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Hungry elk cause havoc with horses

Rancher's Diary

Young woman walking a horse in a pasture.


Saturday Lynn took Charlie and Dani up to ride Carolyn’s horses. Andrea, Sam and I rode up the creek to meet them. Carolyn, and Heather went for a ride over the low range. It got windy, so our party cut it short and made it home to our place, but the others had to ride three miles back up the creek to put their horses away. A blizzard hit just before they got there. We were glad they had heavy coats and warm hats!

Carolyn and Heather sorted their cows, sending some to a bred cow sale at Butte, Montana to pay off the loan on their cows. Bred cows have been worth a lot so they hoped the cows would bring a good price, but that day there weren’t many buyers. Most of their cows sold at cull cow prices, which left them short for paying the loan. We helped them make up the difference and they can pay us back later.

Tuesday afternoon I had a vet come check Breezy’s left eye. The back corner (white part) has been red and irritated for quite a while but now there’s a growth on that edge of the eyeball. We’re afraid it’s cancerous. The vet took a scraping to check under a microscope, and found mostly epithelial cells (normal tissue), a lot of bacterial cells and only a couple of cancer cells. She prescribed an antibacterial ointment, to put into the eye twice daily for two weeks, and will check it again. We’re hoping it’s not a malignant growth because then the eye would have to be removed.


Last Saturday it was still cold, but Heather and I rode our two trainees for a short loop over the low range. Dotty was grumpy and frisky in the cold weather but I was able to keep her from bucking. That evening Alfonzo brought his cows down to the lower fields, weaning his calves in the corral at the Gooch place, so the cows tried to come through the fence between us.

The next morning, some of them crashed over his fence along the road and trooped back up to the Gooch place. Later that morning Alfonzo and his son brought those cows down again, and his son put steel posts in the broken-down fence.

Andrea, Carolyn, Heather and I rode that afternoon, making a longer loop over the low range. As we came over the ridge toward home we saw three cows trying to get out again, crashing the newly fixed fence. One got stuck in the fence, struggling and bellowing, and then flipped backward. She tried again, and made it over the fence. About nine cows made it back out, and this time Alfonzo gave up and left them up on the Gooch place.

We had Thanksgiving dinner here with Andrea and Emily (the other kids were at their Dad’s) and Carolyn and Heather. Michael wasn’t able to come home, nor Nick (too far, from college in Iowa) but they will both be home for Christmas.

From the Alberta Farmer Express website: What to do about Alberta’s herds of wild horses?


Our weather became very cold (below 0 F) and we haven’t ridden now for more than a week. Heather has been doing chores for Suzanne Nebeker, who lives across the valley from us. She raises and shows Tennessee Walkers. This past week she went to Salt Lake City, Utah for surgery and will be gone a while, so Heather has been taking care of her horses. Thursday afternoon when she went to feed she discovered that a herd of elk had gone through the pens and pastures and scared the horses. The elk were still there — about 30 of them in a frightened group, huddled in a corner of a neighbour’s field.

One of Suzanne’s mares had gone over a fence and couldn’t get up. She was very cold. Heather put a wool horse blanket over the mare and called her mom and the vet. Carolyn, the vet and two neighbours worked with the mare into the night, building a shelter of panels and straw around her and covering her with blankets. The vet gave her medication to ease the pain and inflammation. After the mare warmed up she tried to stand, but her hind legs wouldn’t work.

She made it through the night and was perky the next morning, eating and drinking, but shortly after noon she suddenly died. The vet thought she probably split her pelvis, and in one of her attempts to get up the bones shifted, severed an artery and she quickly bled to death.

The elk spent three days in a tight group, in a plowed field with nothing to eat. We assume wolves drove them down from the high country; a pack of six wolves left tracks across the road a few miles above the neighbourhood where Suzanne’s horses are. †

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

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