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Showing posts from April, 2015

From Anxiety to Resignation

Last night, we measured 1.15 inches of rain in Auburn.  The Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center (where I take care of cattle and pastures) picked up 0.71" of rain.  While the precipitation is a welcome break in our warmer-than-normal springtime weather, it doesn't have much more significance than that.  Our annual grasses, for the most part, have already matured and won't grow any more even with this rain.  In our irrigated pastures, this weather will slow evapotranspiration (the demand for water from plants and evaporation) temporarily, but we still need to irrigate.  And so the year marches on - we're quickly approaching our "normal" summer dry period.  My winter-time anxiety about drought has turned into resignation that we are coping with a fourth dry year.

Despite the above-average rainfall we received last December, I remained worried about drought.  In some respects, I felt like the boy who cried wolf - I kept thinking (and saying), "T…

Profit and the Nature of Farming

Since Governor Brown announced mandatory reductions in urban water uses earlier this month,  he has repeatedly emphasized that agriculture has already taken a significant reduction in water availability.  He's also made the point that using water to grow food is different than using it to grown lawns (for a similar perspective, check out this NPR story).  Despite the Governor's attempts to educate the public about agriculture, many of our urban neighbors (aka, customers) have railed about "big ag" using too much water.  I've read statements on line that even suggest that profit is not an appropriate motive for farming, especially if you're exporting some of the crop you grow - I guess we should farm and ranch simply for the satisfaction of feeding our neighbors.  Unfortunately, this satisfaction doesn't pay my mortgage.

For me, this begs the question, "What do we mean by 'big ag'?"  Is this about the type of ownership?  There are extremel…

Some Observations on my Dogs

They learn...
Not only are Mo and Ernie learning to work cattle (after a lifetime spent working sheep).  They are learning the terrain at the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center.  They gave me a good demonstration of this last Thursday.  On Wednesday, we'd gathered a group of 230+ heifers out of a very brush pasture.  The dogs and I spent much of our time crashing through brush to get the heifers up through the gate into the next field.  By the end of the gather, we were all beat - and sick of the brush.  On Thursday, we found 43 more heifers in the old field.  They broke down off the road where the big group had, but the dogs anticipated them - and brought them back to the road on their own!

They can switch species (and approaches)
At SFREC, in addition to gathering and moving heifers last week, we also moved steers and cow-calf pairs.  The dogs changed their approaches to each - the cows wanted to fight, while the steers and heifers were more curious.  On Tuesday aftern…

Where are Agriculture's Sacrifices?!

Finally, after four years of drought, the State of California has mandated reductions in urban water use.  After Wednesday's April 1 snow survey confirmed that the Sierra snowpack is somewhere between five and eight percent of normal (does that three percent range in news reports really matter - it's flippin' dry!), Governor Jerry Brown announced an executive order requiring a 25 percent reduction in municipal water use.  As expected, much of the urban media in California and elsewhere has been asking why the Governor didn't mandate similar reductions in agricultural water use.  And so I guess that while those of us who farm and ranch have been grappling with drought since 2012, many of our urban neighbors (at least those in the media) haven't grasped the drought's profound impact on agriculture.

As a rancher, I depend largely on rangelands (that is, grass) to feed my livestock.  On the basis of total acreage, the vast majority of the land that I graze with she…