Characterized as a ‘brief’ heat wave, my pickup thermometer read 112 degrees in Visalia yesterday at about 2:00 p.m., fluctuating between 109 and 111 on the way home to peak at 112 at 4:00 p.m. on Dry Creek Road. Thermometers at home confirmed the pickup. Thunderheads forming over the Southern Sierra have sparked fires near Tehachapi, but by Saturday we’re to expect highs in the mid-80s - significant weather changes underway.
110 in Fresno ties the record for August 25th.
I’ve come to know our expectant mothers, coming two-year old, first-calf heifers bred to Wagyu bulls last winter, over the past two weeks of checking them twice daily. Pastured by the house for the last month, they also parade just above the office window, slowing to single file in the narrows of outcropped granite, offering a telling perspective as they pass between the canyons north and south of the house.
There are all kinds, like people. The impatient, the nervous, the gentle; the dominant and submissive, the good mothers and others that make up the bunch of forty. Already a small number, that didn’t cycle and breed in the 70 days the Wagyu bulls were here from November through January, have begun to segregate themselves, while new mothers form nurseries with their new babies. An interesting system, they take turns babysitting as the others graze or go to water, relieving one another throughout the day.
The girls ‘close-up’ seem to hang together, almost drawn by their common discomfort until early contractions send them off from the bunch to a solitary, out of the way place to have their calf and bond with it. Some good mothers may stay away for two or three days with their new baby, leaving it hidden when they graze and go to water. But often they’ll leave it for several hours while they graze and socialize with the rest, which can be worrisome.
The full moon and 112 degree heat yesterday brought three calves in the middle of the day while I was in town. One uncomfortable girl early yesterday morning (#168), moved up the hill to have her calf. As the only one missing when I checked them in the evening, I was relieved to find her licking a black mass in the dry feed. As I approached her, it became clearer that the elongated calf was too flat and not moving, a big calf by Wagyu standards. A tough labor also, judging by the ground around them, she was addled and a little fevered in the heat, looking to hook anybody or anything that might be responsible for what her instincts said was wrong, as the rush of colostrums filled her tight bag. Last I saw her at dusk, she was lying beside it.
One may wonder whether not checking and watching these heifers would have resulted any differently, as my diligence did not save the calf – but that’s not the point of the story.