I think we’ve finally caught up and close to being on time with our ranch work since the last Atmospheric River at the end of March. We got across the creek towards the end of April when flow was down to 90 cfs to see our cows while trying to get our fences up to hold them when we gathered and weaned. Since the ARs, Dry Creek is spider-webbed with streams of sand in new high-water channels requiring some leveling with the skid steer to replace fencing and to approach the creek. Meanwhile on this side of the road and creek, we’ve had a crew building fence to better accommodate the acreage changes since Robbin and I have scaled down our activities.
But on time, our first bunch of calves will be weaned and ready for Visalia Livestock Market’s “Off the Grass Sale” on Wednesday, May 17th. They are 7-weight Vintage-sired steers. The market has been strong, though slightly weaker lately. With our cow numbers down due to acreage changes and past years of drought, we will need whatever extra money the market will offer us.
After seven days a week for nearly two months, it’s a relief to feel caught up.
Pulling the first of 12 joints of 20’ pipe plus the pump this morning after losing water last evening. We weaned our last bunch of calves Thursday when we hauled them out of Greasy, and were celebrating our good fortune until the pump quit. Fortunately, Willits Equipment had time and personnel to replace the pump and control box by 1:00 this afternoon. This well also serves our house.
Just one of the joys of rural living, but we wouldn’t trade it for the alternative.
With daylight comes the fretful calls of calves, two miles down canyon from our early morning coffee. By day four they will have stopped bawling for their mothers, another two miles and 2,000 feet in elevation up the canyon. Averaging 650 lbs., these nine month-old calves are not babies, yet miss the only security they’ve ever known. It is not easy. We’ve tried fenceline weaning, only to conclude that it prolonged the bawling and the anxiety on both sides of the fence.
We’ve been blessed with cooler weather this week as we gathered the Paregien Ranch to haul the calves off the hill, six gooseneck loads down a steep, 4-wheel drive track to Dry Creek—two hours round trip. Limited to loose part-loads, we have to panel half of the calves forward over the pickup’s back axel to maintain traction, each trip leaving the dirt road a little looser. The following day, we culled the cows deeply, limited to five or six cows per trip as we prepare for continued drought conditions.
All things considered, we’re pleased with the condition of the calves and cows. With one more pasture yet to wean, we will wait until the coming hot spell passes with a forecast high of 113°. We’ve experienced a more volatile pattern (than what once was normal), between highs and lows this June https://drycrikjournal.com/weather/journal-2020-21/ and hope for another cooling trend a week from now.
The calves will have spent a week here while getting over being separated from their mothers. This second bunch to be weaned will head to town on Wednesday, both steers and heifers, as we haven’t enough feed to hold on to any replacements. We’ve already begun cutting deeply into our cowherd, as the summer looks grim.
Even though I haven’t been in the mood to post anything, I would be remiss not to journal one of the worst drought years in my lifetime, less rainfall (6.19”) than we received in 2013-14 (7.78”) during our 4-year drought of 2012-2016. After feeding hay all summer long into the fall in 2013, we finally had to sell half of our cowherd in 2015.
Currently, all that our steep hillsides have to offer is a short blond fuzz of dry grass that will soon be dust. I remember the drought of ’77 when the cows licked the grass seed to augment what hay we fed them. Knowing what’s ahead, we’ve begun gathering to wean early and have already sent a bunch of good cows to the kill plant, many of which had calves in their bellies. Due to the lack of snow in the Sierras, there’s little irrigation water to grow hay and the price is high, while cows aren’t bringing much money. Furthermore, stockwater from our natural springs in the upper country will be in short supply by fall——a perfect storm.
As we cull our cowherd, we’re focusing on a young nucleus as we realize that we’ll not get the money we’ll spend on hay this year with next year’s calf crop. Nevertheless, we’re plodding ahead: leaning forward as we take another step and praying for early rains this fall.
No small accomplishment, we hauled the calves from the Paregien Ranch to our weaning corrals yesterday, nine gooseneck loads over an old four-wheel drive, bladed track—a slow-going, two-hour, 2000-foot descent off the mountain as the dirt gets looser with each successive trip. Nerve wracking, to say the least, we started early, and weighed the last load at 2:00 p.m. in 102 degrees before yesterday’s high of 107.
Robbin and I are pleased with the calves, the same calves we branded in early January. Some nice steers that will average about 775 lbs. and help offset some of our annual expenses, but we’re really looking forward to our sort of heifers, most of which will make our first cut for replacement heifers.
It all seems so rudimentary as we begin weaning our English calves, our harvest of last season’s higher elevation grass. Our special thanks to Bob, Allie and Terri Drewry who provided this iPhone photo.
Doctoring eyes again this a.m. in our last big bunch of weaned calves, a problem exacerbated by tall feed. Temperatures have been running over 100 degrees, the creek’s quit running, summer’s here.
We’ve another small bunch of calves yet to gather and wean and then we’ll be done with weaning. Dark mornings and high heat have tempered my posting here. Not much in the mood for poetry or photography, but nothing stays the same ( I hope).
As always, our primary concern during the weaning process is to reduce stress on the calves. Last week’s heifer calves above have adapted easily to their new routine on the irrigated pasture without mothers to comfort and direct them.
In the process of upgrading our processing area with a hydraulic squeeze and shed roof, we’ve also offered some shade in 100-degree temperatures. This week’s bunch of steers and heifers have found comfort in the new enclosure during the day, free to go to hay and water when they please.
In the interests of journaling, these steers and heifers averaged 722 lbs. when unloaded at the corrals after a 45 minute haul, heavier than last week’s calves: steers averaging 731 lbs. in the auction ring, and the heifers averaging 712 lbs. before turned out on the irrigated pasture.