Sunday, January 29, 2012


There was a time in my life when a trip to town was an eagerly anticipated event.  It only came once or twice a month, and was a real break in the routine. 

While working for wages on a ranch, a guy only got paid once a month, and it was usually at least an hour’s drive to town.  We bought all the food we needed for the next month, and bought clothes with what little was left.  At times I had furs to sell, and the kids always scrounged up pop cans to trade for spending money, and going to town was a big deal.

My life has changed some over the years.  At times I’ve lived closer to town, and for a while I actually lived in small towns.  But my preference has always been to live as far away as I can where it is quiet and peaceful.  Going to town is a necessity – not a pleasure trip.  And especially now with the internet, I can find much of what I want faster, easier, and cheaper on-line.  So once a week is plenty – unless I have a break-down and have to run in for parts.

The county Cattlewomen’s banquet was Thursday night over at Clyde Park, so I left the ranch early enough in the afternoon to accomplish some other business. I needed some 16’ posts and rails to finish up in the calving shed, so I hooked up to the flatbed trailer.

I left the loaded trailer at the postyard and drove on into town.  Next stop was the tire shop to have a couple of flats repaired.  Then the parts store for some oil filters and a battery.  I picked up a mailing envelope at the office supply store, then went up the street to the post office to mail some bills and a book to my daughter in Kentucky.  The accountant was next on the list.  There were some things to pick up at the hardware store and the drug store, then a stop at the grocery store for some fresh fruit and vegetables.  Batteries from the electronics store, a quick stop at the liquor store, and then pick up the repaired tires on the way to the glass shop.  My timing was just right to get me to the social hour just ahead of the banquet.

I understand why people want to live in the country, and I love living where I work.  I don’t have much sympathy, however, for people who want to have a house in the country but have their work and their lives in town.  About 10 years ago I was running a place out of Bozeman for a fellow from Silicon Valley, and I did some work on setting up a special improvement district to pave the last mile of road into the ranch.  During my research on the subject of roads, I came across and interesting statistic: the average suburban family makes four trips to town every day!

It was doing that same research that I found another interesting statistic:  a farmer/rancher receives 60¢ in services on every dollar he pays in taxes, while the suburban homeowners receive $1.60.  Yet these ex-urban country-dwellers are the people who panic when the power goes out or when snow blocks the road. 

I figure that if you can’t handle being marooned at home for a few days, then you don’t have any business living in the country.  It’s MY taxes that paid for that road and the snowplow, and I’m not in any hurry to get to town - I've been there this week already.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ranch Aerobics

My wife was raised on a ranch, yet has always had a town job.  Her work can be intellectually and psychologically demanding at times, and her day is not complete without a trip to the gym.  She exercises not only to burn off stress, but to keep herself fit and trim.  She often encourages me to go with her.
Now I’ll admit that the sight of all those taut, spandex-clad bodies would raise my heart-rate, but I get all the exercise I need without leaving the ranch.  This time of year it is feeding that keeps me in shape.  I load the pickup twice every morning, with thirty-four 75-pound bales.

That is two series of 34 reps each of both squats and curls.  And there are plenty of presses on the higher tiers, and the occasional clean and jerk.  When you figure in all the pushing, pulling, and re-adjusting, plus the cutting and pushing off each of those sixty-eight bales, I have exercised most of my muscles.

And it is aerobic.  Each load on the pickup doubles both my heart-rate and respiratory rate – not for the 3 times a week recommended by the American Heart Association, but twice a day, seven days a week!

As for stretching, I get that too.  It’s a stretch for me to climb onto a load of hay on a moving pickup.  And I often stretch to reach bales on the stack.  Any time I get on my half-Thoroughbred Kentucky Colt is quite a stretch for me!

Step-aerobics is mostly covered when I’m farming and haying: a guy is constantly up and down the steps of the tractor to move it up an inch, or back a little bit, or up or down to get lined  up with an implement.  And likewise up and down the steps of the baler to check the length and tension on the bales.

