I cannot believe it has been nearly a month since my last blog. We also haven’t had any rain since the last post, and we are hoping and praying we get some today because our beautiful green barley is starting to look a little thirsty!
It has been a really busy month for us. We decided to cross fence and close in the south pasture and put in two gates to make sure we had access from the north and south side and we could get our haying equipment in and out.
Babe hauling the gate
Rancher Dave drilling some holes
A finished gate and fence line
If we ever do get any more rain and we actually get to cut some hay this summer, we decided it would be much easier if we had an extra little run-around tractor. This will save so much time preventing us from having to come back to the barnyard and swap out implements every time we switch tasks from cutting to raking to baling to hauling. We found this old gem on Craig’s List and are excited to see what it can do.
As is our tradition, we had to name the tractor so we’re calling it Sprout. It is a John Deere 3010, and so far my Dad, who is a red tractor guy all the way, has not disowned us for buying a Deere. This tractor was made sometime between 1960-1963 and it is gas, not diesel. It has functional hydraulics and a good PTO so it should really help us streamline our process during haying. At the very least Dave and I can both be working at the same time.
We finished shoring up our corral just in time for some visitors.
My sister, her son, her best friend and her best friend’s daughter came to stay and help with the annual round-up. We have the vet come out and innocculate the calves, pour the cows to protect against worms and parasites, and brand and castrate the babies. Our guests had fun and they all helped immensely, so we felt the day went rather smoothly and were grateful for their help.
We didn’t make the guests work the whole time they were here, they did get to visit Sylvan Lake, Devil’s Tower, go to a rodeo in Wyoming, and of course they went to see the Big Heads at Mount Rushmore.
Fun was had by all and we hated to see them go, but I think they had fun and enjoyed the fresh air and wide open spaces.
Better than a carseat in the back?
Dave and I kept the herd nearby in the maternity ward for the last couple of days. We like to keep an eye on the babies after branding and castration in case someone develops an infection or a problem. They all looked pretty good this morning, so we marched them back up the road to the big pasture we’re leasing. I think they were happy to get out into a bigger area.
Now that the round-up is over we can disk and plant the very last field, which is the maternity ward. The next big event will be the arrival of the bull (which we moved up to the beginning of July). I’m sure Valentine will be ready and waiting for him right by the gate!
Of course the next big ranch event is haying, but again, we need rain! As we wait for the crop to grow we will be busy prepping and greasing hay equipment, killing noxious weeds, and taking care of the lawn and garden.
That’s about it from the Holler. We hope everyone is having a good summer out there in the real world, despite all of the unrest and bad news. Keep safe and keep yourselves free!
All kinds of craziness is going on out there in the real world, rioting, looting, pandemics. All kinds of craziness has been going on here at the Holler as well. The weekend before Memorial Day, we moved our cows from our northern pasture up the road to a neighbor’s pasture we are leasing. We did this so we could plant and hay our northern pasture. Fortunately, my parents were visiting and they got to join in the fun.
It went very smoothly, and though a few cows decided to stop and chow on the fresh green grass on the roadside, Mom and Dad kept calling them with the cake bucket and Dave and I ran “outrigger” herding them up the road from behind. Then we moved the lick barrels and water tanks to the new pasture.
It was great to see my parents, and while they were here, we continued to disk, plant and harrow the northern pasture. My folks went home on Thursday and Dave and I continued tackling some of our other large projects. We put some more posts in the barn corral and painted some boards for the alley. It is really starting to come together, although every inch of post digging is hard-fought due to the rocky terrain. South Dakota Rocks!
The Sunday before Memorial Day, we were feeling pretty good about our plans for rotating cattle, haying, and getting more of our infrastructure complete and THEN this guy shows up!
This bull has been wandering around here for the last three years. We previously referred to him as “O.J. Simpson” but now we are going to call him the Black Plague. He is huge, probably close to 2000lbs. He is usually in a foul mood, and he has an affinity for our cows although he lives a few miles away he always finds himself here. We saw him Sunday night growling and grunting and howling, making all the typical romantic bull noises while pacing outside the five strand barbed-wire fence that contained our herd.
This is a problem this year because we have yearling heifers. We have arranged to lease a bull in July when they will be old enough to breed. The bull we are leasing is a “heifer bull” who is small enough to not hurt them and will hopefully throw smaller calves so they will have easier first time births next spring.
