Last weekend it was nearly 100 degrees on Saturday. That all changed Monday night when the snow rolled in…..that’s right, snow already!
Don’t worry though, we are all prepared for winter. Okay, maybe you should worry a little. We still haven’t completed the shelter for the cows but we are making progress. We got the posts all squared up and the headers on the top so we can start putting in some rafters.
We also got one big load of hay delivered and are ordering one more.
Even though our hay crop was a complete bust this year, there is still quite a bit of work to do when putting up hay. It has to be unloaded from the trailer, and the truck-driver doesn’t want to sit around all day and watch us put up hay, so Dave unloads it all in the yard as fast as he can. Once the truck driver is gone we set to work putting as many bales in the loft as we could fit.
Then we put the outside bales on pallets and covered them with a tarp. This might be overkill as these round bales will probably do fine with the rain and snow, but the deer and elk like to pick at them as well so we tarp them just to add an additional level of security.
As the winter storm approached, Dave and I hustled around battening down the hatches getting ready for winter. This was strange on Sunday as it was ninety degrees and we were wearing shorts and sweating but prepping for snow.
Monday morning started off relatively warm (60s) but the temps dropped all day and it began snowing around 5pm. We used the day to move cows to a pasture where they had some trees and a wind break for shelter. Normally we wouldn’t worry too much about them in 20 degree temperatures but because it has been so warm we thought the temperature swing would be hard on them. We spoil our cows and I’m pretty sure we were the only ranchers in South Dakota that would make such a fuss for one early snowstorm.
We also reluctantly loaded up the firewood box and moved it to the porch.
The forecast (which came true) was for snow and record cold temperatures down to 24 degrees. This prompted me to pull up all the plants in the garden. I have a few boxes of green tomatoes that I am trying to let ripen, and I have tons of cayenne peppers.
This wasn’t too heartbreaking because most of the garden got demolished in the hail storm in July, so we salvaged what we could. Thank goodness we aren’t solely surviving on what we grow or we would be very thin at the end of next winter. I guess if times get really desperate we could incorporate wild rabbits and deer into our diet, but so far Lynn’s Dakotamart remains open and the bunnies are safe….for now. Also, neither one of us are big fans of hare in our food. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
My parents came to visit for a few days. I tease them that they are the bookends to our summer because they usually visit around Mother’s Day and again right before it snows. Their timing was impeccable this time. We had a great time but I didn’t even take one picture of them! Dang.
It is supposed to warm back up to the 80s this coming weekend, and we are going to have to kick it into high gear getting this lean-to completed. We definitely need to get more firewood and we have to get another load of hay delivered if we are going to keep all the cows over winter. I guess I better get my coat and stocking cap on and get out there and help Dave cut some rafters! Keep it free out there in the real world.
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!
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.
Babe hauling the gate
Rancher Dave drilling some holes
A finished gate and fence line
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Better than a carseat in the back?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
In between checking on cows, Dave and I have been busy disking, planting and harrowing our hay crop.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
Hooking up the disk
View from Babe
A freshly disked field….bring on the oats
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.
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.”
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!
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!
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.
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.
Mom and Dad
Dad and me, trying to get the Sheriff to pose
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.
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.
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.
Koozy the bull, following the truck for cake
Boohaa chowing down
Dirty Dozen chowing down
Cows trying to get a selfie with Rancher Dave
Get out here and feed us cake!
Rancher Dave giving his girls a scratch on the head
Cherry Bomb chowing down
Marzee coming for some cake
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.
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.
Dave fertilizing the field
Nearly perfect pattern, nice job Rancher Dave
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Lots of small slash piles
Rancher Dave’s office view moving slash
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Cowboy loading up to lift hay into the loft
Dave surveying his stacking skills
A view from the loft
The mask helps me with my allergies!
Then I got a lesson in 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.
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!
20 April 2018 – Cloudy and 40 with snow showers in the forecast
The Holler is showing all the signs of spring, but Old Man Winter just won’t go away. We have little sprouts of green grass all over the pastures, the blue birds and the meadowlarks have returned, the tulips are trying to come up, and the bees have ventured out of the hive on several warm days this week. Still, we have to head out for morning chores in our snow pants and parkas because the dawn temperatures are pretty low and the wind makes it feel even colder.
The past two weeks have been really busy, so I’m giving advanced warning about the length of this blog post. We have been disking, harrowing, and planting with unwavering faith that the growing season must begin soon.
Disking the south
Dave in Babe, disking the rocky north
Filling up the broadcaster
The days fly by when you are in the field all day, but it feels great to come into a warm house at night and be tired from all the work. It also feels great to look at the field you just plowed and planted and believe….really believe….that it is going to produce some good hay. You gotta have patience out here on the ranch.
Disked, harrowed, and planted
Bring on the rain, the oats are thirsty
The bovines have been busy, too. Last week, Cowboy Dave had made a trip out of town to see an old friend. Linda remained and was keeping a close eye on Frita, a cow who looked imminently close to calving. On Saturday morning she called to say Frita was having her baby. Dave and I went over to the High Lonesome and met Linda in the pasture to watch Frita go through her paces.
