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Forest Fire

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!

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

23 December 2017 – Cloudy and a high of 10°…Brrrrrr

Winter is here!  We have about four inches of snow on the ground and it is frickin’ freezin’ out there.  It looks like we are not going to get any warmer than the low 20’s for the next 10 days.  At least there is only one night in the forecast where we are supposed to dip below zero, but we’ll see.

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Cows walking up the fence line for breakfast

 

We have been busy with chores and have branched out of our hermit-crabiness and attended some Christmas activities and parties. Typically, the days are as follows. The routine has been to get up and have coffee and breakfast and wait, and wait, and wait for the sun to come up (around 7:18AM).  Once that happens we put on 10 to 20 layers of clothing and head outside to scrape snow off the solar panels. Next, we shovel a place in the chicken run so the chickens can walk outside and we pour hot water onto their frozen water dish.  Sometimes, I make them warm oatmeal for breakfast. (Don’t judge me, we usually have fresh eggs for breakfast so I’m just returning the favor.)  Next, while Dave warms up the Mule I go and scoop the snow off the front of the beehive so if the little buzzers ever decide to come out their entrance/exit is not blocked.  (I tried to get a picture of this, but my phone literally froze and would not work!)

Once the Mule is warmed up we kick it into four-wheel drive and go over to Cowboy Dave and Linda’s to feed the cows.  They eat about 20lbs of hay per cow per day, so that is 280lbs for all fourteen.  That means four bales in the morning and three bales in the late afternoon.  We believe all the cows are pregnant and they eat every last scrap of hay we put out for them. They also don’t seem to have any sentimentality for their heifer offspring, and often we have to try to split them off to ensure the young girls can get some food and not get run over by the big fat cows. We also try to avoid getting run over by the big fat cows; they seem to be always very hungry and once they hear the Mule engine they come running as fast as they can.  It can be pretty exciting seeing a 1600-lb big, snorting, wooly mammoth made of beef charging at you in the snow while you are holding her breakfast.

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One of the large cows, Marzee, getting ready to head-butt the little heifer out of her food pile.  Pilot Dave and Arrow trying to supervise the situation.

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Snow makes everyone HUNGRY

After feeding, we head to the barn and load up the evening hay rations, break the ice in the water tanks, and scoop out any poop in the loafing shed and barn corral.  One good thing about the bitter cold weather is that it makes scooping poop a lot easier than when it is hot….ewwwww.  We repeat the whole routine in the evening. I may have mentioned we are doing winter chores in exchange for two heifers. It is really not that much work, but all of these things need to be accomplished daily.

 

 

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Frozen water tank.  2017’s Ice-Bucket Challenge!

 

Dave and I are really enjoying the farm life.  It is always fun to check up on the animals and get some fresh outdoor air first thing in the morning.  It’s also nice to come into a warm house in the evening after making sure everyone is fed, cooped up, and ready for the cold nights. Then we generally have something for supper that has been cooking on the wood stove all day.  Tonight, we are having baked potatoes that I put on the stove in a Dutch Oven with a little water in the bottom.  We are topping the taters with left-over chili that was also cooked on the stovetop.  Don’t worry, Moms, we are having a big salad too, so we are getting our veggies.  Don’t worry pilots, we are also having some wine with dinner.  It is Saturday night, after all.  Wild times on the Holler.

While we are enjoying the work, winter makes everything a little more difficult.  We worry a lot about the chickens being warm enough, but they are winter-hardy breeds so we hope they will be okay.  We also have been burning through quite a bit of wood in the stove, which means about once a week we are filling up the wood box on the porch.  Yesterday, the Mule was full of wood we needed to unload into the box, so Dave parked it in front of the porch thinking we would unload it prior to going out for evening chores.  Well, the sun came out just long enough to heat the roof of the house and a giant avalanche of snow slid off right onto the back of the Mule.

We had to dig the wood out from under the snow drift.  It reminded us of last year when we didn’t have a wood shed and we had to keep wood under a tarp which was constantly covered with snow as well. 

Dave has also been spending the days plowing the snow off of Stagecoach Springs.  The neighbors seem pretty happy we moved here! Again, no pictures due to frozen phone.

The Fire Department radio has quieted down a bit, (knock on wood), and the state fire fighters finally got the fire out in the State Park.  We drove through there a few days ago and it actually doesn’t look too bad.  It is obvious there was a fire but a lot of it seems to have burnt out the grass and underbrush and most of the trees look like they are in pretty good shape.  God Bless the Fire Fighters!

We are looking forward to a quiet Christmas.  Cowboy and Linda asked us to come for Christmas dinner, but other than that, it will be another typical winter day.  It is supposed to be extremely cold on the 25th and even if we don’t get any more snow, we foresee a white Christmas.  I think we might go sledding!

So that’s the update from the Holler.  Dave and I want to wish everyone out there a very Merry Christmas.  Cheers!

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Our Front Gate

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The Holler Homestead from Cowboy and Linda’s Drive

 

 

 

 

Sweet (and Fiery) November!

 18 November 2017- Sunny and 37°F

We have had a busy week on the Holler.  We are trying to get to a point where we don’t have to buy any hay for cattle next year.  Like all things in the country, nothing happens instantly, so we are planning ahead.  Dave called around and reached the Warne Chemical company in Rapid City.  He asked their experts for recommendations for fertilizing our property so we can maximize hay production next year. They recommended we put down some nitrogen fertilizer and they said now is the perfect time.  Apparently, the colder temperatures help the fertilizer take better to the ground and the moisture throughout the winter (SNOW) will really work the good stuff into the soil. 

