It’s the perfect day to stay inside and write a blog. It is cold, rainy, and pretty miserable outside. Dave built the first fire in the wood stove of the season and he, the Sheriff, and I are taking a lazy Saturday morning inside where it is warm and dry. We did manage to sneak out for a quick morning walk but it looks like we will be housebound for the rest of the morning. That’s okay with us, because we have been working a lot outside this week, trying to put posts in the rocky barnyard to set up a corral for our herd.
We got these corral panels from a seller off of Craig’s List.
We are hoping to organize our corral so we can have a place to load cows and a separate alley to send them through the squeeze chute. Our ground is so hard and rocky that every post we put in takes a lot of effort and time to dig the holes. We have a new neighbor that has lent us his jack-hammer. He also asked us to take 28 telephone poles off of his hands. He wasn’t going to use them and didn’t want to dump them, so we moved them to our place and are using them for the corral as well.
Trailer load of phone posts
Our favorite, the jack hammer.
We are also consulting with another local rancher and friend. Yesterday, I put together some garden goodies and some honey and Dave went over to the Spring Valley Ranch and dropped off the box for the rancher and his wife. He told them, “I’m bribing you to see if you can come over and help us plan our corral.” They were super excited about the goody box and the rancher will come by this week and discuss our plans. He also asked us for some help with his fall roundup next month. We really like the community support of the ranching community.
We have been busy fixing fences almost every day since the elk have become much more rambunctious as the rut continues. It really is quite beautiful to hear them bugle us to sleep in the evenings. The last few years we haven’t had near the elk activity as this year. We’ve seen them almost every day for a month, and nearly every morning we wake up to loud bugles and elk right in our backyard.
As I posted last time, the only drawback to getting to see these wild creatures every day is that they are destructive, taking out trees and barbed wire wherever they decide to go. I guess you have to take the good with the bad.
A lot of people ask us if we can shoot one, but unfortunately the answer is no unless we get an elk tag. There are ranchers with much bigger operations than ours that have enough acreage to get a “reclamation tag” where they can harvest an elk to repay themselves for damage to their property. We do not have enough land to qualify for this, and in South Dakota, you have to apply for a regular hunting tag in a lottery. It is pretty tough to get one, we hear. I think the elk have heard this as well and consequently decided to continue to hang out on the Holler.
In other ranch news, we moved the wood box back to the front porch in anticipation of colder weather.
Also, we decided to invest in a wood splitter. Dave says when he was growing up, he didn’t know what a wood splitter was. If someone mentioned “the wood splitter”, he thought they were talking about him and his axe.
All put together, thanks Rancher Dave!
We discussed the fact that splitting wood by hand is fantastic exercise…..if you’re in your twenties. But in your 50’s, splitting wood by hand is a fantastic way to injure yourself. The machine arrived yesterday and Dave assembled it. We are champing at the bit to get out there and put it to use, but dang it…it’s raining! Ha ha.
We had a fantastic September, but the weather is changing and the temperatures are starting to drop. The mornings and evenings are beautiful, and the shadows are growing longer. One year ago today we had the first snow of the season. We’re sad to see summer go, but getting ready for another winter and actually looking forward to a few down days. Happy rainy Saturday from the Holler!
Autumn harvest season has arrived. We have been busy on the Holler putting things up. First we put up the hay.
Then we had about a million cucumbers so we put up pickles.
The bees really went to town this summer and we have been spending several days harvesting and putting up honey.
Now, it is starting to get a little cold in the evenings, but the tomatoes are coming in like crazy. Every day for the last week I have picked about 15 tomatoes, and it looks like there will be at least 3-4 more days of picking that many.
Dave and I made salsa.
We canned and put up more tomatoes. After finally getting the tomatoes canned I found the most amazing thing on the counter in the spot where they had all been sitting. Counter space! I hardly recognized my own kitchen.
Nothing tastes better than a late summer tomato. We have been eating so many tomato sandwiches it’s kind of getting old.
Dave has given me a new nick-name: The Mater Queen of So. Dak. I think this enormous tomato would have won a prize at the state fair, so I’ll embrace the new title.
We have done so much canning this year that we decided if we get snowed in this winter we will probably not bother plowing out. Instead we will stay in and eat pickles, tomatoes and honey.
We have also been gathering firewood. Here is the pile that we will split and stack that we hope will keep us warm for a few nights…ha ha.
Another fall task has been putting up the haying equipment for the winter. Dave and I spent quite a bit of time reorganizing the barn lot and Dave did a lot of greasing and maintaining on the mower, baler, rake etc. We think the barnyard cleaned up pretty nice.
And finally, we have been entertained mornings and evenings with tons of elk. In past years, we have heard and seen a few herds, especially in the fall rut. This year, the elk have decided that our south pasture is the best new nightclub in South Dakota. Nearly every evening, right around sundown, the bugling begins. In the low light, you can only make out the giant forms of the herd in the distance, but you can hear them bugle and snort. It continues late into the wee hours of the morning and tapers off around 3AM. Then, right before sunup, the bugling begins again and we get a good look at the herd.
We also get a good look at whatever damage they have done to our trees.
Elk have been scraping on the poor little trees
This guy didn’t stand a chance
Scrapes about 8 feet in the air.
I wonder who was responsible for the death of these trees?
