Category Archives: Ranch Journal

Mother’s Day

Echinopsis Oxygona

The Echinopsis’s delicate, one-day bloom usually occurs around Mother’s Day, reminding Robbin and I how each of our mothers showed us the way.  

Happy Mother’s Day!

Shipping Wagyu X Calves

Terri Blanke and Allie Fox photos

Great day for the crew as we shipped our first load of Wagyu X calves yesterday, but one month earlier and 100 lbs. lighter than usual due to current drought conditions.  Drier than 2013 with only 6” of rainfall for the season, we’re trying to conserve what grass we have.  Today we’re preg-checking their mothers as we begin to reduce the numbers of our cowherd.

Nest Building

Good entertainment, the house finches are now busy collecting nest materials that continually rain down from the rafters.  This ambitious female is retrieving what she dropped. (Click the photo to enlarge.)

HOUSE FINCHES





He waits upon the beam

that holds the rafters up,

dry weed in his beak.

He chirps incessantly

as she constructs a nest

with what he brings her.

He seems to have forgotten

the ear-piercing love songs

from her red-breasted suitors

prancing on the railing

now that he has a partner

to get the real work done.

SPRING 2021






Short-stemmed wildflowers
attempt to act normal, draw
eyes from bare hillsides.
 

SOMEHOW, STILL LIVING





                        Swirl of savage sunsets,

                        Swirl of the dead

                        Somehow, still living.

                                    – Adrian Louis (“Degrees of Drought”)

Bribed with little water,

we have enticed Redbuds

to brighten our gardens

with cardinal colors

regardless of rainfall

before they leave

green hearts in spring.

Even the bare hills

sigh and grin relieved

for the living, love us

for our generous nature

that keeps the wild alive

and close to our swirling 

yearnings satisfied.

MARCH GRAZING UPDATE

Despite the welcome 1.5” of rain this month, bringing our total rainfall for the season on Dry Creek to a meager 6”, our grass is short and thin, especially on the south and west slopes of our lower foothill country.  Unless we get some well-spaced rains in April, we will wean our calves early, probably weighing 50 lbs. lighter than usual.  With limited stockwater and no dry feed to carry our cows through summer, fall and to an unknown beginning of our rainy season, we will have cull our cow herd deeply.  A strong high pressure ridge, typical of La Niña, is blocking storm activity to California and the rest of the West. Furthermore, market returns for cattle producers are stuck in an unsustainable range, in part due to Covid-19.  

After a wonderfully fun day helping Kenny and Virginia McKee brand their calves in Woolley Canyon yesterday, Robbin and I are moving slowly as we recuperate by enjoying the colors of spring in the gathering fields around us. The lush appearance of the Fiddleneck and Popcorn Flowers in the photo below is deceptive as they have little nutritional value for cattle, but they do shade the ground and help hold what moisture we have. 

GRAZING UPDATE

This morning’s circle with salt and mineral for the first-calf heifers in the hills behind the house was not encouraging for the first of March.  The south slopes are short and turning fast and the heifers want, and need, hay, though the calves look OK.

The forecasters have taken Saturday’s rain away, but next week still appears to be wet.  We know that this ground is resilient, but with only March and April left as our only chance for real grass, this season’s future looks bleak and will probably require early weaning and a heavy culling of our cow herd, as there will be little old feed leftover to sustain these cows through summer and fall.

From an economic perspective, it costs around $500+ to keep our first and second calf heifers for a year, then add $400 for hay plus labor since August, an $850 calf won’t pencil out. Furthermore, with minimal snowpack and only four inches of rain this season, irrigation water will be expensive and the price for summer alfalfa high. Whether one believes in Climate Change or not, the trend for the last decade has been drought, (all across the West), the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime here, where losing money takes all the romance out of raising cattle.  Nevertheless, we’re in it for the long haul and hope for the better days. 

MARCH 1, 2021—SHORT-CROPPED GREEN

When I was young I wished
for longer springs and hillsides 
painted with wildflowers,
 
grass belly-high and every canyon
running water—livestock grazing
pastoral notions, heavenly eternal.
 
I may have to stand in line 
on the trail to mountain pastures
when I shed this human coil,
 
but hope to hell that the majority 
of souls will be waiting 
at the Pearly Gates instead.

Wagyu X Branding 2

We are extremely fortunate to have an excellent crew of neighbors to help us mark our calves. Yesterday was a beautiful day to brand our second bunch of Wagyu X calves, though pretty dusty near the end of the work.  Even though the hills are green, the grass is terribly short with only 4.31” of rain on Dry Creek thus far this year with only two months left of our rainy season. Furthermore, the spring forecast https://weatherwest.com/archives/8382 is quite disturbing.  

Feeding hay since August, some neighbors have already begun to sell their cows into this down market. Ideally, the cull cows will attain their heaviest weights by mid-April, however most everyone’s cows are now stressed as short feed and growing calves have kept them thin.  With little rain and a minimal snowpack, summer irrigation water will be in short supply, which translates to higher water prices in the San Joaquin Valley.  Likewise, one can be assured that with fewer cuttings, the price of hay will also be high.

The south slopes have already dried up, offering only a month of green this year.  Without any moisture in the next week, the west slopes will follow suit.  Not necessarily the amount of rain, but the timing is always the crucial variable for native feed. We carry on as if by some miracle we can keep our cows together, but time is running out for the Southern Sierra foothills.