Tag Archives: weather

Wind Event

Major wind event continues at noon today originating from a cut off low off the coast of Southern California, a pre-monsoonal surge of subtropical moisture bringing lightning and thunderstorms to the Southern Sierra and Central Valley into tomorrow. Little moisture. A.M. wind blew the top of a sycamore across our electrical service line to our pump at the corrals. We’ll have to haul water to our cattle.

Meanwhile we have cows and calves gathered in Greasy awaiting weaning planned for today if a tree hasn’t fallen across a fence up there. We’ll have to take some hay and check the damage tomorrow. We’re not done with the wind gusts.

LAST LOAD TO IDAHO

Photo by Terri Blanke

 

Say good-bye to your mothers

for the long ride

all you children—

the truck is clean

shavings on the floor.

Driver said it snowed

before he left,

needed chains on Donner

rolling empty here in May.

 

We shake our heads

about the weather,

damn little rain,

the creek’s gone dry.

With a week of winds

the oaks have come alive,

tree limbs dancing

like separate tongues

trying to lick the sky.

 

 

We shipped our last load of Wagyu X calves to Snake River Farms on Tuesday as we continue to gather and wean our Angus calves.  Both cows and calves have done well despite the extremely dry spring, in part because of our heavy culling that cut our cow herd by a third after only six inches of rain the year before. With drought across the Western US, cow numbers are down everywhere resulting in a stronger market than we’ve seen in years. With unpredictable weather, higher costs for grain and inflation, we may be raising beef we can’t afford to eat.

AFTER TAO TE CHING

                        What calamity is greater than no contentment,

                        And what flaw greater than the passion for gain?

                                    Tao Te Ching (“46”) Book of Songs)  

 

Following ten years drought,

gusty evenings under gray clouds

add depth to blond hillsides—

contrasting tomorrow’s summer feed

 

that begs embracing,

that begs old flesh to awaken,

 

but begs no mention but to look

with an empty mind.

 

 

BECKONING

 

Yesteryear calls out of the blue

in these piebald canyons turning brown

yawning across a shrinking creek

 

to leave a confidential message—

not in words, but deeds.  Faces,

always faces.  Big George Hubble

 

in grade school who loaned me a dime

for a lemon bar popsicle

I never paid back. Some call

 

from out of the ground

that I never knew had gone on

to find their relief.

 

Some faces leave no names,

or none I can remember,

to console me as I did them

 

during the paisley days of a jungle war

I missed for a football knee

trying to be a hero.

 

 

READY FOR PROCESSING

iPhone Photo by Terri Blanke

 

We’ve begun processing our Wagyu calves with a second round of vaccinations for Snake River Farms that we plan to ship in the first week of May. Each calf gets an Electronic Identification (EID) button and a tag to match at the same time. These calves are from our first-calf heifers that we poured the hay to from last July into December because of the short feed and to keep our first-calf heifers in shape to cycle and breed back. We don’t have to run the numbers to know that these calves won’t bring enough to pay for the hay we fed.

 

Every feed season is different, even in a drought.  The Christmas rains saved our bacon, over 3 inches or nearly a third of our rainfall to date. And again, in the nick of time, two storm at the end of February and beginning of March that offered nearly 1 ½ inches.  The three events made pretty decent feed in the corrals above and elsewhere as we approach the end our rainy season—nothing forecast for the next two weeks—proving once again that it’s not the quantity of rain, but the timing that’s most important in the cattle business. 

 

With a shortage of water to irrigate alfalfa in California, hay will be expensive.  Having cut our herd by a third last year (6 inches total), we hope there will be enough old feed to carry us through until November without feeding much hay in our upper country. However, we’ll have to help our younger cows in our lower country where the south and west slopes have already turned brown.  How many will be the question. 

 

We couldn’t keep any replacement heifers last year, and may not this year as the market gets stronger.  We’ll be making lots of decisions in the coming thirty days as we begin to harvest this year’s crop and plan for the next.

 

THE BRANDING PEN

 

Once again, the south slopes fade, begging for moisture. We’ve been following yesterday’s forecast rain for well over a week, watched it vacillate from 3/4s to ¼-inch daily, while hoping to get Kenny and Virginia McKee’s calves branded in Woolley Canyon at the same time—a four-day gather in wild country. On cue, a light shower began as we finished up, but unfortunately the trailing storm evaporated by late afternoon.  But it was a delightful branding, an efficient dance of ropers and ground crew that was almost mechanical, yet seasoned with quips and joviality, reminding me that the center of our culture and community has always been the branding pen.

