April 06, 2009

15 inches snow + 50 mph gusts

We were bracing ourselves for 8-10 inches with 40 mph gusts. But we ended up with closer to 15 inches accompanied by 50 mph gusts. It was a pretty rough storm. Especially for Adam, who spent most of it horseback, day and night. He rode through the cows hourly, so that he could get one into the barn if she was starting to calve. (It is a lot easier to get the calf in the barn while it is still inside the cow.) But if a calf was born out in the lot, he would load it onto the calf sled (basically a sled with a cage around the edges, so that they won't fall off) and bring it in. The mama will almost always follow her calf right into the barn. 

Just imagine how traumatic it must be for those babies born in a blizzard - to go from the warmth of their mother's womb into a puddle of freezing fluids and chilling winds. If a calf was really chilled, we'd bring it into the tackroom and crank up the heater. We started calling it the 'sauna' because it was so hot in there, at least for us, all bundled up in our warmest gear. A couple of calves we brought in were too cold even to shiver. After an hour or so in front of the heater, they would finally start shivering and then after another hour or two they'd be up and looking for their first meal.

Over the course of that first day, the drifts went from about a foot deep, to knee high by noon, and waist deep by evening. Visibility was so bad that it was impossible to have any sense of the landscape and I'd suddenly find myself practically immobilized in a drift up my waist. I learned pretty quickly to follow Gus, as she'd found the shallowest paths between the house and the barn. By noon on Saturday the four-wheelers and pick-ups were useless and Adam saddled his horse. This storm seems to have proven that Black is an instinctive ranch horse. And a tireless one, at that - he was saddled until last night and Adam said he never really showed signs of wearing down.

By Sunday night, the worst was over, but the temps remained low through last night, so Adam kept the cows close. This morning the sun is blindingly bright and the wind is mild, so they'll trail the cows back out to the calving meadow today, hopefully for the last time. There's a good amount of moisture in all this snow and it'll be a great boost for the spring grass. Though the drifts could take a week to melt completely, the shallow spots are already starting to show patches of green grass, peeking out from the snow.

April 04, 2009

this is what a blizzard sounds like

This was the morning of the first day of the blizzard, so there wasn't much snow accumulation yet. The wind is what really defines a blizzard - without the wind it wouldn't have been that cold (hovering right around 30F). But the windchill factor was MUCH lower, in addition to the visibility being absolute crap.

April 03, 2009

calm before the storm

Dramatic weather phenomena arise from the interactions between air systems of differing temperatures and moisture levels. Yesterday was unbelievably gorgeous - "shirtsleeve weather", folks around here might call it. Even though I know there are still plenty of winter days ahead, the sunshine and birdsong made it hard not to start fantasizing about planting a garden and other Spring-y things. Unfortunately, this tease of Spring weather was just a passing warm front, which has by now collided with a cold blast from the north. The repercussions will begin to fall by this evening - perhaps first as rain, turning to snow flurries as the sun sets, and likely building to a full-on blizzard with 40 mph gusts and up to 10 inches of snow before it's over.

The official 'due date' for the biggest bunch of cows is April 4th (tomorrow), so the timing of this blizzard is fairly inconvenient. There have already been two bad storms over the past month, but there were very few births during either and no babies lost to the weather. Later today all the cows will be lead home, to a lot near the new calving barn. This setup will put our minds at ease, as it will be easier to check and feed the cows. Plus, we'll be able to bring new babies and their mamas into the barn and out of the weather right away.

There was a bottle calf waiting for me when I finally got back to the ranch, Wednesday night. Her mama is too old to walk back to the barn, let alone make enough (or, it seems, any) milk. She's one of Jerry's cows, so dad's been calling her heifer calf Jerrilynn, naturally. Unfortunately, she didn't get colostrum before it was too late, so she's gotta make it though these first few weeks with a crippled immune system. Luckily for her, I've been missing the ranch these last months out in Portland and am happy to focus lots of special attention on her.

December 06, 2007

cold & quiet

I can hardly remember a more mild or beautiful Fall. I suppose that isn't saying much, considering this was only my second Fall in the Sandhills over the last 12 years. But I'm not the only one who thought so. The leaves actually had a chance to change colors before freezing off the trees and there were plenty of gorgeous days for doing the work of getting ready for winter. (Mowing up the leaves one last time, clearing the garden, draining the hoses, putting on the storm windows, and the like.)

A few days before Thanksgiving, the days were still climbing into the 60s. I went out to the Bay Area to eat turkey with friends and the frosty mornings out there (where there is no heat, and little insulation) were a shock to my system. But as soon as I stepped out of the airport into the dark South Dakota night, I knew that Winter had finally arrived. And I was ready for it.

We had our first snow earlier this week, wet and heavy, but less than an inch. A freak warm front hoovered around on Tuesday and melted it all. And now it is just cold - freezing, plus or minus 5 degrees during the day, dipping close to zero in the night. Crunchy grass in the morning, and white frosted trees.

All the cats have the sniffles, just a cold most likely. Luckily for them, George built a pretty fancy cat house over Thanksgiving. It's more like a 'cat condo' actually - two stories, fully insulated, with a porch on two sides and two entry/exit points. I just finished setting it up - it was fun to watch them discover it.

It is a quiet time on the ranch. It's not just less busy...there are less noises. Animals are going into hibernation-mode, birds are flying south or settling in, and the way that soundwaves travel in this cool air...I swear it is different. It seems to me that sound carries further when it is cold, but at the same time the small sounds are somehow muffled (or perhaps just not there?). The result is a sound landscape that is stark. unsettling. and beautiful.

This afternoon's thick fog has finally grown heavy and a few moments ago, it started to snow.

October 19, 2007

I lost by boots in the mud the other day.

We've had nearly 3 inches of rain over the past week. It started on the 13th, which was also the day we weaned calves. The calves are SO big now that it seems ridiculous they would still be nursing their mamas. Nevertheless, they're still pretty attached and both mom and calf bawled for several days after they were separated - the 'music' of weaning-time. I took a short shakey video and posted it below so you can hear for yourself.


The cows were kept in the corrals near the house until the 15th, when the vet came to 'preg check'. In the meantime...it kept raining, which, in combination with the cows' hoof action in the corrals, produced MUD like we'd never really experienced here before. It was over a foot deep in places!

I went down to the corrals a few days ago, to open and watch gates so that Adam could feed some hay. At one point, I had to use both hands, in addition to the attached leg, to pull my boots back out of the mud after each step. There was no way around it...so I stepped out into the cold mud, pulled my boots out and threw them off to the side, and just went barefoot. It was a little chilly, a little shitty (literally), but mostly just ridiculous.

I just walked down to the - now empty - corrals. The mud isn't quite as deep, but it's still pretty awesomely muddy: