Tag Archives: cattle

WINTER FIRES

 

 

Color comes with cold and wet

within the canyon, even before

the creek flows or sycamores burn

 

leather brown to shed their clothes—

white bodies tangled in a pagan dance

to gods unknown.  Orioles return

 

as sparks in the brush, levity

in the pink overcast of dawn.

We glean the fallen skeletons

 

of oak and brittle manzanita

to fill the woodstove. Curious cattle

come to wonder what we’re about.

 

LATE OCTOBER

 

They’ve taken Saturday’s rain away

with future promises

like plastic magic debt

no one intends to pay.

 

We’ve been here before,

crooning to godesses

not to forget us

like the hopeless homeless.

 

We are this ground

rooted into the future

like the plodding lives of cattle,

trusting, trusting, trusting….

 

DEJA VU HAIKU

 

1.

Gray dust clouds rising

behind cows down powdered trails

off these bare mountains.

 

2.

The diesel feed truck

awakes a bawling chorus

to claim the canyon.

 

3.

All imperative

and hungry, it twists our guts—

La Niña pending.

 

 

BENEATH THE EAVES




We’re talking cattle

with a rising moon in June,

making plans for cows and calves—

 

the gather and sort to town,

where old friends shuffle

across the sale barn’s catwalk,

 

boot soles sliding, glad

to be moving among the living

when so many are not.

 

No one cares about our conversations,

the moon eavesdrops when it wants

just to measure our progress.

 

 

LAST LOAD TO IDAHO

Photo by Terri Blanke

 

Say good-bye to your mothers

for the long ride

all you children—

the truck is clean

shavings on the floor.

Driver said it snowed

before he left,

needed chains on Donner

rolling empty here in May.

 

We shake our heads

about the weather,

damn little rain,

the creek’s gone dry.

With a week of winds

the oaks have come alive,

tree limbs dancing

like separate tongues

trying to lick the sky.

 

 

We shipped our last load of Wagyu X calves to Snake River Farms on Tuesday as we continue to gather and wean our Angus calves.  Both cows and calves have done well despite the extremely dry spring, in part because of our heavy culling that cut our cow herd by a third after only six inches of rain the year before. With drought across the Western US, cow numbers are down everywhere resulting in a stronger market than we’ve seen in years. With unpredictable weather, higher costs for grain and inflation, we may be raising beef we can’t afford to eat.

MOWING

 

After I mowed the lawn, I opened the gate for the cows and their Wagyu X calves to the horse pasture to eat the grass and weeds horses don’t like to lessen the fire danger and make it easier to spot a rattlesnake at a distance.  A treat for the cattle as we wait to process their calves on Tuesday and a treat for us to see them in the evenings. 

 

We let our big dog Buster, a Great Pyrenees/German Shepard X that was part of the litter dumped on Dry Creek Road several years ago, loose to work at night keeping the coyotes, feral pigs, raccoons, skunks, etc. out of the yard.  We don’t want him to make a mistake while we’re sleeping, so we move the cattle out before dark.

 

Last night, Robbin walked and worked our Border Collie Tessa on commands to gently ease them toward and out the open gate—a great exercise and confidence builder for them both.  Tessa has been with us enough around the cows to know how we work them (old people slow) and plenty of herd in her breeding.  I’m guessing they’ll do it again tonight, it’s been good watching.

 

READY FOR PROCESSING

iPhone Photo by Terri Blanke

 

We’ve begun processing our Wagyu calves with a second round of vaccinations for Snake River Farms that we plan to ship in the first week of May. Each calf gets an Electronic Identification (EID) button and a tag to match at the same time. These calves are from our first-calf heifers that we poured the hay to from last July into December because of the short feed and to keep our first-calf heifers in shape to cycle and breed back. We don’t have to run the numbers to know that these calves won’t bring enough to pay for the hay we fed.

 

Every feed season is different, even in a drought.  The Christmas rains saved our bacon, over 3 inches or nearly a third of our rainfall to date. And again, in the nick of time, two storm at the end of February and beginning of March that offered nearly 1 ½ inches.  The three events made pretty decent feed in the corrals above and elsewhere as we approach the end our rainy season—nothing forecast for the next two weeks—proving once again that it’s not the quantity of rain, but the timing that’s most important in the cattle business. 

 

With a shortage of water to irrigate alfalfa in California, hay will be expensive.  Having cut our herd by a third last year (6 inches total), we hope there will be enough old feed to carry us through until November without feeding much hay in our upper country. However, we’ll have to help our younger cows in our lower country where the south and west slopes have already turned brown.  How many will be the question. 

 

We couldn’t keep any replacement heifers last year, and may not this year as the market gets stronger.  We’ll be making lots of decisions in the coming thirty days as we begin to harvest this year’s crop and plan for the next.

 

March 5, 2022

 

Misting, light snow on Sulphur Peak (3,400’) this morning, we ‘ve enjoyed 1.02” received thus far from the last two days of this season-saving rain—a little more scheduled for today.

 

But it was the 0.48” we received on the 23rd of February that truly saved our grass after 3 months of nothing but a few heavy dews.  The ground was so dry that it sucked all the moisture up by the next day to the extent the mud grips on the feed truck left no tracks.  The grass, that has been so thin in the Flat where we’ve been feeding our first-calf heifers since last July, finally filled in, and now is beginning to grow. Add this inch and we’ll be good to go for three weeks or so, depending on temperatures.

 

Robbin and I, with the help of Allie, Terri and our neighbors, got our last bunch of calves branded on Wednesday before this rain. Due to last year’s heavy culling because of the drought, our bunches were small this year, but the cows and calves looked great.  Whether or not we can make ends meet on so few numbers remains to be seen in the marketplace, now that the weather seems to want to cooperate—we have hope.

 

The third variable to survival in the cattle business has always been politics.  With the world in turmoil because of the invasion of Ukraine and its subsequent impacts, anything can happen to disrupt the marketplace, inflation and the pandemic yet still in the wings. Unresolved issues regarding the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), passed by the urban majority in 2014, adds to an uncertain future for all agriculture in California, one that will undoubtedly include foreclosures and lots of litigation for years to come.  Meanwhile, imposed fines and the cost of water may be too great to farm in California if the State has its way, once the richest agricultural region in the world.

 

Nothing stays the same.

Only nothing is normal.

 

 

CHRISTMAS GIFTS

Long dark shadows in the canyons,

cattle hard to see.  They don’t need us now,

heads down somewhere on the mountain,

 

ground too wet to help them anyway—

all the excuses I need to write poetry.

We fed hay all last year, filled the barn

 

three times waiting for a rain. These Christmas

storms: miracles to rejuvenate the earth

for man and beast, birds and insects,

 

steep hillsides begging to explode in leafy

salad greens—iridescent gifts in the sunlight,

like the old days, for years in a row that

 

have since gone dry and farther in between.

Nothing stays the same, just ask the skeletons

of old oaks where the natives ground acorns.

IDES OF AUGUST 2021

Dust trails behind

plodding black cows off the hills

to water, bellies stretched with calf,

while we drink coffee—

 

and we are proud of these cows

who grazed uphill to bed

while we drank Tangueray and tonic,

slice of grapefruit instead of lime.

 

An acquired taste, raising cattle

through years of drought—

a bittersweet love affair

with the ground that sustains us.

 

We know her every crease

and wrinkle, and which leak water—

all of her magic spots

forever branded in our brains.