Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Update on Ursa

Now that 2 weeks have gone by since Winter Storm Ursa I thought I'd update.

The Polaris Ranger
The Polaris Ranger XP 900 snapped 2 belts and destroyed the secondary clutch.  My dilemma was whether to spend $400 for an updated and vastly improved aftermarket secondary or $1200  for a complete Duraclutch replacement. After some agonizing and talking to a guy who sells them, I decided to go with the Duraclutch. I'd been eyeballing them before this failure so this wasn't a fresh decision, but $1200 is still a lot of money.  Here's their promo video:

The clutch came in and installation went well, thanks to the clutch puller I'd ordered with the kit.  I snapped everything together and drove around the yard a little bit.  There was a lot of noise at idle which went away as soon as I gave it some gas. Something was obviously rubbing.  I started to just let things "break in", but no.... it kept nagging at me, so back up on the lift stands it went. I found that the rear edge of the housing was rubbing ever so slightly on the belt. When it gets power, the belt pulls into the secondary clutch (you can see this happen in the video) and clearance is then fine.

Belt rubs at lower right
How to get clearance at idle?  There are no adjustments visible on the housing. Just to see if the clutch housing might move a little, I grabbed my rubber mallet and gave the top of the housing some taps.  It didn't budge but guess what DID happen?  A bunch of broken belt pieces fell out of the clutch exhaust housing. You see, the clutch and belt need airflow to keep things cool There's an intake under the seat- and this is how water gets in to places it's not supposed to go- and an exhaust port that comes up over the top of the engine. It was up this exhaust that the broken belt pieces went, some of them going all the way through and falling out on the engine.

THIS explains why I was finding pieces of broken belt all over the place, why the broken belt smoke was so prevalent in the cab, and this may be why the second belt failed so quickly.  I didn't know that pieces could get up there, didn't clean out the exhaust, was in a hurry trying to get it running so I could use it during storm clean-up, and pieces probably fell out from there onto the spinning 2nd belt, causing catastrophic failure. Thank goodness I listened to the nagging voice in my head and checked this or I might've caused failure in the $1200 Duraclutch, too.

I removed the entire exhaust boot and cleaned it out, buttoned everything up, and felt a bit better about the situation. It still makes noise at idle, although not quite as much and I'm going to pop that clutch cover off once a week or so to look at things until I'm satisfied that it's going to be okay.

The Yamaha Grizzly

During the Blizzard, we checked the valves on the 2002 Grizzly 660 and found the intake to be a little tight. I'd had issues with hard starting- meaning, "physically hard starting" not "easy to turn over but just not starting" hard starting. The bike didn't idle very well until warm and smoked on start-up only. After adjusting the valves and putting in a new battery, the Griz starts immediately, doesn't smoke nearly as much, and idles much better.  It _seems_ smoother.  Might be my imagination, but I'll take it.

The Cattle On The Rocks

After the storm, we found 11 cattle stuck on a cliff.  Here's that picture again, just to remind you:

11 cattle are stuck here
My decision was to leave them be and see what might happen. We went back again and again to check on them and two weeks later, all the cattle have worked their way off the rocks to the surrounding vegetation.  There is one dead on the cliff, but she was dead when we first investigated.

In this pasture, my count is coming up just 3-4 short which is not bad considering that I'm sometimes counting a group of 150+ shifting, moving, fidgeting cattle and could easily miscount.

The Hurting Knee

During the clean up, my left knee was really hurting. It was stiff and wouldn't bend and any kind of shock- like jumping off the pickup- shot shooting pain thru it. When we were climbing around on the rocks checking out the trapped cattle, I could barely move. I'd try to bend my knee and it just wouldn't bend or it would really, really hurt to do so. The knee suddenly and dramatically cleared up on Thurs and all was well...until Sunday, when my ankle started hurting. I have trouble with pseudogout and now I'm thinking that my painful knees might actually be pseudogout manifesting itself there. I'm definitely going to pay attention to see if knee pain precedes foot/ankle pain.  Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot to do about pseudogout- it's actually worse than regular gout in that regards as there's not a food trigger. The manifestation is slower to show, lasts longer, and moves around. It will frequently move from my ankle to foot to toe and back in the course of an attack. On the upside, ibuprofen is fairly effective at reducing the pain.  Nearly 2 weeks later, my foot's almost normal.  Hoping it stays that way for awhile.

