With daylight comes the fretful calls of calves, two miles down canyon from our early morning coffee. By day four they will have stopped bawling for their mothers, another two miles and 2,000 feet in elevation up the canyon. Averaging 650 lbs., these nine month-old calves are not babies, yet miss the only security they’ve ever known. It is not easy. We’ve tried fenceline weaning, only to conclude that it prolonged the bawling and the anxiety on both sides of the fence.
We’ve been blessed with cooler weather this week as we gathered the Paregien Ranch to haul the calves off the hill, six gooseneck loads down a steep, 4-wheel drive track to Dry Creek—two hours round trip. Limited to loose part-loads, we have to panel half of the calves forward over the pickup’s back axel to maintain traction, each trip leaving the dirt road a little looser. The following day, we culled the cows deeply, limited to five or six cows per trip as we prepare for continued drought conditions.
All things considered, we’re pleased with the condition of the calves and cows. With one more pasture yet to wean, we will wait until the coming hot spell passes with a forecast high of 113°. We’ve experienced a more volatile pattern (than what once was normal), between highs and lows this June https://drycrikjournal.com/weather/journal-2020-21/ and hope for another cooling trend a week from now.
Robbin and I are proud of our girls across the road, carrying their third calf, heading up the hill at 7:30 p.m. and not hanging at the bottom waiting for hay. They made it to the top of the ridge to spend the night before grazing down to water shortly after dawn.
The calves will have spent a week here while getting over being separated from their mothers. This second bunch to be weaned will head to town on Wednesday, both steers and heifers, as we haven’t enough feed to hold on to any replacements. We’ve already begun cutting deeply into our cowherd, as the summer looks grim.
Even though I haven’t been in the mood to post anything, I would be remiss not to journal one of the worst drought years in my lifetime, less rainfall (6.19”) than we received in 2013-14 (7.78”) during our 4-year drought of 2012-2016. After feeding hay all summer long into the fall in 2013, we finally had to sell half of our cowherd in 2015.
Currently, all that our steep hillsides have to offer is a short blond fuzz of dry grass that will soon be dust. I remember the drought of ’77 when the cows licked the grass seed to augment what hay we fed them. Knowing what’s ahead, we’ve begun gathering to wean early and have already sent a bunch of good cows to the kill plant, many of which had calves in their bellies. Due to the lack of snow in the Sierras, there’s little irrigation water to grow hay and the price is high, while cows aren’t bringing much money. Furthermore, stockwater from our natural springs in the upper country will be in short supply by fall——a perfect storm.
As we cull our cowherd, we’re focusing on a young nucleus as we realize that we’ll not get the money we’ll spend on hay this year with next year’s calf crop. Nevertheless, we’re plodding ahead: leaning forward as we take another step and praying for early rains this fall.
Great day for the crew as we shipped our first load of Wagyu X calves yesterday, but one month earlier and 100 lbs. lighter than usual due to current drought conditions. Drier than 2013 with only 6” of rainfall for the season, we’re trying to conserve what grass we have. Today we’re preg-checking their mothers as we begin to reduce the numbers of our cowherd.
Good entertainment, the house finches are now busy collecting nest materials that continually rain down from the rafters. This ambitious female is retrieving what she dropped. (Click the photo to enlarge.)