On the Ranch Journal
This November has been mild, by Wyoming standards, but winter is no doubt just around the corner, and everyone on the ranch is preparing for the cold and snow that will surely come soon. Mother Nature shows us just how fragile life can be at times...
|November 2: Heidi the Milk
November 3: Pony loves the Broncos
November 6 - Barnyard Storms
November 7 - A Wiggle in the Calm
November 8 - Racing the Ground Frost
November 9 - The Elk Hunters Return
November 11 - Sunny
November 12 - The Silent Autumn Waits
November 13 - Big Cat
November 15 - Husband tries to teach Wife
November 16 - JJ
November 18 - Chickens are on Strike
November 20 - The Lamb
November 23 - The Fox
November 24 - Good Bye Taz
November 25 - Bald Eagles
November 27 - Sage Roosters
November 29 - Cris learns what it's like for the cows
November 30 - Tiger to the Rescue
Monday, November 1 - Finished drying up Heidi the milk cow by tapering her off her milk sessions and her grain rations. She's ready for a well-earned vacation, just lying around all winter, smelling and munching the fresh, green hay. We'll now have to drink that store-bought 2% milk, and won't have any thick, rich cream floating on the milk pitchers. I gotta say, though, when the mercury squeals its way to 40 degrees below zero, there's little else that keeps you quite as warm as drinking all that cholesterol and butterfat.
Wednesday, November 3 - Some of the valley cowboys stopped in today to buy some bull calves to put with their heifers next spring. While they were standing around shootin' the breeze and solvin' all the world's problems, I took advantage of the situation and led our foundered pony under their capable hands. They happily obliged my request to nip off the excess hoof and trim down the overgrowth of dead sole.
I've been told that "founder" is a metabolic condition in horses and ponies, usually occurring when the summer grass grows rich and lush. The hoofs of affected equine generally become inflamed, and thereafter, chronic lameness occurs. If the animal is not kept on a strict hay ration, and if a regular hoof trimming schedule in not maintained, the fast-growing hoofs will turn up just like elf shoes or ski tips, causing the coffin bone to rotate downward. These bones then will work their way right out the bottom of the hoof.
Our nine-year old pony is a dandy, little fella - he doesn't kick or bite or strike. His given name is Spanky, but I just call him Pony. Interestingly, he has one ice-blue eye and a dark brown one. He's quite a little character, and just like all the other little ranch critters, he loves to saunter into my house any chance he gets. And once every full moon, he even likes to watch football with Rudy. Yip, you guessed it; the Broncos are his favorite team, with the Colts running a close second!
Two years ago, I rescued a scrawny little kitten, as it clung for dear life on the side of the chicken coop. The old dogs were jumping as high as their chubby, arthritic bodies could manage - eyes crossed and bulging, hot frothy breath dripping between snaggled teeth. But the kitten frantically scratched a path up the weathered logs, just beyond their snapping jaws.
I called the hounds off - "Danged dogs!" - and reached for the scared kitten. It hissed and took a well-aimed swing at my hand with its skinny paw. I got a firm hold of it, anyhow, and rolled it up in my shirttail where the dogs couldn't see it. Poor little creature, I thought. Must have gotten separated from your mom.
But the kitten's mother was nowhere to be found; so I poked the small waif into an old outbuilding - Little House on the Prairie, we call it, where I keep all the orphaned, sick, wounded, or misplaced creatures of the valley. I mixed up a meal of cow cream and tuna and set it before the gaunt kitten. It gulped at the food and growled a guttural, wildcat warning for me to keep my distance. After it polished the bottom of the tuna can, the kitten loped off like a baby rabbit to hide behind a bale of hay. I grinned and muttered, "That's okay, Bugs Bunny. I'm planning to fatten you up and give you away, anyhow."
That was two years ago and the little, orphaned barn cat is still with us, because, you see, Bugs has a severe heart murmur. And supposedly he's one of nature's gifts to rarity - this blue-eyed, tri-colored, dilute, male, calico Manx. To us, however, he's just one of the many descendants of ol' Great-Great-Ever-So-Great-Granddad Stub, king of the barn cats.
