Ranch life in the Big Sky state through the eyes of one who has lived through it...so far.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

One Way

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There is a battle raging on our ranch right now. It’s been escalating for years, the turf war between my husband and the badgers, but the past few months it has reached epic proportions.

We've always had badgers. We've always had badger holes. A daily annoyance like foxtails in your socks and that damn west wind. But they went too far with the new corral posts. 

Dad and Greg sweated all one afternoon, digging and setting and tamping eight foot railroad ties until they stood in a perfectly straight row. But the next morning when they went out to hang the gates, one of the posts was leaning like a drunk soldier. During the night, a badger had burrowed down beside it and all but uprooted the post. Irritated, the guys straightened it out and tamped it back into place. The next morning they arrived to find not one but two posts excavated with what appeared to be heavy equipment, leaving a four foot pit around each. The badger was nowhere to be seen, but I assume he was hunkered in a burrow across the coulee, laughing as they shoveled and tamped and swore.

That’s when we got the badger traps.

Trapping badgers is tricky, and requires a lot more strategy than stuffing a trap into a hole. In the beginning, they dug around and under the traps, tossed them out like they were no more than chunks of rusty barbed wire, all the while chuckling their evil little badger chuckles.

Time for the trapper to learn a few tricks of his own.

I’m not going to go into a whole lot of detail in case you just had dinner, but suffice to say my nine year old boy can describe exactly how to extract urine from a freshly killed badger...and why. And last week my husband casually said, “Oh, by the way, my badger bait rots better out in the sun, so I wouldn’t open any of those plastic tubs in the back of the red pickup if I were you.”

It would be simpler if badgers were the only occupants of our pastures. Our trapper takes great care to shove his traps far down the holes, but one can never underestimate how far a cow will go to get into what she shouldn’t.

Which is how we ended up with a cow with a badger trap stuck on her nose. 

To fully appreciate her predicament, I need to explain that the trap was attached to a length of wire wrapped around a four foot chunk of fence post, designed to keep a badger from dragging the trap deep underground. Along comes the cow, innocently shoving her face down a hole for reasons comprehensible only in her little cow brain and WHAM. She fell back, trying to shake off whatever had clamped onto her face, and got the post stuck behind her back feet.

So now she’s got a trap on her face and her head snubbed down between her knees, held tight by wire and the fence post wedged behind her hocks. In other words, this was not a happy cow.

There was nothing to do but rope her. Considering she couldn’t run, it should’ve been simple. Except Greg and my brother in law Richard were both mounted horses that hadn’t done much pasture roping and neither horse had ever seen a cow packing quite that much hardware. After no more than half an hour of kicking and sweating and swearing, Richard got Bailey close enough to toss a loop around the cow’s neck. 

But now she was really irritated. Every time Greg got close to the heels the cow would kick and the chunk of post would fly up, and his horse would jump halfway to the next county. Plus how in the heck do you heel a cow with a post in the way?

Finally, she gave a mighty kick, snapped the wire and sent the post flying. Greg rode in and snagged both heels. Richard tightened up his end of the rope and hopped off to remove the trap. Bailey, being new at this and not particularly loyal to begin with, took Richard’s dismount as a sign it was time to go home, but when he turned to leave the rope touched his butt and he blew up and went to bucking around in a circle at the end of the rope. Richard had to dive for cover or be clothes-lined. Greg’s horse whirled and tried to bolt, but Greg held tight to his dallies, managing to stay a jump ahead of the bouncing, snapping rope attached to Bailey's saddle. And somehow, in the midst of the wreck, the neck rope snagged on the trap and popped it off the cow’s face.

The cow stopped bellering. Bailey stopped bucking. Richard climbed to his feet, dusted himself off and got his rope off the cow’s neck. Greg released the heel loop. They all watched her wander off, shaking her head as the horses and men gathered up their gear and frayed end of their nerves.

“Well,” Richard said. “I guess that’s one way of doing it.”

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Equinox


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We're in the process of moving cows to fall pasture, which for the most part includes hay and grain fields where they can fatten up nicely on the leavings. We are straight dryland farming, only one cutting of hay, so whatever grass and alfalfa grows back after swathing and baling becomes feed for the cows. This year we had a hail storm that came through and knocked a lot of heads off of the grain, which then sprouted and grew, leaving behind what looks like a lush lawn as the combine passes. We're gonna have some very happy cows when they come in from the south lease next week. 




Unlike our poor, abused ranch horses, who are apparently unable to survive on acres of green pasture. They have to climb the manure pile and pick used oats out of the straw.



