pens. She moved the bull feeder with her 4-wheeler and got stuck in the deep snow, and Lynn had to pull it with the tractor.

The next day it was 5 below zero when I got up, so I plugged in the feed truck to make sure it would start later that morning. We broke ice for the bulls and cows and emptied ice out of all the horse tubs—and took a couple more bales of straw to the cows.

Andrea left at 1 a.m. the next morning to drive to Wells, Nevada to meet Stan there. She left her car there and went with him on down to Arizona for a few days. He wanted to show her some of the antique shops, etc. down there. Lynn and I fed the cows and broke ice for the cows, and took care of Christopher when Emily was at work.

We started leaving our driveway gate shut; Alfonso’s cows have been getting out on the road and wandering down our lane and getting into our haystacks. He doesn’t feed them enough, and leaves his field gates open, and they get out to go looking for something to eat.

On my birthday my cousin Cathy sent me an old photo that was taken when we were in about the 2nd or 3rd grade—a picture of her (center), me (on the right) and our cousin Diane (on the left). Diane was my very special twin cousin who was born the same day I was. This photo was taken when Cathy and her family were here in Salmon visiting my family. Diane’s family had moved to Salmon that spring and lived here for 3 years. We three cousins were all very close in age; Cathy was just a couple months older than Diane and me.
three cousins
We had very cold weather for more than a week and the creek ice became a problem for the cows to get to the water. With Andrea gone, Michael came down that Friday to help Lynn break ice and make a better approach to the water hole for the young cows; they had a very steep, slippery bank to try to walk down to get to the creek.

That weekend Dani filled our woodbox and carried pellets in for Lynn’s pellet stove, and shoveled the deep snow away from the gate into Shiloh’s pen. She brushed hat mare and took a couple of photos of herself with Shiloh.
Dani & Shiloh selfie
She caught Shiloh a couple times on subsequent days to bring her out of her pen and lead her around. She wants to start working with that mare a little this spring before she starts riding again. I took photos of her leading Shiloh down the lane past the house and back up to her pen.
Dani & Shiloh
Dani leading Shiloh down to the house
Dani leading Shiloh up the driveway
On Sunday we had to get another big alfalfa bale for the heifers, and Dani helped me get the black plastic up off the top bale. I went up the ladder to pull the plastic up over the bale, and Dani pushed the big heavy roll of it up with a shovel so I could grab it. I had to hang onto it until Lynn could spear the top bale with the loader tines on the tractor, and then I let the plastic go back down over the lower bale.

The plastic was so slippery I was afraid to try to get back onto the ladder to come down, for fear of slipping and falling off the stack, so I decided to just drop down onto the lower bale, and then drop down to the ground from there. But the plastic was so slippery that I didn’t stop at the lower bale—I scooted right down over it and on down to the ground, like going down a huge slide! I didn’t land very hard, so I was ok—it was a lot better than falling off the top of the stack.

We fed the bale to the heifers in their feeder, then we took the tractor around to the stackyard and had to get the tarp off the top of the straw stack—which meant going up a ladder again. Dani held the ladder for me and I braved it—and got the tarp cut loose from the straw so Lynn good grab the top bale with his loader.

Charlie drove his pickup out here that afternoon to get the camper shell for it, and Sam helped him put it on. When they drove back out the driveway, he misjudged the slight turn at the end of the driveway and got stuck in the snowbank. Our tractor was still warm from running it to move hay, so it started again, and Lynn was able to pull Charlie’s truck out of the snow.

The next day was President’s Day so there was no school. Dani helped us again, feeding cows, taking a big bale to the young cows, and giving them more salt and mineral. Then she helped us load the feed truck again with little bales. Afterward she hiked home and took her dogs for a walk up on the hill above their house, in the deep snow, and took some photos when she was up on that hill—with a great view looking up and down the creek. She sent me some of those photos.
view from hill above Andrea's house
She was really tired after that hike through the deep snow, and took a nap, then came down later for supper with us and we watched a movie with her and Christopher.

Tuesday was cold again, below zero that morning, with 24 degrees for a high. Lynn and I fed the cows and hiked down to the creek to break ice at their water hole. Later that day Emily brought Christopher to leave with us when she went to town to get some things and do the town errands. He had fun for a while driving around and around the dining room table in his “bumper car” and on one of his trips around the table he grabbed 2 of Lynn’s canes that were leaning up against one of the cupboards.
Christopher grabbed 2 of Lynn's canes
Lynn had 3 canes leaning there, and Christopher wanted them all but could only hang onto two of them. He had a cane in each hand and was going round and round the room. We put chairs in front of the stove and a few other places to keep his “car” from getting into unsafe areas, and he had a good time speeding around the room.
going around the table with Lynn's canes
round and round we go
getting up speed!
When Emily came home from town she brought Dani home after school, and they both had supper with us and Christopher.
Christopher & Em eating supper
Michael and Carolyn called us that evening when I got back in from feeding the horses. Their daughter Heather (in Canada) was about to have her baby—ten days early. He wasn’t due to arrive until February 28.

