Tag Archives: Calves

My Birthday Branding

 

 

Through the cerise redbuds and wildflowers awaiting sunshine to fully bloom, our slow hour’s drive up Dry Creek, then descending a curvy 245 to the entrance of Woolley Canyon, we arrived to brand the last of Kenny and Virginia McKee’s calves yesterday, despite concerns of Covid-19. Social distancing is virtually impossible in the branding pen.

Virginia had soap and wipes available and Kenny had prepared a concoction of 90% alcohol and witch hazel to spray on our hands that I used several times. It took the dirt off as well. Though apprehension varied among us, there was none of the normal hugs or handshakes, most keeping a noticeable distance when possible. But when it came to the groundwork and vaccinations, the work was necessarily close.

My separate apprehension on my 72nd birthday centered on a horse that I had roped on only once before. Robbin and I have outlived our dependable mounts, and I have had to borrow horses to get through this year’s branding season. By the end of the day, “Twist” was beginning to overcome his cutting horse breeding and he and I were having fun. After a couple of more brandings next year, he’ll be reliable at brandings.

Though everyone was given the option of not participating, we were there to help our neighbors, a cultural exercise we all prescribed to despite the risks. Not unlike workers tending and harvesting crops, it’s what we do this time of year. Not branding is not a viable choice in Woolley Canyon.

Working together with neighbors for a few hours on a beautiful day was a luxurious diversion from the news as we await a forecast rain.

 

April Fool’s Day 2020

 

 

Yesterday, Robbin and I began our 26th year together by making a loop through Greasy to look at the cows and calves, assess our feed conditions and put out salt and mineral. The cattle look great! We got an early start to the grass with November and December rains, but with a dry January and February, we lost our feed at our lower elevations on the south and west slopes. To date, we’ve only received three inches since the first of the year, but the grass at the higher elevations has just begun to grow.

A Border Collie at five months, it was Tessa’s first extended ride in the Kubota away from the house. Channeling her energy has been a challenge, but she’s smart and willing to please. It was good for her to be completely lost away from home and dependent on us for over four hours. Tired before she went to bed last night, she was sitting in the Kubota waiting for another ride.

Not much has changed for us, despite the Coronavirus pandemic. Normally, we do our best to stay out of town anyway. Before we have to get our Wagyu calves in for a second round of vaccinations, we’ve been preparing and planting our garden for the past couple of weeks—it’s what we do this time of year—that in turn will help us stay out of town later this spring.

However, we are not immune to the news as we try to imagine millions of people shut in their living quarters in a big city environment. Our hearts go out to them as we realize how fortunate we are to be free to move around the ranch to get our work done. Having something to do during this crisis is indeed a luxury.

 

2nd Branding Greasy 2020

 

Despite warm temperatures and no rain for nearly 30 days, the calves have grown since we branded last in Greasy on January 9th.

 

Father and daughter, Garth and Audrey Maze pose before we start.

 

 

 

 

 

With a great crew, we made short work of big calves and were down the hill by noon. Thank you all.

 

FEBRUARY 2020

 

 

Another cold dry front
rests upon the tops of hills,
shapeless clouds, a haze
upon steep south slopes,
red clay like brick—
green pales to gray

               as we brand calves
               one by one
               we may sell early
               with their mothers.

I brace against the familiar
drama, growing numb

               as my stiff new rope
               slides through the palm
               of time’s softened hand,
               warming as it searches
               for my frayed
               wrapped-cotton horn.

               I quote my elders
               dead and gone
               as they visit
               the branding pen.

Don’t worry, Dofflemyer,
               E. J.’d say.
It’s gonna rain.

It takes years to get here
with cows we like—
unwritten contracts
they understand

               as we discuss
               our options
               of who goes first
               and who gets what’s left
               of hay.

Of the two of us,
I am the dreamer
and believer—

a luxury
you have allowed me
               facing facts
as I grow gray.

                              for Robbin

 

Branding: Paregien Ranch 2019

 

 

Despite local forecasts for rain, we made the trek up the hill with our neighbors to brand our first bunch of calves for the season. Over the years here, we’ve dealt with fog, rain and snow, but yesterday the sun broke through the gray to complete a beautiful day.

