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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

 

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!

Get that Bull a Cigar!

10 April 2019 – Freezing rain and 24 degrees

It appears our bomb-cyclone-avoiding luck has run out.  We are sitting in the middle of a nasty winter storm today, complete with freezing rain, snow, and 40mph winds. The snow isn’t really sticking so it doesn’t look that bad in the pictures, but it is fairly unpleasant outside for April.

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Cows eating on a cold day

Despite the weather, Rancher Dave is out in Babe, the tractor, disking up the fields.  He said it is actually the perfect temperature for disking since the ground is kind of wet, but the dirt is too cold to clump up on the disks.  He is pretty cozy in the tractor cab and said he even has to keep one of the windows cracked to prevent from getting too warm.

We had such fantastic luck with oats last year that we decided to plant more this year.  Rancher Dave called the seed store in Rapid and went down there to buy a pallet of Goliath Oats.  When he got there, he paid the guy and went down to the warehouse to pick up the pallet.  Unfortunately, they had made a mistake and didn’t have any oats in the warehouse!  They made it right and delivered the pallet to our barn to make up for the trouble.  This all happened on April Fool’s Day so Rancher Dave thought he could pull a good joke on me about the whole debacle.  When he got home from Rapid I saw his truck coming up the drive so I went to put on my boots and work gloves so I could help him unload.  When I got up to the barnyard, I saw him standing next to the empty trailer with his head in his hands and he said, “I lost the pallet!  It must have fallen off somewhere between here and Rapid!”  Normally I would not fall for these shenanigans but I was completely caught off guard that day.  I said, “Oh no!  I’ll go call the Highway Patrol and see if they’ve seen it!”  My fear was that it would have killed someone if they hit a giant pallet full of oats, and also my mind began racing about how in the heck we would reload it if we did find it.  Then Dave said, “April Fools!” Ha ha…nice one Dave.  Just remember paybacks are hell!  So my plotting begins,  Bwahahahahaha.

We were hoping to get the oats in the ground before this big round of moisture, but they were just delivered yesterday afternoon, so it will have to wait.  Last year we got them planted on the 16th of April so we aren’t too late yet.

Meanwhile, calving season has commenced.  On the 5th of April, and exactly on schedule, Dairy Queen calved a cute little bull which we named BlackJack.  He is the 21st cow we have out here now thus the name.

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Dairy Queen and BlackJack

DQ is a fantastic first-time mom and is constantly licking and grooming the little guy.  He is super strong already and every morning goes zooming and kicking around the pasture.

Three days later, Rosie calved a little bull in the wee hours of the morning.  This is her 5th baby and she snuck off in the early AM to give birth by herself.  He brings the herd total to 22 so we named him “Catch 22.”

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Rose and Catch

We have separated the new moms and babies from the rest of the herd for a couple of days, and now that the weather is so awful, they are in one of the barn corrals where they have some shelter from the freezing rain.  We also corralled Honey because she really looks like she could have her baby at any moment.  The rest of the herd has access to a big loafing shed and another covered pen.  We are really hoping no one decides to calve until Friday when the wind and moisture will subside and the warmer temperatures will return. According to our records, no one else should calve until the 24th because they weren’t exposed to our bull before that.  There were a few “traveling salesmen” bulls that wandered through our pastures last spring, and if anyone calves in the next few days the timing could mean that one of those bulls was the responsible party.  We did have Rosie and Dairy Queen in with our bull, Koozy, when we first bought him last summer, so we know for sure that Black Jack and Catch are his kids. Nice job, Koozy! Get that bull a cigar!

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Catch trying to catch some Z’s

Time keeps speeding by and we can hardly believe we are already in the middle of April..  I wanted to write a blog post on the 31st of March because it was the three year anniversary of the day that Dave and I left Florida with the U-haul full of our things and headed out toward our new lives here in the Black Hills!. I missed the date because the weather was too nice to be inside writing a blog.  Dave and I did celebrate with a fancy box of wine.  We are both amazed at the amount of things we have learned and experienced in just three short years, and our only regret is we didn’t start this adventure sooner.  We can’t wait to see what will happen in the next three years. I’m sure it will go by in the blink of an eye, and I can tell you I am already looking forward to the next April Fool’s Day.  Look out, Dave!

