Tag Archives: cattle
I recently had the wonderful opportunity to take “The Megan Show” to my alma mater, CSU, Chico and participate in a discussion. The discussion was about “The Future of the Farm”. I was lucky to have David Robinson Simon the Author of Meatonomics as a discussion partner. I felt that Mr. Simon and I contrasted nicely and it made for an interesting conversation.
It always makes for a fun and lively conversation when two polar opposites sit down to discuss an issue both are passionate about. Being a cattle rancher, obviously I feel very strongly about what I do. Mr. Simon is a vegan and based on my own experiences and others I know, one must feel very strongly to maintain that lifestyle (it was really hard for me and I failed).
Mr. Simon spoke first. He had a powerpoint that basically outlined his book. Some of the slides had pictures that painted animal agriculture in a poor light. They say pictures are worth a thousand words, but unfortunately they often only tell part of a story. Because agriculture has typically kept our barn doors shut, we have left ourselves open to misunderstandings like this.
While I did disagree with Mr. Simon about several issues, Ag Gag, factory farming, and ag terrorism being a few. I was surprised about how many issues we held similar views on. For example eating “local” might not always be the most efficient and grass-finished beef is not always the most sustainable method in beef production.
I felt like this discussion was time well spent. Being able to sit down and have a conversation with people that don’t always agree with me helps me become a better communicator and helps agriculture open our barn doors. Getting to interact with an audience enhances the experience for everyone; personal connections are made, passions shared. If agriculture wants to engage with our public we simply must take every opportunity, that is why I was disappointed in the College of Agriculture.
There were only two agriculture students (thanks guys!) in attendance and no staff or faculty. Our industry leaders need to make sure our students and future ag leaders are being exposed to and urged to have conversations with our public. Our leaders are the ones that need to set that example. A huge part of why I am able to speak and engage the public is because I saw my professors do that.
Although I was excited to have the opportunity to participate in this discussion and give back to the University that helped shape who I am (and I’d do it again in a hot second), it worried me that there was a low ag turn-out and Dr. Jones had no success finding someone from the College of Ag to participate. If agriculture is serious about transparency and engaging our public our local leaders must do a better job of setting that example or they run the risk of “The Megan Show” doing for them – scary thought, huh?
In California, cattle ranchers are the redheaded stepchildren of the ag industry. What I mean by that is we rarely get help when things go south. We don’t get subsidies, we don’t have many contracts, and we aren’t guaranteed a minimum for our product, etc, etc. This is ok, because in my experience cattle ranchers tend to be the most
paranoid self-reliant out of the bunch, and we survive.
Even when programs are offered that want to help us, a good majority of cattle ranchers won’t accept the help. Seems like every family has a horror story of an uncle, grandpa or friend that “lost the family Ranch” when the “government” got involved. Understandably, this has resulted in super, stubborn and skeptical ranchers.
Well enter 2014, we are in the middle of an epic drought. Cattle ranchers are selling cattle, farmers aren’t planting crops, shit is getting real out here folks. Programs are finally being offered to cattle ranchers that are designed to help us. It’s been an immense relief, and I have no doubt, this has saved many, many ranches (remember these ranches are the same ones that provide us with all this beautiful non-developed land, habitat and wildlife, we are surrounded with in Northern California).
This ranch is no different. This drought has affected us deeply. We now have several fields that have no stock water access. When you don’t have water, you have nothing. If my pigs and cattle don’t have water, just like us, they die. It becomes a huge problem when you have the land, the cattle, the pigs, the bills, the taxes, but no way to sustain them.
I made the choice to enroll in a program and get financial help. It was not easy, but for me, it’s a perfect storm of being a “beginning” rancher and the drought. The help was to ensure that I have water so I can continue to do, what I do. Fast forward a few months. I have invested my time and money in a well, solar pump and water tank, so my animals have drinking water.
My Parent’s have graciously allowed me to long term lease one of our pastures that had no water access. I had out-grown my pig pen behind our houses, and the pasture I was using for my beefs was not meant for that and no longer had regular water access. This ‘new’ area I am leasing is where I used to raise my cattle, when I was in 4-H and FFA, but the lack of water has essentially made it useless. By getting this help, I am returning this part of the ranch back into production, benefiting both my family and the wildlife that live here.
