Once again, the south slopes fade, begging for moisture. We’ve been following yesterday’s forecast rain for well over a week, watched it vacillate from 3/4s to ¼-inch daily, while hoping to get Kenny and Virginia McKee’s calves branded in Woolley Canyon at the same time—a four-day gather in wild country. On cue, a light shower began as we finished up, but unfortunately the trailing storm evaporated by late afternoon. But it was a delightful branding, an efficient dance of ropers and ground crew that was almost mechanical, yet seasoned with quips and joviality, reminding me that the center of our culture and community has always been the branding pen.
Two years of Covid and the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has upset the equilibrium of the planet, injected fear with the hopeless horrors of war into nearly every soul. The meatpackers’ conspiracy that has defrauded both producers and consumers has added to the instability along with our ‘megadrought’, new terminology from the scientists denoting two decades of drought not seen since 800 AD—all in all, the impacts of which have created an overwhelming mess.
Kids—recounting the branding at home, Robbin and I tallied at least 10 little kids in and around the corrals, another generation exposed to this lifestyle, caring families who treasure the opportunity to teach their children how to get the work done. We are not helpless, it is a luxury to still have a place to ignore the outside world where we can pour our attention to what’s important, to the things we can do something about.
Misting, light snow on Sulphur Peak (3,400’) this morning, we ‘ve enjoyed 1.02” received thus far from the last two days of this season-saving rain—a little more scheduled for today.
But it was the 0.48” we received on the 23rd of February that truly saved our grass after 3 months of nothing but a few heavy dews. The ground was so dry that it sucked all the moisture up by the next day to the extent the mud grips on the feed truck left no tracks. The grass, that has been so thin in the Flat where we’ve been feeding our first-calf heifers since last July, finally filled in, and now is beginning to grow. Add this inch and we’ll be good to go for three weeks or so, depending on temperatures.
Robbin and I, with the help of Allie, Terri and our neighbors, got our last bunch of calves branded on Wednesday before this rain. Due to last year’s heavy culling because of the drought, our bunches were small this year, but the cows and calves looked great. Whether or not we can make ends meet on so few numbers remains to be seen in the marketplace, now that the weather seems to want to cooperate—we have hope.
The third variable to survival in the cattle business has always been politics. With the world in turmoil because of the invasion of Ukraine and its subsequent impacts, anything can happen to disrupt the marketplace, inflation and the pandemic yet still in the wings. Unresolved issues regarding the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), passed by the urban majority in 2014, adds to an uncertain future for all agriculture in California, one that will undoubtedly include foreclosures and lots of litigation for years to come. Meanwhile, imposed fines and the cost of water may be too great to farm in California if the State has its way, once the richest agricultural region in the world.