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Hoten Holler!

You’re REALLY on Fire!

17 October 2020- Rain/sleet and 35 degrees – expecting 3-5 inches of snow tonight

Yesterday was a spectacular day on the Holler.  After supper, Dave and I had a glass of wine in the loft and were discussing how grateful for all the things that happened this week, and the frosting on the cake was as we toasted it started to rain.  We have been desperately praying for rain.  Amen.

Last Saturday morning was beautiful weather, but dry.  I went for a run and Dave was up in the barn and corral working on a plan to sort out the individual calves that were going to different buyers this week.  He came around the corner and looked to the south to see smoke billowing up from what looked like the neighbor’s house.  He thought to himself, “Why would anyone be burning trash in this wind and dryness?” and he jumped in the Mule to drive down there and see what was going on.  As he got closer he realized the smoke was not from a controlled burn, but it was a fast moving grass fire and headed right toward another neighbor’s lot full of dry ponderosa pine.  

A little bigger than a trash burn.

He sped up the hill and ran into the first neighbor’s barn where he found the man working on his mower.  Dave said, “Did you call the fire department?”  and immediately realized the man had no idea what was happening. The wind was blowing away from the barn so he couldn’t even smell the smoke.  “You’re on fire, you’re really on fire!  Call 9-11!”  And with that Dave sped down to another neighbor’s place that was definitely downwind of the burning grass and now burning trees.  He ran up to their house and told them to get their kids and animals and get out.

Right about this time I was returning from my run and I was dying after running up the steep hill that ends at the north part of our road.  I turned the corner and saw huge flames in the trees and immediately thought it was the southern-most neighbor’s house. I never ran home so fast in my life and as I was running down the hill I saw Dave speeding up the road from the direction of the blaze and realized he must have already called the fire department.  By the time I got to the house he was in the tractor headed over to the neighbors whose house was in danger to help them move their hay bales away from the approaching fire.  I jumped in the Mule and drove over there behind him to see if I could help them get their stuff out.  

These are new neighbors that moved into the High Lonesome and they have 3 kids and 4 dogs and 2 cats.  I ran into their house and said, “What can I do to help?”  The lady said “Just get all of the animals in the car!”  So we loaded up the animals and obviously, the kids and drove back to our place which was to this point in the clear from the fire.  As we raced down their driveway we could see what looked like a fire tornado spinning across the pasture and flames were rolling along the tree tops.  

Driveway to new neighbors’ house and wind blowing the fire toward it.

In a short time, and I mean short, the fire department arrived.  They were awesome.  Several local volunteer departments went right to work and they even called in three helicopter drops of water. After a very stressful hour and a half it appeared that they had the whole thing under control and the new neighbors place was no longer under threat.  The fire was contained about 150 feet from their barn.  God Bless the firefighters!

The fire departments remained on scene until late in the evening and sent crews out the next day to continue to douse the hot spots.  We are so grateful that no one got hurt and not one structure burnt.  It could have been really, really bad.  Instead it appears there will be a nice green pasture next year.

Burnt grass and forest.

The week remained busy as we decided our fire mitigation plan here needed some work.  Dave assembled a fire fighting kit by ordering multiple long hoses that would work with a water pump that we have.  We decided to keep our cistern full of water and to always have water in the totes just in case.  Of course we can’t keep the totes full when it freezes but in the summer when it is dry, they will be at the ready.

Wednesday, we both went to another neighbor’s house to help him with his round-up preg check event.  He is a lot bigger than us with over 200 calves and nearly 300 cows.  Dave sorted and pushed cattle into the tub and up the alley.  I got to give shots to all the calves. They especially liked tequila shots.  It was a long, long day and we were both really tired at the end.  We are also really grateful that we only have a few cows.

Calves waiting to be worked
Horseback cowboy pushes cows toward the tub.

Thursday we recovered from the round-up and began preparing for the big snow we are supposed to be getting this weekend.  We also did some preparations for our calves who were going to separate buyers.

Friday, Apollo 11 went home with the gentleman from Wyoming who wants to add him in with his two calves and raise him up for beef next year.  The guy was so nice and he loved our gentle cows.  He said to stay in touch and not sell any of our steers next year without talking to him first.  We are just really happy Apollo went to another ranch for the rest of his life instead of a feedlot.

After Apollo 11 left, Dave and I loaded up the three heifer calves and he drove them to another ranch where a really nice couple had prepared a great corral and shelter for them. They were so happy to get these three gentle girls and again, we are so happy they are also going to live on a ranch where hopefully they will be (re-)productive and have long and happy lives. 

Apollo 11’s last day on the Holler
Dave says goodbye to the heifers, Frosty, Bo, and Toni. They seemed to like their new digs.

And that leaves us with one calf, Henry the 8th.  We didn’t want poor Hank to be lonely so before all the calves left we sorted out two of our yearling heifers from the big cows to come hang out with him while he continues to be weaned from his mom.  It went so smoothly and Dave and I just walked into the pasture and they were already hanging out by the gate.  We tempted them out with just a little cake and walked them down the road and into a pasture adjacent to the corral.  We let Henry out with them and now they are all hanging out together for the next four weeks. 

Lucky and Fatz get to hang out with their little brother, Henry the 8th. I’ll post a picture of all three when I get a good one.

That brings us back to yesterday evening.  On the way back from the ranch where Dave dropped off the heifer calves, he stopped at Lintz Bros. Pizza Company which was a great treat for us.  We had a great supper and all the chores were done and finally we had a moment to relax and think about how lucky we are.  There were so many moving parts and pieces that could have gone awry, but somehow we were able to safely get all the animals to happy new homes. We also narrowly avoided a disastrous fire.  Neither of us got hurt at round up.  It was just one of those moments where we had a chance to reflect on all the work of the previous year of breeding, raising, feeding, watering, haying, calving, branding, and finally selling our product, the calves.  Plus we feel like we did a lot better than we would have done at the sale barn.  