This is not a choice I took lightly. My long term followers have watched me and this blog grow. You’ve been with me from working in town, to Adult 4-H, to me quitting my town job to work full-time on our ranch. And now, to me making a huge step of growing my hog and cattle business.
Now that I have accessible water for my domestic animals and our wildlife, this is my year. This is the year I take initiative and grow my future. Because I now have water, I can use the knowledge I have amassed to better my land, grow my animals, improve our environment and habitat.
It’s going to be a great year.
- Wear comfortable and supportive underwear and socks. There is nothing worse than getting an epic wedgie while running up and down a catwalk of a chute.
- Well…as long as we are on the subject…..Invest in a really good sports bra. The rocks + ATV’s = giving yourself a black eye.
- Bring an extra jacket because it’s always colder than you think, especially on an ATV. A beautiful, balmy morning can quickly turn into hypothermia and snotcicles.
- Wear short sleeves underneath because it gets hotter than you planned and boob sweat in your fancy sports bra is not your friend.
- Try and get as far away from the boss as you can, this lessens the likelihood you’ll get yelled at.
- Bring Chapstick, it’s wonderful for many uses. You never know when you’ll need to lube up a gate that is stuck or when your lips need moisturizing.
- Wind burn is as bad as sunburn. Wear lots of sunscreen and a big hat, you’ll thank me when you’re my age and you still get carded.
- Check all gates for hornet’s nests first! Those suckers hold a grudge and will get you at all costs. It’s like getting punched, it’ll ruin your day.
- Bring toilet paper. It’s a long way back to the house, there is no shame peeing in a stock trailer. Dripping dry is not time efficient.
- Keep your mouth shut as much as possible. I swear the cows get great joy flicking poo at and on you. Cow poo doesn’t taste good.
- Shut and lock and double check that you locked every gate you pass through. You do not want to be the one responsible for accidentally letting the cows out.
- Wear boots that are comfortable. There is nothing worse than breaking in a new pair of boots during a work day. You’ll be so busy, you won’t notice your blisters until they bleed.
- Bring your sense of humor. Sometimes things will go wrong, people will get snapped at, and you will get poo in your mouth – it’s life, you just have to spit it out and keep moving forward.
I met my friend Brooke on social media. We are both multi-generational cattle ranchers, who are very passionate about our way of life. Brooke has a wonderful blog where she details her life. Because of the hurtful and ignorant comment made by my local environmental group (which I am now a member of), I decided to attempt to humanize this drought, so they could see the farmers and ranchers and families behind it. Brooke was kind enough to let me re-blog her original post (please see here).
My friend and fellow blogger, Megan Brown, over at The Beef Jar recently uncovered some rather hurtful words that her local Butte Environmental Council shared on their Facebook page. After I saw what’s pictured below, I decided that maybe I should continue to share how real the drought in the Central Valley is and how it has hurt my family’s business as well as multiple farmers and ranchers in the area. Just to be clear: my intent in writing these posts is to share our business, foster agricultural education, and develop conversation pieces that may lead to a better understanding for the greater good. I hope it comes off that way.
Here is what Butte Environmental Council put on their Facebook page that inspired this post:
My mom is the 3rd generation cattle rancher and she runs the ranch my grandparent’s fought hard to preserve all their life. As most everyone knows by now, over the last 4-5 years we have had a heck of a time with the drought. 2014 has been the worst. The ranch we raise our beef on solely relies on annual rainfall to grow the native grass to feed our cattle. There is no irrigation on this land. Average annual rainfall for us is somewhere around 12-13″ a year. This year, there was no rain in December and most of January (typically wet months for us). Our grand total was a whopping 4.89″ of rainfall. That was also accompanied by record high temperatures.
We take pride in how well we manage our ranch land but regardless of what we did this year, there was no saving it from devastation. Between the months of January and April we had to cull 20% of our herd as well as spread our cattle out amongst another field just to sustain them and the land. 20% of any business is no small amount… especially when these animals are your livelihood. My mom has worked her whole life to build these genetics, making the decision to sell those cows not just a business decision, but an emotional one as well. To make matters even worse we also had to buy and feed 3 times the amount of hay this year (it’s outrageously priced right now because demand is so high).