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The Holler 2019

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

1 December 2018 – Snowing and a high of 35

It is the perfect December day here on the Holler. We are in the middle of a big snowstorm, expecting 3-5 inches before tomorrow, and believe it or not, we are pretty happy about the snow. We have been waiting and waiting to put down the nitrogen fertilizer we bought in October. The fertilizer experts said to put it down right before a big snow, that way it won’t just evaporate and the moisture will maximize its purpose. We got done fertilizing all of our fields and the fields over at the High Lonesome on Thursday and it started snowing Friday night. The timing was perfect, so we’re happy about the snow. More on this later.

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Beautiful snow – view from the barn
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Cows looking for food

Thanksgiving was really nice. It was about 65 degrees here, but we weren’t around to enjoy it. We took advantage of the warm weather and sun and road-tripped back to Iowa where we got to have Thanksgiving with my parents and my brother. It is difficult for us to get away in the winter because our house is off-grid and solar powered. If it snows while we are away, there is no one here to start the generator (although this is supposed to happen automatically, we are still suspicious of this feature) and no one here to scrape the snow off the solar panels. Also, the cows need feeding and watering, and if it is bitterly cold the ice has to be broken off the water tank. Fortunately, the weather was nice so the cows had plenty to eat and drink and the batteries in the house remained charged thanks to the sunshine. It was really nice to see my folks and we ate and ate and ate. You gotta love Thanksgiving, especially if you love pie.

 


We had a great time in Iowa, but we were happy to return to the Holler. There is no place like home, and Rancher Dave and I have really transformed into country people. We are pretty uncomfortable in the city with the traffic and the noise, and Sheriff Joe is definitely a ranch dog. He had to be leashed during our trip because he doesn’t have any sense about traffic, cars, and he has no understanding of other people’s yards and fences. He likes wide open spaces, cows, and mule rides. So do I.

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Joey’s ears flapping in the wind in the mule

We bought my brother’s pick-up and I drove it back. We had been searching for a little ranch truck that we can also run back and forth to town in and take some of the burden off of Truck Norris (our Toyota and only vehicle since we left Florida). Coincidentally, my brother was having a hard time selling his truck because it has a manual transmission. Apparently, no one can drive a stick shift any more, or they don’t want to because it makes it too hard to text and drive. Ha ha. I guess we are old school now and think it is pretty cool to drive a stick-shift. It turned out to be a good deal for all of us, so thanks, Bill! We love this little truck and have already had it back and forth to town a couple of times. It’s doing great in the snow, and proving to be a valuable ranch-hand.

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My new ride.  We named it Tonto (because we name everything).

Now, back to putting down nitrogen. The fertilization process would have went really smoothly if it weren’t for the dang cows. They are so MOOOOODY! Our herd is spoiled rotten, and they have become so accustomed to being fed cake that sometimes we can barely get the mule out of the driveway without being stampeded by those hungry bovines. They have become quite the pests and I have even started threatening them about making them into burgers and often tell them they would be more likeable covered in cheese and stuffed in a sesame seed bun. On a day where they get really pushy, I like to sing Jimmy Buffet’s “Chesseburger in Paradise”. They don’t care.

 

Rancher Dave wanted to make sure the broadcaster was set to the proper rate so we put down the proper amount of nitrogen. This would require a test run in one of the small fields and also require him to hold a steady speed in Babe, the tractor. Sheriff Joe and I were supposed to follow along in the mule and indicate how far the fertilizer was throwing out of the spreader, but as soon as we started the mule, those crazy cows came running. They were rudely pushing about in front of Babe, preventing Dave from driving a steady speed. They were rushing toward Joey and me, and we couldn’t even walk across the pasture to show Dave where the fertilizer was broadcasting. Finally, we decided to give them some cake in another pasture and get them out of the way.

But NO! Those greedy girls ate all the cake and came running back to the field we were trying to work. We had to give them two bales of hay to occupy their time so they would leave us alone. Eventually, we figured out the proper setting on the broadcaster and went to work. The next day, we tricked the cows and fenced them into a pasture over at the High Lonesome so they would be out of our way.

