Journal 2011-12

June 18, 2012
Forecast cooler today, but 108° yesterday after Robbin and I sorted the weaned steers from heifers. Cattle are headed to the shade by 7:30 a.m. as we get an early start to gather and wean the Paregien Ranch.

June 15, 2012
HOT as we move into summer in the San Joaquin Valley, highs around 100° the past three days, forecast warmer as we go forward. It becomes a matter of working around the heat, saddling in the dark as we gather and wean, trying to be done with the cattle work by 10:00 a.m. or so. All the feeding, irrigating and maintenance issues are slow-motion activities. Two more big bunches to gather and wean next week as we drive/follow the Sulphur cows back home this morning, all sorted and replacements added, to wait for a calf this fall.

Robbin’s tomatoes love the temperature, eggplant, squash and peppers likewise, all taking off. We’re looking forward to a little early morning time in the garden this weekend. The leaf hoppers and grasshoppers are thick after our late spring rains.

June 10, 2012
It’s hard to get too excited about the weather in June, unless it’s really hot, or cool like Monday, high in the low-70s. But it’s been gradually warming-up since, to feel like June, over 90° today, but nice in the evenings as forecasts edge towards the century mark before the end of the week. We’ve been lucky it’s been cool as we wean our calves in pens with little shade, ready to turn another bunch out on the irrigated pasture tomorrow, two more bunches before Friday with four more bunches to gather and haul off the mountain. Lots of feeding for these old knees, irrigating, etc., but we’re holding-up well enough to finish clearing another bed in the garden. Our tomatoes that Robbin started from seed needed a home and will be late, but our growing season is long enough to have plenty when the neighbors’ plants are done – we’re plugging along, really pleased with how well our calves look and have weighed-up so far.

One of those once in a lifetime years of plenty feed and highest market prices I’ve ever seen. I’m reminded of what my father said to me as he cashed out of the cattle business in 1978, ‘A man’s only supposed to get one good cattle year in a lifetime and I’ve had two.’ But we’re not going anywhere, what else would we do?

June 1, 2012
We’re looking at a triple-digit high today as we head up into Greasy today to collect the calves to wean that we gathered last Saturday to make room for the 2nd calf heifers we hauled-up Tuesday. We weaned a little bunch of calves yesterday, sorted our 1st calf heifers for next Monday’s drive to the pastures around the house as temperatures are forecasted to cool into the high-80s. It’s a chess game just trying to get started to wean. Looking at my cattle calendar for the past three weeks, only a couple of blank squares as we head into three more weeks of weaning.

We’re trying to pace ourselves, but both Robbin and I are running out of gas—the heat becomes more debilitating each year, despite our early starts. It just takes time, like yesterday when we had to pair-up the later calves too small to wean. In yesterday’s bunch, three sets of twins to put back out along the creek where there’s still a little green. There might be one or two calves too small today, but after that they all come down the hill.

As I’ve explained before, we try to keep the cows in the same pastures every year, making homes and utilizing the grass better, that also entails weaning one at a time to not mix the cows up. Roughly a week-long process, we’ll have to wean some in place and haul hay to the calves as we gather the next pasture. The corrals on the Paregien Ranch and in Greasy are a long ways from bulletproof, always adding a bit of drama to keep it Western.

May 26,2012
Whatever we received in the rain gauge overnight was absorbed by the pollen from the honey locust tree, a few hundredths at most, snow above 7,000 feet. Not too far off the mark from the Farmer’s Almanac forecast, it was chilly yesterday. Temperatures to warm after Memorial Day weekend as we move cattle around so that we can begin the weaning process.

May 21, 2012

Jonathon Meeker

High temperatures for the past two weeks have vacillated between the high-70s and mid-90s, the 90° temperatures seldom lasting for more than three or four days. Today 95° before noon, our third day in a row over 90, but a forecast cooling trend back into the mid-70s by Friday, starting tomorrow.

The hills still show a little green, here and there, as we wean the light Wagyu calves that didn’t make the truckload last week. Preg-checking the Wagyu X mothers on Thursday, 82°, we’ll put the bred ones out before gathering and weaning our English calves. Three or four weeks of cattle work, we’ll pace ourselves.

Mowing the pasture to keep the grass seed out of the weaned calves eyes, we’re moving into summer when I tend to lose my muse, 4-5 months of early mornings (damn-little poetry) just to get the work done. Here we go!

May 7, 2012
Morning temperatures have ranged from 47º to 54º for the past ten days, since the last rain on April 26th, daytime highs in the 80s with a couple of days hitting 90º or so. It’s been delightful weather. The hills on Dry Creek are turning slowly, but still mostly green. Forecast in the 90s for the week ahead as summer approaches. Calves are fat, but look a little lighter this year, and the cows are filling-up, some fat themselves. These are the expectations we had last fall, but dashed completely after sixty days of no precipitation in December and January. This spring has been miraculous, bringing our rainfall totals to near normal, or average for the season.

Starting to irrigate, we have processed our Wagyu X calves, waiting for a shipping date in the third week of May.

