Tag Archives: Drought

SPRING 2021






Short-stemmed wildflowers
attempt to act normal, draw
eyes from bare hillsides.
 

SOMEHOW, STILL LIVING





                        Swirl of savage sunsets,

                        Swirl of the dead

                        Somehow, still living.

                                    – Adrian Louis (“Degrees of Drought”)

Bribed with little water,

we have enticed Redbuds

to brighten our gardens

with cardinal colors

regardless of rainfall

before they leave

green hearts in spring.

Even the bare hills

sigh and grin relieved

for the living, love us

for our generous nature

that keeps the wild alive

and close to our swirling 

yearnings satisfied.

LAST CHANCE


Another round of Blue Oak

from the limb droughts have cured

to fall with a crash in the yard—

after the calves were marked

and friends were fed and gone,

you and I and a bottle of wine

before the fire we cooked upon

waiting for the pillowed clouds

to collect and turn dark gray—

our forecast rain.  Tough filaree

looks like the dirt it’s hanging on,

leaves red and brown and in between—

last chance for feed this spring.

One wonders why we do this

to become the grass we need.

GRAZING UPDATE

This morning’s circle with salt and mineral for the first-calf heifers in the hills behind the house was not encouraging for the first of March.  The south slopes are short and turning fast and the heifers want, and need, hay, though the calves look OK.

The forecasters have taken Saturday’s rain away, but next week still appears to be wet.  We know that this ground is resilient, but with only March and April left as our only chance for real grass, this season’s future looks bleak and will probably require early weaning and a heavy culling of our cow herd, as there will be little old feed leftover to sustain these cows through summer and fall.

From an economic perspective, it costs around $500+ to keep our first and second calf heifers for a year, then add $400 for hay plus labor since August, an $850 calf won’t pencil out. Furthermore, with minimal snowpack and only four inches of rain this season, irrigation water will be expensive and the price for summer alfalfa high. Whether one believes in Climate Change or not, the trend for the last decade has been drought, (all across the West), the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime here, where losing money takes all the romance out of raising cattle.  Nevertheless, we’re in it for the long haul and hope for the better days. 

Wagyu X Branding 2

We are extremely fortunate to have an excellent crew of neighbors to help us mark our calves. Yesterday was a beautiful day to brand our second bunch of Wagyu X calves, though pretty dusty near the end of the work.  Even though the hills are green, the grass is terribly short with only 4.31” of rain on Dry Creek thus far this year with only two months left of our rainy season. Furthermore, the spring forecast https://weatherwest.com/archives/8382 is quite disturbing.  

Feeding hay since August, some neighbors have already begun to sell their cows into this down market. Ideally, the cull cows will attain their heaviest weights by mid-April, however most everyone’s cows are now stressed as short feed and growing calves have kept them thin.  With little rain and a minimal snowpack, summer irrigation water will be in short supply, which translates to higher water prices in the San Joaquin Valley.  Likewise, one can be assured that with fewer cuttings, the price of hay will also be high.

The south slopes have already dried up, offering only a month of green this year.  Without any moisture in the next week, the west slopes will follow suit.  Not necessarily the amount of rain, but the timing is always the crucial variable for native feed. We carry on as if by some miracle we can keep our cows together, but time is running out for the Southern Sierra foothills.

DULL ROAR

Dark rain in waves, 
an oscillation of applause upon the roof
that soothes and insulates the senses
 
from the distant discord of mankind,
the lucid transparency of public figures
that saddens the soul—
 
this narrow canyon lit across in gold,
blind flashes of humility,
the roll of thunder close.
 
The short-cropped green hangs on 
to naked clay hoping for heaven’s basket 
of spilt miracles to soften hillsides 
 
for roots—and cloven hooves
reaching for the ridgetops ripe 
for more level grazing.
 
Dark rain in waves
punctuated by the light—
relief for what we know.

RED SKIES AT DAWN

Thin starts lay limp 
as green fades to gray
amid the brittle stalks 
of short-cropped dry
the cows have missed
 
as I open the gate
ahead of several storms
to search for Live Oak—
stove wood heat 
with little ash
 
prostrate since 
the 4-year drought
branded in my mind—
decomposing now
before my eyes.
 
Limbs ache with years
bent to this ground
chasing seasons of grass,
but red skies at dawn
reawakens the flesh.

Branding Greasy 2021

(Click to enlarge two feet)

The high clouds had given way to sunshine by the time we finished branding a little bunch of calves in Greasy yesterday.  Well off the road, it’s a luxury to be among good friends and neighbors who are exceptional help, folks who know how to make the work fun.

Though dusty, there’s a little more green showing at this elevation (2,200’) where we have received 1.72” of rain thus far this season, much like the beginning of the 2013-14 drought year where we had less than 1.5” of rain in Greasy through the month of January.  Our 10-day forecast is dry. 

SMART SURVIVORS

Leaving the feed grounds
for the ridge tops
with their first calves,
 
native cows know
where the green comes first
after a little rain
 
softens the clay
for cloven hooves
and the climb up.
 
These are not dumb
welfare cows
that we have raised
 
and fed for months—
but smart survivors
to make us proud.

THE DEITIES

Maxfield Parish (“Garden of Allah” – 1918)
How could we know
the plans of goddesses and gods
with so much going on, busy
 
saving and taking lives,
sorting souls
amid this Covid,
 
while tilting the West 
out of range
of the good storms—
 
bare acres everywhere you go.
If even a shower
could bring some green,
 
cattle market’s gone to hell.
With everybody begging
for change, the pipeline may be
 
plugged with prayer overload, 
or perhaps our deities
are just teaching a lesson.