 

Two years of Covid and the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has upset the equilibrium of the planet, injected fear with the hopeless horrors of war into nearly every soul. The meatpackers’ conspiracy that has defrauded both producers and consumers has added to the instability along with our ‘megadrought’, new terminology from the scientists denoting two decades of drought not seen since 800 AD—all in all, the impacts of which have created an overwhelming mess.

 

Kids—recounting the branding at home, Robbin and I tallied at least 10 little kids in and around the corrals, another generation exposed to this lifestyle, caring families who treasure the opportunity to teach their children how to get the work done. We are not helpless, it is a luxury to still have a place to ignore the outside world where we can pour our attention to what’s important, to the things we can do something about.

 

 

March 5, 2022

 

Misting, light snow on Sulphur Peak (3,400’) this morning, we ‘ve enjoyed 1.02” received thus far from the last two days of this season-saving rain—a little more scheduled for today.

 

But it was the 0.48” we received on the 23rd of February that truly saved our grass after 3 months of nothing but a few heavy dews.  The ground was so dry that it sucked all the moisture up by the next day to the extent the mud grips on the feed truck left no tracks.  The grass, that has been so thin in the Flat where we’ve been feeding our first-calf heifers since last July, finally filled in, and now is beginning to grow. Add this inch and we’ll be good to go for three weeks or so, depending on temperatures.

 

Robbin and I, with the help of Allie, Terri and our neighbors, got our last bunch of calves branded on Wednesday before this rain. Due to last year’s heavy culling because of the drought, our bunches were small this year, but the cows and calves looked great.  Whether or not we can make ends meet on so few numbers remains to be seen in the marketplace, now that the weather seems to want to cooperate—we have hope.

 

The third variable to survival in the cattle business has always been politics.  With the world in turmoil because of the invasion of Ukraine and its subsequent impacts, anything can happen to disrupt the marketplace, inflation and the pandemic yet still in the wings. Unresolved issues regarding the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), passed by the urban majority in 2014, adds to an uncertain future for all agriculture in California, one that will undoubtedly include foreclosures and lots of litigation for years to come.  Meanwhile, imposed fines and the cost of water may be too great to farm in California if the State has its way, once the richest agricultural region in the world.

 

Nothing stays the same.

Only nothing is normal.

 

 

THREE WEEK REPRIEVE

 

Everyone is happy, I exclaim—

 

half-inch rain after forty-five days without—

grass, trees, birds and animals revived,

the February air full of the future

 

as black cows and calves ascend

the green slopes across the canyon

reaching for the richer ridgetop feed

 

by evening. We raise a glass

to the generosity of all the native

gods and goddesses, to the crow pair

 

robbing nests and the bobcat trailing quail,

the ground re-energized—the vitality of life

spilling right before our eyes.

 

TASTE OF SPRING

 

Christmas storms colored the canyon early,

purple brodiaea, blue lupine, white flakes of snow

upon the green as wildfires of poppies spread

 

slope to slope, mid-February, forty-five days

warm without rain. I used to think I knew

what it took to paint these hills with flowers,

 

like the warm spring rains in ’78

after the drought.  Living here 100 years,

Nora Montgomery claimed she’d never seen

 

so many poppies in this canyon, solid gold

nor I since. Each a fantasy, no two springs

the same, we live in the 10-day forecast

 

for rain, for grass, for cattle. The Old

Farmer’s Almanac predicts a backwards

spring, growing cooler through April—

 

we never know, and like the cattle

in grazing circles, we plod through time,

always eager for another taste of spring.

 

JANUARY 2022

She foresees an early spring,

winter warm as we brand calves

in the open space between rains

 

this ground and cattle need

as much as we for our sanity.

The finches vie for corners

 

in the post and beams

that hold the roof and summer sun

at bay. Fat ground squirrels play

 

grab-ass, warming-up  

for the real thing, planting seed

for fresh armies of vermin

 

to attack the garden.

Already the love songs

of a hundred coyotes

 

fill our dark canyon

from dusk to dawn—invite

the dogs to sing along.

 

One never knows about the weather—

it can do anything anytime it wants

to make geniuses or fools of us all.