 

 

Additional hazards are these two Blue Oaks that Effie Hilliard incorporated when she built these corrals many decades ago, one of which is now a casualty of our 4-year drought. Though we’ve threatened to remove them, consensus has been that they remain.

 

 

Though we see one another individually throughout the year, the first branding of the year is always a special get-together for all of us.

 

 

One of the benefits of trading labor is that everyone knows how we want the job done, whether a horseback or on the ground. You just can’t hire any better help than our neighbors.

 

 

And one of the drawbacks, as we age, is that some of us have now outlived our horses. Finding a replacement gentle and trustworthy enough for old men is not easy, but Tony Rabb brought a young buckskin mare to the branding pen for the first time with impressive success. Robbin and I thank everyone for helping us get the job done.

 

HOMER COVE 2019

 

 

How I crave the feel
                    of an old soft rope
                    in my hand,
                    spoke-balance loop
                    like an open mouth
                    hungry for heels
in the branding pen.

                    Fifty years
                    I’ve marked calves
                    on this spot,

                                        chicken-coop corrals:
                                        bog in the gate
                                        that Giz built:
                                                            hog wire stapled
                                                            over a 2 x 6 rectangle
                                                            I drug through the mud—
                                        replaced and almost forgotten.

It’s hard to let go:

                    same horseback look
                    south down-canyon,
                    creek meandering a bowl
                    of fresh green feed,

                    safe and apart
                    from a hazy world
                    beyond the narrows—

the feel of my rope
among neighbors
roping calves around a fire—

reliving a dream
on a borrowed horse.

 

WEATHER REPORT

 

 

Up early, awaiting
confirmation of the storm
slated to rain out plans
to brand calves
without complaining,

                    feeding hay
                    on slick roads
                    to thin cows
                    as grass grows
                    against the cold
                    Winter Solstice.

Nothing on the news
but red and blue politics,
mass shootings
and fog on 99,
ads for fast foods,
wonder drugs
and old age—
not one damn thing
I want. Nothing

                    I can change
                    but feed more hay
                    to hungry souls.

 

GOLDEN HOUR

 

 

Bob has been waiting for this cow to calve for a week, checking her and her tribe of first-calf heifers in the evenings. I am impressed with the iPhone’s ability to capture a wide range of light, and if held still, its sharpness. He’s also captured the maternal instincts of this new mother #8118, a Hereford-Angus X cow, with her fresh Wagyu X calf – exactly what we’re looking for in replacement heifers.

 

IO

On the horns of an infant moon,
the creek shrinks and pools
between sycamores and live oaks

as babies come to first-time mothers
bringing the bear tracks downcanyon
on the scent of spent placentas.

Black progeny of the river nymph –
white heifer driven madly by Hera’s
gadfly Oestrus to cross continents

and populate Asia – find maternity
perplexing at first. Yet, lick and nuzzle
the stumbling wet struggle to stand,

suckle and rest that enflames instinct
in all flesh. Worthy timeless worship,
no better mother ever than a cow.

 

“IO” is included in POEMS FROM DRY CREEK, Starhaven, 2008.

 

Twins

 

 

Followers of the blog and and Facebook friends may be bored with our photographs of cattle, but it’s the most exiting time of year for us and our crew as the weather changes. It’s essential that we keep our eyes on our coming two-year old heifers that are having their first Wagyu X calves by recording their tag numbers and any other information that will help inform us as to whether they’ll make the cow herd or not—and to a less anxious degree, our second-calf heifers as well.

The twin bull calves from cow #3054, a mature six year old cow, appear to be sired by our Black Granite bull from Tehama Angus Ranch, spitting images of him at this stage of their short lives. We think that she can raise them both.

 

NO BETTER MOTHER THAN A COW

 

 

It’s early yet for rain,
for distant silhouettes
of cows and fresh calves
beneath oak trees
                    nurturing poetry
with murmurs and licks
on a young mother’s tongue.

A slow rhythm and meter
for weeks in the womb
that rumble clearly now:
                    single syllables,
                    grunts and moans—
a universal language
instinct pumps
forever between them.