Category Archives: Ranch Journal

Calves at the Gate

 

 

We began baiting our cows and calves on the Paregien Ranch into the gathering field, yesterday, with the Kubota and a little alfalfa hay. We plan on branding tomorrow, trying to take advantage of our drying roads after 2.5” of rain last week. Fortunately, the Valley fog was not a factor until midday when it rose to cloak landscapes up to 2,500 feet. We’re going back this morning with horses to collect a little bunch we missed and sort the dry cows and late-calvers from the bunch. It’s still too early this morning to tell where the fog is.

With ample dry feed, we haven’t had to supplement these cattle this season except for a little ‘hello hay’ when we’ve checked them. Though the cows know our gathering routine and are camped on the hay we’ve strung-out through the gathering field in the photo, it’s a brand new experience for the calves. I found their confusion looking longingly beyond the gate, to the ground they knew, humorous enough to pull out the camera.

 

Home

 

 

I’m fasting before I have to brave the dark, foggy drive into Visalia this morning to have some blood drawn. I woke at midnight on the 9th of November with excruciating abdominal pain that put me in the hospital for a week with an infected gallbladder, an errant gallstone stuck somewhere in my plumbing beneath my sternum.

At my age, ambulance paramedics and emergency personnel are trained to assume chest and abdominal pains are likely to be a heart attack. Despite X-ray and a CT-scan, the correct diagnosis required two trips to Emergency before beginning a regime of antibiotics and pain killers. Too infected for surgery at the time, we’re currently working towards a date to remove my gall bladder, a month or so away at best.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we got rain, the grass is coming, the Angus bulls are out and the Wagyu bulls arrive next week—it’s time to brand, our annual dance around the weather with the help of our neighbors. It’s good to be back home.

 

First Rain

 

 

Our small part of the world is almost perfect with last week’s rain as cotyledons break the duff and dirt, a magic time that California natives, men and beasts, eagerly anticipate. Albeit a bit early, our beginning of grass will need another rain soon, but with plenty of old feed to protect the new, that window is open longer.

 

 

My niece and family have been visiting once a month to help us deal with the Kaweah River watershed’s implementation of the Groundwater Stabilization Act, 2014 legislation designed to improve water quality and sustainability in California. As a more interesting outing, Robbin and I took them up to the Paregien ranch yesterday as we checked on our cattle.

 

 

Her husband Neal is a videographer who is always looking for room to fly his drone. Though I’ve often thought of applications for a drone on the ranch, such as checking fences and looking for missing cattle, I wasn’t quite ready for the visual reality.

 

 

Robbin’s ready to record barking dogs and other assorted cowboy sounds to help us in the gather.

 

Buster’s New Digs

With his sister and three brothers, Buster was loaded into the pickup to go for his first ride. The sensation of traveling as trees flew by was nauseating as his eyes blurred and stomach churned to the sound of the radio and engine combined. Finally it all came to a stop at a wide place in a narrow road, a dirt turnout with a sign he couldn’t read, tall weeds and loose barbed wire fence beyond.

 

All five puppies got out, glad to be back on solid ground and feel the dust between their toes. They began to explore beer cans and potato chip bags with their noses, intrigued by all the new scents that preceded their arrival.
Engrossed in their roughhouse games in this strange place, it wasn’t until the pickup engine started, did they notice it leaving. Buster’s big brother Bert gave chase up the road, with the rest of the puppies trailing as night fell, squelching the day’s 100-degree heat.

Exhausted after the quarter-mile chase, they stopped to rest at another turnout while Bert went out into the road to greet the sound of each approaching set of headlights. The third car struck him and he crawled to his frightened siblings huddled around him until he quit breathing. Sally, his sister, led the pack away from the road to cross a cool irrigated pasture to find a mossy pond in the moonlight where they all got a drink and fell fast asleep.

Traveling only at dawn and dusk, the four three-month old pups spent the next week hunting for something to eat up and down the dry creek bed. The pack awoke a feral hog in the thick riparian of alders and willows, barking fiercely at its retreat; then gave a loud chase after four wild turkeys hens and later backed a lone coyote off. They were indeed a pack, but had nothing to fill their empty stomachs but an occasional drink of water.

 

Pack @ 3 months

Desperate and hungry, Sally led them back to where they had been dropped off. They looked like coyote pups to the man and woman who stopped. Buster overheard the man saying angrily, “The most humane thing we could do is shoot them all—goddamn people!”

Thirty minutes later, the man and woman returned with a big dish of dog food and water. “Their ears are full of ticks,” the woman said after petting three of the four pups. “Tomorrow morning, I’ll call Animal Control.”

However, the next morning, another woman stopped and caught all of the puppies with distended bellies pin cushioned with foxtails, and put them in her new car, bringing them to work where there were some empty dog pens. For the next two days, she and her sister picked ticks from their ears and between their toes, dunking them in a tick and flea bath before worming them all.

 

Within a week, all had found new homes.

