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Hoten Holler!

Spring is Coming….Right?

20 April 2018 – Cloudy and 40 with snow showers in the forecast

The Holler is showing all the signs of spring, but Old Man Winter just won’t go away.  We have little sprouts of green grass all over the pastures, the blue birds and the meadowlarks have returned, the tulips are trying to come up, and the bees have ventured out of the hive on several warm days this week.  Still, we have to head out for morning chores in our snow pants and parkas because the dawn temperatures are pretty low and the wind makes it feel even colder.

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Tulip trying to peek up through the frost

 

The past two weeks have been really busy, so I’m giving advanced warning about the length of this blog post.  We have been disking, harrowing, and planting with unwavering faith that the growing season must begin soon.

The days fly by when you are in the field all day, but it feels great to come into a warm house at night and be tired from all the work.  It also feels great to look at the field you just plowed and planted and believe….really believe….that it is going to produce some good hay.  You gotta have patience out here on the ranch.

The bovines have been busy, too.  Last week, Cowboy Dave had made a trip out of town to see an old friend.  Linda remained and was keeping a close eye on Frita, a cow who looked imminently close to calving.  On Saturday morning she called to say Frita was having her baby. Dave and I went over to the High Lonesome and met Linda in the pasture to watch Frita go through her paces.

You may wonder why we make such a big deal about watching these cows give birth. In all likelihood they would be just fine, or even better off if we minded our own business.  But the counterargument is that if there is a problem, those dang cows refuse to grab a cell phone to call or text for help. We think they have trouble dialing because the numbers are too small for their big hooves.  Calves can be anywhere from 50-75 lbs so there are many things that could go wrong that would require our assistance.  A breech position calf would require a person to help reposition the calf in the birth canal.  A very large calf may require pulling.  A calf that is born and not breathing immediately, or one that won’t eat right away are both situations that would require a human assist.  Not that Pilot Dave or I have done any of these things before, but Cowboy and Linda have, and we are trying to learn everything we can to be the best stewards of these animals that we can be.

Back to Frita – we watched her in obvious labor pains for nearly two hours, but then she got up and walked back to rejoin the herd.  We decided to give her some space and time, and when Dave and I started heading up the driveway back to the Holler, I caught a glimpse of her going up over a hill by herself again.  I said I wanted to stay and see if I could keep an eye on her for awhile.  Dave went back to get some chores done on the Holler and Linda went back to the ranch house on the High Lonesome to get on with her day.  I hiked a short distance up over the hill with my field glasses and I could just see Frita in the distance lying under a tree.  I spotted her with the glasses and realized she was calving!  This was probably only 5 minutes after Dave and Linda had left, so I called them from my cell phone (since Frita refused to use hers!) and they came back to the pasture about two minutes after the baby was born.

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Frita has her baby in the only dry spot

 

We got a little closer and watched as the little calf struggled to his feet and started nursing.  Phew!  Another healthy calf.  Later that day we took Frita some hay and got a better look.  It is a little bull, and we decided to refer to him as Chips – Frita Chips….like Frito Chips. This is Cowboy and Linda’s bull, so they will obviously name him as they please, but with so many calves running around, Dave and I like to give them a name so we know who is who.

Cowboy Dave returned the following day and was pleased about the healthy addition to his herd.  We decided that we would move calves to one of the northern pastures because it is already mid-April and we needed to move them out of the current pasture to prepare the field and let the alfalfa and grass start growing. First, we had to catch Heidi and Chips and tag them while we could still use the paddock gates to keep the frantic mothers at bay. First thing Monday morning, we got the calves tagged.  It was relatively uneventful, as the two Dave’s are getting pretty good at grabbing the little calves and getting right down to business as Linda and I try to distract the Moms with cake and hay.

Next, we rounded everyone up and herded them along the fence that borders the National Forest toward the northern pasture.  The cows are pretty good about this, but of course, there is always one troublemaker.  Puzzle’s calf, Heidi, decided to crawl under the barbed wire and take off on her own into the National Forest.  While Linda worked the gates and Cowboy drove the cows onward with his mule, Pilot Dave and I tried to get that little dogie back to the herd. She was only six days old, but she could run!  A horse would have been very helpful at this point, but since the horses remain on the “Future Purchases List”, Pilot Dave and I ran all over hell’s half acre trying to push Heidi back toward the herd.  Finally, after a lot of exercise, we got her out of the forest and on the right side of the fence, but of course, she turned the wrong way and headed south back to the place everyone had just left.  Heidi, Come Back!!!  Cowboy Dave and Linda returned to the chase on their mule and eventually we got her headed the right way.  She was reunited with her mother, who didn’t seem too concerned that her daughter had been running around like a wild child.  Lady, get control of your kid!

Next, Pilot Dave and I hooked up the round feeder ring to Babe and delivered it to the northern pasture.  It was a slow process, manipulating the big ring and tractor through all the fences and gates, but Dave has gotten pretty good on the tractor.

