Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ranch diary – March 20 through April 19, 2015


MARCH 30 – I’ve been working on my next book, Cow Tales from an Idaho Ranch, writing chapters about some of the memorable experiences with various cattle we’ve raised—some humorous, some challenging.  It’s been fun recalling those adventures, and finding old photos to illustrate those chapters.
            Andrea’s kids have enjoyed helping with evening chores after school—feeding the horses and the yearling heifers.  Dani likes to help load the wheelbarrow and take the alfalfa hay out for the heifers.
 
 
 
            Our old black cat (the one that always had her kittens in the cab of the dump truck, before we had her spayed) likes to hang out around the big bales of hay I feed the heifers and the old horses, and catch mice there.  She always “helps” us do chores, and sometimes sits by the gate when we feed the heifers.  One day when a heifer decided to come through the open gate instead of following the loaded wheelbarrow, the cat stood her ground and hit the heifer in the nose with her claws when the heifer tried to come through!  She thinks she’s Lynn’s special cat and always goes with him around the barnyard.
            Last weekend Michael and Carolyn brought their truck and trailer and hauled their cows to the upper place, to calve up there.  We sorted our cows and put the ones closest to calving in our maternity pen and horse pasture, and left the later-calving cows in the fields above the house.   On Sunday Andrea and I rode Ed and Breezy for the first time this year—after their winter “vacation”—and we also caught Dottie and Rishiam and brushed them.  I saddled Dottie and led her around the barnyard.  The next day, I led Dottie down the road a ways, then Andrea and I rode Ed and Sprout, for Sprout’s first ride of the season.  
            I trimmed Veggie’s long feet.  He’s doing a little better (not so stiff) now that I’m giving him bute every evening, dissolving the pills in warm water and giving it to him with a little molasses mixed in.
Twinkle Twinkle, the sick pregnant heifer, started eating a little better.  Then on Tuesday she calved—nearly 3 weeks ahead of her due date.  The calf was alive, which we were relieved to see, in spite of the mom’s high fever a week earlier.   She simply calved a little prematurely, but the calf is ok, a little heifer.  Andrea’s kids were out of school for spring break and they enjoyed seeing the first new baby of the year, and helping with chores and feeding.  Dani named the new calf Surprise.
Later that day Sam and Dani helped me clean house, and Charlie helped Lynn put some netting along the gate on one of the second-day pens below the barn, so that when we moved the mama and new baby into that pen the tiny calf wouldn’t be able to crawl through or under the gate and get out into the field with the yearling heifers.  We had some wind and snow off and on that day, but the little calf managed to nurse mama and had shelter in that pen with its windbreaks.
Sam and Dani cleared off the stairway to the little attic room and took their bean bag bed up there.  They enjoyed sleeping in their own little “hideaway” room upstairs during their spring break, and helping with the chores and cattle during the days.
On Wednesday I rode Dottie on her first ride of the year, and Andrea rode along on Breezy. Then we rode Ed and Sprout on a longer ride.  In the evening Andrea and kids went to the upper place, where Emily took photos of the other kids posing with one of young Heather’s horses.  She got several good shots, for Heather to select from to choose a cover photo for her first book, which will be published later this summer.
 
 
The next day Andrea and I took Sam and Dani for their first ride (on Breezy and Ed) with us.  Then they helped us do chores and put the other 3 heifers in the barn for the first time.  We are feeding them a little alfalfa hay in the barn, to get them at ease with going into the barn—in case we have to put any of them into the barn to calve.  With the crazy weather we’ve been having (wind and occasional blizzards) it’s nice to have a barn!
On Friday we had visitors from Canada.  The editor of Cattlemen’s Corner in Grainews, Lee Hart, and his wife stopped by on their way home from a vacation.  It was fun to meet Lee for the first time (after writing monthly columns for Grainews for more than 30 years, and working with Lee for about 8 years).  He and his wife ate lunch with us and we had a nice visit.  Emily took a photo of Lee and me.
            After they left, Andrea, Sam and Dani and I went for another ride after I trimmed Breezy’s feet a little bit so she wouldn’t be tripping on long toes.  All went well until we were heading home, and then Sprout was misbehaving a little.  That wasn’t much of a problem until she tripped, going through some sagebrush, and nearly fell clear down, pulling Andrea forward.  About the time Andrea was quite forward over her neck, Sprout leaped back up to try to start bucking, and the top of her head connected with Andrea’s chin, cutting it open.  The blow to the bottom of her chin was severe enough that she started to black out, and wobbled a bit, but managed to keep Sprout from bucking.  Her chin was bleeding severely, so when we got home her friend Robbie took her to the hospital to have stitches.  Her chin was very swollen for a few days.
            Saturday we had a hard rain and strong winds that lasted a few hours.  Michael and Carolyn were helping a neighbor, Bruce Mulkey, brand calves that morning, and they’d just gotten the cattle rounded up and into the corral when the storm hit.  They put their horses back into the trailer and waited out the storm until it let up.  After the calves dried out that afternoon they went ahead and did the branding and vaccinating.
            Yesterday our friends from Canada, Pete and Bev Wiebe, stopped here to visit on their way home from working all winter with the Mennonite Disaster Service in Florida and the Southwest, rebuilding homes for people who lost their homes to flooding.  They ate supper with us, and spent the night at Andrea’s house, and this morning came down here to watch our second calf being born.  Bev had never seen a calf born, so she was excited that Merilena waited until daylight to give birth.  Merilena is a first-calf heifer, and we were delighted that she had the calf very quickly and easily.  Dani named the little heifer Starfire.  The next morning, before they left, Pete and Bev took photos of the calf and its mama in our windbreak pens.
 