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Monday, September 01, 2014

Pop Quiz

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Guess which of the days in the forecast below is the one we're scheduled to spend all day at the corrals, pregnancy testing cows?


Looks like it's time to dig out the long underwear and the Muck boots. 



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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Lazy Cowgirl's Guide to Trailer Training

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Most people realize that competing on the rodeo circuit requires a great deal of travel. They might give passing thought to what it's like for the horse, riding along back there in the trailer, but I suspect most of you haven't considered what it took to persuade the horse to hop into that box on wheels to begin with. Horses aren't exactly geared for walking into confined spaces with no apparent exit. After all, they are prey animals, and what better way to end up as lunch than to get cornered?

Trailer training is one of those things that usually just sort of happens on our ranch, after the horse is reasonably well broke. The day will come when we need to circle the far south lease and riding three miles just to get to the starting point doesn't make much sense, so we'll hook up the big stock trailer and haul the horses out. The stock trailer is wide, long, and has open slats at the top, so it's minimally threatening. Load the older, more experienced horses first and the newbie will usually follow after only a moment or two of hesitation. Once they're accustomed to the stock trailer, it's just a matter of progression to the more confined spaces of our rodeo trailers.

This week was different. We have a two year old colt that needs breaking and a brother-in-law willing to take on the challenge. Unfortunately, said brother-in-law lives on the opposite side of the state, near Bozeman. And, as part of his payment for taking on the colt, he and my sister get use of my parents' good horse trailer, which has been standing idle since we're all taking a summer off from the rodeo trail. So here I am, with an unbroke, skittish two year old and the most challenging of our trailers, and somehow I have to persuade him to hop on in.

If you pay any attention to horse training, you'll know that the current trend is to do a ton of ground work with colts, all different kinds of exercises in the round pen and arena until they will not only follow you into a bar just because you asked, but also know what kind of drinks to order. This is great. Really. A lot of horses are living better lives and so are their owners, but if you've ever watched this kind of training, you'll notice one thing right away.

It is a crapload of freaking work.

I mean, running around the round pen, sucking air kind of work. I am really not a fan of sweating. So today I present the Lazy Cowgirl's Guide to Trailer Training, aka How My Grandpa Did It. If you want to try this at home, you'll have to start by acquiring a horse that's never been in a trailer, in this case a two year old Quarter Horse gelding named Captain (whose baby pictures you can see here, if you're inclined).



Day One, Sunday:

Begin with the least threatening of the horse trailers, our rodeo trailer, which has no stall dividers or mangers inside. Park it in the lot where the horse is confined and tie the door open. For the first day, back the trailer into those big tractor ruts just behind where it is in this picture, which brings the floor to ground level and eliminates the step up to get in.


Place the horse's grain and hay inside the horse trailer. Walk away. He'll either go in there to eat, or he's gonna get very hungry. In Captain's case, it took about half an hour and he was in there munching hay. 


Day Two, Monday:

Pull the horse trailer forward out of the tractor ruts so he now has to step up and down to get in and out. Put feed in trailer. Walk away. Come back for evening feeding to find all of morning's hay and grain cleaned up. Catch horse and lead him into the trailer as you put grain in the bucket. Try not to let him smash you in his eagerness to jump in and chow down.

Day Three, Tuesday morning:

Park the fancy, schmancy trailer in one of the horse lots. Tie open back doors. Put feed in manger. Walk away.


Come back for evening feeding. Find all of hay and grain from morning cleaned up, meaning the colt has been in the trailer. Catch ol' standby rope horse and load in front stall, with grain. Put grain and hay in the second manger for the colt. Lead him up to the back of the trailer and let him contemplate the situation for a few moments. Then tap him on the butt and watch him jump in for supper. Ease divider shut behind him. Voila! One colt loaded in the horse trailer for the first time, and happy to be there. 



I am well aware that this hands off method is unlikely to earn me a feature show on RFDTV and a my own line of training aids for sale online. On the flip side, as you're reading this Captain is most likely enroute to the Gallatin Valley, his first ever road trip, and we probably didn't have a near marital meltdown in the process of trying to load him.

Besides, if it worked for my Grandpa Mel....


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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Heart Butte

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A couple of weeks back my sister and her fancy schmancy new camera were visiting, so we decided to go off on a photo safari of the wildest reaches of the Blackfeet Reservation...at least from our perspective. We live on the northeast side and rarely venture to the southwest section, especially the back roads. So we gathered up my cousin Rhonda to be our personal historian/trail guide, since she lives down there. I'll sprinkle some of these photos around the blog over the next few weeks, starting with the area around Heart Butte, which is both a mountain and a town.