We are desperately trying to keep the Black Plague bull away because he could break one of the heifers legs or backs if he tries to breed them. They are currently too young to breed anyway, and if he breeds them now we will be calving in February which we really do not want to do! As a temporary fix, Dave and I led our herd away from the big bull to the opposite corner of the pasture, hoping none of our girls were in heat and he would move on down the road.
You may ask, “Why is there a random bull roaming around in South Dakota?” And we would answer, “We don’t know! But it is total B.S.!” Because South Dakota is a “Fence-out” state, it basically means if you don’t want at-large cattle on your property it is your responsibility to fence them out.
As mentioned, the pasture the herd is in is completely fenced in (or out) but the Black Plague Bull has demonstrated that he will not be stopped by a barbed wire fence when he is looking for love. On Memorial Day morning at 5AM the neighbor called to tell us that that bull was in the pasture with our herd. Dang! Dave and I drove up to that pasture in the Mule and there he was, grazing right in the middle of our girls. Fortunately, all of our cows looked calm and relaxed and nobody seemed too interested in the bull so we believe and hope that no one got bred or was in heat.
We decided that we needed to do something to protect our herd. Early Monday morning, Dave and I tried our hands as bull-fighters, or more like rodeo clowns. Our cows are so bucket-broke that it is easy to lead them anywhere using cow cake so we easily sorted our girls out of the pasture through one giant gate. The problem was that the four young calfies decided they would rather hang out with their new big uncle, the Black Plague. All we could do was take turns trying to distract the bull away from the gate while one of us ran around trying to scoot the calves through. They were uncooperative, of course, and the Black Plague seemed to be getting more and more irritated with our antics. He began pawing the ground and grunting, snorting and seemingly blowing smoke and fire out of his nostrils! It was quite frightening because we knew he had no problem going through the fence. Finally, Dave had had enough and took off his coat and threw it over the bulls giant head. Then he jumped on his back and rode him right out of the pasture which took just a little longer than eight seconds. Yee-haw! Just kidding, about the coat and the bull-riding, but we did have some intense and exciting moments trying to work around this big angry beast.
About 45 minutes later and a lot of running, sweating, and yelling, we were able to get all the calves out the gate and leave the big bull in the pasture. Dave led the herd down the road to another pasture south of our house and I ran behind as outrigger, making sure everyone kept heading the right direction. I could hear the Black Plague running behind me but on the other side of the fence. He was snorting and grunting and I was praying he would not bust down that fence to follow the herd as I really had nowhere to go to get out of the way. Thankfully he gave up when the herd disappeared over a hill and he has since wandered off into the National Forest.
We are now keeping our herd in a separate pasture that we had planned on grazing in July, but it is really the only thing we know to do to keep them safe from the bull for now. There are several ranchers that will be letting their large herds out on the open range to graze on the 1st of June, and we hope that thousands of other cows will be a good distraction for the Black Plague and he will leave our herd alone.
Meanwhile, the barley we planted has been growing and the fields are really greening up.
There is a lot of bee activity which I hope continues throughout the summer. I opened the hive and was happy to see there were eggs so the queen is still doing her job. The garden is planted and the greenhouse is full of peppers plants so we are definitely ready for summer.
The next project is to fence in our south pasture so we will have more alternatives for grazing and moving cows. As usual, the biggest obstacle is the rocky terrain but we’ve faced down that beast before. One summer we won’t have any more fence to build and I bet Dave and I will look at each other and say, “What should we do now?” But that will not be for several summers so we will continue to dig post holes, pound t-posts and string wire. What are you doing to work out lately?
Rancher Dave putting in T-posts
Post hole diggin in SoDak
That is about it for May. We hope everyone is doing well out there and staying safe and more importantly staying free and living their life without fear and dread. God Bless! Oh by the way, if you’re looking for a way to entertain the children in your life, my brother wrote and illustrated a new children’s book. Here’s the link, it is available on Amazon and it is a very fun book for young kids with lots of rhyming and cute pictures.
In between calving and bull virility testing, Dave and I have been working to get things going here on the Holler. A few posts ago I mentioned that our redneck disk broke down and was unsalvageable. Interestingly enough, the man that removed all the rocks from our barnyard had a contact in Rapid City that deals in used farm equipment. Dave contacted him and he had a used 12 foot tandem disk that he thought might work for us.
