My sister and I circled the mountain pasture behind the house in the Kubota after opening the gates to the flat below for the first-calf heifers and their Wagyu X calves before we drive the bunch to our scales and processing corrals next week. The calves need to be revaccinated before we ship them in May to Snake River Farms to be finished as American Kobe Beef. Not quite the same as gathering a horseback, she managed to see a lot of country where the cattle had been before we finally found them—a steep, rough ride nonetheless.
Gentle and Kubota-broke, our cows spend their first three years in our low country before graduating up the hill, and managing to gather them all was not a surprise, but offered an up-close look at the cows and calves for my city sister to see. Also, part of our purpose for gathering them a little early was to begin grazing the tall ripe feed around the house that will become a fire hazard this summer, despite the firebreak I’ve bladed with the skid steer.
Within a couple of hours, as if invited to Easter dinner, some of the cattle had gathered below our ‘sip ‘n’ dip’ for a visit.
We spoil them, I say—
give them everything they need
to breed, to become mothers
to their first calf—a chance
to prolong life facing nature
together, year after year
like us, and our neighbors—
like good maternal families
our future trails behind us.
I watch cows for affirmation
of living simply well without
those self-centered addictions
like bathing in milk, all the mirrored
poses dressed in wet white film
pure, all the grass or chopped alfalfa
rivers dripping tears of pearls
on the carpet, on the floor
in front of the hungry—without
that arrogance we are famous for
flaunting—as if the devil cared
about another soul crowded into hell.
Right after a rain, they know the grass
grows taller and stronger at the top
of these steep hills, pausing long to graze
between each step of their calm ascent.
Warm green December, grass ahead
of fewer cattle, young bulls work
at making friends in a perfect world
of tight fences and swinging gates
everyone respects for a little while.
On the uneasy edge of drought,
we will imitate fat calves lazing,
content to watch the show unfold
into the ordinary—nothing remarkable,
but with any luck a change for good.
I stumble out of an old dream panicked
about cattle I haven’t checked in months
on a hidden ranch I can’t place, connect
except they were not grazing vineyard rows
with no fences, not loose in town this time,
but on some hard-to-gather rolling ground
you can’t see from the pocked asphalt road
snaking through blond summer foothills.
Last time, they were OK, bull calves
too big to brand breeding sisters, but alive
on good feed and water. It may have been
the turkey dressing drenched in juices,
or the cranberries fermenting fear familiar
that I recognize more than this imagined place
to wait before saddling a horse, loading-up
asleep to tilt at impossible windmills.
I’ve been here before, rusty wire on redwood
posts askew, exploring canyons, finding old
rough-haired families too weak to be wild—
all the guilt and disappointment I need
to torture my subconscious. Too old for that,
I roll over to let my weak knees hang before
testing with a first step towards reality:
cigarette, coffee and a poem for Black Friday.
Unloaded into a new world
from the soupy end of a semi,
three clean, black and fat young bulls
spend their first night bewildered
away from home with alfalfa
to rest before I brand and turn them
into families of cows and calves
strung in a line on hay waiting
for their awkward inspection.
It takes time to learn the language
of making love, a prolonged foreplay
of mistakes and miscalculations
as I remember shadows in the 60s,
a fractured bravado ready
for reconstruction any time of day.
An old man worries nonetheless—
checks their progress before dark
confirming they’ve been to water.
Still working on their approach
to young mothers, no seed planted yet,
nothing banked into our future.
As recollections fade, I’m careful not to claim the recent as the biggest or the best of anything, but this past week’s germination of grass is as thick as any I can recall. How well it will endure the above-average temperatures predicted to push 80 degrees for the next ten days remains to be seen—no rain in sight.
Yesterday, Robbin and I made the Kubota trip to the Paregien Ranch with salt, mineral and the last protein lick until next summer while checking the cows, calves, and the rain gauge: 1.44”. More like spring than fall, our new green grass, even at a higher elevation of 2,200 feet, has begun to usurp our ample old feed. Cow numbers light due to the heavy culling during the drought, we haven’t had to supplement these cows with alfalfa yet this year—a good thing. It will take two or three ‘normal’ seasons before we get our cow numbers close to a sustainable capacity again, unwilling to buy non-native cows that take at least two years to finally acclimate to this ranch and cycle regularly.
Checking cattle once a week, the Kubota has become so familiar on the Paregien Ranch that wildlife are seldom startled. With tall feed and cover, we haven’t seen many deer in the past six months. It was reassuring to see that the Blacktail buck above had survived hunting season, now in rut and somewhat oblivious to our presence. With a doe and fawn grazing acorns, he was more content to rest in the shade than leave.
Early mornings cool and talking firewood earlier in the week, we came off the hill with a load of dry Manzanita.
Within a week of late October rains, a forest
of green blades twisting, chasing warm
golden light between canyon horizons,
reaching while we sleep to a waxing moon
sailing south across black starlit seas—
a germination thick as hair on a dog’s back.
Hard clay turned soft underfoot, under cloven
hooves, out of the bleached and brittle rubble
of last year’s feed, a spreading miracle of green
as the earth stirs with another birth of grass.
And we are tied to it, mentally shackled
and physically restrained to work within her
moody generosity, daring not with word
or thought to piss her off—we have our gods
and goddesses we adore, stealing glimpses
every chance we get outside to pause
and praise them. All our totems, the bird
and animal people of the Yokuts know
our names, know our habits, show us the way
this canyon was designed to support life,
here and beyond us, with a crop of grass.
Weekly Photo Challenge: “Chaos”
Posted in Photographs, Poems 2016, Ranch Journal
Tagged birds, cattle, grass, photography, poetry, rain, water, weather, weekly-photo-challenge, wildlife, Yokuts
A dark day after over an inch of rain, Terri and Lee feed the replacement heifers before the Wagyu bulls arrive next month. Already dated, this photograph doesn’t show the green that has spread across the damp ground in the past three days. Temperatures forecast for the next ten days are in the mid-to-high-70s—perfect growing weather for our native grasses. Already, our first-calf heifers are leaving our flatter feeding grounds for the hillsides in search of green grass tall enough to bite, steep ground softer now to climb and graze a little dry feed with the new.
Shorter days stuck in the low-50s, chilly mornings linger as both man and beast seem slower to get started, much of the pressure off after four days of rain and a thick germination of seed. Robbin and I are already talking firewood after we check the cows and calves on the Paregien Ranch, a Kubota load to augment the leftovers of last year’s stack, kept short to discourage rattlesnakes around the house. We’re ready, I think, to face whatever weather we get this winter, hoping always for well-timed rains.
Temperatures have eased off in the past few days, mornings in the low 60s, allowing our cattle a little more time to graze. The replacement heifers were undeterred by the Kubota or my presence this morning while the pump was filling their stockwater tank, intent on breakfast before heading to shade.
Though the highs have been just over 100 here, a good part of the day feels like fall, though we know summer is a long ways from being over, but a welcome relief from the highs of 113 at the end of July. Forecasts for the next ten days appear to be relatively mild, more of the same.