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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!

 

The Winter Olympics – South Dakota not South Korea

9 February 2018 – Snowing, high of 6°F

The Winter Olympics opening ceremony was today in Pyeongchang,  South Korea, and they are reporting it to be very cold.  Since it is also very cold here, and also because we have about 10 inches of snow and it is still snowing, we decided we could host our own Winter Olympics.

 

While we may have the same weather as Korea, our Olympics differ because there will be only one country represented (USA) and only two team members participating (Pilot Dave and myself).

Our team uniforms consist of long thermal underwear, Carhartt bibs and snowpants, Coast Guard Issue 15-pound snow parka, Carhartt snow cap, waterproof gloves, wool socks, and while Dave opts for Cabela’s hunting boots, I could never survive without my Bogs mudders rated to -40°!

 

Most of the events in our Olympics are team sports.  They include Snow-Clearing, Ice-Breaking, Stall-Mucking, Tractor-Driving, and the ever-popular Wood-Hauling.

Dave won the gold medal simultaneously for two of the events, Tractor-Driving and Snow-Removal as he spent about 3 hours plowing Stagecoach Springs and all the driveways.  I definitely got the silver in Snow-Removal for raking snow off the solar panel.

The Wood-Hauling medal is still up for grabs.  This is the winter’s longest event and it appears we may run out of wood before we run out of cold weather.   That will add an entirely different dimension to the sport as we will have to either pick up logs from the multiple piles around the northern pasture that we just cut in the fall, or we may have to buy a truckload from one of our friends.  Either way, there will be some wood-splitting involved.

We will Share the top spot on the podium for stall-mucking and ice-breaking.  Speaking of podiums, we don’t have one but we have a Poo-dium which is the mountain of cow manure we have removed from the stalls thus far this winter.  Even if we win an event, we don’t feel much like climbing up on the poo-dium to receive a medal.

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Dave in front of the “poo-dium” during morning chores

 

Unlike the official Winter Olympics, we compete for our gold-medal award winning wine, and instead of silver medals we go for Silver Bullets (Coors)!  Just kidding, we aren’t fancy and prefer Franzia and Keystone Light.

The herd of cattle serves as the judges. They are not impartial and definitely the heifers love Dave the most. Not Fair.

Following the games, neither one of us expect to be on the Wheaties box, but we wouldn’t be surprised to get a sponsorship from Bogs or Carhartt, or more likely, Keystone or Franzia! Stay warm out there!

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The food train – headed to eat, not to be eaten…..yet!

 

January Wrap-Up

3 February 2018 – Cloudy and 33 with 3 – 5 inches of snow in the forecast

I cannot believe we are already into February?  What happened to January?  Well, here’s what happened. January was cold, then warm, then cold.  There was snow, sunshine, and more snow. It warmed up enough that I could wash the truck. The next day, I realized it was a waste of time.

We had a magnificent snowfall of around 8 inches.  We had to use the snow rake and clear the solar panels.

Since we had enough snow, Tractor Dave decided this would be a good opportunity for me to learn to plow the road.

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Jenny plowing the road

It is harder than you might think because if you get the blade too low, you mess up the gravel and the road can become really rough.  Gravel isn’t cheap to replace at about $250 a load, so when plowing, you really don’t want to create any holes or rough patches.  On the other hand, if you don’t get the blade low enough to scrape up the snow you are basically just burning diesel fuel.  The snow plow’s blade can be rotated up and down, right and left, as well as elevated in relation to the ground, and it is difficult to find the best position to clear the road.  Our dirt road is crowned in some places, level in others, and there are multiple hills and valleys, which only complicates the plowing process. 

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A close-up of the plow

 

After 2.5 hours in the (thankfully) heated cab, Stagecoach Springs was open for business. I really enjoyed plowing and I think Dave and I are going to have to play Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who gets to scoop up what we have coming today. Funny, we never have this argument over scooping poop out of the stalls, though.

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Clearing the road

 

In other news, the Black Hills Stock Show has been going on in Rapid City over the last 2 weeks.  I spent an entire day walking around checking it out and I could have easily spent a week looking at all they had going on.  There were tons of vendors that were marketing a wide variety of goods including western furniture, art, cattle feed, tack, prairie dog exterminators, pesticides, seed for alfalfa, tractor equipment, trailers, ATVs, feeders, stock tanks and the ever-popular bull semen! Artificially inseminating cows is big business.  Some of the events included rodeos, cattle shows, horse riding clinics, and all sorts of seminars for ranchers. It was so western, so cowboy, and so much fun.  Everyone was wearing boots and hats, and you could just tell that all those cowpokes were the real thing.  I barely saw a single person looking at a smart phone.