And then if a guy is desperate for exercise, there are always horses to shoe and posts to set.  If you think weight-lifting is work, try lifting that 25-pound digging bar for an hour, first getting the rocks and dirt out of the hole, then tamping it back in again.

Most modern ranchers, however, miss out on a lot of exercise.  Those big round bales require only a tug on the hydraulic lever.  (But notice that those guys who feed big round bales all have big round bellies.)

No thanks.  I don't need a gym.  As long as I live on a ranch I won’t have to pay to get my exercise.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

West Boulder History II

I began with some background history of the area in a previous blog - West Boulder History.  Now I will tell you about this particular piece of property.
As I said in that previous blog, William Elges filed for a homestead on 160 acres along the West Boulder River in 1896.  This filing was not on a square block, as you might imagine, but rather in an L-shape to take advantage of some excellent springs on a south-facing hillside, and to follow along the course of the river.  William had herded sheep as a youth in Germany, and he now began his own flock here on the West Boulder.  He was able to put up hay in the meadows along the river, and graze the sheep out on adjoining land owned by the Northern Pacific Railroad and on land held by the US government on which no homestead claim had been filed.
Although it was a long 25-mile trip to town with a team of horses, he wasn’t really alone in the wilderness – he was surrounded by homesteaders like himself.
There were many other sheep in the West Boulder, and William set up the first mechanized sheep-shearing plant in the area.  Each in their turn, neighbors trailed their sheep to the plant.  Power was undoubtedly supplied by a single cylinder engine driving a shaft through the plant to multiple stations where shears were attached to the power by jointed arms.

Wool was tramped into large burlap bags – visible piled under the shed (behind the two men) – which were then transported by team and wagon to the railroad at Big timber.
 In 1901 William satisfied the requirements of the Homestead Act, “proving up” on the land and gaining permanent title.
Somewhere around the turn of that century, a game young lady came out from Nebraska to visit her brother on his claim in the Beaver Creek area to the west of the Boulder River country.  She and William met – probably at a country dance – and were married in 1902.  The first of 11 children was soon to follow.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Now In Print!

            "Ain't this romantic?" hollered Steve from his position on the opposite flank of the handful of cattle we were struggling to push into the biting wind.
          "The best part is that there are no mosquitoes," I replied, pulling my neck-scarf up to cover my stinging cheeks.

          Steve Gordon and I were gathering a small group of two-year-old heifers with new calves which had been caught in an open field by a late winter storm.  The heifers were new to this business of motherhood and alternately ran away from the group in a tizzy, then returned bawling for their new babies.  The calves couldn't decide whether to follow the group, their mothers, the horses, or to just lay down where they were and hide.

          Our objective was to push the group into the shelter of the brush along lower Richardson Creek, but our erratic progress was further hampered by a north wind which was blowing snow into our faces at a temperature of 5o below zero.

And thus begins my newly published book Ain’t This Romantic!?! – Adventures of a Twentieth Century Cowboy, which is now available in print at the CreateSpace storeIt takes a few minutes to set up an account, but I’m sure it will be worth it for you. 

A reader from Yorktown, VA had this to say: 
As an Easterner who loves horses and nature, and is fascinated by the whole idea of "cowboys", but has no knowledge or experience with the latter, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The chapters are a series of vignettes, each describing events that happened to the author.
What's fascinating about the book is that, told from the person who lived the events (a day in the life of a cowboy), the book places the reader there as well. Being a cowboy on a ranch in Montana requires more skills than riding horses and roping; it's down-right hard work.

Read about the cow we roped out of the back of a pickup, the bull that blasted me with a fence post, and the mules that kicked me in the head.  Hear about run-aways, bucking horses, stampedes, snowdrifts - and the day I blew up the washing machine.

Here's some good winter reading!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Yo-Yo Temperature

As I said yesterday, the temperature dropped 30o over the course of the day.  I canceled an appointment with the accountant to put out straw for the cattle. 

It was still five below when I went out to feed this morning.  The cattle had been enjoying the straw I laid out for them yesterday, but came running when they saw the pickup.  They were eager to replace the calories they had burned off staying warm through the night.

