Tag Archives: Drought

Bulls to Water

Our country is dry and short.  We’ve pulled the bulls off the irrigated pasture to make room for our bred heifers due to begin calving by the middle of September.  We will have to feed the bulls in this pasture where Allie and Terri were driving a few to water last week.  Even though we’ve sold 25% of our cows, we continue to step up the amount of hay we’re feeding with no idea of when it will end or whether it will pay for itself in the long run.  But if we have to sell more cows, we just don’t want them to be thin.    

HOT AND DRY

Cooper’s Hawk

under a rainbird’s shower,

yellow eyes

 

mermaid and frog

before taking a drink

at the ‘sip and dip’.

 

Too hot to hurry

in the heat

we all grow tame.

In the Weaning Pen

The calves will have spent a week here while getting over being separated from their mothers. This second bunch to be weaned will head to town on Wednesday, both steers and heifers, as we haven’t enough feed to hold on to any replacements. We’ve already begun cutting deeply into our cowherd, as the summer looks grim.

Drought of 2020-21

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.

Shipping Wagyu X Calves

Terri Blanke and Allie Fox photos

Great day for the crew as we shipped our first load of Wagyu X calves yesterday, but one month earlier and 100 lbs. lighter than usual due to current drought conditions.  Drier than 2013 with only 6” of rainfall for the season, we’re trying to conserve what grass we have.  Today we’re preg-checking their mothers as we begin to reduce the numbers of our cowherd.

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.