Hoten Holler!

The Bovine Roller Coaster

9 April 2021 – Cloudy and 40 degrees

Do you want some excitement in your life?  Need a little more drama?  I recommend starting your own small herd of cattle and don’t forget to breed at least a few heifers just to make sure things stay interesting.  Want to keep things super spicy?  Try all this in a mountain environment just to make sure the weather keeps you on your toes.

Super heavy, wet snow weighing down the trees

Yep, we got another foot of snow.  It was in the 70s for two days and then the weather forecasters said we would probably get 1-3 inches of snow, but they were only a little off.  It snowed, and snowed, and snowed.  The heavy, wet, difficult to shovel and nearly impossible to walk in kind of snow.

Let’s rewind a bit and enjoy the memory of those lovely, warm spring days (just a few days ago.)  Fortunately, two of our cows decided to take advantage of the warm weather and calve their babies within 16 hours of one another.  First, just before sunset, Triple Stix headed off into the corner of the maternity ward, turned around three times, laid down and had a big red heifer calf.  The girl was up and nursing in about thirty minutes.  This is Triple Stix third calf and she has always had an easy time delivering and is a great mom.

Lucille and her mom, Trips

We named her calf Lucille, like Lucille Ball, because of her beautiful red coat.  Also her mom, Triple Stix is Tag #111, and Lucille has three L’s…lll.  I think maybe we’re reaching, but we’re tired here so cut us some slack!

The next morning, the Dirty Dozen (Tag #112) walked off into the tall grass, laid down and had the first bull calf of the season.  He is another big, red calf and because we call his mom Dozen, we changed one letter to name him Dozer….Bull Dozer.  I know, reaching again.

Dozen and baby Dozer

Dave and I were riding high.  Two healthy calves in a short period of time and we were so proud of the work we had previously accomplished reuniting Pi with Fatz.  The weather was great, the cows were all lounging peacefully in the sun.  We spent the day relaxed and happy as well.  Then…..we called the cows back to the maternity ward where we feed them in the evening and can easily access all of them for night checks to see if anyone may need assistance if calving.  We called them, and yes, they do come when we call them, and they all came ambling in, four calves in tow.  Wait, we have five calves!  Where is number 5?

Of course it was little Pi.  Her mom came back without her so we drove the Mule out to the field and found her lying in the grass, panting heavily and barely able to stand up.  She was clearly very sick.  Dang it!

Dave picked her up and rode in the back of the Mule, carrying her back up to the barnyard.  We had a calf die of pneumonia a few years ago, and this is exactly the kind of symptoms that Pi was displaying.  We grabbed our calving kit and took her temperature, which was 104.6.  Normal calf temperature is 101.5 so she did have a fever and that is also a sign of pneumonia.  We decided to give her a shot of antibiotics.  We did this and as the evening set in, she cooled off and her panting seemed to subside a bit.  Then her mom came over and Pi struggled to her feet and went to nursing. We checked on her every hour or so and she seemed to be resting and breathing like normal.

The next morning, after a long and restless night, Dave and I watched her and while she was a little wobbly, she got up and nursed again.  Then she perked right up, just like the other calves she started bucking and running around, frolicking as healthy calves do in the early morning.  We were quite pleased by this and thought she would be best off with her mom and the herd, although we resolved to check on her multiple times during the day.

It was warm again, in the mid-70s, and as the afternoon heat set in we saw her go back and lie in the tall grass on the hill.  We checked her several times and she seemed to be okay, so I went ahead with my day which was a plan to go to an optometrist appointment in town.  Dave stayed behind and kept close watch on everyone.  When I got to town, Dave sent me a text and said he was worried about Pi.  He took her temperature and it was 105.  She could not get up.  I said I would come right home, and we should move her to the barn where it is cool and we can give her some more medicine.  

Somehow Dave was able to evade Momma Fatz and pick up that 60 pound calf and put her in his lap and drove the Mule back to the barn, all on his own.  By the time I got home, she was in the cool barn and we gave her some medicine and kept her cool.  We decided to keep her in the barn and bring her mom in with her for the next few days. This is easier said than done after all the drama we had with Fatz earlier.  The best thing we could do was bring in another cow for company, and that was easy to do by luring another expecting heifer, Cupid, into the corral using cowcake.  

An older picture of Fatz

Of course, that evening it began to snow, and snow and snow.  We were glad to have that sick little calf inside, and she seemed to find some more strength after cooling off and another round of medicine.  Her mom and Cupid weren’t too happy about being penned up, so we kept them calm with obscene amounts of fresh, dry hay.  The next morning, Pi seemed mostly fine.  She nursed, and while still wobbly, she bounded around the barn stall a bit.  We tried to shovel a place in the corral so the penned up cows could come outside and enjoy the sunshine, but dang that snow was hard to get rid of.  Of course Fatz came out and bulldozed her way through the deepest drifts and little Pi kept getting stuck and high-centered.  The other calves out in the maternity ward were acting like kids on a snow-day, running and jumping in the thick heavy snow.

