Baling

 

This is the tractor and baler I bought when I was 16 (1949) when I got the job of baling for

Dave Little up on the old Van Dueson ranch, along Bissel Creek up on Squaw Butte.  His alfalfa fields were huge, filling all the bottom land along the creeks, in order to feed his large flocks of sheep thru the winter.

It took me an entire day to make just the first round on the first field.  He had his rake going clockwise around the field starting at outside and spiraling inward, ending up in the middle.

Dave also had two New Holland string tie balers run by his hired men operating at the same time.  However, being string-tie they put about 40-45 lbs per bale, while my wire tie would put double that in my bales.  His guys would come out at 8 a.m. and work regular day, hanging it up at 5 p.m.  But, I was working for myself and was up greasing, fueling and replenishing wire, etc., while waiting for the dew to lift and hay to dry enough to bale. So around 5 a.m. I would start and bale until the dew shut me down about 9 p.m.

I was baling twice as much hay as both his two string balers were doing combined!  I paid for my little Ferguson tractor the first week with my profits. I paid for the MM baler the following two weeks.  Profits were great because I did not have to be moving from one tiny field to another some distance away, starting and stopping each time.

Both my dad and I had worked for Dave’s brother on other side of Emmett Valley, and my dad had worked for Dave and his dad, Andy Little, back in 1935-37 helping with the lambing on Emmett Bench.  Old Andy died at 90 in 1941.

Dave Little was a legend in Emmett.  During the various bad years when crops failed or times were tough, and farmers lost their farms to foreclosure, then Dave would buy up such farms along the bench from the lenders.  In 1994, I was talking with Dave’s wife getting some history and she told me he owned a lot of the bench at one time — she said, “nearly the whole thing.” (65 farms and 55 flocks of sheep!) But, Dave was also affected by hard times and had to sell off a lot of these farms he picked up, in order to make it go himself.  Back then, the bench farms were about a third as many as there are now, after numerous new canals, extensions, and pumped water–and using the water from the creeks.  Dave also bought out a number of ranches up on the Squaw, including “Indian Jake” and his brother.

On a number of these farms, Dave wintered his sheep — preparatory for lambing in the Spring.  Sheep men, when bringing sheep back from summer pastures, will throw the sheep out on alfalfa, and other crop land to polish off whatever is left overs–any growth after the last hay cycle.  This gets the flocks down close to where the haystacks and other feed have been stored, all in preparation for the coming lambing season.

I talked with Lloyd Johnson, who had lived a mile north of us on Butte Road all my life.  He said he and my dad had ridden their horses to the Emmett Bench several times per week to help the lambing for Dave.  They had 8-10″ of snow which had to be fresnoed off, and straw put down for the ewes. Then help deliver the lambs. It was March, the weather was bitter, and the job kept them on the job around the clock.  They would work as long as they could, then sleep on some straw for a couple of hours, then back again and again, until all Dave’s flocks were done.  Very tough job in terrible weather conditions!

 

A Fresno scraper, horse drawn.  At the time it was the habit of sheep men to kill any twin or triplet lamb.  Ewes often had twins, or even triplets, and they will do well in good conditions.  However, the weather was very harsh, grass would be sparse, and the sheep would have to be trailed for a week or two up to higher meadows so early in the spring that not much grass had a chance to grow.  That would be too hard on ewes to feed more than one lamb while undergoing the trail/weather ordeal. So they killed the extras–just knock them in the head (that we called “bum” lambs).  Dad asked Dave if he could have the bums instead to take home and bottle-feed cows milk, and Dave agreed.

We took these bum lambs (~50 according to Lloyd), bottle fed them cow milk. And pastured them along the roads when the grass came up.  Times were extremely difficult in the Depression and we were starving. We survived only because of these bum lambs.  Lloyd could also have had some of these “bum lambs.” However, his wife June, said, “no she was not going to nursemaid any &!*#% lambs!”

In those times most folks, raised on cattle ranches, had a very dim view of sheep–hated them.  This was caused by the very way that sheep graze. Sheep have no upper front teeth. Instead, they have a “pad.”  By grabbing the grass between lower front teeth and the upper “pad” by simply raising their head the action will sever the grass.  Were it another way, their front teeth would wear out–so evolution has made a way around the wear.   But, this sort of action often caused the grass to come out by the roots instead of being cut by this action.  Up-rooted grass cannot re-grow. Therefore, sheep would pull up lots of grass–and decimate some pastureland–especially crucial in dry ranges where the soil is often very sandy. Cattlemen hated sheep for this reason.

Many folks are unaware of different grasses. Some grasses grown on the more alkali soils take up a lot of that alkali in the form of silica. Silica is a major component of most rocks. I remember combining down on the old Kennedy ranch along the river.  The wheat we combined was growing in that alkali soil they had–and it took up a lot of silica. this made the wheat stubble very tough.  The stubble would go right thru the rubber on our tires.  After numerous flats, we finally put in complete “boots” to protect the tubes from the stubble coming thru the tires! With the tire off and tube out, then you could feel the hundreds of pieces of straw stubble that had come thru the rubber of the tires. Hard to believe, but true!

 

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