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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!

And We Thought March Was Mad

11 April 2020 – Overcast and windy but 37 degrees

It is that time of year where we are just about sick of winter.  Of course, April is also one of the snowiest months here in the Black Hills.  It seems that we get a blizzard every ten days or so, and then it gets into the 50s and 60s for a few days.  Everything gets muddy and sloppy and when it finally dries up, here comes the next blizzard.  That is the case today.  We are expecting 3-5 inches of snow tonight, and yesterday we were working outside in short sleeves.

I fear I sound like I’m complaining.  These temperature swings are not all bad, and the warm days are so greatly appreciated after a giant dump of snow.  If we didn’t have any critters, I don’t think I would mind at all because the snow is quite beautiful.  BUT we do have critters and they are all trying to have babies!

Fortunately, the Dirty Dozen (#112), the girl we were following around in late March decided to calve on one of the warmest days.  It was about 60 degrees and mid afternoon when she walked away from the herd, laid down in the woods, and delivered her baby in about five minutes. We were extremely grateful to see the baby get up on his feet in 30 minutes and began to nurse shortly after that.  Dozen is a great mom, and her milk bag is huge so the baby has no problem getting his fill.

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Dirty Dozen and her baby bull, Henry

Last year, we had a hard time with all the 1st calf heifers.  Dozen had a female calf last year and it died at 1 day old from pneumonia.  The vet did a necropsy and said the baby’s stomach was full of milk, so Dozen had been feeding her.  The baby died anyway and we ended up quarantining all the babies and moms that had been in contact with her. Another 1st calf heifer wasn’t producing very much milk, so we worked with Dozen to help nurse that calf, and she was more than willing to help.  At the end of the day, I think all of the calves born to our heifers ended up nursing on Dozen.  She seems to really like babies!  Anyway, the calving season last year was a huge pain, and it was so sad, and it turned us into Nervous Nellies for the calving season this year.  I’m sure most experienced ranchers would probably laugh at all the fuss and worry we have been doing, but we just really want to take good care of everyone and for them to thrive.

Dozen’s calf this year is two weeks early by the gestation calendar, so we are acting like extreme helicopter parents, checking on this baby bull every 2-3 hours.  He is 3 days old today and nursing very well. He has been tearing around like a race car in the mornings and evenings, and it is really fun to watch.  It’s as if he is showing off to the rest of the herd, “Look how fast I can run!”  Then he wears himself out and Dozen parks him in the tall grass to sleep the rest of the day.  Yesterday, after she parked him and wandered off to graze, Dave and I snuck up and tagged his ear.

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Nice Bling, Henry!

He is the 8th calf born to the herd so we named him Henry the 8th. We thought he might holler when we tagged him, as calves often do, but he didn’t make a peep so his mom didn’t come running to check on him.  We saw her going back to him later in the day and she sniffed him all over, especially his new ear tag.  I think she was mad he got an earring without her permission. Kids today!

Due to the impending blizzard conditions this evening, we have been preparing the barn with an extra stall for Dozen and Henry, so Henry doesn’t get stepped on by all the other cows trying to shelter from the storm. Dave added boards to the bottom of the panels to prevent him from squirting out into the main stall area.  He also has an extra panel handy in case one of the other ladies decides to calve during the bad weather. If that happens, she will have her own little area as well.  We are calling the stalls the Princess Suite and the Royal Deluxe.  Oh, Dave also added LED lights so we can keep an eye on everyone at night.

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A nice area for mom and baby
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Boards at the bottom to keep baby from squirting out

Next thing you know the cows will be demanding turn-down service and mints on their pillows.

In other news, we have enjoyed working outside on the last few warm days.  We built a platform and assembled this greenhouse.

The platform was a lot easier than assembling the greenhouse.  It was supposed to take 6 hours but I think it took us twice as long, considering the convoluted directions.  At least that’s my excuse.  Regardless, it seems to have turned out well and if it wasn’t going to be 6 degrees tomorrow night I would already have planted some things in there.  So the plants I have started will remain on the kitchen counter until the next warm weather.

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Beets and Peppers

We are ready for this snow to come and go, and once that happens we will begin disking and planting hay crops.  We are also hoping nobody else has a baby until the snow is gone, but that is never up to us.  As always, we are far removed from the real world and crazy things that are happening out there.  I hope everyone that is reading this is staying safe, staying sane, and that you all have a very Happy and Blessed Easter!

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Sherriff Joe on night patrol during the Super Moon

 

March Madness

19 March 2020 – Overcast and windy but 34 degrees

I reread my last post on the 3rd of March and at time the CoronaVirus News was just a whisper of background noise.  How things have changed in 16 days. Life is really no different here on the Holler.  We are self-quarantined most of the time anyway, working on the ranch and only going to town once or twice a month.  We always keep a stockpile of goods just to avoid extra trips for things like toilet paper or dog food. The small towns here in the Black Hills are always ghost towns in the winter months.  Most restaurants are only open from April to September and a lot of small business owners close up shop and head south.  Consequently, life here is  quiet and slow in the non-tourist season so it  feels like we are far removed from the crazy happenings in the rest of the world and just watching a science-fiction movie whenever we do turn on the news.