The Case 90XT Skid Steer

Prior to the blizzard, I'd managed to get water in the hydraulic system of the skid steer.  I was adding some fluid from a bucket that had sitting outside (under cover, but still outside) and after a little oil poured and I was nearing the bottom of the bucket, it suddenly changed to milky and then clear. I was slow to react- having never had this issue before- and then I realized that I was pouring water into the oil. Arghhh......  All would've been fine had I had time to decide what to do, but no.... we needed the skid steer and needed it now.  So, I ran it. During the 1st phase of the clean-up, things started squeaking and creaking, and I shut the machine down.  Water will sink to the bottom, so after letting the skid steer sit overnight we got a long hose and siphoned some oil/water off the bottom of the oil pan, refilling that amount (about 2 gallons) with fresh oil.

I investigated and finally found the oil drain plug. You'd think this would be easy to find, but skid steer manuals- and I have the $300 official shop manual- aren't really particularly helpful.  By this time the Case had been sitting for a week and when I drained the pan (which wasn't that hard after I bought the required massive Allen socket), a good deal of milky white stuff came out, followed by clear oil.  I drained 7 gallons (it holds 15) from the pan, and replaced it with 1 gallon along with a bottle of Sea Foam cleaners. Let that sit, then drove the trailered skid steer around the yard to slosh things around a bit.  Drained that and again, a little milky stuff followed by clear oil. Repeat.

I then decided that I should probably replace the hydraulic filter, too. Back to my trusty manual!  Where IS the filter?  Here's the illustration they provide:

Golly!  That is SO helpful!  Where IS this thing and HOW do you get to it?  Finally, I figured that I'd probably have to pull the cab forward.  So, we did that, using a couple of come-alongs to hold things down. I don't know if you've ever worked on skid steers, but there's a bunch of heavy stuff on them that if it falls, it's going to cut your head off.  Literally.  We got everything strapped down and ta-da!!! There's the filter!  Now to get one. Local parts place, amazingly, has one.  Cost is $55. This is not your average oil filter.  It's also not that easy to get out, but get it out I did. And from the old filter, ran a little bit of milky oil, then clear.  From the filter orifice ran more oil, this bunch clear from the get-go.  All in all, we've probably got 8 gallons out of of 15 drained and, yup, it took right around 8 gallons to fill it all back up.

We ran the machine for about an hour doing some general stuff and everything seemed good. Time will tell and I might periodically drain a gallon or so from the pan to see if it runs clear or contaminated.  If there's any money left this fall, I might have it flushed and changed by someone who knows that they're doing. That's a big "if".

The Grass

For us, the whole point of "moisture", of course, is to grow grass for cattle to eat.  Fat cattle = good sales prices = money in the bank = money to pay taxes, equipment breakdowns, dead wells, etc. = we might survive another year. I'm happy to report that Spring Storm Ursa did, indeed, leave some great moisture.  Plus, we've had rain twice since then along with a few sunny days (also essential for grass production).  Bottom line is a booming grass crop, possibly the best I've seen in 22 years of doing this.

But, it's not even summer yet and it's going to be a long summer so there's no use counting chickens until they've been hatched and taken to market and you've got the check in hand. Plenty of time for counting when the dealing's done.

Until next time.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Blizzard of Spring 2017

What a week it's been. We've just come through one of the worst snowstorms I've seen. The storm of Dec 2006 was worse in that it lasted for 3 solid days, but that was in December and you sort of expect snowstorms in December.  April 29?  Not so much.  Here's how it played out.

