Despite local forecasts for rain, we made the trek up the hill with our neighbors to brand our first bunch of calves for the season. Over the years here, we’ve dealt with fog, rain and snow, but yesterday the sun broke through the gray to complete a beautiful day.
Additional hazards are these two Blue Oaks that Effie Hilliard incorporated when she built these corrals many decades ago, one of which is now a casualty of our 4-year drought. Though we’ve threatened to remove them, consensus has been that they remain.
Though we see one another individually throughout the year, the first branding of the year is always a special get-together for all of us.
One of the benefits of trading labor is that everyone knows how we want the job done, whether a horseback or on the ground. You just can’t hire any better help than our neighbors.
And one of the drawbacks, as we age, is that some of us have now outlived our horses. Finding a replacement gentle and trustworthy enough for old men is not easy, but Tony Rabb brought a young buckskin mare to the branding pen for the first time with impressive success. Robbin and I thank everyone for helping us get the job done.
© Terri Blanke
We processed a nice bunch of steer and heifer calves this morning that averaged 700 lbs. yesterday after hauling them from the Paregien Ranch. The steers will probably weigh in the 750 lbs. range, the heifers lighter. Today’s market wants calves in the 650 lbs. range to turn out on Mid-West grass, and pays less/pound for the heavier cattle, essentially giving away the extra pounds of beef we’ve worked to produce over the years. But nothing stays the same.
Despite market conditions, the good news is that there are many very nice replacement heifers in this bunch. Robbin and I maintain that we’re raising cows and that the steer calves help pay the bills.
@ Allie Fry
We saddled in the dark and drove up to the Paregien Ranch this morning to haul the calves down the hill to be weaned, a 3 mile, 30 minute, 4-wheel drive one-way pull off the asphalt from 700 feet to the 2,600 foot elevation. Terri, Allie and Robbin got the cows and calves to the old corrals at sunup to sort the cows from their calves. Nice, smooth sort. We had to lighten our gooseneck loads to about 7,000 lbs., instead of 10,000 lbs., because of this year’s slippery dry grass on the roads. But safer to make the extra trips than to lose a pickup and gooseneck, not to mention calves, or to get someone hurt.
It feels fantastic to finally have the last of the calves in the weaning pen. We’ve been gathering and weaning on other parts of the ranch since the second week in May. Tomorrow these calves get processed and bad eyes doctored. Next Tuesday the steers head to town. Whoopie-ti-yi-yay!
While waiting for the irons get hot, the first brandings of the season are like social events, a community of neighbors catching up with one another, great help from the first calf to the last. Thank you all.
We began baiting our cows and calves on the Paregien Ranch into the gathering field, yesterday, with the Kubota and a little alfalfa hay. We plan on branding tomorrow, trying to take advantage of our drying roads after 2.5” of rain last week. Fortunately, the Valley fog was not a factor until midday when it rose to cloak landscapes up to 2,500 feet. We’re going back this morning with horses to collect a little bunch we missed and sort the dry cows and late-calvers from the bunch. It’s still too early this morning to tell where the fog is.
With ample dry feed, we haven’t had to supplement these cattle this season except for a little ‘hello hay’ when we’ve checked them. Though the cows know our gathering routine and are camped on the hay we’ve strung-out through the gathering field in the photo, it’s a brand new experience for the calves. I found their confusion looking longingly beyond the gate, to the ground they knew, humorous enough to pull out the camera.
The weaned steers from the Paregien Ranch averaged over 800 lbs. and brought good money at the Vialia Livestock Market yesterday as we took a break from fixing fence with outside temperatures of 108 degrees. (Terri Blanke iPhone photo.)
No small accomplishment, we hauled the calves from the Paregien Ranch to our weaning corrals yesterday, nine gooseneck loads over an old four-wheel drive, bladed track—a slow-going, two-hour, 2000-foot descent off the mountain as the dirt gets looser with each successive trip. Nerve wracking, to say the least, we started early, and weighed the last load at 2:00 p.m. in 102 degrees before yesterday’s high of 107.
Robbin and I are pleased with the calves, the same calves we branded in early January. Some nice steers that will average about 775 lbs. and help offset some of our annual expenses, but we’re really looking forward to our sort of heifers, most of which will make our first cut for replacement heifers.
It all seems so rudimentary as we begin weaning our English calves, our harvest of last season’s higher elevation grass. Our special thanks to Bob, Allie and Terri Drewry who provided this iPhone photo.
Same old ground this time of year,
gathering grass-fat calves and steers,
pasture by pasture, to the corrals
to weigh and exchange for cash—
to do it all over again—a collage
of seasoned stories where details blend
within the bronze and brittle stems
between canyons fenced like funnels
down to flatter ground. Cattle gentler,
better bred to routine and for the hook
on these same old hills they graze,
when and if it rains in time for grass.
Habit after half-a-hundred years,
no two the same, we circle back
in the same old tracks, just
to see what we’ll never see again.
While making preparations to wean the calves on the Paregien Ranch, Bob and I spotted a dragonfly at the Windmill Spring neither of us had ever seen before. After a cursory quest to identify it on Google, the closest I got was the Male Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa), not a native of this continent, but specifically Europe and England. Photo through the telephoto of my Canon point-and-shoot.
A couple of calves we’ll be gathering Sunday.
Our dilemma back in March after so much rain was whether we wanted to brand our calves that were averaging over 500 lbs. With only 45-60 days left of our grass season, we knew that castrating and working the bull calves would set them back for at least two weeks as they recovered from the branding pen, two weeks of no gains in weight plus always the risk of losing one or two in the process. A live bull is better than a dead steer.
A big part of our consideration was the neighbors we needed to get the job done, most old riding older horses if we could put together a younger ground crew. In the bigger picture, we trade labor, so most of us were facing the same dilemma, all trying to get our calves branded at the same time.
As the steer calves bring more money per pound than the bulls, we had to project the sale weights and difference in price to calculate the net return for each. We figured a discount of $15/cwt, or 15 cents/pound, on 750 lbs. bulls against 700 lbs. steer calves as a place to start. Then we had to calculate the cost of branding, the vaccine, the gather and hired labor, etc. I came up with $44/head and ran the figures by one of neighbors to see if we were being realistic.
We decided not to brand our calves, but had a few steers that we branded with our Wagyu X calves in our first load of bulls that we sent to town three weeks ago, encouraged that the bulls brought as much money as the steers because they weighed more. Not branding your calves is tricky business, but our neighbors are all honest.
The bulls and heifers in the photographs are from the Paregien Ranch, the biggest calves we have. Most of these heifers will be replacements in our cow herd. After a 5-day wean, the bulls sell today and will average around 800 lbs., heavier than the buyers will want. But we can’t go back, yet satisfied that we made the right decision. Half-way through weaning and harvesting our crop of calves, we have another bunch gathered ready to haul off the mountain on Thursday.