APRIL 10 – The past 2 weeks Dani has been helping me with evening chores after Lynn brings the kids home from the school bus.  She likes to help feed the horses (she gives old Veggie his grain) and sort the cows for evening.  At night we lock the most-likely-to-calve cows in the small maternity pen where we can see them under the yard light, and if any of them start to calve we put them in the calving pen—where we can turn on the lights on the hay shed.
            Lynn and Robbie put a little straw in the barn in case we need to put a cow in there to calve (if it’s snowing!), and Andrea and Robbie replaced several burned-out light bulbs in the barn.  Andrea and I cleaned out the old bedding in the two calf houses up in the field and put some hay in for bedding, and put the first calves and their mamas up there.
Andrea checks on the cows during the first part of the night, then I get up about 3 or 4 a.m. and type (finishing up the Cow Tales book chapters, and writing articles) and check on them until daylight.
Last Saturday Em’s dad Jim Daine brought his mule to stay in one of our corrals until he can take her with him to his trail-clearing job in Montana.  In the meantime, Jim is staying at Andrea’s house.  He rode his mule (Reba) on a couple of long rides in the mountains behind our ranch, looking for elk horns.
Saturday afternoon Carolyn called, as she was hurrying home from her job at the vet clinic.  Michael had called her, to tell her that her old mare, Thelma, was foaling, and needing help.  He had gone to their upper fields to get something and noticed the mare was foaling—she had the feet out, but no head.  He hurried to get a halter, and led the mare a half mile down to their round pen by their house.  The foal went back into the uterus and was able to reposition, and Thelma was trying to lie down by the time he got her to the corral.  She started straining again, and this time the head was there, and she was pushing the foal out.  She didn’t lie down, and he had to try to catch the foal and break its fall as it was born.
The foal was alive, but a little wobbly at first because the umbilical cord broke too soon (with the mare standing up to give birth).  Then the next challenge was to help the sassy little critter nurse!  She refused to nurse the mare, and young Heather had to milk the mare and feed the foal from a bottle.  Every time they tried to get her on a teat, she refused; all she wanted was the bottle!  By evening, everyone was exhausted, but finally, just before dark, the stubborn little filly figured it out and started nursing Thelma.
 
            At 4 a.m. the next morning (Easter Sunday), Thelma woke them up, whinnying, because her baby had shimmied out of the pen, underneath the bottom rail, and was wandering around outside the pen.  They got her back in.  It snowed later that morning, and they created a 3-sided shelter for the foal with tarps.
 
            It snowed all day.  Michael brought a skid-loader down to our place and cleaned out a couple of our deepest horse pens (Sprout’s and Breezy’s).  The new little calves up in the field have all learned how to get into their calf houses, and out of the storm.
            This weekend is the annual Salmon Select Horse Sale.  Emily will be taking care of her dad’s table (where he will display some of his antler lamps) and plans to have some of my horse books there, too, in case anyone wants to buy one.

APRIL 20 – The horse sale went well.  Young Heather sold a couple of the horses she’s been training, including a gray mare named Angel. She showed Angel in the trail class before the sale, and Angel did very well.  Heather also rode another mare through the ring for a man who wants her to train a group of horses for him. 
 
 
            We’ve had a bunch of calves the past 10 days.  Dani named most of them.  As examples, Emerald had a heifer that Dani named Geminy Cricket, and Rosalie had a nice heifer that Dani named Zorrarose (the sire’s name was Zorro).  Magrat had a heifer that Dani named Malillamae.  Buffalo Baby’s calf got named Buffaloona.  Buffalulu had a bull calf named Buffalo Biffer.  As you can tell by some of the names, several of these calves are closely related; their mothers are daughters of dear old Buffalo Girl, who was Emily’s pet cow, raised on a bottle after her mama died.  Buffalo Girl is a family pet and the kids enjoy picking grass for her.  Dani fed her some grass in the maternity pen, a few days before she calved.
            It was very cold and windy the night that Magrat calved, and since we didn’t put her in the barn, we helped her calf nurse before it got too chilled, and then moved the pair to a windbreak pen.
The next night Buffalo Girl started calving, and we put her in the barn—not only because it was cold, but because she always needs a little help during the first hour of motherhood.  She bellows and roots her calf around too vigorously and won’t let it get up, so we have to intervene, so she won’t hurt it.  After it’s up and nursing she’s fine.
            This year Sammy, Dani, Andrea and Emily sat out in the barn with her, quietly watching from the next stall.  After she calved, Andrea, Emily and I protected the calf and helped him get up, and helped him nurse.  He was a large fellow, and it was all Em and I could do to hold up his hind end while Andrea guided his front end to a teat.  Buffalo Girl is Emily’s pet and was actually calmer this year than in previous calvings, maybe because Em was there to help.  After we assisted Gilbert in his first nursing, Buffalo Girl had settled down and was a normal mom.  The kids all enjoyed petting that calf the next day, and again after we put that pair up in the field with the other cows.
 