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Babe with the broadcaster attached, spreading nitrogen

Putting down fertilizer is pretty straightforward once you figure out the setting on the equipment and the speed you need to drive the tractor. The problem is that none of our fields are perfectly square so it is easy to lose track of where you have been already. Our good friend, Jeff, provided the remedy to this by introducing Rancher Dave to the MYTRACKS app. Dave put this app on his phone and was able to real-time track where he had been in the field. It also provided the speed as Babe has a tach but no speedometer. Look out Elon Musk, we’re pretty high-tech out here.

 

I got to do the driving on day 2, and this app made my job super easy. Of course, it looks like I did some drunken bowties in the middle of the field, and my excuse was that somebody texted me while I was working. I had to try to navigate my way back to the MYTRACKS app while driving Babe and this is the poor result.

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DON’T TEXT AND FERTILIZE!

I guess I shouldn’t make fun of people texting and driving any more.

Today, we got up right before sunrise. It was already snowing so I threw my snowpants on over my pajamas and went up to the barn to check on Maverick, the cat, and give him some food. I dusted snow off the beehives so the bees could go in and out. I scraped some snow and ice off the solar panels while Rancher Dave loaded the mule with hay. We fed the cows and by the time we got back to the house, the solar panels were covered in snow again. Dave went in the house to start the generator because it appears this will be one of those rare days where our batteries won’t get charged by the sun. Just because it was so beautiful outside and I was already wearing my snow gear, I decided to give the panels one more snow scraping.

I was nearly done and I turned around, looking for Sheriff Joe. I spotted him almost immediately as he was only about 50 yards from me. I was instantly shocked to see him in the international “dog play” position, with his front paws down on the ground and rear in the air, and NOSE TO NOSE with a coyote! The coyote was also in the play position. Alarm bells started going off in my head as I recalled story after story about coyotes sending out a scout to play with a dog, only to lure it back to the pack where it will surely be killed. I started yelling bloody murder, “Joey! No! Come! Get over here!” and “Dave, get the gun!” I was kicking myself because I had just leapt out of bed this morning and was unarmed. I didn’t even have my knife, although I’m not sure what I would have done with either weapon.

Dave couldn’t hear me because the generator was running, so instinctively I kept yelling and ran towards Joey and the “playful” coyote. I think Joe could tell I was upset and he came sprinting back to me, but the coyote just sat there and looked at us. I grabbed Joe’s collar and we ran to the porch and I said, “Dave, come kill this coyote!” Dave was on it, and threw on his coat and boots, grabbed his rifle and went out to the back deck. The coyote was long gone. We love animals, and are not keen on killing them, but after the disappearance of our cat, Goose, and the attempted abduction of Joey, we have decided it is open season on wiley coyotes, especially when they are brazen enough to come so close to the house with people outside and the generator making a lot of noise.

I’m sitting here now, looking out at the beautiful, gently falling snow and thanking the Good Lord that my dog didn’t get killed or attacked this morning. Dave is out scraping the panels again and shoveling snow off the deck. The cows are done eating and have headed back to the trees for shelter. I have a pot full of pinto beans and conecuh sausage cooking on the wood stove. It really looks like a Christmas Card outside and since it is the first of December, I think I’ll go dig out the Christmas decorations. We hope everyone out there in the real world is having a good weekend. Happy December!

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

17 November 2018 – Sunny and a high of 23

It has been an incredible November here in South Dakota. We have had several days in a row that were almost 50 degrees, and if the forecast is correct, we are expecting 50’s next week as well! Today, we woke up to a little dusting of snow and temperatures in the low teens, but we cannot complain as the wood stove is cranking and the house is warm. Also, we have been working outside a lot, taking advantage of the warm weather and are grateful for an “indoor day” to get caught up on other projects.

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Snow on the Holler

We have been working on cleaning, fixing, and prepping some of the haying equipment for winter storage. This year, all of the machinery can fit in the barn and that really extends the life of all things mechanical. Dave had to pull out the old mower blade, and that took several hours of pushing and pulling. He was not deterred.

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Rancher Dave sitting in the hard gravel working on the mower
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He got the blade out!