I really liked walking through the prep area for the Hereford bull show.  This part of the stock show is basically a beauty pageant for cattle, and the prize winners take home some big money and bragging rights for the quality of their bovines!  The best part is most of the ranchers showing are young kids in 4H.  I saw two kids, probably 9-10 years old, hanging out in the stall next to their bulls and eating lunch.  The bull decided to do his business and as soon as he pooped, the little girl jumped up and ran to get a pitch fork and cleaned up after him.  No one told her to, she didn’t complain, and then she went right back to eating lunch.  Ranch kids have initiative, that is for sure.

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A beautiful Hereford getting groomed for the show
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Some bulls laying around before the show, notice the fans keeping them cool.  Spoiled!

 

Our cows are getting bigger.  The May-Flower heifers are still super friendly and the one we call Black Cherry especially likes Dave to scratch her head.  That will be pretty interesting when she gets to be about 1600 pounds! 

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Dave giving Black Cherry a face rub

 

The other cows are about 50 days out from calving.  They are LARGE and IN CHARGE!  They can put away some groceries and go through many gallons of water too. We stay busy feeding and watering them, but it is still so much fun for us. We have been battling with ice in the pastures and the corrals.  The pregnant cows know it is slippery and they walk like old ladies across the slick spots.  We try to route them around the icy patches because if one of them wipes out it will be a big deal trying to get her back on her feet!

We applied for a brand for our cows.  The process of getting a brand is pretty complicated if you are looking for something specific.  Originally, we wanted three H’s for Hoten Holler Homestead, but the lady at the brand office said that anything with double or triple letters is nearly impossible because they are already taken, and the H’s are even more difficult because they can be read as I’s if rotated.  She said if we design a new brand it takes 6 months for them to approve, if they approve it.  However, there are expired brands to choose from that we could have approval for in two weeks if we found one we liked.  We chose this one.

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I over-cropped.  We will be branding Cattle on the right hip, not Cats.

 

It is an H with an inverted R, or in brand-speak, a CRAZY R.  It will go on the right hip of the cows and it stands for Hoten Ranch.  Or, Hoten CRAZY Ranch if you prefer.

And here we are in February.  The days are starting to get longer and we are planning for spring projects, primarily disking the fields, planting oats or alfalfa, ordering a branding iron, and getting started on a barn. Once again, as I wrap this up, it is starting to snow.

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Arrow likes to help with chores, especially the feeding of round bales.

Mother Nature’s Head Fake

9 January 2018 – Sunny and 55°

Oh yeah, that’s right, the thermometer says 55!  It is a warm, soupy, muddy mess out there but we are loving the warmer temperatures.  The forecast, however, is not quite so warm and friendly. It looks like snow again tomorrow and back to the big ZERO degrees by Friday. It is early January here in the Dakotas, so it is more than expected. Still, we are loving the warmth today.

We aren’t the only ones.  The cows have found some grassy spots between the melting patches of snow and are preceding to eat all day. I guess their New Year’s Resolutions didn’t take either.

I was super excited to see some actual living bees yesterday!  It has been quite some time since I saw any of the girls flying around.  I have noticed piles of dead bees in the snow, but from all I read this is to be expected in deep winter.  Bees are pretty hygienic and they don’t like dead bodies in their house, so when it warms up they toss them out.  The bee corpses are easily spotted in the snow, and for a novice like myself, it is quite disconcerting.  So again, I was actually jumping for joy when I saw quite a few live bees hanging outside the hive yesterday!  I really hope they make it through the winter.

In other news, we added two more heifers and two bred cows to our herd.

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This is an older picture of Honey (red cow on the left) and Mar-Zee (big nose in the camera).  These are the two bred cows we purchased.  We also brought the white face heifers (not pictured) #111, #112 who we named Triple Sticks and Dirty Dozen.

 

Nothing really changes for them; we are still working in conjunction with Cowboy Dave and Linda over at the High Lonesome Ranch, and the herd will stay together. But we are excited to see what we can make happen over the next few years with our ranch.  The big project this year will be barn-building and corral building so eventually we can have our own facilities for cattle.

I am finishing this post on the 10th of January in the early afternoon. Tractor Dave and I swapped out the bucket on the tractor for the snow plow to be ready for the next round of winter. We hold some sort of superstitious belief that if we have the tractor set up to plow snow, we probably won’t need it.

We have both retreated inside because it is starting to snow.

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The weather-guy decided to use my phone number in his forecast! Jenny-Jenny!  This isn’t really our forecast, just something I saw on the internet that I thought would make you laugh too.
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The super moon, or Wolf Moon, setting on New Year’s Day in the morning over the Holler.

 

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J.C. Brae

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