June 6, 2009
A marathon month with wonderful weather, lap after lap from pasture to mountain pasture, gathering, weaning, feeding, hauling and processing calves to sell in thirty days, we near the end of our annual harvest off the grass as we sort and precondition calves on the irrigated pasture. With the last bunch left to haul out of Greasy Monday, they’re weighing-up nicely – thirty to forty pounds heavier than last year, it’s been a helluva a feed year despite our meager rainfall totals.
And it’s gone smoothly, unlike last year’s toll on people and vehicles: Robbin’s broken collarbone, Clarence’s rolled pickup and gooseneck, and the right side doors of my pickup peeled against an oak tree. But even bone weary and tired come evening, we enjoy sharing our sense of accomplishment and our passion for the cattle, critiquing our season and looking to experiment and tweak the process slightly next year.
The market, however, is much less certain as beef (cull) cows took a 20% hit last week when the economically squeezed Dairy Industry began offloading 200,000 milk cows. Also, new out-of-state health and shipping regulations, as a result of tuberculosis found in three Fresno dairy herds last year, vary from state to state, making internet and video auction sales less effective and appealing to producers. Most states won’t take any California heifers at all, but some will take steers destined for certified feedlots if they have an electronic identification (EID) tag, ostensibly lending traceability in case of any kind of an outbreak.
The drug companies also have their hooks in the cow-calf business, with half-a-dozen vaccination programs to try to make fit individual operations, all of which ultimately require additional processing and stress on the calves as well as increased costs that producers hope to recoup. There is yet much to weigh on the marketing end of our business, much left to sort out.
But we’re thankful nevertheless, concentrating on increasing our efficiency, focusing on what’s best for the cattle and the ranch over the long run, willing to bet our future on our cows and what we’ve learned from experience. As much of the rest is beyond our control, we continue to do what (we think) we do best, and after forty-some years, no two of which have been the same, I can’t imagine a more interesting place to work.