Tag Archives: Snake River Farms


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.

Purple Chinese Houses

With so little rain, it’s not been much of a wildflower year—even the most common Fiddleneck and Brodiaea are scarce and on short stems.  But we began yesterday with these Purple Chinese Houses (Collinsia heterophylla), a wild gather as we collected the last of the Wagyu X calves for their EID tags and second round of vaccinations before shipping to Snake River Farms.

Wagyu X Calves

After about a dozen years of breeding our heifers to Wagyu bulls for Snake River Farms, we have noticed a distinct difference in their behavior as compared to our English calves, predominantly Angus with some Hereford heterosis.  The Wagyu cross is more active.  They find their legs earlier, within a week or less running and playing together, and within two weeks or so, chasing one another in gangs.   

Essentially in our front yard, we have the luxury of watching them in the pasture racing ahead of their mothers in the morning to the water trough, and then in bunches, circling at full speed as their mothers drink—and again in the evenings before their mothers move up the hill to graze.  Never the same antics twice, it’s good entertainment with coffee or a cocktail.  

With a smaller calf, we opted for the Wagyu bulls so that we could breed our yearling heifers on time. Holding our replacement heifers until they were two before we bred them was almost impossible—always an English bull around looking for more work at a time that their larger calves, if they could have them, would come at the wrong time of year for our country—those heifers out-of-sync with our breeding program.  

The Wagyu X calves also seem more secure in bunches, forming large nurseries while their mothers are away. After 2 weeks of bonding in a canyon away from the main bunch, the mother of the twins brought them in on Monday, a feed day, pictured in Friday’s post with 22 other calves using alfalfa for soft bedding until the cows returned to clean-up all the hay.   

Another trait that makes it difficult at times to pair a calf with its mother is that the Wagyu X calves are persistent when it comes to stealing milk.  Sometimes they wait until a heifer is nursing its own calf, then sneak in, often from behind, to help out.  Other times they will badger a heifer until she finally gives up.  This usually takes place when the calves get older with bigger appetites.    

Even so, maturing from heifers to cows, we are continually amazed and proud of the maternal instincts we see in our first-calf heifers—making our job so much easier.

Bequette Corrals 2019



The original board pens were old when they were moved here in 1959 to accommodate the construction of Terminus Dam. Since the 90s, we’ve slowly replaced the boards with pipe. Two weeks ago, we finished upgrading these corrals with time enough to electrify the covered working area for the hydraulic chute and scales. We needed facilities to efficiently process and ship our Wagyu X calves. No two corral set-ups operate the same, even if copied exactly, as the landscape where they are located seems to be a factor in cattle behavior.



As required by our contract with Snake River Farms, yesterday we finished administering a second-round of vaccinations two weeks before we wean and ship two loads of calves to Idaho. It’s been like learning a new dance in these pens as we process the calves and deworm their mothers, experimenting as we go with what seems to be easiest on the cattle. After today’s fourth bunch, we’ve got our basic footwork down. A small, but nice set of pens for about sixty pairs, about as many as we want to do in a morning.



Shipping Wagyu X




Yesterday morning, we shipped our Wagyu X calves from our first-calf heifers to Snake River Farms in American Falls, Idaho where they will be fed
until offered as American Kobe Beef. We began our program with Snake River Farms several years ago looking for smaller calves for our first-calf heifers while trying to avoid the genetic hangover of low birth weight Angus bulls. We rent the Wagyu bulls from Snake River Farms and contract to sell all our calves to them for a ten cent/lb. premium over market price.

Born small, our Wagyu X calves ship about 100/lbs. lighter than our English calves. This year, the steer calves averaged 568 lbs., our heaviest Wagyu X steer calves to date. In the photo above, Robbin, Clarence and the girls are parting cows from calves to be weighed before loading them on the truck.





Looking into the bigger picture,
who are these beasts
with a kind eye?



First Wagyu X 2014


Close to the house, we’ve been checking the first-calf heifers daily as they get closer to calving. Typically, we don’t have much trouble because the Wagyu X come small, but there is always some drama, especially with the very first calves.

Some followers might recall last year’s first Wagyu X calf that arrived two weeks early that we eventually lost because its mother spent more time with the other heifers rather than with its calf, her social needs greater than her maternal traits. We keep the heifers in two separate pastures where each herd develops its own social dynamics. The transition from ‘one of the girls’ to motherhood varies from heifer to heifer, and occasionally, when no one else has a calf, the comfort of the herd becomes a priority.