April 26, 2012
.67″ rain overnight and still sprinkling. Our late spring rains have certainly changed the look of the landscape on Dry Creek these past 45 days. What looked like disastrous feed conditions in the middle of March when we were discussing which cows to sell has turned into quite a feed year. This last rain will provide ample old feed to get us through the summer and fall. Miracle after miracle, cattle and feed doing well, and we’re thankful.

April 23, 2012
96° in Fresno yesterday, new high record for the date, 92° here on Dry Creek, but hot nonetheless. Cooler this a.m., chance of showers Wednesday & Thursday.

April 21, 2012
Temperatures expected to peak near 90° this weekend, some talk of rain late next week. Feed holding well, cows and calves filling up three weeks before weaning.

April 18, 2012
Beautiful weather, cattle and feed flourish.

Farmer’s Almanac Summer Forecast

April 2012
16th-19th. Fair weather gives way to clouds, scattered showers.
20th-23rd. Scattered showers then a return to dry, clear weather.
24th-27th. Windy most areas, especially California.
28th-30th. Generally fair, with not as much wind.

May 2012
1st-3rd. Fair, then turning unsettled.
4th-7th. Threatening conditions Nevada, Utah, parts of northern Arizona; showers eventually clear. Turning pleasant.
8th-11th. Strong disturbance pushes in from Pacific. Windy along Pacific Coast.
12th-15th. Tranquil and pleasant.
16th-19th. Unsettled; showers most areas, then clearing skies.
20th-23rd. Fair, but quickly turning stormy again.
24th-27th. Clearing weather is accompanied by chilly conditions.
28th-31st. Fair skies give way to windy, showery weather.

June 2012
1st-3rd. Fair, dry.
4th-7th. Scattered showers/thunderstorms.
8th-11th. Drier, with gusty breezes.
12th-15th. Unsettled weather spreads east from the California coast.

April 14, 2012
1.49″ measured @ daylight in a light rain.

With over half of our rainfall this year coming in the last 30 days, over 3″ of which has been spread over the past four days, Dry Creek has dressed-up for spring, a much different world than the bare and austere landscape from November through March, the spirits of nearly every living thing lifted into a grin.

Speculation among cattlemen will hinge now on how long the feed will last, wild oats showing, lesser grasses, like foxtail, rip gut and bronco grass, headed out in the flats. Arguments will include its age since germination, acknowledging that if old-enough, it will head out anyway despite favorable weather conditions.

The Filaree has had an exceptional year, good, strong feed for cattle, and about all that survived our sixty days of no rain from the end of November to the end of January, turning red, purple and brown, staying alive with the slightest moisture. The north slopes have age, all that carried us through the winter. The higher elevations likewise have age, but generally 2-3 weeks behind the maturity of our low ground, the flats, the south and west slopes – the most stressed.

It’s anybody’s guess, but these three inches will carry us quite a ways, all depending, of course, on future temperatures that can push past 90° for several days this time of year, though the historical average is in the 70s. Accuweather, which has been less than accurate this year, has us cool for the reminder of the month, and a week of rain from the 22nd through the 28th. I would tend to expect a shower at the beginning of that time frame, more apt to rely on the Farmers’ Almanac posted below – on the money this year.

The next two weeks should be beautiful. I expect the feed to last past May 15th, pushing our weaning back a week or so, allowing us plenty of time to address maintenance issues before we have to gather, wean and get our calves sold. Humbled once again, we have much to be thankful for.

April 13, 2012
Rain everyday since the last post, 1.57″ at daylight this a.m. with nearly an inch in the gauge this evening as our Internet is up and running again. We went to wireless a couple of weeks ago, much faster uploading than satellite when it works. Verizon overnighted parts and we’re up and running again.

Both feed and cattle are turning the crank. A miracle comeback in less than a month. We’re grinning and shaking our heads in disbelief. Forecast clears tomorrow and into the 80s next week.

April 11, 2012
Looks to be a wet day today, with .36″ in the gauge before daylight, radar indicating that we’re in the path of more, as the storm moves northward along the Sierras. Just right!

April 9, 2012
45°, light clouds @ 7:00 a.m. Forecast warm to near-90° on the West Side of the Valley. Red Flag Alert: 5% humidity, fire danger in the Kern County mountains south of us.

Our weather has been beautiful, somewhat volatile since mid-March, coinciding with the Farmers’ Almanac forecast posted March 8th below. Local forecast includes several good chances for rain beginning tomorrow through Friday, the 13th, low snow to 4,000′. Though still on the dry side, the feed is growing well, and the cattle, who have really turned the corner, are now concentrating on the south and west slopes. Probably not a great feed year, but the grass has had lots of stress and appears to be strong. Looking ahead, we’re mindful of our old feed for fall, the only measure of which at this juncture is visual, hoping bulk, or RDM (Residual Dry Matter), might replace having to buy and feed hay. Management of what grass we have becomes a priority now, as we have moved a few cattle around, lightening-up pastures more heavily grazed.

April 6, 2012
32°, clear skies. Perhaps broke a record for cold this date. Unsettled so far this month.