Healthy babies navigating the snow

At this point we realize that Pi is going to need a lot of TLC and patience.  We pushed the two big cows back into the barn pen and Dave carried the calf back inside.  They would just have to stay inside until the snow melted enough for her to get around.

This is the bovine-roller-coaster that is calving.  And we are such a small operation, I cannot imagine these ranchers that have hundreds of calves!  God Bless them because it is rarely easy and while there is a lot of joy in seeing the fruits of your labor, it is really upsetting when it doesn’t turn out the way it should.  

After the last few days and several rounds of antibiotics, Pi seems to be recovering a bit.  I hate to write that for fear of what may be coming next, but we finally let her, Fatz, and Cupid out of the corral this morning.  Most of the snow is gone and we thought we could keep them contained in the Maternity Ward which is just a few acres.  The temperatures are cooler which bodes well for the pneumonia problem.

When we let them out, Pi took off running and bucking.  She went right to the barbed wire at the edge of the maternity ward where she could see the rest of the herd and four healthy calves bounding around.  She squirted right through the barbed wire and off to play with her cousins.  We decided we couldn’t contain her so we let the two big cows back with the herd as well.  As the big cows grazed, the five babies ran and played, headbutting each other in play-battle, sprinting around and around the rest of the herd.  

Finally as the morning progressed they parked themselves under a tree to rest up for the next nursing and play session.  She seems fine.  We’ll keep checking!

One more quick cow story.  Early this morning, before we let Pi, Fatz, and Cupid rejoin the herd, we spotted all the cows and calves sprinting across the south pasture.  They circled up as if to check and make sure everyone was there, accounting for all their calves.  Then we saw Wooly Bear sprint out on her own.  She is super-pregnant and large and she seemed to be pursuing something at a dead run.  She started stomping and throwing her head around and from behind one of the berms out shot a big coyote.  She ran at him with fire shooting out of her nostrils and that varmint coyote headed for the hills.  Then Wooly Bear headed back to the herd and gave the all clear so they all went back to peacefully grazing.  Cow Drama!

Do NOT mess with the Wooly Bear or her nieces and nephew

Thanks for reading and coming along on this wild spring roller coaster.  I hope things mellow out a bit, but we’re still waiting on four calves and they should be coming any day.  Then we’re on to disking, fertilizing, planting and harrowing.  Until then, keep it free out there in the real world, friends!

Babies following mommas in the snow

Fatz and Moon Pi

6 April 2021 – Freezing rain and snow and 28 degrees

Holy Cow or Holy Calf we have been busy since the last blog!  We have three more calves but this blog will be dedicated to the heifer calf we named Moon Pi.  On Monday, the 29th of March at 5AM I headed out across the stock dam into the maternity ward pasture to check on the cattle.  Dave had just checked at 3AM, and thought I might need to look at our heifer, Fatz, who was acting a little strange and off by herself.  

The full moon was shining so brightly I could see from a distance that Fatz was licking a little black bundle on the ground, and I could see little eyes and a head.  As I got closer I could tell she had just calved because the baby still was covered in goo.  Fatz was still standing there straining with her tail straight out behind her and I thought she might be having twins, but thank goodness she was not and was just finishing up her birthing process.  She turned around and started licking her new calf who was pretty quick to get up and try to nurse.

Unfortunately, Fatz was not going to allow that.  For unknown reasons, some first-calf heifers just don’t know what being a mother entails. I guess no one ever told them what to expect.  It’s possible that she was sore after calving, or just scared by the whole process.  It was extremely windy which is always unsettling and that may have put her on edge as well.  Anyway, she would not let the baby near her milk bag and kept aggressively kicking it down and eventually she just turned and walked away. 

By this time, Dave was out with me and we realized that Fatz might need some alone time with her baby so we picked up the baby and took her a short distance to the shed, anticipating that mom would follow and get away from the rest of the herd who was starting to get up and get on with their days.  Fatz was not interested in following and we eventually coaxed her into the shed with her baby.  At this point, she completely lost her mind and began aggressively pacing and testing the shed gate, not giving any thought to her newborn and almost trampling her.  We opened the shed door and Fatz left.  

Now Dave and I were looking at this poor pathetic calf, barely two hours old, and no mom around that was remotely interested in her.  We knew that she needed colostrum immediately to ensure a healthy immune system for her life ahead, and went and heated up a bottle and tried to feed it to her.  This calf was barely hanging on and would not take the bottle.  We called the vet to see what else could be done and she reinforced the idea that that calf needed colostrum immediately and that we could give it to her with an esophageal feeder, or stomach tube.  We had not done this before so Dave put the little calf on the floorboard of his truck and booked it to the vet where she taught him how to tube a baby. 