            Andrea didn’t get much sleep the night Buffalo Girl calved.  By the time we finished helping the calf nurse, it was 1 a.m. and Andrea had to get up early and take Charlie to a doctor appointment in Pocatello. 
That morning Magdalena had a heifer that Dani named MiniMag, but we were lucky to save that one.  I saw the cow calving just before daylight, with the water sac and amnion sac protruding, but no feet.  Lynn and I put her in the barn, in the stall next to Buffalo Girl, because it was a very cold, windy morning.  I kept checking on her during chores and feeding, but nothing was happening.  Then the next time I checked, there was placenta coming out, hanging clear to the ground. 
            This was a serious emergency!  The calf’s “envelope” and lifeline were detaching from the uterus and it would soon die.  So Lynn and I put her in the headcatch to check her.  The calf’s feet were coming through the birth canal, but the head hadn’t started through yet and the cow wasn’t dilated enough.  We attached chains to the legs and started to pull.  Andrea stopped briefly on her way out the driveway, heading for Pocatello with Charlie, but she’d called Michael and Carolyn and left a message for them, saying we had a calving emergency.  Michael was heading off to work, but Carolyn came down to help us.  With her added strength we got the calf delivered before it died.  We’re not sure why it was detaching, unless it just took too long for the calf to get into proper position for birth.  The little brockle-faced heifer seems to be fine.
            We had another calf the next night.  Cub Cake was finally calving, and she had a huge bull calf that Andrea and Robbie pulled.  The bull we used last summer (Lightning Zorro) sires bigger calves than the bull we used the previous years, and we’re having a few more calving problems than normal.  This makes it all the more important to be watching the cows at night, in case any need help.
            Dani named Cub Cake’s calf Cinnamon Bear (he’s golden red) and the kids all got a chance to see him the next day.
  Then Mary Mary Quite Contrary had a black bull calf with one little white spot on his face (so his name is Spotrick). 

 Our most recent calf is a big black brockle-faced bull, born just before midnight last night.  He needed a bit of help to be born; Andrea and Robbie pulled him, too, but he’s doing fine today.
            Meanwhile, Andrea has been harrowing the fields with the big tractor, scattering all the manure piles and wasted straw (from the feeders) around the field, before we start irrigating.  The straw the cows didn’t eat, and the manure, serve as excellent fertilizer.  We try to feed on the areas that need more organic matter to increase the soil fertility, and thus don’t have to buy any chemical fertilizers.  The natural stuff is best.
            Michael brought the backhoe down from his place (where he’d been smoothing more areas for additional horse pens for young Heather—for the horses she will be training this spring and summer) and cleaned one of our ditches that was filled with silt from all the snow melt run-off last month.  We have several more ditches to clean before we can start irrigating the fields.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

February 26 through March 19, 2015

MARCH 4, 2015 – Andrea and Charlie left last Thursday evening to drive part way to Salt Lake for his appointment Friday with the doctor who has been overseeing the bowel problem he’s had since he was a baby. They stayed at a motel in Pocatello and then drove the rest of the way the next morning and made it in time for Charlie’s appointment. The doctor changed some of his medications and wanted to see him again in a year.
Friday afternoon Lynn visited with one of our neighbors who is having a lot of problems this year with calf scours. Lynn came home and got some of the medication we use, and took it to John to try.
Our closest neighbor, Alfonzo, got back from Mexico (where he spends part of the winter) and put all his cows and bulls in the little field next to our heifers. We moved our heifers out of that field for a few days and locked them in a pen here by the house; we certainly don’t want one of those bulls coming through the fence to breed a heifer! These heifers are too young; we don’t want them bred this early even though some are already cycling. After Alfonzo took his herd up to the Gooch place this afternoon and sorted off the bulls and late-born fall calves to leave there, we were able to put our heifers back in their field.
On Sunday we brought our group of young cows down to the corral and gave the 2-year-olds (the ones that will be having their first calves next month) their booster vaccinations, so they will have adequate antibodies in their colostrum to protect their calves from scours.
Early Monday morning Lynn went to the hospital to have blood drawn for the fasting blood tests his doctor ordered. While he was there he also went to the ER to have a doctor check out the severe pain he’s been having in his upper leg and thigh. An x-ray showed that he has arthritis and bursitis in that hip joint, along with degenerative spine disease. The doctor put him on some medication to help reduce the inflammation that’s causing the pain.
Dani is staying home from school this week (she has severe respiratory problems, along with mononucleosis) so Andrea went to the school to get her homework for her to do at home. She’s been having recurring respiratory problems, aggravated by all the cigarette smoke at Mark’s house when the kids are there on his weekends.
Today Lynn, Andrea and I went to the funeral of a good friend. Diana was only 60 years old. She died suddenly, due to her diabetic condition. Her 2 sisters came—from Colorado and Alaska, and it was nice to be able to visit with them.

