Category Archives: Fire
Over the past two years our ranch has been involved with two fires. In 2017, the Cherokee Fire burned our ranch destroying homes, trees, barns, out buildings, water infrastructure, fences and corrals. It caused almost $4 million in damage to our home ranch. The Camp Fire happened in 2018. Although we were spared from flames damaging our property, the evacuations, water infrastructure damage, smoke damage and stress to ourselves and animals is still causing major problems.
Living through several natural disasters I’ve become accustom to answering questions about what we do, as cattle people, to mitigate damage from fire. For six generations my family has lived in this area, running cattle with little change. Fire has always been part of our plan, however the past few years it seems like it has been excessively different.
In honor of Earth Day, I’d like to show you one big benefit of grazing cattle; fire fuel load reduction.
The two photos below were taken one year apart. The top photo was our ranch un-grazed spring of 2018. The Cherokee Fire destroyed all of our fences so we were not able to run cattle on this side of the ranch during the winter of 2018 like we normally would. The result was grass that almost grew taller than I. The fuel load was massive and we were so scared we were going to burn up, again.
The second photo shows what healthy grazing looks like. The grass is managed and healthy (as are the cattle). The cattle also release nutrients back into the soil with the poo and provide us with food and fiber. Cattle play an important role in fire prevention in our area.
As we enter the 2019 fire season, I’d like you remind you, your local neighborhood cattle are working hard to mitigate potential damage around our communities. They are doing this without using pesticide, electricity, loud mowers or fossil fuel, just a four chambered stomach. Help support them by having a lovely hamburger or steak for dinner this week?
Like many cattle producers in our area, we move our cattle between “the mountains” (The Sierra Nevada’s) and “the valley” (The Sacramento Valley). The cattle are transported in livestock hauling trucks we sometimes call the “bus”. It’s about an hour and a half ride between ranches.
We do this for a variety of reasons. We relocate the cattle to Indian Valley (the mountains) in the spring and summer for their health and wellness. We graze naturally in the valley (no irrigation just rainfall) The grass dies in the valley, and isn’t as nutritious, the insects annoy them and cause disease, foxtails (weeds) are prevalent in the valley and cause eye infections, and the extreme heat is not conducive to weight gain and health. Basically, the cows would have to work too hard for them to be comfortable and the calves wouldn’t have the high weight gain that we are proud of. We also have to deal with fire danger, because in our area of California, summer wildfires can be a very big problem. By leaving the winter ranch empty six months out of the year, it also mimics natural grazing patterns. So we always have grass for our cattle to eat when they return. We ship the cattle back to the valley ranch when the fall rains begin and the new grass has sprouted.
In the winter, the ranch in the mountains is covered in snow, leaving no grass for the cattle. The summer ranch is irrigated pasture so it would not be cost effective for us to feed them hay throughout the winter. It’s also cold! Our cattle are princesses and do not like to be too cold or hot. In the late spring, when we ship to the mountains the natural feed is beginning to dry up and the new growth of higher protein feed has sprouted in the pastures on our mountain ranch. This is awesome for cows and calves, because they get the best, most nutritious grass twice as long as other cattle do. This impacts many facets of our herd health. Our cattle gain more weight, faster. They breed better, and give birth to healthier calves. Their immune systems are healthier, therefore reducing the risk of illness and reducing the amount of vaccines we must give.
Having two ranches really works for us. Not only do our cattle and land benefit from it, it’s a very unique and fascinating part of our western heritage. Our family has been running cattle like this for six generations. I feel honored to be a part of such a grand tradition.