Moon Pi in the calf sled in the mudroom after getting a belly injected full of colostrum and milk

The vet instructed that if the baby did not get up and eat from a bottle in two hours that we should tube her again, which we ended up doing two more times.  By the third time, she was clearly getting stronger but wasn’t quite able to stand on her own.  After the 3rd dose of milk she got up, wobbly legged, and hesitantly drank milk replacer from a bottle.  Oh by the way, this all took place in the mudroom of the house because it was quite cold and we wanted her to have the best chance at life.

Sherriff sitting guard duty over little Moon Pi

Long story, I know, but the result was after multiple mini-meals of milk the baby began to regain strength and by the next afternoon she was actively searching out the bottle and sucking so hard I thought she would pull the nipple right off the thing!  Since this little heifer calf was the 3rd calf this season and her ear tag number would be 14, we decided to name her Pi after the mathematical constant 3.14.  Since she was born under the full moon we called her Moon Pi.

An improving Moon Pi sucking down some milk replacer

Meanwhile, Fatz went out to graze with the herd and did not look back until the next morning.  I’m sure she had milk in her  bag and it was starting to irritate her. It seemed she realized she had missed out on something and needed her calf, because she kept coming up to the barn and loudly and insistently mooing.  We wanted Moon Pi to get a little stronger before we tried to reunite her with her mom, but we knew she needed to be around other cows or we would end up with a bottle baby for the next 5 months.  We moved Pi into a barn stall where she could hear her mom outside and her mom could hear her.  We let them sniff each other through some corral panels and Fatz finally seemed very interested in getting her baby back.  We opened the panels and put them together and Fatz licked her all over until Moon Pi tried to get on her teat to eat and then Fatz stomped on her again!

We hustled in there and grabbed the poor baby away from her mom and realized this was going to take some more work.  After consulting with multiple cattlemen and other ranchers we decided to catch Fatz in the squeeze chute and either milk her, or hobble her hind feet and put Moon Pi up to her so they both could realize what was supposed to happen.  Does this sound like a crazy idea?  Maybe, but lots of others have had success with this technique for absentee moms and it was definitely worth a shot.  

Might as well try!

We enlisted the help of a neighbor, and caught Fatz in the squeeze chute.  Dave got down behind her and threw ropes around her rear feet to hobble her.  The neighbor held the ropes while I tried to distract her in front of the chute with hay and cow cake.  When they were ready, I got Moon Pi out of the barn stall and pushed her up underneath her mom.  With the neighbor keeping Fatz from hurting us, Dave and I were able to maneuver the calf up to her mom’s teats and before too long, she was sucking away!  As soon as the baby began nursing it was like Fatz had taken a sedative.  She relaxed in the chute completely and began eating her hay and not struggling.  Progress!

Dave manages to get her feet hobbled
Baby investigating the mandatory nursing location

We decided to slowly introduce this process as the last time we tried to put Fatz back with Moon Pi, Moon Pi was nearly trampled to death.  We planned on repeating the mandatory nursing for the next few days in the hopes that mom would relax and realize that the baby was a good thing. After two days we put them back together again and Voila!  Mom adopted her baby back and we watched, overjoyed, as she let her nurse and did not even try to kick her.  

Finally getting the hang of it

And then the weather improved, the sun came out and everyone lived happily ever after.  Okay, not quite, but the weather did improve and Fatz did take Moon Pi back.  Oddly enough, Fatz became extremely overprotective, not letting us get near Moon Pi and acting very aggressive to other calves that came to investigate.  She seemed to realize that if she wasn’t going to be a good mom, her baby would get disappeared!  We were still quite pleased.  The best thing for that little calf is a cow-momma, not an adopted people-momma. 

Fatz and Moon Pi – Reunited

Dave and I were feeling pretty good about this.  Thank goodness for all the advice from other cattle owners and the help of good neighbors.  Sometimes life on the Holler ain’t all sunshine and roses, but it sure feels good when a problem gets worked out. It especially feels good to do something you never imagined you would do and see a positive result. We hope you all are doing well out there in the real world.  Hang onto your freedoms and we’ll do the same!

Two Babies and an Earthquake

26 March 2021 – Cloudy with rain in the forecast, about 43 degrees

After surviving the beast of a blizzard, temperatures bounced right back up and the whole world immediately became a muddy, sloppy mess.

Dave in the tractor removing some mud

One of our cows decided that since she found one patch of dry land she would go ahead and have a baby right there.

Cherry Bomb and Shadow shortly after birth

This is Cherry Bomb’s 3rd calf. The baby, which we named Shadow, is about three weeks early considering the dates of exposure to the bull and the cow-gestation calendars.  Shadow is also pretty small so we figured she must belong to the bull we leased and not the one that jumped in early in the season, otherwise she would have been bigger and possibly black?  It’s impossible to tell, but Cherry Bomb is a great mom and she had Shadow up and nursing in a short time.

