28 April 2018 – Sunny with highs in the upper 60’s
Nature has really done some showing off for us in the last eight days. I just reread the previous blog post and it is amazing how much things have changed in a short amount of time.
Everything is greening up here like you would not believe! The days are getting longer and the weather is perfect for springtime ranch work! This week we have been cross-fencing the northern pasture. This is always fun in South Dakota because there are really very few rocks…..ha ha ha ha ha…..actually, it is almost all rocks and pounding in T-posts and augering the holes for the H’s has been challenging.
Still, the fencing team persevered and the progress is definitely noticeable.
The gate will hang between these two H’s
A Corner H
A gate H
The bees have really been venturing out of the hive, too. There are little white flowers and other blooms popping up all over. I am so grateful they seemed to have survived the winter in tact. The weather is not supposed to be as warm next week, so likely I’ll open the hive and check for a queen the following week. I wanted them to enjoy the warm days this week with little disruption.
The calves are really enjoying the spring weather, too. They are so full of energy, bucking and kicking, and running. They are really curious about us, too, but they are obedient to their mothers’ warnings…..”Don’t get too close.”
And just like that, April is almost gone! May plans include more fencing, some landscaping, getting the garden up and running, and possibly some relaxation before haying season.
20 April 2018 – Cloudy and 40 with snow showers in the forecast
The Holler is showing all the signs of spring, but Old Man Winter just won’t go away. We have little sprouts of green grass all over the pastures, the blue birds and the meadowlarks have returned, the tulips are trying to come up, and the bees have ventured out of the hive on several warm days this week. Still, we have to head out for morning chores in our snow pants and parkas because the dawn temperatures are pretty low and the wind makes it feel even colder.
The past two weeks have been really busy, so I’m giving advanced warning about the length of this blog post. We have been disking, harrowing, and planting with unwavering faith that the growing season must begin soon.
Disking the south
Dave in Babe, disking the rocky north
Filling up the broadcaster
The days fly by when you are in the field all day, but it feels great to come into a warm house at night and be tired from all the work. It also feels great to look at the field you just plowed and planted and believe….really believe….that it is going to produce some good hay. You gotta have patience out here on the ranch.
Disked, harrowed, and planted
Bring on the rain, the oats are thirsty
The bovines have been busy, too. Last week, Cowboy Dave had made a trip out of town to see an old friend. Linda remained and was keeping a close eye on Frita, a cow who looked imminently close to calving. On Saturday morning she called to say Frita was having her baby. Dave and I went over to the High Lonesome and met Linda in the pasture to watch Frita go through her paces.
You may wonder why we make such a big deal about watching these cows give birth. In all likelihood they would be just fine, or even better off if we minded our own business. But the counterargument is that if there is a problem, those dang cows refuse to grab a cell phone to call or text for help. We think they have trouble dialing because the numbers are too small for their big hooves. Calves can be anywhere from 50-75 lbs so there are many things that could go wrong that would require our assistance. A breech position calf would require a person to help reposition the calf in the birth canal. A very large calf may require pulling. A calf that is born and not breathing immediately, or one that won’t eat right away are both situations that would require a human assist. Not that Pilot Dave or I have done any of these things before, but Cowboy and Linda have, and we are trying to learn everything we can to be the best stewards of these animals that we can be.
Back to Frita – we watched her in obvious labor pains for nearly two hours, but then she got up and walked back to rejoin the herd. We decided to give her some space and time, and when Dave and I started heading up the driveway back to the Holler, I caught a glimpse of her going up over a hill by herself again. I said I wanted to stay and see if I could keep an eye on her for awhile. Dave went back to get some chores done on the Holler and Linda went back to the ranch house on the High Lonesome to get on with her day. I hiked a short distance up over the hill with my field glasses and I could just see Frita in the distance lying under a tree. I spotted her with the glasses and realized she was calving! This was probably only 5 minutes after Dave and Linda had left, so I called them from my cell phone (since Frita refused to use hers!) and they came back to the pasture about two minutes after the baby was born.
We got a little closer and watched as the little calf struggled to his feet and started nursing. Phew! Another healthy calf. Later that day we took Frita some hay and got a better look. It is a little bull, and we decided to refer to him as Chips – Frita Chips….like Frito Chips. This is Cowboy and Linda’s bull, so they will obviously name him as they please, but with so many calves running around, Dave and I like to give them a name so we know who is who.
Frita and new-born Chips
Chips the very next day!
Cowboy Dave returned the following day and was pleased about the healthy addition to his herd. We decided that we would move calves to one of the northern pastures because it is already mid-April and we needed to move them out of the current pasture to prepare the field and let the alfalfa and grass start growing. First, we had to catch Heidi and Chips and tag them while we could still use the paddock gates to keep the frantic mothers at bay. First thing Monday morning, we got the calves tagged. It was relatively uneventful, as the two Dave’s are getting pretty good at grabbing the little calves and getting right down to business as Linda and I try to distract the Moms with cake and hay.
