Even though I haven’t been in the mood to post anything, I would be remiss not to journal one of the worst drought years in my lifetime, less rainfall (6.19”) than we received in 2013-14 (7.78”) during our 4-year drought of 2012-2016. After feeding hay all summer long into the fall in 2013, we finally had to sell half of our cowherd in 2015.
Currently, all that our steep hillsides have to offer is a short blond fuzz of dry grass that will soon be dust. I remember the drought of ’77 when the cows licked the grass seed to augment what hay we fed them. Knowing what’s ahead, we’ve begun gathering to wean early and have already sent a bunch of good cows to the kill plant, many of which had calves in their bellies. Due to the lack of snow in the Sierras, there’s little irrigation water to grow hay and the price is high, while cows aren’t bringing much money. Furthermore, stockwater from our natural springs in the upper country will be in short supply by fall——a perfect storm.
As we cull our cowherd, we’re focusing on a young nucleus as we realize that we’ll not get the money we’ll spend on hay this year with next year’s calf crop. Nevertheless, we’re plodding ahead: leaning forward as we take another step and praying for early rains this fall.
Thin grass fades
like awakening from a dream
to truckloads of hay
like any other day
of no rain—like nothing
I have ever seen.
819 & twins
We realize the practical importance of documenting our drought, its impact on the ranch and cattle, on us. Even in dry times, our life is rich with details, most all symbolically tied to moments of truth, some of which last for a long time.
Denial can be a dangerous thing with so many lives at stake, so many cattle waiting for rain. But now I doubt a rain could help the south and west slopes of brown native clay.
As we branded the calves this winter, we culled the cows for those that had turned old and thin since we culled them last summer, most without calves, bringing them off the mountain to allow more feed for the remainder that is holding better in our granite upper-country. By the end of branding field-by-field, we had collected a truckload where we fed them hay on the irrigated pasture of only dormant summer grasses.
Clarence and Robbin trailed behind the bunch slowly following the Kubota with its single bale of hay, each cow eagerly filing past me as we got closer to the feed grounds and corrals as I assessed them, judging fullness and fitness—how they’d look in the auction ring. Moving closer, they began to buck, kick and run with excitement, with just the thought of hay.
In the corral, Robbin assured me that she didn’t see anyone she was sorry to see go. We brought the cameras that we forgot about while crowding the cows up the foreign loading chute, reserved primarily for our annual crop of calves. Now old replacement heifers, they’d never seen a truck. “You can tell,” said Van Beek, the driver, after the first two drafts, “they are ranch raised.”