Tag Archives: irrigation

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.

Dawn on the Pasture

 

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When I arrived yesterday to change my irrigation water, a coyote was nonchalantly studying these cows and calves from just outside the fence. The cow beneath the Valley Oak was lying close to her calf, hours old. The cows, of course, knew he was there well before I did. Taking an indirect approach, coyotes will gradually work their way among the cattle acting preoccupied and harmless until they become familiar to a bunch, all the while looking for any weakness among the calves—hence the Trickster moniker.

We have completed our first month of calving and pleased with 50% of our calves on the ground, a bright spot in the middle of this drought, though our total cow numbers have been reduced by half these past four years. This is the third calf for this particular bunch of cows bred by Vintage Angus bulls.

 

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As the light turns softer and shadows longer, early mornings can be rewarding with lots of wildlife this time of year, especially where there is water. About twenty Canadian Geese are stripping the ripe seed of the water grass elsewhere in the pasture and our little bunch of wild turkeys, that are becoming used to me and the Kubota, are rummaging for bugs where I’ve completed my irrigation.

I take my camera, never knowing what I’ll see.

 

PERMANENT PASTURE

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Near the Solstice,
my irrigation water languishes,
lollygags in the pasture
of short-cropped green
and a few too many cows—

soaking and absorbed
fifty yards shy
of the wilting end
to my temporary world.

Fifty years ago,
my mother’s father
curtly admonished me,
forever instilled
that nothing is permanent.

After a dark night
of chasing dreams,
I wonder if death
is nothing—
nothing more
than a good sleep
while the water runs
to pasture’s end.