The weather forecast first called for this:

 Then it changed to this:

What was most worrying was the wind forecast.  Snow and 30 mph winds are a bad mix. Especially in April.  Did I mention that it was April?  And not December or January? We're all acclimated and prepared for semi-warm weather, not Arctic Blast.  Friday afternoon I headed out to find my cattle and see what they were doing. The cattle in the East and West Cedar Creeks had been there for a month and weathered some smaller storms.  They knew where to go, but even so, I used the feed truck to drop a lot of feed near shelter to try to encourage them to stay there.  The cattle in the East pasture, on the other hand, had only been here for a week, did not know the pasture well, and were not trained to feed. I did what I could and then hunkered down.

The weather forecast held and I awoke to a blizzard.  It snowed hard throughout the day with high winds. Visibility was near zero.  I tried to go out and check on things and couldn't see the road or the gate to leave the compound.  I decided that leaving was not such a good idea. I checked on the cow/calves and horses in our backyard pasture and most of them were packed in under the shed which was probably the safest place for them to be. There was nothing much I could do besides that. We had 4 new calves and I figured it would be a miracle if any of them survived the storm.

Looking out the side door

I cracked the door open and took this shot
On my way back to the house

Sunday: (from here reports are as  I wrote them... present tense).
As soon as I could, I got out for a look-see. Amazingly, at least 1 of the 4 calves born before the storm was alive. We did not see the other 3 but at least 1 new calf seemed to have been born in the shed where the cows took shelter and they look good. I drove around in the Polaris Ranger and did not see any other older calves but here's hoping they somehow made it. The creek is FULL of snow with drifts that are at least 10' deep in places.

I could only make it to one pasture and those cattle looked good but they're the ones with the creek with the trees. We're getting coffee and food and heading back out to the check the other pastures and do what we can do. Travel is extremely difficult- D2 is in the Ranger so in case I get the truck stuck we'll have a way to get home.Neighbor's cattle are all over the road, in my pasture, everywhere. There's at least 6 dead piled up in a corner and I'm sure there'll be a lot more found.

The wind's still going 30 mph but at least it's not snowing more and so we do have some occasional sun and decent visibility. I've seen worse storms, but this is the worst I've seen this late in the year.

The hawk house.  Glad I brought the birds in.

Sunday morning

The first live calf I saw, and this was the youngest, too.

Snow in the creek bed

Driving down the road

Feeding survivors

After the morning's expedition, D2 and I headed back out to check the other two pastures. I expected them to be worse and they were. We found piles of dead cattle- I stopped counting at 50 and I can't count those piled up underneath the drifts.

When we went to the 3rd pasture, things got even worse. A neighbor's cattle had pushed thru our fence and I have probably 150 of his cattle on me. Again, at least 50 of those were dead. Dead cattle just everywhere across the prairie. I didn't see any of my cattle dead but there were a bunch of cattle in our "Big Canyon" and getting any kind of head count was impossible.

Then, while heading back from the far southeast corner, my Ranger started smoking and within a mile, POW!!!!, big cloud of rubber-smelling smoke. I am hoping it's just a drive belt- Polaris is notorious for blowing those. D2 towed me back to the road with his Yamaha Grizzly and then we went for the Chevy to pull the Ranger the rest of the way home to reduce stress on the Grizzly. We got to the Ranger fine but then got the Chevy stuck trying to make the turn from the pasture to the road. In the process of trying to pull the Chevy out with the Grizzly, I flipped over the bar and smacked my face on the rack, giving me a big fat upper lip and a couple of cuts. Didn't seem to knock any teeth loose, fortunately.

A typical dead yearling

This turned out to be 35 dead cattle

Towing the dead Ranger home

Back at the house, we decided to go look for the 1 known missing calf now that the snow was melting fast. No luck, but as we came over a rise, I spotted a cow calving. We rode over to check and found the calf still-born and the cow with a prolapsed uterus. Called a neighbor for help and managed to get the uterus back in. Whether the cow will live, I don't know. So far, we've lost half our personal calf crop. I'm guessing we lost 50-75 yearlings, my neighbors lost that many on me, and that's just the immediate loss. No telling how many will die from post-storm stress.