Heather had been overdoing a lot lately, getting ready for their calving season, carrying heavy buckets of feed, and helping Gregory a couple days earlier try to get some escaped heifers back into their pen—running through the deep snow. She was really tired and hoping to rest up a little before the baby came, but he came early.

She’d gone to the doctor that morning (a couple hour’s drive) for a checkup and the doctor said she wasn’t quite ready yet to have the baby, but soon after they got back home she went into labor. But before they headed off again (to go to the hospital, which was another long drive), she cooked supper for Gregory and Joseph—even though by then her contractions were only 5 minutes apart.

Michael and Carolyn were on pins and needles, hoping they would get to the hospital in time, because it was a long drive (2 hours), a slow and bumpy road, and really cold weather. I’m sure Gregory didn’t want to have to deliver that baby in the car, and he got there as quick as he could.

As it was, they only had 10 minutes to spare, and Gregory told us later that they nearly had the baby in the elevator! Also it was very fortunate that they made it because when little James John Eppich arrived, he had the cord wrapped around his neck—but the doctor on shift got the cord off quickly, and baby was just fine. He came into the world weighing 7 pounds, 7 ounces, and 22 inches long.
Baby James John
Baby James John at home
When big brother Joseph got to see him (Grandpa John and Grandma Barb brought him to the hospital) he was delighted to have a little brother and he asked, “Can he come home with me now and play toys with me?”

Mom and baby did get to come home after just a day at the hospital, and Heather sent us photos of the new baby, and Gregory holding the baby, and a photo of her holding both the baby and Joseph in the rocking chair, with faithful Dude at their feet.
Baby James John
Heather with baby James and big brother Joseph
Gregory with the two boys
We continued to have cold weather here—11 below zero for the past 3 nights. On Wednesday Michael picked up the little saddle that Jeff Minor repaired for us—and stopped here on his way home so I could take photos of it. Michael and Carolyn will be taking it up to Canada for Joseph to use (he will be three years old the end of April and needs a saddle!), passing it on to the next generation. The saga of that special saddle was detailed in my earlier blog.
Michael and the little saddle
the old saddle - repaired
a very special old saddle
That afternoon Michael brought his skid steer down here and cleared more of the deep snow away from some of our gates, and widened the plowed driveways to make it easier for our vehicles to navigate between those big snow banks.

Emily went to town to do the town errands and get our mail, and took Christopher out to visit the residents where she works at the care center. The old folks there just love him, and he enjoyed running up and down the halls, and sitting in a few laps of some of the ladies who love him. He was really fascinated by one lady’s wheelchair; it was a lot bigger than his bumper car!
trying to figure out how it works
Andrea and Stan drove to Wells, Nevada on Thursday so she could get her car and come on home. She got home at 9:30 that evening and picked up Christopher on her way, since Emily wouldn’t be getting off work until an hour or so later.

Yesterday Michael and Carolyn drove to Idaho Falls to pick up a rental car to drive to Canada. They’d planned to take their pickup but it needs fixed; a few days ago the flatbed trailer slid off the road on a steep corner with a load of poles and pulled the pickup partway off the road, tearing the gooseneck ball out of the pickup bed and destroying the bed. They will leave the pickup to be fixed while they are in Canada helping Heather and Gregory with the new baby and the calving.

It was really cold when we tried to start the tractor yesterday morning, and it barely started even after being plugged in for 18 hours. The hydraulics were sluggish on the loader, but we were able to carefully take a big bale of hay to the heifers and load an alfalfa bale and little bales on the feed truck, and take more straw to the cows, and a big bale to the bulls. Andrea helped us, and broke ice on the creek for the cows.

Today was warmer—3 below zero—and it got up to 22 degrees this afternoon. Michael and Carolyn headed for Canada and drove as far as Havre, Montana, where they will stay the night and cross the border tomorrow morning.

The elk are having trouble finding enough to eat in this cold weather with the snow so deep. They are all down on the ranches, eating hay with the cattle or getting into haystacks. A herd of 17 elk have been eating with Alfonso’s cows in the fields below us, and coming into our back field. They spend most of the day bedded in the snow just inside our fence, then come down into the fields in the evening. I took pictures of them bedded on the hill.
elk bedded in the snow on hill above our field
This evening they were heading across the creek to come over toward our haystacks, so Lynn took a few shots at them to try to scare them, but they didn’t leave. They just went up on the hill and stood there. We hope they don’t get in with our heifers and chase them away from their feeder.

