This past year was one to remember - record drought, fires and moisture in October, and record cold in November. Winter started early, with snow in October that never melted and cold weather in November that froze water lines to the troughs on our mountain pasture.

Thanks to the cows eating snow, and some protein supplement to encourage them to utilize the rough tall grass they could still find, we were able to leave the cows on that pasture until the end of November. With the hay shortage from summer's drought, we couldn't afford to start feeding hay, and they had to rough it - but they managed.

Due to deep snow, we fed the weaned calves hay the last two weeks before we shipped them. The morning we sold them, we had 8 in. of new snow and had to chain up trucks to get out of the driveway. It may be a long winter, but we're glad for the moisture.

Now we're getting ready for calving, though it should be fairly easy because we've cut our cowherd. The first cows are due Jan. 10; the last one on Feb. 5. The big advantage to a short breeding season is that the calving is fast and over before we run out of endurance!

As we get older, however, our stamina is diminished, and we are seriously looking at changing to summer calving. We don't want to calve in the spring because spring here (late February to April) is a sea of mud - putting newborns at risk for scours and pneumonia. January is usually cold and frozen, with much less illness (though it's labor intensive putting all the cows through the barn in cold weather).

The problem with summer calving is our dependence on public range; cows would calve and breed on the range, which is fraught with problems. If we do switch to a summer calving program, it will probably mean giving up use of the range and cutting our herd to just the number of cows we can pasture at home. We'd depend more on my writing than on the cows for making our living.

It's a hard decision because many ranches in public land states are not viable units without use of that range. Our decision will depend, in part, on whether our daughter will be able to help us as much as she has in the past. If it's mainly just Lynn and I taking care of the cattle, we may cut the herd more next spring and give up the range. We have until April (our usual breeding season) to decide.

Andrea Is Mending Andrea is slowly recovering from her burns and skin grafts. She must be careful what she does, since the grafted skin is still thin and fragile. On her legs, the major arteries are directly under the skin in some places (much of the muscle was burned away as well as the skin). Overall, she's mending in body and spirit. We plan to write a book about her ordeal.

Our family is grateful to the kind folks who wrote and helped with her assistance fund. Many of you will be our friends for years to come.

This is my last installment of "Rancher's Journal" for BEEF. Thank you, everyone, for reading this column and sharing with our family the ups and downs of ranching and the cattle business and the joys and sorrows of this kind of life.

Our experience with Andrea's accident this summer has had its up side along with its test of our spiritual and physical endurance. It gave us a lot more compassion and understanding about many things in life, and it created a bond between us and a lot of caring people.

The "subculture" of ranch life (as some city folks might call it) is a true blessing. We help sustain one another in times of tragedy or crisis.

Thank you for your concern, your prayers and your help when we so desperately needed it. I'm glad I had the opportunity to write this column for the past four years and to share our lives with yours.