July 22, 2006
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July 22, 2006
July 22, 2006
Fire at the End of Dry Creek Road
Like most cattle ranchers, we live with the threat of fire that places whatever dry feed we’ve managed to save at risk until it rains. A summer rain on the dry feed here generally leaches the “strength” or nutrients from the grass, the days much too long and hot for any germinated seed to survive. In addition to the feed, cattle, fences, hay, barns and homes are also at risk. Naturally, a significant loss of any of the above puts our livelihood in jeopardy, and though barns, hay and homes might be insured, few ranchers have the means to insure their cattle or native feed.
Causes of fire range from State mandated catalytic converters to lightning strikes, human carelessness to electric transmission lines, but in recent years arson has been the main cause of wildland grass fires. Apart from the destructive dysfunction that seems to excite the arsonist, a growing number of fires are set as initiation requirements into local gangs.
In this canyon and surrounding ranchlands, this common threat not only unites neighbors to be vigilant, but at the first sight of smoke they arrive to help where they can. No two fires behave in the same way, varying with the terrain, fuel and wind conditions. After the fires here last week, we were gratified with how much support was offered. While I was herding the fire along Dry Creek Road with the skid steer, Robbin manned the phone and utilized young Ted Ainley as a communications runner between the two fires, dispatching him to retrieve the Fry kids (and their goat) while their Dad fought the fire below their home. I was unaware of the other fires on Dry Creek as was Chuck, each of us wondering where the other was until both fires were contained.
As many of you know, our D-6H dozer is under contract with the California Division of Forestry. Unfortunately, it was on a job four miles up the road for last week’s fires. Air attack in the form of B-19 and B-29 prop-driven bombers loaded with Phoschex as well as helicopters slung with bladder bags of water are used during daylight hours, slowing the fire down until hand crews and engines can contain the fire. But the Helitack crews, such as depicted on Carolyn Dufurrena’s blog site, do the hardest and most dangerous work in terrain inaccessible or out of the reach of 4-wheel drive engines or hand crews.
As adrenalin runs high, one has to continually work to stay calm.
Looking past the young firefighters relaxing on the lawn.
Backfire from the Driveway
Ever aware of fire as we complete welding pipe fencing for our horse pens, we have kept a water truck on site and have bladed 30-foot breaks around our work since the grass turned.
Nonetheless, an arsonist set three fires Saturday on Dry Creek, the second of which butted-up against our firebreak. Despite the 112 degree heat, good luck with the wind and use of the skid-steer to flank the flames, we were afforded time until the CDF arrived.
You’re in a hot spot
when you can hear
the bomber’s engines
just before the drop
of red sticky goo
coats the lenses
of your glasses
to cake with dirt.
And once dried, it
won’t wash out of
your favorite Hawaiian
for their fire engines from our little wading pool, firefighters take a break in the shade.
After the Fact
The creek slows, thick green moss floats
and fades beyond the shadow’s reach
of sycamores – and at its edge, a bleached
white blanket shrinks upon the cobbles
to conceal an urgent world that cooks
and feeds upon this July moment.
Between rocks I watch Kim Jong II
claim a damp spot, antennae flailing.
Between two others, the Hezbollah
and Israelis tangle on their sides.
Tiny nameless creatures scramble
into dark caves, yet our nature teems
before my eyes. Soon the creek will stop
and pool in places to wait for winter rain
where nervous people will scurry like bugs.
July 12, 2006
Big, bright and full
of hope – coffee
and quiet opportunity
to shake dreams loose
and wake my mind
to process calves
we must sell.
Another moonlit morning
slips through the saddle
and leaves me in the dark
filling my watering can
at three a.m.,
to keep flowers alive
until I get back
to rescue them
from 103 degrees
of life-sucking heat -
or be casualties
of cattle work.
for Meg & Susan
It makes perfect sense to me that Robbin writes a poem about a moment before her work day begins and that I might try to photograph the moon at much the same time the next morning, once again rising in the dark to finish processing our calves to sell on the Internet. The all-natural 7-weight calves sold immediately off Stampede’s Country Page. Our split load of lighter calves will probably sell Wednesday on their auction, not qualifying for the “all-natural” appellation but for a few, but identified, doctored eyes.
July 10, 2006
One of the benefits of age is an increased perspective if our memory doesn’t fail us. Increments of time seem to shrink, weeks passing like days as the seasons turn full circle on an accelerating clock as we put our calves together again to sell on stampedecattle.com. I’d be interested in my father’s commentary at this juncture in the business of harvesting grass and raising calves, marketing a year’s effort and luck with the weather on an Internet auction site, an annual paycheck that may ride on a few digital photographs.
Before he died in 1997, we had just begun selling our calves after weaning instead of holding them over for another grass season to sell at 800 pounds. In those days prior, we would price our cattle for buyers to view as long yearlings on the ranch. As soliciting buyers with time and an eye for judging weights became more difficult, we opted for the special “off the grass” sale at the local auction market in Visalia, prices too often dependent on the number of buyers that attended. The advent of the Internet and Video Auction sales has allowed us to offer our calves to feedlots and buyers throughout the West.
The steer calves above will be sold next Wednesday to weigh 700 pounds when we ship them in August. You can follow their development from babies to the present in the archives of this blog site.
We have, since the middle of May, been weaning calves, finishing-up with the last bunch in the third week of June. Because we run our cows in fields of 1-2 square foothill miles, we brand and wean a field or two at a time, hauling the calves down to the corrals adjacent to our irrigated pasture where we precondition them before selling them on the stampedecattle.com Internet auction site in the next few weeks. Part of the preconditioning process includes a regime of vaccinations and booster shots that we trust will help bring premium prices from buyers. We do not implant our calves with growth hormones nor have we had to resort to any antibiotics thus far, so with a little luck we will offer an all natural, antibiotic free, choice beef product.
The vaccination program requires that we hold the calves on pasture for a few weeks longer than normal to insure that we not ship any reactors to the modified live virus shots. This year, we have religiously weighed the calves before and after weaning and they will be weighed again after we sort the steers from heifers when both receive their last round of shots and deworming next week. Economically, it’s essential to know the impact of this new program on our weight gains.
As we approach our annual payday in 100+ degree heat, I tend to be a little irritable and tense. We spent this morning fixing fence after feral hog hunters with dogs ran 160 head of calves through three fences just before daylight. Got the calves back together OK, but probably a good thing we didn’t catch the poachers.
At times like this, punching a time clock almost sounds appealing.
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