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Hoten Holler!

Yeah, But How is Your Electric Bill?

12 February 2021 – snowing, high of negative 2, minus 15 this morning.  Brrrrr.

Oh boy am I eating my previous words about what a mild winter we were having.  I know we aren’t the only ones getting the five-finger icy death choke-hold from the polar vortex.  I see frigid temps and snow reaching much further south than normal, and I know the folks in North Dakota and Canada are really feeling it, or not, they may just be numb! As for us, we are on day six of what is forecast to be a ten day stretch where we won’t be seeing anything higher than 10 degrees.  Actually for the next three days we won’t get above zero and the evenings are much colder than that. It’s like Mother Nature said, “Oh, aren’t you enjoying this mild winter?”  and Old Man Winter said, “Ha ha, hold my beer!”

Cattle looking pretty cold

I can’t express how grateful I am, however, that the wind seems to have been shut off and by some miracle we are getting a bit of sun during the day.  This makes a huge difference in the real feel of the temperature. Also, as we are off-grid solar, the sun in the afternoons has made a huge difference.  Unfortunately, we have had about a week of really cloudy, snowy mornings which makes everything a pain regarding being dependent on solar energy.  

A rancher friend that we know has a much larger operation than we do. He has several out-buildings and runs quite a bit of heat on electricity.  He complained to me one time about how high his electric bill could get in the winter and I laughed to myself and thought, “Well, our electric bill is zero!”  But it really isn’t zero if you consider how many man hours can be required because we are not plugged into the grid.  This last cold spell has made Dave and I realize that getting on grid is a priority.  While solar is nice, it is not as convenient as good old fossil fueled electricity, especially when trying to heat water tanks overnight  and firing up block heaters to warm up tractors and other equipment.

Here’s the panels, or array after scraping once today. The black box beneath the panels is the propane generator that is called “emergency back-up” but has trouble starting with east wind and snow, so we put up a wind block of plywood.

When it’s full-on winter and there is little sun, our chores become a bit more involved.  Typically we get up and make coffee on the wood stove. Dave then puts on 40 layers of clothes and he and the Sheriff head to the barn to start the gas generator to plug in the block heater for the tractor. Then he slugs through the snow down to the house generator and takes down boards that protect it from freezing in the East wind and snow.  I see him do this and I start the house generator from inside while he scrapes the snow off the solar panels. When it is minus 15 degrees the house generator, which runs off of propane, sounds like it does not want to start and we both hold our breaths as it whines about its startup cycle. Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s feet get cold and he comes running back to the porch wanting to come back in.  He needs better winter gear.

Sheriff Joe will start holding his feet up out of the snow when he gets too cold. Then he pouts if you put him inside before chores are over.

Once the generator is running and powering the house it also begins charging up the batteries. I get some coffee brewing with the electric coffee pot and fire up the oven to get some breakfast going before we get out to feed.  Dave comes in for coffee and toast and to let the tractor block heater get warm.  After a bit, we both winter-up with our 40 layers of clothes and we go to the barn to start the tractor and Mule. About 10-15 minutes later once everything is warm (if it started) the Sheriff and I hop in the Mule and go open the gates.  Dave follows in the tractor and scoops a lane in the snow drifts while he unrolls the hay for the cows.  The Sheriff and I head up to the stock tank and start chopping ice and running water.

Rancher Dave headed to feed.

After the food is out, Dave opens the gate to let the cows come out for breakfast.  Lately, they have been packing into the shed at night.  I am so glad we got that project done this fall, it really is a big deal for them to have a place to stay warm and dry overnight and while they look at us like it’s our fault it’s so dang cold, no one really looks like they are having a problem with the temperatures and snow.  They are in fact the most spoiled cows in South Dakota.

Lucky looking pretty angry about the cold.

While the cows have breakfast, we check them over, looking at their eyes and noses, how they are walking, making sure no one looks like they are going to calve.  It’s still pretty early but the stress of the cold can cause bad things to happen. After cow-checks, Dave and I meet up at the shed and scoop out the manure that isn’t completely frozen to the ground.  We put down a fresh bed of pine shavings and make sure their room is all made up for the next night.

All lined up and waiting to go feed.

This morning was the coldest we have seen since we’ve been here.  The Mule wouldn’t start and we thought it would be easier to just feed square bales in the corral since there is so much snow.  Because the Mule wouldn’t go, we just put the bales of hay in this calf-sled and pulled it into the corral and fed everyone.

Feeding the old school way. I’m so glad we only have a few cows! We use this shed if we have to drag a newborn calf into the barn to get warm.