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Dave maneuvers Babe and the feeder ring through the pasture gate

 

Yesterday, Pilot Dave and I checked cows in the morning. Everybody looked good and all the calfies were running around, jumping and bucking and feeling good.  We gave Honey and Muzzle the once-over because they are the two remaining pregnant ladies.  They looked normal, well, normal in the pregnant cow sense. We left them in the pasture intending to check everyone again around noon.

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Lilly and Hugo enjoying the sunshine
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T-bone and Heidi with Honey looking over them

 

We are out of hay and since the weather hasn’t been warm enough to produce sufficient grazing grass, Cowboy Dave took his trailer south to Edgemont to pick up some round bales from the feed store. Meanwhile, Pilot Dave and I took our trailer north to Custer to pick up a disk and an auger that were in the shop being welded.  We all met back on Stagecoach Springs to continue the daily chores.

Pilot Dave drove Babe up to the northern pasture to get the big bale of hay off of Cowboy Dave’s tractor. This was just another incident where we are so grateful to have a big tractor, and I am so happy that I married a good tractor driver!

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That’s a big bale of hay!
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Pilot Dave’s view from the cockpit of Babe.

 

I went and got Linda in the mule and we decided to do the mid-day cow check.  As we approached the pasture we could see Honey way off by herself under a tree.  As we got closer, we could see what looked like a big red rock next to her, but as we got even closer we realized it was a calf!

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Honey’s new baby!

 

 

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Still wet behind the ears.
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Honey enjoys a meal after calving.

 

Honey gave birth to a beautiful little bull.  He is the Hoten Holler’s second calf so he gets the #2 ear tag if we can catch him today. He looked healthy and was already up and nursing, so we returned to the task at hand, getting the big bale into the feeder.

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Cowboy Dave trying to train Mar-zee to jump through the hoop.  Next week we light the hoop on fire and then we’ll be ready for the circus.
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Moving the feed ring over the hay bale.

The day was only half done, though, so the two Dave’s finished up the disking and planting over at the High Lonesome.

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Back to disking the High Lonesome

Out here, you literally have to make hay while the sun shines.  Although we are done with the snow, we hope we get some precipitation today to get the oats off to a good start.

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Valentine wants to give Dave a smooch.

 

 

 

 

Morning Surprise

11 April 2018 – Cloudy and 42 with a high forecast in the low 60’s!

It has been a busy week on the Holler.  Saturday afternoon, we met Cowboy Dave down at the High Lonesome, where he had just witnessed his cow Pat-Z’s water breaking.  Pat-Z seemed pretty confused as she kept calling after and chasing Lilly, who at the time was the youngest calf in the herd.  Every few minutes, she would lay down, clearly having agonizing contractions, and then she would get up and go find Lilly.  She must have been thinking that was her baby. This went on for about an hour and as it began to get dark, the herd moved up toward the paddock.  We took advantage of this and turned Pat-Z off into the barn corral so she could have a little peace and quiet.

Soon enough, she laid down and gave birth to this big baby bull.

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Hugo at one day old….and Pat-Z on the left.

 

He is huge, or YUGE, so Cowboy decided to call him Hugo. Hugo was up and nursing pretty quickly, and we kept him and his mother inside the barn corral away from the herd that evening because it was supposed to get pretty cold. The next day, before morning chores, we let Pat-Z out to go eat and Pilot Dave and Cowboy Dave grabbed the little guy and tagged him.  They did not band him because lucky Hugo is not related by blood to any of the other cows (except his Mom).  If he turns out to have nice conformation (that’s rancher speak for a good body frame) then Cowboy and Linda will keep him as a bull for a season and sell him as a bull the next.  If he doesn’t turn out to be too nice, we can always castrate him at a later date.

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Pilot Dave holds Hugo while Cowboy Dave gives him an ear tag.
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Pilot Dave wrangels Hugo to get his ear tagged

 

While the two Daves were tagging Hugo’s ear, Pat-Z took off to go eat.  About half way to the feeder she realized, “Holy cow!  I left my baby!”  and she came sprinting back to the corral where the men were working the calf.  Fortunately they had shut the gate and were protected from the completely panicked mother.  When they were done with Hugo, they opened the gate and Pat-Z stormed in to see her calf.  She ran in, saw him, and screamed…MOOOOOOOO!!!! “I didn’t say you could get an earring!”  It was really crazy and so loud that the little guy kind of shook and cowered.  “Yikes!  Mom is Mad!”  It reminded me of one of the last scenes in Jurassic Park, when the T-Rex busts into the museum and kills the velociraptors.  The T-Rex roars and it is almost as loud as Pat-Z yelling for her baby. Watch the link below to see the scene.

Scene from Jurassic Park….about 2:45 in the T-Rex roars

We spent the next few days still following around cows and waiting for the remaining four girls to calve. In between cow-checks, Pilot Dave and I have been busy preparing for planting season and fence building.  There are always rocks to pick up, trees to limb, slash to drag, etc. Yesterday,  Dave hooked up the disc to the tractor and prepped the southern pasture. Today he is disking the north.  Last year we put in oats on the 16th of April, and we plan to try to match that schedule this year, weather permitting.