This morning, there were about 25 cows and at least one big bull shutting down the south pasture night club. They decided to head east and jump the barbed wire fence. As they ran it sounded like a herd of horses running, except the rhythm of their hoof-falls was a little different than horses. How can I explain this in writing? I’ll try by explaining that running horses sound like the beat of the William Tell Overture or the Lone Ranger theme song.
“Da da DAA da da DAA da da DAA dum dum”
The elk sound more like a car on a bumpy road.
“Ducca ducca ducca ducca ducca ducca…..”
Okay, if you read that out loud you may get the idea. I wouldn’t recommend reading it out loud if you’re at work or somewhere in public. You might get some strange looks. Back to this morning, we saw the elk start running east and heard their trampling feet:
Ducca ducca ducca ducca ducca…..
One by one they began to jump the barbed wire fence and then we heard:
Ducca ducca ducca ducca TWANG!!!!!
Dave and I looked at each other over our coffee cups and he said, “I guess we’ll be fixing fence today.” Never a dull moment out here on the Holler
That’s about it for this time. We are working outside today, enjoying the unusually warm autumn weather. We are hoping for a long, mild autumn, but in reality we could be less than 1 week from the first snow flying. We better get out there and split that firewood!
Yep, it’s raining again so I am taking advantage of the weather and blogging this morning. We have mostly caught up on haying. We spent yesterday finishing a couple areas that are difficult to maneuver the tractor in and trying a second cutting in some lush areas in the south pasture.
Overall, we had a stellar haying season, putting up well over 1500 bales. When it stops raining and we bale the stock dam and the second cutting we will be DONE and Dave and I have vowed that we will do something to celebrate. We will probably just go to the local bar in Pringle (The Hitch Rail) and have a burger and a beer, but it will be a celebratory supper nonetheless.
We were fortunate to have some help for a week this month. Dave’s good friend from the Coast Guard, Mike, came to visit and “experience” ranch life. He got to check and water cows, put fence posts in the ground, jackhammer some rocks, drive the tractor, cut and haul slash, and of course he got to rake, bale, and load hay into the barn.
Building an H
Men at Work
Mike said it was so fun for him, like going to a Dude Ranch and that he really enjoyed the work. We said, “Tell all your friends about haying season next year!” Ha ha. Anyway, we were extremely grateful for the help and we accomplished a lot while he was here.
And it wasn’t a complete working vacation for him. Dave took him through Custer State Park where they got stuck in “buffalo” traffic. They toured the Needles Highway and went to some brew pubs in Custer. Most evenings we drank wine and fired some rounds off the back deck. One evening, while we were eating dinner, a herd of about 30 elk decided they would go to the oat buffet in the southern field. As the sun set, we enjoyed watching these magnificent creatures and listened to their haunting bugles and elk noises. It was a great South Dakota experience.
Of course, we saw tons of deer and turkeys enjoying the Holler while Mike was here, too. When you come to the Holler, you’re going to experience some wild life! Not that we’re that wild, usually we are in bed by 9PM. Sad.
Yesterday, while checking cows, Sheriff Joe decided to leap out of the Mule and pursue an offending jack rabbit. The jack was huge and the Sheriff didn’t stand a chance as the rabbit shifted into high gear and ran east, possibly all the way to East River. (That’s South Dakota speak for east of the Missouri) Upon returning from checking cows, I was working in the garden and nearly stepped on a snake! Yikes! Later, Dave and I were putting fence posts in the ground and we heard a strange pounding noise coming from the direction of the house. The Sheriff and I went up to investigate and discovered a squirrel had fallen into one of our rain barrels. The little guy was throwing himself against the sides in an attempt to escape. I distracted the Sheriff by throwing a stick which completely worked. In his absence, I tipped the barrel over and the squirrel ran out and up the nearest tree. He then began angrily chatting at me, as if it was my fault he had been stuck. Ungrateful rodent.
In between all the crazy projects, we have put up more pickles. Three cucumber plants yielded 25 jars of pickles this year, and that doesn’t include the cucumbers we have been eating in salads and giving away to neighbors. Now the peppers and tomatoes are starting to come in so we also canned some of Dave’s famous corn relish.
More cucumbers than we can handle
Corn relish cooking before canning
The last two days we have also harvested honey from the bees. There were three medium boxes full of capped honey and we harvested two full ones and left part of the third for the bees to ensure they have enough honey to make it through the winter.
We haven’t figured out how much we will actually get to bottle yet, because it takes awhile for the sticky stuff to run through the filter and get out all the wax and bee parts. So far, it looks a lot like last year’s honey and the basement smells like flowers! It is also a giant sticky mess which we will probably tackle today if it keeps raining.
One last thing, I forgot to write about in July. Dave and I were having coffee one morning and we heard what sounded like a tornado, or giant gust of wind off the west deck. We quickly discovered that a giant hot air balloon was about to land in our back yard! We watched the beautiful balloon go down in a field just across the road. I ran to get the Mule so we could see if they were okay, and Dave yelled to the pilot, “Are you okay?” He yelled back that everyone was good. We drove down and discovered they had taken off from Custer and were surprised by 30 knot winds that took them on a wild ride a lot further than they intended to go.