We took a road trip to Rapid and loaded up 20 bags of the stuff, ten for us and ten for Cowboy Dave.  Yesterday, we put the broadcaster on the back of Cowboy’s tractor and proceeded to spread the fertilizer over the areas we are planning to hay next year.

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Cowboy’s tractor with a broadcaster full of fertilizer on the back

 

It was a cold day but the snow held off until the guys were done. 

UPDATE!!

20 November 2017 – Sunny and highs in the upper 50’s

As I was writing the “Sweet November” 18 November post, Pilot Dave was outside shooting a batch of ammo that he had reloaded.  I had the radio on and I couldn’t hear him, but then I heard the basement door open and he was yelling, “Call 911!  Help!  Fire!!”

I grabbed the phone and tried to get my boots on and grab some buckets.  I looked out the window and I couldn’t see any fire, but I called 911 as I was running out the door and I could see the smoke and flames on the north side of our stock dam.  The wind was blowing big time and by the time I got off the phone, the fire had spread up through the trees and over the hill.

Dave was trying to stamp out the flames closest to our structures with a shovel and with his feet.  Everything was too far away from the house to hook up a hose but I grabbed the hoses in case the wind shifted towards us.  The fire was travelling rapidly through the grass to the east and there literally was nothing we could do but watch it and wait for the fire department.

It was the most sickening, horrific feeling watching the flames spread up through the field onto our neighbor Sheri’s property.  She showed up about five minutes later and I told her the fire department was on the way.  She left to open the gate on her southern property in case the fire spread in that direction and her cows needed to get out. Meanwhile, Dave and I were running around trying to stamp out what we could.

The local phone/internet company just happened to be on our road putting in high speed internet wire and they had a DitchWitch accompanied by a large water truck.  They brought the water truck over and began dousing the flames, but it was way beyond their containment ability at this point.

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The Mad-Max Internet wire digging machine. Water truck not pictured.

The Sheriff showed up and about ten minutes later we had four fire engines driving across the stock dam and cutting the barbed wire between our property and Sheri’s to chase the flames off to the east.  It was such a relief to see the fire trucks and they contained the fire in no time, but remained on site for about 4.5 hours to ensure total suppression.

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A Volunteer Fire Dept Truck after the fire was out

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Looking from the East, to the West across the stock dam at the house.

 

The fire trucks came from three local volunteer fire departments, Pringle, Argyle, and Custer.  There were also some state resources on site although in the chaos I didn’t really talk to any of them.  The volunteers were absolutely great.  One of them said when he heard the call on the radio, he initially thought, “Some idiot is out burning slash piles.”  But when he heard it was from target shooting he said, “I’m completely cool with that.  Accidents happen.”  The Sheriff talked to Dave to get information for his police report, and Dave asked if he was going to get a ticket.  The Sheriff said he couldn’t ticket him for an accident.   We love that South Dakotans are so cool about guns.

Around 7PM the last fire truck rolled away and Dave and I went inside to warm up.  We were both exhausted from running around like crazy trying to contain the fire.  We were both also experiencing a huge adrenaline crash.  Still, we rallied and after eating something, we took the mule out in the dark and strung cargo straps across the cut barbed wire to keep the cows separated.  Then we drove through the burnt area to make sure there weren’t any smoldering embers that might catch overnight.

We spent a restless night; each of us unable to completely relax and getting up multiple times to look out to see if there was any smoke or flames.  Fortunately, the temperatures fell into the low 20s and everything frosted over.  In the morning, we did our chores for the calves and then we fixed the barbed wire fence by splicing and stretching the original wires.  We checked out the burned area and everything smelled burnt but there was no more smoke or fire.

The initial assessment was 10 acres, but the revised assessment was 17 acres.

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A screen shot from the Great Plains Fire Info Blog

Most of the burn area is on Sheri’s property, and we had her over and said we would buy hay to make up for the pasture that burned or whatever she needed.  She said, “Don’t be ridiculous, that grass is going to be so green this spring.”  And she was so understanding and nice about the whole event.  Again, we love South Dakotans.

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From Stagecoach – a distant shot of the damage.  The solar panels that are just east of the house are pictured on the left side of the picture, and the fire was east of us across the stock dam.

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Another shot from Stagecoach

The Argyle Volunteer Fire Department has been out here for the last two days, and will come one more time to ensure the fire is really done.  They were so helpful and nice to us, and we are obviously grateful to all the firefighters (and the Internet guys) that put out the flames.  Ironically, Dave and I had discussed going to the Volunteer Fire Dept. meeting last month but it was a snowy, cold night and we said, “We’ll catch the next one.”  Well, you can bet we will be going to the next meeting on 30 November and joining in the department too!

Now we’re heading into Thanksgiving week.  We are having Cowboy and Linda over for an early dinner and hope to watch some football.  We were talking about doing some shooting that afternoon, but I don’t think that is on the agenda for a little while.  Meanwhile, we have a whole bunch to be thankful for this year, especially the fact that no one got hurt, no structures were damaged, and we didn’t take out the Black Hills National Forest.

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone, and keep the fire extinguishers handy!

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Spectacular November Sunrise – you can’t even see the burnt areas in this picture!

 

Storm Hill Fire

We saw this fire yesterday on the way to Rapid City.

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