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Lease Rates Too High For Beef

NOVEMBER 25

Last week we moved our small group of cows back to the fields above the house, and let the newly weaned heifers into more pens by the calving barn, to graze the rest of that grass. They bawled a little, seeing their mothers leave; the cows had been in the field next to their pen, able to communicate through the corral fence. But after more than a week of separation, they are weaned. The cows never looked back, and didn’t mind going to a field farther away from their babies.

The grass in my horse pasture is nearly gone and getting snow-covered. Chance, the 30-year-old gelding we’re taking care of for granddaughter Heather, can’t eat hay with his bad teeth, so now I’m feeding him alfalfa pellets along with his grain.

Michael and Carolyn moved their cows down from our upper fields on Sunday; the snow has covered the rest of their pasture. They took the cows down to the Maurer place and started feeding hay. Michael brought his big tractor over here to get our bale unroller, since his is broken. On Tuesday we moved our weaned heifers to the little field above the house; there’s still some grass tall enough they can graze in spite of the snow.

Our weather was cold and windy, and all roads in and out of Salmon were closed that day. Granddaughter Heather planned to drive home from college yesterday for Thanksgiving vacation but even though the roads were open again by then, we didn’t want her driving in bad conditions. Michael and Carolyn did their feeding early, and drove to Helena to get her.

I cooked a big dinner today for Thanksgiving and we had Andrea’s family and Lynn’s brother and wife here for dinner. Michael, Carolyn and kids were busy with their cattle all day; their rep from Superior Livestock Auction was here making a video of the cows and bred heifers they plan to sell on the video auction. We’ll have Michael’s family here Saturday evening for a belated Thanksgiving dinner. It will be nice to have a chance to visit with young Heather before they take her back to Helena on Sunday.

DECEMBER 2

On a warmer not-so-windy day we took shoes off Rubbie, Breezy and Ed and trimmed their feet for winter. Their feet were getting long, and we won’t be riding them till spring; they’ll have better traction without snow and ice balling up under their feet. A bare foot sheds snowballs better than a shod foot.

Michael and Carolyn found a reasonably priced used pickup for Nick to drive to school and track practice. He’s been borrowing their Durango ever since the roads got snowy and slick. The old Chrysler we gave him (after his little red pickup rolled into Peet’s pond and ruined the motor) isn’t trustworthy on bad roads; he needs four-wheel drive.

Michael and Carolyn are still trying to find a ranch to start buying. They can no longer afford to keep leasing several small places, spending hours and gas traveling from place to place to do haying and take care of cattle. The final straw was when their leases increased in price to where they can no longer afford them.

First, they decided to quit leasing the Colston property this spring (the Gooch place and lower place that we leased for 29 years and then Michael and Carolyn leased for another 11 years), since that landlord kept raising the rent three per cent per year and then put some unworkable stipulations into the lease. No one else wanted to lease it, either, and finally the landlord enticed a different renter by dropping the price and having him sign a contract to build a set of corrals.

Now the Maurer place — where they calved their cows the past several years — has also come up for renewal and the lady who owns it wants to raise the rent by $5,000 and make them pay all the upkeep, power for pumping, and all other expenses. Her rationale for charging more money was that it was worth more now that they’d increased the hay production. But the rent is way too high before that and some of her stipulations (like a cap on how many horses and cows they can have on the place) are unreasonable, so they are dropping that lease as well. At this point they still have the Sandy Creek place leased, and it’s also too high priced, with no calving facilities, and the old run-down fences won’t hold cattle.

Michael and Carolyn are running out of time to find another place before their cows start calving, so they decided to sell all their cows and keep some heifer calves to breed in the spring. They can keep the yearlings here on our place, and this will buy them time to find another place and start rebuilding their herd. The plan at this point is to sell our upper place (which would have been Michael’s inheritance) to apply on purchase of a bigger place for them, where they can run enough cows to make a living. Land values in our valley are now too high to pay for property with cattle; ranches are being purchased by people wanting scenic recreation property or to subdivide into expensive home sites. We might get enough from our small place to get the kids a start somewhere else, on land that’s not so high priced. It may take awhile to get our place sold, however, and for Michael and Carolyn to find another ranch that will work, so in the meantime they’re cutting down their cattle to what they can keep here and maybe on the Sandy Creek place if they continue to lease it.

DECEMBER 11

Last Friday Michael and Carolyn sold six loads of cows and bred heifers on the video auction. They got $1,200 and $1,125 for two loads of heifers, and $1,150, $1,100, $1,000 and $985 per head for four loads of cows. They spent several days sorting cows into various groups (by age), getting ready to ship out — one load of heifers to Utah, one to Kansas, one load of cows to Colorado and 3 loads to Challis, Idaho.

Sunday they were still busy sorting, so Lynn helped an electrician fix the switch on their house pump. That evening Andrea and Rick had a load of firewood they needed to get off their truck so Rick could get another load the next day, so they brought it to our place and unloaded it at 10 p.m.

Monday it snowed all day. Andrea got a notice in the mail that her semi-annual appointment with the lung specialist in Salt Lake was the very next day, on Tuesday afternoon. Lynn helped her get new snow tires for her car and went with her on the trip — 400 miles on bad roads. They left Monday evening and drove all night, to make sure she could get there on time Tuesday afternoon. The roads were so bad it took nine hours to make the 400-mile drive to Salt Lake; they got there at 4 a.m., got a motel, and slept a few hours before her appointment.

Her lung checkup went well; her breathing has improved since the doctor put her on medication to help keep her airways open. She has a lot of scar tissue in her lungs, due to damage from the fire and subsequent bouts of pneumonia. Her graft checkup did not go so well. The surgery on her arm last January to cut out the contracted scar tissue and replace it with a new graft was not successful; the new skin shrank up worse than the old graft and the contracture is pulling her spine out of place worse than ever.

She and Lynn drove home Tuesday night, hitting bad roads again on our end (fog and blowing snow), finally getting home at 4 a.m.

We’ve had more snow, and started feeding hay to our heifers. The cows are still finding rough feed, so we hope the snow won’t get any deeper for awhile. Our neighbour’s cows got into his stack yard on the lower place, but he is in Mexico for another month, so yesterday some of his friends moved those cows up to the Gooch place. There’s not much grass left there, so we’re hoping someone will start feeding them before they try to come through the fence into our fields.

HeatherSmithThomasrancheswithher husbandLynnnearSalmon,Idaho.Contact herat208-756-2841

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