I worked on cleaning up an old calf table. It was pretty worn and rusty so I thought I would spray paint it with Rustoleum. This was not a good idea considering the gusty winds. I went through a can of paint in about 5 minutes. Instead, I found some of the rust-proof paint we used to paint the trailer last summer and that worked out pretty nicely.

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Before
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After

This calf table is missing one of the handles, but if we can rig one up, we will be all set for round up next year and we won’t have to borrow one. If the bull did his duties and all goes well, we will be expecting seven calves in April, and Cowboy and Linda will also be expecting six in April. Muzzle should be delivering in July again this year since she got off cycle somehow last year. So the roundup will be twice as big as last year. Any volunteers are welcome!

Dave was going to teach me to change the oil in the generator that is the backup for our solar power. It runs a test cycle every week and we have used it off and on when we have a run of cloudy days that aren’t solar-power friendly. As we began to take everything apart, Cowboy Dave and his dogs showed up in the southern pasture in his Kawasaki Mule. Joey decided that it looked like they were having more fun than Dave and I changing the oil and so he scooted off through the barbed wire across the field and up the hill to join the party. I don’t want him running off, even if it is just to see his friends, so I went through the gate, across the field and up the hill to get him and scold him. By the time we returned to the generator, Dave had changed the oil. Jen’s training: incomplete.

It was also time to change the oil in our Mule, so we did that on one of the warm days as well.

We have been waiting for some moisture in the forecast so we can put down nitrogen for fertilizer. We have had the broadcaster on Babe all month, but we just haven’t had the right weather to fertilize yet, so we took the broadcaster off the tractor so we could move the mower Then, we put the broadcaster back on Babe so we will be ready to go when the weather dictates. We also helped Cowboy Dave put his snowblower on his tractor, Bob, likely ensuring we won’t have any significant snow all winter, right?

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Broadcaster on Babe
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Snowblower on Bob

Putting implements on tractors and taking them off is not a huge deal, but it does take some time, depending on how many connections, cotter pins, etc. are involved.  It requires some teamwork and coordination and our overall operations are improving. We are hoping all the equipment is good to go for winter, now. It is a lot easier doing some of these outdoor tasks when it is sunny and 50 than when it is snowing and 10 degrees.  Dave was happy that even though it was in the low teens this morning, Babe, the tractor, started right up in the barn. He got to work picking up some of the slash we have been dragging near the stock dam.

It is our 3rd November here in South Dakota, and really only the 2nd of having somewhat of a normal existence as ranchers since we were in the camper the 1st year. The rhythm of the seasons is starting to feel more comfortable. We are feeling much more prepared for winter than last year and definitely more than the first year we were out here. This blog is starting to get a little routine, more chasing cows, dragging slash, fixing equipment, stacking wood etc. Still, I really enjoy documenting our life here. If you would have told us ten years ago what we would be doing we would have said you were crazy. It turns out that we have never felt more at home. We have a lot to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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A cold winter day, even for cows
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Maverick getting some sun on the hay bales in the barn

 

Hay Day From Hay-Dees

18 June 2018 – Raining and 49 degrees

This morning, I said to Tractor Dave, “If it was ten degrees cooler, we could have snow!”  He said to bite my tongue.  While it is untypically cool today, we did have some really hot mid 90-degree weather earlier this week, and of course, those were the days we decided it was dry enough to bale hay.

 

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Bwahahahahaha…..

 

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One wagon load of hay

It was really hot working out there.  Dave said it was even ridiculously hot inside Babe, despite the air conditioner.  He was sitting there under all that glass. Joey was dying in the heat in his thick black coat and I poured cold water on him about every 30 minutes.  He is not quite four months old and hasn’t figured out how to sit still in the shade!  Linda and I were burning up in the hot sun, but we knew we were expecting rain and we had to get the hay in the barn. We just kept raking and stacking while the men were baling and stacking!

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Linda rakes in the corners that the baler can’t reach
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The two Dave’s stacking hay

This year we thought we would try to make it easier on ourselves in the bale-stacking process.  We put pallets all over the field and loaded the bales onto the pallets.  Then Cowboy Dave used his tractor and loaded the pallets onto the hay wagon.  Last year we moved each individual bale multiple times, but this year, we just took the hay wagon up to the barn at the High Lonesome, and used the tractor to lift the bales into the hay loft.  I credit my brilliant husband for his ideas in hay efficiency.

