Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I've written previously about stockmanship and about what it means to be part of a farming community.  So many times in our area, we're running our sheep or cows adjacent to land that has come out of agricultural production.  The very characteristics that allow us to market our products directly to consumers - namely a growing population - often make the production of those products more challenging.  Tonight, however, I was reminded of what it means to be in a community of stockmen, where the word "neighbor" is a verb.

Late this afternoon, I received a call from Patti Beard, who rents the ranch next to one of the properties we lease.  Patti and I both sit on the Placer County Agricultural Commission, and Patti has ranched in Placer County most of her life. When she was young, her family operated a dairy north of Auburn (where she still lives) - she even took several cows to college with her at Chico State as a way to pay for her education.  Patti called to say she was missing a heifer and asked if I'd keep an eye out for her.

A few hours later, I got a call from someone else indicating that we had a steer out at the same property.  Figuring the two calls might be related, I loaded up my dogs and headed to the ranch.  Sure enough, Patti's black heifer was not only out of her pasture - she'd gone through my fences too and was at a neighbor's property.
Pushing the steers (and Patti's heifer) back north to the gate.

My first priority was to get the heifer back to my pasture - she was lonely for our steers, so it wasn't too difficult.  Next, I called Patti to let her know the heifer was safe (cell phones are pretty handy sometimes).  Patti said they'd come to the gate between the two properties so we could get the heifer back where she belonged.  As I herded the cows back towards the other end of the ranch, I encountered one of the biggest coyotes I've seen in some time, along with a number of deer and one of the prettiest sunsets ever.  Just as it was getting dark, we arrived at the gate - where Patti and Steve were waiting for us.
Not a bad way to end the work day!

Sorting cattle in an open field is not a simple task.  In my experience, slow and quiet always works better than fast and loud, but not every cattleman feels the same way.  Patti and Steve, however, work cattle like I do, and we soon had the heifer back with Patti's cows - while our steers stayed on our side of the fence.  After a few obligatory remarks about the lack of rain, the condition of our cattle, and the wildlife we'd seen in the last several days, we all headed home for the night.

Neighboring, I think, takes work.  Being a good neighbor, in an ranching sense, means taking responsibility for the safety and well-being of your own animals as well as the animals of your neighbor.  It means working until the job is done - even if it's dark, cold or wet.  "Neighbor" is a verb when you live among a community of stockman.  I'm comforted to know that such a community still exists in Auburn!

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