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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!

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

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

 

A Hot and Dry June

19 June 2020 – Cloudy and 56

I cannot believe it has been nearly a month since my last blog.  We also haven’t had any rain since the last post, and we are hoping and praying we get some today because our beautiful green barley is starting to look a little thirsty!

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Several dry patches show how badly we need rain

It has been a really busy month for us.  We decided to cross fence and close in the south pasture and put in two gates to make sure we had access from the north and south side and we could get our haying equipment in and out.

If we ever do get any more rain and we actually get to cut some hay this summer, we decided it would be much easier if we had an extra little run-around tractor. This will save so much time preventing us from having to come back to the barnyard and swap out implements every time we switch tasks from cutting to raking to baling to hauling.  We found this old gem on Craig’s List and are excited to see what it can do.

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Rancher Dave testing out his new ride, Sprout

As is our tradition, we had to name the tractor so we’re calling it Sprout.  It is a John Deere 3010, and so far my Dad, who is a red tractor guy all the way, has not disowned us for buying a Deere.  This tractor was made sometime between 1960-1963 and it is gas, not diesel.  It has functional hydraulics and a good PTO so it should really help us streamline our process during haying.  At the very least Dave and I can both be working at the same time.

We finished shoring up our corral just in time for some visitors.

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Visitors at work moving cows

My sister, her son, her best friend and her best friend’s daughter came to stay and help with the annual round-up.  We have the vet come out and innocculate the calves, pour the cows to protect against worms and parasites, and brand and castrate the babies.  Our guests had fun and they all helped immensely, so we felt the day went rather smoothly and were grateful for their help.

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Branding Party

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Making new friends

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Practicing for round-up

We didn’t make the guests work the whole time they were here, they did get to visit Sylvan Lake, Devil’s Tower, go to a rodeo in Wyoming, and of course they went to see the Big Heads at Mount Rushmore.

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View from the Needles Highway

Fun was had by all and we hated to see them go, but I think they had fun and enjoyed the fresh air and wide open spaces.

Dave and I kept the herd nearby in the maternity ward for the last couple of days.  We like to keep an eye on the babies after branding and castration in case someone develops an infection or a problem.  They all looked pretty good this morning, so we marched them back up the road to the big pasture we’re leasing.  I think they were happy to get out into a bigger area.

Now that the round-up is over we can disk and plant the very last field, which is the maternity ward.  The next big event will be the arrival of the bull (which we moved up to the beginning of July).  I’m sure Valentine will be ready and waiting for him right by the gate!

Of course the next big ranch event is haying, but again, we need rain!  As we wait for the crop to grow we will be busy prepping and greasing hay equipment, killing noxious weeds, and taking care of the lawn and garden.

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The corn is growing but the garden needs weeding!

That’s about it from the Holler.  We hope everyone is having a good summer out there in the real world, despite all of the unrest and bad news.  Keep safe and keep yourselves free!

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Sheriff Joe getting a drink from the watering can

 

Catching Up

12 May 2020 – Rain/Snow and 40 degrees!

In between calving and bull virility testing, Dave and I have been working to get things going here on the Holler. A few posts ago I mentioned that our redneck disk broke down and was unsalvageable.  Interestingly enough, the man that removed all the rocks from our barnyard had a contact in Rapid City that deals in used farm equipment.  Dave contacted him and he had a used 12 foot tandem disk that he thought might work for us.

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The new disk

Dave went to look at the disk and liked it, however it was too big to fit on a trailer, and while it could be towed behind a tractor or truck, it needed new tires.  The guy put different tires on it and Dave brought it home. This was quite an adventure for rancher Dave.  The disk, as mentioned before, is 12 feet wide (as advertised, but more on this later) and that is quite a wide load to pull up the mountain.  Additionally, as the disk hooked onto a drawbar on the back of the truck, it was not made for this type of travel. At about 20mph it would start violently vibrating back and forth. Traffic was backing up behind Dave as he slowly crawled up the hill with the wide disk in tow. The road from Rapid is also pretty twisty and narrow in some places so it took him about four hours to get home.  When he turned to come into Stagecoach Springs, he questioned whether the disk would fit through the entrance to our road.

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Just slightly wider than the road, and definitely wider than the entrance

I drove up in the Mule to meet him and brought the tape measure.  We realized our entrance is exactly 12 feet 5 inches wide at the narrowest point.  The “12 Foot Disk”  measured about 13 feet, 6 inches.  Rats!

