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Rancher’s Diary: Ranch work winding down for fall

Still plenty of grass as cows are back on pasture after weaning

OCTOBER 10

Michael and Nick have been working on custom fence-building jobs and Robbie helped them for a few days.

The day after we preg-checked the cows and took the heifers’ mothers to the 320-acre mountain pasture, we put the heifer calves in the orchard, and the two bull calves in the horse pasture. They are content to graze and already weaned with nose flaps. There’s a lot of green grass this year in the orchard and horse pasture, thanks to Andrea’s diligent irrigating during the dry summer.

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Last Friday we brought the steers into the corral before daylight, sorted off their mothers, and when Michael and Carolyn brought their steers down we were ready to load ours to haul to the sale in Montana. On the way over, they had to change a flat tire on the trailer. The cattle market is off from what it was earlier this summer; the steers didn’t bring as much per pound as last year, but they weighed a little more.

Dani and Andrea rode with me to check cows on the 320. We moved a few that were low, and took them up the ridge to the high part where there’s a lot more grass. We hurried home, trotting most of the way, to make it in time for Andrea to take Sam and Charlie to play in the band for the high school football game.

Saturday Dani rode with me and we checked the cows again, and moved a few more cows up the ridge. The weather was cold by the time we got home, so Lynn built a fire in our stove (first fire this fall). Sunday Andrea shut off a couple of ditches; we are nearly done irrigating and just have fields left to finish watering before we shut all ditches off for winter so they won’t create ice flows across the fields.

The two little bulls in the orchard have never drank from tubs; they grew up on the upper place and always had the creek or a ditch. They were thirsty after we turned off the ditch, but too leery of the plastic tubs to try to drink from them. For a couple of days I gently herded them down to that corner, and they finally got brave enough to stick their noses into the water tubs.

Tuesday Carolyn and Nick brought their trailer down and we loaded the steers’ mothers to haul to the upper place. We left Buffalo Girl (she’s getting old and a little thin) and Magrat (the cow that was crippled awhile this summer) and put them in the lower field so they can have an easy life this fall on green pasture.

Andrea and I rode to the upper place and met Carolyn and Heather at the upper corral. They’d put our two little groups together and we herded them to the 320 to join the other cows that had been there a week. We took them all to the top trough in Baker Creek and came home down the ridge. Dottie lost a shoe and was a little tender by the time we got home, so I put another shoe on that foot.

Thursday Andrea and I rode Shiloh and Dottie to check cows and moved some low ones up again. With all the hunters about we wore red, and draped red shirts over the rumps of our horses, to make sure no one would mistake us for deer or elk.

Yesterday young Heather drove back to Canada to spend a month with her friend Gregory and his family. Today Andrea and I rode Shiloh and Dottie to check cows, and spray-painted our fence posts orange by our locked gates. We don’t want people trying to hunt while there are cattle in there. In years past we’ve had cows shot, so we want the hunters to know it’s private land. While we were there Andrea worked on the springbox again at the top trough in Baker Creek. It sometimes gets plugged with mud and fir needles and quits running.

After we got home, Andrea, Lynn and Robbie drove to the upper corral to get her little jeep. It quit running (out of gas) the night they drove to the 320 to hunt and they hiked home in the dark. It seemed strange that it was out of gas, because they’d filled it recently. A couple of their vehicles mysteriously were low on gas and they suspect someone may have “borrowed” a little.

When they went back a few days later to get the jeep, the battery was dead, so they pulled it out of the 320 and coasted it down the road to Michael and Carolyn’s corral, where it sat until now. This evening they brought it home. Robbie and Lynn pulled it to the top of the hill by the Wild Meadow, and Andrea coasted it the rest of the way home (about two miles — all downhill).

OCTOBER 20

Last week Michael put new shoes on Ed. Her feet were long and her shoes were worn out. I’m hoping Dani will be able to ride with me a few more times this fall, checking cows, so I want that mare’s feet to be in good shape, with plenty of traction on frozen ground — and not too long. We don’t want her tripping and stumbling.

Last Monday we went to Myra Miller’s funeral. She was 93 — the last of my parents’ generation. Her family and mine have been closely associated since I was a baby, when my parents moved here. My brother and I grew up with Myra’s kids. It was great to see her kids again for the celebration of Myra’s life. And a great life it was — an inspiration to all of us.

Lynn went to the skin specialist again, to have a few more precancerous lesions frozen off his face. The good news was learning the growth on his eyelid (which Dr. Carrington removed a few weeks ago) was benign.

Michael and Nick went deer hunting up Haines Creek, and Nick got a buck. That afternoon Andrea and Carolyn took Andrea’s truck and Michael’s four-wheeler to retrieve it. They saw more elk that day than deer (but didn’t have elk tags) and one big bull walked right up to Nick in the thick timber — within 15 feet.

Dani had a friend stay overnight, and the next morning took her friend for a short ride on Ed. Dani brushed and saddled Ed, and they took turns riding that good old mare.

Andrea and I rode again to check the cows. Andrea took her rifle in case we saw a buck. The cows were all high that day and we didn’t have to move any, but had to work on the water trough springbox again. On our way home we saw 15 does and fawns, but no bucks.

Friday Michael put new shoes on Sprout for Andrea, and Sam held Breezy while I took her shoes off and trimmed her feet. She won’t need shoes for the few rides she’ll have this fall. Later Sam, Dani, Andrea and I went for a short ride around the low range. It was Sam’s first ride since breaking her ankle early this summer.

On this short ride, Andrea rode Shiloh and Sam rode Breezy and then she and Andrea switched horses — to give Sam a chance to try Shiloh. They did fine together, and Sam is looking forward to riding Shiloh next summer. Breezy will be 25, and she’s getting stiff, so it will be good for Sam to have some other options. Sam and I can trade off on Dottie and Shiloh.

Saturday Michael and Nick went hunting again in the high country but this time didn’t see any game, just a wolf-killed carcass. That morning Andrea had good luck, however, shooting a whitetail buck in the field below her house. Then Andrea took Sam on a short hunt — and Sam was able to shoot her very first deer.

Saturday was Rocky’s birthday, so I gave him a copy of my new book Cow Tales. Some of the chapters include reminiscences of cattle he and I grew up with on the ranch.

The next day Andrea boned out the two deer and put the meat in coolers with ice. Sam rode with me to the 320 (since Andrea was busy cutting up meat), to check the cows. Breezy did fine without shoes. We hadn’t checked the cows for several days, and wanted to make sure they were doing ok with all the hunters around.

Yesterday it rained. Andrea and Carolyn drove to Idaho Falls for Andrea’s appointment with her pain doctor (and received six steroid shots in her lower back, to help relieve some of the pain that keeps her awake nights). While they were there they stocked up on dog food, cat food and groceries (cheaper there) and bought a new fly mask for Breezy. We keep a mask on her all the time except when she’s being ridden, to protect her one eye from sunlight.

Andrea and Sammy got the rest of their deer meat ground into hamburger last night. We are out of meat, so they plan to share it with us and Michael and Carolyn.

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