The next problem of course is keeping the water tanks open.  This would be easier with an electric tank heater, but again, this is a drawback of being on solar energy only.  We do have a propane water heater but it only works when it is about 20 degrees and above, so we are left to find other solutions.  Obviously we chop ice with shovels, spuds, and a pick axe, but when it doesn’t get above minus two for three days it is difficult to keep the water open for the cows. We never fill the tank to the top so we can always put in water from a hydrant and a hose.  This morning, the hoses were frozen as well, even though we kept them in the barn.  We filled a giant 32 gallon cooler with hot water from the house and several 5 gallon buckets and drove them up to the corral and melted all the ice in the tank.  

Watering the old school way, after filling the buckets/cooler inside with steaming hot water we delivered it to the cows 5 gallons at a time.

Oh yes, while all of this activity was going on it continued to snow.  I went back to the panels and cleared them with the snow rake, and then raked some of the snow off the house and garage roofs.  Dave went back in the tractor and cleared the barnyard and the driveway.  He was going to do the whole road, but it’s supposed to keep snowing tonight so he won’t waste the diesel fuel by doing it twice.  Instead he’ll do it tomorrow….if everything starts!

That has been morning life on the ranch the last few days.  It’s “things break cold” weather but the cattle need feeding and the snow needs clearing.  I am not complaining, at least we don’t have a power bill…hahahaha.  We are going to work to make our lives a little easier in the future winters by hooking into the grid.  We have new neighbors to the north and east and are trying to work out a way to split costs to get everyone hooked up out here. After hearing about our winter solar shenanigans nobody seems to want to be off grid.

It’s early afternoon, the snow finally stopped for now, and the sun is peeking out.  The cows are still shuffling around in the corral and they will probably hang out there or go back in the shed until we feed again in the early evening.  Sheriff Joe is passed out in front of the stove and the barn kitty ran back to the barn to hang out in the hay bales.  He has been staying in the mud-room at nights because it is so cold.  Notice I didn’t say “sleeping” in the mud-room. He likes to start meowing around 3AM but it’s way too cold to throw him out. 

And that is how things are on the Holler.  As hectic as the morning seemed, I still feel it was better than going to an office, or even flying in bad weather.  Plus, I get to work with my two favorites, Rancher Dave and Sheriff Joe.  The cows look cold but they seem to be doing fine and are enjoying their extra rations and hot water.  Valentine’s toe is fine, by the way. God Bless all of you reading this.  I hope you are warm and toasty and hanging on to your liberties out there in the real world.  Cheers!

Fatz after getting a drink of hot water.

Don’t Shoot it Down, Please

26 Jan 2021 – Sunny and snow flurries, a chilly 7 degrees this morning…Brrrrrr

Well I guess winter has finally decided to deliver.  We have been going through a pretty good cold snap with continuous snow flurries and really low temperatures.  It was in the single digits last night and supposed to be the same tonight.  However, we are supposed to be in the high 40s by the end of the week!  South Dakota likes to change its mind.

Meanwhile, it is too blasted cold to do anything outside except feed and water cows. They don’t seem too unhappy though since they have been hanging out in the trees and the corral out of the wind. One of our cows, Valentine, has had a foot problem this week.  Rancher Dave and I were feeding the other night and noticed a bit of blood in the snow.  We followed the tracks and realized Valentine’s dew-claw (yes that’s the term) was broken and just hanging off of her foot.

You can see the toenail part separating and the pink underneath.

Poor girl, it looked like it hurt a bit but she really didn’t limp at all on the way to get fed.  We have a little cow-medicine kit and we keep some spray medicine for cuts and infections in that kit.  We gave her foot a couple of shots of antiseptic and decided to wait and see how she did.  Today, she seems fine although her entire dew-claw has fallen off.  It isn’t showing any signs of infection and she actually seems to be walking a bit better.   We will continue to shoot her with antiseptic unless she comes up looking like she has some additional problems.  It doesn’t help that she is seriously fat and pregnant so that is a lot of weight relying on her poor foot.

This is fat Valentine and you can see her front right foot is missing the rear digit on the hoof.

Not being expert cattle people, we rely on some of our neighbors and the vet for advice.  We have long since given up searching the internet because it usually leads only to more confusion and worry.  I was happy to hear from another local rancher that their advice was also to “keep an eye on it” and if she stopped eating, drinking, or walking at all then we should probably corral her off and try to give her some time to heal.  So far, so good.  She seems her normal hungry self and her foot looks okay, although she is missing a digit, it is no longer bleeding or seeping anything.  Adventures with cows.

A closer look shows the whole thing fell off.

Because we finally got a decent amount of snow, we decided to burn a slash pile.  Rancher Dave also has a new drone, and decided he wanted to make a movie about burning slash.  He wanted to put a can of flammable liquid in the pile and launch the drone to film from above.  At that point he wanted to shoot tracer rounds at the pile and blow it up.  (For the record, and being the daughter of the original Captain Caution, I did not wholeheartedly support this idea.)  

Dave lighting the slash pile from a ways away.