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A pallet of hay on the wagon

Late in the hot afternoon, we were finally done moving bales up to the barn.  Funny how we picked the hottest day of the year so far to do all the hard work!  We had a few cold Keystones to reward ourselves. The next day, it was about 20 degrees cooler, and we took advantage of the cool weather to finish moving the hay into the hayloft.

Then I got a lesson in baling.

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I got to pick up the scraps missed from the first baling.

 

Later, we did get the forecasted rain.  It has been raining all weekend and we are happy about that.  Not only is it great for the remaining crops in the field, but we get a little break from haying!  We will continue when things dry out again, although that looks like it won’t be for a few days.

In other news, the barn project will begin sometime this week, weather dependent. We are also dog-sitting for Vito.  Joey and Vito ( the dog mafia)  are full of energy and play and wrestle and run continuously.  This goes on for about two hours at a time, and then everyone passes out from exhaustion.

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Joe chasing Vito through the field
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Vito and Joey resting up for the next wrestling match

The house is a muddy mess and smells like wet, dirty dogs.  That is country living though!   The weather drives our schedule and we just try to keep up.  Every day is completely different and beautiful in its own way.  You just have to appreciate the sunshine and the rain!

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The field after haying – beautiful!

 

Spring is Coming….Right?

20 April 2018 – Cloudy and 40 with snow showers in the forecast

The Holler is showing all the signs of spring, but Old Man Winter just won’t go away.  We have little sprouts of green grass all over the pastures, the blue birds and the meadowlarks have returned, the tulips are trying to come up, and the bees have ventured out of the hive on several warm days this week.  Still, we have to head out for morning chores in our snow pants and parkas because the dawn temperatures are pretty low and the wind makes it feel even colder.

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Tulip trying to peek up through the frost

 

The past two weeks have been really busy, so I’m giving advanced warning about the length of this blog post.  We have been disking, harrowing, and planting with unwavering faith that the growing season must begin soon.

The days fly by when you are in the field all day, but it feels great to come into a warm house at night and be tired from all the work.  It also feels great to look at the field you just plowed and planted and believe….really believe….that it is going to produce some good hay.  You gotta have patience out here on the ranch.

The bovines have been busy, too.  Last week, Cowboy Dave had made a trip out of town to see an old friend.  Linda remained and was keeping a close eye on Frita, a cow who looked imminently close to calving.  On Saturday morning she called to say Frita was having her baby. Dave and I went over to the High Lonesome and met Linda in the pasture to watch Frita go through her paces.

You may wonder why we make such a big deal about watching these cows give birth. In all likelihood they would be just fine, or even better off if we minded our own business.  But the counterargument is that if there is a problem, those dang cows refuse to grab a cell phone to call or text for help. We think they have trouble dialing because the numbers are too small for their big hooves.  Calves can be anywhere from 50-75 lbs so there are many things that could go wrong that would require our assistance.  A breech position calf would require a person to help reposition the calf in the birth canal.  A very large calf may require pulling.  A calf that is born and not breathing immediately, or one that won’t eat right away are both situations that would require a human assist.  Not that Pilot Dave or I have done any of these things before, but Cowboy and Linda have, and we are trying to learn everything we can to be the best stewards of these animals that we can be.

Back to Frita – we watched her in obvious labor pains for nearly two hours, but then she got up and walked back to rejoin the herd.  We decided to give her some space and time, and when Dave and I started heading up the driveway back to the Holler, I caught a glimpse of her going up over a hill by herself again.  I said I wanted to stay and see if I could keep an eye on her for awhile.  Dave went back to get some chores done on the Holler and Linda went back to the ranch house on the High Lonesome to get on with her day.  I hiked a short distance up over the hill with my field glasses and I could just see Frita in the distance lying under a tree.  I spotted her with the glasses and realized she was calving!  This was probably only 5 minutes after Dave and Linda had left, so I called them from my cell phone (since Frita refused to use hers!) and they came back to the pasture about two minutes after the baby was born.

