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.
Two weeks into weaning,
we celebrate real progress,
the gather, sort and haul—
the harvest down deep-rutted
dirt tracks, 4-wheel drive,
low-range gooseneck tow,
bawling calves to the asphalt—
our early peach
and last season’s lime
juice frozen into a star.
Blank page and pencil,
this year rattles
everywhere we go.
Gathering our lower country, we’ve begun weaning our calves where they’ll ‘soak’ in two different corrals for a week before the steers go to the auction yard in Visalia. The heifer calves will go to the irrigated pasture, open to plenty of dry feed, until the replacements are sorted in July.
This year, after separating the calves from their mothers, we processed all with Inforce 3, a respiratory booster to the vaccination received at branding that is administered nasally. It acts immediately and should relieve any respiratory problems during the stress of weaning. Also, the calves received a topical dose of Cylence for the control of flies. Due to the tall dry feed, we had a number of eye problems, primarily foxtails that we doctored as we processed them.
All of these calves were sired by Vintage Angus bulls and weighed an average of 700 lbs., the heaviest to date from our lower country. We are pleased, of course, with their weights, but happier yet to get started with our weaning. Lots of music in the canyon, cows and calves bawling for one another.
the second day of weaning, the steer and heifer calves will be going opposite directions next week. Steers weighing 700 pounds will go to town and then onto a feedlot before your plate. The heifers will be sorted to their own pasture until our weaning is complete, and from them we’ll select our replacement heifers to hopefully enjoy a long and productive life on the ranch.
This morning, the fourth day of weaning, we, and the Kubota with alfalfa hay, have replaced their mothers completely. Perhaps the gentlest bunch of calves we’ve ever raised, they’ve known us since they were born and have no reason to distrust us.
WPC — “On the way”
Surprised, they were glad to see us,
remembered green alfalfa leaf
and came with half-grown children
out of the brush, the canyons,
off ridges to follow
without a thought of escaping.
We are family, know the routine:
dear cowboys and cattle,
me and my machine.
We began weaning our first bunch of calves last week, three weeks earlier than normal, due to the lack of rain in March and April. From second-calf heifers sired by Vintage Angus bills, all of these calves are headed to Visalia Livestock Market on Tuesday. The whole bunch averages 600 lbs.
Though lighter than normal, there are some heifers we would have liked to keep for replacements, but our continuing drought conditions and uncertain feed and water resources make that option impractical. Whether Climate Change or other weather phenomenon, we have come to consider our circumstances to be the new normal for Sierra Nevada foothill ranches in California where cow numbers have been reduced by 40%.
After three years of drought, our springs which are dependent on the Sierra snowpack, and our stockwater ponds which are dependent on rain, are severely impacted, some dry already before summer’s begun. Each operation continues to adapt to diminishing resources as we try to hold our cow herds intact, having already culled deeply in 2013 and 2014.
As we head into our fourth year of drought, we’ve had to change our perspective, hoping to offset our smaller numbers with a good cattle market.
With an eye towards weaning our calves, last week’s tour of the Greasy watershed to check cattle and feed conditions was a pleasant surprise. Typically we begin weaning in mid-May when the grass turns. With less than 0.75” of rain in the last forty-five days, my expectations were minimal. But our upper country above 1,500 feet has fared substantially better than our lower foothills where only patches of green remain high on the north slopes.
Having reduced our cow numbers by 40% due to the ongoing drought, we have found a temporary equilibrium between grass and cattle without having to feed much hay last winter. But due to feed limitations, we were unable to keep any calves last season for replacement heifers. Assuming a return to more normal weather conditions, we will need to replace our older cows while also trying to add numbers to our cowherd. However many heifer calves we’re able to keep, won’t produce a calf to wean for two more years. Rebuilding a cowherd is a slow process. Certainly the three girls above will be candidates, but how many we’re able to keep remains to be seen.
It’s been a long, dry year, but we’ve begun to breathe easier now that our last bunch of calves is in the weaning pen and headed to town tomorrow morning. Born last fall, they are averaging about 100 lbs. lighter than normal due to the drought, but current prices more than make up the difference.
The country we graze is cross-fenced into pastures. We gather each twice a year to brand and wean while culling the cows that don’t fit our program either due to age or late calving dates. It takes about six weeks for us to wean all our calves, but longer to brand when it rains and while we’re helping our neighbors. We try to keep our cows in the same pasture their entire lives here, familiar ground where they can make homes and the gather becomes routine. Because of our terrain, rotational grazing is impracticable—so we understock to meet most feed conditions instead.
This second year of drought, however, has reduced our cowherd by 40% while feeding 500 tons of alfalfa since last fall. Because of the time and feed required for a heifer to have her first calf, we kept no replacement heifers this year. It’s disappointing for Robbin and I to see them go and the efforts of the past twenty years reduced so drastically, but we hope to take advantage of this heavy culling by improving the genetics of our cows into the future. We are encouraged with a good base to work with, as our cowherd now is fairly young, a third of which are first and second-calf cows.
Near term, we concentrate on improving stockwater until it might rain again this fall.