Relying on Mother Nature is a gambling business. We know that. I can remember growing up when ever we would sit down to a large meal in celebration of someone’s birthday, we would say a prayer before eating. My grandfather would always chime in at the end of that prayer with “and PLEASE don’t forget the rain!” It became a bit of a joke then because he’d say it regardless of the season (we have a lot of June birthday’s in our family and it tends to be in the 100’s then). But this is no joke. This drought is real and it is hitting the bottom line for every farmer and rancher in the state of CA and beyond.
Some close family friends of ours, the Estills, who are also a multi-generational cattle ranching family in both CA and NV have sold a staggering 60% of their herd this year due to drought. 60%!!
A family whom leases part of our ranch also grows oranges in the surrounding area. On my way to the ranch I pass their orchard. They put up this sign that reads “No water. No trees. No work. No food.” And behind that sign is acres upon acres of DIRT.
There used to be a beautiful grove of orange trees but they were forced to rip them out due to the water crisis. I can’t imagine what kind of financial impact that will have on their business. For the people of the same mindset as Butte Environmental Council, this isn’t just a bunch of propaganda. It’s real life and it’s devastating. We aren’t a bunch of “giant agribusinesses”. We are close knit families trying to carry on traditions and a passion for this industry that our mothers, fathers, great grandmothers/grandfathers and so on worked tirelessly to build.
A recent drought impact study published by UC Davis (read more here) states that the total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.2 billion! Amongst other things, there was a loss of 17,000 seasonal and part-time jobs related to Ag which represents 3.8% of farm unemployment. Regardless of whether someone is directly connected to Agriculture in this state or not, those numbers tell a brutal story.
I will leave you all with a video that my mom and I were asked to be a part of for a news station from France that was covering the drought here in CA. This video was done in March when the grass was still green. It is now very brown, very sparse, and very brittle.
Having trouble viewing the video above? Click below to see it on YouTube!
One of the amazing things about farmers and ranchers is solidarity. We will always have differences of opinion about everything, but when push comes to shove, you’ll never find a group of people that are more supportive of each other. This becomes apparent to me every time agriculture has a serious event like a drought or a major storm. As we know, the western United States is suffering from an epic drought. The networking, and information being shared amongst our groups right now is staggering. The messages of support and advice I’ve been receiving has blown me out of the water (sorry, bad pun). Carin has been one of those people that has offered her support. Like me, she is passionate about her way of life and ranch. She has graciously shared with me a post about her experience with our drought. Please take the time to follow her blog here. Thank you.
93432. Creston, California. It’s a tiny little slice of heaven most folks have never heard of because we boast a population of 240 according to the sign at the NorthWest edge of town. We only have two paved streets. One is Highway 229, or you can head south on O’Donovan Road. I grew up in a log cabin my parents built about a mile and a half down O’Donovan Road. My Dad’s family has been here since 1874 when Patrick O’Donovan, an Irish Immigrant, settled here.
Creston doesn’t have much. We do have a church, elementary school, rodeo grounds, steakhouse, post office, dive bar – all the essentials. And water. We have water. The greater Creston area parallels the beginning of the Salinas River Valley. The branch of the Huer Huero River that skirts our property is a tributary to the Salinas River. It’s dry for years at a time requiring steady, heavy rain for weeks on end or several wet years in a row in order to flow water. On a few occasions and only during tremendously wet years, the river has overflowed its banks and rerouted down our driveway. A good excuse to stay home from school when we were kids!!
It’s a Sunday night and I sit on my parents back patio with my Dad. It’s 100 degrees at 7:00 pm, down from 106 earlier. Typical summer weather. Hot days and cool nights make for great growing conditions for wine grapes. In the last 30 years, the Paso Robles AVA, which Creston is a part of, has seen numbers jump from 5 wineries in the late 70’s to nearly 300 tasting rooms, probably thrice as many individual grape growers, several custom crush facilities and countless other businesses directly related to grapes and wine. Wine has been good to us.
Dad remembers the wet years and the dry ones. He can name them off the top of his head. 1958, Dad and his brother swam in the creek in front of the house in May – long after the rainy season had passed. 1969, he was in a leg cast and dating my Mom. Grandpa would pick Dad up at the end of the driveway in a tractor and haul him to the top of the hill to get Mom. It was so wet he couldn’t drive his car up their driveway. I was born in May of 1978. A friend had a helicopter on standby to get mom out in case it was too wet to drive to the hospital when she went into labor. The early 90’s were bone dry ending in the March Miracle in 1995. Dad will tell you that 2011 – 2014 have been the driest he remembers. Our average is 13″. We haven’t seen 10″ in the last 3 years combined.
