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Good Dog Helps Save Neighbor

JUNE 1

It’s been a long, cold spring, freezing several nights these past two weeks. Our cows were only able to stay on the hill pasture above our house for a week because the grass wasn’t growing very well. We’d hoped to put them on the 320 acre mountain pasture next, but needed to fix some fences first, and didn’t get that accomplished before the cows ran out of grass on the smaller pasture. So we sacrificed the hayfield below the house and brought the cows down to graze it until we could fix fence and install a new water trough on the 320.

I trimmed Rubbie’s, Breezy’s and Veggie’s feet last Sunday. Monday, Andrea and Emily rode with me to gather cows on the hill pasture and bring them down to the field. It will probably hold them a week or so until we can move them to the 320 — and then grow back to cut hay on it later.

We moved the 12 yearling heifers to the post pile pasture and they are finally off hay. We’re still feeding hay to the seven pairs (the last cows that calved). This is the latest we’ve ever had to feed hay! Last Saturday we branded/ vaccinated their calves and vaccinated the cows. We took out Rishira’s stitches while she was in the chute to vaccinate. Her incision, from the surgical correction of the uterine torsion, has healed.

Friday night we went to our granddaughter Heather’s high school graduation to hear her Valedictory speech. We are very proud of her! It’s hard to believe that we’ve been grandparents for 18 years!

On Saturday, Andrea and her friend Robert helped Lynn take a new water trough and springbox to the 320. They dug out a spring in the upper draw and installed the springbox. Yesterday Robert helped Lynn again, and today they finished putting in the water tank, and set new posts to fix the fence on the south side of the 320.

JUNE 18

Lynn and Robert finished rebuilding part of the fence and Lynn put rub poles around the new water tank so the cows won’t get in it. Michael and Carolyn moved their cows off the low range to the middle range on June 4, and that afternoon we moved our cattle to our 320 acre pasture, and didn’t have to take them through the range cows on our way up there. Andrea and I gathered our pairs and yearlings, leaving three cows (with the youngest calves) home. It was a long trip for the calves (more than four miles, uphill) and the afternoon got hot. We took them as slowly as possible. Once we got to the 320 we let them rest and graze periodically as we took them the last mile up the steep mountain to the water trough. Some of the calves and fat yearlings were panting with mouths open, and we didn’t want them to suffer heat stress. It rained hard that evening and we hoped none of them would get pneumonia from the stress. We checked them the next day and they all seemed fine, and happy to be up on the mountain pasture.

The hard rain washed mud into our new springbox. It was half plugged, and there was mud in the pipeline. Lynn cleaned out the springbox and put a valve on the end of the by-pass pipe, so he can open it whenever we need to flush out the mud.

Weather has warmed up and the grass is growing—and the water in the creek is finally dropping enough that the calves won’t drown if they try to cross it. So on June 11 we let the cows have access to the 160-acre pasture next to the 320. The only water in the 160 is the creek, down in the bottom corner. We were afraid to let them use that pasture until the creek went down to safe level. Now they can use both pastures together, watering at the creek in the bottom, and at our new water tank near the top of the 320.

One of Michael’s friends and range neighbor, Don Hatch, 59, was severely injured last week–bucked off a young horse while riding range. It was a cold, windy day and something spooked the horse; it whirled and took off running down a steep mountain. It was too steep to safely pull the horse around to stop it (the horse would have fallen down on him) and the horse started bucking. Don tried to ride it out but got bucked off. He split his pelvis trying to ride the bucking horse, and broke his arm in 10 places when he landed on the ground. The horse ran off, but the dogs soon came back to Don. He tried to get up but couldn’t, and lay on the cold ground for six hours.

His wife Kathy got worried when he didn’t come home, and called Michael and Carolyn at 8 pm. They only had a couple hours of daylight to try to find Don. Luckily they knew which range allotment he was riding. Michael and another neighbor, Bill Andrews, drove 4 wheelers up parallel ridges and Bill saw Don’s horse down in the canyon. In the wind, it was hard

Lynn carries a roll of barbed wire on the four wheeler as he goes to calf proof a fence; cattle at new watering trough.

to hear, so Michael turned off his four-wheeler to try to hear what Bill was hollering. Then he heard a faint cry for help, farther up the canyon. The wind was blowing just right, or he never would have heard Don hollering. He found Don just before dark, which was a miracle, because Don was severely cold and going into shock, and would not have survived the night.

Actually it was one of Don’s dogs that saved him. She’d snuggled up against him to help him keep warm. Don is hard of hearing and didn’t hear the four-wheeler, but the dog heard it and suddenly lifted her head. Don raised up to see what the dog was looking at, and at just that instant Michael was going along the ridge above him in a place where Don could see him. Don started hollering, and it was about then that Michael turned off his four-wheeler. Otherwise he never would have heard Don. Everything lined up perfect; otherwise they wouldn’t have found him that night. Michael drove down off the ridge and found him, then went back up to where he had cell phone service, called Carolyn—who called for help. She and Kathy waited down on the road to direct the Search and Rescue EMT’s up a jeep track to where they could get to Don. They used a four-wheeler and cart with a backboard to take him to the ridge where they found a place for a helicopter to land, setting out lights in the dark, to mark the landing spot. The helicopter pilot gently bounced the copter several times on the tall sagebrush to mash it down enough to land, then Don was life-flighted to a hospital in Missoula, Montana. He will recover, thanks to friends and neighbors and a miracle—and a good dog.

JULY 3

A couple weeks ago we put the bulls out, to begin the breeding season. It was a cold rainy day, which made it easier on the cattle to move and sort them. Andrea rode with me and we took the four-year-old bull, Posie, three miles to the upper place with Rishira and Lilly and their calves to keep him company on the trip, put them in the small corral, then rode up to the 320 and gathered those cattle down to the gate. Lynn met us there on his four-wheeler. With three of us it was easy to sort out the ones we want to breed to the yearling bull (Posie’s own daughters and sisters) and we brought that smaller group down to the little corral. We then took Posie and his companions on up to the 320; they’d had a chance to rest, which made the trip less stressful on the two calves. We then came home again, and took Rosie (Posie’s mother) and her calf with the yearling bull (Buffalo Billy) to the upper place to join the yearling bull’s breeding group, and took them across the fields and over the hill to Cheney Creek.

It rained most of the day, and we were soaked by the time we got finished, but that was better for the cattle than being hot. The only bad part was when we first started out, Andrea and I herded Posie and cows off the road so a vehicle could get past them— and Posie turned and threatened Andrea’s horse. He rooted his head at her, ready to charge and hit her, but Andrea spurred Breezy to make her hold her ground, and I charged at the bull with my horse, and we both yelled as loud as we could. The bull backed off. If Breezy had flinched away from him, he would have taken advantage and rammed her. He’s grumpy, from being in the corral all winter and spring by himself, and is behaving better now that he’s out with the cows, but this will be his last season.

This past week Lynn’s been fixing the crossfence in the 320, putting another wire along the bottom so calves can’t crawl under it, and fixing any weak spots. We don’t want any cattle going through to the Baker Creek side; the larkspur there is thick and deadly this year. Also, we don’t want Posie to go through the fence to challenge range bulls on the far side of the 320. We want to keep that buffer pasture between them.

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

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