April 1, 2012
No joke: 44°, .46″ rain, clearing skies @ 7:00 a.m. Going to be a beautiful day on Dry Creek!

March 26, 2012
41°, .77″ rain, clear skies @ 7:00 a.m.

Over a half-inch overnight, the storm slid south down the coast range leaving about two-tenths here during the day, but some overnight moisture was drawn north along the foothills and must have camped while I was sleeping, disappointed with the day’s poor showing. Once again, no runoff, the rain came slow, good and wet outside, just what our grass needed! Looks to be a beautiful day.

March 25, 2012
48°, light sprinkle @ 6:00 a.m.

Weather forecasting has been exceptionally difficult this year for local weathermen. I awoke to a dry deck and stars early this a.m. instead of the overnight 1″ of rain we expected, still congratulating ourselves after getting Kenny & Virginia McKee’s calves branded yesterday before the big storm. Our longer term expectations for the week ahead change daily.

March 22, 2012
52°, cloudy @ 6:00 a.m.

Yesterday was indeed the first day of spring, in the comfortable low-70s, fiddleneck and popcorn flowers beginning to usurp the flatter ground along the creek since we’ve pulled the cattle off to give it a chance to recover, for a month or more now, knowing we’ll need the feed come weaning and into fall calving. The clay hills have greened, grass still trying to get ahead of the cattle. We’re headed up into Greasy, into the granite, to brand the last little bunch of late calves, today; haul down some drys and strays.

Not wanting to disappoint anyone, the TV weathermen make it an art to be vague, more often inconsistent on the same channel. The range of forecasts from Fresno for the weekend run from a chance to an inch of rain over the weekend. NOAA begins with 20% Saturday with increasing chances that taper off to 40% Monday, so… we expect some moisture. The 2.5″ last weekend was absorbed quickly by ground and grass. We’ll take whatever’s offered.

March 19, 2012
35°, .39″ rain, snow holding @ 2,500′.

We’re quite aware of our physical sense of relief with over 2.5″ of moisture and with almost no runoff, the snow still holding low to saturate our higher ground as it melts throughout today, a reprieve from the drastic changes to adapt to the alternative of no rain. Robbin and I have spent our lives together building a cow herd, working towards quality and numbers to sustain us and the landscape. We breathe a little easier now, yet knowing we’re not out of the woods yet, but it is a start, hope for the grass in its strongest 60 days remaining.

March 18, 2012

38°, 1.24″ rain, snow @ 2,000′.

March 17, 2012
Dark and raining, begun at dusk last night as a gentle drizzle throughout, and at 4:30 this morning, the real stuff. We’ve been watching the radar during the past week indicate good rain in the Sacramento area, as clouds gather and disappear here in waves with no moisture. Forecasters have not been consistent. Though our excitement has worn thin with a week’s worth of anticipation, we’re extremely thankful and relieved—this rain is a game changer. If measured in money for cattlemen and Valley farmers, it would be many, many millions. 1.00″ @ 7:00 a.m.

March 15, 2012
What a difference a week makes! For the umpteenth time this season, our clay hillsides are drying out as our Hawaiian connection sails north, its southern fringes 200 miles north of us, keeping temperatures here in the 70s for the past few days.

Revised forecasts provide for a 30% chance of rain tomorrow, 100% Friday night and Saturday, with declining percentages through Sunday. We’re ready, and have been ready all week, branding calves, collecting strays, putting out salt and mineral, splitting firewood, spraying weeds—essentially making hay while the sun shines so we can relax and catch our breath when it does rain.

Dry Creek is in better shape than many places, at least it is a shade of green. But some of our older cows have begun to wean their calves already. Our stocker counterparts have been shipping steers this past month, 60 days early, as they run out of feed with no prospects of any old feed to come back to next fall, hay prices higher than cat’s back. Our chances of salvaging a decent feed season diminish daily, and the hope of having any old feed to carry us to our normal fall and winter rains seems unlikely. As always, anything can happen, especially during a year of weather extremes globally.

For the record, we’ve only received a half-inch of rain or more, in a 24-hour period, three times this season, and none since the January 21st storm of nearly 1.5”, our largest event of the year that broke over 60 days of no precipitation.

But right now, all options ride on the arrival of this next storm.

March 12, 2012
We hope to get a little moisture from the system that left 47 inches of rain last week and 2.5” hailstones with my daughter on Kauai’s north shore. With last week’s forecast of a week of rain here beginning tomorrow, we’ve been busy collecting the slick, late calves to brand today before it started. In the interim, of course, our forecast deteriorated into sunny ‘California Classics’.

Since, NOAA, the most accurate forecaster this year, has a 20-30% chance of rain slated through the rest of this week. If we can get a couple ¾” rains this month, and couple of ½” rains next month, spaced about two weeks apart, we could salvage a fairly decent feed year. Only 2.5” to add to what we’ve accumulated thus far would still have us well-below our annual average – but damn sure possible.

March 8, 2012
33° @ 4:00 a.m.