Tiny little Shadow

The next morning, we noticed Lucky (a heifer) was really acting uncomfortable and wandering off by herself.  We followed her around from a distance and at one point she laid down and was obviously in hard labor.  We never saw her water break, but clearly she was having her calf.  In nine short minutes she had a beautiful little black heifer of her own.  

Lucky and Jinx

This is Lucky’s first calf and she didn’t quite understand what it was.  She got up after calving, turned around and started smelling it.  When the baby moved, Lucky was visibly startled and jumped backward like she had been shocked!  Dave went to check and make sure the baby was breathing; he stuck a finger in her nose and everything looked great so we just stood back and watched.  Lucky seemed unsure of what to do, but then Cherry Bomb, who had calved her baby just the day before, came over to Lucky and started licking Lucky’s calf.  Lucky caught on and began to mother her own baby while Cherry Bomb just laid down and hung out with her the rest of the day. Sometimes cows can be so smart, even kinder than people.

Lucky is #7, and her calf is #13 so we named her Jinx.  Jinx was a lot faster than Shadow and up and nursing almost immediately.  She is also pretty small and early.

Tiny little Jinx

Both girls seem to be doing pretty well.  They sleep all day wherever their moms park them in the tall grass, and they are up running and bucking in the morning and before nightfall.  They are super curious and squirt through the barbed wire a few times a day, but their moms call them and they come back through. Sometimes cows can be so dumb.

Two early girls

The early births of these calves has put Dave and I into night-watch mode. We take turns getting up several times a night to check if anyone is in labor or in trouble.  This is probably overkill, but we had some bad luck with heifers two years ago so we want to be around to help if we are needed.

While getting up in the middle of the night sounds like it might be a total pain, it is strangely peaceful and relaxing.  We are at a good phase of the moon so there has been a lot of light at the 1AM checks, and the moon sets by 4 or 5 and then the stars are so bright and beautiful.  Most of the time the cows all bunch up together and sleep under a tree in the maternity ward, but sometimes they spread out and we have to hike around to put eyes on everyone. When they are all sleeping together it sounds like a bunch of snoring old drunk sailors, and they are so used to us checking on them they rarely get up or even look up. It’s really quite comforting knowing they are all together and no one is calving and we can usually sleep more soundly after these checks.

The remaining pregnant ladies are looking mighty large and uncomfortable, but they have been enjoying the warmer temperatures and since the snow is almost gone they have been finding some green sprouts to graze upon. I bet they are ready to have their babies and get on with the springtime, already!

Jinx walking next to her Aunt Valentine, while her Aunt Dirty Dozen is in front, both aunts are super pregnant and expected to calve at any moment.

That’s about it for calving so far, but I forgot to mention that this morning we had a small earthquake.  I didn’t even feel it because I was outside playing with the Sheriff, but Dave said, “Did you feel the tremor?”  He said the house began to shake a bit and he could hear rattling, but I didn’t feel a thing outside.  Turns out we had a 3.4 earthquake centered not too far from here.  I’ve said it before, there is never a dull moment on the Holler! If we get any more tremors we’ll have to call up Kevin Bacon and Reba McEntire.

Not too far from home!

We hope you all are doing well and keeping it free out there in the real world.  

Sheriff clinging to the last bit of remaining snow

Snowmageddon 2021

24 March 2021 – sunny and mid 40s

The weather people got it right and about ten days ago we got completely pummeled with a spring blizzard. Actually, it was more like a hurricane with 30-40 knot winds gusting over 50, except our hurricane included continuous snowfall, so there’s that!

Snow drifting into the wood shed

We moved all the cows into the maternity ward and they huddled in the cowshed for the entire two days.  It was absolutely miserable going out to feed and check on anything as freezing snow would pelt you in the face and the wind made it very hard to walk around.  Fortunately it blew so much that the snow did not accumulate too badly on the roofs of any structures, and even the solar panels remained clear most of the first day.

That night the wind continued to roar, the snow continued to fall.  By morning nothing had really changed, it was windy, snowy, and miserable but around noon the wind died off and the snow ramped up.  We ended up with almost two feet of snow but thanks to the wind we had drifts that were well over four feet high.

Lots of snow to deal with

The weather matters not when you have pregnant cows to feed and water, and while we were completely unable to get the Mule out into the giant drifts, we had our handy cowsled that we threw square bales in and got everybody dinner.  Fortunately we have learned our lessons about water and had hung water hoses in the trees so we didn’t have to dig them out from the snow and we were able to run water to the tanks in the maternity ward.  It would have been nearly impossible for the girls to get up to the water tank in the main field as snow in some places was higher than their briskets.  

Cows headed up for water

The cows actually are a lot tougher than we think and they can plow through some of those drifts like a bulldozer.  We try to make it easy on them, though, since they are all super pregnant and miserable anyway.  I’m so glad we built that shed.