Through the biting cold I caught a puff of warmer air as I stacked the last load on the pickup later in the morning.  I looked up and could see the air shimmering against the backdrop of the mountains around me.  This isn’t really Chinook country like the Rocky Mountain Front where I had lived for 20 years, but there was no doubt that there was warmer air blowing in.

When I returned to the house at 10:30 the thermometer read 17o – and in half an hour it was at 37o!  This was really fortunate as I had a mechanicing job to do, and you can’t handle tools well with mitts on.

My new fuel pump had been leaking, and it was getting worse.  I took advantage of the heat wave to fix it.  A short length of 3/8 rubber fuel line had deteriorated at the end so it was no longer sealing well.  I dug through my crate of hose, and pulled out a new piece.  Then I stirred through my can of hose clamps and found one the right size.

My hand tools, as well as all the rest of metal and tractors in the shed, had a thin layer of frost on them.  The moisture in the warmer air condensed on the metal that was still at zero.  I was able to work in cloth gloves to swap out the hose and tighten the connection on the metal fuel line.

There was a flat tire to change, and some salt & mineral to stack in the shed – both of these jobs made easier by the moderating temperature.  The cattle were enjoying the respite also.

The temperature continues to fluctuate – obviously we’re on the edge of two conflicting weather patterns.  It had dropped to 14o during the evening as I reconciled my checking account and made some phone calls, and it is back up to 33o at bedtime.  I sure hope the warm air wins!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Break Out the Mitts!

It was 27o this morning at dawn – not too bad for a winter day in Montana.  A gentle breeze was blowing, and there were patches of blue sky as the sun came up.  I went about my feeding as usual.  In fact, I got a little too warm as I loaded up the pickup, and actually broke a bit of a sweat.
But the clouds were closing in, and snowflakes began to fall. My hands got cold as I put off the last load of hay.  The weatherman was calling for snow and much colder – it was time to put out some straw for the cattle.

The loader tractor was in the calving shed – I would need it to load the big square straw bales that weigh 800 pounds apiece.  The temperature had been falling all morning - before setting out for the shed I swapped my gloves for mitts.

My winter mitts are elk-hide, with wool knit liners.  This is the first time I’ve worn them this winter.  But it is a half mile walk down to the shed where the tractor was parked, and it would be colder driving the tractor back.

I don’t believe in walking – that’s why God made horses.  But it would take more time to catch a horse than it would to walk down to the shed.  Imagine my disgust when the tractor refused to start and I had to walk all the way back!

On the next trip I took a pickup so that I could jump the tractor.  This time it started, and I drove the tractor back to the shop.

By noon the temperature was down to 5 above.  No wonder my hands were cold, and no wonder the tractor wouldn’t start.

After lunch I put a set of chains on the tractor, and swapped the bucket for a set of bale spears.  This rig was two-wheel-drive, and it was helpless in the snow without chains.  As two-wheel-drive pickups had been good enough for some 50 years, this tractor had been good enough for the last thirty-some.  But as all the newer pickups are four-wheel-drive, so are all the newer tractors -and with cabs to boot.  I had bought a used one a few years back - but now when I needed it, my four-wheel-drive tractor was in the shop.

With tire chains and bale spears mounted, I drove the tractor out to the straw-stack.  Now I had to walk back to the calving shed to retrieve the pickup I had used to jump the tractor.  That tallies up to about two miles I had to walk today!

It was down to zero with a swift breeze when I arrived in the first field with my load of straw.  The heifers came a-running.  They had cleaned up all their hay, and were looking for more.

I had given them a pretty stout feed that morning, and the hay was enough to satisfy their nutrient requirements.  But with the falling temperature they needed more fuel in order to stoke their internal furnaces.  Straw isn’t very nutritious, but the heat of digestion helps keep the cattle warm.  I gave them plenty so that they could bed down on whatever they didn’t eat, and thus insulate their bottom half from the frozen ground.