Fortunately, there were a couple of options open to us.  We considered bringing the tractor up to  the entrance and lifting the disk over the fences.  We also realized a neighbor to the east of us has a wide gate entrance to her pasture, and we have a 16 foot gate between our properties.  We decided to go with this route and after contacting her, she said that would be no problem at all. Dave drove the disk 2 miles east to her property and through her gate.  Then he proceeded cross-country, over rocks and through trees and up the hill to the point where her pasture finally meets the gate in ours.  The terrain was pretty rough and about half way through his journey we decided it would be better to get the tractor and pull the disk rather than put all that wear and tear on the truck.

So about 6 hours after leaving rapid city, we finally got the new/old disk onto the Holler.  We were really hoping it would work as it seems this is its new permanent home, unless we decide to widen the entrance to the road.

The next day, Dave put the hydraulic cylinder on the disk and there were several problems with the fittings.  Fortunately, Dave knows a great welder in Custer so he took the required parts to him, which he found a fix for on the spot.  A few hours later we had the disk hooked up and running and Dave was able to complete disking our southern field.

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Getting it done

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Nice job!

The disk worked so well, we decided to rip up some more pasture in the northern fields. Dave completed all the disking, I did the planting and we split the harrowing duties.  We finished the hay crop work on Saturday, just in time for some snow and rain on Monday!  Hooray!

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Planting view from the tractor

We still have one field to work, but the cows are in that pasture until the 1st of June.  Once we move them elsewhere, we will plant a crop in that field that we can harvest later.  Our goal is to produce enough hay to feed the herd all winter.  We were successful this year, and while we are still feeding a bale or two a day because of the cold temperatures, we have enough hay to last through the 2nd of June. The calves are grazing more and more and we are cutting back on the feeding, but when there is snow, we like to make sure they have enough to eat.  I really hope we aren’t feeding in June! The point is our hay crop mostly determines the size of our herd, but we do have options to buy hay if we don’t harvest enough of our own.  We do like the idea of being independent, though, and are doing all we can to make use of this land.

We are also trying to get the garden and the lawn up to speed.  Since construction four years ago, there are parts of the yard that have not recovered.  We have planted grass seed, but it has only taken to some places, and some spots are so rocky and sandy it doesn’t appear we will ever have grass there.  Dave has been getting some good soil out of one of the ditches and putting it on the bare spots in what should be the lawn.  Hopefully this will lead to some growth. Also, he used the ditch dirt to cover up the rocky barnyard cliffs.  We are going to put out some grass seed and wildflower seeds on this bank.

I have harvested some asparagus out of the garden, but it doesn’t appear to be doing so good after the freezing temps we have had for the last few days.  It will get warm again, though, (right?) so hopefully we can get the vegetable garden up and running.  The greenhouse has been good for some seeds, but I can’t transplant anything out in the snow, so hopefully the beets, peppers, and lettuce can hang on a little longer in there.

The weeks are just flying by.  Dave and I were having a glass of wine on the porch this weekend and he said, “I can’t believe we are only about six weeks away from the summer solstice, and then the days will start getting shorter again.”  I said, “I wish you hadn’t said that, Dave.”  But he is right, and spring and summer are the busiest times for us, so that does make the calendar seem like it is turning quickly.  It’s a good thing though, to go to bed tired knowing that you got some good work done during the day, and to wake up in the morning knowing that you still have a lot to do.

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Nothing like a porch nap after a long day ranching

 

Mothers’ Day!

11 May 2020 – Rain/Snow and 30 degrees!

I know Mothers’ Day was yesterday, and to all the mom Hoten Holler Follerers I hope you had a great day, especially to my mom, who is just completely awesome!  I was hoping that she and Dad could visit for Mother’s Day but I think they’re glad they didn’t because we are getting snow!

And in honor of our adorable mother cows, here are some gratuitous baby pictures.

We are so happy to be finished with calving season, and so far everyone is doing great!  Since we have two bulls and two heifers, we are calling them the Mixed Doubles.  (Note the moms are all members of the 2017 class we call Mayflowers, and the heifers that will get bred this summer are members of the 2019 class we call the Brambleberries.  We name things, it’s how we roll.)

