Reality Ranching July 2014
Since I posted my last Reality Ranching blog, that desperately needed big rain event occurred in our corner of Kansas the second week of June. A soft rain began falling late one afternoon and continued throughout the night giving us nearly ten hours of continuous rain. Wonderful! Since we had received other rains prior to this one, the ground was saturated, so the four-inch rainfall resulted in rising creeks, full ponds, and smiling ranchers! Of course, this abundant moisture also brought washed out creek gaps.
The Deblers’ happen to be enjoying a well-deserved family vacation at this time, so Paul and I were faced with the task of putting the water gaps back up. After eating breakfast, we piled wire, posts, hip boots, a chainsaw, and other necessities in the back of our pickup. Since the main creek was running too high to safely cross, we start with the smaller gaps that are in the side draws of our pastures.
We buzz down the highway and check the gaps in the corner pasture on Chalk road. As we suspected, the wire panel that keeps the cattle from walking under the small stone bridge to freedom, has been pushed over by the high water. Although the water is still running strongly in this small creek, we manage to pull the panel back in to position. Paul replaces a steel post that was dislodged by the high water, and then we anchor the panel to the posts with wire. One down.
The gap on the other end of this pasture is out too, but the posts are still in place. This water gap consists of 3 strands of barbed wire which is the normal structure of our creek gaps. We untangle a few branches from the wire, restring them across the stream, and fasten the wire to the posts. Two down.
When we get back to the truck, we discover that on our trek through the brush and trees to reach the creek, we picked up some unwanted hitchhikers. I pull five ticks off of me and I think Paul had three of the disgusting blood suckers on him.
Paul and I return home to transfer the fencing material into the Polaris Ranger since some gaps in our large pastures are hard to get to with the pickup. We check the four gaps in Milton’s’ pasture and are delighted to find only one of them obliterated by the high water. We move on to Leroy’s’ pasture where the gaps on both sides of the large stone bridge are down. Still there isn’t a lot of trash in them so putting them back up is fairly simple. The other small creek gaps are fine.
On we go to the Wagstaff pasture, where the only water gap in this pasture is still standing. We drive by one of the small ponds we fenced around in order to keep the cattle out of them earlier this spring. This little pond went from a muddy puddle yesterday to being full of water today. That is great news except we didn’t place the electric fence high enough on the edge of the pond. All we can see of our fence is the top of the T-posts. That means we have a ruined electric fencer and a battery to “fish” out of the water. Well, live and learn. If we have to fence this pond out in the future now we know how high we must set our fence.
After lunch it is time to face the really tough creek gaps which will have deeper water and a lot more trash hung up in the wires. The main creek has receded enough that we can get the tractor through the rushing water, so we load our equipment in the bucket loader and drive across.
Blast, the neighboring cattle found the open gap already and have joined our herd of cattle. I don’t know how cattle seem to sense when a breach in the wall (fence) opens up! Well, better that we have visiting cattle than having our cattle out wandering over hundreds of acres of the neighbors pasture! A few of the neighbors steers are walking around in the lane outside the gamma and brome fields, so we herd them in with the rest of the cattle and lock the whole bunch in the gamma pasture. By shutting the cattle in this field we won’t have to fix the creek gap between our brome field and the neighbors pasture. When we have time to separate the steers off our cows, we will chase the visiting bovines back through the same hole in the fence that they came through.
We have two gaps on the main creek we must put back up now, because they are part of the gamma pasture where we have penned all the cattle. Paul puts on his hip boots as I begin untangling the wire that the high water left stretched along the edge of the creek. Uprooted grass and small tree limbs are hanging on the wire and must be shaken or pulled loose from the wire.
Paul has crossed the creek to put in the anchor post and discovers that his hip boots leak! The water is nearly hip boot high anyway so I guess if he steps into a deep hole it won’t matter. Poor Paul must lug around water filled boots as he walks through the swiftly flowing water. You would be surprised how much current this creek has right now. At least the boots are protecting his feet from the sharp rocks on the bottom of the creek.