Despite the velocity and the distance, the balloon crew arrived in vans almost immediately and picked up the passengers and the pilot. They packed up the balloon and they were gone, nearly as quickly as they had arrived. Of course we didn’t let them leave without asking if they wanted to pick up hay bales. Maybe that’s why they left so quickly.
Well that is it for August. It definitely is starting to look and feel like autumn. September promises to be just as busy for us as we continue the paddock fencing project and we will have to separate and wean calves from their moms. We haven’t even begun to gather firewood for the winter. It’s all good but it is all going so fast! Happy Labor Day Weekend, everybody. We hope summer 2019 was as fun for you as it was for us.
11 August 2019 – cloudy and highs in the upper 70s
Hey out there! We’re still alive, but we have been working outside all summer and that hasn’t left much time for blogging. I will try to do better but the amount of work we still have to complete before the snow flies is a little overwhelming. We keep trying to get all of our hay cut and baled and loaded. It has been hot and rainy (unusual for here) so the hay keeps growing and rain daily means it has been too wet to cut. When we get two dry days in a row, we mow the hay, and then it rains again so we have to let it dry another day before we rake and bale.
We are slowly getting through the haying season, but it just doesn’t want to end. We still have the north pastures to mow and bale, and our neighbor’s yard. Then, it looks like we might get a second cut in some of the southern pastures! Meanwhile, the hay loft is slowly filling up with hay.
To make our lives easier, we stack bales on pallets and let the tractor do the work lifting it into the loft. We use a pallet jack in the loft to position the pallets of hay. Over 1000 bales of hay moved so far this summer and possibly another few hundred to go has led Dave and me to believe we need to invest in a round baler. This point was not so subtly emphasized by our UPS driver who said to me, “You’re still picking up those idiot cubes?” His point was that square bales are a pain, and while in small quantities they are useful, picking them up and stacking them is a lot of work. Anyone out there got a round baler for sale?
In the midst of haying season, I abandoned the ranch and went to the Grand Canyon to pursue a bucket list trip with my brother, Scott. We hiked the whole canyon, north rim to the south rim in two days. It was 24 miles of incomparable beauty and stifling hot temperatures. As one hiker said, “Both God and the Devil live in the canyon.”
Getting started before dark
Crossing at the bottom
Hiking down the North Rim
It was a great trip and while Scott and I were both worn out at the end, it was an incredible journey and we had a great time. We ended up sore and tired but thankfully neither of us suffered from any blisters, heat exhaustion or any other injuries.
The canyon was great, but I was ready to get back to the Holler and to my favorite rancher and of course, the Sheriff. We were back at work the next day picking up hay bales.
Summer is coming to a rapid close and we still have a lot to do, including finishing the hay. We are also trying to get in a new fence around the paddock. We haven’t even begun to gather firewood. Meanwhile, the garden is producing lots of goodies, and Dave and I canned 20 jars of pickles this week. Don’t worry, we won’t eat them all but they usually go into goodie baskets for guests and family.
Soon the tomatoes should be ready for canning. Like last year , the peppers didn’t do so good, but I still plan on canning some salsa. The bees are going gangbusters and we should be harvesting Hoten Holler Honey in the next few weeks.
The calves are getting huge and after the hay is up, it won’t be long before they get weaned off of their mothers. The bull has been in with the cows since mid-July and we are hoping he has been doing his duties. It appears he is a little worn out, too.
Tonight, it is raining again which means we won’t be able to do anything with hay until mid day tomorrow at the earliest. Dave and I are watching the storms roll in and Sheriff Joe is passed out on the floor after a long day of chasing butterflies. Life is good on the ranch.
Happy First Day of Summer! This is my favorite season and I am really looking forward to some warm weather and some hot working days. It feels like we skipped spring altogether because of the late May blizzard and the cool temperatures we have had in June so far. Still, the oats are growing, the calves are growing, the weeds are growing!!! Spring flew by!
We woke up this morning to four bull elk in our back yard. Got to love South Dakota!
My sister and her son and my Mom came to visit last week. We had fun driving the tractor, shooting guns off the deck, checking cows, and doing some touring. We went to Keystone where my nephew got to go into a gold mine and pan for gold. We all had ice cream and enjoyed the boardwalk. We also went to Sylvan Lake and hiked the mile around it. My Mom did great, despite some very rocky and steep trails.
Shooting the big gun
Close the gate but don’t get any poop on your shoes!
The weather was perfect and we drove along the Needles Highway on the way home. We went to the infamous Hitchrail for a burger for supper.
Of course you can’t come to the Holler without doing a little ranch labor. We put the crew to work at building an H for a gate we’re putting in between our pasture and our neighbors. My sister especially liked breaking rocks out of the post hole using the 30 pound spud.
My nephew and Mom did a great job picking up rocks to fill in around the post and again, my sister enjoyed tamping the rocks back into the hole using the spud, her new best friend. I offered to let her take the spud home with her but she graciously declined.
Their hard work helped us get a good start on this H. Dave and I dug the post holes for the H on the other side this week, and today we finished the wire gate.
Thanks for the help, family! We’ll try to find something more fun for you to do when you come back. Throw hay bales, maybe? Anyway, their visit flew by!
Dave and I have been busy just keeping up with the yard and weeds, cleaning up the barn, maintaining equipment and of course, checking the cows. Our herd is grazing on the neighbors very large pastures while we grow oats, so checking cows takes a bit more time. We spend the early mornings driving around looking for them. When we do finally find them, I have a list and take “roll call” so we can make sure everyone and their babies are present and accounted for.
