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Finally Some Rain Arrived

SEPTEMBER 19

It’s really hot and dry. We’ve been short on irrigation water for more than a month, unable to water the fields again after getting the hay off. Right now we’re down to using one ditch (out of six ditches coming out of the creek at various elevations, to water our many small fields) and the water hasn’t made it across the field yet after Lynn set it more than two weeks ago.

Michael and Carolyn worked their Sandy Creek cows last week, to preg check and vaccinate. They had a very good pregnancy rate on the cows, but ended up short one calf off that range. It might have been killed by wolves; ranchers on that allotment found several wolf-killed carcasses this summer and fall. Michael is still trying to finish his haying. Their second cutting was late because the first crop started so late (with the cold spring), but it’s a good crop and this hot weather will help dry it.

Our cows on the upper place have been really agitated, bawling and restless. Archery hunters have been hiking through our fields and disturbing them. Maybe someone shot a deer there and the cows were upset by the smell of blood.

Michael’s cows on the high range above the 160 are trying to come home, and some were getting into the little acreage next to the cattleguard. We opened the gate so they can come right into the 160 instead of into the neighbor’s little horse pasture (which doesn’t have a very good fence).

Lynn has been working on our corrals and fixing our squeeze chute (the old spring on the head-catch broke this summer), in preparation for working our cows. On Thursday Andrea came out to the ranch and helped me gather our cows off the upper place. We brought them down to the swamp pasture above the corrals.

Yesterday I helped Michael and Carolyn start rounding up cattle off our high range. We got 49 pair and a bull from the Baker Creek side, putting them down into the 160-acre pasture. We got home before dark and I helped Lynn feed a few bales to our cows and calves to lure and lock them in the lower end of the swamp pasture to be easier to round up this morning at daylight. This morning we sorted off the calves and were bringing our orphan calf (Shiny) around to the corral when our vet arrived to preg check the cows and bangs-vaccinate the heifer calves.

All our yearling heifers were pregnant and maybe all the cows. Two of the first calvers that raised big calves were questionable. We now calve in April and the bulls were taken out just five weeks ago, so the vet couldn’t tell for sure if those two young cows were open or recently bred. So we’ll keep them and check them again later. We weaned the heifer calves and several bull calves, and put cows with steers in the field above the corrals where there’s good grass. We’ll be keeping the heifers, and selling the steers in late October, shipping them with Michael’s.

SEPTEMBER 30

We kept the weaned heifers in the “orchard” pen for a few days, since it has a good fence and they couldn’t crawl out. There was a little green grass there and we also fed them a little hay just to get them gentled. They were used to us walking around with them last spring when they were babies, and are pretty gentle, but feeding them with a wheelbarrow got them REALLY gentle. The bull calves were confined in the grassy pen below the barn, but Freddy George (the biggest, tallest crossbred bull calf) jumped over a panel so we locked him in the calving pen next to the house.

We left the gates open into the corral from the swamp pasture so the cows could come down where they last saw their babies, and this ensured they wouldn’t try to crawl through a fence. After four days the cows were no longer worried about their calves, and Andrea and I rode Breezie and Rubbie and took the cows and pregnant yearlings to the 320, to Baker Creek. It was a hot day and we took them slowly, especially up the last steep hill. But when they got to Baker Creek — with shade and green grass — they were quite happy. The next day we turned the heifer calves out in the field above the house (which is still green) and the little bulls into the field below the lane where there’s also good grass.

There isn’t much water in Baker creek, due to the hot, dry weather — barely enough for the cows to get a drink. Andrea and I rode again the next day and worked on the water trough that had been vandalized (just like the range troughs last summer); someone had taken apart the elbow on the plastic pipe that goes into the trough. Andrea was able to put it back together with a temporary “fix” and Lynn went back the next day with some tools and a new elbow and fixed it better.

Michael and Carolyn got all their second cutting baled (though they had to fix a flat tire on their baler) and hauled. Lynn helped haul, driving one of the flatbed trucks. We got done in time to go to town late afternoon to watch Nick’s cross country track meet. Nick did the three-mile run in just over 18 minutes, and came in eighth out of more than 50 runners. He was the first Salmon runner to cross the finish line.

On Friday I helped Michael and Carolyn round up more cows. Some were in the neighbouring range; several gates between the Forest Service and BLM allotments were left open by four-wheelers. We rode to Mulkey Creek and found three more pairs and a dry cow, but as we were sorting them from neighbour’s cattle in the timber, the dry cow got away and ran down the mountain with the other cows. I held the three pairs while Michael and Carolyn tried to get her, but the terrain and timber were challenging (and the group she went with was very wild) so they had to give up. We brought the three pair down along the steep canyon above our range, and down to the 160 — where we gathered the 150-plus pairs that were already in that mountain pasture. It was 6 p. m. when we started gathering them off the mountainsides, and by the time we rounded them up and brought them five miles down the road to the lower fields, it was dark.

Michael and Carolyn rode again several days and found a few more of their cows and calves in Mulkey Creek. The rest came home with the neighbor when he rounded up his cattle — all but one calf that’s still missing. Last night we had a good rain (the best rain since early summer), with snow on the upper place and 320. There was 1.5 inches of water in Shiny’s grain tub this morning. We desperately needed this moisture.

OCTOBER 14

We’ve had some cooler weather (down to -15C.) and Lynn has been sawing firewood. A couple weeks ago our neighbours around the hill (Kosslers) called Lynn to come locate a site for a well. The spring they’ve always used for house water had become occluded with tree roots and they’d hired an excavator to clean out the spring, and the whole hill gave way and nearly tipped over the excavator. They decided to abandon the spring and put in a well.

Our power went off for several hours last Sunday morning. The wind blew two lines together and burned them up, and it took awhile for the power company to find the problem. I get up early and type articles, but that morning there was no power for the computer or lights, so I lit several candles and wrote letters at the kitchen table, and Lynn and I ate breakfast by candlelight. We couldn’t water the horses, but fortunately most of them still had water from the day before. Lynn carried a couple buckets to Breezie from the creek because her tub was nearly empty.

Last Monday I was on the Martha Stewart radio program. She’d seen my book Stable Smarts, and asked my publisher to contact me for her program. She has horses and wanted me to talk about how I became a horse person, and various aspects of horse care. My publisher (Storey) also talked me into doing a “blog” on their website, where several of their authors and editors post their thoughts and comments. I’ve never done anything like this before, but all I have to do is send my “installments” and photos to the person who does their website. It will be an ongoing thing, with my installments posting every two weeks (and earlier postings can also be viewed). In the first one I introduced myself and told about my first horse. The second one, which I just wrote, tells how I became a cow person. To view my blog, go to http://insidestorey.blogspot.comand click on my name in the list of authors on the right hand side of the page. I guess I’m finally entering the modern world of internet communication.

Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband Lynn near Salmon, Idaho. Contact her at 208-756-2841

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