Just when things couldn’t seem to be going any better, it started to rain and has been raining/snowing on and off since yesterday.  Oh, and then the pics and videos of the calves from their new happy homes started coming in via text. I don’t normally like to say it out loud for fear of jinxing ourselves, but life is good on the Holler.

Fatz, Lucky, and Hunny on a warmer day.

I hope everyone out there in the real world is having as good a weekend as we are, snowstorm and all.  Keep it free out there!

Chasing Cows in our Pajamas

16 October 2020 – Sunny and 50’s

Things stay busy on the Holler in October because the calfies are getting too big to nurse so we have to wean them off their mothers.  This year we thought ahead and coordinated the separation of moms and babies with the vet’s visit for preg-checking.  That way we only had to sort the cows once!  

We brought the whole herd into the corral and Dave set up this wood bar between two of the corral posts.  The babies are short enough to go under it, but the moms are not so we just walked everyone around in the corral for a few minutes and the calves shot under the bar and the moms stood there looking confused. 

The bar is black and behind the red gate on the left. We just open the gate and the calves shoot right under. Close the gate and they are sorted off!

One of our favorite vets, Dr. Olivia, was right on time and was able to give the heifer calves their “Bangs” or brucellosis vaccines.  They all got poured for flies and that part of the day went relatively smoothly.  Bo, #10, was a little slippery and while I caught her in the head gate initially, she squeezed out backwards into the chute. I opened the head gate to try to catch her again but she sprang through and I missed her.  First round of beers on me.

Dave chased her backwards through the chute and I prepared to catch her again but I think she thought it was a big game at this point and sprinted toward the head gate and leaped through it before I could catch her.  Second round of beers on me.

Dave chased her back through again and this time I kept the head gate closed until she scooted her nose up to it.  Then I just barely opened it and she tried to jump through again but I got her.  I think I lost some cool points, though.  Thanks Bo!

Dr. Olivia preg checks one of the cows.

We began working the big cows.  They were getting their vaccinations, poured for flies, and checked to see if they were pregnant and when they were due. It was going relatively smoothly until Wooly Bear decided she did not want to participate and jumped over the corral fence taking out several strands of wire with her.  Andie decided to follow her.  We scrambled to move some corral panels to cover the hole in the fence but now two of the big cows were on the lam. We continued to work the remaining cows and spent way too much time rounding up the two rebels.  At the end of the day, poor Dr. Olivia had to speed off to her next appointment and one of our friends that came to help had a smashed and bloody finger from rambunctious cows in the alley way. It’s not really a round-up unless someone gets mad or hurt or both.

We found out that Moscow the bull had done a fine job impregnating nine out of ten cows.  Sadly, Hunny, one of our original girls, is not bred.  Dave and I kept an open cow, Valentine, last year and agreed in advance we will not be keeping any open cows again.  They are expensive to feed and they act crazy when they go into heat.  Sorry Hunny, but your number is up. More on that in a minute.

Our beautiful sweet cow, Hunny, is open! DANG.

After the vet left and the friend’s finger was bandaged and doctored, we loaded up the calves in the trailer and led the moms up the road to a pasture we call the Hideout. The moms followed the trailer easily because they knew their babies were inside.  In the dirtiest of tricks, we led the moms into the Hideout, did a U-turn and drove the babies out and shut the moms in.  It’s time for weaning and this was the best way we could ensure to separate them.

We drove the babies back to the corral and unloaded them.  While they were looking for their moms initially, they were quite pleased to see we had put out some buckets with a sweet grain mix for them.  We also had a big bale of hay and some fresh water.  They still bawled, and their moms could be heard bawling all the way up in the hideout.  This went on for two full days and included one of the moms, Triple-Stix, jumping the hideout fence and coming back to stand outside the corral and bawl for her baby.  We would lead her back to the hideout with cake and she would get water and cake and come right back.  This also went on for two full days.

On the third day, I woke up at about 2:30AM and felt panic.  Why was it so quiet?  There was no bawling or mooing.  I lay awake listening and I could not wait until sunrise to throw on my shoes and go see if everything was okay.  All the babies were in the corral sleeping and there was no sign of Triple-Stix.  I guess they all decided the bawling was a waste of energy. Peace at last!

Things went well for the next few days.  The calves are digging their new routine, especially the feedings of sweet grain mix.  The moms have settled into the hideout and most of their bags have gone down quite a bit so they aren’t desperate to find their babies and nurse them.  Triple-Stix gave up on jumping and now she just looks mad at us. After about a week of separation, Dave and I were up before sunrise drinking coffee and when it began to get light out we went to change into chore clothes but I looked out the bedroom window and saw a calf NOT IN THE CORRAL but in the yard looking back at me!  Those sneaky devils had busted out of the gate and were headed off to who knows where.  

Dave and I ran out the door while he went to the corral to close in the three calves that weren’t brave enough to leave. I took the Sheriff and tried to chase the other two back into the corral.  It was pretty easy because they took one look at Sheriff Joe and turned around heading back to their sanctuary.  He didn’t even chase them but just crept up the fence while I flanked them to funnel them back through the gate.  Dave looked at me in my cowboy boots and pajamas and said, “Nice job, and nice outfit!” I am a farm fashionista.

