After gathering and processing our Wagyu X calves with a second round of vaccinations, we shipped our first load off to Snake River Farms in Melba, Idaho yesterday. Though grateful we have work to do apart from the growing death toll of the pandemic, it’s been difficult to mentally adjust to this down market as a result of all the Covid-19 related problems in the beef distribution pipeline. Even with the generous premium offered by SRF, payment for the calves is well short of what they brought in 2018.
For the most part, Covid-19 has not changed our activities very much. With another load of Wagyu X calves to ship plus gathering, weaning and hauling our Angus calves to the auction yard yet ahead of us, we have plenty on our plate to keep our minds and bodies occupied as we face tough times in the market. Selling our calves is normally a joyous time, but it’s been hard to get excited this year.
Since mid-March, the impact of Covid-19 on everyone has evolved. We go to town less often, carry what’s left of our hand sanitizer since Elko, practice social distancing with outsiders and adjust to the shortages of basic consumer goods, the reality of which hangs like a dark cloud over everyone’s mental state in these uncertain times. Under these circumstances, it’s been difficult for me, and I suspect others, to maintain a healthy attitude.
Normally a daily exercise, I haven’t completed a poem for three weeks, even though I’ve started plenty. The words seem hackneyed, far from insightful or uplifting. But Robbin brings her guitar out to the deck in the evening and we sing covers of songs we like into the canyon as we try to capture the feelings of Merle Haggard, Gillian Welch, John Prine or Guy Clark to lift our spirits. For us, it’s time to sing.
A handsome fellow, the bulls arrived Saturday after a long trip from Caldwell, Idaho to go to work producing American Kobe Beef for Snake River Farms, a subsidiary of Agri Beef.
We finally got these heifers branded yesterday with another round of shots, vaccinations, dewormer and multi-min, before they meet the Wagyu bulls in 45 days. As you may remember, we took their counterparts to town as bulls last spring when we weaned, unable to brand and vaccinate them because of last winter’s wet conditions. The girls were polite, familiar with processing since their first round of shots and vaccinations for Brucellosis at the end of June.
Building a fire to heat the irons this time of year is problematic with fire danger still high. Our propane pot is an inefficient and noisy alternative we’d like to avoid if possible. Electric irons have been around for years, though I’ve never considered using one as electricity to our corrals is a recent convenience. And consistent with the ‘cowboy way’, my underlying prejudices against such citified methods of marking cattle, an electric iron has never been part of our operation—until yesterday.
With the tangle of extension cords, etc., they will never replace hot irons in the branding pen, but they have their place. Furthermore, the brand goes on quicker and cleaner with consistent heat and quick recovery. All going to prove that old dogs can learn new tricks.
A beautiful day Friday, I took my camera while checking the calves we branded, photographing this one resting comfortably in a bed of mustard greens, along with the gray cow and calf born late September.
We’re taking the whole bunch back to Belle Point this morning after a slow 0.30″ rain yesterday afternoon and overnight–the same rain we raced yesterday morning while branding Tony Rabb’s calves just over the ridge in Antelope Valley.
Forecast for 8:00 a.m. up until the last moment, skies were clear at daybreak as the storm approached from the coast. Tony made the call and we hustled through 100 calves before the first drop landed at 11:30 a.m.
I note, not so much for posterity but to jog my failing memory, that we had a lot of fun at the quickened pace, far from ‘old people slow’. My first opportunity to help the neighbors brand this season, I took Bart, Robbin’s wonderful gelding, who worked well-enough to have some fun himself, a tough little horse hard not to like.
I also found the Burrowing Owl in his digs Friday while checking the heifers just recently exposed to Wagyu bulls. The first wave of family arrives today. ‘Tis the season.
Posted in Photographs, Ranch Journal
Tagged Bart, Belle Point, branding, Burrowing Owl, family, mustard, neighbors, rain, Tony Rabb, Wagyu
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”
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.
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
American Kobe Beef — Snake River Farms
Up the road to celebrate the New Year, a quiet dinner with a few neighbors. Home before midnight. Branding a little bunch of calves this morning.
Posted in Photographs
Robbin and I fed and checked the first-calf heifers this morning to find three new calves, and unfortunately, a 4th born dead to what would have been a nice cow. The heifers are beginning to set up nurseries and segregate themselves from those that are farther off. Despite thinning the coyote population, we always feel better once the nurseries begin to develop.
Posted in Photographs
#1192 – August 9, 2012
Having just opened the gates last week to let our two bunches of first-calf heifers off the hills into the pasture along the creek and the other around our house, I found this fresh calf, less than an hour old, this morning. As part of our Age and Source Verification program with Snake River Farms, this journal serves to record when the first Wagyu calf is born. We put the Wagyu bulls out November 14, 2011. With over 100 to check regularly, we have at least a half-dozen either side of the road that look to calve within the week. But with first-calf heifers, you never really know for sure, some can look close-up for a month. Here we go!
#1192 – August 9, 2012
Posted in Photographs