Snow!

It’s been a cold, snowy winter so far. A couple of days ago we got about 10 inches (or 3 feet according to Rick) of fresh powder on top of the 8 inches already on the ground. It is absolutely beautiful if I must say so myself.

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Very pretty but also very hard to maneuver around. Since the critters have to be cared for every day no matter what the weather is, we do have to be outside. As long as you have the right clothes, boots, gloves, scarf and hat it is not bad; especially if you are working – that does keep you warm.

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alx-and-calvesRick and Alex do most of the heavy work around here – someone has to stand by and take pictures of them – so they stay pretty warm they tell me. The cattle do fine as long as they have plenty of feed, water and shelter. After the fresh, powdery snow we’ve had really cold (for us) temperatures – I think 10 degrees is our low so far – so most everything is frozen. I don’t think we will miss the snow when it is gone, but I will enjoy looking at the pictures.

Curious Creatures

Cattle are curious creatures, at least ours are. I took a walk down to the pasture in the sunshine yesterday and here is my view. The yearling calves in their pasture stop eating at the round bale and come over to investigate me and my camera. As you can see they are a pretty friendly bunch and quite used to us being around them all the time.

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Either I am extremely fascinating or these calves are just nosy as they creep closer and closer. My talking to them and clicking off pictures doesn’t concern them at all.

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There is always one in every crowd and B17 – Lucy’s calf from last year – just couldn’t resist coming even closer. . .

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. . .and closer and nibbling on the edge of my jacket – just in case it might be made of alfalfa I guess. The jacket is in the wash as I type.

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And while we are on the subject of calves, a belated Happy Birthday to B1. The first calf born last year and in the snow. You can read about it here – and see what the weather is usually like this time of year.

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The new Spring calves are due to begin arriving any day and this group won’t be the babies any more. It is nice no snow is predicted, warm weather for calving is easier for everyone.

Bull Pen

After the water and electric lines were done, it was time to finish the bullpen.

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The utility lines run right down the middle of the new bullpen, so those had to be done first. And now on to fencing!

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And by now you know the fencing drill. Lay out the fence and pull strings.  Dig post holes in lots of rocks . . .

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. . .set posts along the string and cement them in . . .

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. . . and yes, I added decorations to the cement. I think the fall leaves are a nice touch don’t you? If you must spend your time cementing in fence posts, you should at least have fun with it – that’s my philosophy.

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After the cemented posts are set, install braces for the corners. Molly and Grizzly watch (or nap) as usual.

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And then it was time to move the feed trough into position. The feed trough was used across the road temporarily last year because we didn’t get the bullpen done, so using our favorite neighbor’s tractor Rick just had to lift the feed trough up . . .

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. . . and over the fence . . .

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. . . across the road and maneuver it around the posts and carefully position it in the slot under the roof . . .

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. . . and set it in place on the gravel. You have probably noticed they never ask me to drive the tractor when doing something very exacting or precise, and with good reason. I can drive the tractor and I can make the bucket go up and down – eventually. I do sometimes have to try a time or two to remember which way to move the stick to make it go which way. Much better for Rick to drive the tractor and me to take pictures.

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And the feeding station for the bulls is done.

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Now, we just have to finish the rest of the bullpen fence. Ox the bull needs to be moved to his new home.


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New Pastures – Part 2

In addition to the fencing for the new grazing paddocks we have to install water troughs. The labor intensive way to water cattle is to drag a hose from place to place and fill up the trough. We have done plenty of that. This time Rick and Alex wanted to put in the labor and time up front to make it more efficient in the long run.

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So they trenched two very long water lines across both sections of the paddocks and installed water lines. Then they stubbed up a line at each water trough and installed a float which refills the trough automatically as the cattle drink the water down.

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 It s a lot less time-consuming for us – after the system is all set up – and better for the cattle too as they always have a supply of fresh water.

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And then they were back to fencing. Alex is driving T posts.

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 When all the brace posts have been cemented in and the T posts driven in and the clips installed, it is time to pull the wire. This wire spool holder keeps the spool in place as they pull the wire down the fence line. You can see the cattle waiting impatiently in the paddock they are ready to move off of behind the spool – but no pressure.

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 Way down at the end of the fence line you can just barely see Karla. She and Larry are the previous owners of the property that is now American Alps Ranch and they were here for a visit. They graciously helped us that day building fence. Karla took the hedge trimmers and did away with a lot of blackberry vines that were creeping into the new pasture. Sorry I didn’t get a better picture of you Karla!

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 Meanwhile Larry and Alex were putting together the pieces of the wire gate.

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The fresh grass in the new paddock.

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The fence is complete, the water trough is set and it is time to move the cattle onto the new pasture.

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The cattle are watching Larry unhook the wire gate.

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And then they are off to the new pasture.

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Out of the old . . . .

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. . . and into the new gate . . .

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. . . and onto the fresh grass.

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Larry closes the gate behind them and we are done – with this paddock anyway.

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New Pasture – Part 1

Back in April we leased an additional 80 acres of new pasture, just across the river from our place. It has been neglected and overgrown and the fencing was not in good shape, but it has lots of potential.  So, the long process of turning this old homestead into great pasture for our cattle began. Rick started by dragging the first 30 acres.

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Dragging the harrow over the field breaks up any manure clumps, loosens the compacted grasses and soil, reduces weeds and encourages new grass growth.

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He dragged the whole field  – which has a lovely view of the snow-capped mountains to the north – then applied 1/2 ton per acre of granulated lime. Our soil is very acidic so adding lime to the soil brings the pH up. The spreader is the yellow funnel-shaped thing on the back of the tractor.