Weaner calves in the corral. From left to right, Henry the 8th, Frosty, Apollo 11, Bo Derek, and Toni Romo

We have been actively trying to sell our calves and Hunny for about a week and a half.  We have always just taken our cows to market, but at the auction we have no say on the final deal.  It seems for operators our size that no matter how nice our calves look they don’t bring the price that an arena full of uniform steers or heifers do.  This year we advertised on Facebook Marketplace (Stagecoach Farms) and Craig’s List to see if anyone wanted a steer, three replacement heifers, or an open cow who probably has several more calves in her future.  

We got a lot of response and as of today we have a plan for everyone.  We are going to keep Henry the 8th as a steer and feed him up and take him to the butcher next fall.  A gentleman in Wyoming is planning to come get Apollo 11, the other steer, and add him to his herd with the same intention to feed him out and have him butchered when he gets big enough.  Another couple nearby wants to start their own herd and are planning on getting the three heifers this week.  They really loved them and said their grandchildren would be so excited to see these gentle calves.  Dave and I joke that they are going to a petting zoo.

Hunny definitely hit the jackpot because another local rancher with a herd about the size of ours wanted to add another cow.  He says his cows come for cake and let him scratch their heads, just like ours.  He came to see Hunny and how nice she is and decided to add her to his herd where he will breed her with his bull.  He took her home and said she became the “boss cow” immediately so it sounds like she found her new place. She was definitely the boss cow here so it will be interesting to see who takes over next.

Hunny and Toni Romo #9

That about wraps up the first ten days of October. As busy and chaotic as it might sound, things have not really quieted down.  More on that in the next blog….but until then, keep it free out there in the real world!

September Scramble

12 October 2020 – Sunny and 60

There is always pressure this time of year when the days are getting shorter and the temperatures are getting cooler.  Winter is coming.  We are preparing.

We finished the loafing shed for the spoiled cows with the exception of one corner because we ran out of trim.  This was not a planning error, but rather a change in plans as we decided to add the silver trim to the front too.  

 

Because we live in the country and far away from most convenient things, we had to place another order for trim with a company in Rapid City.  We should be able to pick it up and completely finish the shed this week. We’re calling it the Hidden Cow Palace because it cannot be seen from the road. And it’s for cows.  And it’s kind of a palace.

Dave and I have stayed busy gathering and splitting and stacking firewood. Stacking firewood in the woodshed is the spookiest of Halloween-time jobs.  There are all sorts of critters in there.  There are millions and billions of spiders and webs.  I’m sure there are some snakes living under the pallets. Something rodent-like has several furry nests buried in between the sticks.  When we started stacking the wood a bat flew out and nearly hit me in the head! I guess it is the season to get creeped out…..yuck! 

We have had such dry weather that there is nothing left in the pastures for the cows to graze, so we actually have been feeding hay for a couple weeks.  We try to plan for 180 days of feed because it’s likely that we can have a blizzard in May so Nov-May is the feeding season.  This year we’re feeding in September so it’s possible we will have to buy even more hay. That’s okay though.  There are several ranchers that aren’t too far away that had much better hay seasons than we did and we are always happy to do business with other ranchers.

Dave and I goofed off one day this month. (Actually we goofed off every day, but we designated one specific day to goofing off.) We went to the Buffalo Round-up Art Show at Custer State Park.  The Round-up is quite spectacular but we have done that before and the traffic is horrific, especially when we’re used to zero traffic.  We beat the crowds from the round-up and went to the art show.  Then we met up with our favorite Fish-n-Chips food truck that swings through Custer every few months.  You know they’re good when the line goes all the way down the block.

And that wraps up September.  Wait until you see how exciting October has been so far in the next blog!

The Great Cow Escape of 2020

20 September 2020 – Sunny and 75

It warmed right back up after the snow storm and we were actually really grateful for the snow because we need moisture.  The ground soaked it right up and we returned to the upper 80s for several days. The roads are once again dry and dusty. Crazy South Dakota weather.

Dave and I finished putting the roof rafters and purlins on the cow shelter, but we are waiting on the metal siding and roofing.  Apparently there is a big demand for building materials right now, especially in this area, so we can expect those materials in a couple weeks. It is quite possible we can expect more snow in a couple weeks as well.

The almost-complete shed. It doesn’t offer much shelter yet.
From the top of the stock dam

Meanwhile, we had our second (and hopefully final) load of hay delivered and we were able to put most of it into the barn.

Don’t drive too close behind the hay wagon, you may get a free bale on your hood!

We are probably going to have to start feeding very soon as the pastures just did not produce anything this year and the cows are hungry.  So hungry that they decided one night to knock down a wire gate and head to town.

Dave and I got up early as usual and decided the weather was so nice we would walk up to the northern pasture to check on everyone.  We counted only half of the cows and proceeded to do a perimeter check in which we discovered the knocked down gate.  Seven cows were out, but nowhere to be seen. We quickly walked back to the house and loaded up some cattle panels to block the gate area.  Then Dave headed west in the Mule and I headed east in the truck in search of the escapees.  Neither of us had any luck and we met back at the pasture to reattack.

We decided to move the remaining cows into the southern pasture so we could leave the gate area open in case the loose cows decided to come back. Optimism.  While he moved the herd south I proceeded on foot through the National Forest with a bucket of cow-cake.  I walked pretty far and called for them and shook the cake bucket but did not see nary a cow. I bet if anyone had been out there and saw me doing this they would have thought I had also escaped, but from the looney-bin.

I decided to head even further east in the truck and about two miles away I saw the culprits grazing along the road.  As soon as they heard me rattle the cake bucket they came running.  Dave showed up in the Mule and I parked my truck and we led the girls up the long hill back to the Holler.  