This past spring, we decided that being a housecat (our house!) 100% of the time was not quality living for Bugs, so one morning we swung open the porch door. Bugs curiously sniffed the frosty breeze, then loped off into the willow patch near the house. I worried about him all day long, and though I wanted to fetch him back, I resisted, knowing he sorely needed his freedom.
Sorely indeed! By nightfall, Bugs dragged himself onto my kitchen window ledge. One glance told me he'd crossed the no-fly zone down at the corral and had opened a big can of whoop a-- with the barn cats! His silky, white fur was bloody; one eye was swollen shut; and he traveled along on three legs. (Note: If you've never had a pair of fightin', squallin' barn cats fall out of the hayloft onto your saddle horse's back or between the milk cow's ears while you're saddlin' up or milkin', then you ain't never experienced a fur raisin', milk bucket smashing time, quite like it!)
I opened the window, scooped Bugs up, and laid him by the fire to lick his wounds. Rudy looked at the battle-weary cat and just shook his head. "Bugsy, bet you don't try that again."
But, seven months and many "Barnyard Storms" later, Bugs still returns to the "wild" just as soon as each batch of wounds heal. I'm wondering: How many lives does a barn cat have?
Sunday, November 7 - I've never seen the wind behave quite like it did today... The afternoon was beautiful and so peaceful - not even a wiggle stirred the calm, blue atmosphere as I trimmed a long-armed gooseberry bush and raked up some firewood bark. Then suddenly, from nowhere, the doldrums coughed, setting loose a feisty, little wind tunnel. I watched it grab up some dried manure and hay near the stock loading chute, then corkscrew upwards. Spinning in dizzying jerks and sashays, it slammed itself through a board gate, rattling and shaking the rusty hinges. By the time the whirly gig had jumped the pole fence and sprinted to the other side of the corral, it was so drained and confused that it dropped to the ground - nothing but a fading whisper. Nope, I ain't never seen that sorta thing happen, before, right outta the blue.
Monday, November 8 - Rudy is busy racing the ground frost, stretching wires and driving posts and staples out in the swamp pasture. The unbelievable weather is holding its even-temper, with night temperatures fluctuating between zero and fifteen above. But, despite the milder daytime temperatures, the sub-water is rapidly coming up to the ground's surface; and the ice crystals, hiding in the shadows, no doubt will be frozen in time until the warm breath of spring returns. Last year, by the 10th of November, we'd already skated through a siege of 10 below zero and had waded through a fair share of rough, wintry weather. This fall's weather, however, has been pure Heaven - for us and for the livestock!
Tuesday, November 9 - Tonight, as I stroll with the dogs, the sleeping moon is making the night as black as coal. But, because of the intense darkness, I can see a million beautiful stars winking down at me. The boss and his hunters are returning from the late-season elk hunt, and in the cool, still air I can hear their horses' hoofs pounding on the hollow wood floor of the horse trailer as they back them out, one by one. The tired horses are led toward the barn, and as they walk along, their iron horseshoes strike the stone driveway, shooting tiny sparks across the ground. No elk, today, the hunters say. The "heat" of the day must've pushed the majestic animals into the safety of the heavy, black timber. But, the hunters don't seem to mind; I can hear them laughing, and talking about the steep trails they followed and the awesome, eagle's view from the mountaintop.
Thursday, November 11 - Veterans' Day - I was thinking of weaning Sunny from the Filly, today, but I guess I'll wait for a few more days. He's gonna be one, sad little colt and will probably miss his mom for several days. But, at seven months of age, Sunny's time has almost come to toughen up and move on to the next stage of his life.
Friday, November 12 - Except for the sore-throated cackle of the magpie, all of the songbirds have disappeared, and now, the silent autumn waits...
Saturday, November 13 - We're starting some fall dirt work with the D-9 Caterpillar. Most of the work is across the highway, and since the 40-ton Cat cuts 6-inch wrinkles in anything in its path, we had to mat the pavement with old car tires, then tiptoe the big "fella" across.