Unfortunately, the temperature was too low to launch the drone but Rancher Dave still wanted to shoot the burn pile.  I filmed him and to his chagrin, (and my relief) there was no giant explosion.  The tracer round lit the pile but it was fairly anticlimactic and it just started a slow burn.  I guess he just wanted to have some fun shooting before we sold all the guns and ammunition.

At least the Sheriff enjoyed the bonfire.

Although he was disappointed, he did get to use the drone a different day when it warmed up a bit.  Here’s a view from the Holler from above in case you find yourself flying over.

Just to be cautious, I texted the closest neighbors and told them we had a drone and said, “Please don’t shoot it down if it goes rogue!”  Most South Dakotans are well armed and don’t take too kindly to surveillance.

Today, we are staying warm inside by the stove.  I put a cider-braised pork roast in a dutch oven and have been cooking it all day while the stove simultaneously keeps the house warm.  And it is warm in here so it’s perfect for blogging.

The only other thing to report is that the elk have been especially active in the last few days. They are not making noise, as they do in the rut, but they are all over the Holler and the road.  I saw about 30 of them hanging out on our road when I went to the post office yesterday, and we have seen them quite a few mornings when we are out feeding cattle.  Sorry I didn’t get a picture, but the road was kinda icy and I was concentrating on that.

Winter chores

That’s about it from the Holler. Hang on to your liberties out there and stay warm.  Only two more full moons until spring and calving season!

A Bitter Wind

The Bitter Wind

20 Jan 2021 – Sunny and 37 degrees and you guessed it, windy.

Rancher Dave and I have been going to town more than normal in the last week or so.  We took a big trip to the booming metropolis of Rapid City ( referred to as “Rapid” by anyone local).  We stocked up on groceries and other essentials (Franzia) so we could avoid going back to the city if they institute a muzzle-mandate in which we refuse to participate.

Winter in downtown Rapid

A trip to town is a big event around here, and we usually have a long list of items and stops to make sure we don’t waste any time. It is only about an hour and fifteen minutes to Rapid, but we always go to Sam’s Club and Lowe’s and at least 14 other places, so it is an all day event.  Considering we try to go only about every 6 weeks, we load up on everything and it takes another hour and a half to unload the truck when we get home.  

Yesterday, we took a smaller trip to the not-so booming metropolis of Custer.  We picked up a pick-up load of dry firewood, since the woodshed is only about half full and most of what remains is pretty green.  Today we will go out and split and stack what we scored yesterday.  We also spent part of the day chopping ice and scooping it out of a water tank that hasn’t been used in a bit.

That’ll teach us to not drain a tank that isn’t in use.

We also had a few other stops like the post-office, the library, and a place that sells other goods that are sort of hard to find right now, and may be much more difficult to find in the near future.  I’ll let you speculate on what that might be.

We’re back on the Holler today and the wind is howling, again.  About a week ago we had two days of nearly tropical storm force winds.  One morning I got up and Dave said, “Did anything blow away?”  I looked out the front door and noticed that we no longer had a greenhouse.

After the wind
Before the wind.

The only thing left was twisted and bent metal and two giant pots of soil. We spent some time that morning driving around the Holler picking up greenhouse panels and can only assume the ones we didn’t find are flying around in Minnesota somewhere.  That’s okay, though.  We will put the panels to use in some planter boxes or something of the like, but the greenhouse is unsalvageable.  We keep trying to grow things and Mother Nature keeps saying, “NO!” She’s generally stronger than we are, but she underestimates our determination!  We will Make the Greenhouse Great Again!

At least we don’t live in Buffalo!

We had a really cold and snowy day this week and we decided to try to make it seem more summery by making salsa.  This past year the drought didn’t do the garden any favors so I didn’t have too many tomatoes, but we did get quite a few peppers out of what used to be the greenhouse. We used those and some roasted hatch chiles to can about 9 pints of homemade salsa.

Only 7 cans pictured…what happened to the rest?

You really cannot beat homemade salsa, even if the tomatoes are from cans.  If you’re interested, we just use the Ball Canning Book recipe and here is the link.

Ball Blue Book Salsa (bigoven.com)

We use the recipe as just a guideline really, and taste it as we go along. We use whatever kind of peppers we have on hand and not quite as many onions as called for.  We also add a little bit of sugar and red wine and so far have rave reviews.  Canning is really easy, just time consuming, and there is usually a nice mess to clean up afterward, but oh, the SALSA!!!

That’s about it from out here in God’s Country, SoDAK!  Today the wind is bitter and howling, and it seems to match our current mood.  Still, we know that one day that wind will die down. Until then we remain grateful for our health, family and friends, and especially the freedom that we still enjoy.  We don’t take any of these for granted so we’ll face the bitter winds knowing that soon they will be blowing in a better direction.  Hang onto your hats and your liberties out there.  God Bless.

Home sweet home.