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Sunrise on the Holler

I know this is not like watching a movie for most of the country, and Dave and I have been in touch with family and friends that live in more populated areas (just about anywhere else).  The shutdown of businesses, schools, and normal life sounds extremely surreal.  All we can do is pray that people stay safe, be kind to each other, and don’t panic. This is still the greatest country in the world and we will beat this thing.

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Some deer grazing off the back porch

So what have you more social people been doing with all of your “stuck at home” time?  I have to brag about a good friend of mine who sent me a picture of teaching her kids how to build a fire.  They are working on survival skills at home and I thought that was a very neat idea.  I imagine not everyone is enjoying self-quarantine, but as a person who spends quite a lot of time in self imposed isolation due to geography and general hermit-crabby-ness, I have one piece of advice.  Do NOT sit around and watch or listen to the news all day.  You’ll go nuts.

Here in the ops-normal Holler, we have been busy with spring chores. We will be moving cows to different pastures once they calve and that requires fence inspection and mending.

We are still heating with wood and our wood shed is starting to look a lot less full than it was a few months ago.

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A lot of this that is left is still too green to burn.

We also have an area we call the “maternity ward” where we plan to put our pregnant cows as they start to look like they’re about to deliver, so we can keep a close eye on them.  Part of our life lately is trying to keep that area clean and picking up poop.  I read that cows can create 65 pounds of manure a day and after Dave and I hauled 7 tractor loads of poop out of the maternity ward, I believe it!

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Time to move the poo.
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A clean maternity ward….for now.

Thank goodness the bovines don’t use toilet paper or we would definitely be in trouble. They keep us busy feeding and checking on them. We are expecting the first calves mid-April, but one cow in particular already looks like she is getting milk in her bag.

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The Dirty Dozen.  Her bag is definitely bigger than everyone else so far.

We hope she holds off, it is still pretty early for her to calve. The other bred cows just look really big and slow right now, and the heifers that are not bred are loving spring.  They get in a lot of play fights, run around and headbutt each other, and for some strange reason they are particularly fond of sprinting up and down the side of the stock dam. They are crazy. They spent too much time this winter sitting around watching the news.

 

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Andie the heifer enjoying her dinner.

We  had a few spring blizzards which lead to busy days full of snow removal.  One day last weekend we had the most snow we’ve seen since we lived here, but the next day we were wearing short sleeves outside.  It’s likely winter isn’t done with us yet as April and sometimes May can be the snowiest months, but the 10 day forecast looks like 40s and 50s so we’ll take it!

We continue to feed the cows because it there isn’t anything for them to graze yet, and the barn is starting to look empty again as well.

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Rancher Dave sends a bale down the chute.

The blue birds and the turkeys have returned, and occasionally we have some geese flying north.  Sheriff Joe is quite pleased to see the turkeys are back, as one of his favorite activities is scaring them off.

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It looks like the good Sheriff forgot to wipe his feet!

The bees have been pretty active on the warmer days and while I am feeding them I won’t be completely convinced they survived the winter until I can open up the hive and see if the queen still lives and starts laying eggs. Long live the queen!

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The bees last fall

And that is about all there is to say for now. Dave and I are really wishing the very best to everyone out there in the strange and crazy world.

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Don’t forget to laugh.

 

Out on the Prairie

3 March 2020 – Sunny and snowing simultaneously….hovering around 35 degrees

So long, February!  I’d like to say we’ll miss ya, but likely we won’t.  It was not exceptionally cold or snowy last month, but it is that time of year when we are really starting to want warmer spring weather.  The forecast shows we may get our wish, however, it was forecast to be sunny and warm the last two days and it has been sunny but NOT warm.  The wind has been blowing, gusting up to 40 and while the sun is shining it keeps snowing. Some people brag about their weather, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a day.”  But we say, “How can you not like the weather?  It’s sunny and it’s snowing, and windy! We sometimes have all four seasons at once.”

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The herd in the south pasture braving the wind, snow, and sunshine

It seems like the wild life is waking up for spring.  There is a pack of four coyotes that have been hunting in our pastures.  We give them a warning shot if they get too close to the house, but we’re hoping they will take out the groundhogs or moles that have been digging out there.  As long as they leave the dog and cat alone, we think they are okay.  Yesterday morning, Dave and I watched them hunting mice or some other vermin. They work as a team and they seemed to round up a pretty good breakfast for themselves.  At night, they make a lot of noise, but sometimes we hear them during the day as well. Fortunately the Sheriff usually sticks close by when they start singing.

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Sheriff Joe hanging out in the barn stall while we do some work
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Maverick, the barn cat who gets to come in when it is too cold in the barn.

