SFJ

Facebook  YouTube

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Typical Range Ride
Typical Range Ride

Heather Smith Thomas checking cows on a young horse in training. Photo courtesy Heather Smith Thomas.

Typical Range Ride

Excerpted from Ranch Tales, by Heather Smith Thomas of Salmon, ID
Published by The Frontier Project Inc. – www.ajmangum.com

Our cattle ranch lies at the foot of the mountains where our cows spent their summers for fifty years. During those years I rode almost every day to check the cattle, making sure gates were shut, and all the water troughs working. We live in dry country, and when they are on summer pasture in the mountains, cattle depend on a few small streams for water, along with some small seeps that we piped into water troughs. Sometimes a springbox gets plugged with mud from a summer thundershower and needs to be cleaned out or the pipe into the water trough gets plugged, or broken by cattle traffic if the dirt over it washes away in a cloudburst thunderstorm. Sometimes gates get left open and cows wander onto the wrong range, and then those cows must be located and herded back to their proper pastures.

Sometimes a cow or calf gets sick and needs to be brought home for medical treatment. If we ride out there often, we know what’s going on and can attend to any problems. On summer range you don’t want to risk having a trough non-functional for long, for instance, or cattle in that area might have no water. I always enjoyed my daily rides out there to check on things and monitor the grass and the cattle. Each ride is a special experience.

I head up the steep trail through the rocks and sagebrush behind our house. The smell of dewy sage fills my nostrils as my horse brushes the shrubs along the trail, and a horned lark flits up from her nest on the ground as we go by. A mother grouse bursts into the air and does her broken-wing act (her strategy to lead a predator away from her babies, who are scattering out through the grass).

My horse breathes deeply as she climbs the crest of the hill, then pauses, snorting, as a group of antelope leap to their feet from the swale where they were bedded, and bolt across our path. My mare snorts again as she detects their strong, musky scent. They disappear over the hill in a puff of dust, and we continue along the trail.

We soon head down into the Baker Creek canyon, approaching a brushy draw where a small trough collects spring water. A herd of cow elk with calves have been drinking there, and they mill about for a moment when they see me, the cows and calves talking to one another with their high-pitched “eep-eep.” Then they stick their heads in the air and march up out of the draw, disgusted at having their morning interrupted.

We descend into Baker Creek and up the rocky trail into the timber, dodging overhanging fir branches. A golden eagle soars above the canyon, and a pine squirrel scolds us from the tree overhead, knocking fir cones down into the trail. Colorful Indian paintbrush (red, orange, pale cream) and blue lupine dot the grassy clearing ahead. We reach the wire gate in the range fence, and I get off to open it and lead my mare through.

In the meadow beyond, some of our cattle are bedded down chewing their cuds. They are used to seeing me and my horse, and don’t bother to get up as I ride through them, weaving my way between napping calves. One calf is up nursing his mother, slurping noisily at the udder. I make sure they are all healthy, then continue up the trail to check another water trough.

The day is warm and my horse takes a long, grateful drink while I fix the over-flow pipe that has been obstructed with fir needles. This spring comes directly out of the rocky canyon wall and the water is icy cold, and more pure and clean than boggy springs where the elk like to wallow, so I quench my thirst at the renewed flow through the pipe into the trough.

It’s a steep climb into the next little creek drainage, but we wind our way in a roundabout fashion, stopping at each group of cows to check on them. When we get over the mountain and head down the other side, there is another trough in a grassy clearing, and here I let my horse graze for a moment as I eat a sandwich from my jacket pocket. My jacket, tied to the back of my saddle, holds not only my lunch, but also a pocketful of baling twine for emergency fence repairs. I can always tie a broken wire back together or tie wires back up to a post if the elk have knocked them off. In another pocket my jacket holds small binoculars for checking on cattle a long ways away.

After this quick lunch, my horse and I travel through more timber, startling two big mule deer bucks who leap gracefully over the fence and out of sight. We go around the mountain through an outcropping of rocks, my horse carefully picking her way in the precarious footing. I have to go another mile to check the gate in the back corner fence between our range and the Forest Service allotment. There’s a jeep track that comes up that side of the mountain and into our range, and I check this gate often; sometimes folks neglect to shut it after driving through. While on the backside of the mountain I find a group of yearling heifers. They are several miles from where I saw them yesterday. This is the wandering age. These heifers won’t have calves until next year, and are footloose and fancy free. Like a group of teenagers, they are always interested in seeing what’s just out of sight, traveling over the next horizon, not wanting to miss out on anything exciting.