Dave went to look at the disk and liked it, however it was too big to fit on a trailer, and while it could be towed behind a tractor or truck, it needed new tires. The guy put different tires on it and Dave brought it home. This was quite an adventure for rancher Dave. The disk, as mentioned before, is 12 feet wide (as advertised, but more on this later) and that is quite a wide load to pull up the mountain. Additionally, as the disk hooked onto a drawbar on the back of the truck, it was not made for this type of travel. At about 20mph it would start violently vibrating back and forth. Traffic was backing up behind Dave as he slowly crawled up the hill with the wide disk in tow. The road from Rapid is also pretty twisty and narrow in some places so it took him about four hours to get home. When he turned to come into Stagecoach Springs, he questioned whether the disk would fit through the entrance to our road.
I drove up in the Mule to meet him and brought the tape measure. We realized our entrance is exactly 12 feet 5 inches wide at the narrowest point. The “12 Foot Disk” measured about 13 feet, 6 inches. Rats!
Fortunately, there were a couple of options open to us. We considered bringing the tractor up to the entrance and lifting the disk over the fences. We also realized a neighbor to the east of us has a wide gate entrance to her pasture, and we have a 16 foot gate between our properties. We decided to go with this route and after contacting her, she said that would be no problem at all. Dave drove the disk 2 miles east to her property and through her gate. Then he proceeded cross-country, over rocks and through trees and up the hill to the point where her pasture finally meets the gate in ours. The terrain was pretty rough and about half way through his journey we decided it would be better to get the tractor and pull the disk rather than put all that wear and tear on the truck.
So about 6 hours after leaving rapid city, we finally got the new/old disk onto the Holler. We were really hoping it would work as it seems this is its new permanent home, unless we decide to widen the entrance to the road.
The next day, Dave put the hydraulic cylinder on the disk and there were several problems with the fittings. Fortunately, Dave knows a great welder in Custer so he took the required parts to him, which he found a fix for on the spot. A few hours later we had the disk hooked up and running and Dave was able to complete disking our southern field.
The disk worked so well, we decided to rip up some more pasture in the northern fields. Dave completed all the disking, I did the planting and we split the harrowing duties. We finished the hay crop work on Saturday, just in time for some snow and rain on Monday! Hooray!
We still have one field to work, but the cows are in that pasture until the 1st of June. Once we move them elsewhere, we will plant a crop in that field that we can harvest later. Our goal is to produce enough hay to feed the herd all winter. We were successful this year, and while we are still feeding a bale or two a day because of the cold temperatures, we have enough hay to last through the 2nd of June. The calves are grazing more and more and we are cutting back on the feeding, but when there is snow, we like to make sure they have enough to eat. I really hope we aren’t feeding in June! The point is our hay crop mostly determines the size of our herd, but we do have options to buy hay if we don’t harvest enough of our own. We do like the idea of being independent, though, and are doing all we can to make use of this land.
We are also trying to get the garden and the lawn up to speed. Since construction four years ago, there are parts of the yard that have not recovered. We have planted grass seed, but it has only taken to some places, and some spots are so rocky and sandy it doesn’t appear we will ever have grass there. Dave has been getting some good soil out of one of the ditches and putting it on the bare spots in what should be the lawn. Hopefully this will lead to some growth. Also, he used the ditch dirt to cover up the rocky barnyard cliffs. We are going to put out some grass seed and wildflower seeds on this bank.
I have harvested some asparagus out of the garden, but it doesn’t appear to be doing so good after the freezing temps we have had for the last few days. It will get warm again, though, (right?) so hopefully we can get the vegetable garden up and running. The greenhouse has been good for some seeds, but I can’t transplant anything out in the snow, so hopefully the beets, peppers, and lettuce can hang on a little longer in there.
The weeks are just flying by. Dave and I were having a glass of wine on the porch this weekend and he said, “I can’t believe we are only about six weeks away from the summer solstice, and then the days will start getting shorter again.” I said, “I wish you hadn’t said that, Dave.” But he is right, and spring and summer are the busiest times for us, so that does make the calendar seem like it is turning quickly. It’s a good thing though, to go to bed tired knowing that you got some good work done during the day, and to wake up in the morning knowing that you still have a lot to do.
I know Mothers’ Day was yesterday, and to all the mom Hoten Holler Follerers I hope you had a great day, especially to my mom, who is just completely awesome! I was hoping that she and Dad could visit for Mother’s Day but I think they’re glad they didn’t because we are getting snow!
And in honor of our adorable mother cows, here are some gratuitous baby pictures.
