We’ve been looking forward to working cattle in our renovated corrals in Greasy, a project started by Earl McKee before our family purchased his ranch nearly twenty years ago. The work was completed last spring after we branded our calves in the old corrals. Today, we sorted cows from calves to be hauled down the mountain to begin the weaning process below.
In the photo, Robbin and the girls are sorting two gooseneck loads for Bob and me to haul, a two-hour round trip. While we were gone, they finished their sort and wormed the cows in our new facilities, pleased with all their options.
The weaned steers from the Paregien Ranch averaged over 800 lbs. and brought good money at the Vialia Livestock Market yesterday as we took a break from fixing fence with outside temperatures of 108 degrees. (Terri Blanke iPhone photo.)
No small accomplishment, we hauled the calves from the Paregien Ranch to our weaning corrals yesterday, nine gooseneck loads over an old four-wheel drive, bladed track—a slow-going, two-hour, 2000-foot descent off the mountain as the dirt gets looser with each successive trip. Nerve wracking, to say the least, we started early, and weighed the last load at 2:00 p.m. in 102 degrees before yesterday’s high of 107.
Robbin and I are pleased with the calves, the same calves we branded in early January. Some nice steers that will average about 775 lbs. and help offset some of our annual expenses, but we’re really looking forward to our sort of heifers, most of which will make our first cut for replacement heifers.
It all seems so rudimentary as we begin weaning our English calves, our harvest of last season’s higher elevation grass. Our special thanks to Bob, Allie and Terri Drewry who provided this iPhone photo.
While making preparations to wean the calves on the Paregien Ranch, Bob and I spotted a dragonfly at the Windmill Spring neither of us had ever seen before. After a cursory quest to identify it on Google, the closest I got was the Male Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa), not a native of this continent, but specifically Europe and England. Photo through the telephoto of my Canon point-and-shoot.
A couple of calves we’ll be gathering Sunday.
With exception of Tuesday’s 105 degrees, it’s been an extremely mild May when we gathered and shipped our Wagyu X calves with my son Bob’s help. As we begin to wean our English calves, having another set of eyes on the ranch and help with the heavy lifting, Robbin and I and the girls are glad to have him on board.
Two sections of grass,
twenty-four tons on the hoof
leaving for your plate.
A season teeters
on the beam, calves condensing
strong grass on the hoof.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago (mid-September), when our first-calf heifers began calving with no real rain until mid-November, and only 3 inches through the end of February, one of the driest starts to our rainy season on record. We fed a lot of hay and fortunately we had some dry feed leftover from the year before, but a tough start for a two-year old, first-time mother and calf.
Thursday morning, these steer and heifer calves leave for Connell, Washington for Agri-Beef’s Snake River Farms’ program to be marketed as American Kobe Beef where they’ll be fed for 400-500 days. This is our second load of Wagyu X calves and typically we take the calves from their mothers, weigh and sort steers from heifers, then load them immediately onto the truck. However, since we’ve increased the number of cows that we breed to the Wagyu bulls, the first-calf heifers are pastured in two different fields two miles away from our loading corrals and scales that requires us to haul the calves. Half of the calves pictured above were weaned Monday, the balance yesterday as they wait for the truck.
Weaning is a stressful time in a calf’s life, and stress can be measured in pounds, and hence in dollars. It can also leave them susceptible to various respiratory problems. For these calves, this is not an ideal scenario, but temperatures are relatively cool and we’ve sprinkled the dust down, hoping for the best as we feed good alfalfa hay morning and night.
The rule of thumb for the time to wean an English calf is a week, but over the years we’ve noticed that after three or four days they’ve forgotten their mothers. Compared to our English calves weaned off mature cows, the Wagyu X calves generally weigh about 200 pounds less, but their mothers at two years old put on another 200-300 pounds while raising their Wagyu X calves. Quite remarkable, when 30 years ago we wouldn’t breed a replacement heifer until she was two to avoid calving problems or stunting her growth—all due to genetic improvements.
Assuming weight is a measure of stress, I don’t believe the calves will lose that much weight. What may be a pricy experiment, we weighed the calves off the trailers to compare to the shipping weights Thursday morning to prove or disprove our hypothesis. We’ll see.
Amid gathering and shipping our first load of Wagyu X calves, we enjoyed the company of Andy, Alissa, Maggie Rose, Jubal and Josiah Hedges before they headed to Santa Cruz where Andy will play at Flynn’s Cabaret tomorrow night (May 11th), 8 p.m.
Jubal’s first step out of the car was toward a freshly transplanted flower to give to his mother Alissa. (I’m told there’s damn few flowers in West Texas.) Maggie Rose spent an afternoon in the ‘sip and dip’ training a young bullfrog while Josiah kept busy looking for something new to get into. Andy, Alissa and Robbin sang while swapping guitars until midnight—many delightful hours with a wonderful family we will cherish for a long time.
I was humming Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party” yesterday while working in our own garden, but the song was triggered by the Exeter Garden Party, a fundraiser sponsored by the Exeter Chamber of Commerce, that we were invited to last evening by our Dry Creek neighbors Steve and Jody Fuller. The highlight of the annual event for us is being able to visit with Dick and Pat Jacobsen of Rocky Hill Inc. From long-time pioneer families, both Dick and Pat have a wealth of historical information.
I went to the Lincoln School in Exeter until the fifth grade where Pat (Pogue) Jacobsen first began as a teacher. Last night she reminded me once more that my sister Virginia was the perfect student and that I was an incorrigible little boy. My memory of those days is hazy, but to be among children our age while living out in the country could easily become an adventure.
Dick asked me if I’d read Bill DeCarteret’s “Mountains, Mules and Memories” and told a story about a mule named Dynamite that he and John Crowley had taken on a pack trip. I’d packed the mule myself and swapped the story of a layover day in the High Sierras (unbeknownst to Bill) when a couple of young packers thought they could saddle and ride him. Typical of most mules, Dynamite was willing to endure being packed, but not being rode.
I referred to Dynamite as one of a half-dozen Number Nine mules that Bill DeCarteret had in his string, knowing that the mules had come from the Oregon Ranch that Jim Pogue owned. Pat went on to tell me that “9” branded on their hips was a really a “JP” and that the mules had draft horse mothers that her dad had bred, which accounted for their extraordinary size and endurance.
Exeter hasn’t grown much since I was a boy with a population of about 4,000, today it’s 10,000, but it’s a delightful, well-kept town with many service organizations. A throwback to the old days, it’s always a pleasure to do business in Exeter. It was a delightful evening, but I suspect we were the only ones talking mules.