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Dealing with the ebb and flow of ranch life

September 28

The calves sold a couple weeks ago did well, considering they were only five months old. The biggest steers averaged 480 pounds and brought $1.78. The smaller steers averaged 420 pounds and brought $1.82. The heifers were smaller and brought $1.88.

Andrea and I have been riding Sprout and Dottie nearly every day. Their shoes were worn out. Michael put new shoes on them, and reshod Ed and Breezy before he went back to North Dakota driving trucks. Last weekend Andrea and I took Sam and Dani for a ride.

Sunday Andrea and I rode through the low range, taking Dottie new places, and discovered a dead cow belonging to our neighbour Alfonzo. That afternoon we moved the weaned heifers to the field above the house to live with Freddy (the cow that nearly died a few weeks ago), and put the three bull calves in my old horse pasture.

October 5

Last Sunday Andrea and Lynn butchered Opie for Michael and Carolyn. He was a big yearling that had a rough start in life. Born a twin, his mother abandoned him when she had the second calf, and he never had a chance to nurse. Carolyn found him many hours later. He was cold, nearly dead. Magpies had eaten his umbilical cord and pecked a hole in his belly. Carolyn brought the calf home on her four-wheeler. She and Michael tubed the calf with colostrum, cleaned up the gaping hole and sewed his belly back together. They left a gap to urinate through, since his sheath was eaten by magpies.

He was soon able to nurse a bottle, but had infection in the umbilical area and they were treating him with antibiotics. A few weeks later, they lost a calf that got knocked into a water trough and drowned. They brought that cow home and grafted the orphan onto her. The cow was high strung, trying to crash out of the corral. Even though they needed to keep treating the calf with antibiotics, they realized they couldn’t keep the pair confined. They gave the calf more antibiotics and let them out in the field with the other cows, and Michael said, “Hope he lives.” The person he was talking to thought when he said “hope he” was saying “Opie,” and that became the name of the calf.

Opie did live, in spite of the hole in his belly. He couldn’t be sold last fall, so they planned to butcher him. Andrea volunteered to do that, and cut up the meat.

Wednesday evening it started raining. The next morning it was snowing when Duwayne Hamilton brought his truck and trailer to haul our bull to the sale. This bull will soon be five years old and he’s becoming aggressive. Lynn had to use a pitchfork to bring him out of the back corral. Andrea and I helped herd the bull through the main corral to load him. The bull thought about charging at us, but we had him outnumbered. It was a relief to have him safely in the trailer!

It was still snowing when the vet came to preg check. Carolyn and Heather helped vaccinate our cows, heifers and weaned bulls. Andrea later went to their place to help vaccinate and preg check their herd. All of their cows were pregnant. Our cows were also pregnant (except for Freddy, who was sick during the time she should have been with the bull). Two of the heifers were questionable. They are either open or just recently bred, so we may check them again later.

October 14

When Lynn went to town Monday for mail and groceries he talked with someone who saw seven wolves a few days before in the field over the hill from us. I recently interviewed a rancher on the other side of town who lost a horse to a pack of wolves earlier this fall.

Michael drove home from North Dakota; the job was unexpectedly shut down for a week and he decided to come home and get caught up on some things. He got home just before Andrea and Emily were going to drive to Boise to catch a plane the next morning to fly to Rhode Island for the World Burn Congress.

We’d planned to put down four old horses before winter (Chance and Molly — Heather and Carolyn’s old horses, and Andrea’s Fozzy and Snickers) the next time Michael was home, so we quickly decided to do it. Andrea and Em postponed their drive to Boise until afternoon. Early that morning we took photos of Fozzy (her crippled 23-year-old gelding) and Snickers (the 29-year old mare that was Andrea’s best cowhorse in earlier years).

After she’d had a chance to say goodbye to them, Michael came to help. The kindest final gift a person can give a beloved animal is a merciful release from pain and infirmity. Fozzy had developed several cancerous growths under his flanks and they were getting worse; he was losing weight. Snickers was unstable on her feet and her vision was failing. It was time to let them go.

A well-placed bullet to the brain is the most instant and merciful death, quicker than a veterinarian’s sedative and lethal injection. Michael did this act of mercy for his little sister’s beloved horses. Then he used our backhoe to dig a grave for them beneath some trees across the creek for their final resting place.

Andrea and Emily drove to Boise that afternoon, on the first leg of their journey to the World Burn Congress, a special event that would help Andrea to ease the pain and grief of loss. On that day, Michael performed the same kindness for Chance and Molly. Chance has had bad teeth for several years, unable to chew hay. He spent two winters here while young Heather was in college, and I fed him grain, alfalfa pellets and senior horse pellets. I also cut fine grass hay into inch lengths with scissors — a couple buckets per day. This past summer he was still losing weight in spite of green grass and young Heather feeding him mush every day, soaking the pellets so they’d be easier to eat. Molly, at age 30, was one of Carolyn’s first horses. After she married Michael, her kids both learned to ride on Molly. Michael dug their grave near a big tree along the edge of the Wild Meadow on the upper place, and set a big rock to mark the spot.

Later that afternoon Heather rode down here on the horse she’s training, and I rode Dottie. Riding out on the range on these young horses was good emotional therapy after the sobering finale for our old horses.

Andrea and Em arrived at the WBC in time to go on the walk of remembrance, a special time of remembering friends and loved ones lost. They walked in remembrance of Jeff Allen (son of friends here in Salmon) who died fighting a forest fire 10 years ago, and Sara who died the same summer Andrea was burned, and the 22 firefighters who died this year in Arizona — whom Andrea met last year working at the Halstead fire.

October 23

After Andrea and Emily got home from Rhode Island we had nice weather for awhile. Last Tuesday Andrea and I rode Sprout and Dottie up the creek to meet Carolyn and Heather, and rode with them six miles up the creek. They brought along two of their cow dogs, and it was good for Dottie to get used to the dogs.

Sunday we took Dani and Sam on a longer ride, into the middle range, with Carolyn and Heather. Yesterday Andrea and I rode through the middle range and into the high range, to see where the elk might be, since Lynn drew for an elk tag in the cow hunt next month. We checked gates on our 320-acre pasture on our way home, to make sure hunters haven’t tried to go through. There’s some snow on the high range and the ground was frozen and slippery in places; we led the horses down the steep slope down into Baker Creek, in case they might slip and fall. †

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