April was unusually wet and cold with lots of snow and rain. Our creek has been rising and, since it flows through several pastures, we hope none of our calves will drown while trying to cross it. Lynn and Jim sawed several down trees out of one creek crossing, where cattle were having to duck under or jump over them - a real death trap as the water gets higher.
It snowed all night April 15. The 8 in. of heavy, wet snow broke tree branches and power lines throughout the valley, leaving us without power for 22 hours. That storm knocked a line off a pole in the field above our house. Lucky for us, the heifers were no longer in that pasture.
We couldn't pump water for the cows, so we were thankful we only had two groups still depending on well water. The rest are now in creek-fed pastures. One group had a large tank and it was full, but we had to take the others to a creek in another field to drink.
Lynn and Jim got stuck on the upper place trying to feed the heifers and had to put chains on the jeep to get home. We put chains back on both feed trucks. The snow melted within a day, leaving deep mud again. Some of our horse pens were so deep Lynn scooped up the muck with a tractor and bucket. At least it wasn't as bad as April 20, 1971, when we got 36 in. of snow!
Breeding Program On Schedule Just 17 days into our breeding season nearly all 51 heifers have been bred; the bulls in that group (two yearlings and a three-year-old) were wearing out. We hauled the two yearlings home, left the three-year-old there since he has more stamina, and took a "fresh" yearling bull back up to help out. The breeding slowed down soon after, since almost all the heifers are settled now, but the two tired yearling bulls need a complete rest.
By late April we finally got some warm weather. The grass has started to grow. Cows on our upper pastures are losing interest in hay, which is a good thing, since we're nearly out.
Andrea is harrowing the fields, and Lynn finished spreading fertilizer yesterday. I've been taking care of baby Emily while Andrea harrows and hikes around repairing fences damaged by wildlife. There are still deep snow drifts at the top of our 160-acre hill pasture.
Last week, we butchered a young cow with a bony lump jaw. The lump started late last fall but we didn't treat it with sodium iodine because she was close to calving (didn't want to risk aborting the calf) and it enlarged quickly, becoming an open sore by the time she calved in late January.
(For more information on lump jaw, see "Lump Jaw," page 18.)
We treated her then, but it only quit growing for a few weeks. It had gotten as large as a grapefruit and now with warm weather we would soon have a fly problem, so we butchered her. Her calf is three months old, so he will manage fine on good pasture. He'll live with the twinsand their mama and one old cow and her calf that are not going to the range.
This past week we hired a bulldozer to clean out our big ditch below heifer hill. Lynn cleaned it out 30 years ago but it has grown back to brush and has become very hard to get the water through it.
We also had the cat driver make a little road up into one of our hill pastures. It will be handy to be able to drive up there to feed cows, haul fencing material, and to seed some of it to crested wheat. We want to improve several of our dryland pastures to produce more feed. We are always short on spring pasture.
The first of May I put front shoes on Veggie. The next day I rode him to move the heifers to the hill pasture on the upper place, and to take 36 pairs three miles up the road to one of the 160-acre pastures.
On the way home I took a few hours to ride around our low range fence, shutting all the gates, checking the water troughs, and patching a few bad spots in the fence. Veggie managed to go all those miles through rocks without breaking his bare hind feet.
On May 5, I put hind shoes on Veggie, all four shoes on Rubbie, and Jim put shoes on Breezie. Now we have three functional horses to start doing the cattle work.
Today, we'll move the heifers out to the road pasture (it will probably last them until we go to summer range May 16). We'll put the cows on the Gooch pasture into Cheney Creek, and the young cows (two-year-olds with first calves) to a new pasture.
Tomorrow, we'll put the big group from the lower fields out on a hill pasture - and have every animal off hay. This time of year it gets to be a juggling act, trying to disperse the cattle to several fields and pastures, rotating them here and there to have enough feed until turnout on the range.
Heather Smith Thomas and her husband, Lynn, operate the Sky Range Ranch near Salmon, ID.