The remaining babies came all within one week, which was great.  Hunny started on the 29th by sneaking out her calf in between the 4AM and 6AM check.  When Dave went out at six, she was already cleaning up the little girl.  She’s #9 so we named her for Dallas Cowboys #9 Tony Romo, but we’re spelling it TONI because she’s such a cute little girl.  She was up and nursing pretty quickly.  Hunny is an experienced mom with Toni being her fourth.  She cleaned off her baby and headed off to the woods for some privacy and bonding.

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Hunny and Toni Romo #9 at their family photo shoot

On the 3rd of May, Triple Sticks snuck out her calf between the 10AM and 12PM cow check.  This is her 2nd baby, a little girl, #10 that we are calling Bo Derek. I checked on Trips at 10AM and she was off by herself from the herd, a tell-tale sign of impending birth, but when she heard me in the Mule she came down out of the woods and right up to me looking for cow-cake. I looked her all over, and while her bag was big, it had been big for over a week.  I thought she would probably calve that day, but not immediately.  She must have watched me drive away and immediately laid down and had her baby because when I went back at noon, Bo Derek was cleaned off and already up and nursing.  I initially thought it was someone else’s calf nursing on her but then I saw the other two babies laying right there next to the new mom while she nursed her baby.  She must have been babysitting when she calved.  Cow multitasking, hmmmmm.

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Trips giving Bo Derek some lunch

I took the Mule back to get Dave and we went to watch the new mom and baby for a bit to make sure everyone looked good and healthy.  When we got back to the pasture, we parked about 30 yards away to give the new mom some space.  Almost immediately, the Dirty Dozen who is the mother of Henry the 8th, came marching toward us and stopped right in front of us and gave us a big, loud MOOOOOO!  It was like she was saying, “People, please.  This cow just had a baby!  Give her some privacy already!”  Then she collected her calf and stormed off into the trees. She’s somewhat MOOOODY.

Finally, on the 4th of May, Cherry Bomb had her baby around 11 AM.  We saw her at the 10AM check acting very peculiar, walking backwards, mooing and licking her belly.  We stayed and about an hour later she laid down and gave birth to a little bull calf we named Apollo 11.  He is the only calf with a white face and he is so dang cute.  He has white fuzzy eyebrows that remind me of Santa Clause.  It took him about 20 minutes to stand up and he was nursing about 30 minutes after that.

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Apollo 11 at two days old saying hello to me!

Dave and I are so happy that all the moms did so well, and the babies seem to be doing great.  They put on about 2.5lbs a day, so a week after birth they are all really thickening up as they have put on about 17lbs a piece.  They are so fun to watch, especially at dawn and dusk.  They get really energized and run around in circles, bucking and kicking and occasionally having a headbutting match with each other.  Better than anything on Netflix!

In other cow news, Dave and I drove down to Edgemont to meet a gentleman we are planning to lease a bull from in July.  He was taking the bull to the vet to get virility tested and make sure he was a good candidate for our heifers and cows.  He passed the test with flying colors, although he will probably need some counseling after that whole ordeal!  We look forward to welcoming him to the Holler in July.

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Moscow the bull getting tested

Thanks for indulging me and my calf stories.  I finally feel like we are catching up on sleep around here and am grateful every day I see those babies out there in the herd.  I know things are still crazy out there in the real world, and I hope the cow stories can provide a peaceful break from quarantine boredom and frustration.  As I said before, things really haven’t changed too much here!

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Gotta love South Dakota!!!

 

 

Ranch Follies

28 April 2020 – Sunny, windy and 57

I really wish I was posting pictures of baby calves today, but we are still waiting! The three remaining bred cows look very uncomfortable and all have started to fill up their bags with milk, but morning, day and night there is no calving action. The weather has been just perfect, so they are probably waiting for a May snowstorm. Anyway, there is no news on the baby front.

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Hunny looking big and miserable, waiting to deliver.

In between checking on cows, Dave and I have been busy disking, planting and harrowing our hay crop.

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Broadcasting the seeds

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Unhooking the disk, filling up the broadcaster’s hopper

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Phone poles strapped to the disk to weigh it down.  

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Dragging the harrow over the planted seeds to cover them with dirt.

We were nearly complete when our antique/redneck disk went kaput! The thing is so old and will not take any grease, so it was truly a matter of time before it died. On one of the last fields, Dave was disking and I was nearby. I could hear the thing really start to sing, metal on metal. I couldn’t tell if it was dust or smoke coming out of the disk, but Dave shut down shortly after that and said it smelled like it was burning up. He parked it and we have one small field left to plant. If we cannot get a replacement disk this year we will just let the grass grow and harvest grass hay from there, but we’re on the hunt for a used disk that we will definitely need next year.