In particular this past week, we have been watching four heifers that are extremely close. Early yesterday morning, number one arrived to 3024. She had placed the calf in a barbed wire corner, and we found them with her on one side of the fence and the calf on the other, an open gate between nearby. The heifer had obviously been sucked and the calf was healthy as we watched the heifer navigate the gate to her calf. All seemed well.

Our presence brought a dozen heifers, thinking hay, off the hill. They all drank at the trough and filed through the gate towards the feed grounds to join the others, our new mother trailing behind them, leaving her calf alone. Concerned, we followed at a distance around the hill only to see she had turned around and was coming back. Good, so we got out of the way of nature.

An hour later while checking the first-calf heifers on the other side of the road, I noticed she had returned to join the bunch. Mid-afternoon, Robbin saw her returning towards her calf. An hour or so before dark, I thought I ought to check on the new pair. I could see the calf at a distance in the same barbed wire corner, but no mother around. Assuming she had abandoned her calf for the comfort of the bunch again, I looked for her there and checked the other heifers at the same time. She was not among them. So I returned to the area of the calf, making a big circle, only to spot the mother grazing in the Blue Oaks about 100 yards above the calf.

By the time I had gotten back to the house, the main bunch was leisurely following in the direction by which I had left, towards the calf and the eventual crowd around it—not exactly what I wanted. Though the instinctual transition from ‘one of the girls’ to motherhood can be awe-inspiring, oftentimes our presence as midwives detracts from the process and can interfere with the necessary bonding time between mother and baby, a fine line to walk.

Today is a normal feed day, an opportunity to stay out of the way and assess them all again.



Mothers to Be


These girls, bred to Wagyu bulls from Snake River Farms in Idaho, will be two years old this fall and are, on average, 60-90 days away from having their first calf. Feeling full, they have retired to the shade by early morning. No longer big calves, they are becoming cows, aware of something inside them, and will continue to be slightly restless and uncomfortable until the calf is born. Each first-calf heifer handles this new state of being a little differently as instinct overcomes confusion to varying degrees.

Because of the drought, they have access to the irrigated pasture where we normally run our weaned heifer calves, but we kept no replacement heifer calves this year due our shortage of feed and the time required—nine month gestation and another nine before a calf is weaned—to generate any income. We are looking forward to these girls becoming exceptional mothers.



WPC (3) — “Contrasts”

Processing the Wagyu X Calves


Tuesday morning, we gathered our first-calf heifers and their Wagyu X calves and drove them a couple of miles to our corrals to be processed with a second round of vaccinations before shipping the calves to Snake River Farms in Idaho.


Wednesday morning, Clarence and the girls separated the cows from their calves to be weighed before processing.


Once separated, the calves come down the lane to the scales. With these weights we can lock in a price when we ship the calves at the end of the month and determine if all the calves can be hauled on one truck. But after balancing the scales, I noticed a rabbit hiding in the scale box.


With very little grass to grow up on, the calves weighed about 100 pounds less than normal, in part because we’re shipping three weeks earlier due to our drought conditions. Nevertheless, we were pleased that both cows and calves were in good shape.


All very routine, little things like rabbits and cobwebs seem symbolic as we all hang in the balance.

February Snow

Sulphur Peak

Sulphur Peak

Pogue Canyon

Pogue Canyon

There are no weekends off this time of year as we juggle days around the weather, neighbors’ brandings and our own, trying get the work done. Low snow down to about 1,000 feet with the last cold front that brought 0.62” of welcome rain, we gathered the Wagyu bulls yesterday for their return to Snake River Farms in Idaho, for their TB tests and Health Certificates before they leave California.

Roads into the foothills are impassable, corrals too muddy to brand, neighbors try to reschedule plans to mark their calves, often with cattle gathered on short grass. This time of year, one day runs into the next until we’re all done.

Greasy watershed

Greasy watershed

Though hard on our cows who have endured nearly three months of abnormally cold weather, we’ll gladly take the snow, any kind of moisture with less than eight inches of precipitation this season, well-below normal. The snow melts slowly, retreating only 500 feet yesterday, to saturate the ground beneath like a time-released prescription. We are still feeding hay in the Greasy watershed each chance we get, but it will be next week, after three more rescheduled brandings, before we can get another pickup load up the hill.

Though I know we’ve had cold winters before, I don’t remember one with such a devastating impact on our cows. One day at a time, and before we know it, we’ll have wildflowers and then be complaining about the summer heat.

Robbin and Bart

Robbin and Bart