I am glad to find Boogie Woogie (daughter of Shimmy, sister of Tango; yes, all our cattle are named) because I need to check on her eye. She was showing early signs of pinkeye the last time I saw her, but today the eye looks like it is getting better, so maybe I won’t have to bring her home for treatment. I’d rather not have to bring her home; bringing an unwilling critter home from the range can be a tough challenge, even with a good cow horse. Yearlings are sassy, as well as inexperienced in being herded, and about the only way to get one of them home is to bring along a babysitter cow, too. The older cow is more likely to be somewhat cooperative (with more respect for the horse, not trying to outrun us and hide in the brush) and the yearling would tend to stay with the cow.

Yearlings are true groupies; they never like to be by themselves. I head back along the fence to check the side gate in the timber, and find a freshly knocked- down broken-off post where a herd of elk went through. They usually jump the fences, but sometimes they are lazy and knock them over. I’m glad I discovered this hole in the fence before the heifers did, or they’d all be in the neighbors’ range.

Sometimes it can take days or even weeks of riding to find cattle when they stray into the wrong range – because it’s a large area, with lots of timber where cattle can be hard to see – so we like to make sure the fences stay in good shape. I prop the post back up and splice the broken top wire with my handy baling twine. This will hold the fence together until my husband or son-in-law can bring a new post to set. He can probably bring it up the ridge on his four-wheeler and only have to carry it a quarter of a mile down the steep hill through the timber, to the fence.

On my way back over the ridge that serves as the dividing point between Baker Creek and Withington Creek, I check on another water trough, served by a spring my father helped develop nearly sixty years ago. This is an amazing spring, to be located on such a high ridge. A person wonders how any underground water channel could be this far above other water sources. The topmost part of Baker Creek bubbles out of an even larger spring, just under the crest of this ridge.

There are cattle bedded down around the grassy area near this trough, having climbed up here to drink after their morning grazing on nearby mountain slopes. They are full and content, lying in this high spot to take their midday siesta and chew their cuds, enjoying a bit of breeze on this high point.

It’s hot by the time my horse and I start back to lower country, and her feet stir up little clouds of dust. The sweet smell of syringa (the blooming bushes along the creek, Idaho’s state flower) delightfully mixes with the smell of horse sweat as we cross the little stream, where Baker Creek meanders through our lower range pasture. As a kid, I always wished there could be a Kool-Aid flavor that tasted as sweet and good as the smell of syringa. After we cross the little creek, my mare spooks as a coyote pup sticks his head up over an old log to look at us. The sudden movement startles her, but once she realizes what he is, she relaxes and heads down the trail, quickening her pace as she thinks about home. Both of us are pleased with our ride. She’s happy to be heading back to her pasture buddies, and I have enjoyed this peaceful interlude with nature’s creatures while doing my daily tasks.

Footnote: Lemhi county is 93 percent public land (Forest Service and BLM), and includes three mountain ranges and several deep river canyons. One of them, the Middle- fork of the Salmon River, is deeper than the Grand Canyon of Colorado. Our county borders the Frank Church Wilderness Area, one of the first wildernesses established after passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964, and the largest in Idaho. In our county, the Lemhi River Valley and Salmon River valley are about the only agricultural land where hay is raised for winter feed, for the herds of cattle that pasture on the surrounding mountains (public land) that make up the majority of the landscape. Our ranch lies up against the Lemhi Range of mountains, and our summer pasture was home to bison in earlier times. It was also the summer hunting grounds of a local tribe of Shoshone Indians when Lewis and Clark came throughour valley 210 years ago.

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

Swallow

Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

Apple Cider Autumns Nectar

Apple Cider, Autumn’s Nectar

by:
from issue:

While autumn’s beauty is food for our souls, autumn’s harvest provides food for our tables. Along with the many hours and days of canning and freezing our garden produce, harvest time also means apple cider making for our family. We have been making apple cider, or sweet cider as it is commonly called, for six years. Beginning slowly, the demand for our juice has resulted in a production of over six hundred gallons this year.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Low Tillage Radish Onions

by:
from issue:

The radishes came up quick, filling the garden canopy completely that fall, and the following spring we found the plot was clean of weeds and rows of open holes were left where the radish roots had been growing. Well, we had a few extra onion plants that spring and decided to plant them in these holes, since we already had very clear lines laid out for us and a clean seedbed. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Concerning the Bioextensive Market Garden

One of our goals when we first started farming here was to develop the farm as a self-contained nutrient system. Unlike the almost complete recycling of nutrients which can take place on a livestock operation, we are always amazed – even a little disturbed – to see how many tons of fertility and organic matter leave the market garden each year with so little returned to the good earth.