Next, we rounded everyone up and herded them along the fence that borders the National Forest toward the northern pasture. The cows are pretty good about this, but of course, there is always one troublemaker. Puzzle’s calf, Heidi, decided to crawl under the barbed wire and take off on her own into the National Forest. While Linda worked the gates and Cowboy drove the cows onward with his mule, Pilot Dave and I tried to get that little dogie back to the herd. She was only six days old, but she could run! A horse would have been very helpful at this point, but since the horses remain on the “Future Purchases List”, Pilot Dave and I ran all over hell’s half acre trying to push Heidi back toward the herd. Finally, after a lot of exercise, we got her out of the forest and on the right side of the fence, but of course, she turned the wrong way and headed south back to the place everyone had just left. Heidi, Come Back!!! Cowboy Dave and Linda returned to the chase on their mule and eventually we got her headed the right way. She was reunited with her mother, who didn’t seem too concerned that her daughter had been running around like a wild child. Lady, get control of your kid!
Next, Pilot Dave and I hooked up the round feeder ring to Babe and delivered it to the northern pasture. It was a slow process, manipulating the big ring and tractor through all the fences and gates, but Dave has gotten pretty good on the tractor.
Yesterday, Pilot Dave and I checked cows in the morning. Everybody looked good and all the calfies were running around, jumping and bucking and feeling good. We gave Honey and Muzzle the once-over because they are the two remaining pregnant ladies. They looked normal, well, normal in the pregnant cow sense. We left them in the pasture intending to check everyone again around noon.
We are out of hay and since the weather hasn’t been warm enough to produce sufficient grazing grass, Cowboy Dave took his trailer south to Edgemont to pick up some round bales from the feed store. Meanwhile, Pilot Dave and I took our trailer north to Custer to pick up a disk and an auger that were in the shop being welded. We all met back on Stagecoach Springs to continue the daily chores.
Pilot Dave drove Babe up to the northern pasture to get the big bale of hay off of Cowboy Dave’s tractor. This was just another incident where we are so grateful to have a big tractor, and I am so happy that I married a good tractor driver!
I went and got Linda in the mule and we decided to do the mid-day cow check. As we approached the pasture we could see Honey way off by herself under a tree. As we got closer, we could see what looked like a big red rock next to her, but as we got even closer we realized it was a calf!
Honey gave birth to a beautiful little bull. He is the Hoten Holler’s second calf so he gets the #2 ear tag if we can catch him today. He looked healthy and was already up and nursing, so we returned to the task at hand, getting the big bale into the feeder.
The day was only half done, though, so the two Dave’s finished up the disking and planting over at the High Lonesome.
Out here, you literally have to make hay while the sun shines. Although we are done with the snow, we hope we get some precipitation today to get the oats off to a good start.
11 April 2018 – Cloudy and 42 with a high forecast in the low 60’s!
It has been a busy week on the Holler. Saturday afternoon, we met Cowboy Dave down at the High Lonesome, where he had just witnessed his cow Pat-Z’s water breaking. Pat-Z seemed pretty confused as she kept calling after and chasing Lilly, who at the time was the youngest calf in the herd. Every few minutes, she would lay down, clearly having agonizing contractions, and then she would get up and go find Lilly. She must have been thinking that was her baby. This went on for about an hour and as it began to get dark, the herd moved up toward the paddock. We took advantage of this and turned Pat-Z off into the barn corral so she could have a little peace and quiet.
Soon enough, she laid down and gave birth to this big baby bull.
He is huge, or YUGE, so Cowboy decided to call him Hugo. Hugo was up and nursing pretty quickly, and we kept him and his mother inside the barn corral away from the herd that evening because it was supposed to get pretty cold. The next day, before morning chores, we let Pat-Z out to go eat and Pilot Dave and Cowboy Dave grabbed the little guy and tagged him. They did not band him because lucky Hugo is not related by blood to any of the other cows (except his Mom). If he turns out to have nice conformation (that’s rancher speak for a good body frame) then Cowboy and Linda will keep him as a bull for a season and sell him as a bull the next. If he doesn’t turn out to be too nice, we can always castrate him at a later date.
While the two Daves were tagging Hugo’s ear, Pat-Z took off to go eat. About half way to the feeder she realized, “Holy cow! I left my baby!” and she came sprinting back to the corral where the men were working the calf. Fortunately they had shut the gate and were protected from the completely panicked mother. When they were done with Hugo, they opened the gate and Pat-Z stormed in to see her calf. She ran in, saw him, and screamed…MOOOOOOOO!!!! “I didn’t say you could get an earring!” It was really crazy and so loud that the little guy kind of shook and cowered. “Yikes! Mom is Mad!” It reminded me of one of the last scenes in Jurassic Park, when the T-Rex busts into the museum and kills the velociraptors. The T-Rex roars and it is almost as loud as Pat-Z yelling for her baby. Watch the link below to see the scene.
