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Hoten Holler!

Dust Bunnies and Barn Cats

7 November 2018 – Sunny and a high of 35

Anyone who has ever lived in the country, especially on a dirt road will understand the never-ending war on dust.  When we built this house, all of our neighbors said, “Don’t get a lot of carpet.  It’s impossible to keep clean.”  So we didn’t, and instead went with this dark flooring.

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Beautiful dark floor….impossible to keep clean!

I can still hear the words of warning from one of my past co-workers, Cindy, who said, “Don’t get dark floors.  They will always look dirty!”  Obviously, I didn’t listen and Cindy, if you’re out there, you were absolutely right.  The thing is, I love the look of these dark floors, especially when they are clean.  The problem is (and believe me this is NOT something I would describe as a problem in any other context) we live on a dirt road, have a dirt driveway, our yard, while filling in with some grass, is still mostly dirt from construction.  Add to that our mostly outdoor activities, which leads to muddy, dirty boots in and out of the house all day.  Oh, don’t forget the super fuzzy and dirt- loving Sheriff, or rather, Joe Dirt.!  The cumulative result of these factors is a very dirty/dusty looking floor.

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Sheriff helping in the garden
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Joe Dirt

It seems I am constantly sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping. I admit it has become somewhat of a neurosis, but when I see dusty paw prints or dust bunnies, I become a bit of a crazy lady and make a mad dash for the broom….. or my Halloween ride!  Dave is a complete team player, mostly taking off his boots when coming in the house and he even went so far to build me a mop/broom station for organization.

Two days ago he again proved to be the MVP on the Holler.  He went to get the mail and came back and said, “Look what I got ya!”  And I was more than super excited to see it was a robotic vacuum cleaner!  This is something I would have never bought for myself, but Dave is always solutions oriented and probably also tired of me crabbing about the dirty floors.

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My super new robot vacuum….I’m Jenny Jetson!  Love it!

So here is my product review.  This vacuum sucks.  And that is awesome for a vacuum whose only job is to suck.  It is smart enough to work its way around the room, it can go over hard floor and carpet, it’s slim enough to fit under the sofas and bedroom furniture, and when its battery starts running low, it finds its way back to the charging station.  Win, win, win!  Thanks, Dave!  We do have to keep an eye on Joey, because he is quite interested in the thing and would probably like nothing better than to jump on it and tear it to pieces.  Don’t do it, Joey!

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What kind of toy is this?   Hmmmmm?

We have been busy here, and despite the cold temperatures and wind, we built a fence for our neighbor, Sheri.

That was about a 3 day project, building H’s one day, 80 T-posts the next, and hanging wire on the third.  We’ve become pretty efficient with the fence tool and post cannon, but we still get pretty sore from fence building.

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I’m driving Babe back from the fence build.  The Sheriff  usually rides shotgun with me and doesn’t like when I drive something without him! 

I have sad news on the animal front regarding Goose the cat.  Goose went missing about 3 weeks ago and while most country folks don’t think that is that long for a barn cat to wander, I feel like she must’ve gotten eaten by a coyote or a hawk.  We see and hear coyotes almost every day and they also have to eat. Goose was pretty little and not so smart, poor thing.  Maverick has always been more athletic, easily evading Joey and the neighbor dogs and shooting up a tree when necessary.  He seems much happier without Goose, but Dave and I are sad and hopeful that either she still might return or that she met a quick ending. Another piece of country advice:  Don’t get too attached to barn cats.

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Come back, Goose!  or RIP Goose! 

Finally, we had a fun night out last night.  As is our new tradition, we spend election Tuesday evening with our dear friends, Cowboy and Linda, and drive 6 miles to the Pringle Fire Hall and cast our ballots.  Then we walk literally around the building into the Hitch Rail Bar and Grill and have a delicious cheeseburger and some beers.  Then we go vote again….just kidding.  As we were driving there early yesterday evening, we saw an enormous bald eagle soaring along the highway.  What a cool thing to see when heading to exercise your civic duty!

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The HitchRail Bar with the Red Tower of the Pringle Volunteer Fire Dept and polling station just behind.

November has set in and things have slowed.  Temps are dipping into the teens in the evenings and the days are cool but fortunately there has been a lot of sunshine and not a lot of that cold, white, fluffy stuff we won’t mention by name. We aren’t feeding cows yet, but they are all fat and contentedly laying around by mid-morning with full bellies from the grazing that remains in the pastures. Days are short, but sweet and we are looking forward to a fun, productive November, and also some dust-free floors!!!

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Rancher Dave and Cowboy Dave pushing Rose, the cow, out of the High Lonesome Driveway.  WHO LET THE COWS OUT? 

 

We Didn’t Have the Winning Ticket

27 October 2018 – Sunny, windy and highs in the 60s

I have to say that I am not immune to Lotto-fever.  Normally, I won’t buy a ticket, but when the jackpot is $1.6 billion dollars I figure it is worth a shot.  Not that I wouldn’t be happy with a mere $1.6 million dollars, but a girl’s gotta have her standards.  We did not have the winning ticket, so I guess if we want to be billionaires we will have to go back to work for about 500 years.

Despite our pitiful luck in choosing lotto numbers, we have a lot of luck in other areas, so we are counting our blessings.  First, we are having a really nice October. Any evidence of the early snowstorm is long gone.