Farmers’ Almanac Long Range – Southwest

March 2012
8th-11th. Fair at first, then windy, wet.
12th-15th. Fair, until a major Pacific storm system moves in.
16th-19th. Fair weather returns.
20th-23rd. Fair, then unsettled.
24th-27th. Clearing skies.
28th-31st. Once again, stormy weather spreads east from the Pacific.

April 2012
1st-3rd. Fair, quite cool.
4th-7th. Fair at first, then scattered showers.
8th-11th. Dry, clear weather turns stormy.
12th-15th. Unsettled at first, then fair weather returns.
16th-19th. Fair weather gives way to clouds, scattered showers.
20th-23rd. Scattered showers then a return to dry, clear weather.
24th-27th. Windy most areas, especially California.
28th-30th. Generally fair, with not as much wind.

May 2012
1st-3rd. Fair, then turning unsettled.

March 7,2012
33° at daylight. Slight showers yesterday. Temperatures have dropped dramatically, yet short of the 26-30° forecast. Temperatures are expected to climb into the 70s, then cool towards the weekend with unsettled weather for several days. In the clay, and now in places in the granite, the grass can’t get ahead of the cattle, allowing the ground to dry out quickly as we move into what appears to be an early spring. We have begun to discuss which cows to sell. With the cost of hay, much supplemental feeding this fall, or until the new grass comes next year, is out of the question. But we’ll adapt.

March 5, 2012
Major weather change forecast for tomorrow, past weekend temperatures in the high 70s. 30% chance of rain and then windy conditions expected throughout the Valley on Wednesday, freeze watch in effect. Who the hell knows?!

March 1, 2012
.16″ on the southern edge of last night’s rain, centering Yosemite northwards this time, but plenty to freshen the grass that seems to be wanting to head-out in places, ready to call her quits early for the season. But optimistically, the longer range forecasts show several possibilities for the next ten days.

February 28, 2012
Yesterday cold, but no moisture to interfere with branding the Wagyu calves. .06″ overnight as this little storm slid south to temporarily close the Grapevine with low snow. Another front due late tonight with a 40% chance of rain. According to the experts, our Sierra snowpack for this time of year stands at 26% of normal.

February 26, 2012
Cloudy, 40° this a.m. The warmer temperatures have persisted through yesterday with expected cooling today as a cold front approaches to bring showers and low snow late tonight or Monday. We’re hoping to get our Wagyu-cross calves branded in the morning before this much needed moisture arrives. Well have to be both adaptable and grateful in any event.

February 24, 2012
While two-thirds of the country is being hammered by winter storms, we have had 70º weather this past week. A few early snowdrops, fiddleneck, poppies and lupine are showing, bluebirds flitting post-to-post. But it’s been a tough year, thus far, for grass.

Much of our feed had to be re-germinated when it finally rained in January, after 60 days of dry, and now the grass is struggling to stay ahead of the cattle, especially on the south and west slopes that have been without green feed since November. Clipped short, the south and west slopes are drying quickly with unseasonably warm temperatures. Eight days after the last measurable precipitation, the ground needs another rain.

Though our feed has struggled and thin where grazed, it must be strong as the cattle have held-up fairly well. The calves look great, though we don’t expect them to weigh as much as past years. The cows look OK to my eye, but definitely show the effects of raising a calf.

The grass is behind an early spring, as are the cattle. Feed management will be the issue in coming months, as chances of much residual old feed to carry us from May to November appear slim. With summer hay prices predicted at $400/ton, very much supplemental feeding is out of the question.

Already thinking about how deep to cull our cows, whether or not to give certain replacement heifers another chance at producing a calf, we’re weighing our stocking capacity against the prospects of feed. We branded a little bunch of big calves last Tuesday and plan to brand our Wagyu-cross calves this coming Monday, leaving only a couple of little jags of later calves to mark.

March will be the key.

February 15, 2012
We’re feeling lucky and blessed as another system targeted the Central Sierras early this morning to leave .30″ in the gauge at 9:00 a.m., snow low on Sulphur around 2,700′. It may be our one day of winter. Forecast clear and warming into next week.

February 13, 2012
Nearly two-tenths overnight. It seems Saturday’s 1/2″ rain center-punched us. Four miles up the road, Jody had about a 1/4″, another mile upcanyon: .03″, one mile down: .30″. The Yokhol: 0″. Apparently a cell passed over Elderwood, then over us on its way to the Kaweah watershed.

February 12, 2012
A surprise, unforecast rain beginning early yesterday morning left nearly a 1/2 inch rain while we branded Jody Fuller’s calves, clipping each wet-haired calf, dodging extension cord tangles but with plenty of good help. Cold, wet and slick, and not for weak-hearted, we grinned into the rain.

February 10, 2012
Yesterday tied the record high temperature of 71° for February 9th in Fresno—74° on Dry Creek. Coming home from Visalia, I noticed that the south slopes above Pogue Canyon are beginning to fade, bare dirt showing, despite the 2.5” of rain we received in January, 2 weeks ago. Though the hills are green, the grass is short, allowing the soil to dry out quickly. So far, no winter!