A Frosty Morning

10 Jan 2021 – Sunny and 37 degrees

How’s everyone doing out there in the real world?  Things on the Holler have settled into a typically slow plod through the winter months, where the sun is only showing about 8 hours a day and that little amount of daylight is filled up by a million little projects and a few routine chores.

A frosty morning

This morning we had some spectacular hoar frost.  

Some hoar frost. When the wind is out of the east we always get a little icing on the cake!

The cows were even a little frosty, although they all seem pretty fat and happy, just how we like them.

Andy also got a little icing

Things are changing rapidly out here.  One of our neighbors sold off a big piece of her property, which was bought and subdivided into 40 acre plots.  Those plots sold almost immediately and shortly thereafter they put in some power poles.

Power company putting in poles across the way

This means that we will  probably have new neighbors on two sides of the Holler, although it seems unlikely this will happen quickly. The rumors are that local builders are scheduled out two-three years.  We are just happy they divided the plots into 40 acres and not five or ten, but it just goes to show you really have no control over most things, so you have to just roll with it.

We plan to take advantage of the power that has been set up.  As you may remember, we are completely off-grid solar here, which has its advantages and also disadvantages.  It’s great not having a power bill, but there are days, like yesterday, when it is completely cloudy and we get almost no charge to the batteries. Also, the winter days are so short, so if we get snow and we don’t get the snow scraped off the solar panels, we are back to depending on the generator.

These days we run the propane generator, which isn’t really an inconvenience, but it would be nice to be able to just use the grid as a back-up. Plus, it will be nice to not have to rush outside in the mornings to scrape snow off the panels.

Snowy panels do not equal good power.

I wish I had more to report.  Don’t worry, Hoten Holler Follerers, calving season, planting season, and a new crop of bees are just around the corner.  Until then, hang on to your liberties and have a great Sunday!

Wooly Bear looking for some cake

So Long, 2020!

30 December 2020 – Sunny and 30 degrees

Hey out there!  Sorry I have been absent for far too long, but we are still here and still livin’ the dream. 

Feeding Hay with the tractor

The last time I wrote was in October so I wish I had a lot to tell you, but our last two months have been (thankfully) very uneventful.  We did finish the shed with the drain tile and the fill dirt.

Cow shed complete, but the cows have refused to spend the night inside so far.

We spent more than a few days cutting down trees in one of the northern pastures. We dragged the wood splitter up there and split and stacked firewood for next year.  It looks like we probably have enough to fill the shed.  

We really haven’t had much snow so far this year, so we haven’t had a chance to burn the slash piles, but we’re expecting winter to come callin’ anytime now.  We currently have a little snow on the ground, but not enough to do any big slash pile burning.

A little late December snow on the Holler

We decorated for Christmas and had a nice quiet time here.  My mom and dad did get to come visit for a few days before the holiday and it was so great to see them.  We ate a lot, mom brought a ton of Christmas cookies, and we took them out shooting one afternoon.  We also drove over to Hermosa where we picked up a second load of square bales along with a famous Lintz Bros. pizza.  It was great to see them and I hope they come back soon.

Sorry I don’t have any good pictures. But if you do make it to the Black Hills you cannot miss Lintz Bros Pizza.

Lintz Bros. Pizza | Pizza Restaurant

At Christmas, it was a balmy 52 degrees here.  Unbelievable!  So we grilled steaks and drank some beers on the deck and laughed at all of our relatives that live south of here and had much colder temperatures than we did.  HO HO HO!

Toasting to a not white Christmas

But two days ago, Old Man Winter came callin’ and we dropped into the single digits and got a few inches of the white stuff.  We really cannot complain as it is December in the Black Hills and we are desperate for moisture in any form. The cows actually didn’t seem to upset either, as they often do during the early snows in the season.  They are all fat and happy.  Hard to believe we are only three months away from the start of calving.

Lucky is looking like she’s ready to calve already. Hang on, girl!

Some close-by neighbors set up a game camera bordering the east of our property and caught these two prowlers out on Christmas Eve.  

Photo courtesy of Bison Pines at VRBO in case you find yourself up this way. Mountain Lions not included. Bison Pines! Beautiful Country Setting on 51 acres! Enjoy Peace and Quiet! – Hot Springs (vrbo.com)

I hope they weren’t hunting reindeer! If they were they didn’t get them until Santa got to visit the Sheriff.

That about does it for the Holler Happenings in 2020.  It has been a strange year for our country, but we still have a lot to celebrate as we ring in the new year.  We’re toasting you all tonight and hope everyone has a wonderful 2021.  Hang on tight to your liberties and God Bless!

Sunrise from the deck

You’re REALLY on Fire!

17 October 2020- Rain/sleet and 35 degrees – expecting 3-5 inches of snow tonight

Yesterday was a spectacular day on the Holler.  After supper, Dave and I had a glass of wine in the loft and were discussing how grateful for all the things that happened this week, and the frosting on the cake was as we toasted it started to rain.  We have been desperately praying for rain.  Amen.

Last Saturday morning was beautiful weather, but dry.  I went for a run and Dave was up in the barn and corral working on a plan to sort out the individual calves that were going to different buyers this week.  He came around the corner and looked to the south to see smoke billowing up from what looked like the neighbor’s house.  He thought to himself, “Why would anyone be burning trash in this wind and dryness?” and he jumped in the Mule to drive down there and see what was going on.  As he got closer he realized the smoke was not from a controlled burn, but it was a fast moving grass fire and headed right toward another neighbor’s lot full of dry ponderosa pine.  

A little bigger than a trash burn.

He sped up the hill and ran into the first neighbor’s barn where he found the man working on his mower.  Dave said, “Did you call the fire department?”  and immediately realized the man had no idea what was happening. The wind was blowing away from the barn so he couldn’t even smell the smoke.  “You’re on fire, you’re really on fire!  Call 9-11!”  And with that Dave sped down to another neighbor’s place that was definitely downwind of the burning grass and now burning trees.  He ran up to their house and told them to get their kids and animals and get out.

Right about this time I was returning from my run and I was dying after running up the steep hill that ends at the north part of our road.  I turned the corner and saw huge flames in the trees and immediately thought it was the southern-most neighbor’s house. I never ran home so fast in my life and as I was running down the hill I saw Dave speeding up the road from the direction of the blaze and realized he must have already called the fire department.  By the time I got to the house he was in the tractor headed over to the neighbors whose house was in danger to help them move their hay bales away from the approaching fire.  I jumped in the Mule and drove over there behind him to see if I could help them get their stuff out.  

These are new neighbors that moved into the High Lonesome and they have 3 kids and 4 dogs and 2 cats.  I ran into their house and said, “What can I do to help?”  The lady said “Just get all of the animals in the car!”  So we loaded up the animals and obviously, the kids and drove back to our place which was to this point in the clear from the fire.  As we raced down their driveway we could see what looked like a fire tornado spinning across the pasture and flames were rolling along the tree tops.  

Driveway to new neighbors’ house and wind blowing the fire toward it.

In a short time, and I mean short, the fire department arrived.  They were awesome.  Several local volunteer departments went right to work and they even called in three helicopter drops of water. After a very stressful hour and a half it appeared that they had the whole thing under control and the new neighbors place was no longer under threat.  The fire was contained about 150 feet from their barn.  God Bless the firefighters!

The fire departments remained on scene until late in the evening and sent crews out the next day to continue to douse the hot spots.  We are so grateful that no one got hurt and not one structure burnt.  It could have been really, really bad.  Instead it appears there will be a nice green pasture next year.

Burnt grass and forest.

The week remained busy as we decided our fire mitigation plan here needed some work.  Dave assembled a fire fighting kit by ordering multiple long hoses that would work with a water pump that we have.  We decided to keep our cistern full of water and to always have water in the totes just in case.  Of course we can’t keep the totes full when it freezes but in the summer when it is dry, they will be at the ready.

Wednesday, we both went to another neighbor’s house to help him with his round-up preg check event.  He is a lot bigger than us with over 200 calves and nearly 300 cows.  Dave sorted and pushed cattle into the tub and up the alley.  I got to give shots to all the calves. They especially liked tequila shots.  It was a long, long day and we were both really tired at the end.  We are also really grateful that we only have a few cows.

Calves waiting to be worked
Horseback cowboy pushes cows toward the tub.

Thursday we recovered from the round-up and began preparing for the big snow we are supposed to be getting this weekend.  We also did some preparations for our calves who were going to separate buyers.

Friday, Apollo 11 went home with the gentleman from Wyoming who wants to add him in with his two calves and raise him up for beef next year.  The guy was so nice and he loved our gentle cows.  He said to stay in touch and not sell any of our steers next year without talking to him first.  We are just really happy Apollo went to another ranch for the rest of his life instead of a feedlot.

After Apollo 11 left, Dave and I loaded up the three heifer calves and he drove them to another ranch where a really nice couple had prepared a great corral and shelter for them. They were so happy to get these three gentle girls and again, we are so happy they are also going to live on a ranch where hopefully they will be (re-)productive and have long and happy lives. 

Apollo 11’s last day on the Holler
Dave says goodbye to the heifers, Frosty, Bo, and Toni. They seemed to like their new digs.

And that leaves us with one calf, Henry the 8th.  We didn’t want poor Hank to be lonely so before all the calves left we sorted out two of our yearling heifers from the big cows to come hang out with him while he continues to be weaned from his mom.  It went so smoothly and Dave and I just walked into the pasture and they were already hanging out by the gate.  We tempted them out with just a little cake and walked them down the road and into a pasture adjacent to the corral.  We let Henry out with them and now they are all hanging out together for the next four weeks. 

Lucky and Fatz get to hang out with their little brother, Henry the 8th. I’ll post a picture of all three when I get a good one.

That brings us back to yesterday evening.  On the way back from the ranch where Dave dropped off the heifer calves, he stopped at Lintz Bros. Pizza Company which was a great treat for us.  We had a great supper and all the chores were done and finally we had a moment to relax and think about how lucky we are.  There were so many moving parts and pieces that could have gone awry, but somehow we were able to safely get all the animals to happy new homes. We also narrowly avoided a disastrous fire.  Neither of us got hurt at round up.  It was just one of those moments where we had a chance to reflect on all the work of the previous year of breeding, raising, feeding, watering, haying, calving, branding, and finally selling our product, the calves.  Plus we feel like we did a lot better than we would have done at the sale barn.  

Just when things couldn’t seem to be going any better, it started to rain and has been raining/snowing on and off since yesterday.  Oh, and then the pics and videos of the calves from their new happy homes started coming in via text. I don’t normally like to say it out loud for fear of jinxing ourselves, but life is good on the Holler.

Fatz, Lucky, and Hunny on a warmer day.

I hope everyone out there in the real world is having as good a weekend as we are, snowstorm and all.  Keep it free out there!

Chasing Cows in our Pajamas

16 October 2020 – Sunny and 50’s

Things stay busy on the Holler in October because the calfies are getting too big to nurse so we have to wean them off their mothers.  This year we thought ahead and coordinated the separation of moms and babies with the vet’s visit for preg-checking.  That way we only had to sort the cows once!  

We brought the whole herd into the corral and Dave set up this wood bar between two of the corral posts.  The babies are short enough to go under it, but the moms are not so we just walked everyone around in the corral for a few minutes and the calves shot under the bar and the moms stood there looking confused. 

The bar is black and behind the red gate on the left. We just open the gate and the calves shoot right under. Close the gate and they are sorted off!

One of our favorite vets, Dr. Olivia, was right on time and was able to give the heifer calves their “Bangs” or brucellosis vaccines.  They all got poured for flies and that part of the day went relatively smoothly.  Bo, #10, was a little slippery and while I caught her in the head gate initially, she squeezed out backwards into the chute. I opened the head gate to try to catch her again but she sprang through and I missed her.  First round of beers on me.

Dave chased her backwards through the chute and I prepared to catch her again but I think she thought it was a big game at this point and sprinted toward the head gate and leaped through it before I could catch her.  Second round of beers on me.

Dave chased her back through again and this time I kept the head gate closed until she scooted her nose up to it.  Then I just barely opened it and she tried to jump through again but I got her.  I think I lost some cool points, though.  Thanks Bo!

Dr. Olivia preg checks one of the cows.

We began working the big cows.  They were getting their vaccinations, poured for flies, and checked to see if they were pregnant and when they were due. It was going relatively smoothly until Wooly Bear decided she did not want to participate and jumped over the corral fence taking out several strands of wire with her.  Andie decided to follow her.  We scrambled to move some corral panels to cover the hole in the fence but now two of the big cows were on the lam. We continued to work the remaining cows and spent way too much time rounding up the two rebels.  At the end of the day, poor Dr. Olivia had to speed off to her next appointment and one of our friends that came to help had a smashed and bloody finger from rambunctious cows in the alley way. It’s not really a round-up unless someone gets mad or hurt or both.

We found out that Moscow the bull had done a fine job impregnating nine out of ten cows.  Sadly, Hunny, one of our original girls, is not bred.  Dave and I kept an open cow, Valentine, last year and agreed in advance we will not be keeping any open cows again.  They are expensive to feed and they act crazy when they go into heat.  Sorry Hunny, but your number is up. More on that in a minute.

Our beautiful sweet cow, Hunny, is open! DANG.

After the vet left and the friend’s finger was bandaged and doctored, we loaded up the calves in the trailer and led the moms up the road to a pasture we call the Hideout. The moms followed the trailer easily because they knew their babies were inside.  In the dirtiest of tricks, we led the moms into the Hideout, did a U-turn and drove the babies out and shut the moms in.  It’s time for weaning and this was the best way we could ensure to separate them.

We drove the babies back to the corral and unloaded them.  While they were looking for their moms initially, they were quite pleased to see we had put out some buckets with a sweet grain mix for them.  We also had a big bale of hay and some fresh water.  They still bawled, and their moms could be heard bawling all the way up in the hideout.  This went on for two full days and included one of the moms, Triple-Stix, jumping the hideout fence and coming back to stand outside the corral and bawl for her baby.  We would lead her back to the hideout with cake and she would get water and cake and come right back.  This also went on for two full days.

On the third day, I woke up at about 2:30AM and felt panic.  Why was it so quiet?  There was no bawling or mooing.  I lay awake listening and I could not wait until sunrise to throw on my shoes and go see if everything was okay.  All the babies were in the corral sleeping and there was no sign of Triple-Stix.  I guess they all decided the bawling was a waste of energy. Peace at last!