Once we arrived at the spot where they had broken out, most of the cows walked right back in but there is always one that is a troublemaker.  This time it was the calf, Bo.  While everyone else went through the gate and headed west along the fence, she also headed west along the fence but on the outside of the pasture.  She is already too big to squeeze through the barbed wire and so we tried to push her back toward the gate, but the other cows kept going west so of course she did not want to turn around.  

Calves are much harder for us to move because our cows are so “bucket-broke” they will follow us anywhere as long as there is a cake involved.  Calves aren’t eating cake yet and only want to go where their moms go, but often they are too stupid to follow them through a gate.  Bo was getting scared and running back and forth.  Dave and I were getting frustrated as every attempt to get her back to the gate was unsuccessful.  After what seemed like a long time and a lot of wasted effort we resorted to calling in the Sheriff. Sheriff Joe that is.

Put me in, Coach!

Normally we don’t let Joey chase after cows or calves.  He is pretty tall and I worry that he is not quick enough and will get kicked in the teeth.  We like to keep things as calm and un-chaotic as possible when moving cattle, and a big biting dog can add a little chaos. Also, Joe has a very strong chase instinct so he will definitely chase cows as far as they can run and usually not in the direction we want.  Our frustration with herding this calf made all of these reasons seem unimportant and we thought we’d give him a shot.

I said, “Joey, come!”  He jumped out of the Mule came right to me and I said, “Here’s your chance.  Git Her!”  He promptly turned around and ran right after a butterfly.   Hmmmmm.  I thought we might try again and so I called him back and he came and sat in front of me.  Dave suggested instead of “Git Her” I make the “shushing” noise I usually do when we are pushing cows.  So I said, “Joe, Shush, shushh!”  Joey turned around and saw Bo and instantly turned on his missile lock.  He ran as fast as he could up behind her and she immediately sensed this was not good.  Bo took off and Joey herded her right through the gate into the pasture with the rest of the cows. It was awesome!

I yelled, “That’s enough, COME!”  And he came right back as proud as he could be.  Dave and I could not believe it but we praised him and were so relieved to finally have all the cows back inside.  I did not think the Sheriff would be any good at the cow herding thing but he really proved me wrong.  Good job, Joe!

Resting after a tough day of wrangling calves.

The next day we were checking cows and I thought I would see if he was up for some more herding.  I called him and I said, “Joe, Shush Shussh!”  He turned around and immediately caught sight of his own tail.  He started chasing it in a circle as fast as he could turn until he caught it and tackled himself to the ground. Hmmmm.  Maybe we need a little more work.

That’s about the extent of the excitement out here on the Holler.  We are praying for our friends that suffered through Hurricane Sally in Florida and hope you all dry out soon. Until next time, keep it free out there in the real world!

Don’t be mad. We’re just dumb cows!

Quit Whining about the Heat!

9 September 2020 – Sunny and 42

Last weekend it was nearly 100 degrees on Saturday.  That all changed Monday night when the snow rolled in…..that’s right, snow already!

We fed a little but the snow melted by afternoon so it was a light breakfast.

Don’t worry though, we are all prepared for winter.  Okay, maybe you should worry a little.  We still haven’t completed the shelter for the cows but we are making progress.  We got the posts all squared up and the headers on the top so we can start putting in some rafters.

We also got one big load of hay delivered and are ordering one more.  

Dave unloading the trailer

Even though our hay crop was a complete bust this year, there is still quite a bit of work to do when putting up hay.  It has to be unloaded from the trailer, and the truck-driver doesn’t want to sit around all day and watch us put up hay, so Dave unloads it all in the yard as fast as he can.  Once the truck driver is gone we set to work putting as many bales in the loft as we could fit.

Headed to the barn loft
Room for a few more up top

Then we put the outside bales on pallets and covered them with a tarp.  This might be overkill as these round bales will probably do fine with the rain and snow, but the deer and elk like to pick at them as well so we tarp them just to add an additional level of security.

Tarped bales

As the winter storm approached, Dave and I hustled around battening down the hatches getting ready for winter.  This was strange on Sunday as it was ninety degrees and we were wearing shorts and sweating but prepping for snow. 

Monday morning started off relatively warm (60s) but the temps dropped all day and it began snowing around 5pm.  We used the day to move cows to a pasture where they had some trees and a wind break for shelter.  Normally we wouldn’t worry too much about them in 20 degree temperatures but because it has been so warm we thought the temperature swing would be hard on them.  We spoil our cows and I’m pretty sure we were the only ranchers in South Dakota that would make such a fuss for one early snowstorm.  

Four calves wondering why the people are running around like mad.

We also reluctantly loaded up the firewood box and moved it to the porch.

Hello firewood my old friend….

The forecast (which came true) was for snow and record cold temperatures down to 24 degrees.  This prompted me to pull up all the plants in the garden. I have a few boxes of green tomatoes that I am trying to let ripen, and I have tons of cayenne peppers.  

This wasn’t too heartbreaking because most of the garden got demolished in the hail storm in July, so we salvaged what we could.  Thank goodness we aren’t solely surviving on what we grow or we would be very thin at the end of next winter.  I guess if times get really desperate we could incorporate wild rabbits and deer into our diet, but so far Lynn’s Dakotamart remains open and the bunnies are safe….for now. Also, neither one of us are big fans of hare in our food.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

My parents came to visit for a few days.  I tease them that they are the bookends to our summer because they usually visit around Mother’s Day and again right before it snows.  Their timing was impeccable this time.  We had a great time but I didn’t even take one picture of them!  Dang.

It is supposed to warm back up to the 80s this coming weekend, and we are going to have to kick it into high gear getting this lean-to completed.  We definitely need to get more firewood and we have to get another load of hay delivered if we are going to keep all the cows over winter. I guess I better get my coat and stocking cap on and get out there and help Dave cut some rafters!  Keep it free out there in the real world.

Red Sky in the morning…ranchers’ warning!

The Last Bit of Summer

21 August 2020 – Sunny and 91 – It’s HOT

Hey everybody!  How is your summer going?  We are soaking up the heat and sun and anticipating about ten more days of hot, dry weather….then September will be here and we expect the typical drop off in temperatures.  August is great for making us wish for fall.  Although it has been hot, we have been busy working on the lean-to.  This morning we put in and concreted the last post.  

Posts in the ground for the lean-to shelter….the cows better be grateful!

Prior to that, we had some great visitors this month.  One of Dave’s friends from the Coast Guard and his wife visited us and we put them to work.  Unfortunately, there was not a lot of hay to harvest this year, but they both got to work at mowing and baling.

Dave gives instructions for mowing
Raking like an old hand.

We also got some firewood and split it, although it was much too hot to spend too much time in the woods. 

Cutting wood in the forest

Another highlight was corralling and trailering Moscow, the bull, and taking him to the vet so he could be tested for trichomoniasis.  We had to ensure he did not have this venereal disease so we could return him to his owner. Moscow was reluctant to trailer up (nervous about the test?), but thanks to extra hands we finally got him on the trailer and to the vet.

Corral panels set up to catch the bull
Moscow getting tested for Trich

Moscow came up clean but had to return to the Holler for a few days to await his test results. We are thinking all the cows are bred because of the reaction of the cows upon his return.  In the spring when we introduced him into the pasture, the herd was super excited and would not leave him alone.  This time all the cows were laying down and when we unloaded him they barely looked up.  He seemed a bit confused, as if to say, “Didn’t you girls miss me?”  Not one cow got up to greet him and eventually someone let out a nonchalant “Moo” telling him he could come back into the herd but there wasn’t going to be any fanfare or welcome home parties.  I hope he didn’t feel too used. 

Cows interested in NOTHING but sleeping

Our guests also got to do some Black Hills touring, going to Deadwood and Sturgis. It was great to catch up with them and although there was not a lot of farming/ranching to do, we all worked really hard to ensure the Franzia Wine Company stays in business by sitting on the porch and drinking a lot of cabernet.

Fortunately, there were a couple of elk sightings while they were here, but the morning after they left, Dave and I woke up to about 50 elk grazing in our South Pasture.  

Elk in the backyard

So the seasons turn, and the turkeys have returned much to the pleasure of Sheriff Joe.  This morning while cleaning up after breakfast, Dave pointed out the window and we saw nothing but a black cloud of turkeys.  Of course the Sheriff was busy running them out of town and came back with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, clearly proud of his ability to keep the ranch turkey-free.

A well-deserved soak after chasing wild turkey

Earlier this week, Dave and I loaded up Moscow, the bull, and drove him back to Lusk, Wyoming.  He loaded super easy this time and rode all the way there without making a peep.  We hope he got everyone pregnant and that they all have nice calves in the spring.  If so, he is definitely welcome back next year!

We harvested some (very little) corn and carrots from the pathetic garden.  Tomatoes are starting to come in, but we have had an inundation of grasshoppers so we will see how it turns out.  This has not been a banner year for growing things on the Holler, but that is how it goes with farming.

Fresh Carrots
Sweet Corn

That’s about it for now.  We hope everyone out there in the real world is enjoying the last bits of summer and having fun and staying free! Oh, and keep your heads out of the bucket!

Dozen with her head in the cake bucket

Return of The Black Plague

3 August 2020 – Sunny and 78 – Perfect

The Holler has been a hub of activity for the last few weeks.  We decided to wash and water seal the deck.

IMG_1477
Looks pretty good!

We cut our neighbor’s yard since she had a lot of natural grass hay in one of her pastures.  Normally she gets about 300 bales out of this pasture, but she was happy to get 86 bales this year. It made load up pretty easy for us and we were done before 9AM!

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Two trips and done!

We have been starting a lean-to project to provide the cows some extra shelter from the wind and snow we can surely count on in a few short months.

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Dirt work for the lean-to

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Three posts set

This will be a better place for the cows if the weather is nasty because we won’t have to stuff them into the barn, and more importantly, Dave and I won’t have to shovel poop out of the barn.  We expect to be able to drive the tractor right in and scoop out the poop from the lean-to. Anyone need compost?

We are first-generation ranchers, which means all of the infrastructure and systems that many ranchers inherit from their folks do not/did not exist here. Moving onto raw land means all projects belong to us.  This is good and bad. It would be nice to have some things already completed like this lean-to, or some irrigation lines to move collected water into the cistern.  On the other hand, we are responsible for all the projects here. If something works, that’s because of us but if it doesn’t, that is also on us. We are learning, year after year, and constantly trying to improve things.  It is a life-long process but it is also a life-good process and we enjoy brainstorming to come up with a list of projects that will make our ranch run smoother.

One thing we didn’t plan on was the return of the Black Plague.

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He’s back….

That is the same dang bull that comes back year after year.  He was here in May and we moved our girls to a different pasture.  He has been in the National Forest and we thought there would be plenty of cows out there to keep him busy.  Nonetheless, he found one of our girls irresistible and Dave and I watched helplessly as he leaped over a four-wire fence like a deer.  Then he proceeded to mount one of our heifers and she went immediately to the ground.