Three days ago, we found everyone except for one of Cowboy’s girls that was STILL expecting. After driving around another 15 minutes or so we saw some of the neighbor’s herd. Rancher Dave shut down the Mule and I hiked down into a ravine where I heard some strange mooing. Sure enough, there was Diamond with a brand new little heifer calf that was still steaming. She must have just been born and she was a big bright eyed girl.
I stayed to make sure she would get up and nurse while Rancher Dave went back to the Holler to call Cowboy and Linda and let them know they had a new calf on the ground. About 15 minutes later, I heard a Mule (Cowboy and Linda have one as well) and I ran up the ravine to show them where the new baby was hidden. I must have been 30 feet from them and I was yelling and waving my shirt over my head, but they didn’t hear me over the Diesel engine and went flying by! Another ten minutes went by and I heard them coming back on the other end of the ravine. I ran down to the bottom but it was pretty tree covered so again, they didn’t see me, and again they went flying by! Finally, Rancher Dave came back and they saw his Mule and followed him to put eyes on their newest herd member. Never a dull moment out here.
Switching gears, I have been doing a lot of running and hiking to train for an upcoming bucket list trip. My brother and I are going to hike the Grand Canyon, North Rim to South Rim, in August. The time of year isn’t ideal, but somehow we secured reservations at the very hard-to-get dorms at the Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Canyon. See the link below for some fun information about the place.
The only dates we could get were in August, so we will brave the heat and do this once in a lifetime trip. It is 24 miles of hiking so I have been trying to put in some miles. The other morning I was running on a trail near the Holler. I heard something go flying by my head and saw it was a diving black bird. Then it came back to reattack. If anyone was watching me from a distance they must have thought I was having a seizure or was being possessed by some evil dancing spirit as I tried to shoo the crazy bird away from my head. The bird followed me for about a quarter mile, swooping and attacking the whole time. I thought about picking up a handful of rocks to defend myself but eventually it left me alone. The only thing I could think was that I was wearing a bright yellow shirt and that bird had some sort of vendetta against Sesame Street and mistook me for Big Bird. Things flying by….ha ha!
This week I also hiked to the top of Harney Peak, the highest point east of the Rockies in the continental US. It was a beautiful day and a tough hike, but I wasn’t hurting too bad the next day so I feel like I’m making some progress in my training.
That’s about it for now on the Holler. We are looking forward to cutting, raking and baling hay in the next few weeks. The oats are getting tall and the alfalfa looks like it could bloom at any minute.
We are expecting some normal summer weather, high 80’s, in the next week and that will really make things grow. We are about to get really busy, and I’m sure we will blink and say, “Wow, summer really is flying by!” And shortly after that, “Look at all that snow flying by!”
9 June 2019 – Sunny and forecast to be 65 (but it was 33 this morning!)
It has really greened up on the Holler since my last post.
The calfies are getting BIG! Especially the ones that were born in early April.
And here is the newest edition to the herd. Smudge had a cute little bull and Linda is calling him June Bug.
Our calves are spread too far out in age to hold a single roundup, so we elected to drive the first 10 to the vet for branding, castrations and inoculations. We had already moved the herd to the pasture we call the “Hide Out” so we had to drive them back to the High Lonesome where we have the ability to separate and load the calves.
Our herd is pretty gentle and we really didn’t have much trouble doing this. Rancher Dave and Cowboy Dave took the babies to the vet and Linda and I stayed behind listening to the Mamas pitch a fit for about 3 hours. They did NOT want to lose track of their babies.
The vets did a great job, and the two Daves did the branding.
They all reunited later that afternoon as Cowboy Dave and Rancher Dave drove the trailer of babies back to the hideout. The moms heard their babies mooing and ran after the trailer back into that pasture.
Leading the moms up the road
“Let our babies out!”
Shiner the camera hog
Other than moving cows around too many times, we have been busy working on farm equipment and keeping up with the landscaping. At the last post we had nearly a foot of snow, but here we are the 2nd week of June and we have already mowed the lawn twice in one week!
The garden is planted (VERY LATE) and we are hoping that there is still season enough left to get some good tomatoes and peppers. It’s pretty cool still, so the lettuce seems to be doing the best so far. I’ve also got some flowers going in this cool planter Dave built for me.
The bees don’t seem to be thriving like they were at this time last year. There are plenty of wildflowers for them to visit, but when I opened the hive, there were just not that many bees in there. I don’t hold high hopes for a lot of honey this year, but the things I don’t know about bees could fill up the Grand Canyon.
And so it goes, the spring is almost gone and we will be cutting oats in the very near future. Then we will be baling and stacking hay. By the way, we got the hay loft in the barn completed.
And before I go, I wanted to write a blog on D-Day, but we were busy and it didn’t get done. Let me just say how grateful I am to be an American and for my freedom. Thank you to all the veterans, and especially to those brave men that stormed Normandy 75 years ago. The only thing we can say is Thank You.
Hey out there! It’s Throw-back Tuesday. Here’s a picture of winter on the Holler.
