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.
Heading into winter, black cows yet fat
sucking calves—damp, thick-piled green after rain—
everyone is clean and shiny off the hill, parading
to water early to laze in the shade. Pages
of poetry shuffle across a desk messy with business,
an untitled collection scattered and spread,
collected and clipped faraway in my head
from our family of cows, from short remarks:
our song of words and phrases overflowing
with the water troughs at Windmill Spring,
spilling too spontaneously to require editing.
We needed to collaborate, to escape the loud
and demanding devils too close to home.
In this place, we are blessed with native eyes
and forgotten tongues—where we can relate
long poems in the luxury of untamed silence.
February 12, 2015
A black and white macro of weathered wood,
corrals and hills beyond, old guitar song
and chiseled men follow smoke to the ridgeline
and back to the fire and branding iron. A ringing
cell phone colors riders, a black calf stretched
between two sorrels—blue denim action
of men and women, old neighbors dancing,
each genuflecting to a moment on the ground.
“We’re branding calves,” a limp loop
answers from the corner, looking down
canyon past hazy orchards, somewhere town
as if he could see the caller, the papered desk,
stretch the thirty miles. A guy with a drone
reports, “We got ’em all.” Empty white tables
and chair legs licked by green tongues wait
with meat, bread and beans on an oak fire, ice chest
beer below a towel, soap and water, plastic glasses
and fresh jug of whiskey ready on a tailgate.
Close again, the chatter of visiting face to face,
gossip, stories and mysteries unveiled, fading
with cows with calves strung up the canyon home.
Down from the Cedar Grove Pack Station, we’re glad to have Lee Loverin back on the ranch. To have her spell my knees and back bucking bales and feeding hay is a godsend. Light since August, we’ve gradually increased the amount of hay to our first-calf heifers to help them raise month-old calves with growing appetites, and to our replacement heifers to insure they are in shape and cycling when the Wagyu bulls arrive in December. Trying to stay ahead of the game, our philosophy has always been that it’s cheaper to keep the weight on cattle than it is to put it back on after they get thin.
The huge Pacific storm that targeted the Northwest left only a trace of moisture here, not quite enough to even settle the dust. Nothing much in the extended forecast, meanwhile we’ll be feeding hay to our younger girls.
Out of the southwest, wind
down the dry draw damp—
dust devils dance across
ground grown bare by cows
meeting near the water trough
with the run and buck of calves
finding all four legs to stir
hope for nothing certain:
this first chance of rain.
Time may seem to fly
now that we are older,
or plodding slower shade
to shade with less idleness
to fill with complaint—summer
long and hot, but shorter than
our partnership with drought.
Weekly Photo Challenge: ‘local’