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Hoten Holler!

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February 2018

Everybody’s Gotta Eat!

16 Feb 2018 – Sunny and 32°

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

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

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

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The “Beast” Case 4×4 Tractor

 

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The other big 2WD Case pulling the processor

 

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

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

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There they are!  They look hungry

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A lovely South Dakota day!

 

The Winter Olympics – South Dakota not South Korea

9 February 2018 – Snowing, high of 6°F

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

January Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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Jenny plowing the road

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

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A close-up of the plow

 

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

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Clearing the road

 

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

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

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

 

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

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Dave giving Black Cherry a face rub

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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