This morning, Dave and I went to feed the cows and we did a quick count to make sure everyone was there. We had one more than we did at the last cow-check!  Puzzle decided she was going to be sneaky and headed off into the woods in the wee hours of the morning and had this beautiful and BIG baby girl!

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Puzzle and her new baby.

 

I used to think it was a great morning surprise if someone brought doughnuts to work, but my perspective has changed out here on the ranch.  Keep your doughnuts, I’ll take a brand new healthy baby calf that is already up and running around with the other babies.

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Puzzle cleaning her new calf.

 

We are expecting three more calves.  I hope they come today as we are also expecting a winter storm on Thursday night.

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Honey and Frita, both expecting any day now!  

 

 

Still Waiting

5 April 2018 – Snowing and 35

It has been awhile since I’ve written, as I was hoping to report on the arrival of more calves.  I can report on the birth of only one.

This is Lilly.  Easter Lilly.  Born to Cowboy and Linda’s Moo-lah on Easter Sunday.

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Lilly resting at one day old

 

Dave and I had Cowboy Dave and Linda over for Easter brunch, we all enjoyed some good eats and mimosas and it was a beautiful, sunny day.  In the early afternoon, Cowboy and Linda headed home and immediately called from the High Lonesome.  “She’s calving right now!”  said Cowboy.

Pilot Dave and I jumped in the mule and headed over to the southern pasture on the High Lonesome.  Cowboy had tried to isolate Moo-lah to give her some peace and quiet while she delivered, but Nosy Rosy and Frita decided they wanted to hang around.  Then Rosy and Frita got into a full-on brawl, head butting and hoofing at the mud and trying to kill one another.  Cowboy Dave and Pilot Dave chased them away with whips while Linda and I kept an eye on poor Moo-lah.  Moo-lah headed off to a corner of the pasture where she laid down, stood up, laid down, and then finally pushed out a little girl!

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Cowboy checking out Moo-lah and her new baby

 

The calf was so cute and after trying several times to get up, she figured it out quickly and went right to nursing immediately.  Cowboy wanted to call her Ester Williams because it was Easter, but Linda vetoed him with Easter Lilly.

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First day and already running around the paddock

She’s so dang cute, and T-bone is super excited to have someone to run and play with. When she was just one day old, her Mom took off to go eat.  She was wandering around the paddock, bumping into things and then tried to crawl out under the barbed wire to the National Forest.  Pilot Dave went and got her.

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Who needs the gym when you can carry calves around the paddock?

 

The other cows are still looking like they might pop, and every day we check them multiple times.  Every day we say regarding one cow or another, “She looks like she’s going to give birth today.”  Every night we check again and the cows all lay down and look at us as if to say, “Get a life, people!”  Nothing to see here!  Moooooove along.”

Dave and I like looking at the cows, but the weather has not been very nice this spring.  It is snowing again today despite the near 50 degree weather we had yesterday.  The day before that it was snowing.  Tomorrow we are expecting more snow and the low temperature is going to be in the single digits.  Ugh, winter, just go away!  We are so ready to put away our winter coats, hats, and mukluks, and just be able to throw on boots to go outside.  Just like waiting for calves, waiting for springtime weather really has nothing to do with what we want.

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Everyone is sick of snow, except for Arrow, who loves to run and play in it.

 

Maybe we should just relax and enjoy what remains of the winter.  We do have many things on the docket for spring projects and when the sun comes out and it is no longer a muddy, mucky mess, we are going to be busy!  We went to Rapid this week and bought all the materials for our fencing project in the north pasture.  That will be several days of post pounding and wire stringing.

We got ready to move the cows across the National Forest to the April pasture, although we probably won’t move them until they are all done calving and at least when the snow melts.

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Cowboy Dave checking out the fence line while Pilot Dave takes a break from post pounding.

 

We also bought oat seed that we are going to be planting very soon.  As a trial, we bought some very expensive alfalfa seed that we will attempt to grow with the oats as a cover crop in one little area of our southern pasture.  Dave is champing at the bit to get out there and sew these seeds, but it is difficult to do in the snow and the mud.  We did spend one day “harvesting” rocks.  Actually just picking up rocks.  The field we cleared last year produced several large piles of rocks over the winter.  Too bad we can’t find a market for rocks, we can sure grow ’em here in the hills.

We celebrated two years in South Dakota on the 4th.  We can hardly believe all the things we have learned, seen and done since we arrived here.  We have met some really great people and have made friends for life.  We have seen some amazing changes of seasons.  We have learned so much about building fences, painting cisterns, feeding cows, building chicken coops, cutting firewood, maintaining gravel roads, removing snow, planting crops, fixing tractors, starting and putting out fires, cooking on a wood stove, living off grid, keeping bees, building furniture, and the list goes on and on.  This has been an amazing ride where the highs and lows both go to extremes, and we love it.  Our only regret is we didn’t move sooner.

