Cool Conditions Delays New Grass


We had warm weather last week but now it’s cold and freezing at night again. We sawed the rest of our log-length firewood, and even though we’re still having a fire in the stove every day, it looks like we’ll have some wood left over, for a start toward next winter.

Michael and Carolyn branded more of their calves last week, and the 31 yearling heifers they bought. We’ve had stormy weather but they picked a day that the cattle weren’t wet.

Lynn has been turning on some of our ditches to start irrigating. Even though it’s been rainy off and on, the wind keeps drying things out, and the cold weather slowed the grass growth. We need some moisture and better growing weather.

Our grandson Nick (a junior in high school) did well at his track meet last weekend, placing first in the 400 and 800 meter races, and helping his team finish first in the relay race. We hope he does well at the district meet next month.

Michael and Carolyn borrowed our tractor and loader to haul big round bales from their stackyard on the lower place. They need to get all hay moved down to the Mauer place before the creek rises and the ground gets too wet to cross the creek with their big truck. We loaned them our flatbed trailer so they can haul our tractor over to Sandy Creek and bring their hay from that place. They are still feeding hay, and had to buy a few more semi-loads to supplement their dwindling supply, because the grass hasn’t grown much this spring.

Yesterday they rounded up their yearling heifers to put a few of them through the chute to take out porcupine quills. They’re also treating a calf for diphtheria; they’ve had several bad cases of diphtheria in baby calves this spring (caused by the same bacteria that cause foot rot), and have managed to save most of them. They lost one of the calves, however, and grafted the last “extra” twin onto its mother.

All the cows we sold to them this spring have now calved — even the heifer and two secondcalvers our veterinarian said might be open (when we preg-checked last fall). They now have just three of their cows left to calve. We are still waiting for our last cow to calve.


Michael and Carolyn probably won’t lease the Gooch place and lower place this year. Even though they’ve leased it for the past 11 years (and we leased it for 29 years before that), the landlord in Maine keeps raising the rent and they can no longer afford it. Ever since they started leasing it, they’ve been paying more than it’s worth (the landlord raised the rent when they started). A bigger problem is that the terms of their lease include a three per cent increase each year (unheard of in agricultural leases) so by now it is priced half again what it is actually worth.

The landlord didn’t believe them when they said their banker thought it was priced too high, and had an independent consultant look at the figures (acres of pasture and hay ground, what the ranch has produced for the past 10 years in hay and how many cattle it pastures). When the consultant sent his evaluation to the landlord, confirming that the rent is indeed overpriced (and would not be attractive to other leasers because it has no corrals or facilities of any kind), the landlord still would not come down in price. So Michael and Carolyn decided to rent some other pasture and try to get by this year without the Gooch place and lower fields. Now the landlord is trying to find a renter, but so far no one else feels they could afford it, either. Time will tell whether the landlord finds a renter or the place sits idle this year.

Andrea came out a couple of mornings and harrowed our fields, and later harrowed the upper place, too. We’ll let Michael and Carolyn use our upper place, 160, 320 and range permit this year, since they will be short on pasture.

Last Sunday we stopped at Andrea’s place on our way home from church, to see the goose that “adopted” one of their dogs. It’s a wild Canada goose that was hanging around their place for several weeks. It showed up with two other geese in the field next to the house. When the other two left, the lone goose came into their yard and with the dogs and started eating their dog food. Two of the dogs were afraid of the goose but the younger dog and goose became inseparable, and it was the strangest friendship I’ve ever seen. The goose preened the dog, picking bugs out of its fur. The goose became tame enough to eat food out of Emily’s hands. The kids were fascinated by their new “pet” until it finally left a few days ago.

The last three cows at Michael and Carolyn’s place calved. Even though the weather has been cold they put those three out with a small group of cows and calves and were not watching them at night. We had some blizzards and cold wind, but those cows were accustomed to calving in a barn and went into a loafing shed to calve, so their calves weren’t too chilled.

Our last cow, Rishira, has been ready to calve for more than a week. I was checking her several times during the nights — so we could put her in the barn if she started calving. Wednesday night was especially bad, with a terrible blizzard and four inches of new snow the next morning. It felt like winter instead of early May. It reminded me of when my first foal, Khamette, was born 51 years ago on May 5th, in six inches of new snow!

Michael and Carolyn drove to Helena in the snow on Thursday to bring Heather home from her first year of college. She was eager for summer vacation, though it hardly seems like summer yet. On Friday we had a visit with Heather while she and Michael were here with their big truck to load up eight of our round bales. We won’t need all our hay, with our smaller herd.

Friday night Andrea brought Charlie out here after the kids’ dance and gymnastics program. Rishira was in early labour so we put her in our calving pen under the yardlight where we could watch her from the window. I checked on

her all night but she didn’t do anything. Lynn and Charlie got up at 3 a. m. to drive 200 miles to Blackfoot for Charlie’s Boy Scout Jamberal (100th year celebration for the boy scouts, with more than 7,500 boy scouts). I continued watching Rishira, who put off her actual labour until daylight. Even though it got down to 20 degrees that night, the wind quit and the temperature got warmer at sunup, so I didn’t have to put Rishira in the barn. She had a red bull calf.

Lynn and Charlie got home at 5 p. m. after their day with the Boy Scouts, and we hurried to town for the second night of the kids’ dance and gymnastics program. Today we are recuperating from our long day. When we tried to feed the cows this morning, however, we had a set back. We pulled out in the field with the feed truck and turned off the motor while we took the strings off the big round bale — and then the truck wouldn’t start. We unwrapped some of the hay and scattered it around by hand, then had to pull the truck back out of the field with the jeep.

MAY 19

We fed hay with the jeep (backing it up to the feed truck and forking hay onto the jeep) until Lynn could put a new starter on the feed truck. The truck is a 1973 model that we bought in 1978.

Last week Michael and Carolyn hauled 25 pairs to our upper place to get them off hay. The grass is still short, but it lasted them more than a week. On Sunday (after they turned some cattle out on our low range) they took those cows over to our Cheney Creek pasture. It should hold them until the other pastures grow taller. They moved the cows before the creek gets too high to safely cross with young calves.

We let Rishira and calf graze our back yard for a few days and then put them in the field above the house with our other pairs. Andrea and her friend Rick came to the ranch last week and helped Lynn start another ditch on our upper place, and followed it through Binnings place (where we have to shovel leaves and dirt out of it each spring). We can’t clean that ditch with a tractor because the trees are too close to the ditch.

Nick did well at the district track meet, and goes to the state competition this weekend. The kids have only one more week of school. Danielle had tooth surgery last Friday and has a sore mouth, so she skipped a few days of school. She, Sammy and Charlie have been staying with us a few days while Andrea went to Salt Lake for an appointment with a lung specialist. She has a lot of scar tissue, especially in her right lung, from several serious episodes of pneumonia following her burn injuries. The specialist put her on several medications and wants her to come back for another checkup in eight weeks. “Recovery” is never complete for a burn survivor.

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

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