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Frita has her baby in the only dry spot

 

We got a little closer and watched as the little calf struggled to his feet and started nursing.  Phew!  Another healthy calf.  Later that day we took Frita some hay and got a better look.  It is a little bull, and we decided to refer to him as Chips – Frita Chips….like Frito Chips. This is Cowboy and Linda’s bull, so they will obviously name him as they please, but with so many calves running around, Dave and I like to give them a name so we know who is who.

Cowboy Dave returned the following day and was pleased about the healthy addition to his herd.  We decided that we would move calves to one of the northern pastures because it is already mid-April and we needed to move them out of the current pasture to prepare the field and let the alfalfa and grass start growing. First, we had to catch Heidi and Chips and tag them while we could still use the paddock gates to keep the frantic mothers at bay. First thing Monday morning, we got the calves tagged.  It was relatively uneventful, as the two Dave’s are getting pretty good at grabbing the little calves and getting right down to business as Linda and I try to distract the Moms with cake and hay.

Next, we rounded everyone up and herded them along the fence that borders the National Forest toward the northern pasture.  The cows are pretty good about this, but of course, there is always one troublemaker.  Puzzle’s calf, Heidi, decided to crawl under the barbed wire and take off on her own into the National Forest.  While Linda worked the gates and Cowboy drove the cows onward with his mule, Pilot Dave and I tried to get that little dogie back to the herd. She was only six days old, but she could run!  A horse would have been very helpful at this point, but since the horses remain on the “Future Purchases List”, Pilot Dave and I ran all over hell’s half acre trying to push Heidi back toward the herd.  Finally, after a lot of exercise, we got her out of the forest and on the right side of the fence, but of course, she turned the wrong way and headed south back to the place everyone had just left.  Heidi, Come Back!!!  Cowboy Dave and Linda returned to the chase on their mule and eventually we got her headed the right way.  She was reunited with her mother, who didn’t seem too concerned that her daughter had been running around like a wild child.  Lady, get control of your kid!

Next, Pilot Dave and I hooked up the round feeder ring to Babe and delivered it to the northern pasture.  It was a slow process, manipulating the big ring and tractor through all the fences and gates, but Dave has gotten pretty good on the tractor.

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Dave maneuvers Babe and the feeder ring through the pasture gate

 

Yesterday, Pilot Dave and I checked cows in the morning. Everybody looked good and all the calfies were running around, jumping and bucking and feeling good.  We gave Honey and Muzzle the once-over because they are the two remaining pregnant ladies.  They looked normal, well, normal in the pregnant cow sense. We left them in the pasture intending to check everyone again around noon.

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Lilly and Hugo enjoying the sunshine
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T-bone and Heidi with Honey looking over them

 

We are out of hay and since the weather hasn’t been warm enough to produce sufficient grazing grass, Cowboy Dave took his trailer south to Edgemont to pick up some round bales from the feed store. Meanwhile, Pilot Dave and I took our trailer north to Custer to pick up a disk and an auger that were in the shop being welded.  We all met back on Stagecoach Springs to continue the daily chores.

Pilot Dave drove Babe up to the northern pasture to get the big bale of hay off of Cowboy Dave’s tractor. This was just another incident where we are so grateful to have a big tractor, and I am so happy that I married a good tractor driver!

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That’s a big bale of hay!
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Pilot Dave’s view from the cockpit of Babe.

 

I went and got Linda in the mule and we decided to do the mid-day cow check.  As we approached the pasture we could see Honey way off by herself under a tree.  As we got closer, we could see what looked like a big red rock next to her, but as we got even closer we realized it was a calf!

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Honey’s new baby!

 

 

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Still wet behind the ears.
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Honey enjoys a meal after calving.

 

Honey gave birth to a beautiful little bull.  He is the Hoten Holler’s second calf so he gets the #2 ear tag if we can catch him today. He looked healthy and was already up and nursing, so we returned to the task at hand, getting the big bale into the feeder.

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Cowboy Dave trying to train Mar-zee to jump through the hoop.  Next week we light the hoop on fire and then we’ll be ready for the circus.
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Moving the feed ring over the hay bale.

The day was only half done, though, so the two Dave’s finished up the disking and planting over at the High Lonesome.