Cow shed in the snow bowl

After the storm finally subsided, the clean up began.  Dave spent about 10 hours over two days in the tractor clearing the barnyard, the driveway, the neighbors’ driveways, and our main road.  Our road is private so the county does not plow it. 

Rancher Dave spent a lot of time in the tractor moving snow

If you’ve never operated a snow plow in a tractor, you should know it is not as easy as just getting in the tractor and pushing snow off the road.  The plow is articulated and angles in multiple directions.  With two feet of snow it becomes quite difficult to tell where the road actually is.  When pushing that much snow, it builds up so much in front of the plow that you sometimes need to back up and push the snow into the ditch before you can continue forward.   If you get the plow too low you can gouge and remove the gravel from the road, leaving a disgusting muddy mess when the snow finally melts. Dave says plowing is more of an art than a skill, and it takes practice. I think he got his practice in for this season!

You can barely see the Holler and the Barn on the right

While Dave was in the tractor, I went to work on the disgusting shed which was full of two days worth of cow crap.  I also used the snow rake to get the accumulated snow off the roof, off the garage, off the solar panels. After feeding in the afternoon, we came inside and collapsed in front of the TV.  While beautiful, snow creates a lot of work on the ranch but we are grateful we can do it, and nothing feels better than sitting in front of the woodstove after being outside working all day!

We survived the blizzard which the weather people named Xylia. Hopefully since X is close to the end of the alphabet there won’t be many more like her this season!  The snow has been melting and the weather has been exceptionally warm since the storm. Everyone is breathing sighs of relaxation and soaking up the sunshine.  We even saw a robin so that means spring is coming soon, doesn’t it?

Y’all keep it free out there in the real world and thanks to all who checked on us.  We’re doing great and hope everyone out there is doing great too. 

The Sheriff keeping an eye on things from behind the snow drifts

Hang on Ladies!

12 March 2021 – cloudy and 34 – expecting a blizzard this weekend

The frigid cold in February was shortly followed by a whole week of mid to high 60s and we ate it up.  We grilled out for supper, and after the river dried up the cows were even finding some little green sprouts to eat in the ditch.

Beautiful warm weather on the Holler

The weather was so nice we got ambitious and worked outside hanging some gates to replace a wire gate leading into the pasture we call the “Maternity Ward.”  We initially put up a wire gate there thinking we wouldn’t be using the gate that much, so why invest the money when a wiregate will do the trick? It just takes a little more effort to open and close.  As so many things go on the ranch, you really don’t know how your operation is going to work until you are in the midst of said operation.  We realized pretty quickly that when we start watching cows, especially heifers, for calving we will be opening and closing that maternity ward gate almost daily. It became a pain, especially when trying to do it solo in the mud. So we bit the bullet and hung parallel gates wide enough to get the farm equipment in and out.

Babe moving the gates to the maternity ward entry

The fun thing about hanging two gates is trying to get them to match up.  We have become pretty proficient about getting a single gate up and level, but the parallel gates are more difficult.  It also doesn’t help when the area where you’re hanging the gates is sloped.  The challenge is to get the gates to meet up in the middle, be as close as possible to the same height so it doesn’t look sloppy (and drive Rancher Dave crazy) and also try to make them both level so they don’t swing one way or the other when opened.  

Rancher Dave with a plumb-bob and a level trying to get it right

As mentioned, we do get a bit of wind here from time to time.  There is nothing more frustrating (or funny to watch) than trying to close two gates quickly behind cattle with the wind blowing them open while the gate closer is slipping around on the ice or in the mud trying to catch one and then the other to get them chained together.  This is just one more possible event in the Ranching Olympics. I think we were able to get these gates pretty even and they don’t have much swing to them.

Not too bad, swinging a bit towards the south with a north wind

Spring is amazing here in the Black Hills.  It always seems to unpack itself neatly, one event followed by the next.  A big thaw, multiple flocks of geese squawking as they head north, the appearance of a blue bird or two.  Just when you get lulled into a mindset of “we made it through winter, the worst is over” then you get punched right between the eyes with another crazy snow storm.  We got about 6 inches of snow on Wednesday.  It snowed for 24 hours and it was the wet, heavy stuff that makes it difficult to walk through and ensures you get a great arm workout when trying to shovel it or rake it off the roof.

The day after hanging the gates, good thing we got them up or we’d be dragging the old wire gate (seen left of the gate) to close the cows in.

Dave and I spent a lot of the next day occupied with snow removal, poop and shed clean-up, and once again refilling the firewood box. The cows seem angry at us.  I’m convinced they think we decide the weather.

Grumpy girls wondering why we keep making it snow
Cleaned out the cow shed while they were out eating

And today, while it is warm and amazingly not windy, the weather people are forecasting a massive winter storm this weekend including “FEET of SNOW” and “GUSTS over 40MPH”.  Stupid groundhog, I swear if I see him we are going to have words.

