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Summer Jobs Wrap Up, Fall Nears

AUGUST 20

A week ago Tuesday, Andrea came out to the ranch and rode with me to round up cows on the upper place and bring the bull home. Our breeding season is over and we want to sell that bull because he’s getting a little too aggressive and unpredictable to handle. We brought a few of the yearling heifers with him, to create a little herd so it would be easier to bring him. Otherwise he would not have come very willingly by himself — he would have tried to go back to his cows. We didn’t want to bring cows and calves with him, since traveling two miles down the road and back up would have been hard on the calves in hot weather.

When we got the little group down to the corral, we sorted off the bull and put him in the back pen, then rounded up the cows in the swamp pasture to sort off the six heifers to take to the upper place. Those cows didn’t want to come down to the corral; they ran through the brush and across the creek. The brush was too thick to go through on horseback, so Andrea went on foot to herd them back across the creek and out into the open, and I led her horse. The cows tried to run the wrong way when they came out of the brush. Rubbie, Breezie and I had to trot quickly through some deep bogs to head them off. Breezie actually came along very nicely as we floundered through the bogs, and didn’t slow me down too much, so I was able to head them off and we got them down to the corral. We sorted out the heifers and took them (along with our decoy heifers we brought down with the bull) to the upper place.

Last Saturday I helped Michael, Carolyn, little Heather and Nick round up their cows off their Sandy Creek range. We trailered the horses over there (about 15 miles) and rode all afternoon gathering cattle. It was the first time I’ve ever ridden on that range allotment. After gathering, we sorted off Don Hatch’s cows and took the rest of the herd to Michael’s leased place on Sandy Creek. Little Heather rode one of the green horses she’s been training this summer.

On Monday Lynn went to get his sister’s stackwagon (since ours had a serious breakdown) and finished stacking my horse hay. Michael finished baling the rest of our hay with his big round baler.

I put hind shoes on Breezie; she’s getting too tenderfooted for any more rides without shoes. I’d forgotten how nasty she was about shoeing her hind feet! When we bought her as a five year old (about 12 years ago) she was very challenging to shoe, but she got better as I worked with her feet and shod her several times each summer. But the spring of 2000 was the last time she was shod. Andrea’s burn accident occurred that July, and she didn’t ride Breezie any more that year, and only a few times each summer thereafter — not enough riding to need shoes.

This summer Andrea has ridden more often, and the mare got tenderfooted. She wasn’t too bad about shoeing her front feet a few weeks ago, but her hinds are a different story! She was fighting a lot, and I’m not as strong as I used to be — and she jerked the first foot away when I had only two nails it. She caught my wrist with a nail (one that I hadn’t had time to twist off) and tore a big gash in my wrist, and scraped my arm in several places. I had a serious “talk” with her and went ahead and finished the job, then went to the house and bandaged my wrist. I guess after having time off from being shod for nine years, she reverted back to her phobias that she arrived here with. She was always worse about her left hind foot, perhaps because of bad memories. There’s an old scar above the hoof and I wonder if maybe she had some painful experiences being treated for that injury, and used that as an excuse to not let anyone handle that foot.

Michael and Carolyn took Heather to Helena to start her freshman year at Carroll College. She’s enjoying all her classes, but her favourite is the Human/Animal Bond course, which is part of the psychology program. She’s also joined the college rodeo/equine club because she wants to work with horses.

Lynn took the turner rake off our small tractor and was going to put the blade on, to clean out the barn (which we didn’t get cleaned this spring before it flooded and was too boggy to drive into with a tractor). But the blade had a huge number of yellow jackets nesting in various parts of it, and they came swarming out whenever Lynn got close to it. He used up a can of WD-40 spraying them (it works great as a bee and hornet killer) and wasn’t able to get rid of them all. He finally went out at night in the dark to hook up the blade when the yellow jackets weren’t active.

Today Andrea came out and rode with me again. We checked troughs on the high range and I was glad to see that the ones Em and I fixed last summer (that were vandalized) are still working. This was the first time in 10 years that Andrea has been back to the high range — since before her burn accident — and she enjoyed being out there again. Then we checked the 320 and 160 fences and patched numerous places where the elk had broken the wires or knocked wires off the posts. On our way back down the mountain we could see down into our fields. We noticed there were cows in the wrong place, above our fields, so we gathered and took them back where they belonged, and found a big hole in the fence by the ditch. Lynn had repaired it this spring, but someone had recently taken it apart to make easier access for wildlife. So Andrea and I spent about an hour putting logs and branches across it and tying everything together with baling twine to make a new fence that would last until Lynn has a chance to take some poles and steel posts up there.

SEPTEMBER 11

Lynn fixed the fence we patched, and also repaired a brace in our boundary fence that had been knocked down and the wires wrapped back, to make an opening for wildlife. I wish people would leave our fences alone!

Michael and Carolyn finished hauling our big bales, and their bales on the Gooch Place, but the big truck got stuck in the creek crossing there. Michael came down and got our backhoe to pull it out. Then they moved their equipment over to the Maurer Place they are leasing, and Lynn helped them haul and stack a big field of second cutting. They still have 4 smaller fields left to cut. Part of the Gooch field they had to leave (because it was too wet to cut without the swather bogging down). Now it has finally dried out and Michael hopes to cut it later this week. There might be about 30 big round bales’ worth of hay on that piece.

We sent the four-year-old bull (Posie) to the Blackfoot Auction. He brought 51 cents per pound. The cattle market is not very good right now, and probably will be worse by the time we sell any cull cows this fall.

I trimmed Veggie’s feet. Em hasn’t ridden him enough this summer to keep his feet worn down and they were getting too long. I’m hoping she can ride him a few more times this fall, and I don’t want him stumbling because of long toes.

Little Heather came home from college this past weekend (a three day weekend with the Labour Day holiday) and brought a friend she met in her dorm. Samantha is from a small town in Washington and she loves horses, too. They had a great time riding all three days (to move some cows, and to check on the range gates up Withington Creek). They also helped Michael and Carolyn work cows on the Maurer Place — vaccinating and preg checking. It was the first time Samantha had ever worked with cows but she enjoyed it.

Andrea’s girls stayed with us Monday and Tuesday while Andrea took little Charlie to Salt Lake City for a doctor appointment. She also visited some of her old nurses at the burn ICU, and had the contractures on her shoulder and finger checked. She definitely needs surgery to release those; her little finger is being pulled off to the side and the contractures at her shoulder are pulling her backbone out of line. But the surgery will require more skin grafting, so she keeps putting it off.

The girls enjoyed helping us do chores while they were here, and playing with their cats — and the new kitten they hadn’t seen before. Lynn took Em and Sam to the school bus Tuesday morning, and Dani helped me all day; her preschool classes don’t start till next week. The days are getting shorter and feeling like fall. It froze hard a couple nights ago, and my hose for watering the horses was full of ice. I guess it’s time to start draining it again every day.

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

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