Other worlds underfoot
within our own
become delightful details
in a forest for greenhorns
to explore new territory,
to learn fresh songs,
dance steps and innovative
ways of reckoning
that becomes instinct
beneath the surface
of these grasses grazed.
I am the intruder opening
an alfalfa valve, turning
water loose to run
across a thirsty pasture,
as one of its wet souls
leaps and startles me—
then freezes and stays.
I was doing some preliminary work for the installation of a solar pump in an abandoned well yesterday, after which I checked the water at Windmill Spring. No windmill anymore, it still carries the name and the only reliable water we have at the Paregien Ranch this year. It’s fed from a spring box and fills a series of troughs.
These girls had just watered before I arrived, having seen them earlier in the day about a mile away as I was putting out protein supplement tubs.
When I got to the spring, this girl was watering at the last trough, constructed of redwood well-before my time.
Water is scarce and everyone knows where it is. I could have taken wildlife photos all afternoon.
Summer months in the dry, dust
stirred by tiny birds, by the invisible
kiss of a breeze’s caress—so far
to go for water. Cows will lie down
and die when its gone, trusting spirits
and disassembled bones left for years
near waterholes to remind of empty eyes
gathered to wait in the shade for a drink—
nightmares that lurk on the edge of sleep,
ever ready, July through September.
So far to go, a day and a night at a time,
they take no holiday until it rains.
Mothers to the weaned calves that went to town Wednesday were ready to head home when we arrived early yesterday morning. A small front passing through Yosemite left us overcast with a cool upcanyon breeze.
The cows know the routine and really only need us to open and close the gates.
A beautiful morning to be horseback despite the dust. No hoots, no hollers, easy business as the cows chugged up the hill, going home.
Bright among the oaks,
rare and far between up here,
moisture and a spring.
It’s been a long, dry year, but we’ve begun to breathe easier now that our last bunch of calves is in the weaning pen and headed to town tomorrow morning. Born last fall, they are averaging about 100 lbs. lighter than normal due to the drought, but current prices more than make up the difference.
The country we graze is cross-fenced into pastures. We gather each twice a year to brand and wean while culling the cows that don’t fit our program either due to age or late calving dates. It takes about six weeks for us to wean all our calves, but longer to brand when it rains and while we’re helping our neighbors. We try to keep our cows in the same pasture their entire lives here, familiar ground where they can make homes and the gather becomes routine. Because of our terrain, rotational grazing is impracticable—so we understock to meet most feed conditions instead.
This second year of drought, however, has reduced our cowherd by 40% while feeding 500 tons of alfalfa since last fall. Because of the time and feed required for a heifer to have her first calf, we kept no replacement heifers this year. It’s disappointing for Robbin and I to see them go and the efforts of the past twenty years reduced so drastically, but we hope to take advantage of this heavy culling by improving the genetics of our cows into the future. We are encouraged with a good base to work with, as our cowherd now is fairly young, a third of which are first and second-calf cows.
Near term, we concentrate on improving stockwater until it might rain again this fall.