Fortunately, she did not get hurt and we are hoping she did not get bred by him.  She is older now than when he broke in in May so we are trying to breed her to the leased heifer-bull, Moscow.  The Plague, however, was not having any of that and fortunately Moscow is a lover, not a fighter.  He just stood out of the Plague’s way and I don’t blame him.

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Moscow, the rental bull

We were fed up with this jumping bull, and after about a week of trying we were finally able to make some contact with the owner.  We said we would buy the bull (intending to take him to town).  He said if we take him to market to just send him the check so Dave and I were completely excited at the prospect of getting rid of this nuisance.  We contacted some friends that have horses and are experienced cattle ranchers.  We determined the date based on the bull sale at the local cattle market, and then we moved our cattle panels and trailer up to the pasture where he was hanging out with our herd.

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Moving the panels to try to funnel the bull into the trailer

We were all set with equipment, help, and a plan to catch that bugger.  The morning we were supposed to execute the plan we drove up to the pasture to check on things.  That stinkin’ bull was GONE!  He jumped out of our pasture and we could see him way off in the distance walking behind a herd of range cattle headed up into the forest. There is pretty much no way we could round him up out there so we called off the help.

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There he is in the National Forest with some hopefully more interesting ladies

While we are hoping he stays away, if he comes back Dave and I will do our best to catch and load him, but not at the risk of injury or death! Or at least trying to minimize that risk.  We know the local ranchers with range permits round up their herds on the 1st of September so we anticipate he will be part of that group.  Hopefully he will be taken to market then.  We’ll see what happens, but we are hoping that all of our cows are bred now and he will have no reason to come back.  GIT OUTTA HERE YA DIRTY STINKIN PLAGUE!!

We decided we were long overdue for putting up a flagpole in our barnyard, so we dug a hole (this is a trend for us, constantly digging) and put up our big, beautiful flag.  God Bless America!

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Flags, tractor, barn, sunflowers….awesome.

We have also been getting a little bit of rain here and there.  We think we may be able to save a little of the sudan-grass hay we put in one of the pastures.

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Sudan grass ready to be hayed in the next few days

We have lined up some hay to purchase from another guy about an hour away, so we should be able to keep all the cows this year and sell the calves at market.

The garden seems to have rebounded a bit after the hail storm and while I doubt we’ll have the haul we did last year, we may get some tomatoes and cucumbers.  The corn looks pretty good too! I’m wondering if the lack of production can be blamed on the hail storm or the lack of honey bees, since my hive died.

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Corn

The good news is we will stay busy for the rest of the summer with one large task looming on our list.  Firewood.  Ugh, I like getting firewood but I hate thinking about building a fire already.  It seems like summer just got here! At least one big furry dog will be happy when the snow starts flying.

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Sheriff Joe is tired of the dog days of summer

We hope everyone is doing well out there in the real world.  Keep it free out there!

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Moving water for the cows

 

Never A Dull Moment, Can We Just Have One Dull Moment Please?

12 July 2020 – Sunny and 84 – Perfect

Last time I was crabbing about no rain.  That very evening, Dave and I were sitting on the back porch laughing as all the storm clouds built up and went right around us, as has been the pattern for the summer.  There really was nothing left to do but laugh, and Mother Nature must have felt we were mocking her.  Suddenly a giant cloud began building to the Southwest, and it was moving pretty quickly and we were its bullseye.  As the storm came nearer, the wind picked up and Dave said, “That cloud is green.”  All my midwestern people recognize this is never a good sign.

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Storm lining up on the Holler

We hustled around putting up lawn chairs and closing up the greenhouse in anticipation of a big storm and I’m glad we did.  The wind in front of the cloud was insane, it was blowing so hard all the trees were leaning over.  Then the hail began.  The stones were not big, but they were being propelled by the wind and pummeling the house.  There was so much hail coming down so fast it looked like the roof was vomiting. We still had piles of hail on our porch the next morning.  It was loud too, as we have a tin roof.  Dave positioned himself at the front door and watched helplessly as he thought the greenhouse would blow away.  I stayed looking out the back at the poor garden and the poor cows, who headed for the hills and disappeared behind the dark sheets of rain and hail.

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Hail piled up on the deck

Dave said he saw the cat sprint out of the barn and run and hide under the porch.  I cannot imagine how loud the wind and hail was in the barn, but it must have been enough that poor Maverick thought he had better run for his life.  After about 20 minutes the hail let up and it was just pouring rain so I thought I would stick my head out and see if I could find the cat.  As it rained the porch area began to flood and I could hear Maverick howling his head off as he was stuck in the rising waters under the porch.  I ran outside in my flip flops and tried to fish him out but he would not come.  I was standing in about 5 inches of water and I thought I would try to get him out the other side of the porch but as I changed positions Dave yelled out the door, “There he goes!”  And I caught sight of him running toward the woodshed.  I sloshed over there in ankle high water and was able to catch him, wrap him in a towel and run through the pouring rain back inside the house.  He was really making a lot of noise meowing and complaining, but he didn’t try to escape my grasp. When we got inside, he looked so pathetic, all soaking wet. I’m sure I also looked pathetic, all soaking wet!  I put him in the mudroom and toweled him off and now he is my new best friend.

The rain didn’t let up until after dark, and the next morning Dave and I went outside to survey the damage.  Fortunately none of our buildings were damaged and I feel like we really dodged that bullet because that was one wicked storm!  There were casualties, however, especially the garden.  The cucumbers were decimated, the corn looked like someone had taken a weed-whacker to it, and the tomato plants were all laying on their sides. The potato plants which were previously as tall as my chin, were also flattened.  We walked north to the field where we had hoped to salvage some of our remaining barley and it also was flattened and laying down.