Monday, November 15 - Husband tried to teach wife how drive 85 work horses at one time - the new-to-us 4WD John Deere tractor. And for some odd reason during the 30-second lesson, he kept drawing my attention to all the "idiot light indicators" on the dashboard. Now, do I use the rabbit or the turtle button when husband steps onto the hay wagon? Was this lever for the speed range, the loader, the PTO, or the three-point hitch - or maybe it has something to do with putting the hay baler into gear? Did he say I can or I cannot back up without using the clutch? Luckily, I do remember which FM station has the best reception, where the heater and coffee cup holder is, and the exact location of the air-ride seat lever. And a nice feature that I know John Deere designed just for the womenfolk, is the tractor door. When closed, and you're hummin' along in high range, you can't hear even a single word of "praise" from the outside world!
Tuesday, November 16 - Got a new, kids' horse on the ranch, now. His name is JJ. He's a fifteen-year old, semi-retired, gray gelding. Seems really kindhearted towards people. It's very difficult to find horses that are good, trustworthy babysitters, so we feel fortunate to have JJ. We saddled up this morning and rode out to check the cows. The countryside is so dry that simply patting a horse on its back or neck raises a heck of a cloud of gray dirt, that's as choking as Grandma's old-time talcum powder. Every day it continues to hover around the livestock, as they rise from their bed grounds and shake off the night's stiffness.
The hens are walking the picket line, at the moment, while they go through their yearly molt. They're demanding the best chicken feed that money can buy, a heated coop for the winter, and better hours. Because of this strike, we're lucky to get two eggs a day. Well, I gathered that pair of eggs as soon as they rolled off the assembly line this morning and headed for the house via the pasture. Of course, the dogs are always right there in my hip pocket in case I need any cow heelin' or other special work done. I was packing my camera on this particular morning hoping I'd see something special to share with y'all. Sure enough, a really nice "lucky horseshoe" shot popped up in front of me, so I set the two little pieces of gold on the ground beside the chicken scrap bucket, and pulled my camera into position. When I heard I crack at my feet, I looked down and wouldn't you know it, Bo, the wonderful, well-mannered cowdog o' mine was breakin' into one of the eggs and had begun slurping up its contents. Good grief! I had me an egg suckin' dog on my hands! So this is what everyone was trying to tell me about feeding raw eggs to dogs! Now, what am I to do?
Saturday, November 20 - We discovered a sick lamb on the feedground this morning. One of the six-month old wethers (neutered buck) was lying on a ditch bank, his head and ears drooping, eyes lackluster and glazed. He appeared not to be injured - no broken bones or blood from a varmint attack - but he ignored our subtle attempts to roust him to his feet. His breathing was labored and he was shaking - scared, cold, and weak.
Each day as dusk rolls in, I call the herd into the corral, take roll call, and throw out a coffee can full of alfalfa pellets as a treat. All the sheep were present and accounted for last night, and they appeared healthy and anxious for their daily handout.
But, something had happened during the night and by this morning, the wooly fellow was hurtin' pretty bad. We hadn't had any sick lambs this year, but we figured with our recent dusty wind gusts, coupled with warm days and cold nights, this wether might have a touch of pneumonia, so we gave him a shot of penicillin and set a bucket of water nearby. We checked him a couple of times during the day, and each time he seemed to be rallying.
By nightfall all but one sheep rushed into the corral, so the dogs and I grabbed a flashlight and headed out to check on the missing wether. As we walked along the ditch bank, I squinted against the waning light, trying to spot the 120-pound Columbia lamb, and I plotted in my mind, exactly how I would maneuver the horse trailer around the ditches to get close to him. I would hoist him into the back compartment where he could spend a more peaceful night tucked into the hay - protected from the frost and the sharp-toothed night.
My bouncing light suddenly fell across a fluffy, cream-colored bump, not far from where we'd found him this morning. My heart fell when the startled dogs growled and the lamb didn't lift his head - didn't even flinch. He was dead. I couldn't help biting my lip and snuffing and swiping at my cold, leaking nose. This was the lamb I'd saved at birth one night last May. His mom had already given birth to his twin, and had succeeded in pushing this guy's head and one front foot out. But, the other leg was hung up inside her, so gritting my teeth, I carefully pushed the lamb's head back into the ewe, and reached into her uterus to fish with two fingers for the missing leg, and then I pulled. By utilizing the ewe's own contractions, I eased the little fellow back into the world of springtime and little babies.
