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The mystery of who is cutting gates

AUGUST 27

Andrea had a tough time for a while after losing the fragile skin on the sides of her knees; the pain was excruciating — like being burned all over again. Our doctor put her on antibiotics after her legs became hot and swollen. They are doing a little better now; the raw areas are starting to fill in around the edges.

Young Heather and I are coming along with Dottie’s training. This past week we got her used to wearing a breeching (to hold the saddle in place because she doesn’t have enough withers to keep it from going onto her neck when she’s going downhill). The first day we put it on, she was scared and ran circles around Heather at the end of the lead rope. When she calmed down she realized it wasn’t hurting her, and from then on she was calm. We no longer have to get off and reset the saddle when going downhill.

Freddy (the cow that almost died) is doing better but still very thin. She was covered with horn flies last week, so Friday I put delousing pour-on (which also kills flies) along her back as I fed her some alfalfa hay. By the next morning there were NO flies on her. We’re still keeping her separate from the other cows so they won’t beat up on her as she continues to recover.

On Saturday Dani rode with me for four hours up through the 320 and high range to check gates, troughs and Michael’s cattle. That night we had a birthday dinner for Charlie — turning 12 — at Andrea’s house.

Sunday afternoon Andrea, the girls and I went for a short ride — Andrea’s first ride in over a month (since before she went to the fire camp). She bandaged her raw knees but they were still so painful that we only rode about 30 minutes.

Today the kids went back to school. I rode Dottie on a short ride on the low range, with young Heather riding Ed as my “babysitter horse.” Afterward, while she waited for old Chance to eat his mush (watered alfalfa pellets and senior feed), Heather worked with Sprout (the seven-year-old spoiled mare we bought last year), teaching her better ground manners.

We’ve been pasturing Chance and Molly for Heather this summer. Currently they’re grazing along the ditch bank pen above the little pasture where Freddy and her calf are living. Chance has bad teeth and can’t chew his food. Heather feeds him a big tub of “mush” once a day and it takes him an hour to eat it. While she waits for him to eat, she does ground work with Sprout and Willow (the yearling filly).

SEPTEMBER 7

Andrea is riding Sprout again, with bandages over the raw areas on her knees. Last Friday she rode with Dani and me to check range cows and gates. When we headed out through the sagebrush from the big salt ground, Breezy got caught in a snarl of old wire; she jumped and bucked and nearly fell down. Fortunately the wire broke and she kicked out of it before we had a bad wreck. This is wire the Bureau of Land Management left out there after they made a temporary fence to keep cattle out of the area that burned in 2003. The wire is a serious hazard, dragged around by wildlife and cattle. Michael and Carolyn rolled up a pickup load of it a few years ago but there’s still some left.

On Sunday Lynn, Andrea, Charlie and a friend took two four-wheelers to the high range and spent the afternoon rolling up as much wire as they could carry home. The next day they went back and rolled up more.

Thursday afternoon a big storm knocked out the power line into our valley. The power was off for 17 hours. Friday morning we carried water from the creek for flushing the toilet and got several gallons of drinking water from my brother’s spring above the upper place. We led some of the horses to the creek to drink. We were about to haul water from the creek to the rest of the horses when the power came back on that afternoon.

SEPTEMBER 17

Last Sunday afternoon Andrea and I rode Breezy and Dottie up the ridge to the 320 to check the fence. Carolyn had seen a cow on the mountain behind their house the evening before. When we rode up toward our fence we encountered five pairs — range cows from the high range. Our gate was wide open. Someone had cut all six wires. The range cows had come through our place, so we knew there must be a gate open at the top as well.

Michael and Carolyn and young Heather were riding on the range across the canyon, helping those ranchers round up. We could see riders bringing cattle out of Cheney Creek. Andrea called Michael on his cell phone (fortunately we had cell service on our ridge and he did, too) and told him what we’d discovered. We tied up the gate temporarily with baling twine (which I always carry in the jacket tied to my saddle) and came home to switch horses, since Dottie is too inexperienced for cow sorting.

Michael, Carolyn and Heather hurried back across the canyon to their corrals to grab some wire to fix the gate. We got home with Dottie and Breezy, grabbed Ed and Sprout, and trotted back up the ridge to the 320. Almost all of Michael and Carolyn’s cows were down in the northeast corner, which was strange, but that’s why they hadn’t come out the gate on the ridge. We hurried up Baker Creek and found four more pair and a calf. The gate in Baker Creek was okay, so the leak had to be the top ridge gate. We hurried up through the timber to the ridge and met up with Michael, Carolyn and Heather. All their cows and calves were accounted for. None had gone out the open gates.

The top ridge gate had been cut and thrown open, with cattle tracks, horse tracks and four-wheeler tracks coming through. Someone had taken cattle from the high range and pushed them through our 320-acre pasture to the low range! We rebuilt the gate, rode back down Baker Creek and checked the two side gates and rebuilt the bottom ridge gate. There were four-wheeler tracks coming down through that gate and on down the ridge.

It’s still a mystery. Did hunters cut the gates to come through on four-wheelers? Did a rider cut the gates and bring range cows down through or bring them after the gates were already cut?

Yesterday Michael and Carolyn rounded up their yearlings and hauled them down to our corral. This morning at daylight we sent our calves with Michael’s yearlings to the sale at Butte, Montana. The calves are only five months old and not very big, but hopefully they will bring a good price. †

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