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Cows in the south pasture headed for the water tank

We have been enjoying some really nice temperatures during this “Elizabeth Warren” Summer (or Indian Summer).  Ha ha. Several days in a row, it has been nice enough to go for a swim.

 

Rancher Dave and I have been working outside, mostly prepping equipment for winter. There is always something that needs the oil changed, Zerks greased, tires inflated etc. We also have been clearing tumbleweeds.  This is an especially fun job when the wind is 20 gusting to 30 knots.

 

The cows have been mostly low maintenance until Wednesday. Cowboy Dave noticed that Honey had a big bloody mass on her ear. Rancher Dave and Cowboy separated her (along with Muzzle for company and Muzzle’s baby, Mac) from the other cows and  our whole crew worked until we finally got her into the corral.  She went in the chute, but she refused to go in the head gate.  We prodded and poked her but she would absolutely NOT move forward.

Linda set to work washing her ear from over the top of the chute. She used warm soap and water and a washcloth and was able to get most of the blood off of her ear.  We used multiple tools, scissors and pliers to pull hair and debris out of her ear, which was not easy because she was not contained by a head gate. Honey is really a nice cow and it seemed like she knew we were trying to help her.  Linda was quiet and patient and eventually used some pliers and pulled out a giant mass of cactus bristles that were covered in blood and hair.  After she removed that, we were able to get a close enough look and see that the fly tag we had put on her ear in the spring was squished way up into her ear canal.  Rancher Dave cut the back side of the ear tag and Linda was able to reach in and pull the tag out. Teamwork.

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Linda, the cow-whisperer

Honey seemed relieved, but she didn’t like the next part of the process which included flooding her ear with hydrogen peroxide.  We finally got her all cleaned up, at least the best that we could do and let her back out with Muzzle and Mac. During the process, I called the vet in case we needed to bring her in and they gave me a tentative appointment for Thursday.  After we got her ear clean, we decided we would probably take her anyway, because her ear was obviously infected and smelled really bad.  It actually worked out pretty well because the calf, Mac, hadn’t had any of his shots yet so the guys took Honey and Mac to the vet.  Honey got cleaned up and an antibiotic, Mac got his shots and branded.

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Honey at the vet – actually in the head gate
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Little Mac at the Vet

Here we are staring down the barrel at November already.  Although we didn’t win the lottery, it kinda feels like we did because we are both healthy, most of the animals around here are doing great, we have good friends, nice weather, cold Keystones, and no complaints really. What would we have done with all that money, anyway?  We already live in paradise.

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Sunrise on the Holler
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Sunset on the Holler

 

We Refuse to Get Out the Winter Gear

We Refuse To Get Out the Winter Gear

9 October 2018 – Cloudy, snow showers, 30 degrees

After the snow at the end of September, we had a light reprieve with some nice weather days so we could get ready for MORE SNOW. So far, the temperatures haven’t been too bad and Dave and I are leaving the parkas, snow pants, and heavy duty gloves in the basement. Winter gear is kind of like Christmas music. If you put it on too early, you get sick of it before it’s time for it to go away. Instead, we have been feeding in the morning (just a little hay as most of the snow has been melting by the afternoon) in Hawaiian shirts and flip flops. Just kidding. We are sticking with a hoodie, a heavy jacket and light gloves.

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Rancher Dave and Joey with a mule full of hay
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Attempted selfie while driving with Joey in the back seat, Rancher Dave calling cows from the tailgate and Puzzle and Frita following behind

Like I said, we did have a few nice days to scramble in preparation for a week of snow. The two Dave’s put tin on a shed roof over at the High Lonesome, so the spoiled cows can have another place to shelter from the wet snow.

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Tin Roof! Note the High Lonesome sign in the upper right.

We moved the cows over to the High Lonesome, which has become no big deal. The cows will do anything for cake so it really is just a matter of shaking a bucket and they will come running.

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Cow calling 101: “Hey-BAHHH,  Hey -Bahhhh, , Hup, Hup, Hup!” Rattle the bucket, here come the cows.

We finally got the barn kitties to the vet for shots. It wasn’t easy because Maverick keeps leaving and moving into the High Lonesome barn. Linda has caught him and brought him back but he just keeps going back. I’m not sure why; they have two barn cats that he fights with and they also have two dogs that chase him. I’m feeding him the same food she feeds over there, so I’m thinking he just doesn’t like Goose. Goose is a crabby old lady, so I can see why he might not want to stick around all day, but he should come back at night. Ugh, Cats! Personally, I think dogs are so much smarter.

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Maverick eating at home instead of mooching off the neighbors.  I couldn’t get him and Goose to pose together.

(Funny side story for any old salty pilot readers: Our vet clinic has a new vet and I’m thinking she might be 26 or 27 years old. Anyway, she treated our cats and said, “Oh, Maverick and Goose! That’s so funny! I just watched the old Maverick movie on TV the other day.” Dave and I thought this was a funny comment because she referred to the movie as “the old Maverick movie” and not Top Gun. It made us feel old to think that Top Gun is so old. I guess if you say, “I feel the need, the need for speed!” to someone under thirty they may think you are talking about drugs, or on drugs, or just old and senile. Sigh.)

