Spectacular weather yesterday on the Paregien ranch. Above 2,000 feet in elevation and twenty 4 x 4 minutes from the asphalt, it is a magic place rich with native and anecdotal history. Currently, the feed is short but still greening since the 1.45” we got on the 6th, 7th and 8th of this month. The cattle have left the flats for the slopes and ridges where the new grass is growing faster, protected from frost by the remnants of old feed. Early last week the prognosticators canceled today’s rain, but have now forecast a significant amount for Thursday into the weekend. (We’ll see.)
While pumping water, looking for the neighbor’s errant bull and measuring the corrals for a much-needed makeover, Robbin and I spent the morning with the Fry/Fox family cutting Manzanita and Live Oak deadfall for our woodstove because of my tendonitis. With our many hands, what fun we had!
It’s been several months since I carelessly cut a tree in the road that knocked me down, damaging the rotator cuff of my right shoulder. And about a month since compensating for it to pop a tendon, sounding like a gun shot, in my left forearm. Enlisted now in medical protocol and procedures, it’s taken a couple of weeks to confirm the damage with an MRI. Apparently surgery and long recovery is my best option. I see the Dr. again in 4 weeks, meanwhile I’m supposed to do nothing.
I am amused that only children and seniors measure their age in half-years, kids because they want to be older, and seniors, I suppose, eager to numerically reassure themselves of their existence. I’m 74 ½ and need to act my age. My life, our life, on this ranch has always been physical and it’s been too easy for me to forget I’m no longer fifty or sixty building fence or bucking hay. But to have our good friends and neighbors volunteer to help us get some firewood in was truly a wonderful gift on a beautiful day. Thank you Chuck and Lesley Fry, Katy and Cody Hanson, and Allie and Shawn Fox. You guys are the best!
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.
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.