Up early, awaiting
confirmation of the storm
slated to rain out plans
to brand calves
on slick roads
to thin cows
as grass grows
against the cold
Nothing on the news
but red and blue politics,
and fog on 99,
ads for fast foods,
and old age—
not one damn thing
I want. Nothing
I can change
but feed more hay
to hungry souls.
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.
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.
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.
It’s early yet for rain,
for distant silhouettes
of cows and fresh calves
beneath oak trees
with murmurs and licks
on a young mother’s tongue.
A slow rhythm and meter
for weeks in the womb
that rumble clearly now:
grunts and moans—
a universal language
forever between them.
Though not short of feed in the flat below Terminus Dam, we keep plenty of alfalfa hay in front of our replacement heifers this time of year. The old feed is mostly filler without much strength and we want our yearling heifers to continue growing and be in shape to cycle when we turn the Wagyu bulls out three months from now. Protein licks and balanced minerals are also available.
In addition to the yearling heifers on the flat are some first-calf heifers bred last year to Wagyu bulls. Close enough to keep an eye on, all this special attention, (I’m afraid we spoil them), will help with the health of these coming first-calf mothers. It’s what we do before our rainy season begins, that time of year when it might rain.
This photo was taken Monday, September 16th as the clouds rolled in, confirmation of our second weather change of August, based on a thirty-day cycle.
@ Allie Fry
We saddled in the dark and drove up to the Paregien Ranch this morning to haul the calves down the hill to be weaned, a 3 mile, 30 minute, 4-wheel drive one-way pull off the asphalt from 700 feet to the 2,600 foot elevation. Terri, Allie and Robbin got the cows and calves to the old corrals at sunup to sort the cows from their calves. Nice, smooth sort. We had to lighten our gooseneck loads to about 7,000 lbs., instead of 10,000 lbs., because of this year’s slippery dry grass on the roads. But safer to make the extra trips than to lose a pickup and gooseneck, not to mention calves, or to get someone hurt.
It feels fantastic to finally have the last of the calves in the weaning pen. We’ve been gathering and weaning on other parts of the ranch since the second week in May. Tomorrow these calves get processed and bad eyes doctored. Next Tuesday the steers head to town. Whoopie-ti-yi-yay!
No need to worry
about fancy horsemanship—
the girls know the way.
Believe it or not, there are thirteen, or parts of thirteen, people in this photograph taken at Jody Fuller’s branding on December 15th—two calves are down. One of the things that has changed dramatically since I was a boy about the size of the two, (can you find them?) in the photo, is the processing at branding when the only vaccination we gave back then was a two-way clostridial. Everyone in this photo has a job.
The youngest boy with the purple glove has the pine tar to apply to the area of castration, the other has a syringe of Enforce 3 to apply in each nostril. Their mother, outside the pen, is keeping track of tag numbers (yes, there’s a tagger) and the sexes of the calves. Additionally, modified live vaccines to ward of respiratory illnesses and a broad spectrum of clostridial illnesses are given to each calf, plus a separate dewormer. Jody also gives her calves an injection of vitamins.
Because of the concern for antibiotics in beef, vaccines have been developed to limit the necessity for antibiotics in feedlots, essentially placing that responsibility, and cost, on the producer. The media is currently focused on the residue of antibiotics in most all the major hamburger outlets—old cows and bulls. A very small percentage of BEEF cows and bulls ever get an injection of antibiotics.
As neighbors, most of us are used to working together as we brand one another’s calves, but I think it’s remarkable that the job goes so smoothly, especially with two, unpredictable live calves on the ground.
Robbin and I were pleased to see the fresh calves at the Paregien Ranch, our mature cows already setting up nurseries. Though I have my theories, but exactly how the cows decide which new mother will be the babysitter is still a mystery. And who will replace her while she’s grazing?
The cows have broken up into bunches, the most expectant mothers hanging together. Especially vulnerable to coyotes during labor and immediately after the calf is born, struggling to stand and nurse for the first time, each cow depends on the security of the bunch.
It’s refreshing, reassuring, and almost inspiring to see such cooperation within a species without a fuss—an example of selflessness it might do well for humans to emulate. Until then, what better way to spend a Sunday.
For regular followers accustomed to a short philosophical poem, I’ve been on a sabbatical from the blog for well-over a week, a vacation without one ounce of guilt for not writing or posting daily. All good. We’ve been busy on the ranch nevertheless, as we’ve begun to supplement our younger cows with hay and all our cows with protein licks as our first calves will be arriving in a couple of weeks.
We hauled the girls above to the pasture around our house yesterday, two-year old first-calf heifers due to calve in the middle of September. In years past, we would have driven them the two miles here through three different occupied pastures and across the road. We hauled 53 head instead, rather than risk any mix-ups with our neighbor’s steers. For whatever reason, the heifers were plumb silly, making yesterday one of my hardest loading experiences in fifty years.
Though we had hay laid out to the water trough to welcome them to their new digs, Robbin and I went out this morning to feed them again and to help them acclimate to the dry feed after having spent all summer on the irrigated pasture. Right now they’re lost, but have calmed down substantially since yesterday’s debacle.
I’m working on a longer poem for a documentary produced by the American Angus Association, having to change my style to fit what I perceive the film to be. Tough sledding as I keep adding notions and ideas to the piece. Meanwhile, I’ve been somewhat satisfied with shorter pieces scratched out in the evenings like:
I know my name.