With hay at $200 per ton the longer the cattle can stay out on pasture the better

NOVEMBER 26

Another weaned steer was dull and off feed last week, with a snotty nose, so we brought him into the pen by the barn and gave him an antibiotic. He was doing much better by the next day, and grazing again. I think the changeable weather has been stressful this fall, making these calves more vulnerable to respiratory infections.

Lynn put the bucket on our big tractor’s loader and started cleaning manure out of some of our pens, hoping to get them cleaned or the manure piled up to haul out before weather gets really cold and it’s too frozen. We want to have the pens more ready for calving season. He spent several days cleaning corrals, and some of our friends came out to get pickup loads of manure for their gardens, while he could load them with his tractor.

The old wooden panel we use across the driveway when moving cows back and forth to the barn was in sad shape (after being run into and broken twice last winter by the tractor). We’ve patched and spliced it twice, but it wasn’t very upright anymore so we replaced it with an old aluminum gate that’s taller and easier to open and shut.

Andrea took Emily to her hockey games in Montana this past weekend, and we kept the three younger children. On Friday we took the two little girls to their dance class, and Charlie to hockey practice. The kids enjoyed helping me do chores each evening, feeding Boomerang (the crippled calf) and playing with the cats. Charlie went with Lynn to the upper place to move protein tubs from gopher meadow to the upper field where the cows are still finding some rough feed to graze. We’re hoping to make the grazing stretch for another week or more before we bring those cows down to this place.

Yesterday one of the neighbours came to help Lynn butcher Boomerang. He’s only seven months old but his limb deformities are making it harder for him to get up and walk around. In spite of his young age and gangly build (huge skeleton but not much bulk) he was heavier than we thought he’d be. His carcass weighed about 600 pounds and had more meat on it than we realized. It was interesting to see how deformed his ribcage was; the left side — at the front — had a large area in which the ribs were protruding inward toward the center of his body. It’s no wonder he had trouble with that front leg and had a hard time walking. We knew his leg bones were abnormal and that his ribs stuck out too far at the rear but didn’t realize his ribcage was so deformed internally. Lynn and Roger took the carcass down to Roger’s cooler, to hang for a few days before we cut and wrap the meat.

DECEMBER 1

Last week Lynn gathered up a few burdock plants in the field below the lane, and checked the fence at the lower end. We moved our weaned heifers into that field, since they are nearly out of grass above the house. There’s still a lot of good grass (regrowth after haying) below the lane and it should last the heifers several weeks unless it snows under.

Thursday I rode Veggie to the upper place and we gathered our cows to bring them down here. They followed Lynn (with the feed truck) and I followed the herd. The cows were glad for better pasture. We put them in the little field across the creek, below the barnyard, which hasn’t been grazed yet this fall after it regrew after haying.

Michael and Carolyn are also trying to stretch their pastures as far as possible, hoping to not feed hay until January unless the grass snows under. They are short on hay and decided to not buy any more, since it was costing more than $200 per ton, delivered, this fall. The price is coming down a little now, thanks to the drop in fuel prices, but is still too high to afford it, especially with the severe drop in cattle prices. It doesn’t pencil out to feed high dollar hay to cheap cattle. Even though cows aren’t worth much now, Michael and Carolyn have decided to cull a little deeper before calving season, hoping to pare the herd down to what their hay supply will accommodate for the winter. They will sell a few more of the older cows.

They also don’t want to lease any of our cows next year. They leased some of our cows this past year, taking the steer calves and we kept the heifers. We have those cows back (we pastured them all summer and fall) but Michael and Carolyn still have six of our pregnant heifers. They will get those back to us before calving season, as soon as they have a chance to sort them out of their herd. The heifers are bred to calve in February, and the rest of our cows won’t be calving till late March or in April, so we will be babysitting a few heifers during cold weather this year.

Yesterday we moved our steer calves and young bull to the little pasture above the house, hoping there will be enough grazing to last a few more weeks. Michael and Carolyn and a friend went up the creek and got a nice load of firewood. This evening Lynn went down to Roger’s place and they cut and wrapped the calf we butchered.

DECEMBER 12

We had several inches of snow 10 days ago but it melted, then another couple inches this past week. We tried out some steaks from the butchered calf and they are very tender and delicious. He was worth the extra bother of raising him on a bottle.

On Saturday Lynn and I hiked around the lower fence between our pasture and the big lower fields where Michael and Carolyn will be putting their cows, since we knew there were some bad spots in the fence. Lynn put two more wires along the lower end where the old fence is low and sagging, and also spliced a spot where hunters had taken the wire apart and twisted it back to make a big hole for the deer to go through along a game trail. The hole was big enough for cows to go through. There were several other bad places that I was able to patch with tree branches laced through the wires. Lynn went back the next day and set four steel posts in another spot where a bull crashed through the fence earlier this fall and broke off the wood posts. He put stays in that section, as well, to make the fence stronger again.

After it snowed on Monday, Michael and Carolyn started feeding the 150 cows on the Gooch place, feeding one big round bale (alfalfa) each day until they could get them moved to the lower place. Their most urgent task after the snowstorm was to move another herd of cows out of their leased place on Sandy Creek.

On Tuesday Lynn took the loader bucket off our big tractor (he’s done cleaning corrals for this year) and put the hayfork back on, in case we have to suddenly start feeding cows. The weather is supposed to get colder, so Lynn put an additive in the fuel tanks of all our tractors, the dump truck and the backhoe, so we won’t have a problem with the diesel congealing.

Yesterday Michael and Carolyn repaired the fence around the stackyard on the lower place. They then moved their cows down from the Gooch place after they hiked up into Cheney Creek to find a few that had not come down to the hay feeding area; some were still up there grazing. The herd came trickling down the road, strung out for over a mile, and into the open gate to the lower fields below our place.

Yesterday evening Lynn drove to town to pick up Andrea’s three youngest children who will be staying with us this weekend. Andrea left late last night with Emily (after Em’s hockey practice) to drive to Idaho Falls for Em’s hockey tournament. She has games today, Saturday and Sunday. This is her third season playing hockey and she is really enjoying it. Meanwhile, little Charlie, Dani and Samantha will have fun with Grandma and Grandpa and help us decorate our little Christmas tree. We started a fire in the living room stove last night; the temperature is dropping and it’s supposed to be well below 0F. this weekend.

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

Comments

explore

Stories from our other publications