What snow we received earlier in the winter has all melted or blown away, and the fields are mostly bare.  What little snow we had today hasn’t amounted to much thus far.  But the temperature was at 5 below this evening, and will continue to drop through the night.  I am satisfied, however, that I have done what I can for the cattle.  They have full bellies and warm beds – just the same as me.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Return of Winter

We’ve been having an incredibly warm winter thus far – there has only been one day below zero here at the ranch.  There have been a few days in the 50s in January!  I hadn’t been feeding hay to the older cows – just letting them graze on the dry grass, with some lick supplement for extra protein and energy.

This week is looking more like what we expect: there has been a little snow, and temperatures into the single digits.  I’ve begun feeding all the cattle as much hay as they want.  We still haven’t had a real bout of arctic cold.

My son-in-law, Phil Veltkamp, runs a feedlot over in the Gallatin Valley, west of Bozeman. It was during one of those really cold snaps that he penned the following:

"The Perfect Winter Day"

You wake up early, start a pot of coffee, and glance out the window to notice a dusting of snow has fallen in the night.  You check the thermometer, it reads 10 below.  You throw another log on the fire so that when the kids get up the house will be warm.

You fill a thermos with coffee, bundle up and head out into the cold.  It's quiet and still.  You look up to see stars too numerous to count.  There is a bite on your cheek because of the cold, but you kind of like it.

You head over to start the feeding equipment.  You're not worried about it starting.  You planned for this cold snap.  You plugged the equipment in last night and put plenty of #1 in the diesel tanks.

By this time the help is starting to show up.  You have good help - really good help.  You do your best to take care of them because, they take care of you.

You load up your first load of feed and head into the feedlot.  By this time the sun is just coming up.  The cattle hear the diesel engines and start to stir in their fresh bedding piles.  You bedded heavy the day before because you saw this cold front coming.  The sun hits the black hides of the cattle and the steam rolls off them as they head to the bunks.  The feedlot is full.  That's a good thing.  It needs to be full in order to pay the bills.

The quiet morning turns into the hustle and bustle of the day.  One of your help runs the other mixer wagon.  Your pen rider just saddled a horse and heads deep into the first pen to check for health problems.  She's good at it.  You'd give her a raise if you could afford it.  You have several loads of hay show up that need to be unloaded.  A load of bawling calves show up that need to be processed.  You have to get the feeding done because the vet is going to be here early afternoon to bangs vaccinate a pen of replacement heifers.  The day is busy, and you're in charge.

You take a moment to be thankful for the health and strength to do this job you love and hope all the winter days are as perfect as this one.

Friday, January 13, 2012

West Boulder History

Things are pretty quiet at the ranch right now - the weather is relatively warm, yet the ground is too frozen to accomplish much of consequence.  With nothing else interesting to report, I'll use this opportunity to fill you in on some of the history of this ranch.  In this post I'll give you some background of the area in which it was located.

It is said that this area was first claimed by the Crow Nation about 1450 when they migrated from the Great Lakes area.  For some four hundred years the Crow lived relatively peacefully - hunting buffalo and engaging in war 'parties’ with their neighbors the Blackfeet, the Sioux, the Cheyenne, and the Arapaho.
A wave of European immigrants decided that they could put the lands of North America to better use than the Native Americans.  The colonists had already decimated millions of Indians on the east coast, and soon after Beethoven died in Germany the United States passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 pushing tens of thousands of Indians out of the southeastern U.S. and into “Indian Territory” in Oklahoma.
The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 assigned boundaries to the western lands held by various tribes – and now it’s time to get out your maps:
That first treaty “reserved” 38 million acres for the Crow, beginning at the headwaters of the Yellowstone River  (in what is now Yellowstone Park), down the Yellowstone to the Powder River (out past the present Miles City), back up the Powder River to what is now about the Wyoming border, and across to Yellowstone Park.  The land now held by Ellison Ranch is in the northwestern corner of this allotment, near where the Yellowstone crooks to the east toward Billings.
President Lincoln wasn’t so busy during the Civil War that he couldn’t attend to other business.  He signed the Homestead Act in 1862, which allowed persons to claim a parcel of 160 acres.  He also signed legislation granting land for three transcontinental railroads, including the Northern Pacific.  The railroad was given alternating mile-square sections of land for 12 miles on either side of the tracks to finance the building of the railway.
While the Civil War was going on in the United States and President Lincoln was giving away land, William Elges was born in Hanover Germany.  Remember this name.  It was he who later came to America and filed a homestead claim that was located in what was still Crow Country at the time of his birth, and within the corridor of the railroad that was soon to be constructed.  All of these play into the ranch legacy.
(Read more about the Crow Nation:
While William was a young man in Germany, Custer’s forces were wiped out at the Little Big Horn.  While he was completing his required military service in Germany, the Northern Pacific reached the Yellowstone River.  A Congressional Act  further “diminished” Crow lands - offering some compensation to the tribes that was “to be used for homes and farming and ranching needs” – while giving formerly Crow lands to the Northern Pacific for right-of-way.  (The Crow didn’t need so much land now anyway, as a smallpox epidemic had “diminished” the tribe from some 10,000 to about 2,000.)
William came to Montana from Germany in 1885, landing at Fort Benton and taking a job with a freighting company.  The freighting business in the U.S. was largely displaced by the new transcontinental railroads, and William left for the arctic driving one of two 10-mule rigs pulling two wagon-loads each of trade goods to the Eskimos.  When they could go no further with the wagons, they pushed on by packing the mules, finishing the trip with dog-sleds.
At the time William was working in the freighting business, he was looking the country over for a place to file a homestead, and the U.S. General Land Office was making the first survey of Montana.  
It was in 1896 that William Elges found a place to his liking, and he filed a homestead claim on the West Boulder River

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Winter Blast

We’re a little spoiled: there has only been one day below zero so far this ‘winter’.  In fact, we’ve recently had a couple of days into the fifties.  I used one of those days to cut out some stray cattle, and one of those days to finish burning the grass off a field that I will plow come spring.  I’ve been feeding hay to the heifers most days for the last month, but I’d only fed the older cows three times before yesterday.  There was no snow on the flats - only the remains of the drifts in the sheltered places.

The temperature was still in the forties yesterday morning, and after I fed the heifers I went down to the calving shed to set another post.  This post secured that portion of the wall from blowing in the wind, and supports the roof rafters along that section.  As warm as it has been there is no frost in the ground inside the shed – I may even get one more post set this winter.

The temp began to drop about noon, however, and the snow blew in.  I knew that the cows would be heading for cover rather than back out to graze, so I took them half a load of hay. 

The wind was blowing bitter cold and snow as I loaded back up, and I’d like to have had an ear-lap cap rather than my felt hat.  When the cows finished the hay they headed for the shelter of the patch of wild rye that is six feet tall.

By this morning the sky had cleared and the thermometer had dropped to ten degrees.  All the cattle had huddled down out of the wind, and they were sure glad to see me come with another load of hay.  A day of sunshine brought the temperature up to 20 degrees, and tommorrow promises to be even nicer.  There really is no “normal” weather in Montana.  A few years ago I was able to put off feeding hay until the first of February, and I was able to turn the cows out to grass in May.  The next year I had to begin feeding in November, and keep it up until June.  I put up enough hay this year to feed from January through May, and laid in enough straw to feed in December if the weather got bad.  The way things are going I will have enough hay to last all winter, and likely won’t need that straw this year at all.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Sixth Sense

We are all familiar with the five senses that modern science acknowledges: seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling.  And there has long been speculation about a sixth sense.  Having worked among animals all my life, I can assure you that this sixth sense exists, and that sense is more keenly developed in animals.
Sight is the reception of light energy by the eyes, carried to the brain by nerves, where it is interpreted.  Hearing is the reception of air movement in the ears.  Smell is conveyed by molecules in the air.  I suspect that the sixth sense has something to do with magnetism, and it functions at distances too great for the other five senses to perceive.
Humans must determine whether an electric fence is functioning by relying on meters.  Cattle and horses – normally easily contained by electric fence - are quickly able to discover a dead wire, and push right under it without fear.  Livestock are also able to sense the minute change in the earth’s magnetic field caused by a gate that is left open a mile or more away.
We humans like to believe that our brains make us superior to animals, but critters make a fool of me on a regular basis.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


There was a lame three-year-old out in the heifer field, and I saddled the buckskin mare to get her in.  You could see that a front foot was swollen, and I wanted to look for the source of the swelling.