Screenshot of the coming storm

That’s about it for the first part of March.  As of today we are still hopeful no one decides to calve until the expected early April due dates.  We hope this storm isn’t as bad as they are predicting, but as we always say, “We’ll get through it, or we won’t!” We’re moving cows back to the maternity ward tonight so they have access to shelter in the shed and we can get them into the barn if we have anyone trying to have an early baby. Hang on, ladies!  Better weather is on the horizon. Right?

Sisters, Valentine and Dirty Dozen, both expecting calves hopefully not for a few weeks!

God Bless all you Hoten Holler Follerers and we hope you are healthy, happy, and hanging on to your liberties out there in the real world.

We have the barn all set up and cleaned out just in case someone decides to have a baby in the blizzard.

Not Leap Year

27 February 2021 – Cloudy and 30 degrees

Oops. I guess it isn’t Leap Year. I could blame that mistake in the last post and title on multiple things, including accounting for cow gestation dates and hay supply in 2020 and carrying over the days. Actually, maybe I just want a do-over for 2020. Anyway, it isn’t Leap Year. Sorry for the confusion! Happy Saturday (it is Saturday, right?) y’all!

Leap Year

26 February 2021 – sunny and 34

Here we are in the last week of February, the longest, shortest month.  This year is a little longer, though.  Thanks, Leap Year!  I guess we should be grateful for an extra day to get things done, but I think they should move Leap Year to August.

Clouds on the horizon

We made it through the horrendous cold temperatures that would not seem to go away, and now when it is 20 degrees out it feels like shorts and flip-flops weather.  The cattle definitely seem to appreciate the warmer temperatures, and while they hid out in the shed during the cold, cold nights, they still want to hang out there in the 30 degree sunshine.  We finally had to lock them out because they will just lay around in there all day and it becomes a giant stinking cow toilet.  We are trying to keep it clean and dry for calving season which is just around the corner.

The girls are getting so big and round, and in preparation for calving season, Dave and I have been going through our supplies.  We make sure we have extra colostrum, some clean bottles and milk replacement just in case, and iodine for sterilizing umbilical cords, clean towels, electrolyte supplements and other assorted medicines.  We are still relatively new to the cattle game, so we have been watching Youtube videos about pulling calves in case there is a problem, and we read up on the best way to help if we have a cow in trouble.  I swear if you read enough about heifers calving it will make you completely paranoid.  We have four heifers this year so we are praying everything will go smoothly.  Beyond the prayers, we are trying to educate and prepare ourselves for the worst case scenarios just in case.  

Valentine is ROUND

We have also been busy getting more firewood, as we burned through quite a bit during the polar vortex.  As long as we don’t have an extended period of below zero again, we should be good for firewood and for hay for the rest of the winter. Of course, we’ve said that before. Sometime in March we will have to get the hay down from the hay loft as we are almost out of all the hay that was covering the barn floor.  That’s good though, in case we have calves and it’s really cold out, we can push them into the warm barn.

Few remaining square bales on the barn floor
Woodshed refill. Hopefully we’ll make it to the summer.

Now that the temperatures have increased, we have our winter river running through the south pasture.

Sheriff Joe loves playing on the ice.

That’s about it for February.  We hope everyone out there is doing well and surviving the cold winter.  Spring is just around the corner, right?  

Fatz is ready for spring

I have to mention how sad we are about the passing of Rush Limbaugh.  We listened to Rush as often as possible and he will definitely be missed out here on the Holler.  RIP Rush. You were a great American.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, R.I.P. – Catholic League
We’ll definitely miss you, El Rushbo.

God Bless you all and hang on to your liberties out there in the real world!

Yeah, But How is Your Electric Bill?

12 February 2021 – snowing, high of negative 2, minus 15 this morning.  Brrrrr.

Oh boy am I eating my previous words about what a mild winter we were having.  I know we aren’t the only ones getting the five-finger icy death choke-hold from the polar vortex.  I see frigid temps and snow reaching much further south than normal, and I know the folks in North Dakota and Canada are really feeling it, or not, they may just be numb! As for us, we are on day six of what is forecast to be a ten day stretch where we won’t be seeing anything higher than 10 degrees.  Actually for the next three days we won’t get above zero and the evenings are much colder than that. It’s like Mother Nature said, “Oh, aren’t you enjoying this mild winter?”  and Old Man Winter said, “Ha ha, hold my beer!”

Cattle looking pretty cold

I can’t express how grateful I am, however, that the wind seems to have been shut off and by some miracle we are getting a bit of sun during the day.  This makes a huge difference in the real feel of the temperature. Also, as we are off-grid solar, the sun in the afternoons has made a huge difference.  Unfortunately, we have had about a week of really cloudy, snowy mornings which makes everything a pain regarding being dependent on solar energy.  