But, the lamb wasn't breathing, so I quickly hoisted him into the air, upside down, and shook him gently to clear the mucous from his airway. Still no life! I laid him out in the bedding hay and wiped the slime from his nose and mouth with my shirttail and began mouth to nose resuscitation. Yes, I did that! After a couple of tiny life puffs from me, the lamb gave a feeble gasp and struggled to draw in his own breath. His heartbeat was thready, but at least he had one. I laid him beside his twin sister and let the ewe "mother" him and lick the afterbirth from his curly wool for a few undisturbed moments - then I grabbed a gunnysack, wrapped him in it, and took him to the house. I stuck the skinny, little, feeble fellow on an old rug by the fireplace to melt away the shock of his disturbed birth.
Within an hour, the lamb wobbled to his feet and began bleating for something to eat. I gave him just enough milk from a bottle to bolster his strength and whet his appetite. I then carried him back to his mom. By midnight, he'd sucked the ewe on his own power and the night smiled happily upon us all...
The same lamb, now, lay dead at my feet without having given us much of a chance to save him. The dogs circled him a couple of times, sniffing and whining - then we turned back to finish our chores.
As I write this entry, I can hear the hungry coyotes yipping in the moonlight, spreading the word to the rest of the clan: "It's suppertime..."
Tuesday, November 23 - 10 below zero this a.m. with a mighty stiff breeze ushering it in. We worked up one heck of an appetite today, so I'm fryin' up some beefsteak for supper and plan to make some biscuits and milk gravy to help round out the vittles. As I set the plates on the kitchen table, a movement in the pasture grass draws my eye to a frisky fox pouncing along, trying to stir up a fat, juicy mouse. He becomes statue still for a moment, then jumps high into the air and lands solidly on all four paws, stabbing his sharp nose into the grass. Missed! Again, a stiff-legged pounce. Again, he misses. But, on the third attempt, the willowy red fox jumps, stabs, and slithers through the dry grass, nipping frantically at something. He then flips a field mouse high into the air by it tail and catches it like popcorn in a crunching bite that I'd like to think brought a quick death to the mouse.
After the evening "show," I slide open the window to cool the kitchen from the heat of the sizzling fry pan. Somewhere very near, I can hear an owl's strong but mournful hoot calling out to the full moon to rise and shine so that it, too, might hunt beside the fox.
Wednesday, November 24 - Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. I'll be giving thanks for family, friends, life, and Hope. And I'm thankful that Taz now has a new home. He won't be breakin' me in half in the cattail patch anymore, and he won't be kickin' my dogs or worse, a little kid. A horse trainer friend of mine traded his JJ straight across the table for my Taz. He knows Taz's bad habits and welcomes the challenge.
I wish each and every one of you Godspeed during your own Day of Thanks and many blessings and fulfillment in the days to follow. If you're riding on horseback tomorrow, checkin' or movin' livestock - pull your hats down, cinch your neckerchiefs snug around your necks - and may you always ride with your back toward the chilling winter winds.
Thursday, November 25 - Thanksgiving Day - The bald eagle and her mate have returned to our valley. For the past 20 years this pair has moved in with us each November, then packed up and headed for the hills in April. It's sure good to have them back. With all the warm-weather birds having headed south, it's been too quiet around here. Unafraid, these eagles visit us about 3-4 times each week, usually sitting upon a scraggly cottonwood bough overlooking the calves' feedground and the river. As the morning chores unfold, they watch us like a stoic king and queen in a hilltop castle. I often feel they're keeping an eye on us to make sure we do everything just right. Most days, we pass beneath their ancient tree while feeding, and laugh when the dogs jump and whine, trying to drive the pair away from their "sacred" territory. But the eagles just cock their heads and seem to taunt and tease the hounds' foolish forays. Yesterday, quite suddenly, the lady bird sprang away from a thin branch, and like an Olympian on a diving board, lifted skyward, ever so gently - feathered arms stroking the damp air as she gracefully soared upward - then she dropped like a spear. Too late, the river saw the giant eagle diving toward its rippling surface, and caught off-guard the waters served this hungry hunter its biggest brown trout. The eagle flexed her jagged talons, caressing the writhing fish in a steely grip as she lifted skyward. Slowly, stately, like Airforce One, she ascended and quietly disappeared around the river's bend. They bring us no trouble, this independent pair, during their five-month interlude in the valley, and by calving and lambing time, they're always dwelling elsewhere. Only once did they return at an inconvenient time on a stormy day in mid-May. We were almost through calving, but new lambs had begun drop when the pair unexpectedly showed up in the sullen skies above the pasture. We fretted that the small livestock would become tasty morsels for Mr. and Mrs. Eagle. But then something rather awesome this way came. Two irritated ravens and nearly twenty brave blackbirds attacked the mighty bald eagles in a wild, midair battle. Feathers flew and drifted earthward, and claws, caws, and screeches cut the air as the little coup of freedom fighters dove and bumped at the interlopers. Soon, the bewildered eagles, feeling discouraged and unwelcome, steered away and set sail for the western mountains. I gotta tell you, folks, it was a way cool sight to see!