The heifer didn’t give us much of a fight – we only had to spin around a couple of times to keep her headed the right direction.  It wasn’t long before we had her in the corral.  I had the gates set to run her on into the squeeze-chute.

That last six feet into the squeeze can be a bugger.  You must have the headgate open and be ready to catch her, but that puts you in a position where the cow won’t come forward.  If you move back to push her up, you can’t get to the headgate in time to catch her.  And that is another job that helps pay for Max’s dog food.

At my direction, Max will go down the side of the alley and reach through to get a bite of ribs. With that encouragement from the side, it isn’t long before that cow is ready to steam right on past me to get to the hole at the end of the chute.  Usually I am quick enough to slam it just ahead of her shoulders, and the cow is caught.

A side panel comes off to get to the feet, and I tied up the lame one to scrape all around with a hoof knife, looking for an abscess or puncture.  Nothing was apparent, but like any good doctor I administered a round of antibiotics.

Running that cow in for a pill twice a day gets old pretty fast, so I gave her some long-acting antibiotics that are good for a couple of days.  One was a liquid administered just under the skin with a big hypodermic gun.  The other was a handful of thumb-sized boluses down the throat with a “balling” gun.

When a cow is near home as this one was, it’s sure a lot easier to run her in a chute to doctor.  Further from home requires a horse or two.  I’ve treated lots of calves by roping, but cows and bulls are much harder for one man to handle.  The preferred method is for one man to “head” the critter with a loop around the neck, and the second man to “heel” with a loop around both hind feet.  With an animal stretched out between two horses, it can be doctored and turned back out, saving a long trip back to the corral.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Return Address

It’s been incredibly warm for a Montana winter – in the 40s all week, and into the 50s today.  The ground is usually frozen a couple of feet deep by now, but one of my neighbors up the Shields River was actually farming yesterday!

I had some horse-work to be done, and two of my horses needed to have their shoes pulled.  There couldn’t be a better day for it, so I ran the horses in.

Our horses – like the cows – are out in pasture, and haven’t needed any feed this winter.  To get them in we use the four-wheeler and a dog.  Both the horses and the dog know the game. 

Part of that game is for the dog to chase the mule and the mule to chase the dog, and part of the game is for the horses to make a break for it so that we have to gun the engines to turn them back.  They won’t admit it, but the horses look forward to both the game of being caught, and to getting out and working cattle.

The first task was pulling the overgrown shoes off the Kentucky Colt.  Most years I keep him shod with “sharp” shoes and snowball pads all winter.  But there isn’t much snow this winter, I don’t anticipate much need to ride him, and I now have the buckskin mare – who is shorter and quieter and easier to mount for an old man with a lot of clothes.  I may throw a set of sharp shoes on her when it snows again, so that I am not plumb afoot.

I had seen four extra cows in our herd on Monday.  They were obvious because our herd is all Red Angus, and these four were black – and also because three of those black cows were up on the hillside away from our cows.  I saddled the Kentucky Colt to gather those strays.

It’s a mile to the first gate, and from there I could see all four of those black cows – and they could see me.  As soon as I rode in to the field those cows headed west.  

I’d gotten used to having my son Ted as my wing-man.  I wasn’t sure just how I was going to cut these cattle out by myself.  But by the time I caught up with them at our west fence, our cattle were heading back east.  The black cows rather sorted themselves, and it didn’t take much riding to hold them up near the gate.

There were only two of our cows left in the bunch when I put them through into the neighbor’s field, and it was easy enough to cut those two back.  The four strays lined out west.  At the next fence the cows held up in the corner while I threw open the gate, then continued on west until we came to the neighbor’s corral.

