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Wolves getting a bit close for comfort

DECEMBER 24

We’ve had cold weather, down to -18 C, but Andrea’s kids have been enjoying the icy driveways. Their sleds coast all the way down their lane to the bottom of our field. Michael helped us build a fence around Andrea’s new house, and got it finished last week. We can now graze the cows in the field and hill pasture.

The carpenters brought stovepipe for Andrea’s chimney so we can finally hook up her wood stove, and save the costs of electricity for the heaters. The power bill was horribly high these last few months while the carpenters finished the house and while Andrea was moving in. Lynn took coals from our stove to give a good base for the fire in her new stove, so it would be easier to start and keep the fire going.

Michael and Rick took more materials up to our 160-acre mountain pasture to finish building braces in that new fence. Nick and Heather got home from college a week ago, for Christmas vacation. They both helped for several days on the new fence, enabling us to get it finished a lot quicker — before more snow and colder weather.

Tuesday morning Michael helped me take the shoes off Ed and Breezy and trim their feet. That afternoon our “fence crew” finished putting in stays and started working on the top fence (between us and the BLM range) that needed new posts and stays, and rebuilt the part that our neighbour took down a couple of summers ago to bring his cows home from the range — when that part of the fence was on his side, before the survey showed it was part of our property.

It snowed again, but Lynn and Rick were able to drive up there with chains on the four-wheeler, and hiked up the mountain to finish putting in the stays. So the 160-fence project is done, except for rebuilding a small section on the bottom end.

Friday evening one of Andrea’s cats was up on the power pole next to her house, sitting on the transformer, afraid to come down. It was too high to use a ladder to try to rescue him, and also unsafe, right next to the power lines. Emily spent several hours out there in the cold and dark, trying to coax him down, and at one point he came part-way down, got scared, and went back up. A short while later, however, he came back down on his own. Yesterday morning Lynn wrapped a sheet of tin around the base of the power pole so the cats can’t try to climb it.

Last week one of our neighbours caught a wolf in a coyote snare — an 80-pound female. Tracks nearby showed that a much larger wolf was with her when she got caught. Today Andrea’s dogs barked frantically around 5 a.m. and when she stepped out on the deck and turned on the light there was a huge white/gray wolf just 20 feet away. She didn’t have her gun, and as soon as the wolf realized she was there, he ran off. We hope he doesn’t keep hanging around — that’s too close to kids, cats, dogs and cattle.

JANUARY 6

On Christmas morning after chores, Lynn and I drove up to Andrea’s house to watch the kids opening their gifts, and had Christmas dinner there. It’s nice having them living here on the ranch!

A few days after Christmas the weather warmed up and it rained during the night, but changed to snow within a few hours. Our power went off and I had to shut down my computer and write a few cards and letters by candlelight instead of writing articles. We ate breakfast by candlelight.

Lynn, Rick and Andrea spent a couple days taking wire off the old boundary fence on the southwest side of our place and took out the posts — so it won’t be an obstacle for the cows grazing that hill pasture behind Andrea’s house (the extra 20 acres we gained by putting the fence on the actual property line this spring). Rick and Andrea also split a lot of our firewood, using Rick’s motorized wood-splitter.

Michael and Carolyn sold their pregnant heifers to three different buyers, who came on Friday to get them. Our roads were still icy so Michael had a truckload of sand hauled in, to sand the driveway at the upper corral, and sanded the creek road. With chains on their trucks, and sand for traction, Michael and the buyers were able to pull their trailer-loads of heifers up out of the loading area and safely down our road without mishap. It was a good thing they hauled them that day, because it snowed several more inches that night and the roads were much worse.

With more snow covering our fields, we started feeding hay to our heifers. They have been really good about grazing through several inches of snow, but this was too much. So we moved them to the field below the lane, where we could feed them easier and plug in the tank heater. Having warm water they will drink more (and eat better) on cold days, and I won’t have to keep breaking ice for them.

Michael helped Lynn get the old dump truck fixed (getting power to the second axle) so it will have more traction and stability on our slippery road, and put chains on the tires. Then they took the backhoe up to our shale hill on the upper place and hauled loads of rock and some dirt down here to finish fixing the ditch heads and install more headgates along one of the ditches. Michael also hauled 10 loads of rock to put along the creek in our lower pasture where the creek was starting to make a new channel down through our field. It’s good to have that fixed before high water next spring.

Our cows have been bedding along the ditch in the field by Andrea’s house. We were afraid one of them might get upside down in the ditch, so Lynn started the tractor and took two big straw bales (the old rotten ones by our haystack) along the willows so the cows will bed there instead.

Today Heather and Nick drove back to Helena, and Nick will fly back to Iowa tomorrow, to start second semester. It was nice having them home for three weeks.

JANUARY 18

Last Monday Michael took the backhoe to the 160-acre mountain pasture to rebuild the road. There is a good deposit of rock and gravel (perfect for road-building and road surface) around the hill. We can haul it out of there for construction projects if we had a better road to accommodate a dump truck. That rocky hill may be worth a lot more as a rock quarry than as cow pasture.

Tuesday Lynn and Andrea drove to Idaho Falls for her monthly appointment with the pain management specialist, and Lynn had an appointment too, to try to find a way to deal with his back pain. The doctor gave him some new medication. Eventually he may need surgery, but doesn’t want to do that until he tries some other options. He had another MRI on Friday, to see if there’s any more deterioration in his back since the last one a few years ago. We’ll know the results later this week. In the meantime, he hurt his back worse and is having a hard time walking.

Wednesday he and Michael repaired a leaky valve on the backhoe; Michael ground off the old weld and Lynn re-welded it, and so far it’s been holding, without leaking. Michael has been working on the new road and it’s looking good — he’s hoping to get it more functional before the next big snowstorm. Deep snow would make it harder to get up it with the backhoe.

We bought more protein for the cows; at this point they are still grazing on the hill pasture by Andrea’s house and we haven’t started feeding hay. We hope they can graze a while longer (without more snow), at least until Lynn’s back is doing a little better, before we have to feed hay.

Andrea took Emily to Idaho Falls for her three-day hockey tournament, and had a birthday party for Sam (nine years old) Sunday evening after they got back. We’ll be having another birthday party for Em (14 years old) tomorrow. †

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