Saturday, November 27 - We went to the woods today to cut a Christmas tree. A snowstorm had passed through the valley last night, depositing a couple inches of moisture into the countryside's winter saving's account, but we had no idea how much had been dumped in the mountains. As we bounced up the country road, we talked about how a snow coverlet about now would surely soften the late-fall livestock feed and help to keep the frost from driving too deeply into the earth. Near the top of our world, in the Dry Beaver-Buck Creek area, we spotted six, big sage roosters waltzing through a foot of snow. They were dragging their tail feathers behind them, making broom straw patterns in the snow, and looking much like little ladies dressed in old-fashioned woolen skirts as they waddled along. These gentlemen game birds, indeed, were far, far from where they ought to be this time of year, and I wondered about what had fiddled with their instincts. They didn't seem to be in any rush to get outta here, so I concluded that maybe they're like me and just can't bear to part with good ol' Sublette County.
Cris learns what it's like for the cows
Monday, November 29 - We weaned the tail end calves that were too small to sell with their October pasture mates. Now, for a few days, we'll have sad and lonely cow lullabies to sing us to sleep at night. The cow dogs have been working their hearts out this fall and as we had hoped, have acquired an intense passion for nipping cows' heels and hocks. After we weaned today, we ran the cows through the chute for some health maintenance work, so I hollered for the hounds to help us load the crowd pen. The action was happening just about right - not too fast or rough and not too slow and clumsy. Today, I happened to be wearing a pair of black Wrangler britches, which also happened to match the color of the Black Angus cattle. Well, the dogs were in a heeling frenzy trying to keep the last load of cranky, "rear-back" cattle headed in the right direction. Bonnie the cow dog was really wired, biting three cows' heels in three quick seconds and was cleverly and happily working her way across the line of kickin' cows as though she were eatin' corn on the cob. In her blind addiction, however, she must have thought my hindquarters looked just like an old cow's backside, because she latched onto the fourth black leg in her path, no doubt judging it to be just another cantankerous ol' cow. Yowzer! I loaded right up the chute with the wild bunch. What a danged good dog, Bonnie! Far be it from me to blame a youngster for being ambitious.
Tiger to the rescue
Tuesday, November 30 - This morning I lengthened the dogs' tongues a bit, during a five-mile circle via 4-wheeler to Horse Creek, checkin' cows and puttin' out mineral salt. The day was mild and peaceful with temperatures snoozing at around 40 degrees. Saturday's snow had melted, and we had a good scatter on the cows grazing out through the swamp grass. A fair bunch of the old girls were contentedly chewing their cuds and lying around "reading the newspaper." Late in the afternoon, Rudy broke a hydraulic hose on the John Deere tractor while loading gravel into the dump truck to fill the low spots in the corrals. Turns out, it's one of those rare fittings that's made only in one corner of the world, so our good parts man, Tiger, stayed past quittin' time and worked his creative genius to build a replacement. By dark-thirty, he had us back in the ballgame.
|The Pearson Angus Ranch is located approximately 2 miles
northwest of Daniel, and 11 miles west of Pinedale, Wyoming. Cris can be
reached by e-mail at: email@example.com.
Copyrights: Photos and page text content copyrighted,
Cris Paravicini, 1999. No part may be reproduced without permission of
the author/photographer. Page graphics copyrighted, Pinedale Online, 1999.