I grew up knowing that just 5 miles from us in three directions were areas of land that had terrible water – quantity and quality. We’ve sold water by the truckload to folks that live in those areas, from our ag well for as long as I can remember. Some of those folks abandoned their wells completely, years ago. Add 10 miles to that radius and I can name 5 areas outside of Paso Robles where subdivisions went in, everyone had their own domestic well and leach field on their own 5, 10 or 20 acre lots. Old grain land which used to be dry-farmed and grazed with cattle and sheep was gobbled up by folks moving to the “country” from the big cities 250 miles north and south of us.
As the wine industry grew, more land was absorbed, wet years, dry years, wet years again and more vineyards were planted. As of late, some large corporations, either wholly comprised of wine and wine grapes or having large interests in the wine industry, saw the writing on the wall in the Napa Valley and bought up Northern San Luis Obispo County land, largely made available as a result of the economic collapse. They installed vineyards at a record pace. Hard to blame them. A savvy local reporter revealed that one of these corporations is active in water banking in the San Joaquin Valley. This bit of information raised the hackles of some of the locals and, as they say, the fight was on.
During our record breaking drought of late, wells that were installed in those Paso Robles Sub Divisions started failing and going dry. Folks took to their computers, wine in hand, and lobbied locally to form water districts so that the big corporations would be held responsible for the well failures. Farmers and ranchers were wise to counter. They formed their own groups. Now we have PRAAGS, PRO Water Equity, an individual who is filing for overlier rights on behalf of landowners. And then we have the politicians. A quick thinking North County Supervisor immediately omitted two towns and the City of Paso Robles from the areas to be affected by the initial Urgency Ordinance passed by County Sups to stop the bleeding. (Note: the City of Paso Robles is undeniably the largest user of water in the basin – without argument.) The Chairman of our County Board of Supervisors (his district does not include one ounce of water in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin) sent errant letters to State Elected officials full of lies and inaccuracies. We have a state Assemblyman filing for legislation that lays the groundwork on how to govern the water district that has yet to be approved by LAFCO. I sat in his office and he told me, to my face, this legislation doesn’t form the district. I do not believe him.
Let me be clear. In this crowded groups of litigants, politicians and groups promising to be in my family ranch’s best interest, I don’t know who to believe. I believe the rain gauge when it said we got ±5″ at the ranch, more than doubling the two years prior. I believe my Dad when he said we had to reduce our cattle herd down to 10 females because our unit per acre ratio (usually 1:25 – 1:50) was, at best, 1:100. I believe the quivering chin and tears on my Mom’s face when she gets back from her usual favorite activity with Dad – a Jeep ride to check the cows. She cries because there is no grass, no water, little hope. Checking cows now takes about 15 minutes and is hardly the romantic endeavor she used to enjoy. She and Dad would share memories, discuss important topics and dream of their future, all while taking pride in their herd.
My parents are blessed with good water, and they know it. Our ag well pumps 400 gallons a minute and does not waver. Our domestic well that feeds two houses is set at 60 feet. Sixty. The ag well provides water to our longtime customers, fills our reservoir and was formerly used to pump water for our alfalfa hay operation. We abandoned the hay business when Dad didn’t have enough time and we weren’t old enough to help. The water never left. Dad tells a great story of he and my youngest brother in the field down below the house the middle of one summer. There’s a small, abandoned well shaft. Dad showed my brother the casing. My brother dropped a rock down the casing to see how deep the water was. They heard nothing. My brother bent down and put his skinny arm down the shaft. He was wet up to his elbow. We had standing water at about 18″.
I had the privilege to listen to DeeDee D’Adamo of the California State Water Resource Control Board during our May, California Women for Agriculture meeting, speak about State water issues. Most the questions were about pending Bond measures to fund more State Water projects, the Delta tunnels, and so on. I stood up in front of my peers and asked her directly about what was happening in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. She didn’t really answer my question and only said she’s very interested in what’s happening here. She’s interested because what happens in Paso Robles and its surrounding areas will be echoed all over the State of California in areas where the water isn’t adjudicated. If you think that because you have water under the property you own, and you are entitled to a well and that water, you may be right – but not for long. What happens here, won’t stay here. What’s happening here is the answer to politicians desire to control every drop of water in California. Some of the Paso Robles water groups are for water districts because they’re against water banking and private entities selling water outside of our basin. Our family is part of the water-blessed. We fear that if this district is implemented, what will stop the State of California from pumping the water from my family’s well into the pipeline that already runs through our ranch, and selling it to someone else?
