We did brand at the Paregien yesterday with the fine help of good neighbors and friends. Despite the lack of rain so far this grass season, the cows and calves are doing well at this higher elevation. The ample old feed from last year has protected the new green that has surprising strength, everyone glad to have these calves marked before they grew any bigger. A big THANK YOU to the crew from Robbin and I.
We’ve pushed the start time of today’s branding back 30 minutes due to rain. I’ve been watching the radar since 3:30 a.m., trying to figure the trajectory of this last wave of a weak southern shower that’s due to arrive about 8:00 a.m. The bulk of it is headed north of us and dissipating.
Decisions, decisions. Damp mountain roads, wet hides, phone calls to neighbors. Tell me who’s in control.
Though little went according to plan, we marked our second bunch of calves in Greasy yesterday. The cows and calves had been separated into two bunches based on the pasture they were gathered from, but when we arrived, the bulls had flattened the fence between them and most of the cattle were in one gathering field. We branded and turned them all out together leaving the gates open to their respective home pastures, just as we had done during the drought years to ensure that all the cattle had access to water.
To expect perfection is a silly notion with livestock in this terrain, but with the help of good and understanding neighbors, we got the job done with little time lost. Our objective was to have the calves in Greasy marked before the welders came to finish the pipe pens that Earl McKee started a decade or so ago, so that neither we or the welding crew would be in one another’s way. Too dry and flammable to begin yet, all we need is some ample rain. Thank you all.
A handsome fellow, the bulls arrived Saturday after a long trip from Caldwell, Idaho to go to work producing American Kobe Beef for Snake River Farms, a subsidiary of Agri Beef.
Branding calves in Earl McKee’s corrals has always been removed from the rest of the world, separate from the conflicts and politics that we are bombarded with daily. Never more true than yesterday among a few neighbors and friends at our first branding of the year, most of us going ‘old people slow’ as we got the job done.
Thanksgiving seems a long ways away, doubling-up the feeding before and after, as the new grass greens, trying to keep the cows in shape to breed back, most with calves at their sides. We’ve also been busy getting the bulls out in our upper country.
We have a good start on our grass with nearly ¾” on November 17th, followed by a week of 70 degree weather and then another 0.60”—an ideal beginning as high-temperatures now steady in the mid-60s. The older cows are headed to the tops of the ridges where the soaked-in rain gets the most exposure from the sun, some changing pastures where drought-stricken oaks continue to fall on fences. Our emphasis now is getting them all together and exposed to the bulls as we think about branding.
Amid the political chaos, we’re thankful we have a job to do in a separate place where we must concentrate our minds and energy on what we hope to be productive. This business, as I’ve said many times, is dependent on three variables: the weather, the market and the politics—none of which have we any control of. In many respects, we’ve gotten used to it. Despite what appears to be global uncertainty, we carry on with all we know to do.
On a personal note, I haven’t had any inclination to write poetry or take photographs with anything more than iPhone. What poetry I’ve posted seems more of an exercise than fresh inspiration, while feeling that my art, for lack of a better word, may be on the cusp of something new and different. At any rate, I’m not holding my breath, too busy leaning toward the work before us, essentially distancing myself from any old habits or poetic styles, but rather immersing myself in the activities from where my poetry has come.
I’ll not forget the dust clouds boiling out of the canyons when the cattle came to hay in November of 2012 through 2016, while we fed and begged for rain, then had to sell half the cows. Nor will I forget last year’s too much rain, more disruptive to our operation than the four years of drought, unable to get to the bulk of our cattle in the high ground to brand our calves. Then sometime late last spring when the slick calves were approaching 600 pounds, exclaiming to anyone who might listen, ‘all we want is something close to normal’.
Though we’ve made significant advances in the cattle business in the past four decades with bigger and better quality calves and broodstock, the ground stays the same and has endured the ever-present variables of the weather and most of our mistakes. Glacial evidence in the canyon helps reinforce its permanence and durability, the one element in this enterprise that we can depend on.
We normally feed the young cows in the fall when the calves come, concurrently scanning the long-range forecasts for rain to start the grass and give us and the feed truck some relief. And after watching recent promises of an inch or more disintegrate before our eyes with nothing forecast into the future, and while seriously considering petitioning the gods for a little moisture, it’s beginning to feel normal, or close to normal, or so we hope and carry on just the same.
We finally got these heifers branded yesterday with another round of shots, vaccinations, dewormer and multi-min, before they meet the Wagyu bulls in 45 days. As you may remember, we took their counterparts to town as bulls last spring when we weaned, unable to brand and vaccinate them because of last winter’s wet conditions. The girls were polite, familiar with processing since their first round of shots and vaccinations for Brucellosis at the end of June.
Building a fire to heat the irons this time of year is problematic with fire danger still high. Our propane pot is an inefficient and noisy alternative we’d like to avoid if possible. Electric irons have been around for years, though I’ve never considered using one as electricity to our corrals is a recent convenience. And consistent with the ‘cowboy way’, my underlying prejudices against such citified methods of marking cattle, an electric iron has never been part of our operation—until yesterday.
With the tangle of extension cords, etc., they will never replace hot irons in the branding pen, but they have their place. Furthermore, the brand goes on quicker and cleaner with consistent heat and quick recovery. All going to prove that old dogs can learn new tricks.
At the Fall Banquet of the Tulare County Cattlemen’s Association last night, our dear neighbor Jody Fuller (2nd from the right) was awarded Cattleman of the Year. Usually a poorly kept secret, she was totally surprised. In an insightful and humorous presentation, Craig Ainley (far right) highlighted Jody’s history and accomplishments on Dry Creek. In addition to a beautiful belt buckle, she received commendations from County Supervisor Mike Ennis and Clarissa Henderson (far left), representing Congressman Devin Nunes.
Our “Thank You” for a wonderful dinner and evening provided by all the usual suspects, both in front and behind the scenes.
Temperatures are forecast to rise next week as our first cold front brings light precipitation to the 200,000 acres of fire-stricken Northern California that was fanned by 70 mph “Diablo Winds”. Southern California will approach 100 degrees. Our forecast is closer to 90 as we wait for our first rain, like always, this time of year. Longer range, no rain in sight for the remainder of the month.
We keep our first-calf heifers close to the house and the hay barn. Only 35 days into calving, the transition from heifer to mother is almost magical, driven by a selfless instinct to care for a newborn calf, multiplied many times over—they all suddenly become a pasture of cows. Bred to Wagyu bulls, the calves come small, but they are growing and demanding more from their young mothers, so we augment the cows’ dry grazing with enough alfalfa hay to keep the them in shape while raising a calf.
We began feeding a moderate amount six weeks ago with the Kubota, but graduated to the feed truck last week as we’ve slowly increased their hay. In recent years, we’ve tried to keep our feeding down to twice a week instead of every other day, though we feed the same amount, thinking that cows are more apt to leave the flat ground to graze the hillsides between feedings. And they do, but as they come to water in the morning, they wait hopefully, and bawl every time the Kubota or pickup is started, on both sides of the canyon—a deafening pleading that’s hard to ignore, but tame compared to the drought years.
Nothing out of the ordinary, we will feed until the green grass comes.