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Bringing Cows Home From The Hills


It was snowing hard last week when Dawayne Hamilton (who hauls cattle to the auctions in southern Idaho) came to pick up our weaned steer — the one that was sick the day we sold our calves last month. Lynn plowed our driveway, to make sure the truck and trailer could make it back out again. Later that morning Michael came with his trailer to haul the cow (the mother of the weaned steer) to our upper place. We put her with the cows on the wild meadow — the mothers of the calves we sold earlier.

The next day, Lynn drove the four-wheeler to the 320 to check on the other cows (the pregnant heifers, and the mothers of our heifers and bull calves we weaned in September). The snow was so deep he barely made it to the top of that mountain pasture, and most of the grass is covered. The protein supplement tubs were almost all gone. We decided to bring the cows home the next day, since weather predictions indicated more snow, and colder weather.

That next afternoon we drove the jeep to the upper place, and hiked a mile up to the ridge — no sign of cows. We hiked down into Baker Creek and found five young cows and herded them up the creek to the top trough, then out through the timber, on our little jeep road, onto the upper ridge. We met a few cows along the way, and took them all to the ridge. Since we were still short a dozen, I held the herd there, talking to them, while Lynn trudged on around the hill through the deep snow to find the others. After we had them all gathered, he hiked down the ridge, calling them, and they followed. I brought up the rear. The sun was going down as we got to the gate at the bottom of the ridge, and let the cows into the lower part of the 320 acre pasture.

From that point on it got harder. At that lower elevation, on the south-facing slope where snow was less deep, grass was showing, and the cows immediately spread out to graze on the hillsides — no longer interested in following Lynn. We had to drive them the last mile down to the field, which took a lot more effort to turn them down the hill. At 65, I’m not as agile as I used to be. Running through the rocks I tripped and fell down a couple times — landing on my right knee each time. We finally got the cows to the field just before dark. That evening I put DMSO on my swollen knee, and several times the next day, to reduce the swelling. Our cows usually follow us very nicely, but they were hungry that evening. I needed my horse!

On Tuesday Lynn took salt and mineral to the cows; they are still happily grazing on the upper place. There’s lots of feed there and the snow isn’t as deep. They have access to all four fields, but a couple days ago they got stuck going from the wild meadow to the field above.

Trailing the cows from the snow covered hills down to the lower pastures. Lynn puts out protein tubs for the cows

They go along a trail between the fence and the creek, and there was a big tree down over the trail. By then the creek was frozen and they were afraid to walk on it. The herd leaders were halted by the tree and the ones in the back didn’t want to turn around, so there they were. Lynn had to cut a hole in the fence to let them out into the adjacent field.

Andrea and her friend Rick made several trips to the woods with her pickup and a small trailer, to get firewood. A couple days ago they had a flat tire on their way home, and had to get a new tire — and barely made it home in time to go to work. Andrea enjoys being a waitress at the restaurant, and her friend Rick is one of the cooks.


We’ve had more snow and cold weather — and a cougar on the upper place. Our neighbour saw its tracks, and another neighbour who has hounds tracked and treed it, but didn’t shoot it because he’s looking for a larger one. Last week the cows were upset and all ganged down at the bottom of the lowest field, so Lynn called them to the old stackyard and let them in — where they happily started eating the old straw bales. Later that week we got more protein supplement for them; they’ll do nicely on the straw, the dry grass that’s left on the fields, and a little protein.

For Thanksgiving we went to the restaurant where Andrea works. The family that owns it closed for Thanksgiving and had a big dinner for their whole family, and invited Andrea and her kids and us to join them.

Weather has been colder; the cows on the upper place haven’t been grazing much in the early mornings. Those fields are in a canyon and the sun doesn’t come up until about 9 a. m., so they stand in the sun awhile to get warm before they start grazing. So we’re feeding them a few bales of grass hay in the mornings, just to get them going quicker, so they won’t be losing weight. Michael and Carolyn had to start feeding their cows some alfalfa to augment their pasture — and fixed the stackyard on the Gooch place where their cows broke into it.

Lynn plugged in the backhoe last night so it would start this morning (temperature was -20C). Bob Minor came today to help Lynn fix the hydraulic leak. We need to use it sometime to move some of the manure pile in the corral, and Michael needs to dig out a spring on one of his rented places — where he’ll be calving their cows.


We’ve had a couple weeks of cold weather, down to about -28C and nasty wind for several days. Lynn started a fire in our other wood stove, and we had to leave our water dripping at night so the pipes won’t freeze. He bought several bags of insulation and poured that around our water pipes under the bathroom floor. We’ve been chopping ice in the creek for the cows on the upper place; the water holes freeze solid every night. Heifers in the field below the lane are no longer grazing, so we give them a little grass hay in the evening to augment their alfalfa.

The cows on the upper place ran out of protein supplement so we started feeding them a little alfalfa, instead of grass hay, to encourage them to graze more. We’d like them to use the rest of the grass before it all snows under. We also loaded two big bales of old straw Friday, and took it up to the cows to go with the alfalfa hay we’re feeding. They’ve eaten all the old straw bales in the stackyard up there.

Saturday the weather changed and was up to -15C. The prolonged cold has created serious ice problems on the creek, however. The creek has flooded across the lower fields and Michael’s cows can no longer get across the creek. There are only a few areas for feeding. He decided to move that group to the Maurer ranch, but had to bring them up through our place and across our bridge and then down the road, since they couldn’t get across the creek on the lower fields.

Yesterday it was warmer, and got above freezing. The ice on the creek is still very thick, however, and it’s hard to create water holes that will stay open. When we went to feed on the upper place, one young cow (Buffalo Chips) was missing. We heard her bawling from across the creek. She ran back and forth along the brush, wanting to come back, but afraid to cross the ice. We found tracks where she’d gone across, by the water hole. She probably got pushed and shoved when the cows were drinking, and ended up on the ice and went on across.

We didn’t want her to fall down trying to get back across. During the past 35 years we’ve had two cows get paralyzed, with hind legs spraddled out on ice. So we skipped church and focused on the cow problem. Lynn shoveled dirt and gravel into the jeep from one of the steep banks along our road (where it wasn’t frozen) to put on the ice, to try to make a path across it. By the time he got back up there with the dirt, however, Buffalo Chips had gotten brave and crossed on her own — seeing the other cows eating alfalfa hay and not wanting to be left out. That solved our problem, and we decided to bring the whole herd down to the lower place. Andrea and her friend Rick left yesterday afternoon to drive to Salt Lake. Her graft repair surgery will be tomorrow. We hope it all goes well. Jim (Emily’s dad) came up from Nevada to stay at Andrea’s house and take care of the kids for part of this week, and we will help, too, since Andrea will be gone about a week.

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

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