Green Lake....I think



Badger Creek canyon



Heart Butte



Jack pines, which were once used to hold burial platforms.



Sun lodge...and one explanation of what they're used for:  Okan


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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

On the Road Again

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There is this window of opportunity in June when calving, branding and trailing to the summer pastures is done and haying hasn't started, so all there is to do is the thousand and one 'fix-its', and everybody knows the minute you cross something off that list the cows will go tear something down to replace it. If you need to take a road trip, this is the time. So we did, to my husband's home country of Brown County, South Dakota, clear out in the northeast corner, approximately 900 miles from here at the ranch, most of which involves driving kitty corner across Montana.

But let's rewind a few months, to the reason for the road trip, not that seeing Greg's family isn't enough. Many moons ago Greg told his brother to keep an eye out for a cheap grain truck in good condition. A couple of months back, we got an email with a picture and a message from David saying, "If you still want a truck, you should take a look at this one."

Greg did, and burst out laughing. Turns out, the truck in the picture was purchased brand new by his dad back in the 70's and auctioned off when he gave up farming due to health issues. Now the guy who bought it had it up for sale, and yes, cheap. You can bet Greg jumped all over that, because it is a good truck, in good condition, and it's a great memento of his dad who we lost over a decade ago.

We've been dithering about when to make the trip. Had to wait until school got out, then things kept popping up, finally last week we decided we just had to do it. Climb in the pickup and go. This decision was in no way influenced by the email from my sister-in-law about how they just bought a new pontoon and planned to spend the July 4th holiday cruising on the lake. Really. Just ask her how long it took me to write back and ask if they had room for three more on the boat.

Thanks to prolific rain in the past two weeks, the drive was gorgeous. Even the badlands in North Dakota were green, verging on lush. Almost made a person want to move to eastern Montana. A very large 'almost'. Negated immediately upon exiting our vehicle and being sucked dry by mosquitoes. My child looks as if he's had a recent case of chicken pox. Our wind here might not be pleasant, but it sure does keep the bloodsuckers at bay.

So instead of a dusty rodeo or a drive to Glacier National Park, our July 4th looked like this:



And a lot of this, which was when we realized our poor, underprivileged nine year old had never seen a professional fireworks display. Luckily, he got good pictures. 



And then the temperature hit ninety with an equal measure of humidity, so we loaded up the grain truck on the flatbed trailer with only four feet hanging off the back and began the trek home with a questionable clutch, but spare parts along just in case. I'd show you a picture of that, too, but for some reason the blog doesn't feel like loading it. Suffice to say, there were a lot of wide-eyed oncoming drivers on those narrow, eastern Montana roads. At least when I was at the wheel. 

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Bog Blog

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We are lucky enough to live in an area where there are few true natural hazards. We don't have earthquakes, the chances of a tornado is low due to our proximity to the mountains, and we harbor no venomous snakes...as far as we know. We don't even have poison ivy.

What we do have are soap holes.


A soap hole is a spring that rises up in a particular kind of soil. Maybe one of you soil specialists out there could tell me exactly what it is about this white dirt that results in the formation of these bottomless wells of soupy, slick mud into which an animal can fall and never emerge, because when they try to crawl out the sides just collapse and they slide back in.

Worst of all is if a horse goes into one. We don't have any soap holes in our horse pastures, but an unsuspecting visitor once rode into one, and the horse couldn't begin to get out. After a few tries, he just gave up. One of the other riders broke out a rope, managed to toss it around the saddle horn, and they dragged him out, but then almost lost him to shock. Over the years, we've learned to warn outsiders what and where to watch for these death traps. 

And they're tricky. In dry weather the top crusts over and looks like solid ground, so a cow or calf will wander out onto it only to break through and sink. We put the tires around the edges to mark them, and you'll notice it's swallowing them up. There are countless more already at the bottom. We've tried fencing them, but they contract and expand based on how much moisture we get in any given year, so sometimes they eat the fence, too. 

Luckily, most of the time what falls in is able to get out, with nothing worse to show for it than a coating of nearly impermeable mud that they'll be wearing for days. And if there are some that don't...well, since all of our soap holes are clear out on the south lease, that's a cow or calf that goes missing and unaccounted for because unless it happens as we're trailing cows, we don't see it happen.

Given the price of cattle, we're going to be fencing the holes again this year. Unfortunately, even a good solid barbed wire fence wouldn't stop certain critters from venturing where they shouldn't. Good thing Max can swim. Now to toss her in the reservoir and get rid of the mud before she gets in the pickup for the trip home. 



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