MARCH 11 – Dani stayed home from school for 2 weeks and did her work at home. Andrea took her to school several different days for short periods, so she could take her tests. When the kids went this past weekend to stay with their dad, Andrea gave Mark a choice; he could either let Dani stay home here, or Mark could sign a statement saying that he and his girlfriend would not smoke in the house. He chose to sign the statement. Andrea attached the medical discharge papers from the ER, which specifically stated that Dani must not be subjected to any cigarette smoke, with her breathing problems. When the kids got back home from the weekend with Mark, they reported that his girlfriend was furious with Mark for signing that statement.
On Saturday Michael took more straw bales up to the field for the cows. Andrea got a new battery for her car; the old one died. That evening we had my brother Rocky and family here for supper and had a great visit. They are enjoying being “home”, renting the little house at Baker, until their house is finished up on the upper place. As soon as the snow melts up there and the ground thaws out, construction will begin again. The foundation for the house was done last fall.
Our weather warmed up enough (not freezing so hard at nights). We were finally able to unplug the extension cord from the barn to the heifer’s water tank heater. We unplugged it for a few days a couple weeks ago and one cold night there was 2 inches of ice on the water! We had to get that all out, put in new water and use the heater again. Hopefully we won’t need it now.
On Monday Michael helped me fix a computer problem and loaded more big alfalfa bales on our feed truck—and brought 2 more bales around for the heifers. While he was moving the hay he noticed a bull down in the field below our heifers! It had come down the road from the Gooch place and gone in through Alfonzo’s open gate. So we quickly lured our heifers back into the pen next to their field, and locked them up again until Alfonzo gets that bull out of there.
That evening Andrea took Dani, Sammy and Charlie to talk with Pastor Stillman. They told him about their traumatic weekend at Mark’s house and how mean his girlfriend was to them, and that she was violently angry about the statement Mark signed, claiming that Andrea made up the ER document for Dani.
Yesterday our irrigation district (for Withington Creek) held the annual water meeting, to elect a new water master and figure out ways to correct/prevent some of the problems we’ve had. Several people’s weirs are not in good shape for proper measuring of their water and will need to be fixed. One neighbor who has only 5 acres but wants to run the whole show tried to convince everyone that he could cast a vote for Alfonzo’s landlord by proxy, until Carolyn pointed out the illegality of this—showing him where this was spelled out in the Idaho water law regulations handbook. There’s never a dull moment on this creek!
Lynn, Michael and Carolyn finished making copies of all the documents (kids’ medical records etc.) to Fed-Ex to Andrea’s lawyer as exhibits in her response to Mark’s petition for full custody of the kids.
Andrea and kids went to bed early last night then left in the wee hours this morning—to take Sam and Charlie to town at 4 a.m. to get on the school bus for their band trip. Then Andrea, Robbie and Dani drove to Idaho Falls (with Dani sleeping on the way) for her appointment with her pain doctor today, and then to drive to Ashton to hear the kids’ band concert in the evening. Kids from many schools came for this event, practicing together all afternoon for the evening concert. Charlie and Sam play trombone and trumpet. Andrea took a photo of each of them while they were preparing for the concert.
 
 Today Lynn went to his doctor to find out the results of his blood tests, and she didn’t like the looks of some of the readings, which indicate kidney problems. She took him off his blood pressure medication as well as one of the anti-inflammatory/pain medications he’s been on for several years, since they may be causing kidney damage.
So now he is hoping he can get by without the blood pressure medication (that he’s been on for more than 20 years), and will be checking his blood pressure frequently.

MARCH 19 – Young Heather is back from Canada (where she was visiting friends for a few weeks) and is training horses again, getting several ready for the big horse sale in April. She bought 5 dump truck loads of sand, delivered to her outdoor arena, and Michael borrowed our old disk to disk it up and make a nice, smooth surface. The old disk had 2 flat tires, and we had to get some other tires before he could take it 2 miles up the road to their place.
On Sunday Lynn checked on Roger and Sharon Solaas at Baker. Sharon broke her leg last week in 4 places and was life-flighted to the hospital in Idaho Falls for surgery to pin it back together. She’s home now but will be laid up in bed for 6 weeks.
Dani was finally well enough to start going back to school. She has gotten over the respiratory infection and now just has to be careful to not over-exert for awhile so she can get over the mononucleosis.
When I helped Lynn feed the cows Monday morning, Twinkle Twinkle (one of the 2-year-old pregnant heifers, named by Dani) didn’t come to the feed. She was a bit dull, and wasn’t interested in eating when I brought her down to the hay. After our windy weather, we suspected she might have pneumonia. Lynn and I brought that group down to the barnyard so we could sort her off, with a couple other young cows to keep her company so she wouldn’t be stressed at being by herself, and took the rest back up to the field.
Andrea came down from her house and helped us put Twinkle in the headcatch by the calving barn. She felt hot to the touch and was breathing fast, so I took her temperature and it was 105 degrees—which is very high for a cow. We gave her injections of antibiotic and Banamine (the latter to help reduce fever and inflammation). When we let her out of the headcatch she squirted out a huge amount of bloody diarrhea. We called our vet and asked his advice and he said that it would be hard to tell whether the diarrhea was caused by the high fever or the fever was caused by some kind of acute intestinal infection. He said to just wait and see if she improved or not, and if not, we might change medications.
So we put her and her two buddies in the main corral (moved the bulls to the back corral), where we’d have access to the squeeze chute if we needed to treat her again. There’s no way she’d want to go into the headcatch by the barn again, but we could easily put her down the alley to the squeeze chute if need be.
By afternoon the Banamine was working to reduce her fever. She was chewing her cud again, even though she didn’t want to eat anything. She was salt-hungry (probably from losing so much body fluid and electrolytes through the diarrhea). She was no worse by evening, and the next morning she was actually eating a little hay. So we moved her and her buddies to the big maternity pen by the house, where we could observe her better, and fed them some hay in there. She ate a little, off and on all day. Then it rained hard during the night and we were hoping this stress didn’t set her back in her recovery.
 
 The next morning (yesterday) she seemed a bit dull again, so we took her and her buddies around the corral where we could put Twinkle down the chute. Her temperature this time was 104. Not as bad as it was on Monday, but still way too high. So we gave her more Banamine and injections of a long-acting antibiotic. Within an hour the Banamine was helping her feel better, and she was eating and drinking again.
This morning she is doing fairly well, but still not eating enough. We will have to monitor her progress and continue to treat her if necessary. We’re hoping that she will recover ok, and that she won’t abort her calf, which is due to be born in mid April.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

February 4 – February 26, 2015

FEBRUARY 8 – We had some new snow this past week. The heavy snow on top of our woodpile shifted the tarps that were covering one end of it, and that side collapsed, crashing down on the wheelbarrow.