MARCH 5 – Last week it was still below zero or very close to zero for several days and then gradually warmed up a little. The elk were still hanging around eating hay but after it warmed up they haven’t been coming down into the fields.

Andrea took her pickup to the upper place and Nick helped her load some of the firewood he sawed up—some of the old poles that he and Michael hauled home from some of their custom fencing projects when they tore out old fences and built new ones. Those old poles make really good firewood. Nick came down and helped her unload the wood here by our house; we are nearly out of firewood. We fed him lunch. We also invited him to supper, since Michael and Carolyn were in Canada.

Andrea, Dani and baby Christopher came down for supper with us, and Sam was driving out from her job in town to join us also. While we were waiting for Sam and her friend to get here, Dani and Christopher played the piano.
Christopher & Dani playing piano
About that time we had a sudden blizzard with horrible strong wind and a complete “whiteout” with blowing snow. Sam and her friend were barely able to see the road, carefully going about 10 miles an hour on the highway, and at one point an oncoming vehicle nearly hit Sam’s pickup head on. It upset her so much that she pulled over and stopped for a few moments. We were glad she made it out here without an accident. The snow blew against the sides of the house and plastered the windows. Even after the blizzard quit, the snow was still stuck to the windows later when Andrea was washing our dishes after supper, and I took a photo of the windows by the kitchen sink, plastered with snow.
snow plastered against kitchen window
We had a lot of new snow drifts the next morning. Andrea helped us feed cows and break ice on the creek at their waterholes. Later that week we called granddaughter Heather in Canada to check on that new baby (he’s doing great!) and their calving. They have several new calves already. She sent photos of one of their first calves, and of Joseph with some of the calves.
Joseph & calf
new calf in Canada
Dani took her written test and driving test (and did very well on both of them) and now has her official driver’s license. It’s great to have another driver in the family!

Last Friday the weather actually warmed up to freezing, and this week the deep snow is finally starting to settle a little. On Saturday one of Dani’s friends stayed overnight and helped her with some of the chores. They carried several sacks of wood pellets into the house for us, filled our wood-box with firewood, and helped Andrea get another pickup load of firewood from Nick, at the upper place. Dani also showed her friend all of our horses, and on Sunday they got Ed and Shiloh out of their pens and led them around and down the road and back.
Dani's friend leading Ed & Dani leading Shiloh
Sunday evening we invited Nick down to supper again, since his folks were still in Canada, and I cooked homemade pizza. Afterward we played Tripoly and had a fun time and a good visit.

Monday we moved the bulls’ bale feeder to a higher location in their pen. Once the snow starts settling and thawing there will be water running through that pen and we don’t want it to flood their hay.

Andrea has been going to town every afternoon to clean the theater where the kids are putting on the school play (this year it’s Beauty and the Beast). For the past several years she has helped with cleanup, sweeping and mopping between each performance. The kids have been practicing for the play for several months and they put on their first performance on Monday. There are more than 50 students involved with this play, and Sam has several parts. Charlie does all the sound work—which is a huge job, and something he started doing last year, for their play (Newsies).

When we fed cows on Tuesday I took a few photos of Andrea feeding the cows and the cows eating hay.
Andrea feeding hay
feeding cows
cows eating hay
On our way back down from the field I took photos of the young cows across the creek, and the snow berms and piles along the edge of our trail through the field where Lynn plowed earlier so we could get up to the field with the feed truck.
young cows across the creek
driving back down through the field after feeding
snow piles along edge of plowed trail
Michael and Carolyn drove home from Canada. They made it halfway (to Havre, Montana) on Monday, and got home Tuesday evening. Yesterday they were madly trying to catch up on all the things they needed to do, including getting their corrals ready to work cows. They didn’t have a chance to vaccinate their cows before they left for Canada, and with 3 feet of snow at that point in time it was also impossible to get into their corrals or get the gates and chute working.

Today was our wedding anniversary; Lynn and I have been married 54 years, and we’ve been here at the ranch for 53 ½ years. We didn’t do anything special for our anniversary except to be grateful for our many years and adventures together and thankful for our wonderful family.

