We’ve been sharing ranch life with our dear Canadian friends Denise Withnell and David Wilke from Cowboy Celtic for the past few days, exhausted as they head home to Victoria. Like kids, we’ve been having way too much fun while getting very little work done. Taking them on a tour of the Paregien ranch to put out salt and mineral while assessing the practicality of branding our bull calves, we found roads still too wet in places for a pickup or gooseneck.
With two saved from oak tree entanglements, they had to endure my rant about why mylar balloons ought to be illegal.
Thank you, dear friends for helping to prove that you’re never too old for a picnic.
So hampered by the wet ground, we were only able to see a few cows and calves on the Paregien Ranch. The cows are producing lots of milk, there’s plenty of grass and the calves are really growing. Right now they would be handful to brand, and who knows when we’ll be able to get up the mountain to get that job done.
With little creeks running either side of the dirt track to the Windmill Spring, we were surprised to see so much water flowing from the spring box to the trough, a full 3/4″ pipe full (click to enlarge). Quite a change from the weekly maintenance and a quarter-pipe full or less for the last four years. We’ll see how long it lasts.
At the top of the watershed, the Paregien Ranch feeds Ridenhour Creek on its way to Dry Creek. The higher ground is saturated with springs popping up out of cow trails that become small rivulets adding to the seeps to contribute to its flow. It’s not often that we see Ridenhour run this much water at about 25% of its flow, judging by the high-water mark, during the height of our storms of two weeks ago.
Unbelievably, only one wire is broken beneath the top of this Blue Oak, a victim of the drought and the high winds from the last storm on the Paregien Ranch. Kubota only, the roads are wet, water running in every crease. It will take at least a week without rain before we can get back in a pickup at about 2,400’, or before gathering horseback. The long-range forecast is for more rain at the end of next week.
Not a business to schedule by the calendar, the three major variables we must contend with are the weather, the market and politics. After four years of drought, we’ve found new extremes to our adaptability, thinking well outside the box of past-experience. Just how we will adapt will be interesting. Furthermore, the cattle market is off about a third of the prices received three years ago, and most producers have had to cull their cow herds so deeply that reduced calf-crops may not cover costs.
No one knows the impact of the current politics, other than markets for almost every commodity will probably not be stable. Additionally, much of the domestic beef business depends on exports, of late reduced by a stronger dollar. With existing global trade agreements under fire, there is perhaps less certainty about the market for beef since the fiasco of the first Dairy-Out Program nearly 40 years ago.
We have plenty of places to busy our hands and occupy our minds as we develop a near-term plan around all three variables of this business. Even though we are at the mercy of the weather, the market and politics, we do have job security, for a while.
The clouds you ride are tissue-paper thin.
– Red Shuttleworth (“If You Had a Tail Fins Caddy”)
High on the mountain, two isolated cows surprised
graze thick fog without wet bags, act guilty found
in one another’s company before their inevitable trip
to town when we gather, the price of truancy
they seem to know or hear through my eyes
and the mist between us, or pure imagination
that blooms personified from my disappointment.
A little too content to be on vacation from maternity
and needy nurseries, the mother in me understands.
Up here, the footing is treacherous, each tentative step
measured against all the break-through, downhill
possibilities—up here the poems hang in oak trees.
Hide-outs saved for sane
discussions, always listening
between short sentences
for advances within the dry
and brittle skeletons of spring—
we could forever be nervous
deer on the rebound, come back
to ricochet within a shrinking
wild that we have helped consume.
On the outskirts, perhaps
we feel it now approaching, wind
the scent of human arrogance
surrounding us, that we succumb to
out of necessity knowing
we’re headed in the wrong direction.
Heading into winter, black cows yet fat
sucking calves—damp, thick-piled green after rain—
everyone is clean and shiny off the hill, parading
to water early to laze in the shade. Pages
of poetry shuffle across a desk messy with business,
an untitled collection scattered and spread,
collected and clipped faraway in my head
from our family of cows, from short remarks:
our song of words and phrases overflowing
with the water troughs at Windmill Spring,
spilling too spontaneously to require editing.
We needed to collaborate, to escape the loud
and demanding devils too close to home.
In this place, we are blessed with native eyes
and forgotten tongues—where we can relate
long poems in the luxury of untamed silence.
As recollections fade, I’m careful not to claim the recent as the biggest or the best of anything, but this past week’s germination of grass is as thick as any I can recall. How well it will endure the above-average temperatures predicted to push 80 degrees for the next ten days remains to be seen—no rain in sight.
Yesterday, Robbin and I made the Kubota trip to the Paregien Ranch with salt, mineral and the last protein lick until next summer while checking the cows, calves, and the rain gauge: 1.44”. More like spring than fall, our new green grass, even at a higher elevation of 2,200 feet, has begun to usurp our ample old feed. Cow numbers light due to the heavy culling during the drought, we haven’t had to supplement these cows with alfalfa yet this year—a good thing. It will take two or three ‘normal’ seasons before we get our cow numbers close to a sustainable capacity again, unwilling to buy non-native cows that take at least two years to finally acclimate to this ranch and cycle regularly.
Checking cattle once a week, the Kubota has become so familiar on the Paregien Ranch that wildlife are seldom startled. With tall feed and cover, we haven’t seen many deer in the past six months. It was reassuring to see that the Blacktail buck above had survived hunting season, now in rut and somewhat oblivious to our presence. With a doe and fawn grazing acorns, he was more content to rest in the shade than leave.
Early mornings cool and talking firewood earlier in the week, we came off the hill with a load of dry Manzanita.
Terri Drewry photo
Long shadows on blond feed tall,
standing skeletons of oaks from drought,
the gray cow caught talking with an iPhone
to her new, silver-belly calf.
No audio, too far to catch the vocabulary
lesson, the inflection of each murmur
into song, the guttural beginnings of all words—
a universal language of basic sounds
with deep meanings that defy time
and cultures, that survive the latest plague
of progress and the genius of science—
no better teacher than a mother cow.