First Wagyu X 2014

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Close to the house, we’ve been checking the first-calf heifers daily as they get closer to calving. Typically, we don’t have much trouble because the Wagyu X come small, but there is always some drama, especially with the very first calves.

Some followers might recall last year’s first Wagyu X calf that arrived two weeks early that we eventually lost because its mother spent more time with the other heifers rather than with its calf, her social needs greater than her maternal traits. We keep the heifers in two separate pastures where each herd develops its own social dynamics. The transition from ‘one of the girls’ to motherhood varies from heifer to heifer, and occasionally, when no one else has a calf, the comfort of the herd becomes a priority.

In particular this past week, we have been watching four heifers that are extremely close. Early yesterday morning, number one arrived to 3024. She had placed the calf in a barbed wire corner, and we found them with her on one side of the fence and the calf on the other, an open gate between nearby. The heifer had obviously been sucked and the calf was healthy as we watched the heifer navigate the gate to her calf. All seemed well.

Our presence brought a dozen heifers, thinking hay, off the hill. They all drank at the trough and filed through the gate towards the feed grounds to join the others, our new mother trailing behind them, leaving her calf alone. Concerned, we followed at a distance around the hill only to see she had turned around and was coming back. Good, so we got out of the way of nature.

An hour later while checking the first-calf heifers on the other side of the road, I noticed she had returned to join the bunch. Mid-afternoon, Robbin saw her returning towards her calf. An hour or so before dark, I thought I ought to check on the new pair. I could see the calf at a distance in the same barbed wire corner, but no mother around. Assuming she had abandoned her calf for the comfort of the bunch again, I looked for her there and checked the other heifers at the same time. She was not among them. So I returned to the area of the calf, making a big circle, only to spot the mother grazing in the Blue Oaks about 100 yards above the calf.

By the time I had gotten back to the house, the main bunch was leisurely following in the direction by which I had left, towards the calf and the eventual crowd around it—not exactly what I wanted. Though the instinctual transition from ‘one of the girls’ to motherhood can be awe-inspiring, oftentimes our presence as midwives detracts from the process and can interfere with the necessary bonding time between mother and baby, a fine line to walk.

Today is a normal feed day, an opportunity to stay out of the way and assess them all again.

 

 

Fall Color

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Though not officially fall, the angle of the sun as it slips southward intensifies our fiery colors, especially early in the morning. Perpendicular to the rising sun, I wanted to capture the surreal yellow of our old feed beneath the Blue Oaks, yet the color of the same grass from other angles wasn’t nearly as intense to the eye. I’m sure there is a word for this phenomenon as we approach the autumnal equinox.

‘TIL I DEPART

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                                     Few men feel these hillsides breathe
                                     or hear the heartbeat underneath
                                     ‘cept those that live here day to day
                                     and nature’s beasts can hardly say
                                     a thing.

 

Fresh Calves

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Two fresh calves came yesterday afternoon sired by our young Vintage Angus bulls from second-calf heifers 2075 & 2030.

 

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Off and running, our new year has begun!

 

AUGUST 2014

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Stepping back from our routines of irrigating, checking stockwater and increased feeding, August has been a delightful month, cooler overall than average. It feels like an early fall. Our cows are bred to start calving next month, and more than ever we’re excited to get on with the next phase of this business, another beginning of a new cycle as we approach our rainy season, described by an early California historian as that time when it might rain.

Two years of drought has forced us to reduce our cowherd by 40%, leaving less cows to supplement with hay, less four-wheel drive excursions into our upper country with expensive alfalfa. As a result, we have reduced the average age of our cows, focusing on the maternal traits of our most recent genetics as the core of our herd. We’re excited to get started and see the calves.

As always, we head into calving blind, not knowing what circumstances the weather will create, and not even knowing whether our reduced calf crop will generate enough to cover our future expenses—a true gamble, daily investing ourselves and all we have for an unknown payday—not exactly what I was taught in business school!

But it’s what we do, it seems, year in and year out, trying to make ranch improvements as we go just to make life easier as we get older. We’re ready for the calves and ready for some October rain to put this drought behind us.

 

RECENT HISTORY

At the gate the dust is deep.
A feral hog at dawn returning
to his lair along the creek

atop a raccoon aiming
for the water trough, powder
soft between their toes

atop several head of cows
upon my own boot track
fading with yesterday’s breeze.

The time is now
to think about
the sign we leave.

IN SIGHT

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The day unfolds in the black:

another circle of hay and water,
cows and bulls, a dusty track
on worn terrain now dreaming

on a cool, downcanyon draft
of bluster and damp—of drinking
dark clouds until the dust is mud.

Out of the shadows, the wild steps
lightly, all sharing the same dream
rising from the dry, dry earth.

 

 

Eagle at the Windmill Spring

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All tracks lead to water on a dry year like this one when good springs and stockwater may be miles apart. Checking the Windmill Spring yesterday, after feeding the cows on the Paregien Ranch, a young adult Golden Eagle I had seen a few weeks ago at the bottom water trough, was back for a bath.

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The first time, it had been getting a drink while I spent fifteen minutes or so unplugging a pipe before I noticed it sitting on the edge of the old redwood trough in the oak trees about 150 feet below me. Yesterday, I could see its dark shape from the pickup when I arrived. Like the cattle, the wildlife becomes accustomed to the few humans they see, so I meandered closer snapping photos as I went.

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I stopped at about 100 feet and it decided to continue its bath despite my presence.

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After splashing and literally rolling in the water for several minutes, it was too wet to fly…

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…and ran up the hill beating wings to dry its feathers.

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SATIN BELLS

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Within petals frayed,
the seeds—small devices
enduring despite us.

 

 

WPC— “Frayed”

 

Purple Fairy Lantern, Purple Globelily, Calochortus amoenus

Purple Fairy Lantern, Purple Globelily, Calochortus amoenus

FEVER

The pace in California has been urgent
since the Gold Rush dream of short-cuts
to the unending, ubiquitous rolls of buzzing

snare drums announcing another parade
down Easy Street that everyone in and out
of state still believes is far better than

pastoral quietude, the calm river spread
with its ripple-less glass reflection of
mountain peaks that hang upside-down

in timeless skies, we rush instead to wait
in lines going nowhere fast—our contagious
fever we cannot cure with more of the same.