Typically, we get two weeks of warm weather sometime in February, two weeks of cold, but this is not a typical year. Prognosticators indicate three chances of rain within the next week, but waffling profusely after last week’s ‘no show’ storm that was to deliver ½ to ¾ inches. In order to get a decent feed year, we’re going to need some kind of precipitation every two weeks from here on out. As always, anything can happen and we’re due for a change.

February 8, 2012
High temperatures in the 60s, lows well above freezing since we’ve been gone to Elko. Rain forecast for our arrival home on the 7th slid down the coast – trace amounts only. Elko warm in the 40s, lows to 9°. Back to work!

January 23, 2012
A second storm arrived last night to rain off and on, .43″ in the gauge at daylight, 50°. Forecast showers for the remainder of the day.

January 21, 2012
All shades of gray, low clouds race up canyon at first light after an all-night rain, the wind sings between the log ends—the hills are smiling with well-over an inch in the gauge (too dark to measure). Warm 53°, showers expected yet today and a colder storm forecast Monday with lows near freezing. Whew! We were overdue.

It’s remarkable how well the cattle have held up, as most of last year’s dry feed is now but a short fuzz on the our clay hillsides, most flats skimmed. Even so, the grass on the north slopes is still green after 60-days of no rain apart from the wet fog at the first of December.

In retrospect, our October rain followed by 10 days of 90° heat, and about 10 more in the 70s and 80s, sped germination and grass growth, sending roots deep in the sandy and granitic soils—perhaps even to moisture left from the past two wet years. It’s more fun to speculate now that we have rain, but a bunch of us old men have been scratching our heads in disbelief. Without a doubt, this is resilient country.

January 18, 2012
Oh, we’re waiting! All the ‘unfaithful lover’ poems and teasing similes are part of the foreplay of changing local channels, checking Internet forecasts after two months of no moisture to see just when she’s coming, Thursday night or Friday, depending on who to believe, the flat ground skimmed, everything waiting. Talking four days with a chance of rain up to an inch. We’ll take it!

January 15, 2012
NOAA’s 7-day forecast calls for a chance of showers Friday, below freezing a.m. temperatures tomorrow and Tuesday. Accuweather forecasts showers next Saturday and Sunday, with rain the following Wednesday with a low of 28º (equating snow to me). Local prognosticators are fairly unanimous with a chance of showers Friday and Saturday out of the Gulf of Alaska. A lot can happen in a week of unsettled weather, but we’re hoping for more than showers along the western slope of the southern Sierras.

January 12, 2012
Contained excitement, reserved relief: rain in the forecast at the end of next week, hints of the storm door to central California opening.

January 10, 2012
I’d like to say that rain is on the horizon. It is not. 34º this a.m., high today of 60º, much like the past week and the forecasted 10-days ahead. High pressure dominates with a gray haze, keeping the storm track north of California and Oregon. Nevertheless, the cattle seem to be doing fairly well, feeding a little hay, hoping that WHEN it rains and the green grass comes, they’ll not have to recoup lost weight, but go on to gain. Because they look good, we’re not in panic mode, not depressed (yet), thankful for our diminishing old feed from last year that has been our salvation. However, the drought of 1976-77 is beginning to echo across the flats.

In the old days, we fed lots of hay, good $30/ton alfalfa before we branded the calves and drove the pairs up the mountain. Today with the year-round stockwater that we have developed in each mountain pasture, the cows stay put, make homes, and we gather each pasture to brand where they are. At $300/ton, a month of feeding costs $200/head by my calculations, two months, $400/head. Additionally, it costs over $500 to run a cow for a year here, so two months of concentrated feeding at today’s hay prices will produce red ink.

Hence the value of old feed, of understocking cows and calves, can be calculated on a year like this. And the difference between cow/calf and stocker operations is readily apparent, as most stocker operators are running about 25% normal capacity. Cow and calf operators tend to take the longer view, whereas stocker operators try to harvest all the grass they paid for, maximizing all the gains they can in a season.

Keeping busy, branding a little bunch of big calves tomorrow.

January 3, 2012
Weather change: 74° yesterday under dark clouds, gusts, but no rain and nothing in sight for 10 days. Unusual weather to say the least! We’re thankful for the old feed and diminishing green on the north slopes, feeding hay.

December 28, 2011
Other than the wet fog we received at the first of the month, no precipitation yet in December, the frost having trouble forming with so little moisture in the air or ground. Old cows slipping, sucking big calves. First sign of any certainty of rain in the forecast, Accuweather has three days slated, beginning January 8th, 10-days away. Low temperatures have held steady near 32°, high: mid-50s.

December 22, 2011
More of the same: DRY. Low temps hover around 30°.

My father maintained that most years here, there was usually a 45-day period of no rain during our ‘rainy season’, October through April ‘when it might rain’, and that the month and a half of dry would usually fall during the beginning, middle or end of our grass season, he believing that the beginning was the best pill to swallow given it rained during the remainder. Last storm front: November 20th.

Accuweather had moved its next possibility of rain back to the 30th from the 27th, a potential event that local prognosticators haven’t acknowledged, yet unconvincingly hinting of a chance after the 1st of the year.