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An OLD Classic

Speaking of dogs, the Sheriff is doing great. He has developed a bad habit of sneaking up on the cows and once he gets about five feet away, he becomes the Tasmanian devil, barking and growling and taking great delight in their surprise and irritation. I think he may have some cattle dog in him, but he is also really tall so I worry he might get kicked. This would probably keep him from terrorizing the cattle, but I don’t want him to get hurt. So, I bought a shock collar and the very first time he wore it I set it to the vibrate only setting to see if he would respond. He did great and I thought, “This is great! I won’t even have to zap him.” Then, as we were walking home, he went crazily running through the tall grass and the snow in the southern pasture. When he emerged, the shock collar was GONE! Somehow he got out of it and after an extensive search operation I was unable to recover the thing. I guess he really didn’t want to be trained that way so we are trying some other options, like a long leash and Pupperoni for successful recall. Ugh, Dogs! Maybe the cats are much smarter.

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Arrow and Joey holding down the trailer while the men put up a roof.

So that’s about it on this end. Same old stuff, chase cows, shovel snow, feed hay, fill water, haul wood. We are praying for all our dear friends on the Gulf Coast as Hurricane Michael is headed that way. Y’all know what to do, but stay safe and don’t take any chances. I guess every place has its weather issues. Take care, Floridians!

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Ice hanging off the Stagecoach Springs Road Sign

Hey! What About Autumn?

28 September 2018 – Snow (wait, what?) Snow and 31 degrees

Last week it was hot.  This week it is not.

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September Snow

It seems we went directly from summer to winter. But next week is forecast to be much more typical fall temperatures, highs in the 50s and lows in the 30s.  That’s about perfect weather, but Mother Nature’s little swipe at us last night didn’t sit too well with most of the critters on the Holler.  The cows came out of the woods this morning and were extremely loud and rude, crabbily mooing at the house until Rancher Dave went out and fed them some bales.

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Rancher Dave putting bales in the feeder

The bees are probably in shock.  Fortunately, I did get all the honey supers off the hive and the mite treatments out, so they should be all set for winter. Goose is warm in the barn and Maverick is over at the High Lonesome, where he spends about every other night.  That little punk digs his way out of the barn at night and sometimes hunts over there or steals the cat food Linda puts out for her barn kitties.

The Sheriff, for one, is very excited about the snow.  He hasn’t seen snow yet in his life and he went out first thing this morning and growled and barked at his surroundings.  Shortly after discovering that the white stuff wouldn’t kill him, he tried to eat as much of it as he could.  Then he went bananas.  He started sprinting around in circles, rolling and jumping in the snow.  He acted like a little kid that heard he got a snow day off from school.

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Blurry picture of a crazy dog

In other news, the Hoten Holler ranch made its first cattle sales last week. Cowboy Dave and Rancher Dave loaded up the spring calves and took them to the cattle auction in St. Onge, South Dakota.

 

 

We had two steers for sale, T-BONE and Dude.  Cowboy and Linda had 2 heifers, Lilly and Heidi, and one steer, Chips.  They kept Hugo, Patsy’s calf, as a bull and plan to replace Koozy with him in a couple of years.

 

Both Dave and I thought it would be hard to sell these calves since we have known them since their births.  We told ourselves that these steers have had it made out here all spring and summer on the Holler.  They have been so spoiled to live in these beautiful hills with no shortage of food or water and plenty of supplemental treats from the garden and cake and creep.  They have been handled gently and well cared for, but it was time for them to go.  We also reminded ourselves that if we were made of hay or grass, they would have no problem eating us!

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Rancher Dave and Cowboy Dave smoke a celebratory cigar in honor of the calve sales

The sale of the calves was bitter-sweet, but now we can move forward to the next cycle of life in the cattle business.  We are hoping that we have 14 bred cows this fall that should calve in late April or early May. In between now and then, we will take the best care we can of the cows (and the two bulls) and make sure they are spoiled, fat, and happy.

Speaking of spoiled, fat, and happy, I have a pot of chili cooking on the wood stove for supper. It’s warm and cozy in the house and it feels like a perfect winter day…..except it’s September!!!

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Chili on the stove and Sheriff Joe warms himself after a morning of crazy running through the snow.

 

Shorter Days and Restless Nights

19 September 2018 – Foggy and 57 degrees

It has been somewhat of a stressful weekend here on the Holler.  This follows a really nice week of travels and leisure.  Dave and I looked at each other last week and he said, “The wood shed is full, all the hay is in the barn.  The fences are all up except for the gates into the barnyard.  Let’s go somewhere for a couple days.”  We settled on Billings, Montana.  So off we went for a 3-day vacation.  The drive through Wyoming and along the Big Horn Mountains was spectacular. We had perfect traveling weather and Joey just rode along happily in the back seat of the truck, occasionally sitting up to check out the scenery.

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Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming

We stopped just North of Gary Owen, MT (I wonder why Gary got a town named after him) and went to the National Cemetary and the site of Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Big Horn.  It was really a beautiful cemetery and Dave and I both appreciated being there on September 11th.