Tomorrow's job is to see if I can fix the Ranger (I have an extra belt), start trying to get a headcount on live/dead, and start moving cattle back to their correct pasture. We've got fences to fix too. Everyone's in the same boat. My neighbor to the north had cattle walking the highway as well as 100+ in our backyard pasture. He's got at least 20 dead that I saw. Neighbor to the east has 150+ on me and at least 50 dead- sometimes all I saw were hooves sticking out of 15' deep snowdrifts. And so on.

The moisture is fantastic, but it came at a high cost.

We worked on the Ranger in the morning. As I suspected/hoped, the problem was a broken belt. I had a brand-new belt on the wall ($175 for these things...) so I cleaned the clutch and popped the new belt on. All's well, right? Well, no. I ran an order of my new T-shirts to the mailbox and on the way back, POW!!!, Black Smoke!!!. Dead again. I just parked the Ranger, grabbed my tried-true, trusty-crusty 2002 Grizzly, and we started counting cattle in the East pasture (5,000 acres).

Just as Sunday's triage showed, we found lots of my neighbor's cattle- about 100 of them alive and over 50 dead. I didn't find any dead of our cattle but came up 30 short on the count. They're either in my south neighbor's pasture or they're in The Big Canyon. The Big Canyon is a deep, steep, rough canyon where cattle rarely venture. In fact, I rarely see _anything_ in there. Any deer or elk in the bottom is trapped with no side exit as the sides are too steep and rocky to get up. It's cat country and my mother and some of her guests once jumped a mountain lion out of it, something of which I'm kind of jealous since I've never seen a lion myself and want to. Anyway.... The Big Canyon is full of big boulders and it's hard to walk in. There's cattle in there. Dead or alive, I don't know yet.

About 1/2 way thru the East pasture, my Grizzly started pulling hard so I checked it out and.... flat tire. I haven't had a flat tire in years so of course today would be the day. I left D2 to finish checking the pasture while I rode side-saddle back to the house for repairs. I was still working on it (turned out to be a bead leak) when he arrived with only an additional 5 head counted, leaving us 30 short.
After some thinking and research, I pulled the Ranger apart again and found a much more serious problem than just a broken belt- the secondary clutch is destroyed. Trying to decide now whether to go with the $400 EBR replacement clutch or the full blown $1200 Duraclutch. Either way, it's a hassle and it's going to be awhile before I trust the Ranger to be reliable.

On the upside, 2 more of Derek's cows calved yesterday which leaves us with just one to go. Plus, northern neighbors driving their cattle home from 10 miles down the road, came thru and we sorted out about 50 of theirs from my backyard calving pasture (300 acres) and put them all thru the gate. That was an unexpected bonus and now the calving pasture is clean. On the downside, the cow that had the stillborn and prolapsed uterus is not doing good. I will be amazed if she survived the night. But then I said it would be a miracle if any of the calves survived the storm and it looks like 3 out of 4 did. So, maybe I'll be amazed again.

My friend Heather's friend John came down from Denver with a horse and his own Yamaha Grizzly to help us out.  He arrived in the evening just as we were finishing up sorting out neighbor's cattle from the north and putting them back.  We all got acquainted and situated and ready for the next day.

This is shredded Ranger belt #2.

Here we have a completely destroyed secondary clutch

The cattle owners came and did a count for us in the West and East Cedar Creek pastures (5,000 acres each), while we started sorting out the East pasture. The counts came out pretty good in the Cedar Creeks with just 5 dead but about 30 short in the East. John and Derek and I sorted 60 head out and returned them to their pasture in the morning, putting 30-40 miles on each of our ATV's. While the owners looked through the East for themselves, we all loaded up gear and went to fix a fence on the highway where someone had flown off a curve and through the fence. With that done, we all met back at the house to the news that the owners had found 11 head of cattle stranded on a rock slide. John and Derek went for a look-see while I stayed back to work on my Grizzly which was beginning to have trouble starting. After everyone's return, we decided to leave the cattle alone overnight to see if they'd work their way off the slope on their own. The snow was melting fast and that might open up some routes for them.
Cattle were stuck on this rock slide

John checks out a heifer.  We were able to push her out
of slide area to vegetation.

This one was high centered on a boulder.