Oh wait, that picture is from today. That’s right. We are in the middle of a late spring blizzard. We already have eight inches of snow on the ground and are forecast to get at least eight more tonight. Winter just won’t quit. We did have a little taste of spring last week with a few days in the upper 70s and low 80s. Stupidly, I washed and put away all of our winter gear. Mother Nature must have taken this as a taunt and now I’m paying for it.
But that is just how it goes. Mountain weather in the springtime. Meanwhile, the cows are still requiring hay because they can’t forage through all this white stuff. The woodshed is definitely a lot more empty than we expected it to be by now. Also, I am praying the one remaining beehive survives this bout of cold and moisture. The moisture should be very good for all the oats we planted, though.
Since I last wrote, two more calves have been born. Puzzle had her baby, a bull named Riddle. And of course, in the middle of the snow storm yesterday Freida decided to calf. She also had a bull named Freddy Prinze. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get a good picture of either of them yet because the Moms have been hiding out from the snow storm.
One warm day last week I went for a hike down Sunday Gulch near Sylvan Lake. I had read on a trail review that it was rated “difficult” and I assumed that meant it was really steep. I was up for the challenge but now realize now that “difficult” means very rocky with lots of streams to cross and boulders to climb.
The starting point
A snow bank in the tunnel
A stream to cross
Steep stairs to climb
Add a lot of melting snow and running water to these obstacles and it made for a really adventurous hike. The trail is a big loop with the two trailheads beginning at the lake. I hiked it in a clockwise direction and I didn’t see a soul until I neared the end back at the lake. When I got to the trail end which would have been the counter-clockwise trailhead, I had to climb under a barrier that said, “TRAIL CLOSED”. That’s me, the accidental rebel.
Today, Rancher Dave, Sheriff Joe and I are holed up in the house watching the snow. We’ll venture out a few times to check on cows and to fill up the wood tote so we can keep the stove going. Fortunately, the days are getting really long so our solar power is doing great. We had to scrape snow off of the panels this morning, but it is not cold enough for the snow to stick to them now so we aren’t worried about power.
Coming up, we are looking forward to some warmer weather and a chance to get back to work. We have to do some mower repairs, some corral repairs to get ready for round-up, and before you know it we will be cutting and baling hay. I’m just hoping we don’t have to shovel snow off of it first!
30 April 2019 – Snowing and blowing, and 29 degrees
Advanced warning: a long blog ahead due to a lot of happenings and a long time since the last post. In the words of Mark Twain, “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”
April has been a really, really long month at the Holler. After the first two calves were born exactly on time, the calving season took some strange and awful twists. I wrote in the last blog about BlackJack #21 and Catch #22, so I will try to summarize what happened since then.
The next cow to calve was Hunny, and she gave birth with ease to a beautiful little heifer which we named Andie. Hunny calved like she always has; with ease and overnight without supervision. She is an excellent mother.
We had been checking cows several times a day, keeping a close eye on the remaining heifers that we hoped wouldn’t calve for a few more weeks, but as I previously wrote, there had been a random bull wandering through our pastures and we couldn’t be sure of their breeding dates.
On Monday, Tax Day, April 15th, Rancher Dave and I were up early and out the door to feed and check cows. We put out the food and noticed that we were one cow short. Almost immediately after noticing this, we saw Cherry Bomb (one of the questionable heifers) running down out of the woods to eat. From her backside, it was obvious that she had calved but we didn’t see a baby anywhere. We drove through the woods and found a barely breathing little calf. There was no way to determine when she was born but two things were clear: 1. She was struggling. 2. Cherry Bomb was more interested in breakfast than anything we did to the calf.
Dave tried his best to dry her off while I tried to push Cherry Bomb toward her and away from the herd and breakfast. I was completely unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Cowboy Dave and Linda came out to see if they could help. They brought a shot of Vitamin B that gives newborn calves some energy to get up and eat. They also brought a sled to drag the calf inside if necessary. The shot didn’t do anything. The poor little girl bellered a few times but did not jump up and look for food as we have seen calves do in the past. We put her in the sled and drug her in front of Cherry Bomb, hoping she would follow her newborn away from the herd and give her some much needed attention.
After a lot of trying we eventually got the new baby and Cherry Bomb into a warm shed in the barn. Unfortunately, the Mom didn’t seem to care too much about the baby and seemed confused and in horror about the whole birthing incident. We decided to bottle feed the new calf some colostrum since her Mom would not do it.
As a side for all of you Hoten Holler Follerers that are not cow people, colostrum is a compound found in cows’ milk immediately after they give birth. A calf needs this in at most 2 hours after being born to ensure that they have a solid immune system. Two hours after birth, the calf’s stomach lining improves to the point that the colostrum won’t be absorbed and they will have a compromised immune system for their whole life, which means their whole life won’t be very long!
So we mixed up the colostrum and put it in a bottle and I held that baby in my lap as Rancher Dave tried to squeeze the mixture into her mouth. Her mouth was cold and dry. She was minimally responsive, giving a very weak moo here and there but unable to hold up her tiny head. We rubbed her and rubbed her and tried to get her to swallow, but she just didn’t make it. It was so sad.
Moving forward, we decided to keep our remaining heifers in a paddock where we could keep a close eye on them. We assumed 2 hour shifts throughout the evenings. Since all the cows are at the High Lonesome, Cowboy and Linda would do the midnight shift before going to bed and I would go at 2AM, Rancher Dave would go at 4AM and Cowboy was always up at 6AM which is after feeding time normally.