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Rainbow from the back deck

That’s it for now.  We will continue waiting for the calves to come and the weather to improve.  Time to go scrape the snow off the solar panels!

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Arrow loves T-bone

 

 

Hey Baby!

15 March 2018 – Sunny and highs in the upper 40’s

Tuesday morning, Dave and I went out to do chores, feed the cows, break the ice so they could drink, and muck the stalls.  We take a good look at all the pregnant ladies.  “Look up their address” as Linda says.  We check their milk bags and their back ends to see if there are any signs of impending birth.  Tuesday was not a typical morning because we only were able to find 13 of the 14 cows.  Marzee, the biggest cow you have ever seen, was nowhere to be found. 

Dave rounded up the other 13 and started feeding by putting bales in the southern feed ring and cutting off the strings.  To divide and conquer, I went out in the woods to try to find Marzee.  I started out in the Mule, but the snow got too deep and I got stuck, so I finished my sector search on foot.  It was hard walking in snow up to my knees in some places, but I covered the entire southern pasture on the High Lonesome.  I looked behind every rock and tree, and no Marzee.  How does one lose a 1700 lb. cow?

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Large Marzee

When I finally arrived back at the corral and got the Mule unstuck, Dave had located Marzee.  She had wandered off to the north side of the High Lonesome and came waddling up to the fence when she heard Dave putting out feed.  We were really happy to see her, not that she could have gotten out anywhere, but it was very strange that she was not with the rest of the herd.  She walked by and WOW was her milk bag big!  It looked like someone had blown up a surgical glove to the size of a beach ball.  She also had some mucus coming out her backside, which is a sure sign of imminent calving. 

We kept an eye on Marzee all day, but she wasn’t acting strange or heading off on her own.  After evening chores, we thought maybe she would wait another day.  Dave and I came back to the Holler and had supper.  As the sun sank low, we could see the herd wander out of the woods in the southern pasture to enjoy the last warm rays of daylight.  We counted, and only got to 13 again!  I grabbed the field glasses and sure enough, everyone was there except for Marzee.

We got back in the mule and headed over to the High Lonesome, looking for that enormous cow.  She had found a nice secluded spot in the woods and was lying under a tree. When she heard the Mule, she got up and waddled off, but this time her tail was pointed straight out behind her, another sign that she was about to calve. 

Marzee is a really sweet and gentle girl, so she didn’t complain when we rounded her up and put her in a shed in the corral.  We wanted to be able to keep an eye on her in case of any complications, and we wanted her to have her own quiet space away from the herd for birthing.  We stood there and watched her for over an hour.  She kept pacing, standing up, laying down, breathing heavy and she was clearly in discomfort.  Dave and I decided to go home and give her some space and check her every hour.  So we went home and were fixing to head back about an hour later when Cowboy Dave called and said she just calved.  Dang, we missed it!  But Yeah!  A BABY! So we headed back over to the High Lonesome and could see her cute little baby bull.

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Marzee and her brand new baby!

 

Marzee was exhausted. After licking the little guy clean, she laid back down in the shed.  This is not normal, as typically a Mom will stand there and let her baby try to nurse. It is really important to a calf’s health that it starts nursing within a few hours of birth because it needs the colostrum from its mother’s milk to help the immune system.  If a calf doesn’t get it in a few hours, its chances for survival diminish considerably.  The little guy was on his feet and stumbling around, but since Marzee was laying down, he could not find a teat to start nursing.  Cowboy Dave and Pilot Dave got in the shed and prodded Marzee up onto her feet.  The bull was still stumbling around and trying to find a teat, but by this time he was exhausted so he laid down.

The two Dave’s got back in the shed and got him up on his feet, but then Marzee laid down again.  This all happened within a couple of hours of the birth, and now the calf was not nursing and not even standing up.  Linda went to her calving supplies and grabbed a syringe of Nursemate ASAP, which is a shot of vitamins and appetite stimulate to help a calf that is struggling to nurse.  Cowboy Dave distracted Marzee with some cake while Pilot Dave grabbed the little bull and shoved the syringe in his mouth to administer the good stuff.  The baby loved it and jumped up and started walking around and trying to find which end of his mother he could nurse.  This continued for another 30-45 minutes, but he was unsuccessful and Marzee decided to lay down again!  Then the bull laid down again.  We were approaching 1030PM, about 2.5 hours after birth and the little calf had yet to get any colostrum or milk in his system. 

We decided to leave them alone for an hour, and if we didn’t witness any nursing when we came back to look, we would give that baby some colostrum supplement through a bottle. Pilot Dave and I went back to the Holler and Cowboy and Linda retreated inside their house to warm up and rest a bit.  Just before midnight, Pilot Dave heated up some water and mixed up the colostrum supplement.  I put it in the giant baby bottle and we wrapped it in towels and put it in a cooler to keep it warm as we went back to check on Marzee and calf. 

