Tag Archives: rain

LAST LOAD TO IDAHO

Photo by Terri Blanke

 

Say good-bye to your mothers

for the long ride

all you children—

the truck is clean

shavings on the floor.

Driver said it snowed

before he left,

needed chains on Donner

rolling empty here in May.

 

We shake our heads

about the weather,

damn little rain,

the creek’s gone dry.

With a week of winds

the oaks have come alive,

tree limbs dancing

like separate tongues

trying to lick the sky.

 

 

We shipped our last load of Wagyu X calves to Snake River Farms on Tuesday as we continue to gather and wean our Angus calves.  Both cows and calves have done well despite the extremely dry spring, in part because of our heavy culling that cut our cow herd by a third after only six inches of rain the year before. With drought across the Western US, cow numbers are down everywhere resulting in a stronger market than we’ve seen in years. With unpredictable weather, higher costs for grain and inflation, we may be raising beef we can’t afford to eat.

READY FOR PROCESSING

iPhone Photo by Terri Blanke

 

We’ve begun processing our Wagyu calves with a second round of vaccinations for Snake River Farms that we plan to ship in the first week of May. Each calf gets an Electronic Identification (EID) button and a tag to match at the same time. These calves are from our first-calf heifers that we poured the hay to from last July into December because of the short feed and to keep our first-calf heifers in shape to cycle and breed back. We don’t have to run the numbers to know that these calves won’t bring enough to pay for the hay we fed.

 

Every feed season is different, even in a drought.  The Christmas rains saved our bacon, over 3 inches or nearly a third of our rainfall to date. And again, in the nick of time, two storm at the end of February and beginning of March that offered nearly 1 ½ inches.  The three events made pretty decent feed in the corrals above and elsewhere as we approach the end our rainy season—nothing forecast for the next two weeks—proving once again that it’s not the quantity of rain, but the timing that’s most important in the cattle business. 

 

With a shortage of water to irrigate alfalfa in California, hay will be expensive.  Having cut our herd by a third last year (6 inches total), we hope there will be enough old feed to carry us through until November without feeding much hay in our upper country. However, we’ll have to help our younger cows in our lower country where the south and west slopes have already turned brown.  How many will be the question. 

 

We couldn’t keep any replacement heifers last year, and may not this year as the market gets stronger.  We’ll be making lots of decisions in the coming thirty days as we begin to harvest this year’s crop and plan for the next.

 

THE BRANDING PEN

 

Once again, the south slopes fade, begging for moisture. We’ve been following yesterday’s forecast rain for well over a week, watched it vacillate from 3/4s to ¼-inch daily, while hoping to get Kenny and Virginia McKee’s calves branded in Woolley Canyon at the same time—a four-day gather in wild country. On cue, a light shower began as we finished up, but unfortunately the trailing storm evaporated by late afternoon.  But it was a delightful branding, an efficient dance of ropers and ground crew that was almost mechanical, yet seasoned with quips and joviality, reminding me that the center of our culture and community has always been the branding pen.

 

Two years of Covid and the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has upset the equilibrium of the planet, injected fear with the hopeless horrors of war into nearly every soul. The meatpackers’ conspiracy that has defrauded both producers and consumers has added to the instability along with our ‘megadrought’, new terminology from the scientists denoting two decades of drought not seen since 800 AD—all in all, the impacts of which have created an overwhelming mess.

 

Kids—recounting the branding at home, Robbin and I tallied at least 10 little kids in and around the corrals, another generation exposed to this lifestyle, caring families who treasure the opportunity to teach their children how to get the work done. We are not helpless, it is a luxury to still have a place to ignore the outside world where we can pour our attention to what’s important, to the things we can do something about.

 

 

March 5, 2022

 

Misting, light snow on Sulphur Peak (3,400’) this morning, we ‘ve enjoyed 1.02” received thus far from the last two days of this season-saving rain—a little more scheduled for today.

 

But it was the 0.48” we received on the 23rd of February that truly saved our grass after 3 months of nothing but a few heavy dews.  The ground was so dry that it sucked all the moisture up by the next day to the extent the mud grips on the feed truck left no tracks.  The grass, that has been so thin in the Flat where we’ve been feeding our first-calf heifers since last July, finally filled in, and now is beginning to grow. Add this inch and we’ll be good to go for three weeks or so, depending on temperatures.