Granddaughter Heather sent a photo of Joseph helping his grandma Barb blow out her candles for her 69th birthday.
Joseph helping his grandma Barb blow out candles
This afternoon Lynn, Andrea and I went to town for the annual water meeting for our irrigation district on Withington Creek. Emily was working, so we took Christopher along (as the youngest future irrigator!) and he enjoyed observing the meeting and walking around. After that meeting, Andrea had to go clean the theater for the play again, so Lynn and I brought Christopher home with us. He played in his playpen and watched one of his favorite movies (Mama Mia) while I did chores.

MARCH 18 – Last week the weather actually warmed up enough to settle the snow a bit more—getting up to 40 and 50 degrees some afternoons. We had rain one evening, and it changed to snow and ice by the next morning, making everything very slippery.

We had to take the bale feeder out of the bull pen; they rubbed on it so vigorously that they got the pins out of the metal panels and it came apart. We laid it down (one long string of panels) and pulled it out of the pen with a 4-wheeler. We made the bulls eat the wasted hay for a few days, then brought a big bale over to their pen and set it right outside the fence. We started feeding them along the fence (making them reach through their fence panel feeding area).

Last Sunday Andrea, Dani and her friend went to the upper place and got another load of wood in Andrea’s pickup, some more wood that Nick sawed up. The area where the pole pile is located was very muddy with the melting snow, and too muddy for Andrea to drive her truck in there without getting stuck, so Nick hauled the cut wood closer to the road in an old calf sled, making several trips pulling it through the mud.

The next day we took another big bale to the young cows with the tractor, and Andrea moved their feeder, pulling it to a clean area with her 4-wheeler. The snow was still fairly deep and she got stuck, but Lynn pulled the 4-wheeler with the tractor, pulling it through the deep snow and back to the tractor tracks.

Last Tuesday we had 2 inches of new snow. We had plenty already and were hoping it settles soon, before we start calving! That afternoon was sunny, however, so I opened the barn doors at chore time and propped them open. We need some sunshine and warmth in there to help dry up those barn stalls; there was a lot of water in the front part of the barn, seeped in there from the melting snow outside.

Wednesday evening we went to the school play. I did chores early and we grabbed a fast bite of supper and got there on time. Andrea, Dani and her friend Hunter sat behind us, and Emily sat next to us. She had Christopher with her, and kept him in a front pack on her chest, so he could watch the play and still be contained and not try to squirm around or get down and run around. She pacified him before the play started, walking around with him in the front pack.
Emily with Christopher in front pack
After we were seated and waiting for the play to start, he was fairly content with crackers and his bottle, but a little bored. After it started, however, he was totally riveted and thoroughly enjoyed it. I took a picture of him watching the play.
Christopher enjoying the play
He loves musicals and all the singing and dancing, and was fascinated by the strange characters in this play—the talking clock and teapot, etc.
strange characters!
He wasn’t a bit scared when the lights went out and it was totally dark between scenes, and it didn’t bother him at all when the “wolves” came rushing out into the audience in the dark.

Sam did a great job with her various roles and I took photos of her group when she was one of the villagers, and also when she was part of the silverware (a knife).
Sam - far right - as villager
Sam as a knife
Charlie did the sound for it, and I took a photo of him during intermission. Christopher was a bit bored during intermission, but perked right up again when the second act started.
Christopher during intermission
After the play we congratulated the cast and crew on their good job, and Andrea took photos of Sam in her red dress (from her role as part of the silverware chorus) holding Christopher.
Sam & Christopher after the play
Dani drove us home in our pickup, since we don’t like to drive at night anymore. She’s a really good driver, very careful and conscientious, and it’s great that she now has her driver’s license.

The next day Stan drove here from California. The weather and roads were good and he got here by early evening. Emily was at work that day so we tended Christopher while Andrea got some last-minute house cleaning done and went to get Dani after school. Dani and a friend helped Andrea clean up the theater for that evening’s play performance.

Friday Lynn and I went to town right after I did chores, for my fasting blood test, then we fed cows and had breakfast when we got home. I was overdue to have my thyroid levels checked (to refill my prescription) and hadn’t had my cholesterol checked for many years. Results showed everything normal enough—we won’t have to change my thyroid supplement prescription, and my cholesterol level was satisfactory.

The next few days were really windy—typical March weather. After Lynn and I fed the cows on Saturday, Andrea came down to help us take a bale feeder to the horse pasture on the empty feed truck. We used the feeder the bulls rubbed apart, and put it on the feed truck in pieces. Lynn got a big bale with his tractor and took it up through the maternity pen to the horse pasture; the snow has finally settled enough that the tractor was able to make it across that pen and pasture without getting stuck—and we hooked the feeder pieces behind the tractor to be pulled out there. We reassembled the feeder around the big bale. Then we loaded the feed truck again with a big bale of alfalfa and a bunch of little grass bales—and 4 bales of coarse grass hay to put in the barn for bedding, for when we start calving. Michael and Carolyn have already started calving; they had their first calf that morning.

