THE INNOCENT

 

 

Already drawn to the trough,
to the prospect of being cared for,
choosing peace and domesticity,

we are startled with the interruption
of the news—as it happens—
and we become the audience

on stage, interviewed and counted
for ‘something’ by invisible pollsters
just to keep the plot alive:

a chicken in every pot,
better jobs and lower taxes
as wealth wicks up

between catastrophes,
the graft and scandals
we’ve become addicted to.

 

Cattleman of the Year

 

 

At the Fall Banquet of the Tulare County Cattlemen’s Association last night, our dear neighbor Jody Fuller (2nd from the right) was awarded Cattleman of the Year. Usually a poorly kept secret, she was totally surprised. In an insightful and humorous presentation, Craig Ainley (far right) highlighted Jody’s history and accomplishments on Dry Creek. In addition to a beautiful belt buckle, she received commendations from County Supervisor Mike Ennis and Clarissa Henderson (far left), representing Congressman Devin Nunes.

Our “Thank You” for a wonderful dinner and evening provided by all the usual suspects, both in front and behind the scenes.

 

While Waiting for a Rain

 

 

Temperatures are forecast to rise next week as our first cold front brings light precipitation to the 200,000 acres of fire-stricken Northern California that was fanned by 70 mph “Diablo Winds”. Southern California will approach 100 degrees. Our forecast is closer to 90 as we wait for our first rain, like always, this time of year. Longer range, no rain in sight for the remainder of the month.

We keep our first-calf heifers close to the house and the hay barn. Only 35 days into calving, the transition from heifer to mother is almost magical, driven by a selfless instinct to care for a newborn calf, multiplied many times over—they all suddenly become a pasture of cows. Bred to Wagyu bulls, the calves come small, but they are growing and demanding more from their young mothers, so we augment the cows’ dry grazing with enough alfalfa hay to keep the them in shape while raising a calf.

We began feeding a moderate amount six weeks ago with the Kubota, but graduated to the feed truck last week as we’ve slowly increased their hay. In recent years, we’ve tried to keep our feeding down to twice a week instead of every other day, though we feed the same amount, thinking that cows are more apt to leave the flat ground to graze the hillsides between feedings. And they do, but as they come to water in the morning, they wait hopefully, and bawl every time the Kubota or pickup is started, on both sides of the canyon—a deafening pleading that’s hard to ignore, but tame compared to the drought years.

Nothing out of the ordinary, we will feed until the green grass comes.

 

AUGUST COLOR

 

 

Bumper crop of damn-near everything
thriving since last season’s rain
that bogged us to a standstill.

Red oak galls on the Valley Oak,
Tarweed yellow on open slopes.
Earth alive with frogs and rodents,

she moves with grace beneath
a new summer dress I haven’t seen
before—or perhaps I have forgotten

or ignored. A man must be careful
with hackneyed compliments
like ‘wild’ and ‘beautiful’.

 

ALWAYS

 

 

                              Perhaps it’s only those
                              who pay attention
                              that survive.

                                   – Linda M. Hasselstrom (“Coyote Song”)

“He looks, but just don’t see,”
Tom Homer’d tell of a part-time cowboy
when my father learned the mantra
of established cowmen after brandings,
when the work was done.
I heard it often.

Out here, one can lollygag himself
to death, early on—before he sees
the snake in the trail, before he sees
the coyote watching him.

Deaf to the gun but only once,
we improve the breed,
fine tune scent and sight
into long lives of good teachers—
always a coyote’s song.

                                             for Linda

 

 

Babysitter

 

 

We’re pleased that over half of our first-calf heifers bred to Wagyu bulls have calved in the first thirty days, and relieved that they have instinctually set up nurseries early-on. I’m hoping that last spring’s bumper crop of ground squirrels will keep the coyotes occupied with easier prey, but nonetheless these new mothers seem especially vigilant after calving this year.

Typically a cow or two will stay with a group calves while the other mothers graze to be later relieved of duty after an hour or two. Just how these new mothers communicate and delegate duties is a mystery, but they do. My own unscientific and unproven theory is that the newest mothers whose fresh calves need more constant attention are usually selected to babysit the bunch. After being raised in nurseries, the calves learn the security of the herd and remain quiet and well-behaved until their mothers return. However, back and forth to the water trough in the mornings and early evenings with their mothers, the calves become untrained, running in all directions as they find their legs.

 

ALL THE KING’S HORSES

 

‘Through the Looking-Glass’. Illustration by John Tenniel.

 

How could we have known
when we were young
that verbs have a temper,

not like docile adjectives
hanging like ripe fruit
to be picked and used

in a line? Words come
easy these days,
some so overused

they sound suspicious,
like baiting horses
into the corral

with flakes of hay—
so often meaning more
than what they say.

 

The Three Stooges

 

 

Getting used to their new digs, Larry, Moe and Curly are getting a little TLC before going to work on December 1st. Three nice bulls from Mrnak Herefords West will add a little more heterosis to our predominantly Angus cowherd.

Fifty-five years ago, our cowherd was mostly Hereford when my Dad began breeding our first-calf heifers to Angus bulls because the Angus calves came smaller, and thus made calving easier on our heifers. But the resultant hybrid vigor, or heterosis, of the cross is what caught his eye. Bottomline: the black white-faced calves were heavier on sale day.

Much has happened since here on the ranch and in the cow-calf business in general. Today’s market prefers black-hided cattle that can bring as much as a $10/cwt premium in the sale ring, though that spread has decreased in recent years. With technology and DNA testing, bull selection for all breeds has become data driven, a scientific and complicated formula that purports to project the performance of progeny all the way to the consumer’s plate. It includes a bull’s birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, rib eye measurement and marbling among a dozen more factors to consider, right down to how much more money a bull’s calves will bring than the average for the breed.

I remember buying bulls for $400-500 each based on what I saw in a bull, his structure, movement and temperament, on my subjective eye. Starting price to today begins at ten times that to where a $7,500 bull is commonplace. In the end, I depend on my eye. But with intensive breeding and feeding for the numbers, to create attractive data, a bull’s ability to acclimate to a new environment, to work and hold up, is often lost along the way.

Our cattle harvest grass that they convert to protein that we sell as calves. Perhaps the most important factor of all is that we are raising cattle that can thrive on this uneven, and often unforgiving, ground. In that respect, each bull breeder has a reputation for performance and longevity. Mrnak Herefords West has been at the top of our list for over a dozen years.

 

NORTH OF LAS VEGAS

 

 

It feels like it should rain
upon dry feed, golden
this autumn evening,

long hair combed
on the gusty breath of breezes,
hillsides palomino.

All colors brighten
between dark shadows.
We have seen the worst

and endured it:
100 days of 100 degrees,
a four-year drought

and too much rain,
three hurricanes
and the deranged.

The sun retreats
as always, yet
nothing stays the same.

 

Evening Guest

 

 

The Sharp Shinned Hawk stopped by for a drink at the “Sip & Dip”, at a grinding rock mortar hole that had filled with water from the sprinkler, Sunday evening. Still harassing coveys of quail around the house, he’s found the dogs’ Lamb and Rice and made himself very much at home, becoming tamer, closer to us and the music on Sirius.