Henry the 8th
Hunny and Toni Romo #9
Bo Derek – she’s a 10
We are so happy to be finished with calving season, and so far everyone is doing great! Since we have two bulls and two heifers, we are calling them the Mixed Doubles. (Note the moms are all members of the 2017 class we call Mayflowers, and the heifers that will get bred this summer are members of the 2019 class we call the Brambleberries. We name things, it’s how we roll.)
The remaining babies came all within one week, which was great. Hunny started on the 29th by sneaking out her calf in between the 4AM and 6AM check. When Dave went out at six, she was already cleaning up the little girl. She’s #9 so we named her for Dallas Cowboys #9 Tony Romo, but we’re spelling it TONI because she’s such a cute little girl. She was up and nursing pretty quickly. Hunny is an experienced mom with Toni being her fourth. She cleaned off her baby and headed off to the woods for some privacy and bonding.
On the 3rd of May, Triple Sticks snuck out her calf between the 10AM and 12PM cow check. This is her 2nd baby, a little girl, #10 that we are calling Bo Derek. I checked on Trips at 10AM and she was off by herself from the herd, a tell-tale sign of impending birth, but when she heard me in the Mule she came down out of the woods and right up to me looking for cow-cake. I looked her all over, and while her bag was big, it had been big for over a week. I thought she would probably calve that day, but not immediately. She must have watched me drive away and immediately laid down and had her baby because when I went back at noon, Bo Derek was cleaned off and already up and nursing. I initially thought it was someone else’s calf nursing on her but then I saw the other two babies laying right there next to the new mom while she nursed her baby. She must have been babysitting when she calved. Cow multitasking, hmmmmm.
I took the Mule back to get Dave and we went to watch the new mom and baby for a bit to make sure everyone looked good and healthy. When we got back to the pasture, we parked about 30 yards away to give the new mom some space. Almost immediately, the Dirty Dozen who is the mother of Henry the 8th, came marching toward us and stopped right in front of us and gave us a big, loud MOOOOOO! It was like she was saying, “People, please. This cow just had a baby! Give her some privacy already!” Then she collected her calf and stormed off into the trees. She’s somewhat MOOOODY.
Finally, on the 4th of May, Cherry Bomb had her baby around 11 AM. We saw her at the 10AM check acting very peculiar, walking backwards, mooing and licking her belly. We stayed and about an hour later she laid down and gave birth to a little bull calf we named Apollo 11. He is the only calf with a white face and he is so dang cute. He has white fuzzy eyebrows that remind me of Santa Clause. It took him about 20 minutes to stand up and he was nursing about 30 minutes after that.
Dave and I are so happy that all the moms did so well, and the babies seem to be doing great. They put on about 2.5lbs a day, so a week after birth they are all really thickening up as they have put on about 17lbs a piece. They are so fun to watch, especially at dawn and dusk. They get really energized and run around in circles, bucking and kicking and occasionally having a headbutting match with each other. Better than anything on Netflix!
In other cow news, Dave and I drove down to Edgemont to meet a gentleman we are planning to lease a bull from in July. He was taking the bull to the vet to get virility tested and make sure he was a good candidate for our heifers and cows. He passed the test with flying colors, although he will probably need some counseling after that whole ordeal! We look forward to welcoming him to the Holler in July.
Thanks for indulging me and my calf stories. I finally feel like we are catching up on sleep around here and am grateful every day I see those babies out there in the herd. I know things are still crazy out there in the real world, and I hope the cow stories can provide a peaceful break from quarantine boredom and frustration. As I said before, things really haven’t changed too much here!
I really wish I was posting pictures of baby calves today, but we are still waiting! The three remaining bred cows look very uncomfortable and all have started to fill up their bags with milk, but morning, day and night there is no calving action. The weather has been just perfect, so they are probably waiting for a May snowstorm. Anyway, there is no news on the baby front.
In between checking on cows, Dave and I have been busy disking, planting and harrowing our hay crop.
We were nearly complete when our antique/redneck disk went kaput! The thing is so old and will not take any grease, so it was truly a matter of time before it died. On one of the last fields, Dave was disking and I was nearby. I could hear the thing really start to sing, metal on metal. I couldn’t tell if it was dust or smoke coming out of the disk, but Dave shut down shortly after that and said it smelled like it was burning up. He parked it and we have one small field left to plant. If we cannot get a replacement disk this year we will just let the grass grow and harvest grass hay from there, but we’re on the hunt for a used disk that we will definitely need next year.
We also had a gentleman come and pick up all the big rocks that were still piled in the barnyard. I know some people don’t like Craig’s List, but we put an ad up for free rocks and he happened to need rocks for building his driveway and an approach to his house. He came out with a skid-steer and a trailer and after about ten trips, he went away with free rocks for his project and we have a really nice looking barnyard!
The next few days, Dave will use the tractor to get fill dirt out of one of the ditches. He’ll put this dirt on top of the remaining rocks and ideally we will get some grass growing up there.
In light of all the craziness in the world, here are some short ranch follies that will hopefully make you laugh.
Nothing happens quickly on the ranch and there is no such thing as instant gratification so we are constantly working to get things set up so they are more efficient. One of the future projects is to have a better way to get water to the barnyard. Currently we are using runoff from the barn roof which works great if there is rain or snow, but if there is not we have to run 3 hoses from the house up the hill into the barnyard water tanks. This is kind of a pain, especially if there is snow and ice. We cannot leave the hoses hooked up in the cold temps because they will freeze and cause all sorts of problems. A few weeks ago, Dave had hooked up the hoses and was filling the barn tanks. He was distracted working on something else and I noticed that the tanks were almost full, so I walked down the hill to turn off the water and disconnect the hose. I really thought I was helping him out, but when he returned to the water tank a few minutes later, it was completely empty. When I unhooked the hose at the bottom of the hill, the suction and gravity sucked all the water out of the tank. Sorry, Dave! So he had to start all over. Ooops!
Last year, after a long day of baling hay, we were driving in the Mule back to the garage. While one person is in the tractor baling, the other person helps out a little by using a leaf rake to pull the hay out of the corners and into a wind row. We were both tired from working in the heat all day and put the rake in a vertical position in the back of the Mule, the top of the rake extending over the top of the Mule. As we pulled into the garage, we were congratulating ourselves on how much baling and work we had accomplished that day when we heard a loud CRACK! The top of the rake hit the top of the garage door as we drove into park. The roof ripped the top off the rake and the rest of the handle remained in the Mule. Now we have a rake that will work for a very short person and a long handle for nothing. Ooops!
This winter, during bad weather, we would let the cows sleep in the barn. To make sure they were under cover we would lead them into the corral and close the gate. One morning after a bit of snow, Dave and I plowed a lane to feed and put out the hay, but the cows did not come to breakfast. This was odd because they normally hear the Mule and come running. We tried calling them, “Hay Ladies!” and shaking the cake bucket which always works. Still, there were no cows. We drove the Mule back to the barn from the feeding area and all the cows were there lined up behind the closed corral gate, looking at us as if we were the biggest morons for calling them to breakfast when they were locked up. Ooops!
Finally, one day a few summers ago, Dave had to go to town for some appointment and I noticed that the stock tank in the field was running low. Keep in mind, I did not grow up on a farm and there are several tasks on the ranch that were still pretty new to me. Running water is easy, but this water tank was in a distant pasture, and required loading water in a separate tank that was on the trailer, and hauling the trailer to the field. I was quite proud of myself for getting the trailer hooked up to the truck, loading it with water and hauling it to the field and filling the stock tank. This is not a big deal now, but at the time I had very little experience driving a truck and trailer and maneuvering it into position to drain into the stock tank. When Dave came home I bragged about how far I had come, being able to do all of these tasks by myself. As we were sitting on the deck discussing the day, some of the cows began to appear walking up the hill from the pasture where I had filled the stock tank. All of the pride in my task vanished quickly as I realized I had left the pasture gate open. Ooops! At least it only took us about an hour to get everyone back in the pasture.
Hopefully some of these stories make you laugh. I know things are getting kind of mundane out there in the real world, but it is spring and things will get better soon. Stay safe out there, and don’t forget to have a few laughs, even if it is at yourself!
It is that time of year where we are just about sick of winter. Of course, April is also one of the snowiest months here in the Black Hills. It seems that we get a blizzard every ten days or so, and then it gets into the 50s and 60s for a few days. Everything gets muddy and sloppy and when it finally dries up, here comes the next blizzard. That is the case today. We are expecting 3-5 inches of snow tonight, and yesterday we were working outside in short sleeves.
I fear I sound like I’m complaining. These temperature swings are not all bad, and the warm days are so greatly appreciated after a giant dump of snow. If we didn’t have any critters, I don’t think I would mind at all because the snow is quite beautiful. BUT we do have critters and they are all trying to have babies!