Things went well for the next few days.  The calves are digging their new routine, especially the feedings of sweet grain mix.  The moms have settled into the hideout and most of their bags have gone down quite a bit so they aren’t desperate to find their babies and nurse them.  Triple-Stix gave up on jumping and now she just looks mad at us. After about a week of separation, Dave and I were up before sunrise drinking coffee and when it began to get light out we went to change into chore clothes but I looked out the bedroom window and saw a calf NOT IN THE CORRAL but in the yard looking back at me!  Those sneaky devils had busted out of the gate and were headed off to who knows where.  

Dave and I ran out the door while he went to the corral to close in the three calves that weren’t brave enough to leave. I took the Sheriff and tried to chase the other two back into the corral.  It was pretty easy because they took one look at Sheriff Joe and turned around heading back to their sanctuary.  He didn’t even chase them but just crept up the fence while I flanked them to funnel them back through the gate.  Dave looked at me in my cowboy boots and pajamas and said, “Nice job, and nice outfit!” I am a farm fashionista.

Weaner calves in the corral. From left to right, Henry the 8th, Frosty, Apollo 11, Bo Derek, and Toni Romo

We have been actively trying to sell our calves and Hunny for about a week and a half.  We have always just taken our cows to market, but at the auction we have no say on the final deal.  It seems for operators our size that no matter how nice our calves look they don’t bring the price that an arena full of uniform steers or heifers do.  This year we advertised on Facebook Marketplace (Stagecoach Farms) and Craig’s List to see if anyone wanted a steer, three replacement heifers, or an open cow who probably has several more calves in her future.  

We got a lot of response and as of today we have a plan for everyone.  We are going to keep Henry the 8th as a steer and feed him up and take him to the butcher next fall.  A gentleman in Wyoming is planning to come get Apollo 11, the other steer, and add him to his herd with the same intention to feed him out and have him butchered when he gets big enough.  Another couple nearby wants to start their own herd and are planning on getting the three heifers this week.  They really loved them and said their grandchildren would be so excited to see these gentle calves.  Dave and I joke that they are going to a petting zoo.

Hunny definitely hit the jackpot because another local rancher with a herd about the size of ours wanted to add another cow.  He says his cows come for cake and let him scratch their heads, just like ours.  He came to see Hunny and how nice she is and decided to add her to his herd where he will breed her with his bull.  He took her home and said she became the “boss cow” immediately so it sounds like she found her new place. She was definitely the boss cow here so it will be interesting to see who takes over next.

Hunny and Toni Romo #9

That about wraps up the first ten days of October. As busy and chaotic as it might sound, things have not really quieted down.  More on that in the next blog….but until then, keep it free out there in the real world!

September Scramble

12 October 2020 – Sunny and 60

There is always pressure this time of year when the days are getting shorter and the temperatures are getting cooler.  Winter is coming.  We are preparing.

We finished the loafing shed for the spoiled cows with the exception of one corner because we ran out of trim.  This was not a planning error, but rather a change in plans as we decided to add the silver trim to the front too.  

 

Because we live in the country and far away from most convenient things, we had to place another order for trim with a company in Rapid City.  We should be able to pick it up and completely finish the shed this week. We’re calling it the Hidden Cow Palace because it cannot be seen from the road. And it’s for cows.  And it’s kind of a palace.

Dave and I have stayed busy gathering and splitting and stacking firewood. Stacking firewood in the woodshed is the spookiest of Halloween-time jobs.  There are all sorts of critters in there.  There are millions and billions of spiders and webs.  I’m sure there are some snakes living under the pallets. Something rodent-like has several furry nests buried in between the sticks.  When we started stacking the wood a bat flew out and nearly hit me in the head! I guess it is the season to get creeped out…..yuck! 

We have had such dry weather that there is nothing left in the pastures for the cows to graze, so we actually have been feeding hay for a couple weeks.  We try to plan for 180 days of feed because it’s likely that we can have a blizzard in May so Nov-May is the feeding season.  This year we’re feeding in September so it’s possible we will have to buy even more hay. That’s okay though.  There are several ranchers that aren’t too far away that had much better hay seasons than we did and we are always happy to do business with other ranchers.

Dave and I goofed off one day this month. (Actually we goofed off every day, but we designated one specific day to goofing off.) We went to the Buffalo Round-up Art Show at Custer State Park.  The Round-up is quite spectacular but we have done that before and the traffic is horrific, especially when we’re used to zero traffic.  We beat the crowds from the round-up and went to the art show.  Then we met up with our favorite Fish-n-Chips food truck that swings through Custer every few months.  You know they’re good when the line goes all the way down the block.

And that wraps up September.  Wait until you see how exciting October has been so far in the next blog!

