Friday, October 4, 2013

Knee Deep!

We expect snow in October – that’s why I put a set of snowball pads on my horse when I reset his shoes this week.  But knee deep? 

It began snowing Wednesday night, and there were 5” of heavy wet snow in the morning.  I shoveled the walk.  By evening there were 15”, and I shoveled again.

When I awakened this morning the power was off.  I never understood how a house that is this far from town could be all-electric, but with no power we had no heat – and no coffee.

It was a struggle to make the 100 yards to the tractor through snow that came over my knees.  Then I had to sweep that 20” of snow of the tractor and cycle the glow-plugs twice to get it running.  It was even a struggle for the tractor to pull through that snow, and it bucked and pitched its way as I broke a trail from the bunkhouse for Ted to walk to the main house.

The generator was still sitting down in the calving shed from last spring.  It is too wide to ride in the tractor bucket, so I had to bolt on a couple of the long teeth that we use for handling hay.  Climbing off the tractor to open and close gates on the way to the shed drove the snow up under my overalls and over my boot-tops.  My gloves were quickly soaked with the wet snow, as the temperature was sitting right around freezing.

I had to lock the differential on the tractor to pull the modest hill from the calving shed, and make several runs to get up to the garage, where I unloaded the generator and pulled the rope.  It hadn’t been used since last year, so required a shot of starting fluid to fire.  But it was out of gas.

On the way up to the shop I met a string of cattle that were looking for some feed.  I led them back down through the field, opening and shutting three more wire gates – one of  which had been grown over with grass before it was buried by two feet of drifted snow.  There was enough tall old grass along the ditches and fences in that next field for those cows to make out.  We’d have had to haul fresh batteries up to the bulldozer and spent the rest of the day plowing  to have fed them hay.

Back at the shop I pulled off the hay teeth with numb fingers, and grabbed a couple of gas cans – this time fighting my way with that big tractor to get to the gas tank. 

Finally I arrived back at the garage and fired up the generator.  A friend had recently installed a transfer panel and run a heavy cord out into the garage to connect the generator to a few essential circuits.  In minutes the furnace and the coffee-maker were running.

I had set out some sourdough the night before, and by 10:00 we were sitting down to a fresh hot batch of frybread, washed down with fresh-ground coffee.

As we ate we watched through binoculars as a drama played out on the county road.

A pickup was struggling up the road slowly through the snow.  When he got to our mailbox he could go no further.  But soon we spotted road graders plowing the road from both Big Timber and Livingston sides.  The FedEx truck was right behind the Livingston grader, and weaseled his way past the machines as they each turned around for the return trip.

A UPS truck seemed to gotten stuck in the snow-berm thrown up by the grader, so a suburban turned around to pull him out.

By afternoon the sun was bright and the air had warmed to 45o.  Water was dripping off the roof.

We had a ranch visitor who needed to get back to town, but her Explorer was no match for that snow.  When she and Ted were ready I hooked a tow-rope to their rig and pulled them up our drive the mile to the county road.

By the time I returned to the house, power had been restored and I could shut off the generator.

This much snow is not unusual for winter or spring this country, but not this early in the year, and not carrying so much moisture.  We’d have liked to connect the big tractor-mount snow-blower, but snow this warm and wet would just plug it up.  Warmer weather is forecast, and the ranch will be a sloppy mess for a few days. 

We received more moisture in this storm that we got all last winter put together.  And we already had a couple of inches of fall rain.  This is the start of an excellent mountain snow-pack, and enough soil moisture to make spring grass and a good crop of hay – something we haven’t had for a few years.

There are plenty of jobs that need to be accomplished yet before winter, but today wasn’t the day for any of them.  It is far too much work to do anything more outside in this snow. A good day for writing and bookwork.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Outside Circle

I made the outside circle today, and came home tired.  It would be fun to have a pedometer on my horse to see how much ground we really covered.

We had used the pickup to take salt out to the cows in the far north field earlier this week, but couldn’t see several important features: what the grass is like over on Mendenhall Creek, and how much water is in Elges Creek.  You can’t get there on wheels – only on a horse.
During that salting trip I spotted red cattle in neighboring fields both to the west and to the east.  Probably 75% of the cattle in our area are Black Angus.  Ours are Red Angus, which stick out in a neighboring bunch.  So it was time to saddle up.

Of course I took the “Kentucky Colt”.  Out of a Quarter Horse mare, by my daughter’s running Thoroughbred stud, and raised here on the West Boulder, this horse can cover more country than most any other horse.  He had lost a shoe out in pasture, so I had to reset his front feet – this time adding snow-ball rim pads to keep him from balling up in the snow that is soon to come.

With a pair of new shoes, we left right after lunch and headed straight west up Elges Creek to check on the water.  There is still a little flow, but not enough for 250 head of cattle to each get a 10-15 gallon drink every day.

Then we headed on up to the head of the creek, where we spotted a couple of bull elk in the timber, and on out a gate into neighbor’s field.  We’d only covered a mile and a half by that time, but we’d gained a thousand feet in elevation.

We rode north along the ridge in the neighbor’s field, looking for red cattle – but we saw none.  After another mile and a half we dropped back through into our north pasture, and traveled another mile to hit the head of “Bull Coulee”.  The grass was getting short on the high side of the field, but there was enough feed for the cattle as we dropped down to Mendenhall Creek.

We rode a mile or so up Mendenhall Creek, then on up over the divide and into the neighboring field to the east.  There we saw a few mule deer bucks as we made our way across the field and back down toward the river.  Near the bottom we found three of our pairs, which gave us a bit of play before we were able to turn them out the gate and back into our hayfield.

It was a long afternoon.  I don’t know how many miles we traveled - but it was an easy fifteen.  Thunder goes some 6 MPH at a walk, and can stretch out to 11MPH at a trot.  We had to zig a little and zag a little to see most of the neighboring fields, and we had to angle across the side-hills and pick our way through the sage.  Max – whose legs are only 1/6 of Thunder’s – went even further, as he was casting about on both sides of the horse to smell smells and see sights that only have an interest to dogs.

By the end of the afternoon I’d had all the fun I wanted.  Even my horse was a little less eager.  In bygone years I have ridden from before daylight until after dark for weeks at a time, and took it all as part of the job.  But as we say now: our small herd of cows is too big for a hobby and too small for a living.