On the 18th, at 2AM one of the Heifers, #111 which we call Triple Sticks, seemed in intense pain and went off by herself. I watched her for about 10 minutes and convinced myself she was about to calve. I radioed Rancher Dave and said, “I’m coming home to get you, I think she’s about to calve so let’s watch together in case there is any trouble.” Sleepy Rancher Dave got up and we returned to the High Lonesome by the light of the almost full moon to keep an eye on Triple Sticks. We took turns napping in the truck in the 30 degree weather and checked on her with the spotlight about every 15 minutes. At about 3:30 AM, Dave turned on the headlights of the truck and we could see a little white face next to the big white face of Triple Sticks. She had calved and immediately the little bull calf was up and nursing. Fantastic! We named him Moonshine. We call him “Shiner” because he has a white face and one big black eye.
The next day, the 19th and Good Friday, another heifer #112 which we call the Dirty Dozen, went into labor in the middle of the night. At the 2AM shift she looked pretty uncomfortable so I watched her until about 2:45. She hadn’t moved or got up or seemed like she was in pain so I went back to the Holler, knowing Rancher Dave would be out there in an hour or so. At 4AM, Rancher Dave went back to check on her and she had calved a beautiful baby heifer. It was Good Friday so we called her Goody. In the daylight the next day we noticed she had two white back feet so we revised the name to Goody Two Shoes.
Goody seemed just fine. When Rancher Dave saw her at 4AM she was up and nursing on her Mom. The next morning, Saturday, at the morning feeding and cow check, we once again noticed a missing cow. Domino, an older cow with plenty of birthing experience, was laying off in the woods with her newborn calf. It was a heifer and we named her Fatz. She was doing great and Domino is an old and experienced mother. We looked in at the heifer’s and newly calved mothers in the paddock and all was well. Goody and Moonshine were both nursing in the morning and up and bouncing about like new best friends.Goody was still a little bit wet so Rancher Dave toweled her off and her mom, the Dirty Dozen just stood there watching him and waiting for her own head scratch. These are some very tame cows.
We were still watching #114, Valentine.
Saturday afternoon, while Cowboy Dave and Rancher Dave were disking and planting one of the fields, I took Sheriff Joe to the High Lonesome where Linda and I were going to let all the dogs go swimming in the pond. When I arrived, Valentine was beginning to calf. I radioed Rancher Dave and he and Cowboy came right down to the pasture where we watched Valentine pace around in labor. Poor Valentine really seemed to be struggling and eventually she laid down and pushed with all her might. The calf was huge so Rancher Dave ran into the pasture and gave it a good tug.
Valentine had a beautiful little girl which we dubbed “Cupid.”
Cupid was up and nursing in no time and feeling relieved about all the heifer births, Linda and I took the dogs to the swimming hole.
Life was great and beautiful on the ranch. It was a fantastic and extremely warm day and when we returned from the swimming hole all the calves were resting with their respective mothers. That was around 2PM. At 3:30 PM Rancher Dave and I returned to the High Lonesome to check cows and feed for the afternoon. We went to the paddock to count our three new calves but Goody was dead.
We were all in shock. This was a terrible event that was completely unpredictable. Considering that we had already lost Cherry Bomb’s calf, Rancher Dave and I decided there must be something wrong and called the vet. Our Vet is incredible and even though it was the Saturday before Easter, she agreed to meet us at the clinic at 7PM and do a necropsy to help determine what may have killed the calf.
We loaded Goody into a large cooler and iced her down per the Vet’s instructions. The vet did the necropsy right there on the tailgate of Dave’s truck and immediately determined that Goody’s lungs were full of foam indicating pneumonia. She had a full belly of milk so her Mom, the Dirty Dozen had been doing her job, but she had acquired pneumonia and it killed her.
Rancher Dave and I returned to ranch in the early evening hours. We had to divide and conquer. On the vet’s orders we had to quarantine the two calves that had been in Goody’s vicinity, so I drove to the High Lonesome to close some gates and isolate them. Meanwhile, Rancher Dave had to take the calf carcass to an area on the ranch we call the boneyard. He had been there two days earlier to drop off Cherry Bomb’s calf and had to return to the somber scene to leave Goody. It was awful.
Our Easter Morning was ridiculously busy. Per the Vet’s recommendation, we decided to vaccinate the rest of the calves against some pneumonia causing bacteria with a vaccine that we had to inject up their little noses. The catch was you had to mix the vaccine and administer it within one hour after mixing or it would not work. At the time, we had the two remaining heifer calves in the paddock, Moonshine and Cupid. The rest of the calves were in the field and needed to be rounded up. To complicate matters, Moonshine and Cupid were to be quarantined and any nose to nose contact with the other calves was prohibited.
We all went to work. Rancher Dave and I set up cattle panels to prevent any nose to nose contact. Cowboy and Linda worked to make sure there was water in every separate location for cows and calves. Once the facilities were set, we discussed the plan. First we would isolate all the cows from their mothers so we could vaccinate them without interference and before the vaccine expired. The only problem was the old cow, Domino, who had calved Fatz out in the field was not willing to come into the corral. We considered that Fatz was one day old and Domino is extremely tame so we planned on just tackling her in the field.