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Follow-Up On Phosphorus

We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting Part 1

by:
from issue:

There are three general divisions or kinds of graftage, between which, however, there are no decisive lines of separation: 1. Bud-grafting, or budding, in which a single bud is inserted under the bark on the surface of the wood of the stock. 2. Cion-grafting, or grafting proper, in which a detached twig, bearing one or more buds, is inserted into or on the stock. 3. Inarching, or grafting by approach, in which the cion remains attached to the parent plant until union takes place.

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

This is the account of how one farm put more horse power into the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of its potato crop. Ever since we began farming on our own in 1994 one of our principle aims has been the conversion of our farm operation to live horse power wherever feasible. This has meant replacing mechanized tools such as tractors and rototillers and figuring out how to reduce human labor as we expanded upon the labor capacity of our work horses.

Barnyard Manure

Barnyard Manure

by:
from issue:

The amount of manure produced must be considered in planning a cropping system for a farm. If one wishes to manure one-fifth of the land every year with 10 tons per acre, there would have to be provided two tons per year for each acre of the farm. This would require about one cow or horse, or equivalent, for each six acres of land.

Prairie Grass A Jewel Among Kernels

Prairie Grass: A Jewel Among Kernels

by:
from issue:

Years ago, my brother advised against plowing the patch of prairie on the back forty of our Hubbard, Iowa farm. “Some day,” he predicted, “that prairie will be as valuable as the rest of the 40 acres. We know how to grow corn; but that prairie was seeded by the last glacier.” Left untilled by generations of my family, the troublesome treasure has now become a jewel among a cluster of conventional crops on the farm.

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

by:
from issue:

The asparagus culture in Holland is for the majority white asparagus, grown in ridges. This piece of land used to be the headland of the field. The soil was therefore compact, and a big tractor came with a spader, loosening the soil. After that I used the horse for the lighter harrowing and scuffle work to prevent soil compaction. This land lies high for Dutch standards and has a low ground water level, that is why asparagus can grow there, which can root 3 foot deep over the years.

Bamboo A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

Bamboo: A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

by:
from issue:

The bamboos are gaining increased attention as an alternative crop with multiple uses and benefits: 1) domestic use around the farm (e.g., vegetable stakes, trellis poles, shade laths); 2) commercial production for use in construction, food, and the arts (e.g., concrete reinforcement, fishing poles, furniture, crafts, edible bamboo shoots, musical instruments); and 3) ornamental, landscape, and conservation uses (e.g., specimen plants, screens, hedges, riparian buffer zone).

Walki Biodegradable Mulching Paper

New Biodegradable Mulching Paper

Views of any and all modern farming stir questions for me. The most common wonder for me has been ‘how come we haven’t come up with a something to replace plastic?’ It’s used for cold frames, hotbeds, greenhouses, silage and haylage bagging and it is used for mulch. That’s why when I read of this new Swedish innovation in specialized paper mulching I got the itch to scratch and learn more. What follows is what we know. We’d like to know more. LRM

Cabbage

Cabbage

by:
from issue:

Cabbage is the most important vegetable commercially of the cole crops, which include cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, collard, broccoli, and many others. It also ranks as one of the most important of all vegetable crops and is universally cultivated as a garden, truck and general farm crop. The market for cabbage, like that for potatoes, is continuous throughout the year, and this tends to make it one of the staple vegetables.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

by:
from issue:

The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.

Of Peace and Quiet

LittleField Notes: Of Peace and Quiet

by:
from issue:

Walk with me for a moment to the edge of the Waterfall Field. We can lean on the gate and let our gaze soak up the mid-summer scene: a perfect blue sky and not a breath of wind. Movement catches your eye, and in the distance you see a threesome hard at work in the hayfield. Two Suffolk horses, heads bobbing, making good time followed by a man comfortably seated on a mowing machine. The waist high grass and clover falls steadily in neat swaths behind the mower. What you can’t help but notice is the quiet.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT