Already drawn to the trough,
to the prospect of being cared for,
choosing peace and domesticity,
we are startled with the interruption
of the news—as it happens—
and we become the audience
on stage, interviewed and counted
for ‘something’ by invisible pollsters
just to keep the plot alive:
a chicken in every pot,
better jobs and lower taxes
as wealth wicks up
the graft and scandals
we’ve become addicted to.
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.
The girls, Allie and Terri, were met by our second-calf heifers yesterday when they went up to Greasy in the Kubota with a little hay. Terri brought back this short video from her iPhone. It’s that time of year, babies everywhere!
Silhouettes at eventide,
trailing first-time mothers
across old feed haltingly.
Wobbly babies at their hocks,
they forget themselves—
let instinct override
social wants and needs.
Heifers to mothers,
instant maternity waiting
Out of the brush and rock,
the shade of trees, fresh
pairs pass one by one
toward the water trough—
small stage separate
from Main Street,
a different script
almost every night.
For our own Age & Source Verification records, this season’s first Wagyu calf born September 6, 2017 from first-calf heifer 6141, not due until the 15th of the month. Initially a bit of curiosity for the rest of the first-calf heifers, this heifer calf is doing well, though a bit lonely with no one to play with.
Our dilemma back in March after so much rain was whether we wanted to brand our calves that were averaging over 500 lbs. With only 45-60 days left of our grass season, we knew that castrating and working the bull calves would set them back for at least two weeks as they recovered from the branding pen, two weeks of no gains in weight plus always the risk of losing one or two in the process. A live bull is better than a dead steer.
A big part of our consideration was the neighbors we needed to get the job done, most old riding older horses if we could put together a younger ground crew. In the bigger picture, we trade labor, so most of us were facing the same dilemma, all trying to get our calves branded at the same time.
As the steer calves bring more money per pound than the bulls, we had to project the sale weights and difference in price to calculate the net return for each. We figured a discount of $15/cwt, or 15 cents/pound, on 750 lbs. bulls against 700 lbs. steer calves as a place to start. Then we had to calculate the cost of branding, the vaccine, the gather and hired labor, etc. I came up with $44/head and ran the figures by one of neighbors to see if we were being realistic.
We decided not to brand our calves, but had a few steers that we branded with our Wagyu X calves in our first load of bulls that we sent to town three weeks ago, encouraged that the bulls brought as much money as the steers because they weighed more. Not branding your calves is tricky business, but our neighbors are all honest.
The bulls and heifers in the photographs are from the Paregien Ranch, the biggest calves we have. Most of these heifers will be replacements in our cow herd. After a 5-day wean, the bulls sell today and will average around 800 lbs., heavier than the buyers will want. But we can’t go back, yet satisfied that we made the right decision. Half-way through weaning and harvesting our crop of calves, we have another bunch gathered ready to haul off the mountain on Thursday.
So hampered by the wet ground, we were only able to see a few cows and calves on the Paregien Ranch. The cows are producing lots of milk, there’s plenty of grass and the calves are really growing. Right now they would be handful to brand, and who knows when we’ll be able to get up the mountain to get that job done.
Rare harmony, the grays and greens
spill off the hills like stringed music
in the gloaming, naked oaks in granite,
cows and calves bent to new grass
step slowly mowing earth and rain
at work in the bright of day and night.
Like sea tides rising, each blade eager
twists towards the moon in cool darkness,
drawn to listen to heaven’s basic chords.
A wild sound is playing now outside
while waiting for a cloud, for the strum
of winter storms to prolong the song.
I turn away, blinded by November’s
first light, Redbud hearts enflamed
with last season’s feed on green
burning yellows between dark shadows
with the news, with disbelief.
I retreat to calm counsel with cattle:
scattered pairs, calves fresh with life
finding legs to fly—buck and run
figure-eights without direction always
circling back, showing off for mom.
We will work the heifers anyway—
give them everything we can
to make them attractive to Wagyu,
their first bulls. And we will wait,
as we always do, for rainy days.