December 18, 2011
A beautiful day! This morning’s low warm at 37º, 61º the expected high under clear skies—DRY. On the bright side, the days are short, what little green we have is still holding in the granite, though under pressure by cattle and frost this past week. Hard to find a green spear among last year’s diminishing old feed in the clay flats and the lower south and west slopes. The cattle seem to be holding together, though most under stress nursing big calves.

Accuweather is dangling a rain on the 27th to offer hope as our patterns change and realign for the second of three segments of our rainy season, that time of year described by early California settlers as when it might rain.

Grandpa is busy trying to expose his grandson to trying and finishing new things, building a sense of accomplishment and confidence only to realize that the attentiveness of an eight year-old is relatively short, focused most on driving the Kubota or the pickup when we feed. Wishing everyone a joyous solstice if our weather hasn’t changed until after Christmas.

December 13, 2011
Not a trace. The storm slid south along the coast despite an extremely low barometer inland. Dust in December, grass gray in the ‘dobe ground, no forecast rain for the next 10 days. These are the times when we look to our 30-day cycle for our next best chance on the 21st, a week away. Looking back in our journal, we note that local forecasts changed daily during the middle of November before the rain on the 21st , and also that the strong rain pattern set at the end of the first week of October and November did not repeat itself. Typically the pattern begins to change in December for another 90 days.

So… along with a lot of hope, we’ll start feeding hay again in our lower country today.

December 10, 2011
Skies already cloudy, the dilemma facing forecasters is essentially the same as 30 days ago, as a northern front approaches California to slide down the coast, potentially influenced, once again, by southern moisture. When and where it all moves inland is the question. Last month we received .40” despite their forecasts. This morning most all agree on a (50%) chance for the 12th on the northern fringes of the storm, after vacillating for the past week. The most optimistic call for a chance on the evening of the 11th, rain the 12th, and a chance on the 13th and 15th. Typically these fronts tend to move farther south as winter progresses, but let’s hope they’re right as rain!

December 8, 2011
Low temperatures have yet to fall below 30º here at the house, yet pickup thermometers indicate 25º along the creek at daylight, frozen water trough pipes, etc. It’s dry and dusty on trails and roads through green feed, so little moisture that frost barely forms. Looking for rain in the forecast, local weathermen are waffling, disagreeing as we hang on any chance of moisture. The 12th and 20th remain the best opportunities based on our 30-day cycle. Branding a little bunch of calves this a.m. It seems awfully cold for this time of year, average low: 38-39º.

December 5, 2011
A dry cold front, Friday, cleared the fog as temperatures have dropped to 30° since Saturday a.m. Before our next chance of rain around the 12th, we’ll try to get another bunch branded.

December 1, 2011

Greasy Creek - November 29, 2011

The past two days have had our higher elevations socked in with fog as we gathered to brand this a.m. Tuesday, we managed to get above the fog to work cattle in the sunshine, but cold and miserable below 1,500 feet all day. Yesterday, a low pressure in the southwest helped draw colder temperatures and clouds over the Sierras, a developing Mono Wind event, to marry our high fog into a near-freezing drizzle with visibilities of about 100 yards and about .05” in the gauge on Dry Creek. Fortunately the cow gods were with us. High winds expected on the West Side of the Valley today, colder temperatures forecasted in the week ahead.

November 26,2011

November 23, 2011

A rare view of Terminus Dam and Lake Kaweah, with a little water, through the haze of valley fog drifting towards the mouth of the Kaweah River watershed. Blue Ridge and Dennison Peak between us and North Fork of the Tule River, its confluence with the Main Fork in the town of Springville. Blue Oak hillsides, new green in last year’s dry feed, Dry Creek running along the riparian, remnants of the hard rock mining site of Artesia Ready Mix above the creek, the flat below the dam where our yearling heifers are being bred to Wagyu bulls, Robbin and I were out looking for calves from this year’s first-calf heifers.

The Thanksgiving rain never materialized, nothing forecast conventionally for the next week except dense fog in the Valley. We’re looking for colder weather in the first week of December, perhaps a little moisture around the 4th.

November 21, 2011
38º at daylight, .36″ gentle rain yesterday from dawn ’til dark.

November 20, 2011
Trace in the gauge at daylight, it’s been trying to rain. Forecast: Thanksgiving rain and Sunday after.

November 16, 2010
NOAA, AccuWeather, and three of our four local TV stations offer differing short-term weather forecasts as southern moisture is pulled north, west of a a high pressure ridge in the Pacific. It may rain Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday, two out of three, or all three days depending on when and how the high pressure breaks down. Foothills are likely to get more moisture than the Valley floor that has been socked-in with morning fog all week. We’re branding calves Thursday, feed and cattle in good shape. We’ll take what we can get.

November 12, 2011
Computer models changed continually since the 8th, vacillating between a 100% chance of rain to a slight chance of light showers. As we finished working our heifers for the week, yesterday, in intermittent showers, all the signs for a good rain were in place—.36” in the gauge overnight, northern low sliding down the coast pulling up some southern moisture for our grass. Perfect! Gray dawn, maybe a little more to come.

November 8, 2011
Since the 4th, temperatures have been running 7-10º below our historical averages, an early volatility as winter patterns take shape. Accuweather, among others, promises a good rain around the 13th and another a week later, that if prove true should set another 30-day cycle in motion. All this could change. Consistent is our temperature volatility. Summer hinted at an early fall, fall an early winter. Look for prolonged freezes during the 1st week of December and January.

November 7, 2011
.o4″ more yesterday a.m. Today clear, colder with 38º at dawn.

November 6, 2011
.13″ overnight, low clouds, 45º at daylight. Just right!

November 4, 2011
Looking pretty iffy yesterday evening, rain light on the roof overnight, stars early. We were pleased and surprised to find over a quarter-inch in the gauge to save our bacon, at least temporarily. Clouds low at daylight below a 1,000 feet. We’ll take it and be grateful!

November 1, 2011
Forecasts indicate impending changes in our weather patterns: wind, low temperatures, light rain, low snow down to 3,500 feet beginning Thursday, November 4th. Also indications of some rain on and off for the next two weeks, low temperatures in the high-30s.

New feed on the north slopes and canyon bottoms is holding well – south and west slopes all but gone. Upper elevations in the granite also holding, but short in places as we make one more run with some alfalfa this week. The old feed has been our salvation this fall, maintaining moisture, but should also hold the new feed as high-temperatures fall into the upper 50s and 60s, as growth slows. Altogether an amazing fall, new grass begun with early rains that would not have stayed alive, I don’t believe, without the cover of last year’s feed. It appears the volatility will continue after a month of no rain, 10 days of which were in the 90s, most of the rest hovering in the 80s—never boring!

October 28, 2011
We’re optimistic with our current 10-day forecast showing an image of a cloud for the 4th and 6th, coinciding with our 30-day cycle—no clouds, no rain! Currently, a volatile weather pattern brings an early snow to Denver, also breaking records in Texas, as Artic air dives south around the high-pressure that is keeping storms out of California. With volatile temperatures here as well, we expect the extremes to continue this winter, trusting that volatility means more storms and moisture.

October 26, 2011
Reds and purples of filaree have spread to the hillsides, patches of purple and brown now, waiting for a rain, but the new grasses seem to be holding well in the granite, protected by ample dry feed, shaded mostly in Blue Oak Woodland. Frankly, I am amazed how good things looked at the Paregien Ranch yesterday. The final determinant, the cows and calves looked healthy and full, with the exception of a few older cows that missed the sort down the hill at weaning last May. Always some.

Delightful weather to work in, fall colors coming, the crunch of an ample acorn crop beneath the tires of the feed truck, low light, long shadows throughout the day, but it’s dry. A couple of minor cold fronts have passed through bringing lower temperatures and clouds, but only smelling of rain, and on the clear days, lots of dew in the mornings. For the most part, the feed seems to be holding well ahead of the cattle, which means it’s growing still in places, believe it or not.

No rain in the long range forecast. Head to Greasy today.

October 19, 2011
Temperatures are forecast to fall gradually into the 70s and high-60s for the remainder of the month without rain. Based on the 30-day cycle, we hang our hat on Nov. 5th for the next real chance, over two weeks away. As the grass grays in the clay soil on the south slopes and flats, one can tell we’re grasping at straws when our optimistic remarks include morning dew for moisture and shorter days, when the reds and purples of filaree already show at the edges of cow trails.

The first-calf heifers are now actually fuller than when we were feeding, still not interested in hay and grazing up the hill into the ample cover of last year’s feed. The old feed may be our salvation, though of minimal nutritional value, it may help hold the moisture as well as protect the new green. But for two-and-a-half weeks? Maybe in places like our north slopes and canyon bottoms. Our higher elevations were holding better in the brush and trees, in the granite, last week. It’s been unseasonably warm for the past 10 days, 80º forecast for the next four before we approach normal temperatures.

In California, ‘where only a fool or a newcomer dares predict the weather’, anything can happen. It’s going to get interesting.

October 18, 2011

Bumper crop of acorns.

Temperatures have persisted warm near 90º since last week, green grass fading gray in places, but 4-6” tall almost everywhere. Cooling postponed until tomorrow, but no rain in the forecast.

October 13, 2011
Temperatures have been rising since last week’s rain, forecast near 90 degrees today & tomorrow, cooler over the weekend. The grass has jumped and the cattle have little interest in hay, though the new feed has no strength. No moisture in the long term forecast, we may be feeding in earnest again… ugh, my aching knees and that $300 hay.

October 7, 2011
45º@ daylight, clear as a bell.

October 6, 2011
Off for a month, Dry Creek is running again after our 1.5″ rain and more at the higher elevations. Amazing!

October 4, 2011
With the first real cold front out of the Gulf of Alaska, high temperatures have dropped into the mid-to-low 70s, slight chances of rain this a.m. and tonight, rain likely tomorrow and chances of showers through Thursday (6th). 12-15” of snow forecast for the Sierras down to 7,000’. As the first real northern storm approaches, we will look for this event as hopefully a beginning to a 30-day weather pattern, both in terms of temperature and intensity.