Fortunately, the Dirty Dozen (#112), the girl we were following around in late March decided to calve on one of the warmest days. It was about 60 degrees and mid afternoon when she walked away from the herd, laid down in the woods, and delivered her baby in about five minutes. We were extremely grateful to see the baby get up on his feet in 30 minutes and began to nurse shortly after that. Dozen is a great mom, and her milk bag is huge so the baby has no problem getting his fill.
Last year, we had a hard time with all the 1st calf heifers. Dozen had a female calf last year and it died at 1 day old from pneumonia. The vet did a necropsy and said the baby’s stomach was full of milk, so Dozen had been feeding her. The baby died anyway and we ended up quarantining all the babies and moms that had been in contact with her. Another 1st calf heifer wasn’t producing very much milk, so we worked with Dozen to help nurse that calf, and she was more than willing to help. At the end of the day, I think all of the calves born to our heifers ended up nursing on Dozen. She seems to really like babies! Anyway, the calving season last year was a huge pain, and it was so sad, and it turned us into Nervous Nellies for the calving season this year. I’m sure most experienced ranchers would probably laugh at all the fuss and worry we have been doing, but we just really want to take good care of everyone and for them to thrive.
Dozen’s calf this year is two weeks early by the gestation calendar, so we are acting like extreme helicopter parents, checking on this baby bull every 2-3 hours. He is 3 days old today and nursing very well. He has been tearing around like a race car in the mornings and evenings, and it is really fun to watch. It’s as if he is showing off to the rest of the herd, “Look how fast I can run!” Then he wears himself out and Dozen parks him in the tall grass to sleep the rest of the day. Yesterday, after she parked him and wandered off to graze, Dave and I snuck up and tagged his ear.
He is the 8th calf born to the herd so we named him Henry the 8th. We thought he might holler when we tagged him, as calves often do, but he didn’t make a peep so his mom didn’t come running to check on him. We saw her going back to him later in the day and she sniffed him all over, especially his new ear tag. I think she was mad he got an earring without her permission. Kids today!
Due to the impending blizzard conditions this evening, we have been preparing the barn with an extra stall for Dozen and Henry, so Henry doesn’t get stepped on by all the other cows trying to shelter from the storm. Dave added boards to the bottom of the panels to prevent him from squirting out into the main stall area. He also has an extra panel handy in case one of the other ladies decides to calve during the bad weather. If that happens, she will have her own little area as well. We are calling the stalls the Princess Suite and the Royal Deluxe. Oh, Dave also added LED lights so we can keep an eye on everyone at night.
Next thing you know the cows will be demanding turn-down service and mints on their pillows.
In other news, we have enjoyed working outside on the last few warm days. We built a platform and assembled this greenhouse.
Base of the platform
Attaching the frame
The platform was a lot easier than assembling the greenhouse. It was supposed to take 6 hours but I think it took us twice as long, considering the convoluted directions. At least that’s my excuse. Regardless, it seems to have turned out well and if it wasn’t going to be 6 degrees tomorrow night I would already have planted some things in there. So the plants I have started will remain on the kitchen counter until the next warm weather.
We are ready for this snow to come and go, and once that happens we will begin disking and planting hay crops. We are also hoping nobody else has a baby until the snow is gone, but that is never up to us. As always, we are far removed from the real world and crazy things that are happening out there. I hope everyone that is reading this is staying safe, staying sane, and that you all have a very Happy and Blessed Easter!
I reread my last post on the 3rd of March and at time the CoronaVirus News was just a whisper of background noise. How things have changed in 16 days. Life is really no different here on the Holler. We are self-quarantined most of the time anyway, working on the ranch and only going to town once or twice a month. We always keep a stockpile of goods just to avoid extra trips for things like toilet paper or dog food. The small towns here in the Black Hills are always ghost towns in the winter months. Most restaurants are only open from April to September and a lot of small business owners close up shop and head south. Consequently, life here is quiet and slow in the non-tourist season so it feels like we are far removed from the crazy happenings in the rest of the world and just watching a science-fiction movie whenever we do turn on the news.
I know this is not like watching a movie for most of the country, and Dave and I have been in touch with family and friends that live in more populated areas (just about anywhere else). The shutdown of businesses, schools, and normal life sounds extremely surreal. All we can do is pray that people stay safe, be kind to each other, and don’t panic. This is still the greatest country in the world and we will beat this thing.
