It was chilly this morning when Robbin and I left to look at the calves on the Paregien Ranch, going up Ridenhour Canyon along the way. Though we employ a few select Hereford bulls for heterosis that have added frame, durability and a calmer disposition to our cowherd, we typically don’t have too many straight Hereford calves. At 30 days old, we caught this bull calf posing in the canyon’s early light as if he was aspiring to become an FFA/4H show calf.
Since we posted a photograph with his mother at five days old, I thought it appropriate to include a photo of his father, Ruger 119 from Mrnak Herefords West, ready to go to work for his fifth year on this ranch.
Though warm temperatures persist, the days are noticeably shorter as the sun slides south down the ridge before it rises a little later each morning. We’re a couple of weeks to 30 days away from calving, depending on when we put the bulls out, trying last winter to keep our newborns out of September 1st heat by turning the bulls out two weeks later.
But to tweak our program slightly requires more than agreement between Robbin and I. The bulls have their own calendar, and we only wire fences to enforce our management decisions. Around Thanksgiving of last year, the bulls were ready to go to work. We were retrieving bulls and fixing fences daily, so we had to put a few out around the first of December to keep them away from the neighbor’s heifers that were to be bred to Wagyu bulls.
At 8:00 a.m., this Mark Beck bull cools down before retreating to oak tree shade.
They kinda put themselves out.
– Art Tarbell
All the barbed wire,
tight fences, gates
and management plans
sag under the weight
of errant bulls.
It’s in the air
dusk and dawn.
on paper only.
Any notion we may have had about putting our bulls out two weeks later is coming undone, under pressure of habit. A building crescendo of primal bellows in the canyon for the past three weeks has grown from chuckles to fixing fence and relocating errant bulls. Rather than fight nature and fix fence we’ve acquiesced to putting some bulls out now with the cows.
Two weeks ago one of our young bulls found the neighbor’s virgin heifers waiting for a Wagyu bull arriving mid-December. Rather then fix fence twice, we put him with some cows across the road. Monday, one of our older bulls crawled through two fences to find some cows and calves. We removed him and the temptation for the other bulls to another pasture. He then found our virgin heifers waiting for a Wagyu bull, mid-December.
Far from heifers, we put four older bulls out yesterday, four more today. What’s a couple of weeks, anyway?
The boys are on vacation across the creek as we gather to wean our calves from their mothers. With each new bull added to their pasture, primal bellows ring up and down the canyon as they establish a new pecking order since they were last together.
The Mrnak Herefords have been the basis of our crossbreeding program, adding heterosis, or bybrid vigor, to our Angus cow herd. ‘119’, pictured above, has completed his third year of service with every cow in his pasture recently palpated bred, a remarkable accomplishment considering the steep terrain.
Two years ago he broke one his horns in a battle with an Angus bull, two years his senior, that ended tragically for the Angus. Fortunately, we were able to doctor and repair his broken horn. King of our bulls, he still has to prove himself as the recent raw spots between his horns attest.
Of all the necessary evils strung
across the West, mile after mile
glistening either side of every highway,
every rail, keeping cattle in and people
out: lines of wire and sentry posts
standing between a disastrous mix
of urgencies, a clash of cultures:
the timeless calm of open space
invaded and escaped at seventy.
The better ground fenced between
Frost’s good neighbors, cross-hatched
into managed pastures cowmen dream
will optimize the grass, the grazing—
and of course the breeding: a tangled
trail of testosterone enraged to war,
a crash of skulls, two tons of bellowing
bulls colliding in a storm unwinding
borders for as far as they can.
Most cowboys despise fixing fence—
ride around the long step down
to keep the evil stuff up.
No father or mother left to leave
a Christmas gift under the tree—
even the child in us understands.
An ever-ready substitute, the old
Hereford bull plods along the fence
looking past the asphalt, gutturally
conversing with the neighbor’s
registered Angus mothers
while his younger brethren work
the steep brush and rock,
gather families in the wild
from last year’s seed.
Kept another year, just in case
someone gets hurt, we become
the extras for the gods—
walk the sidelines
lending words to the old songs
‘lest the world forgets
the melodies of Christmas
when it rains, or snows low
leaving only grass under trees.
With no worries about stockwater nor under the gun to feed cattle everyday, Robbin and I went to the Paregien Ranch Saturday to check on the bulls we put out Monday and to cut a Kubota load of stove wood ahead of the rain forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday.
The grass is fading in places but the cows are holding up fairly well with growing demand from their calves. What feed we have lacks strength, but with our reduced numbers, the cows are staying full.
We were a curiosity to a couple of bull calves, approaching three months old, as we cleaned up a dead tree near the solar pump that we installed this summer. Robbin took pictures while stacking the brush.
Liking the smell and taste of the wood chips and sawdust, I was worried that they might try to lick the chain saw blade.
Just checking on our cows and calves and cutting wood are the fun jobs we haven’t had the time or luxury to enjoy,
and getting comfortable with relaxing seems to come in stages after virtually two years of feeding and trying to keep the nucleus of our cow herd intact. But we made real progress towards becoming human again over our fun-filled Thanksgiving weekend.
The trailing end of a storm front that brought heavy rains to the Pacific Northwest lingered along our Sierra Nevada foothills all of yesterday, keeping temperatures in the mid-70s beneath dry, but fairly constant, cloud cover. The below-60° chill lasted well into the morning, a winter feel that made us want a fire. A near-perfect day as Robbin was playing and singing a Nanci Griffeth song in the other room while I was at my desk.
With the weather change, testosterone levels down at the bull pen (Go Giants!) have elevated a notch leaving me substantial fence to fix after they ostracized a young bull into our buffer zone between the cows and calves. Though he was the loser, he had found his way to the cows nevertheless, 30 days early — leaving a another job for today after we finish feeding.
The Internet weather prognosticators are still holding to fair chance of a 1/2-inch rain for Halloween:
Until then, we wish it would rain.