If you come to dinner around our family table, you will say a Catholic Blessing. “Bless us oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive. From thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, Amen.” Dad will pause, then close The Blessing saying thank you to the God that has given him so much. Then he humbly and quietly asks God to bring us more rain. I also believe that if God answers Daddy’s nightly prayer and brings us enough rain to end the overdraft in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, much of these passionate debates over water will be yesterday’s news. I believe we have a water problem. The problem is that not enough rain and snow fell from the sky in the last three years. Regulation and new governing bodies are not the answer. Because dissolving government agencies and removing regulation is like trying to un-ring a bell.
As I told a friend in a heated Facebook debate on the subject of water: You can have my family’s water but you’ll have to buy it, one truckload at a time. And then I offered her a glass of whiskey.
Carin Ryan grew up on a grain and cattle ranch in Creston that her father’s family settled in 1874. Her mother’s family began farming grain in the Independence Ranch area of Paso Robles in the late 1860s. She is currently serving as the Public Relations Director for California Women for Agriculture. She served as the President of SLO County CWA in 2009 and several years as Secretary for Paso Robles Friends of NRA. She currently resides on the ranch in Creston where she helps her family with their cattle operation. Her blog can be found at carinryan.wordpress.com
WARNING! This might be considered by some to be gross, inappropriate, or tragic, but I think it is extremely important to share the how’s, what’s and why’s of our food. If you have any questions about anything you see please ask – I love to share about the ranch.
Every single cattle person I interact with loves their cattle. Our lives revolve around them and their needs. Their needs are met before our own. Their well-being is our first priority, always. When we have an animal in distress, we are in distress as well, and we do everything we possibly can to fix the situation.
I was reminded of this fact recently. It’s calving season in Northern California. Calving season is the best and worst time of our year. On one hand we are witnessing the birth of our future, new life and all the promise that brings. On the other hand, this is the time when things are most likely to go wrong.
Just like when humans give birth, it is an event. Bodies change, hormones rage and things can go wrong. 98 percent of the time everything is fine, everyone is healthy. But sometimes, we do have problems. Often heifers, whom are giving birth for the first time, will need some assistance. Sometimes a cow will have a set of twins or a calf will be born backwards. In this case, both happened. In this video you will see our neighbor and family friend “pulling” a backward, twin, calf.
Unfortunately the calf you saw being pulled was not alive at birth and could not be resuscitated. However, her twin was alive and well!
When calves are born and are not breathing, there are certain methods we will use to resuscitate them. I’ve seen my father perform mouth to mouth on calves before and they lived! My Mom jokes that she decided to marry my Dad after watching him save a newborn calf. You can see Brian feeling and rubbing the chest, to double check that she was gone. This calf was already gone, so she felt no pain.
However when we do have a calf that is born dead, and without a twin for the cow to raise, we have methods to lessen the grief of the cow. Again we want our cattle to be happy, to do their jobs, and earn us an income so we can continue to ranch.
Cattle people work very hard to prevent pulling calves. I mean, honestly, is reaching your arms into the reproductive organs of a cow, something that you would WANT to do? No. This is why we use technology to improve what we do and hopefully prevent this from happening as much as we can.
We use our knowledge of genetics and our understanding of EPDs (expected progeny differences) to manipulate our cattle herd. This means, calves are born with smaller birth weights (making birth easier on everyone, little babies are easier to push out!), but higher weaning weights. This makes us efficient. We are using technology to do more with less. I’ve been especially lucky in my lifetime to see these changes first hand. When I was a child, I remember watching my Dad pull way more calves than he does now. Our calves were also weaned at 500 pounds versus almost a 1000 now, all because we have access to better technology.
By adapting this technology into our herds we have improved the quality of our cattle’s lives, the quality of our lives and have become more efficient and sustainable. Yes, we still have death and loss, but, as I’ve just explained here, we constantly are seeking out ways to mitigate that.
Mama cow and her baby (from the above video) are currently grazing in a lush, green field in Northern California.