My sister and I circled the mountain pasture behind the house in the Kubota after opening the gates to the flat below for the first-calf heifers and their Wagyu X calves before we drive the bunch to our scales and processing corrals next week. The calves need to be revaccinated before we ship them in May to Snake River Farms to be finished as American Kobe Beef. Not quite the same as gathering a horseback, she managed to see a lot of country where the cattle had been before we finally found them—a steep, rough ride nonetheless.
Gentle and Kubota-broke, our cows spend their first three years in our low country before graduating up the hill, and managing to gather them all was not a surprise, but offered an up-close look at the cows and calves for my city sister to see. Also, part of our purpose for gathering them a little early was to begin grazing the tall ripe feed around the house that will become a fire hazard this summer, despite the firebreak I’ve bladed with the skid steer.
Within a couple of hours, as if invited to Easter dinner, some of the cattle had gathered below our ‘sip ‘n’ dip’ for a visit.
With temperatures rising into the 70s, the ground is beginning to dry out in places, still boggy in others. The creek is down to 100 csf despite last weekend’s 0.75” rain and we were able to get the rest of our Wagyu X calves across the creek to brand. With Brent and Sid to augment our aging crew, we got the job done yesterday.
Until now, it’s been too wet to see the rest of our cattle in the hills. Robbin and I need to get around to see how big the bull calves have gotten and then decide whether to gather and work them or not. Considering the shock and recovery time as steers with only 60 days left of our grass season, it may be better to wean them early as bull calves. The steers will bring more money/lb., but the bulls this late in the season will weigh more. After four years of drought, we never imagined the problems of too much rain.
Though the cattle appreciate going ‘old people slow’, it makes for a long day, especially when the calves have grown past the ideal time to brand them due to our ninety days of rain since Thanksgiving. As the ground begins to dry out, all our neighbors, whom we depend on for help, are busy trying to get their calves gathered and marked as well.
Fortunately we were able to enlist some youth to help get the calves on the ground, without which the day would have been much longer. Thank you Brett Moody, Tell Blanke and Nate. Special thanks to all the old timers, our friends and neighbors, who like us, are trying to hang on to this way of life.
One would think that after 46 years of calving first-calf heifers, we’d be more relaxed about such a natural process where maternal instincts usually insure a successful calf crop. But I confess our anxiety is high this time of year, perhaps in part because we’ve seen all different kinds of failures from coyote kill to breach births to heifers more social than maternal who leave their calves alone too long to gossip with the other girls.
This morning before checking the first-calf heifers bred to Wagyu bulls, I drove up the road to see two coyotes taking turns trying to hamstring a brand new Angus calf belonging to one of the third-calf cows who was nowhere around. My shot that missed sent them off in different directions, but they’ll be back. While checking the calf, its mother showed up, looking to take me as I rolled it over to make sure it was OK.
Not far away, a first-calf heifer across the fence was down in labor, two feet showing when she stood up. I left her to check the rest of the first-calf heifers. About an hour later I returned as 5176 was licking off our first Wagyu X calf of the season.
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.
Maggie Loverin checks her pork loins adorned with grapefruit and oranges after we branded our Wagyu X calves yesterday, while the sun tried to break through the bad-air haze and remnants of Valley fog.
Noticeably quicker and more unpredictable to rope than our Angus calves, the Wagyu are a challenge to head and heel, real work for everyone. But we had a great day and ate well!
Well into our branding season now, we’re beginning to wear down a little, especially with the extra weight of wondering and worrying when it’s going to rain, repercussions of the drought still raw. One topic of conversation in the branding pen included the different kinds of bloat, fairly rare to most of us, but taking casualties in Antelope Valley, half-mile west of here.
All that methane gas that can’t escape inflates the cow and kills her usually leaving an orphan calf—a slurry of foamy gas in the cow’s rumen that can’t be released with an external needle or tube down her throat was news to us, that has come from our lush and washy feed in certain places on the flat ground, mostly filaree. We’ve had several of our cows blow up and subside on their own with a regular supplement of dry hay. There are also commercial free-choice products to prevent bloat that take time to incorporate into the cow’s system, but without assurance that everyone gets some.
How long this situation will last is unknown, but we know a rain would change things. With no likelihood for the rest of the month from any weather-predicting source, we get the work done in love with what we do.
We know the ones up-close,
go looking when they’re missing
from the bunch lined-out on hay.
Most girls like their privacy,
find draws of rock and brush
that feel good, secure apart
from any other day. It changes
them, this first motherhood—
some find the carriage of a queen.
iPhone photo: Terri Drewry
Calving since the 1st of September, we’re always pleased, and relieved, to see our first-calf heifers forming nurseries rather than hiding their calves singly as easier prey to coyotes. I find the babysitter selection process interesting. Oftentimes it seems that the cow with the youngest calf gets the duty because her calf needs the most attention, so while she’s at it, she just as well take care of the other calves at the same time while the other mothers graze. Yesterday, while feeding the heifers with Wagyu X calves, 1038 was under a sycamore tree with a few calves while the others were lined-out on the alfalfa. For whatever reason, she was off her feed and subsequently got the call. Sympathetically, her calf is licking her head.
Looking into the bigger picture,
who are these beasts
with a kind eye?