Back in the Mule, and back to the High Lonesome, Dave and I discussed our plan of action. We would entice Marzee back on her feet and out of the shed with cake, at which point we would isolate the calf in the shed, grab him and force feed him with the bottle. 

We were so pleased when we got back to the shed to hear some slurping/sucking noise and when we shined the flashlight in there, Marzee was standing and baby was nursing!  Hooray.  He was absolutely pigging out.  We were so happy to see nature take its course, and we also were kicking ourselves for being such nervous first-time cow-parents.  Marzee looked at us with an expression that said, “I got this!  Get out of here ya nutjobs!”  So we left them alone and went back to the Holler, again.  We finally got to bed around 1:30AM, but we fell asleep relieved and excited about the new member of our herd.

The next day, last year’s calves were really curious about the new little bull.

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After a short introduction, we decided to keep Marzee and the little guy separate from the rest of the herd so he could figure out who his Momma is, what she sounds and smells like and what her different Moos mean. 

The little bull got really strong, really quickly.  Late in the afternoon, we lured Marzee away from him with cake, once again, and grabbed him to put in an ear tag and band his testicles.  Just like that, our bull is now a steer!

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He’s Number One!

 

He didn’t even cry or moo, but as Pilot Dave and I were working on him in the shed, Marzee ditched the idea of cake and came over to the fence and started yelling at us and giving us the what for.  Her normally gentle lowing became extremely loud and low-pitched threatening moo that we could feel resonating through our boots!  She did not want us messing with her baby.  Several short minutes later, they were reunited and she sniffed him all over, especially the strange new earring.

 

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Marzee and Baby, (poor Marzee still looks pregnant!)

 

The new calf is our first calf.  He is also the first baby sired by Toothless, the bull we had last summer.  Hence, we decided to name him “Toothless – Baby ONE” – and we will call him T-BONE.

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Marzee and T-BONE day one.

 

Close En-COW-nters

7 March 2018 – Sunny and 35°

Once again, another month has slipped by.  My brother told me, “February is the longest, shortest month.”  And I must agree.  It seemed pretty long, especially when the temperature would not creep out of the teens, yet it went by so danged fast! 

We had one day that reached nearly 50 degrees, and we have water front property as a result! Before we built our house, our neighbors, Cowboy and Linda, had told us that often in the Spring we would have a huge run-off of snow melt and that there would turn into a river running through our property.  We didn’t see that last year, but watching it develop this year was pretty cool.  The water flow began early in the evening as just little pools developed here and there.  Then the pools joined up, and pretty soon there was a flowing stream.  By morning, you could hear rushing water from our porch.  We talked about going rafting down the thing, but you would have to duck at the pasture’s edge or you may lose your head to the barbed wire.

We had some cow drama in February.  We helped our neighbor, Ned, round up his large herd to bring them closer to his barn for calving.  When we went out to the field to round them up, there was one large, pregnant cow laying in the middle of the ice.  Her back feet were sticking straight out behind her and when she saw us approach she attempted to stand but was unable.  She kept crawling on her front legs but her back legs kept slipping on ice and eventually she became too tired to even try to move.

Ned went and got his tractor, and someone else brought a trailer and after about an hour of trying to get straps under the big girl, we finally got her hoisted into the trailer bed.

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Cow on the ground with tractor lifting her
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Cow on the trailer

We drove her back to Ned’s barn and set her in some warm hay.  She still wouldn’t stand but she did have an appetite and kept eating her bedding.  Ned was not hopeful about her recovery.  He spoke with the vet and had figured she had either pulled her back leg muscles or broke her back from falling.  This was really discouraging because she was about 8 months pregnant and really a sweet and gentle cow.  He determined to give her some pain killers and see how she made it through the night.

The next day, she was still laying in the barn.  Ned and his crew hooked her back up to the straps to try to give her a chance to stand and hoisted her into a standing position.  She was wobbly at first, but after a little time passed, she was able to support herself!  Eventually, she was walking around and eating.  We decided to call her Grace because it really is quite a miracle that she survived that whole ordeal…..and also we are being a little sarcastic about her “graceful” ability to walk on ice.

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Grace standing up and feeling better!

 

We also had some cow drama over at the High Lonesome when our cow, Marzee, decided she might want to have her calf on the warm weather day.  She was laying around in the shed, which was the only dry spot in sight.  Her breathing was labored, no pun intended, and when we looked at her milk bag it really looked full.  We call this “bagging up” and it usually happens just prior to birth as the cow’s milk comes in to feed the impending baby.

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Poor big ol’ Marzee looks like she will have twins!

 

We followed Marzee around for two days, trying to round her up and get her in the pen each night because the ground was soaked from the melting snow.  Despite the warm daytime temps the night temperatures were still in the single digits, so in the evening, Dave and I would put on our 21 pieces of chore clothing and go try to find her and push her back into the corral.  Fortunately, she is a really gentle and sweet girl and will basically go whichever way you want.