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Back to disking the High Lonesome

Out here, you literally have to make hay while the sun shines.  Although we are done with the snow, we hope we get some precipitation today to get the oats off to a good start.

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Valentine wants to give Dave a smooch.

 

 

 

 

Morning Surprise

11 April 2018 – Cloudy and 42 with a high forecast in the low 60’s!

It has been a busy week on the Holler.  Saturday afternoon, we met Cowboy Dave down at the High Lonesome, where he had just witnessed his cow Pat-Z’s water breaking.  Pat-Z seemed pretty confused as she kept calling after and chasing Lilly, who at the time was the youngest calf in the herd.  Every few minutes, she would lay down, clearly having agonizing contractions, and then she would get up and go find Lilly.  She must have been thinking that was her baby. This went on for about an hour and as it began to get dark, the herd moved up toward the paddock.  We took advantage of this and turned Pat-Z off into the barn corral so she could have a little peace and quiet.

Soon enough, she laid down and gave birth to this big baby bull.

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Hugo at one day old….and Pat-Z on the left.

 

He is huge, or YUGE, so Cowboy decided to call him Hugo. Hugo was up and nursing pretty quickly, and we kept him and his mother inside the barn corral away from the herd that evening because it was supposed to get pretty cold. The next day, before morning chores, we let Pat-Z out to go eat and Pilot Dave and Cowboy Dave grabbed the little guy and tagged him.  They did not band him because lucky Hugo is not related by blood to any of the other cows (except his Mom).  If he turns out to have nice conformation (that’s rancher speak for a good body frame) then Cowboy and Linda will keep him as a bull for a season and sell him as a bull the next.  If he doesn’t turn out to be too nice, we can always castrate him at a later date.

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Pilot Dave holds Hugo while Cowboy Dave gives him an ear tag.
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Pilot Dave wrangels Hugo to get his ear tagged

 

While the two Daves were tagging Hugo’s ear, Pat-Z took off to go eat.  About half way to the feeder she realized, “Holy cow!  I left my baby!”  and she came sprinting back to the corral where the men were working the calf.  Fortunately they had shut the gate and were protected from the completely panicked mother.  When they were done with Hugo, they opened the gate and Pat-Z stormed in to see her calf.  She ran in, saw him, and screamed…MOOOOOOOO!!!! “I didn’t say you could get an earring!”  It was really crazy and so loud that the little guy kind of shook and cowered.  “Yikes!  Mom is Mad!”  It reminded me of one of the last scenes in Jurassic Park, when the T-Rex busts into the museum and kills the velociraptors.  The T-Rex roars and it is almost as loud as Pat-Z yelling for her baby. Watch the link below to see the scene.

Scene from Jurassic Park….about 2:45 in the T-Rex roars

We spent the next few days still following around cows and waiting for the remaining four girls to calve. In between cow-checks, Pilot Dave and I have been busy preparing for planting season and fence building.  There are always rocks to pick up, trees to limb, slash to drag, etc. Yesterday,  Dave hooked up the disc to the tractor and prepped the southern pasture. Today he is disking the north.  Last year we put in oats on the 16th of April, and we plan to try to match that schedule this year, weather permitting.

This morning, Dave and I went to feed the cows and we did a quick count to make sure everyone was there. We had one more than we did at the last cow-check!  Puzzle decided she was going to be sneaky and headed off into the woods in the wee hours of the morning and had this beautiful and BIG baby girl!

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Puzzle and her new baby.

 

I used to think it was a great morning surprise if someone brought doughnuts to work, but my perspective has changed out here on the ranch.  Keep your doughnuts, I’ll take a brand new healthy baby calf that is already up and running around with the other babies.

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Puzzle cleaning her new calf.

 

We are expecting three more calves.  I hope they come today as we are also expecting a winter storm on Thursday night.

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Honey and Frita, both expecting any day now!  

 

 

Everybody’s Gotta Eat!

16 Feb 2018 – Sunny and 32°

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

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

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

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The “Beast” Case 4×4 Tractor

 

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The other big 2WD Case pulling the processor

 

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

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

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There they are!  They look hungry

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A lovely South Dakota day!

 

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