So what have you more social people been doing with all of your “stuck at home” time? I have to brag about a good friend of mine who sent me a picture of teaching her kids how to build a fire. They are working on survival skills at home and I thought that was a very neat idea. I imagine not everyone is enjoying self-quarantine, but as a person who spends quite a lot of time in self imposed isolation due to geography and general hermit-crabby-ness, I have one piece of advice. Do NOT sit around and watch or listen to the news all day. You’ll go nuts.
Here in the ops-normal Holler, we have been busy with spring chores. We will be moving cows to different pastures once they calve and that requires fence inspection and mending.
We are still heating with wood and our wood shed is starting to look a lot less full than it was a few months ago.
We also have an area we call the “maternity ward” where we plan to put our pregnant cows as they start to look like they’re about to deliver, so we can keep a close eye on them. Part of our life lately is trying to keep that area clean and picking up poop. I read that cows can create 65 pounds of manure a day and after Dave and I hauled 7 tractor loads of poop out of the maternity ward, I believe it!
Thank goodness the bovines don’t use toilet paper or we would definitely be in trouble. They keep us busy feeding and checking on them. We are expecting the first calves mid-April, but one cow in particular already looks like she is getting milk in her bag.
We hope she holds off, it is still pretty early for her to calve. The other bred cows just look really big and slow right now, and the heifers that are not bred are loving spring. They get in a lot of play fights, run around and headbutt each other, and for some strange reason they are particularly fond of sprinting up and down the side of the stock dam. They are crazy. They spent too much time this winter sitting around watching the news.
We had a few spring blizzards which lead to busy days full of snow removal. One day last weekend we had the most snow we’ve seen since we lived here, but the next day we were wearing short sleeves outside. It’s likely winter isn’t done with us yet as April and sometimes May can be the snowiest months, but the 10 day forecast looks like 40s and 50s so we’ll take it!
Lots of snow on the Holler!
Snow removal day
I’m glad I found the shovel
Big drifts on the front porch
We continue to feed the cows because it there isn’t anything for them to graze yet, and the barn is starting to look empty again as well.
The blue birds and the turkeys have returned, and occasionally we have some geese flying north. Sheriff Joe is quite pleased to see the turkeys are back, as one of his favorite activities is scaring them off.
The bees have been pretty active on the warmer days and while I am feeding them I won’t be completely convinced they survived the winter until I can open up the hive and see if the queen still lives and starts laying eggs. Long live the queen!
And that is about all there is to say for now. Dave and I are really wishing the very best to everyone out there in the strange and crazy world.
3 March 2020 – Sunny and snowing simultaneously….hovering around 35 degrees
So long, February! I’d like to say we’ll miss ya, but likely we won’t. It was not exceptionally cold or snowy last month, but it is that time of year when we are really starting to want warmer spring weather. The forecast shows we may get our wish, however, it was forecast to be sunny and warm the last two days and it has been sunny but NOT warm. The wind has been blowing, gusting up to 40 and while the sun is shining it keeps snowing. Some people brag about their weather, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a day.” But we say, “How can you not like the weather? It’s sunny and it’s snowing, and windy! We sometimes have all four seasons at once.”
It seems like the wild life is waking up for spring. There is a pack of four coyotes that have been hunting in our pastures. We give them a warning shot if they get too close to the house, but we’re hoping they will take out the groundhogs or moles that have been digging out there. As long as they leave the dog and cat alone, we think they are okay. Yesterday morning, Dave and I watched them hunting mice or some other vermin. They work as a team and they seemed to round up a pretty good breakfast for themselves. At night, they make a lot of noise, but sometimes we hear them during the day as well. Fortunately the Sheriff usually sticks close by when they start singing.
After the coyotes got their fill, a line of about 12 deer went marching right by the house. If the apocalypse happens, I guess we won’t go hungry either.
Shortly thereafter, there was a giant bald eagle flying around the cows. Then, later in the day a loud, honking flock of geese did a low pass directly over the barn. We are enjoying the return of the birds after the long winter and looking forward to seeing the first rocky mountain bluebirds and hearing the first meadowlarks. Maybe all the critters are showing up because we have so much water in the stock dam. Nothing brings out the riff-raff like a good watering hole.
Pretty soon we will be planting seeds and getting ready for the garden. In April we will start disking and are planning on putting in barley for the hay crop this year. We are only about 6 weeks away from calving and the ladies are looking big and tired.