We have a few black cows in our herd, and until I had these in the corral I hadn’t been close enough to see anything but their eartags.  I had recognized the cows that are ours, and left them back in our field.  The only black cattle nearby had been grazing in this field to the west, and I assumed these strays belonged with them.  When I finally had them in the corral I was able to read their brand: a reverse D with an E connected on the right shoulder.  When the cows were in the corral I texted the rancher who had black cattle on this place all summer, and gave him the brand.  I was halfway home when I received a text in reply, which said these cattle weren’t his.

It took a phone call to the brand office in Helena to determine the owner of these cattle:  they belong to a neighbor who borders our summer range over north.  And because these cattle were marked with a return address, they will soon be back home.

Some people think a hot-iron brand is cruel.  But it takes only three seconds to apply it.  I suspect that it takes much more time and pain for a tattoo.  And I know that my dog would suffer more stress from the trip to the vet to get a “chip” implanted.

Were these cows to be found by a “rustler” and hauled into an auction-yard for sale, the rustler would have wasted his time.  Because these cows have the return address of their owner, and the check would have been delivered to him – no matter who it was that hauled them to the stock-yard.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Warm Wind

A warm wind blew for most of last week.  It cut the snow enough that I was able to do some more burning in the hayfield I plan to plow up in the spring.
The basis for most hayfields in Montana is a wonderful plant called Alfalfa.  Not only is it tremendously productive, but it regrows quickly after each cutting, and deposits nitrogen out of the air into the soil – and nitrogen is the main nutrient for grass.  But it slowly dies out, and for peak production it should be re-seeded every 8-10 years.
Last year’s stubble is usually a problem when it is torn up by a plow.  It generally leaves piles of trash in the field that take months to break down.  But if a guy burns it off first, a plow pulls through nicely and leaves a good seedbed.
Burning can be pretty scary, however.  It’s hard to contain the flames to just the intended field.  I’ve set fires in this field several times this winter, each time under different weather conditions: once with a southwest wind, once when it was calm and moist, and this week with a northwest breeze.  Each time I depended on the weather to minimize movement of the flames in dangerous directions.
I’m still training on my Arab mare.  I took her outside the corral and down through the field last week.  The wind had been blowing steadily all week, however, and it was making us all jumpy.  When a gust of 50 MPH blew up her skirts this mare had enough and went to bucking.  She bucked my hat off, and it lit the first time 50 feet away.  I watched it roll another 50 feet, and was satisfied that it had come to rest in the pond.
We were still a ways from the barn, and it took a while to nurse her back into the wind.  Then I had to go looking for my hat afoot.  
This is an exceptional horse.  She is taking far more time and effort to bring her along, but she is lighter in the mouth and longer in the stride than anything I have ridden in a long time.  Even as green as she is, she follows me out of the field and into the barn and now stands quietly as I bridle and saddle her.  But I still have to hobble her to get her to stand quietly while I mount.
I am now using a lead-rope for a hobble.  After passing around one foot I take a couple of twists, then around the other foot, with a sort of chain-stitch knot, and pass the end of the rope through the stirrup.  When I am aboard, I can pull the end of the rope and loosen her feet, then loop the rope over the horn to carry along with me for the next time I mount.
The balmy weather was interrupted Friday night by a snow-squall that dropped the temperature - as well as four inches of new snow.  But it was crowding 50o today, and that warm wind really cut that new snow.
This weather sure does save on the hay-pile!  The heifers have come in for feed every day since Christmas, but I’ve left the cows alone with their grass and lick.  I had bought a semi load of straw to feed in December, and haven’t touched it.
 The straw is lower quality feed than hay, and costs half as much.  But it is good to stoke the fires of the rumen when it is cold, and also excellent insulation from the frozen ground when the temperatures are below zero.  We haven’t had any seriously cold weather yet this winter when that straw would be advantageous, so it sits in the stack.  It’s a long well until June, however, and we’ll undoubtedly use some during calving to bed up the calves.