 

Robbin and I, with the help of Allie, Terri and our neighbors, got our last bunch of calves branded on Wednesday before this rain. Due to last year’s heavy culling because of the drought, our bunches were small this year, but the cows and calves looked great.  Whether or not we can make ends meet on so few numbers remains to be seen in the marketplace, now that the weather seems to want to cooperate—we have hope.

 

The third variable to survival in the cattle business has always been politics.  With the world in turmoil because of the invasion of Ukraine and its subsequent impacts, anything can happen to disrupt the marketplace, inflation and the pandemic yet still in the wings. Unresolved issues regarding the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), passed by the urban majority in 2014, adds to an uncertain future for all agriculture in California, one that will undoubtedly include foreclosures and lots of litigation for years to come.  Meanwhile, imposed fines and the cost of water may be too great to farm in California if the State has its way, once the richest agricultural region in the world.

 

Nothing stays the same.

Only nothing is normal.

 

 

THREE WEEK REPRIEVE

 

Everyone is happy, I exclaim—

 

half-inch rain after forty-five days without—

grass, trees, birds and animals revived,

the February air full of the future

 

as black cows and calves ascend

the green slopes across the canyon

reaching for the richer ridgetop feed

 

by evening. We raise a glass

to the generosity of all the native

gods and goddesses, to the crow pair

 

robbing nests and the bobcat trailing quail,

the ground re-energized—the vitality of life

spilling right before our eyes.

 

MAYPOLE

 

The dark hole in the barn

that once was leafy, fine-stemmed alfalfa

for six-months feeding, rides on a rain

 

as wildflowers get ahead of the green

making color, making seed—a spectacle

that will eclipse the hopes and dreams

 

that drew us to this tipping point in time.

Seems we’re always on the cusp of perfect

storms, praying for enough that we might

 

meld into the wealth of these steep slopes

we belong to, marvel at the cattle

and forget about the money and the market

 

for a moment as we and our old neighbors

hold invisible hands and hobble around

the maypole to appease our pagan genes.

 

 

TASTE OF SPRING

 

Christmas storms colored the canyon early,

purple brodiaea, blue lupine, white flakes of snow

upon the green as wildfires of poppies spread

 

slope to slope, mid-February, forty-five days

warm without rain. I used to think I knew

what it took to paint these hills with flowers,

 

like the warm spring rains in ’78

after the drought.  Living here 100 years,

Nora Montgomery claimed she’d never seen

 

so many poppies in this canyon, solid gold

nor I since. Each a fantasy, no two springs

the same, we live in the 10-day forecast

 

for rain, for grass, for cattle. The Old

Farmer’s Almanac predicts a backwards

spring, growing cooler through April—

 

we never know, and like the cattle

in grazing circles, we plod through time,

always eager for another taste of spring.

 

AT SUNSET AFTER CHRISTMAS RAINS

Last flash of limbs

in a pagan dance

as shadows crawl

across the creek

to pull night’s curtain up

into the stars.

 

The canyon has come to life

with promises of spring—

birds and trees are talking

above the bulls’ primal bellowing—

tension spills with energy.

 

Shrill yips and howls

in every draw ignites

another all-night

canine celebration

to exasperate the dogs.

 

Even the old flesh perks up

with fresh strategies,

just in case the market’s up

and we get more rain—

just enough to do it over again.

THE GOOD SIGNS

There were no wild turkeys here

when we were boys—no Great Egrets either

mimicking Blue Herons

statuesque in the pasture

waiting for the earth to move

a varmint cleaning house after rain.

 

Scattered atop the ridges,

we haven’t seen the cows and calves

in weeks, the young bulls longer

through December rains.

They don’t need us now,

they don’t need hay.

 

Lifeline of the canyon, the creek

arrived on Christmas Eve

running muddy, coloring the river

with streaks of chocolate

under the new bridge

it took years to finish.

 

And when the Tule fog

leaps and claws up canyon

like a lion to wrap us in a gray

cocoon that shuts the world away,

there’s nothing to do but wait

until the sun burns it off.

CHRISTMAS GIFTS

Long dark shadows in the canyons,

cattle hard to see.  They don’t need us now,

heads down somewhere on the mountain,

 

ground too wet to help them anyway—

all the excuses I need to write poetry.

We fed hay all last year, filled the barn

 

three times waiting for a rain. These Christmas

storms: miracles to rejuvenate the earth

for man and beast, birds and insects,

 

steep hillsides begging to explode in leafy

salad greens—iridescent gifts in the sunlight,

like the old days, for years in a row that

 

have since gone dry and farther in between.

Nothing stays the same, just ask the skeletons

of old oaks where the natives ground acorns.