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.
The home ranch still burning the morning after the Cherokee Fire.
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?
I’ve been seeing posts in my social media streams about ‘slaughter trucks’. I have to say, nope. The pictures that are being passed as slaughter trucks are simply not slaughter trucks. They do no killing. In our case theses trucks haul our cattle between our summer and winter ranches. Like a cattle bus. They are also called “bullracks, cattle pots, pot bellies or cattleracks” in the industry.
So called “slaughter truck”
Yes, these trucks can take cattle to feedlots where the cattle will be fed until they are ‘finished‘ and then slaughtered for our consumption. But no, these are not ‘slaughter trucks’. If a label must be applied to a slaughter truck I would call the truck that comes out to the ranch to do custom exempt slaughter, a “slaughter truck”.
A true slaughter or abattoir truck. It performs a wonderful service to farmers and ranchers like myself.
The good news is this misinformation has inspired a lovely movement from the agricultural community. Instead of getting mad and defensive, we started a toy drive. We started sharing more about what these trucks actually do. We opened our barn doors. Great job industry!
I’ve attached a video of cattle being loaded into one of these trucks. As you can see it is not scary for them at all.
It’s Fall and it has finally rained a few times. That means our cattle can come home from the high country. My Dad has already shipped a load down, so today we went out to check fences, put out a mineral salt block and move the cattle into their field for the winter.
This happy dog is going to start coming with me into the office once in a while. She has to have a job or she gets sad.
Ranchie had a health scare earlier this week. She is an old dog, around 9. She is a wonderful cow dog and loves her job, so she gets used a lot. However we realize it’s time for her to start to retire, little jobs like this is going to be her new normal. She was so happy to be back with my Dad, after her scare earlier in the week, she got sent home here in the Valley for some TLC. She loves us, but she knows who her master is.
This is what the Ranch looks like during this time of year. Last year’s old grass with new green sprouts starting to grow.
No horses this time! The ranger make this job a lot faster and easier for us.
This “bridge” has always made me nervous. I used to swear it was going to break when we would drive the hay truck over it.
We “pushed” the cows against the fence until they saw their gate into the next field called The Cottonwood Range. They know the drill.
Ranchie was ready in case any one got out of line.
My Dad putting out the mineral salt block.
Cattlepeople give salt to our cattle in block or loose form. We like the block because it is easy, and it meets out needs. Cattle should have this available to them at all times. Some salt blocks have phosphorus, magnesium or other supplements added to them to prevent conditions like grass tetany, poor growth rates or to prevent certain deficiencies.
We try to prevent diseases and conditions in our cattle, this makes both our and their lives much better. Making sure our cattle’s basic needs are met and exceeded is just one of many tools in our “tool box” that ensures we do this. Any questions?
You can buy this book at amazon
In honor of Dr. Grandin’s visit, my Parent’s are installing our third set of humane handling corrals. I got to share with Dr. Grandin how much her designs have helped us and our cattle. I think she liked hearing that. My Dad has been on his backhoe this week, tearing down our old wooden corrals so we can install the new sweep and solid panels. In addition to tearing down the old corrals, my Parents have been cleaning up some old barns and buildings that are slowly falling apart.
The herd heading to the Valley in 1939
The neat thing about having old buildings and barns is the cool stuff that my family stored there generations ago. For example, we found the old port-a-potty that my Great Grandpa used on the week long cattle drives we used to have. It was made so you could set it on two stumps or rocks, have a nice seat to do your business, yet it was small enough to be portable so they could carry it on the chuck wagon. According to legend, they also had a “deluxe” model, with two holes, so the kids wouldn’t fall in. Isn’t that ingenious? They never covered that on the Oregon Trail game we played in elementary school. I know my least favorite parts of cattle drives was pooping in the forest. In fact, I attribute my early woods pooping experiences to why I loathe camping now. Scarred for life.
Sam Brown Jr. and his dog. Notice the chuck wagon behind him?
This port-a-potty is so neat, and has such a wonderful history, I want to make it into my new coffee table. Yes, I am aware generations of my family pooped through it, but that just adds to the charm, in my opinion. I could even put a chips and salsa bowl in the hole when I have parties! I have several talented friends that I am talking to right now about this project. Hopefully I can blog the whole process and share with my readers! Check back often!
My new coffee table!
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.