After the coyotes got their fill, a line of about 12 deer went marching right by the house.  If the apocalypse happens, I guess we won’t go hungry either.

Shortly thereafter, there was a giant bald eagle flying around the cows. Then, later in the day a loud, honking flock of geese did a low pass directly over the barn.  We are enjoying the return of the birds after the long winter and looking forward to seeing the first rocky mountain bluebirds and hearing the first meadowlarks.  Maybe all the critters are showing up because we have so much water in the stock dam.  Nothing brings out the riff-raff like a good watering hole.

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The stock dam is full of water….too bad it won’t last

Pretty soon we will be planting seeds and getting ready for the garden.  In April we will start disking and are planning on putting in barley for the hay crop this year.  We are only about 6 weeks away from calving and the ladies are looking big and tired.

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Fat and happy and very pregnant cows

Today, the fire is burning in the wood stove and while we have ventured out for chores, the wind and the snow are making us remember that we live in South Dakota and winter is just not through with us yet.  Hope everyone is staying warm and happy out there in the real world.

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A cold and sunny February morning

 

Superbowl Monday

3 Feb 2020 – Snowing, Blowing and 15 degrees

Oh, January….where have you gone?  And why did you take all the warm days with you?  January lulled us to sleep and February snuck up behind us and smacked us in the head.  It is a real blizzard out there right now, but I guess that is to be expected here in the Dakotas.

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Hunny leads the herd into the cafeteria.  Bon Appetite, ladies!

We had been taking advantage of the warm January days, having coffee on the deck in the mornings, grilling out in the evenings. Even though we have been sitting outside in the sun, it has been cool enough to keep a stocking cap and winter coat on, but we were outside nonetheless.

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Salmon on the grill
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Dave enjoying coffee in the morning on the deck

We couldn’t sit still too long, though.  We went out several days to stock up on our firewood stores, and it looks like we did just in time.

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Woodshed loaded once more

One particular day we were cutting wood from a slash-pile in the National Forest, and the Sheriff was poking his nose in every hole he could find. Eventually, I called him and told him to quit being so nosy.  He came running over with a few porcupine quills in his nose.  He had found the dead critter and decided it would make a good snack, quills and all.  Fortunately, Dave was able to pull them out pretty quickly.  Sheriff Joe is such a tough dog; I don’t think he understands pain.  He never yelps or cries and he just sat there as Dave pulled the barbs out of his snout.  Then he ran right back to the porcupine carcass and had to get scolded to leave it alone.  Silly mutt.

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Sheriff Joe in the back seat…..slash pile in the background

The cows have been loving the warm weather.  We are planning ahead for the summer and trying to line up a bull to rent for July through September.  We sold our bull in the fall because we kept some of his heifers and we don’t want any inbreeding. We have been talking to a rancher just across the border in Wyoming about leasing a pure red angus bull that will be small enough to service our heifers and big enough to take care of our older girls as well. We invited him to come see the herd and make sure everyone looked healthy and that our facilities would be good for his bull.  We will take a trip in the next week or so to look at his bulls and maybe pick out who will be a good fit for our ladies.  These arranged marriages are a lot of work!  Anyway, he liked our place and it looks like we will be able to work something out for the summer.

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Two heifers at the lick and two lazy cows in the front.  All enjoying a warm January day.

It is amazing how much we have learned about cattle in the last few years.  It is also amazing how much we have discovered that we still have to learn.  One thing of interest is that you have to be pretty careful selecting a bull.  Just like people, bulls can get venereal disease and you have to have them tested before you put them in with your herd.  One bull is typically expected to service about 25 cows in a season, so I guess the V.D. isn’t too hard to understand.  The other thing you test them for is fertility.  That sounds like an interesting job, right? No thanks.  Well they go to the vet for that test and the vet tells the rancher what percentage of success (breeding) they can predict from the bull as a percentage.  For example, they will give a result like the bull is 82% fertile.  Other factors to consider are the size of the calves that the bull has historically produced.  If you are breeding a bull that throws large calves to smaller cows, you can expect some birthing trouble.  Another thing to think about is genetic traits, including general health, disposition, horns, and conformation.  It is a lot to take in, but ideally the more research we do the better the outcome for our herd in calving season. The bull we are looking at is a young virgin bull, so some of the factors like calf size will be unknown.  Again, we still have a lot to learn.

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Could this be a future match?

Meanwhile, we will take a big blizzardy snow day to stay indoors and catch up on some of that research, write a blog, do some tax preparation and maybe just read a good book.  This morning, the cattle are fed and the ice is broken on the stock tanks so they can get a drink.  The wood stove is burning and we will probably hide away inside until it is time for evening chores.  Thanks for reading….we hope everyone out there in the real world is enjoying the roaring 20s so far.  I know we are!

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Nobody misses a meal at the Holler.

 

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