A rancher friend that we know has a much larger operation than we do. He has several out-buildings and runs quite a bit of heat on electricity.  He complained to me one time about how high his electric bill could get in the winter and I laughed to myself and thought, “Well, our electric bill is zero!”  But it really isn’t zero if you consider how many man hours can be required because we are not plugged into the grid.  This last cold spell has made Dave and I realize that getting on grid is a priority.  While solar is nice, it is not as convenient as good old fossil fueled electricity, especially when trying to heat water tanks overnight  and firing up block heaters to warm up tractors and other equipment.

Here’s the panels, or array after scraping once today. The black box beneath the panels is the propane generator that is called “emergency back-up” but has trouble starting with east wind and snow, so we put up a wind block of plywood.

When it’s full-on winter and there is little sun, our chores become a bit more involved.  Typically we get up and make coffee on the wood stove. Dave then puts on 40 layers of clothes and he and the Sheriff head to the barn to start the gas generator to plug in the block heater for the tractor. Then he slugs through the snow down to the house generator and takes down boards that protect it from freezing in the East wind and snow.  I see him do this and I start the house generator from inside while he scrapes the snow off the solar panels. When it is minus 15 degrees the house generator, which runs off of propane, sounds like it does not want to start and we both hold our breaths as it whines about its startup cycle. Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s feet get cold and he comes running back to the porch wanting to come back in.  He needs better winter gear.

Sheriff Joe will start holding his feet up out of the snow when he gets too cold. Then he pouts if you put him inside before chores are over.

Once the generator is running and powering the house it also begins charging up the batteries. I get some coffee brewing with the electric coffee pot and fire up the oven to get some breakfast going before we get out to feed.  Dave comes in for coffee and toast and to let the tractor block heater get warm.  After a bit, we both winter-up with our 40 layers of clothes and we go to the barn to start the tractor and Mule. About 10-15 minutes later once everything is warm (if it started) the Sheriff and I hop in the Mule and go open the gates.  Dave follows in the tractor and scoops a lane in the snow drifts while he unrolls the hay for the cows.  The Sheriff and I head up to the stock tank and start chopping ice and running water.

Rancher Dave headed to feed.

After the food is out, Dave opens the gate to let the cows come out for breakfast.  Lately, they have been packing into the shed at night.  I am so glad we got that project done this fall, it really is a big deal for them to have a place to stay warm and dry overnight and while they look at us like it’s our fault it’s so dang cold, no one really looks like they are having a problem with the temperatures and snow.  They are in fact the most spoiled cows in South Dakota.

Lucky looking pretty angry about the cold.

While the cows have breakfast, we check them over, looking at their eyes and noses, how they are walking, making sure no one looks like they are going to calve.  It’s still pretty early but the stress of the cold can cause bad things to happen. After cow-checks, Dave and I meet up at the shed and scoop out the manure that isn’t completely frozen to the ground.  We put down a fresh bed of pine shavings and make sure their room is all made up for the next night.

All lined up and waiting to go feed.

This morning was the coldest we have seen since we’ve been here.  The Mule wouldn’t start and we thought it would be easier to just feed square bales in the corral since there is so much snow.  Because the Mule wouldn’t go, we just put the bales of hay in this calf-sled and pulled it into the corral and fed everyone.

Feeding the old school way. I’m so glad we only have a few cows! We use this shed if we have to drag a newborn calf into the barn to get warm.

The next problem of course is keeping the water tanks open.  This would be easier with an electric tank heater, but again, this is a drawback of being on solar energy only.  We do have a propane water heater but it only works when it is about 20 degrees and above, so we are left to find other solutions.  Obviously we chop ice with shovels, spuds, and a pick axe, but when it doesn’t get above minus two for three days it is difficult to keep the water open for the cows. We never fill the tank to the top so we can always put in water from a hydrant and a hose.  This morning, the hoses were frozen as well, even though we kept them in the barn.  We filled a giant 32 gallon cooler with hot water from the house and several 5 gallon buckets and drove them up to the corral and melted all the ice in the tank.  

Watering the old school way, after filling the buckets/cooler inside with steaming hot water we delivered it to the cows 5 gallons at a time.

Oh yes, while all of this activity was going on it continued to snow.  I went back to the panels and cleared them with the snow rake, and then raked some of the snow off the house and garage roofs.  Dave went back in the tractor and cleared the barnyard and the driveway.  He was going to do the whole road, but it’s supposed to keep snowing tonight so he won’t waste the diesel fuel by doing it twice.  Instead he’ll do it tomorrow….if everything starts!

That has been morning life on the ranch the last few days.  It’s “things break cold” weather but the cattle need feeding and the snow needs clearing.  I am not complaining, at least we don’t have a power bill…hahahaha.  We are going to work to make our lives a little easier in the future winters by hooking into the grid.  We have new neighbors to the north and east and are trying to work out a way to split costs to get everyone hooked up out here. After hearing about our winter solar shenanigans nobody seems to want to be off grid.