We corralled up the rest of the herd and separated Black Jack, Catch and Andy from their moms who were not real happy with us. Then we captured Moonshine and Cupid in a separate pen. We decided to give Cupid an antibiotic shot since she looked very low energy and the vet had recommended if either her or Moonshine looked dull that it wouldn’t hurt them and protect them from the possible bacteria that had caused pneumonia. . We mixed the vaccine and administered it up the little calf noses of everyone without incident except for Catch 22. That little bull was not having it, and he repeatedly charged head first into the gate that was containing him. This may sound silly since he was only about 10 days old but he could have easily broken any one of our legs. He is STRONG! Cowboy decided he would rope him and Rancher Dave tackled his front while Cowboy held his back and I shoved the vaccine up his angry little nose!
The next obstacle was getting to Fatz in the field before the time was up. Cowboy, Linda and Rancher Dave sneaked up on her from three different directions while I lured away her mother, Domino, with a bucket of cow cake. Domino is so tame and she was hungry so she came away with me without a thought about her baby. Meanwhile, Cowboy roped Fatz’s leg and Rancher Dave tackled her and they not only vaccinated her but put in her ear tag! Now that’s a rodeo.
All the calves were vaccinated and the four of us congratulated ourselves because of our performance. We had over 30 minutes left on the clock. It wasn’t a typical Easter egg hunt, but it was a memorable Easter morning. I had planned to cook Easter supper for all of us and Linda said, “Let’s just do Easter supper on Monday.” I said, “No! The house is clean, it probably won’t be tomorrow! Let’s just do it tonight!” And we did, and we had a great Easter supper and mourned our little Goody together and celebrated the victories we had had that week and that life is mostly good on the ranch.
The next day, we immediately noticed that Moonshine, one of the quarantined calves, was pretty dull. While the other young calves were up and running about and kicking and bucking, he was lying quietly off on his own and not nursing. We watched him all day and while he did nurse, he just seemed sick and laid around with no energy. In the afternoon he began panting which is a tell-tale sign of pneumonia. We took his temperature (which shouldn’t be easy to do for a young calf, but he gave not dispute) and he had a little fever. We administered him an antibiotic shot, once again without any sort of battle or even protestation….not normal.
We watched him lay around and it appeared he was going to die because he was just laying there audibly wheezing.. Of course this all happened late in the afternoon and our vets were no longer in the office. We called one of our neighbor’s vets who made house calls. The doc came out and took his temperature and listened to his lungs.
He said he did NOT have pneumonia. He thought his trachea was swollen possibly from eating grass or dirt, and that it could be the lead-in to diphtheria. UGH!!! He gave him an anti-inflammatory and said to keep an eye on him. Every day that little guy just lays around panting, but in the mornings and evenings he gets up and nurses and bucks around a little, but not like the other calves.
Rancher Dave went out and watched him one morning and said he doesn’t nurse like the other babies. Instead of latching on to one teat, he goes from teat to teat to teat and tries to get milk from each. We decided to put him in with Dirty Dozen, the mom that lost Goody, since Dirty Dozen’s bag is still large and full of milk.
She protested at first but then we watched him nurse her bag dry. We did this for several days in isolation and in the hopes that eventually she would nurse him in the open. This had not happened after about two days and we discovered that instead of nursing him, the other baby in the quarantine, Cupid, was nursing off Dirty Dozen and not off of her mom, Valentine! So in another attempt to get that guy some more nutrition, we mixed up milk replacement and bottle fed him. He did not go for it and finally showed some signs of life and ran and started nursing his true momma.
After the quarantine was up we released all the new moms and babies out with the rest of the herd. We were at our wits end about what to do about that dull little Moonshine, but he obviously is getting some food because he is getting bigger and stronger every day. It seemed like being in the herd was exactly what he and Cupid needed. Both calves were more energetic than we had seen them when confined, however, their lazy mothers went off and left them one afternoon and both of them wandered back to the paddock and were mooing looking for their moms. Moonshine even escaped under the barbed wire and wandered out into the National Forest. Rancher Dave and I shooed him back onto the High Lonesome and this time he bellered and his mother finally came to see about him. These cows are driving us nuts!
The day we released the quarantined girls out into the herd, Marzee, our giant red cow decided to calve. She was a champ calving in the afternoon (not 3AM!) and getting her gigantic baby out and up and nursing in less than an hour. This is her baby, a heifer we named Lucky because she is number seven.
A day later, we tagged Lucky and watched again in the afternoon as Patsy decided to have her calf. She was not the pro that Marzee was and walked all over the pasture, but once the baby was born it was up and nursing and also a strong little heifer. Cowboy and Linda named her Countess because her tag is #123….counting 1, 2, 3. Sorry, no pictures of Countess yet.
Today, we rounded up the two new babies and separated them from their mommas to give them the nasal injection vaccination to prevent pneumonia. It is a rodeo every day out here separating cow/calf pairs and tackling these strong babies. This part is still fun for us, as long as nobody else gets sick!
1 May 2019 – SNOWING and 30 degrees!
I am finishing this blog up this morning, mostly because it is wet and miserable outside and there isn’t much work that we can do. We did find Moolah at 6AM this morning after she had just calved. Her baby, Mitzy, was laying in the snow so we put her in the sled and drug her to the barn with Moolah following right behind. Moolah is a good Mom and was nursing her baby shortly with no incident. We are keeping them inside for shelter.