September 28, 2011
Caught between lows in the Gulf of Alaska and a tropical disturbance off Baja,
we have light clouds, the ‘mares’ manes and tails’ that usually precede a rain, though no chance from the satellite photos until early next week, high in the mid-90s today, cooling towards the weekend.

This morning’s 100+ first-calf heifers were bunched in clumps beneath the sycamores, even across the road from one another, unusual behavior I can only attribute to something in the weather, or something impending like an earthquake, we can’t sense—a kind of Temple Grandin comfortable closeness of the herd that they all must feel they need, packed so tightly that they were impossible to count—obviously full, not grazing as is normal this time of morning. Furthermore, the same behavior in other pastures, even among the bulls. One wonders what it means.

September 23, 2011 (Autumnal Equinox)
Major weather change, temperatures falling from the high-90s to low-80s, clouds and intense lightshows in the evenings of the 23rd and 24th (while I was in SLC for a WFC Board Meeting) that ignited seven foothill grassfires in Tulare County Saturday night, one consuming a reported 400 acres and a couple of newborn calves on the Ainley Ranch, just over the hill in Elderwood. Sad always, but these would have been from their best early calvers, their ‘A’ team, who will not be able to contribute to their care and welfare this year. Nice and cool while feeding today, Monday the 26th.

September 15, 2011
We’ve been enjoying the lightening show over the Sierras since Saturday, on the cusp of thunderstorms out of the Southwest bringing a few drops, gusty winds and lower temperatures. A real, honest-to-goodness low out of the northern Pacific is expected today with temperatures in the mid-to-low 80s predicted through the weekend.

September 10, 2011
Clouds began to collect over the Sierras yesterday as part of the monsoon conditions in the Southwest, temperatures in the high-90s. Forecast for next few days intensifies with predicted thunderstorms possible, low pressure off Southern California adding moisture from the Pacific to the mix.

September 4, 2011 I have to admit that the creek has quit, drying back from a static balance the last two days. In the high-90s since the 30th, days noticeably shorter. AccuWeather forecast cooling into the next week, chance of rain.

August 30, 2011
Shown as immeasurable on the USACE page and down to a literal trickle in the morning, going underground and resurfacing in places by day, Dry Creek still runs after half-dozen three-digit days. (I’m using the brush catchers across from the house as my observation point, crossing daily as we check the heifers) Forecast weather change, cooling into the low-90s tomorrow.

August 14, 2011

More clouds out of the south, yesterday warmer and sultry from a disturbance along Baja, not a solid indicator.

August 12, 2011

64° this a.m. Slight weather change with wispy, mare’s manes and tails, clouds all day – the kind of sign that would indicate a rain in two or three days if this were December, but not. High temp around 95°, so no BIG change. Dry Creek is still running (3 cfs), and our stockwater springs have really picked up, some ponds running out their spillways for the first time in a couple of months. The springs’ connection to the Sierra snowmelt seems obvious, taking until August leak down to us in the foothills. The days are also noticeably shorter.

I don’t remember Dry Creek ever running this late into the summer, and now we are approaching the time of year that the riparian, mostly sycamores and Valley Oaks, stop taking water. Not too many years ago, Dry Creek began running in early December without any rains and runoff to contribute to its flow, just as a result of the trees beginning to go dormant. As long as there’s water in the channel, anything can happen, but three or four 100+ degree days in a row, it’ll be done. I seriously doubt that the creek will run all year, but we’ll keep tabs here.

August 4, 2011
65° this a.m. Thus far, temperatures have been fairly tame this summer, right around 100°, much like last summer with steady and gusty breezes, making shade a viable cooling down place for both people and cattle. Dry Creek is still running a little water (6 cfs) as a result of last season’s extraordinary rainfall. Acorns have begun to fall. Likely premature, there is a hint of autumn in the air. With extreme heat elsewhere, we expect abnormal weather conditions as we go forward, looking to the month of August for indications of 30-day fall and winter patterns to be confirmed again in the month of September.

Lots of old feed and ample stockwater, the first calves are due in the next two weeks.

July 5, 2011
New Season!
In the clutches of a week-long heat wave, the forecast peak of which today is 108º, this morning’s blanket of clouds suggests some thundershowers by afternoon – all very ordinary for the San Joaquin Valley, but oppressive and debilitating nonetheless.

I maintain the thesis that it wasn’t until the advent of affordable air conditioning, in lieu of the standard swamp coolers, that housing and population grew here. In 1966, Visalia boasted 16,000 people, more than 125,000 today, once claiming some recognition as the fastest growing city in the U.S.

I compare my current ability to take the heat with that when we were kids, bare-chested banshees on the run all summer, or later swamping grapes all day in the vine rows. It was hotter then with long strings of days above 110º.

With indoor jobs in town, most of us don’t participate, nor appreciate, summer labor in the fields, day after day. We were a tougher breed in those days, working longer hours – now an ignored minority, I maintain an admiration for those men and women of the fields I can no longer keep pace with.

One response to “Journal 2011-12

  1. Pingback: GIFT, OCTOBER 2011 | drycrikjournal

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