Today, the fire is burning in the wood stove and while we have ventured out for chores, the wind and the snow are making us remember that we live in South Dakota and winter is just not through with us yet. Hope everyone is staying warm and happy out there in the real world.
10 Feb 2020 – Sunny and 28 degrees, also snowing at the same time
Did anyone see the full moon this weekend? Wow, it was really bright out here especially with just a little snow on the ground. Nice job, Mother Nature!
We took a little road trip down to Lusk, Wyoming on Saturday to look at a potential bull to breed our cows and heifers this summer. It was a beautiful drive and we saw tons of antelope running through the wide open Wyoming countryside. All the hawks in Wyoming seemed to be out hunting that day, too, and we probably counted ten or more sitting on fence posts along the road. As we neared Lusk, the Laramie Mountains began to appear on the horizon. Wyoming is just beautiful, well, not South Dakota beautiful, but close.
We met the rancher we’ve been talking to about the bull rental and drove to his paddocks where he keeps his cows and his bulls. We liked a couple of the boys and agreed to rent one contingent on him testing well for fertility in the spring. All of his bulls have good demeanors and we also got to look over the bulls’ mothers who were also very mild-mannered and nice looking. Hopefully this will work out for both parties and we at the very least have made a new rancher friend that isn’t really too far down the road.
Speaking of cows, did anyone watch the Academy Awards? We did not watch the show and have not watched it for as long as I can remember. I’m pretty sure we haven’t even seen any of the movies that were nominated and/or awarded. That being said, I do read the news and while I strive to stay away from politics on this blog I have to address the comments of Joaquin Phoenix regarding cows:
“We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow, and when she gives birth, we steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. Then, we take her milk, that’s intended for her calf, and we put it in our coffee and our cereal, and I think we fear the idea of personal change because we think that we have to sacrifice something to give something up.”
Okay, Joker. I wouldn’t dream of criticizing your movie or acting method because A) I haven’t seen the movie and B) I don’t know anything about acting. Can I ask you for the same courtesy? It really irritates me when people rip on the livestock industry or the dairy industry. I don’t know very much about dairy farming, but I have learned a ton about beef cattle in the last four years by ranching and being around beef cattle ranchers. There is an ocean of information left for me to learn but I do know one thing for certain: ranchers and farmers love and care for their animals. In most cases, it is their livelihood and their paycheck depends on the health of their animals. They would not be ranchers if they did not love their animals. It is not a field where it is easy to get rich so most are not financially motivated to get rich, but love the lifestyle and want to sustain it. That lifestyle includes TAKING GOOD CARE OF COWS! Some of the most desirable tasks include: feeding and watering every single day, cleaning manure out of stalls and paddocks and corrals to make sure the environment is healthy for the animals, staying awake all hours to ensure a mom can deliver her calf safely and helping when needed, humanely weaning calves from moms to take pressure off the mom and strengthen the calf. Even the artificial insemination of cows should be considered humane as often the genetics of the bull will determine the size and positive health traits of the calves, protecting both the mother and future baby.
I know there can be a lot of negative press out there regarding ranching. It is not difficult to find videos of people abusing cows on the internet, but it is also not difficult to find cases of police being brutal, teachers being inappropriate, and even religious clergy and medical doctors misbehaving. My point is that there are examples in every field of people acting poorly, but those bad examples should not define the rest of the people in that field. I have met so many different ranchers since we’ve moved to South Dakota and every single one of them would do anything for their cows, and they do. I haven’t met a single evil money-grubbing hack sitting in the corner just plotting the next moment to rip a calf off the mother’s teat and steal the milk for coffee, cereal, or profit. Come on. Really, come on, Joaquin. Come to the ranch and we’ll show you just how spoiled the cows are. Just bring your own tofu because we’re likely having burgers for lunch.
Okay, I’m done ranting and if you’re still reading, please don’t be afraid to stand up for the ranchers, farmers, and food producers that are feeding the world.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the herd seems healthy, fat and happy. The Sheriff is still loving winter and the barn cat has decided he would like to spend the night in the mud room if the temperature drops below 20 degrees. I am a sucker so he doesn’t usually meow for too long at the door before I let him in, even though I know he’ll start meowing again around 2AM to go back outside and go hunt up some mice from the barn. It’s a real circus. But it is our circus and we love it.
We hope everyone is surviving February out there in the real world.