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Year Got Off To A Cold Start

DECEMBER 21

Last week we had several snowstorms and nine more inches of snow. Lynn went up the creek with Andrea and Rick to cut Christmas trees, and hiked through nearly two feet of snow to get to the trees.

During a stretch of slightly warmer weather he got two tractors started, and moved them closer to the barn and shop where he can plug them in. He put the blade on the middle-sized tractor, to plow snow. Our driveway is too deep for the car; we’ve been driving the pickup.

Michael and Carolyn sold 40 more cows to a rancher on Carmen Creek — four loads with stock trailers. They sent a semi-load of cows to a ranch in Stevensville, Montana, a few more trailer loads to local ranchers, and the last semi-load of pregnant cows to the sale at Butte, Montana. Now all they have left are calves — mostly replacement heifers and a few stocker steers.

Granddaughter Heather drove home from Carroll College (Helena, Montana) on Wednesday, glad to be home for the holidays and semester break. She’s helping her folks with feeding and other chores.

We’ve had colder weather the past few days, down to -20 C. Carolyn’s old horse Molly was having a hard time pawing through snow for grass in our post-pile pasture, so we led her up to our barnyard to one of our horse pens to feed hay. We bought more alfalfa pellets for granddaughter Heather’s old horse, Chance, since he can’t eat hay very well with his bad teeth.

On Friday we finally had to bring our cows down from heifer hill, to the field above our house, and yesterday started feeding; the snow is more than a foot deep, and too crusted for them to root down to grass

DECEMBER 31

I was slow writing a Christmas letter this year, so I’m still sending out cards and letters. I did get photo albums made for each grandchild, filled with photos taken during the past year when they were here at the ranch riding, helping work cattle, etc. We had a belated Christmas dinner at Andrea’s place on Monday, since the younger kids were at Mark’s house for Christmas this year.

Michael and Carolyn started hauling their hay off the Maurer place. They’ve leased that place for three years (and calved their cows there) but the lease came up for renewal this month and the person who owns the place wouldn’t discuss renewal terms until just before the lease ended.

Then she told them she wanted $5,000 more per year (above the $20,000 they’d been paying). She also demanded that Michael and Carolyn pay for all expenses and upkeep, on top of the $5,000 per summer they’ve been paying for the power bill for irrigation, $8,500 per year for fertilizer, and $2,000 per summer to de-moss the main ditch. She now wanted them to also pay for all materials for improvements or repair on corrals, fences, etc. They hardly made ends meet with the old lease. They would lose money trying to lease it again, so they told her they couldn’t. She then said she would charge them $50 per day for every day past December 15 that they still had any animals, hay or machinery on the place, plus a big “fine” for being there too long. According to Idaho law, however, a renter has a “reasonable” time to move off a place. But they decided to get everything moved as quickly as possible.

They started hauling hay a couple days ago, bringing some here after Lynn plowed our driveway and barnyard. Yesterday Michael plowed a trail up to our swamp pasture and put a feeder and big round bale up there, and hauled their 12 horses over here for winter. We put Classy and foal (Tornado) in our adjacent foaling/ weaning pens, to wean the foal. This is Heather’s first foal of her own. They wormed Chance and Molly and took Molly up to join the big group. Last night it was -25 C — not very nice weaning weather, but the filly wasn’t too upset, having mama next to her.

Michael hired the local sand/ gravel company to plow and sand the road to the upper stackyard on Maurer’s place so trucks can get in and out, and also hired them to plow the snow (nearly two feet deep) in our upper stackyard. We started hauling hay up there today, using two trucks and our flatbed trailer.

Tonight Andrea, Rick and Emily are coming for dinner and we’ll play games until midnight. Lynn and I haven’t stayed up that late on New Year’s Eve since the days we used to calve in January and were up during the nights taking care of the first babies!

JANUARY 14

The first week of January was very cold while we were hauling hay. We kept our tractor plugged in continually except when it was running, and even then some mornings it would barely start. We took big straw bales up to our cows in the field, to give them something to bed on and eat (along with their hay and protein supplement) during those coldest nights.

In the mornings after feeding, Lynn would start the tractor and let it run awhile. Young Heather came by to take him to Maurers to drive one of the hay trucks. Michael loaded the trucks and trailers (a neighbour helped, with his flatbed trailer). As soon as Lynn’s truck was loaded, he drove it the seven-plus miles to the stackyard on our upper place, and young Heather gave him a ride back down to our house to get our tractor. He’d get up there just ahead of the other truck and trailers, to unload hay. They were able to make two trips per day before it got dark. The cold weather was actually a blessing, because the steep driveways to the haystacks at Maurers, and into our upper stackyard — and a couple places on our creek road — would have been too treacherous and slippery for the trucks and trailers if it had been thawing.

Sunday night I cooked a big supper and we had Michael, Carolyn and kids here for a belated New Year’s celebration. They didn’t stay long, however, because everyone was tired from hauling hay, and had to get up early the next day to do chores early and do it again. It was a big relief to get all the hay safely hauled.

The next few days Michael, Carolyn and Heather worked at getting everything else off that ranch — machinery and equipment, hay feeders, salt, calving and cattle supplies. They parked their baler, four-wheelers, and other equipment in our big stackyard and covered them with tarps. The swather was a challenge. Michael was able to get it started one late afternoon (at about -15 C — the warmest part of that day), and was driving it up our creek road just after dark. But the serpentine belt (that runs the fan, water pump, alternator, etc.) broke and the engine quickly overheated. He couldn’t leave it there, because it completely blocked the road. He drove another half mile up to the wide spot above our driveway, and it’s still parked there, until he has time to fix it — and he’s hoping that running it that hot did not damage the engine.

Lynn and our neighbour Roger Solaas worked one afternoon winterizing the small house at Maurers that Michael and Carolyn used as a base of operations while calving there the past three years. They blew out the waterlines, drained the hot water heater, put antifreeze in toilets and sink drains, turned off the pump and power, so nothing will freeze up during the rest of the winter.

Michael used our tractor to plow a feed trail on our wild meadow, then spent the next day hauling cattle — a bull to put with our bulls for the winter, and four trailer loads of heifers and a few steers to the wild meadow. The next day they moved the last of their personal things off the Maurer place.

Young Heather drove back to Helena to start her second semester. She stopped here that morning to exchange three bags of horse pellets (that she bought in Montana earlier this winter to haul around in the back of her car for weight and traction) for four concrete blocks. Her old horse, Chance, will enjoy the pellets!

On Tuesday Michael brought another feeder for their horses in our swamp pasture, so the timid ones will have room to eat. Carolyn led Classy around to join that group. Young Tornado ran around and whinnied when the mare was led away, but after being in separate pens for 10 days she is fully weaned, and soon settled down.

HeatherSmithThomasrancheswithher husbandLynnnearSalmon,Idaho.Contact herat208-756-2841

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