The new snow made our driveway nearly impassible. Lynn got the pickup stuck when he took Charlie home from the bus on Tuesday afternoon, and had to walk back to our house. Andrea and Robbie pulled it out of the snowdrift when they got home that evening, and brought it home for us. The kids had supper with us, and Dani made a calving calendar for this year, showing the due dates of the cows that will be calving in April, and we pinned it up on the wall. Every year we make a calving calendar, to give us an idea at a glance when each cow might possibly calve, and Dani likes to mark them off (circle their names) as they calve.
The next day Michael helped Lynn put chains on our big tractor so we won’t get stuck loading hay and straw, and took more straw bales up to the cows. Andrea picked up the kids from school that day and took them to hockey practice.
The cold weather has taken a toll on 29-year-old Veggie and he’s become so stiff that he can hardly walk. On Thursday I started giving him a dose of “bute” daily, dissolving 2 pills in warm water and mixing it with molasses, giving it to him orally with a big syringe. Like a big aspirin, it reduces pain and inflammation, and by the next day he was walking better, and not so lame and stiff.

The deer aren’t being dissuaded from eating hay with the heifers by having the dogs tethered next to where we feed the heifers. The deer come boldly, in spite of the dogs barking. So yesterday Robbie and Lynn took the dogs back home to Andrea’s house. The kids have been missing their pets!
Emily took another GED test (English) and passed it. So now she only has 2 more tests to take; she’s halfway done! She enjoys being able to study on her own time, and have a fulltime job—and pursue her photography.
With the snowy driveways, Lynn has been using his 4-wheeler to go back and forth from Andrea’s house, and to go to the mailbox.

This weekend Andrea took Emily to her hockey tournament in Sun Valley. The weather warmed up on Friday and the snow was melting, making slush on top of ice in our driveway. It was treacherous, and hard to get up enough speed to make it up the hill at the top when they left home. Michael spent that afternoon with our little tractor and blade, trying to make our driveways safer. He got the slush off, but some of the ice was still too thick and hard to get through. He had to spend another afternoon the next day, clearing the rest of it off after it melted a bit more.
It thawed for several days, and the snow melted off the low country, flooding the fields, ditches and roads. Now instead of snow we have mud! It washed some big gullies
across our county road, making it impossible to drive to and from our place without 4-wheel drive and a lot of clearance.
Yesterday my brother Rockwell Smith and his wife Bev brought a big U-haul trailer from Boise, the first load of things they are moving. They are selling their house in Boise, and moving to a little rented house here at Baker (just 2 miles from us), while their new house is being built this spring on the upper place. Lynn and Robbie helped them unload the multitude of boxes from the trailers.
The flooding continued today, but is slowing down. Most of the snow is gone off the low hills, and the higher snow hasn’t started melting yet. Andrea and Em got home from Sun Valley, where Em’s team won half their games.
Readers have been enjoying my new book Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, so I am now starting my next book, Cow Tales from and Idaho Ranch. It’s a fun project, remembering some of the interesting adventures with cattle.

FEBRUARY 12 – On Monday it rained, so in addition to melting snow we had even more water, and more flooding. The frost went out of the ground and even the main road up and down the creek became deeply rutted and challenging. It reminded me of the days when my parents and little brother and I had to leave our car along the road and hike the last several miles up to the little cabin above our present ranch, where we stayed in the summertime before my dad bought the ranch. The road got so boggy that a vehicle would sink down to its axles.
Monday morning while Lynn and I were feeding cows, Andrea shoveled the ditches along her driveway to divert the water away; it was making deep ruts, washing out the driveways. Michael spent 3 days working at a friend’s ranch fighting floods.
The nice thing about the warmer weather and snow melting off the fields is that the cows are happily starting to graze again. There was still some grass under all that crusted snow.
This has saved several big bales of straw; we haven’t put out straw for more than a week. We’ll save it for when the weather gets cold again. We’re feeding the alfalfa hay on top of some of the straw where the feeders have been—so the cows won’t waste it. The alfalfa hay has very fine leaves and if it’s fed on wet ground the cows tend to tromp it into the mud and much of the value is lost. It’s best to feed it on the old straw or thick grass where there’s no mud.
Dani missed school on Monday, and Andrea took her and Sam to the doctor on Tuesday; they came back from the weekend at their dad’s place with more respiratory problems. This has been an all-too-common occurrence—missing school because they are sick when they come home--after they spend a weekend in an environment with people smoking in the house.

FEBRUARY 20 – Veg is doing better, not so lame and stiff, so I cut back on the amount of bute I’m giving him (one pill daily instead of 2) and that seems to be enough. I don’t want to give him too much bute because it can be hard on the stomach (just like aspirin) and I don’t want him to get ulcers.
On Friday Andrea and Dani helped Lynn feed the cows; Dani loves to see the cows and goes with us every chance she gets—whenever she’s here at Andrea’s house—when we do anything with the cattle. Andrea’s friend Robbie has a job on a ranch the
other side of town, feeding cows, checking the calving cows, etc. and on Saturday Dani went with him to ride around in the tractor feeding hay, and see the new babies. Our cows won’t start calving until late March, and Dani is impatient to see some calves!
Sam’s hockey team had a tournament here this weekend. She had 2 games on Saturday and Lynn went to town with Emily to watch the second one.
My brother and his wife made another trip from Boise, bringing more of their things to unload here at their rented house, and a trailer load of outdoor things that they took to their house site on the upper place.
We had more cold weather, and Lynn plugged the tractor in overnight to make sure it would start on Tuesday to load more big straw bales for the cows.
On Wednesday Andrea took both Sam and Dani to the doctor—Dani for medication to ease her terrible cough, and Sam for an x-ray of her hip bone. She got hit really hard with a puck at hockey practice the evening before, and her hip was very painful. Just badly bruised, however, and not broken. It’s probably a god thing that hockey season is about over!

