Though we weaned our calves last spring in these pipe pens, we branded our first bunch of calves here yesterday. Earl McKee began construction nearly 20 years ago, and only with my sister’s help could we finish the job. In the upper pen, it feels as if we’re working on top of the world. With the camera on the table, multiple photo credits go to Audrey Maze, Allie Fry, Terri Blanke, Maggie Loverin and Robbin.
To make the handling process easier on the calves, we incorporated a head pen.
We’ve been looking forward to working cattle in our renovated corrals in Greasy, a project started by Earl McKee before our family purchased his ranch nearly twenty years ago. The work was completed last spring after we branded our calves in the old corrals. Today, we sorted cows from calves to be hauled down the mountain to begin the weaning process below.
In the photo, Robbin and the girls are sorting two gooseneck loads for Bob and me to haul, a two-hour round trip. While we were gone, they finished their sort and wormed the cows in our new facilities, pleased with all their options.
Six bunnies in the driveway as the grandkids and I fed the horses yesterday morning, drab Cottontails, but appropriate symbolism that drew excited squeals, yet underscored with knowing looks about the validity of the Easter Bunny. It was a messy feeding, half the flakes never made the manger, each child covered with alfalfa leaf, but the horses didn’t seem to mind the little strangers. In the Kubota, we prolonged the chore by naming the birds we saw, a covey of quail, a dove pair, a lone killdeer and blackbirds grazing the short-cropped green in the horse pasture.
Hoping to expose them to more wildlife, we took the crew to the corrals in Greasy that we just finished constructing, a project that Earl McKee began a decade or more ago. Even though we kept two of the three board pens intact, the interface with pipe required removing some posts and boards and losing an occasional thirty-penny nail. Each kid got a coffee can and the hunt was on for nails worth two-bits a piece, a practice run for plastic eggs filled with sweet surprises that my daughter was hiding in the dark as I went to bed. HAPPY EASTER!
Branding calves in Earl McKee’s corrals has always been removed from the rest of the world, separate from the conflicts and politics that we are bombarded with daily. Never more true than yesterday among a few neighbors and friends at our first branding of the year, most of us going ‘old people slow’ as we got the job done.
February 12, 2015
A black and white macro of weathered wood,
corrals and hills beyond, old guitar song
and chiseled men follow smoke to the ridgeline
and back to the fire and branding iron. A ringing
cell phone colors riders, a black calf stretched
between two sorrels—blue denim action
of men and women, old neighbors dancing,
each genuflecting to a moment on the ground.
“We’re branding calves,” a limp loop
answers from the corner, looking down
canyon past hazy orchards, somewhere town
as if he could see the caller, the papered desk,
stretch the thirty miles. A guy with a drone
reports, “We got ’em all.” Empty white tables
and chair legs licked by green tongues wait
with meat, bread and beans on an oak fire, ice chest
beer below a towel, soap and water, plastic glasses
and fresh jug of whiskey ready on a tailgate.
Close again, the chatter of visiting face to face,
gossip, stories and mysteries unveiled, fading
with cows with calves strung up the canyon home.
Less than two weeks ago, we began efforts to find more water in the Greasy watershed utilizing David Langton’s backhoe, the first time a backhoe has ever been to this part of the ranch. Terri and I made the loop with hay yesterday to monitor our water and feed the girls getting ready to calve.
The second trough at Ragle Springs is now full and overflowing. When time allows, we’ll have to plumb an overflow at the low end away from the dirt fill placed around the trough that will probably entail chipping a saddle in the concrete in order to cement a pipe that will have to be anchored to a post beside the trough to keep the cows from breaking the concrete when they rub on the pipe. Any kind of construction for cattle is a challenge. But for the moment, we have plenty of water storage available for the cows, giving us two good springs in our Sulphur pasture. Ragle Springs
The troughs are full and the new spring box is running steady @ about 1/3 gpm. Railroad
Water continues to accumulate at Grapevine at two locations. Grapevine
The cows were scattered and harder to locate yesterday, grazing farther from water now, secure and satisfied that water will be available tomorrow.
For Source and Age Verification, we document our first calf born for the season, so buyers and consumers will know the age of our oldest calf. (First only if we don’t include the four calves born a month early after a bull jumped the gun at the end of last October.) Surprise
We track circles on the same ground
through brush and granite rock,
over mountains and down canyons
patched with spooky skeletons
of trees, broken limbs at their feet.
Last year’s blond and brittle feed
folds into dust under foot, under wheel
into decent firebreaks swirling around us
as we check springs and clean water troughs
measured with our eye. We carry hay,
fat cows come running six to the bale
once a week, fresh calves knocking
at the door of a new and wobbly world—
waiting to inhale one hundred degree heat.
Too soon to rain, we plod like cows
in dusty circles, all soft trails
lead to water and shade, or to the hum
of solar pumps in abandoned wells.
Posted in Photographs, Poems 2015, Ranch Journal
Tagged August, broken limbs, Calves, cows, Drought, granite rock, Greasy Creek, Hay, photographs, poetry, rain, water, weather
In the branding pen,
the steady dance of old hands
Weekly Photo Challenge: Motion
With an eye towards weaning our calves, last week’s tour of the Greasy watershed to check cattle and feed conditions was a pleasant surprise. Typically we begin weaning in mid-May when the grass turns. With less than 0.75” of rain in the last forty-five days, my expectations were minimal. But our upper country above 1,500 feet has fared substantially better than our lower foothills where only patches of green remain high on the north slopes.
Having reduced our cow numbers by 40% due to the ongoing drought, we have found a temporary equilibrium between grass and cattle without having to feed much hay last winter. But due to feed limitations, we were unable to keep any calves last season for replacement heifers. Assuming a return to more normal weather conditions, we will need to replace our older cows while also trying to add numbers to our cowherd. However many heifer calves we’re able to keep, won’t produce a calf to wean for two more years. Rebuilding a cowherd is a slow process. Certainly the three girls above will be candidates, but how many we’re able to keep remains to be seen.