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Next was trenching for the water and electric lines. They covered up the trenches before I got to take any pictures (they are working on a deadline and don’t stop for photo ops), but you can see the bare spots running through the field to each water trough.

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After that came clearing the overgrown vegetation so they could build fences. Some of the overgrowth was so high you could barely see the tractor.

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The trees in the fence line had to be trimmed up so they could work underneath.

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There is an old fence in that grass somewhere. Around here if you don’t keep it trimmed it will soon be consumed by vegetation.

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And then it was time to build fences. Lots and lots of fences. Which required many, many T posts – about 80 per paddock.

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So Rick and Alex pulled strings to lay out the fence lines and started driving T posts.

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They have also cemented in over eighty wooden corner and brace posts. Luckily the soil in that field is not nearly as rocky as ours, so the auger on the tractor drills the holes for the wood posts pretty well.

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The guys figured out they needed ten individual grazing paddocks of about 2 1/2 to 3 acres each to sustain our herd this summer. We rotate them through so the cattle are always on fresh grass and each rotation lasts about six days – give or take. So they started in one corner and fenced paddock #1 and moved the cattle in.

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Then they had six days before the next paddock had to be ready so the cattle could be moved onto fresh grass. It takes the two of them approximately five days to drill the post holes, cement in the corner and brace posts, drive the T posts, install the clips, pull the wire, hang the gates, set the water trough, hook up the water line and install the float on each paddock – if there are no problems and you have all the materials. So they worked hard to stay one paddock ahead of the cattle.

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And the fencing race was on.

TO BE CONTINUED

Greener Pastures

It is finally time to move the cattle from our home ranch where they winter over to the fresh green grass of the summer pastures. This has been the wettest spring on record in our area so we were a bit later in the season than usual moving the bovines this year. We moved the steers first, they have been on the summer pastures for a few weeks now. It was time to move them to a fresh paddock and believe me they know it. They are lined up at the gate waiting for us to open it.

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Before we move the cattle into the new paddock we walk the fence line to make sure all the fence wires are secure with no breaks or shorts in the electric fence. The animals watch us and if we aren’t moving quickly enough they start bellering to remind us they are waiting for fresh grass. Most of the time they are very quiet, but when they are ready to move they can get loud. After we make sure the fence is secure – no one wants to chase loose cattle around  – we open the gate and the herd trots off into the fresh grass. Here is A7, a yearling calf from last year, enjoying the new pasture. You can see he is still shedding his winter coat in places; this is the scruffiest they look all year.

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This shot of the fence line shows the grazed pasture the cattle are moving off on the left and the new one on the right. When the grass gets down to about six inches it is time to move the herd.

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And now the herd is quiet and calm again, busy munching on their fresh grass.

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Meantime, back at the ranch the cow/calf pairs were waiting. We moved them all up into the trap.

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Then sorted the cows from the calves into pens side by side. The calves don’t seem to mind being away from their mothers, the mamas are a little more concerned.

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We put the cows through the squeeze first. Alex takes off their old ear tag and puts a fresh one in; kind of like changing your earrings with pierced ears. We use an ear tag impregnated with a natural pyrethium to control flies. The cows have been through the squeeze and chute many times and know the routine.

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This is the first time the calves have ever seen the chute, sweep and squeeze, a whole new adventure for them.

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The squeeze is adjustable, but it doesn’t go down small enough to hold the calves – Rick ends up holding them so Alex can insert the ear tag.

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B5 with his new ear tag. We also banded the bull calves, all four of them. Of the 19 calves we had this year only 4 are (or were) bulls.

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Sometimes the calves get a little turned around – literally. B19 is the last calf this season; a little heifer who was very small and weak at birth. We had to tube feed her (insert an 18 inch esophageal feeding tube down the throat and all the way into the calf’s stomach, then pour in the colostrum and milk). After two days of feedings she was able to get up and nurse on her own and now she’s doing very well.

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She turned around and went out the front of the chute with a little help from Rick. The cows are not able to turn around in the chute, but the calves are so small it is no problem for them.

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Then we loaded them up for their first ride in the stock trailer and took them to their mothers in the new pasture. We just leased this 80 acre piece this year and it is a great addition for us.

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Lush, green grass for the herd – and so tall you can almost lose sight of the calves out there when they lay down.

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And finally, one of our bulls – Ox – is in that pasture with the cows. It is time for the bulls to do their job so we have calves for next year. Many of the 19 calves from last year are his.

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We had a 100% breeding rate and 100% live, unassisted births this year. Can’t get much better than that!

Winter Wonderland

Guess what we woke up to this morning? Yes, snow and lots of it. We haven’t had this much snow in a few years.

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I believe this is all due to Rick. Both times we got snow earlier this year we were out of town and he has been whining, complaining, commenting that he really missed the snow. God heard him, because we have snow now.

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At least a foot of fresh powder overnight and more is still falling.

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The cattle don’t really seem to mind, and as long as you keep them well fed they stay warm.

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They also have sheds for shelter.

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I love the patterns the fresh snow leaves. This is the fence line on our upper pasture.

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The snow covered our squeeze and chute and is hanging off the fence.

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You can see our little ranch truck is pretty well covered.

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And here is our store building covered in snow.

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Two little snow birds on the pasture fence.

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Our stock trailer wearing a snow hat.

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The trap fence is covered too.

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The snow is only supposed to last a couple of days before the weather changes and it all melts off. I hope that happens; we are getting very close to calving season and it would be easier for those babies if they aren’t born in the snow.