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Winter brings a mixed bag of weather

Rancher's Diary: Ice, snow and even rainy conditions make chores challenging

January 28

We’ve had cold nights this past week. I’m glad we’re no longer calving in January. I finished revisions and updates for the new edition of my book Storey’s Guide to Training Horses.

The thick ice on our lane and Andrea’s driveway is slippery and treacherous, making it tricky to get up and down with vehicles or the feed truck. One night we had warmer weather and it rained, freezing on top of the ice, making it more dangerous. Rain changed to snow by chore time; snow on top of ice made it worse. Lynn slipped and fell down on his back when we were sweeping the snow off the feed truck to go feed the cows. We now have “chains” on our boots for more traction.

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The next day, temperatures rose and the new snow melted, making the ice slicker than ever. Water running down the draws filled several ditches, and ran across the fields in a few places, including the spot where Michael and Lynn put the bale feeder on heifer hill. There was water all around it, which then froze, making slippery footing for the cows trying to eat from the feeder.

On Sunday Michael helped us move more hay around and took another bale and feeder to heifer hill to put in a better spot where there won’t be water and ice around it. Andrea checked those cattle, and was missing one — Starfire, a young cow pregnant with her second calf. Andrea found her down in the brush, dull and in pain, kicking her left hind leg. Andrea brought Starfire to the hay feeder but the young cow wasn’t interested in eating. We think she injured the leg falling down on the ice.

We brought her down to the corral below the barn, where I can feed and water her. On the way past the barn we caught her in the head-catch and gave her injections of Banamine (anti-inflammatory drug that also eases pain) and DMSO (anti-inflammatory) to help the injured joint/tendon. By the next morning she was feeling better, eating and drinking again. We’ll keep her by herself a few more days until she’s fully recovered.

February 6

Last week Andrea and I hauled straw down to the brush in the field below her house, to scatter in that sheltered area for that group of cows to bed on. Then she took hay on a sled, down to the creek, stringing a trail of enticement to encourage the cows to start using the lower water hole where the ice isn’t so thick and deep — easier for them to try to get a drink.

Michael and Nick brought another load of poles for the fence that afternoon, and started working on the fence again the next day. They were slow to get here that day however, because they lost Tiny (their oldest cow dog) during the night. She’d been ill for several months and they’d been keeping her in the house, but that night she had another stroke. They buried her in the “family cemetery” behind their house where other favourite old dogs and a couple horses are buried. Frozen ground was a challenge; Nick spent three hours working on a burial hole before breakfast and finished it after they got their chores and feeding done.

Friday we had more snow, then warm weather, with more flooding. Andrea spent one morning chopping ice to make a channel for the water rushing down our driveway so it won’t all go in the old barn and shop. We had more runoff again on Monday, so it was good to have a “ditch” through the ice to carry the water.

February 14

A week ago Michael and Nick finished the top end of the new fence (dividing the hayfield from the pasture above the house) and we moved the young cows down into the field below heifer hill. I brought Starfire from the pen below the barn to join her buddies. She’s fully recovered from her leg injury.

Michael brought another load of poles for rub rails along the netting so the cows can’t stretch and ruin the net wire. With several days of warm weather the frost started coming out of the ground and Michael got his truck stuck (pulling the trailer load of poles) in the gate past my hay shed. But he anticipated that possibility and had Nick drive the skid steer up there first. It still has chains on, and Nick was able to pull Michael’s truck through the deep mud in the gateway.

Sunday Michael brought his feed truck down and we loaded a couple more bales of straw for him. When Jim was taking the deer netting away from the stack so we could get to the straw (stacked next to the alfalfa) he noticed smoke coming out of the stack. In the junction between the stacks, the old tarps had holes and water had run down into the hay. It was wet and heating. One straw bale was hot and black on one side, and the alfalfa bale next to it was smoking. We set it aside, away from the stack, so it can cool down. We don’t want our haystack to burn up.

Yesterday brought some excitement when neighbour Alfonso drove his tractor off the road just below our place, rolling it down off the bank and through his fence. The cab saved him from being smashed. Michael, Lynn and a couple other neighbours with backhoes and another tractor helped pull Alfonso’s tractor back up onto the road. We were glad he wasn’t seriously injured in that wreck.

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