Time flies, it seems, as we get older. We vaccinated these heifers yesterday for Brucellosis, though it seems that not long ago we branded them as calves. Averaging 725 lbs., most of these girls will join the cow herd when we introduce them to the Wagyu bulls in December.
As we chase the seasons, the circle seems to get tighter. With most of our cattle work done, we are seasonally at the end, while approaching the beginning, of our cattle year. It feels good to be done as we look forward to fall calving and a chance of rain again. In the meantime, we have plenty of repair and maintenance jobs to address, salt and mineral to keep in front of our cows.
It’s been a warm summer, thus far, well-over a hundred degrees since the Solstice. Despite the shorter days, we expect more of the same through September. With gathering, weaning and shipping our steers to town, we’ve been pushing to this point since April. It seems appropriate to thank our crew, Terri Drewry, Allie Fry and son Bob, here every morning at daylight with smiles on their faces, ready to get the work done.
(iPhone photo: Terri Drewry)
Not much to do for the past three days but watch it rain, over four inches in the past ten days.
It’s a warm, 67 degrees with another half-inch in the gauge since this morning, bringing our total rainfall to over six inches for the month of March. Prior to February 26th, rainfall was 25% of normal. More due tonight.
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.
Daylight dressed Sulphur Peak (3,477’) with another dusting of snow after five days of measurable precipitation that totaled 2.56”, almost half of this season’s rainfall (5.73”) since September. Though well-short of the average for this time of year, the transformation of our hillsides has begun.
As noticeable is the transformation in our outlook and attitudes, the exhilaration we are experiencing with the present prospect of a grass season, albeit short. It is magical as green becomes the predominate color: instant grass, just add water.
It was an all-night, slow rain and low snow with no runoff, 0.60” that was absorbed, no puddles at first light as winter finally arrived at the end of February—a game changer as our options were narrowing.
Though we considered buying some heifers last fall to augment our cow herd culled heavily after four years of drought, after last year’s record rainfall and ample feed, we are grateful that we’ve been understocked through one of the driest beginnings to our rainy season, ‘that time of year when it might rain’. Because we are understocked in our upper country, this season’s grass has been protected by last year’s old feed and our cows and calves are doing well. However, we’ve been feeding hay to our younger cows since August in our lower country as the grass has all but disappeared. With temperatures near-freezing for the past two weeks and only 0.20” of precipitation in the preceding 30 days, it’s been too cold and dry for the grass to grow.
But we know how resilient this ground can be, another storm set to arrive late this evening and last through Saturday, we have hope for a decent grass season yet and enough moisture to get us to the first of April as temperatures warm. Believers are made of such miracles.
To date, we have 3.17″ of precipitation since September 21, 2017.
We’ve been watching the 10-day weather developments for today’s forecast rain that seems to have intensified slightly in both probability and amount, temporarily opening the storm door for a larger event by late week. For those interested, a more comprehensive assessment of North America’s weather is available at Daniel Swain’s weather blog. We’ll be dancing tonight.
Determined, the creek runs steady yet without rain,
last season leaking through cracks of granite joined,
braided currents turning small bellies up to flash and flare
in the mottled sunlight—passing clouds, dry storms.
It streams a canyon of skeletons, barkless half-trunks
corralled by windrows of fallen limbs, oak trees
crumbling, to deliver its addled chants, mumbled news
to thirsty orchard rows of certain death upstream.
West slopes wear last year’s feed, palomino tufts
dappled with strongminded green graying daily,
deep-rooted seed of filaree, its crimson leaves
turn purple before baring the crisp color of dirt.
Like the trees and grasses, we may melt down
to dust, be blown away to stick in wetter places.
But like good dogs sure, we pray for a change
in the weather—if it hasn’t already, for the worse.
I have an aversion to using someone else’s labels, especially when they are bantered about in the political arena, but wildflowers here at the first of February are unusually early. Temperatures for the past 10 days have been over 70 degrees, no rain in sight.
We are half-way through our rainy season with slightly over 3 inches of precipitation to date when our annual rainfall averages over 15 inches. Four of the last five years have been declared droughts by the USDA, and this season is off to the slowest start since record-keeping began. Sierra snowpack is 14% of normal. Regardless of what you want to call it, our weather, our climate, has become extremely volatile and it is changing.
Blame is a useless exercise at this juncture, I believe, because we must deal with the impacts, whatever and wherever they are, now and adapt—we’re all in this together, like it or not. From a cattleman’s perspective, green grass is short or non-existent, hay extremely hard to find. Water for farmers in the San Joaquin Valley will be expensive or unavailable this coming growing season. The price of food will increase for everyone.
I want to thank freelance journalist Carson Vaughan for bringing the topic of ‘Climate Change’ to the foreground as he interviewed people at the recent National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. I predicted that 7 out of 10 would be in denial. I truly hope I was wrong!
The scent of dampened dust
settling with the first fine drops
envelops us in wind gusts,
all the loose atoms of death
over eons of friction bonding,
fusing into new shapes of life
as we inhale and taste it, sip
like musty red wine begging
release—lungs and capillaries
surge to rejuvenate the flesh
with the promises of fresh
beginnings, another chance
to chase seasons of grass
with a new crop of calves
who’ve never seen rain,
never smelled the green.
Swept up grinning, we raise
a glass into the endless gray.