Andrea and Stan went to town early afternoon to get some parts for fixing Andrea’s old car (1980 Eagle, that she bought when she was in high school in 1984) so they can get it running again for Dani to drive. They also got some groceries and said the grocery store was full of people madly buying up all the milk and toilet paper. The current scare about the coronavirus (and people worrying about everything being shut down or having to be quarantined in their homes) has spurred a lot of craziness.

That afternoon Dani and her friend Hunter spent a couple hours helping us get things ready for calving; we hauled the bedding bales into the barn to stack in the spare stall and shoveled deep snow away from the gates by the barn and pens so we can open those gates. They also shoveled the big snow drift away from the water tank in the maternity pen so we can turn it back over to water the cows. Then they shoveled snow out of the corners of the pens where we want to be able to put some hay for bedding for baby calves. The snow is settling, but not fast enough, and if we shovel it away from crucial areas those spots may start to dry up and not be muddy.

Dani and Hunter also gathered up all the branches that blew down into one of the calving pens this winter, from the elm tree in our yard, and raked up the small branches and weeds. They hauled that debris out to the pile at the end of our driveway, using the 4-wheeler and calf sled. Part of the snow in that pen has already melted, and it might be a place we could use if some cows decide to calve a bit early.

That evening Andrea and Stan went to the last performance of the play, and Stan enjoyed it, too. We fed Dani and Hunter supper after they did the chores and fed the pets at Andrea’s house, and we tended Christopher until Emily got home from work at 11:30 that night. By then it was really windy and starting to snow, so Lynn and I went out and shut the barn doors. It’s just starting to dry out in there and we don’t want more snow inside those stalls!

Sunday was windy and snowing off and on most of the day. Andrea and Stan came down that morning and helped us feed some hay in the maternity pen, then we lured the cows down from the field by Andrea’s house—with Andrea going ahead of them with a small bale of hay on the 4-wheeler. Stan and I followed them on foot. We put them in the calving pen for a few minutes so they could tromp around in there and beat down some of the deep snow, then let them into the maternity pen where we’d scattered out some hay.

Stan got the little yellow Eagle running again, so Lynn went up to Andrea’s house to tend Christopher while Andrea, Stan and Dani took the little car to town for gas, and to let Dani test drive it. Stan followed along in his pickup in case the car broke down or quit, but it ran just fine. They drove on the back road and stopped at one point, where Andrea took photos of Dani driving her “new” car!
Dani driving the old Eagle
She’s now driving it to school—though school may be closed after today; the state has requested that all schools in Idaho shut down for 3 weeks to try to prevent any more spread of the Coronavirus. At this point there have been 5 cases crop up in Idaho.

On Monday Andrea helped us bring the group of young cows down from the field below heifer hill. She dragged their feeder down with her 4-wheeler (following the old tractor tracks where the snow was not so deep) and then we lured those cows down with some hay on the 4-wheeler, and put them in the horse pasture. Lynn got another bale from the stack yard for that feeder, so we have 2 feeders for the increased number of cows. He used the tractor afterward to blade the snow off the corner by the calving pen where we usually stack a few extra hay bales, and then hauled the other bale feeder down from the field by Andrea’s house where we fed the older cows all winter. He took that feeder to the little pasture above the house, where we will be putting the cows and calves after they calve. That evening we put a few cows in the maternity pen for the night (where there’s a yard light), where we can see them from the house with spotlight and binoculars. There are several that could start calving any time.

Yesterday morning Andrea helped me lure the heifers (that will soon have their first calves) into the calving pen and fed them a little alfalfa hay, to get them used to coming in, and wanting to come in. We brought one second-calver with them—the gentlest one—to help teach them about coming into the pen and barn. Then Andrea and Stan went on an exploratory drive in her little jeep.

One of the cows (Magdalena) in the maternity pen seemed a bit uncomfortable so Lynn and I put her in the calving pen and we spread a bale of hay in one end of the driest barn stall in case she started calving and we needed to put her in the barn. It was snowing by the time we went to bed.

This morning we had several inches of new snow and we were glad that Madalena didn’t calve. We gave all the first-calf heifers a barn lesson, using one of the gentlest young cows (China Doll, who will be having her second calf this year) as a leader. We had some alfalfa hay in the barn and they thought that was ok. We left them there (with the door open) for 30 minutes so they could go in and out of the barn—from the pen in front of it—on their own, and become comfortable with going in there to eat the hay.