We spent the next few days still following around cows and waiting for the remaining four girls to calve. In between cow-checks, Pilot Dave and I have been busy preparing for planting season and fence building. There are always rocks to pick up, trees to limb, slash to drag, etc. Yesterday, Dave hooked up the disc to the tractor and prepped the southern pasture. Today he is disking the north. Last year we put in oats on the 16th of April, and we plan to try to match that schedule this year, weather permitting.
Disking the south
We plan to plant oats here
Dave in Babe, disking the rocky north
This morning, Dave and I went to feed the cows and we did a quick count to make sure everyone was there. We had one more than we did at the last cow-check! Puzzle decided she was going to be sneaky and headed off into the woods in the wee hours of the morning and had this beautiful and BIG baby girl!
I used to think it was a great morning surprise if someone brought doughnuts to work, but my perspective has changed out here on the ranch. Keep your doughnuts, I’ll take a brand new healthy baby calf that is already up and running around with the other babies.
We are expecting three more calves. I hope they come today as we are also expecting a winter storm on Thursday night.
It has been awhile since I’ve written, as I was hoping to report on the arrival of more calves. I can report on the birth of only one.
This is Lilly. Easter Lilly. Born to Cowboy and Linda’s Moo-lah on Easter Sunday.
Dave and I had Cowboy Dave and Linda over for Easter brunch, we all enjoyed some good eats and mimosas and it was a beautiful, sunny day. In the early afternoon, Cowboy and Linda headed home and immediately called from the High Lonesome. “She’s calving right now!” said Cowboy.
Pilot Dave and I jumped in the mule and headed over to the southern pasture on the High Lonesome. Cowboy had tried to isolate Moo-lah to give her some peace and quiet while she delivered, but Nosy Rosy and Frita decided they wanted to hang around. Then Rosy and Frita got into a full-on brawl, head butting and hoofing at the mud and trying to kill one another. Cowboy Dave and Pilot Dave chased them away with whips while Linda and I kept an eye on poor Moo-lah. Moo-lah headed off to a corner of the pasture where she laid down, stood up, laid down, and then finally pushed out a little girl!
The calf was so cute and after trying several times to get up, she figured it out quickly and went right to nursing immediately. Cowboy wanted to call her Ester Williams because it was Easter, but Linda vetoed him with Easter Lilly.
She’s so dang cute, and T-bone is super excited to have someone to run and play with. When she was just one day old, her Mom took off to go eat. She was wandering around the paddock, bumping into things and then tried to crawl out under the barbed wire to the National Forest. Pilot Dave went and got her.
The other cows are still looking like they might pop, and every day we check them multiple times. Every day we say regarding one cow or another, “She looks like she’s going to give birth today.” Every night we check again and the cows all lay down and look at us as if to say, “Get a life, people!” Nothing to see here! Moooooove along.”
Dave and I like looking at the cows, but the weather has not been very nice this spring. It is snowing again today despite the near 50 degree weather we had yesterday. The day before that it was snowing. Tomorrow we are expecting more snow and the low temperature is going to be in the single digits. Ugh, winter, just go away! We are so ready to put away our winter coats, hats, and mukluks, and just be able to throw on boots to go outside. Just like waiting for calves, waiting for springtime weather really has nothing to do with what we want.
Maybe we should just relax and enjoy what remains of the winter. We do have many things on the docket for spring projects and when the sun comes out and it is no longer a muddy, mucky mess, we are going to be busy! We went to Rapid this week and bought all the materials for our fencing project in the north pasture. That will be several days of post pounding and wire stringing.
We got ready to move the cows across the National Forest to the April pasture, although we probably won’t move them until they are all done calving and at least when the snow melts.
We also bought oat seed that we are going to be planting very soon. As a trial, we bought some very expensive alfalfa seed that we will attempt to grow with the oats as a cover crop in one little area of our southern pasture. Dave is champing at the bit to get out there and sew these seeds, but it is difficult to do in the snow and the mud. We did spend one day “harvesting” rocks. Actually just picking up rocks. The field we cleared last year produced several large piles of rocks over the winter. Too bad we can’t find a market for rocks, we can sure grow ’em here in the hills.
We celebrated two years in South Dakota on the 4th. We can hardly believe all the things we have learned, seen and done since we arrived here. We have met some really great people and have made friends for life. We have seen some amazing changes of seasons. We have learned so much about building fences, painting cisterns, feeding cows, building chicken coops, cutting firewood, maintaining gravel roads, removing snow, planting crops, fixing tractors, starting and putting out fires, cooking on a wood stove, living off grid, keeping bees, building furniture, and the list goes on and on. This has been an amazing ride where the highs and lows both go to extremes, and we love it. Our only regret is we didn’t move sooner.
That’s it for now. We will continue waiting for the calves to come and the weather to improve. Time to go scrape the snow off the solar panels!