This one is just stuck on a ledge with a drop-off on all sides

Derek went to check on the cliff cattle first thing this morning while John and I worked on my Grizzly. He  reported back with the good news that 6 had indeed found their way to the bottom, leaving 5 stuck on the slope.

After fixing the Grizzly- the battery was the problem but we checked and adjusted valves, too- we all motored out to check out the situation. We ended up getting one yearling unstuck from a bush where she was totally hung up. That didn't get her off the rocks, but it did get her access to some snow where she'll get moisture. We managed to push/drive 2 more head thru the rocks to the edges and they'll make their way to the bottom before long. The other 3, however, are just absolutely stuck. They either panic or they try to fight, neither of which is a good thing. One needs to go down and wants to go up, the other needs to go up and will only go down. The third is just stuck between big boulders and a 10' sheer rock wall. So, again, my suggestion was to just leave them and see if they'll move on their own. Shy of them moving on their own or a helicopter, I don't know if it's possible to get them out of the rocks. These are 500-600 lb cattle. Can't just throw them on your shoulder and walk out.

We rode around a bit more and found 15-20 hemmed in by snowdrifts and a cliff, but they have grass and water, so they'll be okay until the snow melts. There's a yearling stuck in a snowdrift but she's on her feet and has water so the best thing to do is just let the snow melt.

With that, the most pressing things were more or less under control. John headed home in the afternoon.  He was a tremendous help and cut our workload in half.

My knees hurt, my eyes hurt, I'm tired. Gonna lay these weary ol' bones down for a bit.

Spent the morning catching up on some maintenence and then buried cattle from 11 am to 6 pm. We started off with a borrowed backhoe but I quickly switched to my Case 90XT skid steer. I dug and dug and dug and dug and then pushed and pushed and pushed and covered and covered and covered. Then moved on to the next spot. I started having trouble with the Case and quit to keep it from getting worse.  About a month ago, I added some hydraulic fluid and much to my horror discovered that water had gotten into the container. I added about 2 cups of pure water to the system and that's contaminated the oil. After getting good and warm, this bad oil was making various pumps and lift squeak badly and lose power, so I quit a little early to keep from ruining something.All in all, we buried 45 head today and have about that number to go tomorrow.

My knees still hurt.

Dead cattle- 15 here plus a raven.

35 dead in this corner

The funeral was well-attended

The pit

We started the morning by using a hand suction pump to pull hydraulic oil out of the skid steer.  Water sinks in oil and my reasoning was that by sucking from the bottom of the pan, I could eliminate some of the worst contamination.  I'd then fill back up with fresh oil. I'm using premium hydraulic fluid which is supposed to keep water in suspension while in operation but I knew it would separate out after sitting all night. Sure enough, the first couple of gallons were milky and water-laden, but as we drained more, it started looking more like oil.  I added 4 gallons of fresh oil and then we had to get to work. The move seemed to work, though, as the poor skid steer worked all day without any complaint. ASAP, though, I'll completely drain and change the oil.

I put 55 cattle in the ground this morning in two different holes. We went out and checked on the cliff bound cattle and there's only 2 left up there. One seems to have figured her way out. Another one is close- she's right at a small rock slide and can probably get over the rim. If I had 3 cowboy/rock climbers and at least 2 ropes, one of which would be an industrial tow rope hooked to a pickup truck, I think I would could pull her up right now. She might also come up on her own, which is what I'm hoping for. I'm going to give them one more day and then make a decision as to what to do. 

Friday morning's pit

Filled with 45 dead cattle

Covered up

With that, I think we're done with clean-up. This is by far the single greatest disaster I've had in 21 seasons of ranching, although a couple of other times came close. I wrote about one of these here. In another, in one of the early years, a pasture of cattle got hooked on locoweed and I was pulling 5-10 off pasture every week and putting them in lockdown. The difference is that they weren't dead and some of them were sold at salvage price. A loss, but not a total loss. We ended up pulling about 125 head from a 300 head pasture due to locoweed poisoning.

Disasters happen. But Spring Storm Ursa was the worst and was certainly the most work cleaning up afterwards.