FEBRUARY 26 – This past weekend was Emily’s state tournament in Boise. She and Andrea drove down Thursday evening and Em’s first gave was Friday, late morning. Her team played Sun Valley and won 7 to 0, with Em making one of the goals and assisting with another. Emily’s boss (at the music store) was in Boise that day and came to watch her team play. They didn’t do so well in the rest of their games, and didn’t win them.
Sunday afternoon some folks from northern Alberta stopped here to meet us on their way south to see the Grand Canyon. They have a ranch along the Frasier River, near Yukon Territory. They have been reading my Rancher’s Diary column in Grainews (a Canadian farm newspaper) for about 20 years and wanted to stop by. We enjoyed visiting with them, and they stayed for supper with us and Dani, Sam and Charlie. Lynn went into town just before supper to pick up those three kids from their dad, who had them over the weekend.
Andrea and Em got home very late that night and didn’t get much sleep. Andrea needed to rest on Monday but insisted on coming down that morning to help us feed cows and help Lynn refill our woodbox. With the cold weather (dipping down to zero for several nights) we’d gone through a lot of firewood.
Dani’s respiratory problem took a turn for the worse again and she had a fever and stayed home from school. Her fever got really high Tuesday evening and Andrea took her to the ER, where the doctor gave her an injection of antibiotic. She is doing a little better by today.
On a brighter note, granddaughter Heather’s first book has been accepted for publication, by the same editor who published my book Horse Tales (which came out in late October last year). Her book discusses safety when handling horses, and will be published in April. We are all very excited and delighted about this news.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

January 15 – February 4, 2015

JANUARY 18 – On Friday Andrea helped Lynn feed the cows while I did phone interviews for articles I’m writing for a horse magazine. I’m still recovering from the bad respiratory “bug” and don’t have much voice yet, but at least I don’t have to just whisper!
After Lynn and Andrea took the tarp off the hay (we have to cover the truck every night, to keep the deer from eating on the hay and pulling it out of the bales and wasting some) she took a picture of Lynn as they got into the truck to go feed the cows.

Her friend Robbie changed the oil in her car, since it has gone too many miles since the last oil change. That afternoon they took Dani to Sun Valley for Dani’s hockey tournament this weekend.
With all the kids in hockey, playing on different teams, it’s been a challenge to get them to all of their various tournaments. Some of them play in different towns on the same weekend, or one of the kids will have games here at home while one or two others go to different towns. Andrea often has to find rides for them with other team members on the weekends when she is taking one of them a different direction, since their dad refuses to take them to tournaments even when he has the kids for that weekend.
Gas and motel expenses for these frequent trips is a challenge, so Lynn and I help out all we can, with money for gas and lodging. They take food along, so they don’t have to buy meals. One nice thing this year about the Sun Valley trips is that Andrea and kids have been able to stay in a room furnished by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, for a small donation, making those trips less expensive. Dani had a lot of fun on this trip, getting acquainted with the pastor and his wife and two young girls. She also played enthusiastically in their hockey games. Their team lost most of their games, but tied the last one, and Dani was proud to be able to make the final goal—the point that tied the game. On the way home Andrea took photos of the sunset.

Here at home it was cold (down to 2 degrees yesterday morning). Jasper, one of the dogs tethered near the heifers (in our efforts to keep the deer from eating so much of their hay) broke his cable and was chasing the heifers, so we had to patch it back together and Lynn went to town for a new dog tether. The deer are getting very bold, and come to eat with the heifers in spite of the dogs. When I went to do chores that evening there were 7 deer lounging around in the field waiting for me to feed the hay. They come right back when we chase them away, and as soon as it starts to get dark even more of them come to eat the heifer’s hay. They’ve also been jumping into Veggie’s pen again and eating all of his alfalfa hay, and tearing down the electric fence.
Emily came by and helped Lynn carry wood. With the cold weather we have to fill the wood box nearly every day. I finished an article I’m writing, giving tips on how to deal with broken legs in calves (for a cattle magazine). I sent photos from a professor I interviewed, showing how to create a splint, and also photos of Peggy Sue (a calf we had in 2005) in the barn with her mother Rishira, with a cast on her leg. The cow stepped on the calf’s leg soon after she was born, and broke it, but it healed nicely.


Today Michael and young Heather came down to our place after they finished feeding their horses, and helped us take 2 more big bales of straw up to the cows. With all the ice, it’s getting harder to get around with our big tractor; Michael had trouble getting away from the straw stack with the bales. We’ll have to put chains on the tractor before we give the cows more straw in a few days.

JANUARY 26 – Michael spent several days working on Andrea’s old car—the Eagle she bought from our neighbors when she was still in high school in the mid 1980’s and drove thousands of miles. She’s getting it running again, to have a spare vehicle for Em to drive to work and hockey practice. Em has a fulltime job, is working on her GED, and also takes the kids to hockey practice in the evenings on days that Andrea can’t.
Sam and Em both had birthdays this month; Em turned 17 and Sam is 12. These kids are growing up fast! We gave Em a box of camera lenses that someone was selling inexpensively. They won’t all fit her camera, but the big one—that she really wanted—will probably fit with an adapter. She’s been taking lots of photos, and had some really nice photo books created, showcasing some of her best pictures.
We couldn’t find our tractor chains; we haven’t used them for several years and don’t know where they ended up. Michael’s tractor chains were easier to locate, but frozen in the ice. He chopped them out of the ice and helped Lynn put them on our tractor. This made it a lot easier to load the hay and straw bales without getting stuck. It was down to zero for a few nights, so we were also chopping ice for the cows.
On Friday Em went to her hockey tournament in Missoula, Montana with a teammate, Lynn took Charlie and Dani to the hockey rink here (for practice and games and to meet up with their dad since it’s his weekend) and Andrea took Sam (and one of her teammates) to her tournament in Sun Valley because Mark wouldn’t take her.
This weekend was a great experience for Sam and her friend; they had good games and a lot of fun. They enjoyed seeing the snow sculpture created each year (with a chain saw, from packed snow) by a fellow at Sun Valley, and posed next to it. Andrea also took pictures of Sam and two teammates.


They stayed again at the room provided by the Seventh Day Adventists, and the pastor and his wife fed them dinner. The pastor had a guitar and taught Sam some more chords, since she wants to learn how to play.

FEBRUARY 3 – Last week Michael worked on Andrea’s pickup, and also helped Lynn build a new fence along the ditch next to the lane to the calving barn. After putting in the new culvert last fall and cleaning out that ditch, it’s really deep and we don’t want calves falling into it when we’re taking them to and from the barn.
Last Wednesday I was interviewed for a podcast on off-farm income, discussing how I’ve used writing as a way to help make ends meet here on the ranch for the past 48 years. Writing articles and books has been my off-farm job I can do at home.
Andrea helped Lynn feed cows that morning. It was very foggy, and at first they could hardly see the cows. Then she took photos as the fog started to lift, and tried to take pictures of a “fog rainbow” that was really unique.

The young cows (heifers and 2nd calvers) are not competing very well with the older cows that push them away from the hay piles, and are losing a little weight. We decided to move the young cows to heifer hill where they can be fed separately, to make sure they get their share of the alfalfa hay.
We needed another feeder for them—for the big straw bales—and couldn’t afford the price of a new one (nearly $500). Michael chopped and pried one of his old round bale feeders out of the ice on the upper place and brought it down with his tractor, and we put it on heifer hill. Then we brought all the cows down Sunday morning, and put them through the chute. Michael and Carolyn gave them their pre-calving vaccinations and another round of delouse pour-on, then we sorted off the heifers and a few of the skinniest young cows and took them to heifer hill. Sam didn’t have a hockey tournament that weekend, so she enjoyed helping us sort the cows and move them. Andrea wasn’t here to help because she’d taken Charlie to his hockey tournament.
Meanwhile, three days before that, Andrea had been notified that Mark is reopening the divorce case and wants full custody of Charlie, Sam and Dani. This was an emotional blow to Andrea and to all of us, because we thought things were working fairly well with their shared custody. The kids have been able to spend time with both parents. It seems that the big issue for Mark is his reluctance to pay child support; he thinks he will be better off if he has custody of the kids and Andrea has to pay him child support!
The kids don’t want to be fulltime with him, however, because they want to be with their mom and older sister Emily, and they enjoy the wide family circle here on the creek—interacting with grandma and grandpa, their uncle Michael and aunt Carolyn, and their older cousins Heather and Nick when they are home. The kids also don’t want to give up their experiences here on the ranch, riding horses and helping take care of the cattle and enjoying their favorite pet cows. So it looks like another court battle, and we will try to help Andrea keep shared custody of her children.
The day after she got served the papers, she took Charlie to his hockey tournament in Wyoming, and Dani went with friends to her tournament in Idaho Falls (again, Mark wouldn’t take either child). Emily had a hockey tournament here, so Lynn, Sam, Michael and Carolyn went to watch some of her games and cheer for her team.
And speaking of teams, the nice thing about having all of our family here on the creek is that we are all a team—and enjoy helping each other. Lynn and I are “battery back-up” for getting kids off the bus, juggling trips to town for their activities, helping Dani with homework. Michael and Carolyn and family, and Andrea and kids help us with the ranch projects and things that are getting harder for Lynn and me to do. It’s a blessing having our family all here together, and we want to be able to keep it together.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

January 1-15, 2015

JANUARY 7, 2015 – We’ve had a week of really cold weather and I’m still sick. On New Year’s Day Andrea and Robbie fed my horses for me so I wouldn’t have to go outside (9 below zero), and they helped Lynn feed the cows and heifers and break ice on the creek for the cows. Our feed truck hasn’t been running very well so Robbie put new spark plugs in it, which made a big difference. Andrea got a few more small bales of grass hay on her pickup for the heifers, to feed with their alfalfa. Our high for the day was zero. Emily took the kids to town for their hockey practice that evening, and took a photo of Charlie waiting to play.

 The next day was a little warmer, only down to 6 below zero that morning. Andrea and Emily left early in the morning to drive to Kalispell, Montana for her hockey tournament, and Dani went with them. The roads were slippery and they had to go pretty slow on the last part of the trip, barely making it in time for Emily’s first game. They played several games that weekend—against the Kalispell team, Whitefish, a Canadian team from Lethbridge, Alberta, and a team from Seattle, Washington—and won them all, in spite of being short on players. They only had enough players to be a team, and when one of their teammates injured her knee in the 3rd game they had to “borrow” a player from the Kalispell team to be able to finish the tournament. Andrea took photos of Em playing, and a photo afterward of Em, Dani, and their goalie.


That weekend Sam had a tournament here at home, so Robbie took her to those games, since Andrea was in Kalispell with Emily. Robbie also helped Lynn and me do chores and break ice for the cows. Michael and Nick came down and put out 2 more big bales of straw with the tractor. We had stormy weather and more snow, and the roads were bad when Andrea and Em drove home from Kalispell, so we were glad they made it home safely Sunday evening. We had so much new snow here at Salmon that school was cancelled on Monday.
I had an encouraging message from my publisher of Horse Tales; he said the book did well during December, with people buying it for Christmas, and he hopes it will continue to have strong sales as more people learn about it. He gave me the go-ahead to do another book, on Cow Tales, and I hope to start writing it very soon.
I’m starting to feel a little better, and have been helping Lynn feed the cows again, and took a few photos when we fed yesterday.
 But for several days I had to do all my phone interviews (interviewing people for the articles I was writing) in a whisper. I’m starting to get my voice back again, and not coughing so much, which makes it easier to do the interviews. I’m also able to sleep a little better, which helps.
The whitetail deer are really plaguing us. The dogs are keeping them out of the haystack but now more of them are eating alfalfa hay with the heifers. Some of them are so bold that they just lie around in the field and wait for us to feed the heifers, then come
eat their hay. Emily took a few photos of several young deer with the heifers. She is taking a lot of pictures these days and I am using some of her photos for this diary.
[photos 6, 7 & 8 – deer and heifers]

About 20 to 30 deer are coming into the field in the evening right after we feed the heifers, eating their alfalfa hay. They ate so much of their hay the past several nights that the heifers were pretty empty and hungry by morning. The deer also jumped into Veggie’s pen and ate all his alfalfa hay. This isn’t going to work! Poor old Veggie (29 years old this year) has bad teeth and it takes him all day to eat his morning feeding, and all night to finish his evening meal. If the deer eat it, he won’t get enough to eat and will be losing more weight.

Lynn started shooting fire-cracker shells at the deer to scare them away, but they come right back. He went out there several times in the night and the deer were back eating the hay again every time. So we called the Fish and Game and asked what we could do to try to remedy this problem.
Three of their wildlife people came out this morning and assessed the situation. They didn’t have a solution for the deer eating our heifers and horses’ alfalfa, but they brought some strong plastic netting material that we could wrap around our haystack to protect it—something the deer can’t eat through. We wrapped it around the stack, so now we won’t need Andrea’s dogs tied at each end of the stack to protect it.

JANUARY 15 – The day we wrapped haystack, we moved the dogs to a new location—putting their little houses by the fence in the field where the heifers are, and staked them there. A few deer still sneak up around them, but they’ve been able to bark and scare most of the deer away that used to come right through that area to eat the heifer’s hay.
[photos 12 & 13 - dogs guarding the field]

We had several foggy, cold days this past week but at least the temperatures were no longer below zero. One night the power went off at 8 p.m. and was off for more than 3 hours—affecting about 800 people in our valley. We were about to go to bed anyway, so we just used flashlights to put wood in the stoves, and were glad we had wood stoves for heat!
Nick left early Friday morning to drive back to Oskaloosa, Iowa to finish his final semester at William Penn University. He had relatively good roads, and cold weather. We sent a full gas can with him, in case he got stranded somewhere; he could at least keep his engine running and not run out of gas, and be able to stay warm. But the roads weren’t that bad and he didn’t need to use the emergency fuel. He drove more than halfway that day and made it clear across South Dakota, spent a few hours sleeping at a motel, and made it the rest of them way in time to be there for track practice on Saturday.
In the meantime, granddaughter Heather was on her way back from another visit to friends on the wheat farm in Saskatchewan, and got home Friday night. That weekend Charlie’s hockey team had a tournament here, and Emily took pictures of him skating.

On Saturday Michael and young Heather came down to help us put more straw out for the cows and Heather brought a bucket of horse pellets for me to try for Veggie. He has trouble eating very much hay, with his bad teeth, and when the deer jump into his pen and clean up his alfalfa, he doesn’t get enough to eat. These are tiny pellets, easy to chew, and contain a lot of calories and nutrition. Young Heather bought a lot of bags of these to feed her old pregnant mare, Classy, and thought they might help Veggie.
That evening, I fed him a small amount in a rubber tub and he tasted them and nosed them around and kept trying to pick up the tub with his teeth and dump it (I had to stand there and keep him from flipping the tub over). The next morning I gave him some more, and he seemed to like them a little better—ate more of the handful I gave him—but still tried to dump the tub. By the third time, he decided he liked them. Now I am giving him 2 cups of pellets twice a day, and sticking his tub down firmly into an old tire so he can’t pick it up with his teeth and dump it. He always liked to play with tubs (with his teeth and feet) so I can’t leave one in his pen, just take it in there to feed him and take it out when he’s finished. He can eat it while we are loading up hay right there for the heifers, so that works nicely.

Now that he is willingly eating the pellets, I started mixing some joint medication (containing glucosamine, also in tasty pellet form) in with his easy meal, in hopes it might help his painful arthritis. He does fine in the summer, but his leg joints get stiff and painful in cold weather.
Michael spent a couple days fixing vehicles. He helped Lynn take 2 of the old worn-out tires off the feed truck (tires that had slow leaks and were always going flat) and put on some newer ones, and worked on Andrea’s car to get it to run better. Yesterday Lynn and Andrea fixed the electric fence around Veggie and Rubbie’s pens that the deer tore down, so now the heifers can’t lean through into Veggie’s pen and rub/press down the net wire. It’s hard to keep the fences working with all the wildlife going through them!