Dry cordwood stacked, I crave
unpredictable clouds of change,
the cold and ice, the hail and rain
and the look of snow-capped green,
black cattle grazing an angry gray—
fancy whiskey in a glass with you
inside, woodstove sucking air to flame.
No matter what the pundits say,
it doesn’t change a thing.
Too wet to plow,
cold clear sky
forecast on the screen—
Live Oak down,
in the road
to become cordwood
close to the woodstove—
to warm flesh again
and again and again.
Snow accumulation is just short of ‘normal’ for this time of year as we head into four days of forecast rain. Going up the hill to help the neighbors get one more bunch branded while we can still get to Mankins Flat, just on the other side of the near ridge.
California Weather Blog: “Wet and stormy week ahead for all of California”
We began baiting our cows and calves on the Paregien Ranch into the gathering field, yesterday, with the Kubota and a little alfalfa hay. We plan on branding tomorrow, trying to take advantage of our drying roads after 2.5” of rain last week. Fortunately, the Valley fog was not a factor until midday when it rose to cloak landscapes up to 2,500 feet. We’re going back this morning with horses to collect a little bunch we missed and sort the dry cows and late-calvers from the bunch. It’s still too early this morning to tell where the fog is.
With ample dry feed, we haven’t had to supplement these cattle this season except for a little ‘hello hay’ when we’ve checked them. Though the cows know our gathering routine and are camped on the hay we’ve strung-out through the gathering field in the photo, it’s a brand new experience for the calves. I found their confusion looking longingly beyond the gate, to the ground they knew, humorous enough to pull out the camera.
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.