We are pretty tired because in between all the cow chaos we have been disking and planting, trying to get oats in the ground for our short South Dakota growing season. I guess we should be grateful for the snow and moisture, but we are so worried about our herd that it’s hard to appreciate it. We remind ourselves that there are many surrounding cattle ranches where the cows are out in the field without shelter and they do just fine even in this late spring cold weather.
We have seven calves to go, if all goes well. It is supposed to be in the 50’s and 60’s for the next week. Smooth sailing, right?
8 May 2019 – Cloudy and snow flurries
Here I am again, delaying getting this blog out. Although it is snowing and blowing, all of our calves seem to be doing really well, even Moonshine. We are still waiting on the seven remaining calves. In other news, we finished disking and planting all the fields.
One more sad piece of information. One of the beehives did not survive the winter. I thought we were home free since there was a lot of bee activity in both hives at the end of April, but I guess there was just one cold snap too many and I discovered a giant pile of dead bees in front of my original hive.
I am still witnessing activity in the newer hive, although this current round of snow is preventing any of them from venturing outside. If they can just hang in there, spring is coming! Everything is turning green and there are lots of little flowers and dandelions for the bees to harvest.
I’ll try to do better about posting this month. We hope everyone out there in the real world is having a great May so far!
It appears our bomb-cyclone-avoiding luck has run out. We are sitting in the middle of a nasty winter storm today, complete with freezing rain, snow, and 40mph winds. The snow isn’t really sticking so it doesn’t look that bad in the pictures, but it is fairly unpleasant outside for April.
Despite the weather, Rancher Dave is out in Babe, the tractor, disking up the fields. He said it is actually the perfect temperature for disking since the ground is kind of wet, but the dirt is too cold to clump up on the disks. He is pretty cozy in the tractor cab and said he even has to keep one of the windows cracked to prevent from getting too warm.
Hooking up the disk
View from Babe
A freshly disked field….bring on the oats
We had such fantastic luck with oats last year that we decided to plant more this year. Rancher Dave called the seed store in Rapid and went down there to buy a pallet of Goliath Oats. When he got there, he paid the guy and went down to the warehouse to pick up the pallet. Unfortunately, they had made a mistake and didn’t have any oats in the warehouse! They made it right and delivered the pallet to our barn to make up for the trouble. This all happened on April Fool’s Day so Rancher Dave thought he could pull a good joke on me about the whole debacle. When he got home from Rapid I saw his truck coming up the drive so I went to put on my boots and work gloves so I could help him unload. When I got up to the barnyard, I saw him standing next to the empty trailer with his head in his hands and he said, “I lost the pallet! It must have fallen off somewhere between here and Rapid!” Normally I would not fall for these shenanigans but I was completely caught off guard that day. I said, “Oh no! I’ll go call the Highway Patrol and see if they’ve seen it!” My fear was that it would have killed someone if they hit a giant pallet full of oats, and also my mind began racing about how in the heck we would reload it if we did find it. Then Dave said, “April Fools!” Ha ha…nice one Dave. Just remember paybacks are hell! So my plotting begins, Bwahahahahaha.
We were hoping to get the oats in the ground before this big round of moisture, but they were just delivered yesterday afternoon, so it will have to wait. Last year we got them planted on the 16th of April so we aren’t too late yet.
Meanwhile, calving season has commenced. On the 5th of April, and exactly on schedule, Dairy Queen calved a cute little bull which we named BlackJack. He is the 21st cow we have out here now thus the name.
DQ is a fantastic first-time mom and is constantly licking and grooming the little guy. He is super strong already and every morning goes zooming and kicking around the pasture.
Three days later, Rosie calved a little bull in the wee hours of the morning. This is her 5th baby and she snuck off in the early AM to give birth by herself. He brings the herd total to 22 so we named him “Catch 22.”
We have separated the new moms and babies from the rest of the herd for a couple of days, and now that the weather is so awful, they are in one of the barn corrals where they have some shelter from the freezing rain. We also corralled Honey because she really looks like she could have her baby at any moment. The rest of the herd has access to a big loafing shed and another covered pen. We are really hoping no one decides to calve until Friday when the wind and moisture will subside and the warmer temperatures will return. According to our records, no one else should calve until the 24th because they weren’t exposed to our bull before that. There were a few “traveling salesmen” bulls that wandered through our pastures last spring, and if anyone calves in the next few days the timing could mean that one of those bulls was the responsible party. We did have Rosie and Dairy Queen in with our bull, Koozy, when we first bought him last summer, so we know for sure that Black Jack and Catch are his kids. Nice job, Koozy! Get that bull a cigar!
Time keeps speeding by and we can hardly believe we are already in the middle of April.. I wanted to write a blog post on the 31st of March because it was the three year anniversary of the day that Dave and I left Florida with the U-haul full of our things and headed out toward our new lives here in the Black Hills!. I missed the date because the weather was too nice to be inside writing a blog. Dave and I did celebrate with a fancy box of wine. We are both amazed at the amount of things we have learned and experienced in just three short years, and our only regret is we didn’t start this adventure sooner. We can’t wait to see what will happen in the next three years. I’m sure it will go by in the blink of an eye, and I can tell you I am already looking forward to the next April Fool’s Day. Look out, Dave!