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Flattened Cucumbers

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Smashed Potatoes

I guess this isn’t the year to grow things on the Holler.  But at least we got some much needed rain and hopefully it will promote some growth in the grazing fields. By some miracle the greenhouse stayed standing with no damage.

The Sheriff was quite happy with the storm.  I really do count my blessings with this dog.  He is a cool customer and the thunder and hail does not bother him one bit.  He also is great about riding in the truck and doesn’t whine or drool but he just sticks his head out the window watching the world go by.  He is a very easy going dog.  One thing he liked about the rain storm was that it filled up his stock dam with water.

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Stock Dam Full of Water

He has been going swimming every day since and he loves it.  If I don’t take him out there, he sneaks off and comes back soaking wet.  This is always followed by a victory roll in the dirt which makes him a mud-puppy indeed!

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The Sheriff’s new swimming hole

After the storm, the drama on the Holler did not let up.  Yesterday morning at around 5AM we heard the bull making a lot of noise.  Dave jumped out of bed and saw our neighbor’s cows hanging out by the gate next to our herd.  Our neighbor has downsized her herd (2 cows and 1 calf) so we agreed to let her cows in with the bull so she can get them bred.  Dave saw them down by the gate and said he was going to run down there and let them in.  I said sleepily from under the covers, “Do you need help?”  and he said no and that I should go back to sleep. Oh, my sweet husband.

I heard him drive down in the Mule and I could not go back to sleep, feeling guilty that I should have gone with him.  It is always hard to move cows through a gate with just one person. I got up and threw on my jeans and watched him from the back window.  He was doing great, using cake to move the neighbor’s cows through the first gate despite our cows crowding him wanting cake.  Then he called me on the radio and said, “I think Harley prolapsed.”  Harley is our neighbor’s favorite pet cow and it appeared she had a vaginal prolapse which can occur in a pregnant cow before calving.

GRAPHIC IMAGE BELOW WARNING:

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Oh Poor Harley!  Yikes!!

Dave decided it would not be a good situation to let her cows in with our herd because there is always fighting when new cows arrive, and poor Harley clearly needed some medical attention.  He moved the neighbor’s cows to a smaller pasture so we could have easier access to Harley and he came back to the house.

We called the neighbor but only got voicemail.  We called the vet to see if this was an urgent life-threatening situation, but again it was around 5:30 AM so we got their emergency pager number instead of a person.  We discussed our options and decided that if it were our cow we would catch her and load her up immediately and take her to the vet.  So we began loading up cattle panels on the tractor and we hooked up our trailer to the truck.  During this time, the neighbor called and said she was on her way and agreed we should take Harley in to the vet.  The vet also called while we were managing the cow-moving logistics and said they would make room in their schedule for whenever we could get there.

So we drove the tractor with the panels and the truck with the trailer to the pasture where Dave had secluded Harley and company.  Harley was clearly hurting and did not want anything to do with us, but we were able to set up the panels in the corner and push her into the trailer.  Dave and the neighbor went off to the vet and I cleaned up what I could by myself with them gone.

The vets took care of Harley, cleaning her parts and pushing her prolapse back inside of her.  Then they laced her up to keep her insides on the inside of her. The repositioning apparently is not an easy task as the vets would push and the cow would try to push against them so she kept prolapsing, but the vets eventually won and were able to lace her up tight.  They said she did not have an unborn calf, which led us all to believe that she may have had a calf out in a field somewhere or she had aborted, causing her to prolapse.  The strange thing is she was not exposed to a bull in the timeframe that would have her calving now, but we have seen this movie before where a cow calved and we could not explain who the daddy might be.  We also know there are roving bulls out here so maybe that is what happened.

Regardless, the neighbor’s property is many, many acres of hills, forests and valleys and if Harley calved out there it would be nearly impossible to find the baby.  Dave and the neighbor took Harley back to her corral after deciding it was too dangerous for her to be in with a new herd and especially a bull.  Harley was not happy about being alone and the neighbor let her out on her large acreage in the hopes that if there was a calf the Momma would find it and possibly save it.  This morning, Harley showed up at our gate again without a calf so we’re fairly certain if she did calve it did not survive.

While Dave and the neighbor were at the vet, I saw the neighbor’s remaining cow and calf hanging out by the gate and I pushed them into our pasture so the cow could be exposed to the bull.  Of course, there was a lot of fighting initially as every one of our cows had to explain to the poor new girl that they were higher than her in the pecking order.  The new girl, who the neighbor calls Wooly Bear, did not back down from a fight so there was a lot of snorting and grunting and kicking up dust well into the afternoon. If you’ve ever seen a movie with scenes from the prison yard, you can imagine what it is like when a new cow goes in with an existing herd. Cow Drama.

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Wooly Bear and her calf, Frosty

Today, things have settled significantly. The herd all seems to be getting along but I feel so bad for Harley stuck on the other side of the fence.  Her old companion, Wooly Bear slept next to her by the fence last night.  I know people think animals do not have feelings, but I truly believe they have a routine and they do not like change. But, like people, they will adjust although sometimes against their will.

If that isn’t enough excitement for you, I have one more little story.  This morning I was doing the usual chores and was getting ready to walk down to what remains of the garden to water plants.  I started walking down the hill in our yard, about ten feet from our porch and I heard the strangest noise behind me.  It sounded like an automatic sprinkler coming on, just a very quick hissing sound.  Joey was behind me so I thought maybe he had some toy or made some weird noise and I turned around and realized I was standing about 6 feet from a fat coiled up prairie rattlesnake.  Joey was on the opposite side of the snake and I very calmly commanded him to move away and get on the porch.  Dave was in the house so I very calmly yelled, “Oh Dave, could you please come out here for a second?”

