Bob has been waiting for this cow to calve for a week, checking her and her tribe of first-calf heifers in the evenings. I am impressed with the iPhone’s ability to capture a wide range of light, and if held still, its sharpness. He’s also captured the maternal instincts of this new mother #8118, a Hereford-Angus X cow, with her fresh Wagyu X calf – exactly what we’re looking for in replacement heifers.
On the horns of an infant moon,
the creek shrinks and pools
between sycamores and live oaks
as babies come to first-time mothers
bringing the bear tracks downcanyon
on the scent of spent placentas.
Black progeny of the river nymph –
white heifer driven madly by Hera’s
gadfly Oestrus to cross continents
and populate Asia – find maternity
perplexing at first. Yet, lick and nuzzle
the stumbling wet struggle to stand,
suckle and rest that enflames instinct
in all flesh. Worthy timeless worship,
no better mother ever than a cow.
“IO” is included in POEMS FROM DRY CREEK, Starhaven, 2008.
Followers of the blog and and Facebook friends may be bored with our photographs of cattle, but it’s the most exiting time of year for us and our crew as the weather changes. It’s essential that we keep our eyes on our coming two-year old heifers that are having their first Wagyu X calves by recording their tag numbers and any other information that will help inform us as to whether they’ll make the cow herd or not—and to a less anxious degree, our second-calf heifers as well.
The twin bull calves from cow #3054, a mature six year old cow, appear to be sired by our Black Granite bull from Tehama Angus Ranch, spitting images of him at this stage of their short lives. We think that she can raise them both.
None of last month’s Wagyu preemies survived as the mystery lingers. This first Wagyu calf has arrived on time.
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.
Two sections of grass,
twenty-four tons on the hoof
leaving for your plate.
As we approach the end of our grass season, we’ve begun processing our Wagyu X calves before we ship them to Snake River Farms in Idaho around mid-May to be fed and sold as American Kobe beef. Each calf receives a second round of vaccinations and Electronic ID tags consisting of a unique 15-digit number that can be read both visually and electronically, denoting the country of origin and complying with the requirements of disease traceability. Calves destined for the export market must have EID tags.
Born after the first of September, the calves have had a tough start with only 3 inches of rain accumulated by the end of February, but seem to have done remarkably well since our March and April rains. However, I don’t expect them to weigh as much as in past years.
Once the Wagyu X calves are shipped, we will take these cows, mostly second-calf mothers bred to an Angus bull, up into the Greasy watershed as we begin weaning our English calves. With a little luck, we ought to be done weaning by the first of July. With temperatures breaking into the 90s, we’re bracing for our usual summer heat.
Mustard yellow greens
under a blue sky, cows wait
for some direction.
Our end of February-beginning of March rains, two and a half inches overall interspersed with some 70 degree days, have been a game changer. Nearly doubling our seasonal precipitation totals, the ground and rejuvenated green absorbed the moisture and then offered dust in a matter of days only to be settled by another quarter inch on Sunday. Remarkable.
We scrambled in-between getting our Wagyu bulls together for their trip back to Caldwell, Idaho, on Friday, having addressed their work here since December 15th. As part of our contract with Snake River Farms, we rent their bulls for about a tenth of what a 2-year old Angus bull would cost, plus we don’t have feed them while they’re drawing unemployment nor are we fixing fence behind them. But last minute coordination of a health certificate from our vet, a brand inspector and a truck before we had them gathered was chancy as the cattle had already moved up the slopes to the taller grass on the ridges.
With more rain forecast for most of the next 10 days, Terri and I and burned several years of downed Valley Oak limbs and trees yesterday around our shipping corrals. Casualties of the 2012-2016 drought, it was a challenge to get them to the burn pile, but not without a touch of melancholy as a 400-year old tree, once a regular roost for Bald Eagles, went up in smoke.
Temperatures are forecast to rise next week as our first cold front brings light precipitation to the 200,000 acres of fire-stricken Northern California that was fanned by 70 mph “Diablo Winds”. Southern California will approach 100 degrees. Our forecast is closer to 90 as we wait for our first rain, like always, this time of year. Longer range, no rain in sight for the remainder of the month.
We keep our first-calf heifers close to the house and the hay barn. Only 35 days into calving, the transition from heifer to mother is almost magical, driven by a selfless instinct to care for a newborn calf, multiplied many times over—they all suddenly become a pasture of cows. Bred to Wagyu bulls, the calves come small, but they are growing and demanding more from their young mothers, so we augment the cows’ dry grazing with enough alfalfa hay to keep the them in shape while raising a calf.
We began feeding a moderate amount six weeks ago with the Kubota, but graduated to the feed truck last week as we’ve slowly increased their hay. In recent years, we’ve tried to keep our feeding down to twice a week instead of every other day, though we feed the same amount, thinking that cows are more apt to leave the flat ground to graze the hillsides between feedings. And they do, but as they come to water in the morning, they wait hopefully, and bawl every time the Kubota or pickup is started, on both sides of the canyon—a deafening pleading that’s hard to ignore, but tame compared to the drought years.
Nothing out of the ordinary, we will feed until the green grass comes.
We’re pleased that over half of our first-calf heifers bred to Wagyu bulls have calved in the first thirty days, and relieved that they have instinctually set up nurseries early-on. I’m hoping that last spring’s bumper crop of ground squirrels will keep the coyotes occupied with easier prey, but nonetheless these new mothers seem especially vigilant after calving this year.
Typically a cow or two will stay with a group calves while the other mothers graze to be later relieved of duty after an hour or two. Just how these new mothers communicate and delegate duties is a mystery, but they do. My own unscientific and unproven theory is that the newest mothers whose fresh calves need more constant attention are usually selected to babysit the bunch. After being raised in nurseries, the calves learn the security of the herd and remain quiet and well-behaved until their mothers return. However, back and forth to the water trough in the mornings and early evenings with their mothers, the calves become untrained, running in all directions as they find their legs.