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RIP Redneck disk.  You turned over a lot of rough soil in your life!

We also had a gentleman come and pick up all the big rocks that were still piled in the barnyard. I know some people don’t like Craig’s List, but we put an ad up for free rocks and he happened to need rocks for building his driveway and an approach to his house. He came out with a skid-steer and a trailer and after about ten trips, he went away with free rocks for his project and we have a really nice looking barnyard!

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Quite a few rocks remained after the excavation for the barn.

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New Craig’s List friend hauling away rocks.

The next few days, Dave will use the tractor to get fill dirt out of one of the ditches. He’ll put this dirt on top of the remaining rocks and ideally we will get some grass growing up there.

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A few of the rocks remain, but with some fill dirt I hope next year to seed this wall with wild flowers and cover it with compost to help them grow.  

In light of all the craziness in the world, here are some short ranch follies that will hopefully make you laugh.

Nothing happens quickly on the ranch and there is no such thing as instant gratification so we are constantly working to get things set up so they are more efficient. One of the future projects is to have a better way to get water to the barnyard. Currently we are using runoff from the barn roof which works great if there is rain or snow, but if there is not we have to run 3 hoses from the house up the hill into the barnyard water tanks. This is kind of a pain, especially if there is snow and ice. We cannot leave the hoses hooked up in the cold temps because they will freeze and cause all sorts of problems. A few weeks ago, Dave had hooked up the hoses and was filling the barn tanks. He was distracted working on something else and I noticed that the tanks were almost full, so I walked down the hill to turn off the water and disconnect the hose. I really thought I was helping him out, but when he returned to the water tank a few minutes later, it was completely empty. When I unhooked the hose at the bottom of the hill, the suction and gravity sucked all the water out of the tank. Sorry, Dave! So he had to start all over. Ooops!

Last year, after a long day of baling hay, we were driving in the Mule back to the garage. While one person is in the tractor baling, the other person helps out a little by using a leaf rake to pull the hay out of the corners and into a wind row. We were both tired from working in the heat all day and put the rake in a vertical position in the back of the Mule, the top of the rake extending over the top of the Mule. As we pulled into the garage, we were congratulating ourselves on how much baling and work we had accomplished that day when we heard a loud CRACK! The top of the rake hit the top of the garage door as we drove into park.  The roof ripped the top off the rake  and the rest of the handle remained in the Mule. Now we have a rake that will work for a very short person and a long handle for nothing. Ooops!

This winter, during bad weather, we would let the cows sleep in the barn. To make sure they were under cover we would lead them into the corral and close the gate. One morning after a bit of snow, Dave and I plowed a lane to feed and put out the hay, but the cows did not come to breakfast. This was odd because they normally hear the Mule and come running. We tried calling them, “Hay Ladies!” and shaking the cake bucket which always works. Still, there were no cows. We drove the Mule back to the barn from the feeding area and all the cows were there lined up behind the closed corral gate, looking at us as if we were the biggest morons for calling them to breakfast when they were locked up. Ooops!

Finally, one day a few summers ago, Dave had to go to town for some appointment and I noticed that the stock tank in the field was running low. Keep in mind, I did not grow up on a farm and there are several tasks on the ranch that were still pretty new to me. Running water is easy, but this water tank was in a distant pasture, and required loading water in a separate tank that was on the trailer, and hauling the trailer to the field. I was quite proud of myself for getting the trailer hooked up to the truck, loading it with water and hauling it to the field and filling the stock tank. This is not a big deal now, but at the time I had very little experience driving a truck and trailer and maneuvering it into position to drain into the stock tank. When Dave came home I bragged about how far I had come, being able to do all of these tasks by myself. As we were sitting on the deck discussing the day, some of the cows began to appear walking up the hill from the pasture where I had filled the stock tank. All of the pride in my task vanished quickly as I realized I had left the pasture gate open. Ooops! At least it only took us about an hour to get everyone back in the pasture.

Hopefully some of these stories make you laugh. I know things are getting kind of mundane out there in the real world, but it is spring and things will get better soon. Stay safe out there, and don’t forget to have a few laughs, even if it is at yourself!

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Henry the 8th says hello!

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