Back in April we leased an additional 80 acres of new pasture, just across the river from our place. It has been neglected and overgrown and the fencing was not in good shape, but it has lots of potential. So, the long process of turning this old homestead into great pasture for our cattle began. Rick started by dragging the first 30 acres.
Dragging the harrow over the field breaks up any manure clumps, loosens the compacted grasses and soil, reduces weeds and encourages new grass growth.
He dragged the whole field - which has a lovely view of the snow-capped mountains to the north – then applied 1/2 ton per acre of granulated lime. Our soil is very acidic so adding lime to the soil brings the pH up. The spreader is the yellow funnel-shaped thing on the back of the tractor.
Next was trenching for the water and electric lines. They covered up the trenches before I got to take any pictures (they are working on a deadline and don’t stop for photo ops), but you can see the bare spots running through the field to each water trough.
After that came clearing the overgrown vegetation so they could build fences. Some of the overgrowth was so high you could barely see the tractor.
The trees in the fence line had to be trimmed up so they could work underneath.
There is an old fence in that grass somewhere. Around here if you don’t keep it trimmed it will soon be consumed by vegetation.
And then it was time to build fences. Lots and lots of fences. Which required many, many T posts – about 80 per paddock.
So Rick and Alex pulled strings to lay out the fence lines and started driving T posts.
They have also cemented in over eighty wooden corner and brace posts. Luckily the soil in that field is not nearly as rocky as ours, so the auger on the tractor drills the holes for the wood posts pretty well.
The guys figured out they needed ten individual grazing paddocks of about 2 1/2 to 3 acres each to sustain our herd this summer. We rotate them through so the cattle are always on fresh grass and each rotation lasts about six days – give or take. So they started in one corner and fenced paddock #1 and moved the cattle in.
Then they had six days before the next paddock had to be ready so the cattle could be moved onto fresh grass. It takes the two of them approximately five days to drill the post holes, cement in the corner and brace posts, drive the T posts, install the clips, pull the wire, hang the gates, set the water trough, hook up the water line and install the float on each paddock – if there are no problems and you have all the materials. So they worked hard to stay one paddock ahead of the cattle.
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Well, I would modify that to say you can, it will just take a while. Unfortunately, I am talking about myself. You see, I finally got a smart phone and took some pictures – then it took me two months to figure out how to get them off my phone and onto the computer and eventually here on the blog to share. So, though it took a while, here are some pictures I took in April when we were in California driving along Hwy 166. You probably know there is a drought and I cannot believe how very dry it is there.
In April the hills should be green and lush with fresh grass, this is what they looked like instead.
There were still cattle “grazing” in the hills, but honestly I don’t know what they were eating.
Many ranchers have been forced to sell off their herds because they have nothing to feed them. The cost of hay is sky-high if you can get it.
It is a sad situation for those folks; they desperately need rain.
This is the river bed – which had not one drop of water that I could see.
Over the edge of the bridge you can see the high water mark on the hills. I have seen the water that high there in one of those El Nino or La Nina (which one means it rains a lot?) years. They could sure use some of that rain now.
The only place it is green is where there is irrigation of some kind.
This whole situation makes me very thankful to live in a place where water is abundant.
It is finally time to move the cattle from our home ranch where they winter over to the fresh green grass of the summer pastures. This has been the wettest spring on record in our area so we were a bit later in the season than usual moving the bovines this year. We moved the steers first, they have been on the summer pastures for a few weeks now. It was time to move them to a fresh paddock and believe me they know it. They are lined up at the gate waiting for us to open it.
Before we move the cattle into the new paddock we walk the fence line to make sure all the fence wires are secure with no breaks or shorts in the electric fence. The animals watch us and if we aren’t moving quickly enough they start bellering to remind us they are waiting for fresh grass. Most of the time they are very quiet, but when they are ready to move they can get loud. After we make sure the fence is secure – no one wants to chase loose cattle around - we open the gate and the herd trots off into the fresh grass. Here is A7, a yearling calf from last year, enjoying the new pasture. You can see he is still shedding his winter coat in places; this is the scruffiest they look all year.
This shot of the fence line shows the grazed pasture the cattle are moving off on the left and the new one on the right. When the grass gets down to about six inches it is time to move the herd.
And now the herd is quiet and calm again, busy munching on their fresh grass.
Meantime, back at the ranch the cow/calf pairs were waiting. We moved them all up into the trap.
Then sorted the cows from the calves into pens side by side. The calves don’t seem to mind being away from their mothers, the mamas are a little more concerned.
We put the cows through the squeeze first. Alex takes off their old ear tag and puts a fresh one in; kind of like changing your earrings with pierced ears. We use an ear tag impregnated with a natural pyrethium to control flies. The cows have been through the squeeze and chute many times and know the routine.
This is the first time the calves have ever seen the chute, sweep and squeeze, a whole new adventure for them.
The squeeze is adjustable, but it doesn’t go down small enough to hold the calves – Rick ends up holding them so Alex can insert the ear tag.
B5 with his new ear tag. We also banded the bull calves, all four of them. Of the 19 calves we had this year only 4 are (or were) bulls.
Sometimes the calves get a little turned around – literally. B19 is the last calf this season; a little heifer who was very small and weak at birth. We had to tube feed her (insert an 18 inch esophageal feeding tube down the throat and all the way into the calf’s stomach, then pour in the colostrum and milk). After two days of feedings she was able to get up and nurse on her own and now she’s doing very well.
She turned around and went out the front of the chute with a little help from Rick. The cows are not able to turn around in the chute, but the calves are so small it is no problem for them.
Then we loaded them up for their first ride in the stock trailer and took them to their mothers in the new pasture. We just leased this 80 acre piece this year and it is a great addition for us.
Lush, green grass for the herd – and so tall you can almost lose sight of the calves out there when they lay down.
And finally, one of our bulls – Ox – is in that pasture with the cows. It is time for the bulls to do their job so we have calves for next year. Many of the 19 calves from last year are his.
We had a 100% breeding rate and 100% live, unassisted births this year. Can’t get much better than that!
It has been a difficult few weeks for us. On April 25th we lost the kindest man I have ever known, Rick’s dad Russell. Though we rejoice that he is healthy and happy in heaven, it is a sad time for us. We put together a slide show of pictures that was shown at his funeral. Here are a few of my favorites in no particular order.
He was born in a holler in Kentucky.
Father of three, father-in-law of three.
He loved coffee! Even in the garden he has his cup with him.
He had six grandchildren and pulled them in his new lawn tractor and trailer one Christmas morning.
He enjoyed spending time at the cabin; here with a very young Alex.
He honorably served his country and was a faithful husband to Mary Lou for over 60 years.
He let a three-year old Megan help him blow out his birthday candles.
He had a soft spot for animals and adopted more than a few strays in his life.
Never forgot his country roots.
Celebrated his 50th Wedding Anniversary at the coast with his family.
Had a smile for everyone and made friends wherever he went.
Returned to his hometown with his children and grandchildren and visited the war memorial in the town square.
Went back to his Kentucky roots and took his entire extended family with him to share memories of his childhood with the next generation.
Loved and was loved by his family.
Rick did the eulogy at Russell’s funeral and did an amazing job.
As he was preparing the night before Rick said something that has stayed with me “I have so many good memories of my dad I could talk for hours.” What a tribute to a life well lived. I will miss him.