It’s early afternoon, the snow finally stopped for now, and the sun is peeking out.  The cows are still shuffling around in the corral and they will probably hang out there or go back in the shed until we feed again in the early evening.  Sheriff Joe is passed out in front of the stove and the barn kitty ran back to the barn to hang out in the hay bales.  He has been staying in the mud-room at nights because it is so cold.  Notice I didn’t say “sleeping” in the mud-room. He likes to start meowing around 3AM but it’s way too cold to throw him out. 

And that is how things are on the Holler.  As hectic as the morning seemed, I still feel it was better than going to an office, or even flying in bad weather.  Plus, I get to work with my two favorites, Rancher Dave and Sheriff Joe.  The cows look cold but they seem to be doing fine and are enjoying their extra rations and hot water.  Valentine’s toe is fine, by the way. God Bless all of you reading this.  I hope you are warm and toasty and hanging on to your liberties out there in the real world.  Cheers!

Fatz after getting a drink of hot water.

Don’t Shoot it Down, Please

26 Jan 2021 – Sunny and snow flurries, a chilly 7 degrees this morning…Brrrrrr

Well I guess winter has finally decided to deliver.  We have been going through a pretty good cold snap with continuous snow flurries and really low temperatures.  It was in the single digits last night and supposed to be the same tonight.  However, we are supposed to be in the high 40s by the end of the week!  South Dakota likes to change its mind.

Meanwhile, it is too blasted cold to do anything outside except feed and water cows. They don’t seem too unhappy though since they have been hanging out in the trees and the corral out of the wind. One of our cows, Valentine, has had a foot problem this week.  Rancher Dave and I were feeding the other night and noticed a bit of blood in the snow.  We followed the tracks and realized Valentine’s dew-claw (yes that’s the term) was broken and just hanging off of her foot.

You can see the toenail part separating and the pink underneath.

Poor girl, it looked like it hurt a bit but she really didn’t limp at all on the way to get fed.  We have a little cow-medicine kit and we keep some spray medicine for cuts and infections in that kit.  We gave her foot a couple of shots of antiseptic and decided to wait and see how she did.  Today, she seems fine although her entire dew-claw has fallen off.  It isn’t showing any signs of infection and she actually seems to be walking a bit better.   We will continue to shoot her with antiseptic unless she comes up looking like she has some additional problems.  It doesn’t help that she is seriously fat and pregnant so that is a lot of weight relying on her poor foot.

This is fat Valentine and you can see her front right foot is missing the rear digit on the hoof.

Not being expert cattle people, we rely on some of our neighbors and the vet for advice.  We have long since given up searching the internet because it usually leads only to more confusion and worry.  I was happy to hear from another local rancher that their advice was also to “keep an eye on it” and if she stopped eating, drinking, or walking at all then we should probably corral her off and try to give her some time to heal.  So far, so good.  She seems her normal hungry self and her foot looks okay, although she is missing a digit, it is no longer bleeding or seeping anything.  Adventures with cows.

A closer look shows the whole thing fell off.

Because we finally got a decent amount of snow, we decided to burn a slash pile.  Rancher Dave also has a new drone, and decided he wanted to make a movie about burning slash.  He wanted to put a can of flammable liquid in the pile and launch the drone to film from above.  At that point he wanted to shoot tracer rounds at the pile and blow it up.  (For the record, and being the daughter of the original Captain Caution, I did not wholeheartedly support this idea.)  

Dave lighting the slash pile from a ways away.

Unfortunately, the temperature was too low to launch the drone but Rancher Dave still wanted to shoot the burn pile.  I filmed him and to his chagrin, (and my relief) there was no giant explosion.  The tracer round lit the pile but it was fairly anticlimactic and it just started a slow burn.  I guess he just wanted to have some fun shooting before we sold all the guns and ammunition.

At least the Sheriff enjoyed the bonfire.

Although he was disappointed, he did get to use the drone a different day when it warmed up a bit.  Here’s a view from the Holler from above in case you find yourself flying over.

Just to be cautious, I texted the closest neighbors and told them we had a drone and said, “Please don’t shoot it down if it goes rogue!”  Most South Dakotans are well armed and don’t take too kindly to surveillance.

Today, we are staying warm inside by the stove.  I put a cider-braised pork roast in a dutch oven and have been cooking it all day while the stove simultaneously keeps the house warm.  And it is warm in here so it’s perfect for blogging.

The only other thing to report is that the elk have been especially active in the last few days. They are not making noise, as they do in the rut, but they are all over the Holler and the road.  I saw about 30 of them hanging out on our road when I went to the post office yesterday, and we have seen them quite a few mornings when we are out feeding cattle.  Sorry I didn’t get a picture, but the road was kinda icy and I was concentrating on that.

Winter chores

That’s about it from the Holler. Hang on to your liberties out there and stay warm.  Only two more full moons until spring and calving season!

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