The Great Cow Escape of 2020

20 September 2020 – Sunny and 75

It warmed right back up after the snow storm and we were actually really grateful for the snow because we need moisture.  The ground soaked it right up and we returned to the upper 80s for several days. The roads are once again dry and dusty. Crazy South Dakota weather.

Dave and I finished putting the roof rafters and purlins on the cow shelter, but we are waiting on the metal siding and roofing.  Apparently there is a big demand for building materials right now, especially in this area, so we can expect those materials in a couple weeks. It is quite possible we can expect more snow in a couple weeks as well.

The almost-complete shed. It doesn’t offer much shelter yet.
From the top of the stock dam

Meanwhile, we had our second (and hopefully final) load of hay delivered and we were able to put most of it into the barn.

Don’t drive too close behind the hay wagon, you may get a free bale on your hood!

We are probably going to have to start feeding very soon as the pastures just did not produce anything this year and the cows are hungry.  So hungry that they decided one night to knock down a wire gate and head to town.

Dave and I got up early as usual and decided the weather was so nice we would walk up to the northern pasture to check on everyone.  We counted only half of the cows and proceeded to do a perimeter check in which we discovered the knocked down gate.  Seven cows were out, but nowhere to be seen. We quickly walked back to the house and loaded up some cattle panels to block the gate area.  Then Dave headed west in the Mule and I headed east in the truck in search of the escapees.  Neither of us had any luck and we met back at the pasture to reattack.

We decided to move the remaining cows into the southern pasture so we could leave the gate area open in case the loose cows decided to come back. Optimism.  While he moved the herd south I proceeded on foot through the National Forest with a bucket of cow-cake.  I walked pretty far and called for them and shook the cake bucket but did not see nary a cow. I bet if anyone had been out there and saw me doing this they would have thought I had also escaped, but from the looney-bin.

I decided to head even further east in the truck and about two miles away I saw the culprits grazing along the road.  As soon as they heard me rattle the cake bucket they came running.  Dave showed up in the Mule and I parked my truck and we led the girls up the long hill back to the Holler.  

Once we arrived at the spot where they had broken out, most of the cows walked right back in but there is always one that is a troublemaker.  This time it was the calf, Bo.  While everyone else went through the gate and headed west along the fence, she also headed west along the fence but on the outside of the pasture.  She is already too big to squeeze through the barbed wire and so we tried to push her back toward the gate, but the other cows kept going west so of course she did not want to turn around.  

Calves are much harder for us to move because our cows are so “bucket-broke” they will follow us anywhere as long as there is a cake involved.  Calves aren’t eating cake yet and only want to go where their moms go, but often they are too stupid to follow them through a gate.  Bo was getting scared and running back and forth.  Dave and I were getting frustrated as every attempt to get her back to the gate was unsuccessful.  After what seemed like a long time and a lot of wasted effort we resorted to calling in the Sheriff. Sheriff Joe that is.

Put me in, Coach!

Normally we don’t let Joey chase after cows or calves.  He is pretty tall and I worry that he is not quick enough and will get kicked in the teeth.  We like to keep things as calm and un-chaotic as possible when moving cattle, and a big biting dog can add a little chaos. Also, Joe has a very strong chase instinct so he will definitely chase cows as far as they can run and usually not in the direction we want.  Our frustration with herding this calf made all of these reasons seem unimportant and we thought we’d give him a shot.

I said, “Joey, come!”  He jumped out of the Mule came right to me and I said, “Here’s your chance.  Git Her!”  He promptly turned around and ran right after a butterfly.   Hmmmmm.  I thought we might try again and so I called him back and he came and sat in front of me.  Dave suggested instead of “Git Her” I make the “shushing” noise I usually do when we are pushing cows.  So I said, “Joe, Shush, shushh!”  Joey turned around and saw Bo and instantly turned on his missile lock.  He ran as fast as he could up behind her and she immediately sensed this was not good.  Bo took off and Joey herded her right through the gate into the pasture with the rest of the cows. It was awesome!

I yelled, “That’s enough, COME!”  And he came right back as proud as he could be.  Dave and I could not believe it but we praised him and were so relieved to finally have all the cows back inside.  I did not think the Sheriff would be any good at the cow herding thing but he really proved me wrong.  Good job, Joe!

Resting after a tough day of wrangling calves.

The next day we were checking cows and I thought I would see if he was up for some more herding.  I called him and I said, “Joe, Shush Shussh!”  He turned around and immediately caught sight of his own tail.  He started chasing it in a circle as fast as he could turn until he caught it and tackled himself to the ground. Hmmmm.  Maybe we need a little more work.

That’s about the extent of the excitement out here on the Holler.  We are praying for our friends that suffered through Hurricane Sally in Florida and hope you all dry out soon. Until next time, keep it free out there in the real world!

Don’t be mad. We’re just dumb cows!

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