Sunday, January 25, 2015

Research Cowboy

I've only been at the University of California's Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center for a little more than a week, but I'm thinking this new job - as a "research cowboy" - is going to be a pretty good fit for me.

SFREC is a 5,700-acre ranch that has been owned by the University of California since the early 1960s.  The facility, and it's cattle, are available to researchers from a variety of disciplines.  Currently, scientists from UC Davis, UC Berkeley, UC Cooperative Extension, CSU Chico, and other institutions are conducting research into cattle nutrition, water quality, grazing management, wildlife habitat and cattle health, just to name a few subjects.  To a self admitted pasture geek like me, it's important and facscinating research!

The job of the staff, me included, includes normal ranch work - maintaining fences and roads, irrigating pastures, moving and caring for cattle.  We also support the research projects - feeding brewer's grains to cows, weighing steers on a grazing trial, helping researchers locate a transect to measure water quality.  I'm finding the variety of work to be enjoyable and mentally stimulating.

With a ranch this large, and with terrain that varies from Yuba river frontage to ponderosa pine - black oak forest, it will take me some time to get familiar with the entire property.  We were so busy in my first week that I didn't have time to get all of my safety training done (meaning the only modes of transportation available to me so far are Lulu the quarterhorse, a 1952 military jeep, and my own two feet).  I'm not complaining, though - walking and riding are the best way to get to know the place, I think!  While it's nice to know the roads, the only way to assess the condition of the pastures and the cattle, at least in my very short experience here, is on foot or horseback.

As you might imagine on a ranch of this size, there's an amazing array of wildlife.  So far, I've seen lots of raptors - including redtail hawks, kestrals, golden eagles and bald eagles.  I've also seen quail and bandtail pigeons, and a fair number of deer.  I expect I'll see much more as the seasons progress.

I'm also enjoying the fact that I can focus on the cattle and the grass.  The field station has an amazing crew to support the research and care for the property.  The fact that most of my colleagues have been working at the field station for more than 10 years suggests that it's a pretty great place to work.

Stay tuned - I'm sure I'll have more to write about in the days, months and years to come.  In the meantime, I'm thoroughly enjoying learning to be a research cowboy!

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