On the 3rd day, Marzee looked back to normal.  Her bag was normal size (relatively) and she wasn’t heaving anymore.  Do cows have false labor?  I’m guessing they might, but also realizing that I really don’t know very much about cows or calving. We are getting quite the education out here on the range.

Dave’s latest project has been building shelves in the garage so he can have a work area and we can get more organized.IMG_3793

We picked up a load of cottonwood and had a load of pine delivered so we can be sure to be warm for whatever is left for winter.

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A big pile of wood for splitting
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Out with the splitter again!

Dave and I spent a day splitting and stacking…..phew!  That wood really keeps you warm.

That is about all that is new from the Holler.  We are looking forward to spring and Dave even saw a blue bird today!  Pretty soon the meadowlarks will be out there singing and the bees will be buzzing, and Pilot Dave and I will be busy catching up with all the things that have been put on hold by the snow that has been here since mid-December.  Today, the sun is shining and we are going to spend the day outside.

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Another full moon on March 1

 

Everybody’s Gotta Eat!

16 Feb 2018 – Sunny and 32°

Fickle February!  One day the sun is shining and it feels positively spring-like.  The next it snows, and the wind blows, and you cannot imagine feeling any colder.  Monday was one of those really cold days.  The wind chill was MINUS 18 and it was snowing sideways. The wind was howling out of the east and it blew all the snow in South Dakota across Stagecoach Springs.  Fortunately, Dave hooked up a heater to Babe, the tractor, and was able to get the road open.  We needed to get out because we had promised one of our neighbors across the way that we would help him feed his 200+ head of cattle.  And even when it is cold out, cows gotta eat!

Our friends Ned and Doris normally have some help but the help had other obligations this week and Ned asked if we might be able to lend a hand.  We headed over to the Spring Valley Ranch where Ned had a flatbed truck loaded with six giant 900lb round hay bales.

He also had two giant Case tractors ready to go.  One tractor, that is not four-wheel drive, was pulling a processor.  For those of you who don’t know, a processor is a big piece of machinery that you put a giant hay bale into, and it grinds it up and spits it out in neat little rows so the cows can easily access it.

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The “Beast” Case 4×4 Tractor

 

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The other big 2WD Case pulling the processor

 

The other tractor, which is a four-wheel drive beast, was used for unloading bales off of the flatbed and onto the processor.  Pilot Dave drove this tractor.  I drove the smaller flatbed truck which had another giant bale on it and was used to feed Ned’s horses.

We lined up our convoy and headed out to find the herd. 

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There they are!  They look hungry

 

They were waiting and hungry, and the process went as follows.

First, a giant bale was unloaded from the flatbed.  Dave and I cut the strings of twine off of the bale, which is not as easy as it sounds because the bales have been sitting in snow and the strings are frozen into the hay.  You really have to get in there with your knife and stab at the strings and hay like you are a crazed serial killer.   Then you pull as hard as you can to get the strings out from under the frost and ice.  After fighting with the strings and the ice, we have decided to invent edible bale string and let the cows take care of it.  Maybe some long Twizzlers would work although I doubt anyone would let us try to load a spool of Twizzlers into their baler. I bet the cows wouldn’t complain.

 

Meanwhile, Ned took the big Case tractor with the loader and plowed a long section of pasture so he had a place that was fairly clear of snow to feed. Next the giant string-free bale was loaded into the processor and was processed and delivered to the cows.

During the entire process, the curious and hungry cows were constantly surrounding us and trying to get their noses into whichever bale we were working on. Not to mention, the wind was howling out of the east and the sky was spitting cold ice pellets and snow.  This was just another glamorous day in ranching life.  As hard as it may be to believe, when you start working you almost completely forget how cold it is!

Then we repeated the process until all the bales were shredded and all the cows were eating in a row. We took the final bale up to the horses.

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Horses getting fed
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Mike, the Clydesdale/Shire cross.
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Chocolate, a great ranch horse, waiting for breakfast

 

After feeding, we headed back to the ranch, and struggled a bit getting the tractors and truck up the steep hill.  Eventually, Ned plowed a little track around the hill so we could get all the equipment back to the barn.

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The 2WD didn’t quite make it up the hill, and slid backward off the road!

 

Doris  cooked us up some chicken and wild rice soup for lunch and it was so nice sitting in the warm house after the cold morning feeding, which had taken about three hours. 

When we got back to Hoten Holler, the wind had shifted and now all the snow had drifted in from the west side of the road.  Dave and Babe headed back out to clear the road again.

That night, Dave and I were discussing cattle operations.  200 cows is a lot and feeding them is quite the process.  They also go through a ton of water.  We laughed about our little operation feeding square bales off the back of the Mule.  When calving starts in a few weeks, we are anticipating 8 calves, while Ned has had 18 delivered in one evening!  Ranching takes some work, especially on that scale.  Still, it is really quite fun and it keeps people young.  Ned and Doris are in their 80’s and they are outside working cattle, hopping in and out of tractors, running water, and ranching every day.  I hope that if I get to live to be in my 80’s that people will say, “That’s a lot of work, especially for someone your age!”  But I probably won’t be able to hear them, anyway.

We helped the neighbors all week, but we didn’t neglect our girls over at the High Lonesome.  They are all looking fat and happy.

We are expecting calves in about 30 days now.  We are also expecting a foot of snow this weekend so we hope that no one decides to give birth early.  Happy February, everyone!

 

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A lovely South Dakota day!

 

The Winter Olympics – South Dakota not South Korea

9 February 2018 – Snowing, high of 6°F

The Winter Olympics opening ceremony was today in Pyeongchang,  South Korea, and they are reporting it to be very cold.  Since it is also very cold here, and also because we have about 10 inches of snow and it is still snowing, we decided we could host our own Winter Olympics.

 

While we may have the same weather as Korea, our Olympics differ because there will be only one country represented (USA) and only two team members participating (Pilot Dave and myself).

Our team uniforms consist of long thermal underwear, Carhartt bibs and snowpants, Coast Guard Issue 15-pound snow parka, Carhartt snow cap, waterproof gloves, wool socks, and while Dave opts for Cabela’s hunting boots, I could never survive without my Bogs mudders rated to -40°!

 

Most of the events in our Olympics are team sports.  They include Snow-Clearing, Ice-Breaking, Stall-Mucking, Tractor-Driving, and the ever-popular Wood-Hauling.

Dave won the gold medal simultaneously for two of the events, Tractor-Driving and Snow-Removal as he spent about 3 hours plowing Stagecoach Springs and all the driveways.  I definitely got the silver in Snow-Removal for raking snow off the solar panel.

The Wood-Hauling medal is still up for grabs.  This is the winter’s longest event and it appears we may run out of wood before we run out of cold weather.   That will add an entirely different dimension to the sport as we will have to either pick up logs from the multiple piles around the northern pasture that we just cut in the fall, or we may have to buy a truckload from one of our friends.  Either way, there will be some wood-splitting involved.

We will Share the top spot on the podium for stall-mucking and ice-breaking.  Speaking of podiums, we don’t have one but we have a Poo-dium which is the mountain of cow manure we have removed from the stalls thus far this winter.  Even if we win an event, we don’t feel much like climbing up on the poo-dium to receive a medal.

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Dave in front of the “poo-dium” during morning chores

 

Unlike the official Winter Olympics, we compete for our gold-medal award winning wine, and instead of silver medals we go for Silver Bullets (Coors)!  Just kidding, we aren’t fancy and prefer Franzia and Keystone Light.

The herd of cattle serves as the judges. They are not impartial and definitely the heifers love Dave the most. Not Fair.

Following the games, neither one of us expect to be on the Wheaties box, but we wouldn’t be surprised to get a sponsorship from Bogs or Carhartt, or more likely, Keystone or Franzia! Stay warm out there!

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The food train – headed to eat, not to be eaten…..yet!

 

January Wrap-Up

3 February 2018 – Cloudy and 33 with 3 – 5 inches of snow in the forecast

I cannot believe we are already into February?  What happened to January?  Well, here’s what happened. January was cold, then warm, then cold.  There was snow, sunshine, and more snow. It warmed up enough that I could wash the truck. The next day, I realized it was a waste of time.

We had a magnificent snowfall of around 8 inches.  We had to use the snow rake and clear the solar panels.

Since we had enough snow, Tractor Dave decided this would be a good opportunity for me to learn to plow the road.

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Jenny plowing the road

It is harder than you might think because if you get the blade too low, you mess up the gravel and the road can become really rough.  Gravel isn’t cheap to replace at about $250 a load, so when plowing, you really don’t want to create any holes or rough patches.  On the other hand, if you don’t get the blade low enough to scrape up the snow you are basically just burning diesel fuel.  The snow plow’s blade can be rotated up and down, right and left, as well as elevated in relation to the ground, and it is difficult to find the best position to clear the road.  Our dirt road is crowned in some places, level in others, and there are multiple hills and valleys, which only complicates the plowing process. 

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A close-up of the plow

 

After 2.5 hours in the (thankfully) heated cab, Stagecoach Springs was open for business. I really enjoyed plowing and I think Dave and I are going to have to play Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who gets to scoop up what we have coming today. Funny, we never have this argument over scooping poop out of the stalls, though.

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Clearing the road

 

In other news, the Black Hills Stock Show has been going on in Rapid City over the last 2 weeks.  I spent an entire day walking around checking it out and I could have easily spent a week looking at all they had going on.  There were tons of vendors that were marketing a wide variety of goods including western furniture, art, cattle feed, tack, prairie dog exterminators, pesticides, seed for alfalfa, tractor equipment, trailers, ATVs, feeders, stock tanks and the ever-popular bull semen! Artificially inseminating cows is big business.  Some of the events included rodeos, cattle shows, horse riding clinics, and all sorts of seminars for ranchers. It was so western, so cowboy, and so much fun.  Everyone was wearing boots and hats, and you could just tell that all those cowpokes were the real thing.  I barely saw a single person looking at a smart phone.

