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Better Weather As Calving Begins

DECEMBER 20

Last Monday when Lynn went to town to get mail and groceries, the car wouldn’t start when he came out of the store. He had it towed to the repair shop, and hitched a ride home with Jim who was staying with Andrea’s kids while she was in Salt Lake for surgery on her arm. Andrea had surgery on Tuesday as planned, but due to a scheduling mix-up at the hospital, the surgeon had to work her in between some other surgeries and didn’t have enough time for the whole repair. He only did two of the four contracture releases — one on her little finger and one on her upper arm — saving the most serious one (over her shoulder) until later. He checked her arm and rebandaged it the next day and released her to come home.

It’s been cold here. Ice buildup in the field where our cows are grazing made it impossible for them to drink at the spring, so we let them into an adjacent pasture where they can go to the creek. Lynn was able to chop an adequate hole in the creek ice.

We plugged in the backhoe so it would start, and Michael used it to fill in the low spot in our corral that floods every spring. Then he took the backhoe to the Maurer place (where he and Carolyn will be calving their cows) to work on a spring and take out an old, leaking water trough that he needs to replace.

Jim came out to the ranch on Thursday and got a Christmas tree for Andrea’s kids, and Lynn went to town to get our car, which had been repaired. Andrea and her friend drove home from Salt Lake. She has her entire arm bandaged and cannot use it until the stitches are taken out.

The cows have been grazing on our back field without any hay, but they’ve nearly eaten all the grass and we’ll soon have to start feeding. Michael and Carolyn loaned us their old blue flatbed pickup to feed big round grass bales to the cows, since we use our feed truck to feed the big alfalfa bales to our heifers.

DECEMBER 30

I spent several days before Christmas sorting through piles of papers and magazines in my office, and cleaned out the space in front of the window and the old front door — which no longer opens because the log walls settled. Cold air comes in around the door and window, so I stuffed rags in the cracks and put duct tape over them. During the summer of 2000 I stuffed rags around the door and sealed it with masking tape to keep out the smoke from all the forest fires, but the masking tape disintegrated over the past nine years. Duct tape will work better.

The day before Christmas it got really cold again and we started feeding the cows. Michael and young Heather stopped by with Christmas gifts and we sent ours home with them. Heather is enjoying her three-week break between semesters at college, helping her folks with their cattle. That evening I went to our church’s Christmas eve service with neighbours; Lynn’s back was hurting too much and he stayed home. Christmas day we cooked a big dinner and had Andrea and kids here. She likes to cook the dinner, but with her arm bandaged it was impossible for her to do much cooking.

Lynn had another problem with the car when he went to town today, and it had to go back to the repair shop. He borrowed Andrea’s pickup to come home, bringing her kids home to stay with us while she goes back to Salt Lake to have the stitches removed from her arm and finger.

The ice has gotten thick in the back corral and our two-year-old bull can no longer drink at the spring (ice too deep to chop through it) so Lynn put him in the front corral where the five yearling bulls have been watering at the creek. We locked them out, and created a new water hole for them in the creek above the corral.

We also made a new water hole for the cows in the creek below the corrals; they have to come into that little pasture to drink. The brush along the creek had a lot of burdock growing there this year, and we didn’t get it sprayed or chopped. Several of the cows are now covered with burrs.

The weather has been bad — with snowy roads. Andrea and her friend decided not to try to drive home yesterday evening after her checkup and removal of stitches; there were too many car accidents clogging the streets and freeway. They drove home today, and it took 13 hours (rather than the usual six hour drive).

JANUARY 8

Friends from British Columbia, Pete and Bev Wiebe, stayed with us for three days on their way south to New Mexico and California. They spend some time every year working with the Mennonite Disaster Service, rebuilding homes destroyed by fires or hurricanes. Pete is an electrician and does electrical work on these building projects, and he and Bev both help with construction. We always enjoy seeing them when they stop here. We became acquainted with Wiebes after Andrea’s burn accident in 2000. Pete is a burn survivor, and he and Bev learned about Andrea’s burns by reading Grainews.

On Saturday our neighbour Roger Solaas loaned us his wood splitter and Pete and Lynn spent the afternoon splitting wood for our woodpile. On Sunday Pete and Bev went to church with us before continuing their trip.

Michael and Carolyn moved their cows from the Gooch place down to Maurers. They had one old crippled cow that’s been slow to come to the hay, and they were afraid she wouldn’t be able to keep up with the herd. We got all our gates ready to have them drop her off at our place (to be hauled over to Maurers) but the herd went slow enough, following the tractor and hay bale, that she didn’t fall behind and was able to travel the four miles.

Two neighbours came on Thursday to help saw up some of our remaining firewood logs. Lynn and I took the blue flatbed pickup over to Maurers, where Michael loaded another second cutting alfalfa bale for us. He also loaded eight big bales on his big truck and Lynn drove it home while I brought the pickup.

Our good friend and neighbour Emily Binning learned last week that she has a large mass in her

Patch of burrs is bad news for cattle. Michael and Carolyn’s horses on winter pasture just below our house.

abdomen; she went to a specialist in Boise a few days ago, and found she has terminal cancer, with only four to six weeks to live. She decided to not have surgery or chemo, but to just come home and enjoy whatever time she has left — with friends and family. Our 12-year-old granddaughter Emily was devastated by the news, not wanting to lose “big Emily” who has been a dear friend. So this afternoon Lynn brought young Em out to the ranch, and she and I went up the creek to visit “big Emily” who gently told the child her life story and how much she loves Jesus and that she is ready to go to heaven to be with Him. I am grateful to Emily for sharing her love and faith with us, and for trying to help a child cope with the emotional trauma of losing a beloved friend.

JANUARY 20

Michael and Carolyn got their cows vaccinated (pre-calving shots), doing part of the herd the day before young Heather went back to college after Christmas break, and sorted out the ones that would soon start calving.

A week ago Andrea went back to the burn center in Salt Lake (with a friend) for more surgery on her arm. Em and Dani went with them, and we are keeping Charlie and Samantha here with us. This time the doctor did another release on her hand, and the major repair at her shoulder — which meant a new skin graft over the top of the shoulder and in the armpit. He took a large patch of “good” skin from the top/front of her left thigh, the only area on her body large enough to supply healthy skin — that had not already been grafted or harvested for a graft. These past days have been very miserable for Andrea, because the harvest site is very painful until it heals and regrows. The doctor checked the graft and changed her bandages yesterday, and didn’t like the looks of the graft. It is still very pale and hasn’t started to turn pink yet. He wants to look at it again tomorrow. If it doesn’t “take,” she’ll need a new graft — which would mean trying to harvest more skin from somewhere else on her body, and they’re running out of places.

The weather warmed up this week, which was nice, because Michael and Carolyn started calving. Their first two arrived Saturday, with another one Sunday morning and the fourth one yesterday morning. They’re staying nights at the Maurer place now, checking cows. The next few weeks will be really busy for them, so we hope the weather stays mild. Our cows won’t start calving until March, so we have a little more time to sleep at nights!

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

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