Category Archives: Ranch Journal

NOT DISSUADED

 

Currently the quail have the evening stage as Mother Nature usurps the garden and moves closer to the house as if we put the props in place for their entertainment. The quail have had an extraordinary hatch this year, hundreds of birds in dozens of coveys of various ages explore the yard in waves of gray.

Still housebound but rehabbing well, my photography is limited to what’s before me with the point-and-shoot, isolated snapshots that don’t fully portray the larger theme of the show. Accompanied and herded by attentive adults acting as sentinels, the young birds feed across the lawn to eventually let curiosity lead them a stray. One, then another follows, until half the young covey considers the latest discovery. Not one bird tried to drink from our ‘sip and dip’, knowing the water level too far to reach without falling, without flailing wet feathers and drowning.

 

 

Our yard: a classroom
for rural children come
out of granite rockpiles

and deadfall limbs woven
with blond, brittle grasses—
like a field trip to town,

a damp green and water
oasis they should know
when its 110 degrees.

Our yard: a classroom
for survival as Mother Nature
picks apples, apricots, peaches

and pears before they’re ripe,
before they’re sweet.
The ground squirrels know

our habits, when it’s best
to harvest, the sound of
footsteps on the gravel,

and the gunshot taken
for the team
we’ve not dissuaded.

 

So Far, So Good

 

 

Last Friday, I underwent knee replacement surgery. I was able to walk with a walker by Saturday. Rehabilitation will undoubtedly be slow and posts to the blog may be less frequent.

 

Cowgirls

 

 

It was 63 degrees when we started in the dark yesterday to gather our replacement heifer candidates for processing, to meet the vet (Ken Fiser) for their Bangs vaccinations at 6:30 a.m. Cattle work goes smoother when it’s cool, but I can’t ignore the feminine influence of our cowgirls on our cattle.

I was raised in this business with a pretty good dose of testosterone, loud and wild, the camaraderie of men at a high lope in the brush and granite, tension and challenge, it seems, with every tick of a useless clock. It’s not surprising that our cattle were on the shy side. We didn’t know any better.

This photo says it all to me. Done with processing by 8:30 a.m., Robbin, Terri Drewry and Allie Fry are taking the cattle back to their pasture, just following really, as the girls spin their own brand of yarns. Most of these heifers have been away from their mothers for a month or less, yet they are relaxed because we treat every gather, every time we’re around them, as a positive training day. A pace that has slowed to one of cooperation, and I like it.

Always moments, nonetheless, when convincing with a little loud testosterone may be called for.

 

EARLY MORNING GATHER

 

 

The days of busting brush
but polished stories, faded glories
washed by time upon this ground—

one-time mothers, the girls
remember, find their place
at feeders in the corral

where they were weaned,
to catch a ride uphill
to make homes for fall calves.

We have spoiled them, trained
for yet another moment
to work together. Too hot

to touch, the days blaze
soon after the shade of night
retreats in streaks of heat.

 

 

Robbin’s iPhone photo after following the girls into the corral. It’s been a warm week with temperatures over 110 degrees as we’ve weaned, processed and shipped our last load of bull calves to town. Polite and cooperative, these second-calf heifers hauled easily to Greasy while it was still cool. A smooth day—done before ten.

 

SUMMER SOLSTICE 2017

 

 

Wild bull calves we never knew
well-enough to brand
with months of rain,

creek too high to cross,
roads too wet to travel,
all gone to town now—

big enough to breed
their sisters yet to be
marked and aborted.

We thought the drought
was bad. But all the politics
and manipulated markets

yield to the variables
of Mother Nature’s bronc ride,
every jump, kick and surprise

without warning, never boring
when the weather gets her head
between her front legs.

As she warms up
to 113 degrees, we’ll see
what we’re made of.

 

 

We’re now on Mexican time: up at daylight and inside by eleven for lunch and a siesta. I am amazed how well the cattle, and especially the calves in the weaning pens, have managed to deal with the heat. Our ‘sip and dip’ has gotten plenty of use this past week, cools our flesh to the bone. Thank you Canadian Joe Hertz, fiddler for Cowboy Celtic, for your stone mason work!

 

Greasy Cove, Lake Kaweah

 

 

Robbin and I left at daylight this morning to try to locate any cattle we might have missed in the Greasy Creek watershed when we gathered to wean over the past two weeks. Temperatures are rising with a high yesterday of 106 degrees on Dry Creek, mid-teens forecast this coming week that will accelerate our Sierra Nevada snowmelt.

It was refreshing to see Lake Kaweah, which is almost full, on our way off the hill at noon.

 

Cottontail

 

 

Robbin thought this a.m.’s post verged on disgusting. My apologies to the offended.

As a balance from the other end of the spectrum, one of the baby Cottontails she photographed from the garden this morning, whose parents have come to feast on the marigolds. We have declared war on the ground squirrels that have stripped the apricot tree and are working on the early peaches. Busy with cattle work, we’ve let our guard down as Mother Nature tries to move in.

 

Perch-mates

 

 

Keeping track of the two young Red Tails waiting for a squirrel. For a couple of days, one was accompanied by by a Black Vulture nearby, ostensibly waiting to take over a kill.

 

To Brand or Not to Brand

 

 

Our dilemma back in March after so much rain was whether we wanted to brand our calves that were averaging over 500 lbs. With only 45-60 days left of our grass season, we knew that castrating and working the bull calves would set them back for at least two weeks as they recovered from the branding pen, two weeks of no gains in weight plus always the risk of losing one or two in the process. A live bull is better than a dead steer.

A big part of our consideration was the neighbors we needed to get the job done, most old riding older horses if we could put together a younger ground crew. In the bigger picture, we trade labor, so most of us were facing the same dilemma, all trying to get our calves branded at the same time.

As the steer calves bring more money per pound than the bulls, we had to project the sale weights and difference in price to calculate the net return for each. We figured a discount of $15/cwt, or 15 cents/pound, on 750 lbs. bulls against 700 lbs. steer calves as a place to start. Then we had to calculate the cost of branding, the vaccine, the gather and hired labor, etc. I came up with $44/head and ran the figures by one of neighbors to see if we were being realistic.

We decided not to brand our calves, but had a few steers that we branded with our Wagyu X calves in our first load of bulls that we sent to town three weeks ago, encouraged that the bulls brought as much money as the steers because they weighed more. Not branding your calves is tricky business, but our neighbors are all honest.

 

 

The bulls and heifers in the photographs are from the Paregien Ranch, the biggest calves we have. Most of these heifers will be replacements in our cow herd. After a 5-day wean, the bulls sell today and will average around 800 lbs., heavier than the buyers will want. But we can’t go back, yet satisfied that we made the right decision. Half-way through weaning and harvesting our crop of calves, we have another bunch gathered ready to haul off the mountain on Thursday.

 

Class of 2017

 

 

I’m happy that the class of 2017 has graduated from high school, glad that their proud parents and families got to attend the commencement exercises, but when are we going to quit celebrating every damn occasion with mylar balloons without a thought of what goes up is going to come down somewhere—shiny objects collecting in oak trees and brush, tangled in fences—littering the landscape. They ought to be illegal.

Instead, I challenge the Class of 2018, especially those young people who claim to care about our environment, to dispense with turning any balloons loose at their graduations. I challenge parents celebrating their children’s birthdays and wedding planners to think as well about how long the short moment of the balloons’ ascension will last upon the landscape.

I’ve had this rant before. Maybe I’m getting too old to call it anything else but thoughtless—but just plain stupid.