With the increasingly lower angle of the sun, October brings fiery color to the foothills, longer shadows crisp with contrast as well as a welcome relief from the summer heat, persisting, this year, with 90+° into its first week. As the angle of the sun also drops below the brim of my hat, I notice renewed impacts to my face.
But aesthetically, it’s one of the loveliest months of the year, and psychologically positive as it precedes our rainy season and the beginning of green grass through winter and spring. With rains too early, the new green fades with the heat before the next rain arrives. Typically, the first of November is ideal for our first rain, and our best chance this year, based on the Farmer’s Almanac and my own forecasting methods, looks to be the 11th or 12th of November.
But October is a tough month on cows, two-thirds of which have calved in the last sixty days. The flat ground, where we watch and keep our first-calf heifers is short, but with access to ample dry feed at the higher elevations. Supporting calves for sixty days draws the heifers down despite supplementing with alfalfa regularly. Even in our upper pastures, both young and old cows tend to be thin. Furthermore, everyone and everything is on the acorns including deer, bear, feral hogs, woodpeckers, turkeys, Mallards, Wood Ducks and quail, a diet that keeps cows thin, and changing, I suspect, the pH in their digestive system to make efficient conversion of the dry feed more difficult. Moreover, the acorns seem to have an addictive quality. Bottom line, October is not a month to show off your cows.
October is a month of tough choices, also. Whether to feed more hay, or not, as we make our rounds in the upper pastures, will require more physical work, more time and money, more fuel, and wear and tear on the 4-wheel drive. But supplementing after the cows have gotten thin is often too late, especially if the rains don’t arrive on time, so we watch the weather patterns closely. Anxiety can be high, but not near the panic level as in November and December without a start to our new feed.
October is a transition month in the Southern Sierras, and we are there.