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Flag at half staff on September 11th, Little Big Horn National Cemetery

After visiting the cemetery, we drove through the battlefield and saw the monument to Custer’s Last Stand as well as multiple US Soldier markers and Native American markers. Dave and I really enjoy these historical sites, and we always try to educate ourselves before we get there.  This time we watched a couple of National Geographic videos on Amazon about the battle, and it really helped us appreciate what we were looking at.

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Zoom in to see all the grave markers along the trail.  A beautiful day to explore the battlefield.

We continued to Billings and enjoyed some big-city cuisine including delicious New York style pizza the first night and German food the next.  During the day we hiked along the Yellowstone River and explored the downtown Billings Brewery district.

 

It was great to just get away and not feel the weight of the endless list of tasks that need to be completed here at home. On the way home, however,  we stopped and picked up the gates we needed to enclose the barn. We returned home on Thursday night and were so happy to be back on the Holler.  It is really difficult to explain how un-citified we are now, and although we’ve only been here two and a half years, we have become completely intolerant of traffic, crowds, city noise, and having to keep the dog on a leash. Nothing in Billings could compete with the freedom, peace, and quiet of home so we were happy we went, but happier to be back.

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A Northern Flicker on the southern deck

Then the weekend came and things got a little hectic.  Friday, we installed the gates to prepare for the Cows to be let out in our pasture. Rancher Dave has gotten pretty adept at hanging gates, which is harder than it sounds.  You have to make sure they are centered, level, and when there are two that meet in the middle, they have to match up so they don’t overlap or leave too big of a gap.  I think he planned and executed pretty well.

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Enclosing the barnyard
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Notice how level the gates are and how nicely they meet up.  Not easy, unless you’re Rancher Dave.

Friday night, poor Joey showed up with a golf ball sized sac on the right size of his throat. We thought he got stung by a yellow jacket because of the size and speed of which the lump came up, and by Saturday morning it was the size of a tennis ball and as hard as a rock.  I gave him some Benedryl, still believing he had some sort of sting, but he just vomited it up and started to seem really lethargic and sad.  Of course, dogs only get sick on the weekend in between normal vet office hours.  By Sunday morning Joe had a mass the size of a softball sticking out of his neck, just under his ear.  He was really listless, obviously sick, and Joey can do sad eyes really well.  Poor puppy!  While debating a trip to the emergency vet, the fire department pager went off.

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Joey’s swollen throat

It was definitely my turn to respond, so I spent all of Sunday “fighting” a wildfire.  I actually did drag some hoses, dig some trench, and put some water on fire, but fortunately it wasn’t that big of a fire and the winds weren’t too strong so we contained it relatively quickly.  The time-suck of fire fighting is the “mop-up” phase where you have to make sure the fire is completely out.

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Mop-up

Returning home Sunday evening, Dave and I determined Joe was looking about the same but needed to go to the vet first thing Monday morning.  We have an incredible Vet Clinic about 24 miles south of here in the town of Edgemont, and they are always busy but said to bring him in and they would work him into the schedule.  Joey has an infected abcess and now has three holes in his jaw to drain out the pus and blood.  Oh the glamorous side of ranching!  He got sent home with the cone of shame on his head and some strong antibiotics.

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Sad Face
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Still swollen on the right side and punished with the cone of shame.

He has had a rough couple of days, but this morning he is back to his normal happy puppy self. His face is still swollen, he looks like he got into a boxing match.  Despite the cone, he wants to run and chase rabbits and is continually dragging the cone through the dirt and grass making it nearly impossible to keep his neck clean as his abcess drains.  We are so pleased that he didn’t have some rare fast growing tumor and that he should make a full recovery. Also completely grateful for the amazing vets and staff at the Cheyenne River Animal Hospital.

Meanwhile, back at the barn……I went to check on the cats the morning before we took Joey to the vet and I found Goose, but no Maverick.  I was really worried all day because Maverick has been digging his way out under the barn door and exploring at night AND we hear coyotes every night!  When we returned from the vet, there was still no sign of Maverick and Goose was looking worried and lonely. Linda put my mind at ease a little, because she believed there was a strange new critter living in her barn.  Her barn cats were throwing a fit and she could hear some cat noises, and she thought it might be Maverick.  We went to bed for another restless night of worrying about a sick dog and an eaten cat, only to find in the morning that Maverick had returned. Hooray for the little devil. Maybe he just wanted to make friends with the neighbor cats.

Finally, on Monday, we rounded up all the cows from the neighbor’s northern pasture and drove them down Stagecoach Springs to the Holler.  They seemed to know exactly where to go and when we opened the gates, they began kicking and bucking and running after the Mule, and then around the Mule, and in front of the Mule.  We were smack dab in the middle of a stampede, dust, cow manure, snorting heifers, kicking cows and all the fun stuff that comes with them.  Typical Monday.

 

Today, Dave loaded up the wood box and put it on the front porch.  Summer is almost over and the last two years, we have had a sprinkling of snow by the 10th of October.

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Rancher Dave doesn’t look too excited about winter

The days are getting shorter, the nights are cooling off, and the elk are bugling at dusk and dawn.  Despite a few worry-filled days, things seemed to have settled down and worked out for the best. I’m sitting here writing this with Joey’s cone-head on my feet as he snores away.  I know the two kitties are safe and sound in the barn and I can see 15 cows in my yard, happily munching away on what is left of forageable grass.  Rancher Dave is settled in for the night, watching Youtube videos for his next wood-working project. It’s not cold enough for a fire in the wood stove, but there is just a hint of chill in the air. I am so relieved that my dog and cats are okay, and a little mad at myself for worrying so much about them. I guess sometimes I just need to remind myself in the words of that great poet, Kenny Chesney, “Everythings gonna be alright!”  Cheers, everyone!