 

Buster @ 4 months

 

Babysitters

 

 

Robbin and I were pleased to see the fresh calves at the Paregien Ranch, our mature cows already setting up nurseries. Though I have my theories, but exactly how the cows decide which new mother will be the babysitter is still a mystery. And who will replace her while she’s grazing?

The cows have broken up into bunches, the most expectant mothers hanging together. Especially vulnerable to coyotes during labor and immediately after the calf is born, struggling to stand and nurse for the first time, each cow depends on the security of the bunch.

It’s refreshing, reassuring, and almost inspiring to see such cooperation within a species without a fuss—an example of selflessness it might do well for humans to emulate. Until then, what better way to spend a Sunday.

 

First English Calf 2018

 

 

In keeping with Age and Source Verification for our next crop of calves, this calf was born August 29, 2018 and posed for Robbin and I on our way up to look at the cows in Greasy where we found two more new babies. With a couple of weather changes in the past ten days, it feels like fall now, but we know we’re liable for more 100-degree days this month and next.

Still somewhat understocked from the drought as we rebuild our cow herd from our own replacement heifers, we found plenty of feed and water and most of the cows heavy with calf. With bull sales all over California this month, we’re excited to add some new Angus genetics to our herd, hoping that sagging salvage values will keep bull prices reasonable.

 

First-Calf Heifers

 

 

For regular followers accustomed to a short philosophical poem, I’ve been on a sabbatical from the blog for well-over a week, a vacation without one ounce of guilt for not writing or posting daily. All good. We’ve been busy on the ranch nevertheless, as we’ve begun to supplement our younger cows with hay and all our cows with protein licks as our first calves will be arriving in a couple of weeks.

We hauled the girls above to the pasture around our house yesterday, two-year old first-calf heifers due to calve in the middle of September. In years past, we would have driven them the two miles here through three different occupied pastures and across the road. We hauled 53 head instead, rather than risk any mix-ups with our neighbor’s steers. For whatever reason, the heifers were plumb silly, making yesterday one of my hardest loading experiences in fifty years.

Though we had hay laid out to the water trough to welcome them to their new digs, Robbin and I went out this morning to feed them again and to help them acclimate to the dry feed after having spent all summer on the irrigated pasture. Right now they’re lost, but have calmed down substantially since yesterday’s debacle.

I’m working on a longer poem for a documentary produced by the American Angus Association, having to change my style to fit what I perceive the film to be. Tough sledding as I keep adding notions and ideas to the piece. Meanwhile, I’ve been somewhat satisfied with shorter pieces scratched out in the evenings like:

 

                                             NAMES

                                             From kid
                                                  to boy
                                                  to son
                                                  to man
                                                  to pard
                                                  to dude
                                                  to bud
                                                  to boss
                                                  to SOB,
                                             I know my name.

 

Finally

 

 

Clear skies after three weeks of smoke trapped in the San Joaquin Valley from the Ferguson Fire near Yosemite, one of seventeen fires being fought in California in 100+ degree temperatures. Unfortunately, the winds that cleared the Valley also fed the fires. The Mendocino Complex, the Ranch Fire and the River Fire, nearly doubled in size over the weekend, 266,000 acres that is only 33% contained and has become the fourth largest in State history.

Overlooked by the pundits and politicians are the lasting impacts of our four-year drought (2013-2016) that will provide fuel for years to come. But for the moment, blue skies.

 

Circle of Seasons

 

 

Time flies, it seems, as we get older. We vaccinated these heifers yesterday for Brucellosis, though it seems that not long ago we branded them as calves. Averaging 725 lbs., most of these girls will join the cow herd when we introduce them to the Wagyu bulls in December.

As we chase the seasons, the circle seems to get tighter. With most of our cattle work done, we are seasonally at the end, while approaching the beginning, of our cattle year. It feels good to be done as we look forward to fall calving and a chance of rain again. In the meantime, we have plenty of repair and maintenance jobs to address, salt and mineral to keep in front of our cows.

It’s been a warm summer, thus far, well-over a hundred degrees since the Solstice. Despite the shorter days, we expect more of the same through September. With gathering, weaning and shipping our steers to town, we’ve been pushing to this point since April. It seems appropriate to thank our crew, Terri Drewry, Allie Fry and son Bob, here every morning at daylight with smiles on their faces, ready to get the work done.

(iPhone photo: Terri Drewry)

 

Video

No Wild Cow Poetry

 

I made a couple of videos of us working cattle in the new corrals in Greasy to send to my sister who owns the ground and financed their completion. Our cattle handling has evolved since the use of the Kubotas, finding it much easier to lead cattle than to drive them while gathering this steep and brushy ground. Over the years, the cows have become gentler and more cooperative, and having good facilities insures they remain that way. I thought some followers of the blog might be interested.

The first video shows the improvements to our loading facilities and the second demonstrates how we worm our cows for potential parasites—not the kind of action one might find in wild cow poetry, but the way we like it.