Okay, that’s not what happened at all….I completely freaked out.  I HATE snakes and I literally almost stepped on this venomous critter.  My dog was on the opposite side of it and I started screaming bloody murder.  “Joey!  Get Away!  Leave it leave it leave it! AHHHHH!!!!”  It must have really startled Dave because he came running out of the house and said, “What’s wrong?”  All I could say/scream was “SNAKE SNAKE SNAKE!!!”

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Prairie Rattler minus its head

If it hasn’t been revealed in all the blogs up to this point, I would like to say that Dave is a much cooler customer than I will ever be.  He jumped off the porch, grabbed Joey’s collar and hauled him inside.  Then he returned with his .410 shotgun and blew the snake’s head off.  My hero.

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Dead Eye Dave, One Shot, One Kill

I know that snakes are good for the environment, but there is no way I can feel bad about killing a poisonous snake that is that close to my front door so save it if you’re mad about the snake slaughter.  It’s dead and if another rattler shows up here it is getting the same treatment. Sorry, not sorry.

So that’s it for the last few exciting days. We did get a nice rainstorm again early Thursday morning so hopefully this pattern will continue without the hail and wind. And we are definitely grateful for the rain although it is probably what is driving the snakes out of their holes.  We hope everyone is doing well out there in the real world and keeping yourselves safe and free! Happy Monday!

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The Holler Herd

 

Happy Independence Day

5 July 2020 – Hot and 89 degrees

I meant to blog on the fourth but I was too busy doing nothing which was just spectacular.  Dave and I intentionally took a relaxing day off and the only work we did was water the cows and the garden.  So Happy Belated Independence Day!  I hope you celebrated your freedom and the birthday of the greatest nation in the history of mankind.

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Not Far From Home

Dave and I got a special treat on the evening of July 3rd.  President Trump was holding his rally at Mount Rushmore, and while we did not attend, we got our own private airshow in our back yard.  We were sitting on the porch and noticed three B-1s flying in a circle overhead.  This went on for sometime and we figured they would be doing the fly-by to open the Mt. Rushmore ceremony.  Then, three F-16s showed up and also began circling right over our yard.  THEN the Blue Angels showed up and also circled over our house for about 20 minutes.  It was Awesome. What a cool thing to see right from your back porch!

It has been hot here, and dry.  I don’t think we’ve had any significant rain since May and consequently our barley crop turned brown, and began to shrivel up.  In the hopes that we might salvage some hay, we went ahead and mowed some of the fields.  We tried to rake and bale and in a field where we got 153 bales last year, we were able to piece together 10.  Ugh.  If we keep all the cows that would be about a day and a half of feed next winter.

 

Needless to say, we are a little more than disappointed, but that is part of the ranching/farming life.  It’s a continuous sine wave where one day you’re riding high and the next you’re way down in the dumps.  But who knows what tomorrow will bring?  We could still use some rain, everything is drying up and while we have made up our mind that we will just buy hay this year, we are hoping the pastures can support the herd for the summer.

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Rain all around us, but not a drop here.

In more exciting news, we went and picked up the bull we are leasing for the next two months.

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Moscow earlier this year at the Vet

This is Moscow (that’s what the owner named him, not sure why but we like it and hope he’s not a Russian spy).  We met the owner in Edgemont and swapped him from his trailer into ours.  That gentleman bull did not even make the smallest mess in our trailer so we appreciate that too!  When we brought him to the pasture with our cows, the cows were over the hill in the far corner.  He got out of the trailer and immediately picked up their scent.  He began walking in circles trying to determine where all the cows were and then he started to get a little frustrated, pawing at the dirt and grunting.

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Smelling for other cattle in his new pasture.

Meanwhile, Dave started calling the cows, and yes they do come when he calls because they love him and think it means he has cake.  Moscow heard them mooing as they came up over the crest of the hill he called back to them in that crazy high pitch sound that only bulls can make.  Valentine, the one cow that was open all year came sprinting down the hill.  She was so excited there was a bull in the pasture. Of course when one cow starts running they all start running and poor Moscow was a little intimidated I think.  He stopped and stood completely still, completely nervous and scared of the group of lonely ladies surrounding him like he was Elvis  and they were a fan-crazed group of teenagers.  That didn’t last long, however, and almost immediately he embraced his rock star status and the whole herd went back over the hill together, most likely looking for some privacy! I’m pretty sure I heard some Marvin Gaye playing over there.

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Moscow frozen solid as the girls surround him

We were really happy that no one decided to fight and we have observed him doing his job several times so hopefully everyone will get bred and have healthy babies next spring.

Shifting gears, I have bad news about the bee colony.  I opened the hive in late May and they were thriving.  There were eggs (indicating an active queen), brood, and lots of pollen and uncapped honey.  About two weeks after that I noticed a dramatic decrease in bee activity and a giant pile of dead bees in front of the hive.  I put on my bee suit to investigate and discovered that almost all the bees were dead.  There were no longer any eggs or even brood or honey stores.  The colony is dead or gone, but the big pile of dead bees leaves me to believe they didn’t swarm and leave.  I’m not sure what happened but am still doing some research to try to determine what killed them.  It is too late this year to get new bees but I will try again next year.  It’s sad, but again, that is the roller coaster that is ranch living.

On the positive side, the garden seems to be doing well, the cows are fat and happy, the dog is hot and unhappy except in the morning and evening, and the cat remains healthy and crazy.  So as far as Hoten Holler life goes, all is pretty good.  We hope everyone out there in the real world enjoyed the Fourth of July and is keeping happy and free.  God Bless America!

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Sunset on the Holler

 

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