You may wonder why we make such a big deal about watching these cows give birth. In all likelihood they would be just fine, or even better off if we minded our own business. But the counterargument is that if there is a problem, those dang cows refuse to grab a cell phone to call or text for help. We think they have trouble dialing because the numbers are too small for their big hooves. Calves can be anywhere from 50-75 lbs so there are many things that could go wrong that would require our assistance. A breech position calf would require a person to help reposition the calf in the birth canal. A very large calf may require pulling. A calf that is born and not breathing immediately, or one that won’t eat right away are both situations that would require a human assist. Not that Pilot Dave or I have done any of these things before, but Cowboy and Linda have, and we are trying to learn everything we can to be the best stewards of these animals that we can be.
Back to Frita – we watched her in obvious labor pains for nearly two hours, but then she got up and walked back to rejoin the herd. We decided to give her some space and time, and when Dave and I started heading up the driveway back to the Holler, I caught a glimpse of her going up over a hill by herself again. I said I wanted to stay and see if I could keep an eye on her for awhile. Dave went back to get some chores done on the Holler and Linda went back to the ranch house on the High Lonesome to get on with her day. I hiked a short distance up over the hill with my field glasses and I could just see Frita in the distance lying under a tree. I spotted her with the glasses and realized she was calving! This was probably only 5 minutes after Dave and Linda had left, so I called them from my cell phone (since Frita refused to use hers!) and they came back to the pasture about two minutes after the baby was born.
We got a little closer and watched as the little calf struggled to his feet and started nursing. Phew! Another healthy calf. Later that day we took Frita some hay and got a better look. It is a little bull, and we decided to refer to him as Chips – Frita Chips….like Frito Chips. This is Cowboy and Linda’s bull, so they will obviously name him as they please, but with so many calves running around, Dave and I like to give them a name so we know who is who.
Frita and new-born Chips
Chips the very next day!
Cowboy Dave returned the following day and was pleased about the healthy addition to his herd. We decided that we would move calves to one of the northern pastures because it is already mid-April and we needed to move them out of the current pasture to prepare the field and let the alfalfa and grass start growing. First, we had to catch Heidi and Chips and tag them while we could still use the paddock gates to keep the frantic mothers at bay. First thing Monday morning, we got the calves tagged. It was relatively uneventful, as the two Dave’s are getting pretty good at grabbing the little calves and getting right down to business as Linda and I try to distract the Moms with cake and hay.
Next, we rounded everyone up and herded them along the fence that borders the National Forest toward the northern pasture. The cows are pretty good about this, but of course, there is always one troublemaker. Puzzle’s calf, Heidi, decided to crawl under the barbed wire and take off on her own into the National Forest. While Linda worked the gates and Cowboy drove the cows onward with his mule, Pilot Dave and I tried to get that little dogie back to the herd. She was only six days old, but she could run! A horse would have been very helpful at this point, but since the horses remain on the “Future Purchases List”, Pilot Dave and I ran all over hell’s half acre trying to push Heidi back toward the herd. Finally, after a lot of exercise, we got her out of the forest and on the right side of the fence, but of course, she turned the wrong way and headed south back to the place everyone had just left. Heidi, Come Back!!! Cowboy Dave and Linda returned to the chase on their mule and eventually we got her headed the right way. She was reunited with her mother, who didn’t seem too concerned that her daughter had been running around like a wild child. Lady, get control of your kid!
Next, Pilot Dave and I hooked up the round feeder ring to Babe and delivered it to the northern pasture. It was a slow process, manipulating the big ring and tractor through all the fences and gates, but Dave has gotten pretty good on the tractor.
Yesterday, Pilot Dave and I checked cows in the morning. Everybody looked good and all the calfies were running around, jumping and bucking and feeling good. We gave Honey and Muzzle the once-over because they are the two remaining pregnant ladies. They looked normal, well, normal in the pregnant cow sense. We left them in the pasture intending to check everyone again around noon.
We are out of hay and since the weather hasn’t been warm enough to produce sufficient grazing grass, Cowboy Dave took his trailer south to Edgemont to pick up some round bales from the feed store. Meanwhile, Pilot Dave and I took our trailer north to Custer to pick up a disk and an auger that were in the shop being welded. We all met back on Stagecoach Springs to continue the daily chores.
Pilot Dave drove Babe up to the northern pasture to get the big bale of hay off of Cowboy Dave’s tractor. This was just another incident where we are so grateful to have a big tractor, and I am so happy that I married a good tractor driver!
I went and got Linda in the mule and we decided to do the mid-day cow check. As we approached the pasture we could see Honey way off by herself under a tree. As we got closer, we could see what looked like a big red rock next to her, but as we got even closer we realized it was a calf!
Honey gave birth to a beautiful little bull. He is the Hoten Holler’s second calf so he gets the #2 ear tag if we can catch him today. He looked healthy and was already up and nursing, so we returned to the task at hand, getting the big bale into the feeder.
The day was only half done, though, so the two Dave’s finished up the disking and planting over at the High Lonesome.
Out here, you literally have to make hay while the sun shines. Although we are done with the snow, we hope we get some precipitation today to get the oats off to a good start.