It is midafternoon, hot and humid, so by the time we get the second gap repaired, I am soaked in sweat and energy depleted. My job is minimal compared to Paul’s so I can’t imagine how tired he must be. I would like to say we are finished but we still have a pasture west of Alma to attend to. There are three gaps that we know will be out because the creek is much bigger than ours and the gaps go out easily. Let’s hope the cows haven’t found the open spots yet.
We load the ranger into the bumper trailer and head for Chambers. We unload our workhorse at the farmstead and drive to the biggest gap first. Wow, this creek has been up several feet and the water is still plenty high. This is why we left this pasture until last as we knew the water takes longer to calm down. I can’t do a thing on this gap as the wire is swept along the far bank and the water is much too deep for my mid-calf boots.
Paul slogs across the stream and finds that the posts and wire are buried under a pile of gravel that the water has pushed downstream. We have extra posts and wire in the ranger so I can at least help carry stuff down to the edge of the creek. As Paul begins to rebuild the gap, I see a few cows grazing on the hillside. I tell Paul I am going to walk up to the cows and make sure all the cattle are accounted for.
First I have to take off my rubber boots and socks, roll my jeans up and wade across the creek. Yikes, the water is surprisingly cold and the gravel bottom is painfully uncomfortable on my bare feet. I can’t believe that as a kid I ran around outside bare footed all summer long, and as I remember it this never bothered me a bit (except when I stepped on a sticker). I finally make it across amid groans and ouches, put my boots back on and start walking towards the cows.
I call to the grazing herd before I reach them so they aren’t startled by my appearance. Most of the bovines raise their heads, look my way and then resume eating. A few of the greedier cows begin walking towards me in hopes that I am carrying some cubes to feed them. Once they realize I am empty-handed they lose interest in me and return to grazing the lush prairie grass. I count the cows and calve as they browse and are relieved to find that the entire herd is present.
I return to my starting point and find Paul has the three wires stretched across the creek and has started to pound the steel posts into the creek bed. I make my barefoot way slowly and painfully back across the stream. Ouch!! Once I am booted again I begin carrying the excess wire up to the Ranger. When Paul is finished clipping the wire to the posts, we make our way to the next gap.
The middle gap is full of trash but at least all the wire and posts are there. When we get this one finished, we move on to the final gap of the day. It’s a bugger for Paul as there is a deep hole where the anchor post across the creek is positioned. Paul must use a long branch to check the water depth in front of him with each step so he can find a route that is shallow enough to walk through. When he makes it to the far bank, he must pound the post down while trying to keep his balance so as not to end up falling into the deep pool he is standing next too!
I am busy trying to untangle the wires from each other and all the crap that is wound up in the wires. It is amazing how the water can twist these three wires into a puzzle as frustrating to decipher as a Rubiks cube. Paul must take each wire across the creek so that means three more cautious trips. We finally finish erecting the last gap and wearily make our way back to the ranger. Paul takes off his hip boots and pours out a cascade of water from them. We drive back to the pickup and stock trailer, load the Ranger and head for home. It is 7:30 when we arrive home, tired, hungry but glad we finished the task.
Two days later we have another hard rain that takes the gaps out on our main creek and at the Chambers pasture. At least all the side gaps in the smaller streams are o.k. I guess the practice we had rebuilding the creek gaps two days ago must have sharpened our skills, as this go round we put the darn things back up much faster. Putting creek gaps in was a job we let Randall take over the past few years and now we remember why:). We intend to let him have the tedious and frustrating job back when he returns tomorrow. Hey, Paul and I figured 30 plus years of gap fixing was enough and it was time to pass the baton to the young guy.
Randall was putting gaps in at Chambers a few days after he returned from vacation. Welcome home Randall! Later, Nancy