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Happy cows on the Happy Holler

 

Garden Goodies

7 September 2018 – Sunny and highs in the low 80’s

I bet all you people down south have already harvested your tomatoes, but up here where the growing season is SHORT, the tomatoes are just coming in.  I’m super excited, nothing tastes better than a tomato on Dave’s homemade artisan bread with some Duke’s mayo.

The garden was pretty productive this summer.  We did get some sugar snap peas, which I froze and have been using in stir-fry and salads.

We got around 20-25lbs of potatoes.  This is Friday, so tonight we will have the traditional “Death-Row Dinner” which will consist of a rib-eye, a fresh baked potato from the garden and a salad.  Don’t forget the Franzia!

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Counter full of taters

We had 3 cucumber plants and harvested enough to make 14 jars of pickles.

 

In between the haying, picking up rocks, and fence building, two of my neighbors were picking fruit from their trees.  Linda had two choke-cherry trees full of beautiful, dark red cherries.  We picked them and she taught me to make jelly.

Sheri brought over two giant buckets of crab-apples.  Using my newly acquired, mad, jelly making skills, I attempted to make crab-apple jelly too.  It didn’t turn out as good as the choke-cherry jelly, but it is still pretty good.

We have some butternut squash coming in now, too.

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Anyone for squash?

We have been eating quite a few poblano peppers in chilie rellenos, enchiladas, soups, etc.  We also have harvested a ton of jalapenos.

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Delicious peppers

And I have enough onions to make the whole state of South Dakota cry.  Now if the dang maters would just ripen up we could can some salsa.  Last year we ate all the salsa we made (and what we didn’t give away) until we ran out in March.  Then it was back to the store-bought stuff which just isn’t as fun.

The other cool thing about the end of gardening season is sharing with neighbors.  Linda is picking more corn than they can eat so we are reaping the benefits of that in exchange for some cucumbers and honey.  Sheri has been supplying us with zuchini and squash, also in exchange for honey.  Every time someone pulls into the driveway it is like a special visit from the farmer’s market.  Keep your Blue Apron and Hello Fresh delivery services….we’ll take the South Dakota food share program!

That’s it for the harvest news.  We also had some fun catching the bull and sending him to Sheri’s to take care of her ladies. Rancher Dave, Cowboy Dave and I loaded up some cattle panels in the trailer, went to the pasture and set them up in a circle with an opening on one side leading into the trailer.  We herded the girls and the bull into the circle and started leading the ladies out with cake.  The bull finally figured out that he was the only one left in the circle and he got a little upset.  Rancher Dave was not afraid and told him to get his big bull butt in the trailer, so he did.

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Rancher Dave directs Koozy, the bull, into the trailer as Cowboy monitors the situation.

Then the two Dave’s took Koozy, the bull, off to the neighbors to meet some new girls.  We are hoping he got all of our girls pregnant and if so, we should be expecting 14 calves from the herd in April and May.  (Seven of ours and seven of Cowboy’s and Linda’s.)  So if anyone wants to visit in the spring, be prepared for some sleepless nights!  And if the bull didn’t do his job completely, he will come back to the herd in October and have a chance to “clean-up”.  (That is a real rancher term, I’m not being silly.)  If he gets anyone pregnant in October that will mean July calves, which aren’t ideal because you have to feed them part of the winter. Still, it is better than having open cows.  Oh, the things I’ve learned in two years!

One final note about the barn cats.  They are doing great.

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Maverick (left) and Goose (right) hanging out in the barn.

Neither of them has ventured too far from the barn, even though I leave the door open for them all day.  They are afraid of Sheriff Joe, and haven’t figured out that if they just give him one or two good swats he will likely let them be.  Still, they are happy to see us every morning and any time we are in the barn.  If you sit down, Goose will immediately jump in your lap and start purring.  Maverick is a little stand-offish, but if you bring treats he warms right up.  I haven’t seen any signs of mice either, so cheers to the kitties.

The days are getting shorter and the nights are a little cooler.  We are loving the change of seasons and feel much more ready for winter than we did last year.  But, if summer wants to hang on for just a little longer, we’d be okay with that!

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Triple Sticks, the heifer, in the North pasture….she’s been eating!

 

The Lazy Days of Summer

25 August 2018 – Sunny and 86 degrees

The weekly blog post has fallen completely off of my weekly to-do list.  Probably because Dave and I have just been sitting around eating bon-bons, watching our stories on the TV, and drinking wine while the sun sets.  Ha ha, I wish!  We FINALLY got done haying the second week of August (just over a 1,000 bales for us) and over 300 bales for the neighbor, Sheri.

We separated calves from mama cows and sent the bull and the older ladies up to a northern pasture. The calves are penned up over at the High Lonesome, where Cowboy and Linda have the facilities and fence to keep them from their moms.  The first week, the babies bawled and bawled so much that the mamas broke out the northern pasture three times and came back to find their kids.  So we rounded them up and sent them north again and again.  Finally, they decided they weren’t going to get to see their babies anymore and stayed put.  The calves decided they like living the high-life at the High Lonesome, since Pilot Dave feeds them a bucket of creep twice a day and makes sure they have hay and water.

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The mamas and the bull up in the north pasture’s pond
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The calvies having creep for breakfast

I am pretty sure I wrote this last year, but creep is a supplement to help wean the calves from milk and onto grass.  It basically looks like grain and they love it. So we will keep them on creep for another week or so and then they should be good with grass.  These calves are all going to auction in October, so rather than reunite them with the herd, we plan to just keep them separate and make our lives easier when it is time for them to go.  I don’t want to think about it.

Other than calve creeping and watering, we have been working on putting a fence around the barn.  Once that is complete, the herd (minus calves) can come over to the Holler and graze our pastures. We thought that building a fence around the barn would be about a ten day project, and I’m sure you can guess why it has taken us over 2 weeks…..that’s right, ROCKS.IMG_6995

In typical South Dakota style, some fence posts went right in the ground, and others required Pilot Dave and I to pound, chisel, dig, and even rent a jack-hammer.  When Dave went in to get the jack-hammer, the guy at the hardware store said, “Last time, you told me not ever to rent this to you again!”  After a day of pounding away, we remembered why.

Dave and I were discussing how we feel like we are tired all the time, but we both feel stronger than when we first moved out here.  In 2016, I could barely hold the jackhammer up, but this summer, I actually got in there and worked on quite a few holes.  He said it didn’t seem as tough as the first time for him either.  Ranching makes you thick! (Or thick-headed!)

So after getting the corner posts in and lined up, we went to work lining up T-posts, then stringing wire, stretching wire, tying off wire, and clipping wire to the posts.  We are done with that part this afternoon and enjoying a cold Keystone for our work.  The only thing left is to hang the gates, and we will do that after a quick trip to Rapid to buy them on Tuesday.

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Northwestern corner of the barnyard
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Southwestern corner with the barn in the back

We decided with all the hay in the barn and the impending fall weather, it was time to get some barn cats to keep the mice out of the hay.  This morning, Linda and I went to the humane society and picked out two potential mousers.

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The (Grey) Goose

Goose is really sweet, social, and friendly.  She does have a feisty side and will bat at you if you come at her a little too quickly.  We hope this means she will hunt.  Maverick is really stand-offish and shy. That’s why I haven’t got a picture of him yet. We let him in the barn and in half a second he disappeared into the hay bales and we haven’t seen him since.  I’m hoping he will warm up to us, or not.  As long as he can find his food, water, and get some mice it is all good!  The plan is to keep them in the barn for 4-5 days while they figure out it is safe, they have beds to sleep in, food and water, and a target rich environment.  Then they will be outdoor/barn kitties.  Happy hunting!

And finally, sometime over a week ago, I harvested honey from the bees.  Both hives are going strong and I saw evidence of queens in each.  I left the new colony all the honey they have made (which I’m estimating is around 70lbs) since they will need it this winter.  I harvested a little over 2 gallons from the original hive as the two deep supers I think have about 70-80 lbs of honey for them this winter.

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Filtered honey dripping into jars
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The bright yellow stuff going into the filter

This harvest, the honey was more yellow, not as perfumey, and just a little sweeter than last.  I think they got more nectar from wild flowers as the sweet clover is almost all gone. Either way, those magnificent little bees just keep working away!  I will open the hive only two more times before winter; once to put in a mite treatment, and another to take the mite treatment out.  Then the hives get wrapped in tar-paper and we will wish them luck.

Oh and one more thing.  Remember the giant piles of rocks left from the barn excavation?IMG_5328

Dave put an ad on Craig’s List and wrote, “Free rocks!”  and about 10 days later, a gentleman called and said he was putting in a driveway and needed the rocks for a base.  We said, “Come and get ‘em!”  And he came for 11 loads of rocks, using his own Bobcat and dump trailer to load and haul them away.  Hooray for Craig’s List!

That’s the August wrap-up.  We hope everyone is doing good out there in the real world! And P.S. at the time of this post I have seen Maverick the Cat.  I went up to the barn and hung out drinking my morning coffee and the little guy got brave enough to come out and say Hi.  Then Goose smacked him around a bit and he ran back into the hay bales.  Cat Drama!

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Sheriff Joe takes a nap after a hard afternoon of fencing.

 

The Barn Door is Open!

4 August 2018 – Sunny and highs in the low 80s

Please excuse the title of this post, I couldn’t resist.  Anyway:  Woohoo!  We have a barn!

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Barn under construction in late June
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The big red barn

The barn was actually completed mid-July, but I haven’t had a chance to write about it because we have been busy filling it up with stuff.  After the building was complete, we had several loads of gravel brought in.  Cowboy Dave and Rancher Dave used Cowboy’s tractor (since it is a little more maneuverable than Babe) to spread the gravel inside.

 

This all happened at the same time we were still haying, so we immediately began stacking hay in the barn.

 

We also have been using it to store equipment, and are especially happy that our tractor, Babe, has a sheltered place to stay.  The intense South Dakota sun, and the frequent hail storms can really do a number on equipment that is constantly outside, so we are hoping to prolong the life of our tractor.

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Bob and Babe protected from the elements

We are planning on putting up a hay loft.  The builders engineered it and put in four support beams, but in the interest of time and money, we have elected to do this ourselves. Clearly, we have a lot of free time…ha ha ha ha ha!  Once haying is finally done and autumn sets in we will get to work on the hay loft, stalls, equipment racks etc.

The other big barn project is all the rocks that were displaced for construction.  Does anyone want any?  Really, come and get them, they are FREE ROCKS!  And they rock.  (Sorry, again I have been spending too much time in the sun.) Rancher Dave and I have been slowing digging out and picking up the big boulders, primarily with the use of Babe.  Our ultimate goal is to have gravel around all sides where we can drive a truck and hopefully have enough space in the front to turn around or back a trailer.  We have mostly completed the front side.

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Moving more rocks
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The front nearly complete with gravel and the road back to the house

We also completed a road from the house to the barn. It’s kind of ironic that we have all these rocks and we keep purchasing more rocks in the form of gravel.

We are really happy to have so much space to store hay. Speaking of hay, we were hoping to get 1000 square bales out of our properties this season.  Last year we got around 600, and this year we got exactly 1002!  Goal accomplished.  We need about 1050 to feed our cows for the winter, so we will end up buying some round bales anyway, but not nearly what we bought last year.  Also, it is good to have a contact you can buy hay from and the best way to keep that contact is to buy hay each year, so we really don’t mind buying a little.  Hay is a lot cheaper now than it will be in April.

Our haying season is not complete yet.  We are having the wettest summer on record in Custer, and it just keeps prolonging our work.  We did complete our fields and all of Cowboy Dave’s property, including a second cut of his alfalfa.  This is almost unheard of in these parts.

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Jeff driving Babe and baling the 2nd alfalfa cut
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Kana loads the hay onto the wagon

Notice we had some extra help doing Cowboy’s field.  Our good friends, Jeff and Kana, came all the way from Florida to visit the Black Hills and we put them to work.  Jeff did some baling, and Kana drove Cowboy’s tractor to stack hay bales.  Rancher Dave and I sat around and drank beer.  Just kidding.  We really did have quite an efficient operation going with two extra people, we baled and stacked and loaded all the bales in about 90 minutes.

We didn’t ask our friends to work the whole time.  While we weren’t haying, they enjoyed Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, Deadwood Rodeo, Devil’s Tower, horseback riding, and of course the Red Canyon and a burger in the booming town of Edgemont.  We had a great time while they were here and we were sad to see them go.  I hope they come back, especially during next haying season….ha ha!

 

Back to haying season.  While we have completed this side of the neighborhood, we still have two fields to complete for our neighbor Sherri.  She is the owner of the mower and baler, and in exchange for their use, we use our tractor and Cowboy’s tractor to hay her yard and one pasture. We are on hold for haying her fields due to rain!  It will get done, though, and we will have a big post-haying season glass of wine to celebrate. Or maybe we will have one tonight, in hopes it gets done soon.

Everything is happening all at once. In the next couple of weeks, we hope to complete Sherri’s haying, clean and put up the haying equipment for the season.  Also, we will be harvesting more honey.  We have another load of firewood to pick up from our friend who wants to get rid of it.  The garden is going to need some attention too.  I canned pickles this week, but I will be doing more real soon. I also picked, cleaned, blanched and preserved sugar snap peas. The tomatoes are starting to come in and I am hoping to make some salsa sometime in the next two weeks as well. The peppers are starting to come in and Rancher Dave will be using the hot ones to make his famous corn relish. Linda has picked buckets of chokecherries off her trees and she is going to teach me how to make chokecherry jelly. I better stop writing and get to work.

Happy August, everyone!

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The Holler with the barn
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The Sheriff supervising the gravel smoothing activity from a comfortable hay bale.

 

Oh Bee-Have!!!

28 July 2018 – Overcast, rainy,  and highs in the mid 60’s

July has been crazy. It seems like we are working all day, every day, as haying season just keeps slogging along. This is an unusually humid summer in the Black Hills, and the weather really is the main factor when baling and putting up hay.  If you bale wet hay, it can cause all kinds of problems for cattle.  If it is clover hay (which we have in abundance this year) it can mold and create the same chemical used in blood thinners, such as warfarin.  Obviously, this is not great for cows, especially if they are pregnant. Another potential problem with wet hay is that the moisture can cause a little growth inside the tight bales, and this friction can be enough to start a fire. This is not something we want to deal with in the new barn!

The result of the hot and humid weather is that we can’t start baling usually until late in the afternoon, when the wind has picked up and humidity has dropped.  So most mornings, Dave and I have kept busy moving rocks from around the barn.

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Rocks from the construction site

Or we have been getting firewood.

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A neighbor decided he was done with firewood and said, come and get all you want.  We are on load #3 here, with one more to go.  

Or we have been herding cows from pasture to pasture.

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Cherry Bomb in the morning

Or we have been weeding the garden.

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Lots of lettuce, cucumbers, potatoes and tomatoes.  Peppers, not so much.

Oh yeah, and we also have been catching rebellious bees.

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A big swarm of bees!

One morning, after working in the barn, I was walking back to the house around 10AM and I heard a noise that was comparable to a freight train.  I looked up at the trees in front of the beehive and I saw a giant, black cyclone of bees!  The bees were swarming. After they swarmed, they landed on a branch in a nearby tree, about 7 feet off the ground.

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Another view of the bees.

This was quite alarming to me.  As a novice beekeeper, I thought my bees were gone for sure.  I immediately called one of my bee-friends and she gave me some advice.  She asked if I wanted to keep the bees, and I said YES!  She said I could catch them in a box, and then rehome them in a new hive.  The problem is that I didn’t have an extra hive just laying around, but she said I could keep them in the box for a few hours, long enough to drive to Rapid and pick up a new empty beehive.

So here is what went down. (Unfortunately there are no pictures of this as there was a big sense of urgency to get the bees caught.  Also, there were no other random photographers on the Holler that wanted to get close to the bees!) I got a big cardboard box and a step ladder and placed them out by the tree with the swarm.  My friend had told me that the swarm rarely stings as they are not protecting brood or honey, only looking for new digs, so they would not be very aggressive.  Regardless, I put my whole bee suit on and headed out to catch the swarm.

I placed the box as best I could judge under the ball of bees. Then I climbed the ladder and grabbed the branch the bees were lodging upon.  I jerked it downward as hard and fast as I possibly could and a very large portion of the bees fell into the box.  It sounded like someone dumped a box of marbles in the box and I was super excited about accomplishing this…..for about a half a second.  Then, all the bees that were jerked out of the tree flew into the air in a tidal wave of angry buzzing!  They went back to the branch, and I repeated the process of jerking on it three or four times until I felt the majority of the bees were in the box. I closed the lid and changed out of my bee suit and made a bee-line (haha) to Rapid City where I picked up a new hive at the local supply store.

I imagine some of you reading this are wondering why the bees swarmed in the first place.  In my minimal experience, I am not really sure, but everything I read indicates that the hive was overcrowded.  This is really a good thing, as it indicates the colony is quite healthy.  The hive becomes so full of bees it is uncomfortable, so the queen takes most of the bees out in search of new living quarters.  I should have realized this was about to happen, as I noticed some swarm cells in my previous hive inspection.  The colony prepares for the queen to depart by preparing to make a new queen for the remaining bees, and they make distinctive, peanut-shaped swarm cells in which to hatch a new queen.  I could go on and on about all the things I really don’t know about bees, but this would be the never-ending blog post.  I have to quote one of the favorite things I heard from a beekeeper when discussing colony behavior, which is, “I doubt the bees are reading the same books we are!”

I returned from Rapid City and re-donned the bee suit.  I picked up the box of bees, which I estimate weighed 15 pounds or so, and did all I could to dump them into a new hive. I set the cardboard box next to the hive and hoped they would all find their way into their new home.

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Captured swarm next to the new hive.

The next morning, I went out to check the progress, and those dang bees all moved out of the hive and back into the cardboard box!  What the heck? Obviously they can’t stay in a cardboard box for a South Dakota winter, so  I visited the bee guru, aka. YouTube.  I discovered a solution to get them back into the hive.

I made a ramp from the box of bees to the hive using a piece of cardboard.  Then, I took a bed sheet and tucked the corners up into the hive entrance. Next, I dumped the box of bees onto the bed sheet.  Believe it or not, the bees sent out some scouts that walked right up the ramp into the hive and after about 30 minutes, all the bees were out of the box and in the hive.  Thank you, all wise and knowing YouTube!

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The bed sheet shows the bees the way home.
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And into the hive they go!

So that was enough drama to make a bee movie… ha ha.  The next week I wanted to check the status of the original hive and I was hoping to harvest a ton of honey since honey crowding can be a condition that causes the bees to swarm.  Unfortunately, I only had about 4.5 frames of honey capped and available to harvest.  Dave and I garnered about ¾ of a gallon, which was six pints and some change.

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Rancher Dave scrapes the wax from the top of the frames.
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Fresh honey ready to be spun off in the centrifuge.
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Honey!
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Super clear and pure clover honey.

It is the clearest and most delicious and fresh honey, I am told.  Personally, I don’t care for honey but I haven’t been able to train these bees to make chocolate or wine.

To end all the bee drama,  two weeks later I opened both hives.  They both appear to be doing great.  The new hive, which I am referring to as B-plus, has tons of bees and obvious signs of eggs and larvae. I added a new deep super and another medium super to give them some space.  They are also busy making honey so they can make it through the all too fast approaching winter.

The original bee hive, which I am referring to as B-minus, had no clear signs of a queen, but tons of honey.  There were also a ton of bees, so I gave them another medium super. I dug through every single frame to see if I needed to add a new queen, but I was so excited on the 2nd to last frame in the bottom box, where I spotted the new queen. All hail the queen!

If both hives survive the winter, I will have been lucky enough to gain a second colony for free! The lesson I  learned is not to immediately assume the worst when unexpected things happen.  I saw the bees swarm and I immediately cursed it as a bad thing, but it  turned out to be a really great thing.  Actually, the swarm was an outstanding event that pushed me way out of my comfort level and left me with a new colony of bees.  Life is good!

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B-minus in the back and B-plus in the front.  Hopefully more honey this summer.  If not, I hope they both survive next winter.

 

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