I really liked walking through the prep area for the Hereford bull show.  This part of the stock show is basically a beauty pageant for cattle, and the prize winners take home some big money and bragging rights for the quality of their bovines!  The best part is most of the ranchers showing are young kids in 4H.  I saw two kids, probably 9-10 years old, hanging out in the stall next to their bulls and eating lunch.  The bull decided to do his business and as soon as he pooped, the little girl jumped up and ran to get a pitch fork and cleaned up after him.  No one told her to, she didn’t complain, and then she went right back to eating lunch.  Ranch kids have initiative, that is for sure.

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A beautiful Hereford getting groomed for the show
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Some bulls laying around before the show, notice the fans keeping them cool.  Spoiled!

 

Our cows are getting bigger.  The May-Flower heifers are still super friendly and the one we call Black Cherry especially likes Dave to scratch her head.  That will be pretty interesting when she gets to be about 1600 pounds! 

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Dave giving Black Cherry a face rub

 

The other cows are about 50 days out from calving.  They are LARGE and IN CHARGE!  They can put away some groceries and go through many gallons of water too. We stay busy feeding and watering them, but it is still so much fun for us. We have been battling with ice in the pastures and the corrals.  The pregnant cows know it is slippery and they walk like old ladies across the slick spots.  We try to route them around the icy patches because if one of them wipes out it will be a big deal trying to get her back on her feet!

We applied for a brand for our cows.  The process of getting a brand is pretty complicated if you are looking for something specific.  Originally, we wanted three H’s for Hoten Holler Homestead, but the lady at the brand office said that anything with double or triple letters is nearly impossible because they are already taken, and the H’s are even more difficult because they can be read as I’s if rotated.  She said if we design a new brand it takes 6 months for them to approve, if they approve it.  However, there are expired brands to choose from that we could have approval for in two weeks if we found one we liked.  We chose this one.

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I over-cropped.  We will be branding Cattle on the right hip, not Cats.

 

It is an H with an inverted R, or in brand-speak, a CRAZY R.  It will go on the right hip of the cows and it stands for Hoten Ranch.  Or, Hoten CRAZY Ranch if you prefer.

And here we are in February.  The days are starting to get longer and we are planning for spring projects, primarily disking the fields, planting oats or alfalfa, ordering a branding iron, and getting started on a barn. Once again, as I wrap this up, it is starting to snow.

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Arrow likes to help with chores, especially the feeding of round bales.

Mother Nature’s Head Fake

9 January 2018 – Sunny and 55°

Oh yeah, that’s right, the thermometer says 55!  It is a warm, soupy, muddy mess out there but we are loving the warmer temperatures.  The forecast, however, is not quite so warm and friendly. It looks like snow again tomorrow and back to the big ZERO degrees by Friday. It is early January here in the Dakotas, so it is more than expected. Still, we are loving the warmth today.

We aren’t the only ones.  The cows have found some grassy spots between the melting patches of snow and are preceding to eat all day. I guess their New Year’s Resolutions didn’t take either.

I was super excited to see some actual living bees yesterday!  It has been quite some time since I saw any of the girls flying around.  I have noticed piles of dead bees in the snow, but from all I read this is to be expected in deep winter.  Bees are pretty hygienic and they don’t like dead bodies in their house, so when it warms up they toss them out.  The bee corpses are easily spotted in the snow, and for a novice like myself, it is quite disconcerting.  So again, I was actually jumping for joy when I saw quite a few live bees hanging outside the hive yesterday!  I really hope they make it through the winter.

In other news, we added two more heifers and two bred cows to our herd.

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This is an older picture of Honey (red cow on the left) and Mar-Zee (big nose in the camera).  These are the two bred cows we purchased.  We also brought the white face heifers (not pictured) #111, #112 who we named Triple Sticks and Dirty Dozen.

 

Nothing really changes for them; we are still working in conjunction with Cowboy Dave and Linda over at the High Lonesome Ranch, and the herd will stay together. But we are excited to see what we can make happen over the next few years with our ranch.  The big project this year will be barn-building and corral building so eventually we can have our own facilities for cattle.

I am finishing this post on the 10th of January in the early afternoon. Tractor Dave and I swapped out the bucket on the tractor for the snow plow to be ready for the next round of winter. We hold some sort of superstitious belief that if we have the tractor set up to plow snow, we probably won’t need it.

We have both retreated inside because it is starting to snow.

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The weather-guy decided to use my phone number in his forecast! Jenny-Jenny!  This isn’t really our forecast, just something I saw on the internet that I thought would make you laugh too.
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The super moon, or Wolf Moon, setting on New Year’s Day in the morning over the Holler.

 

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