6 o’clock News

I was watching the 6 o’clock evening news a couple of nights ago. The news anchors were saying that the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant has a desalinization facility that runs at only 40% capacity.  They also pointed out that the people of San Luis Obispo county need more water.  The excess 60% could go to a very thirsty county.  Let’s suppose that this amount of water could take care of our needs for five years, or new technology could produce an inexhaustible supply of the wet stuff.
Damn, I’ve already dated myself; it’s not San Luis Obispo anymore.  It’s SLO.  Like SLOW, but that’s not what’s happening.  The kind of slow that is happening is the kind that out strips our resources, our native beauty, our quality of life, and you can add in a little bumper to bumper traffic to remind the many where they just came from.
More  water makes for more growth… but is it sustainable?  With a finite amount of dry ground on the surface of our planet, and if global change is for real, then we can expect rising oceans.  Subtract a few beach front acres from our tax rolls and maybe a city like New Orleans will submerge below an ocean wave.  I know what I’m espousing is only given credence in the land of Polly-Anna, but I firmly believe that we must start debating a sustainable lifestyle where our population does not constantly expand, but remains static.  Static populations are the rule for every other living thing.  When they overwhelm their resource base, Motheer Nature reduces their numbers back to a sustainable level.  And when she does that, it’s usually not very pretty.  So this time around we need to include ourselves in the discussion for a sustainable planet. Because if we leave ourselves out of the equation, there can be no solutions that are workable.
See Ya
Jack

Never a Dull Moment

Spring time at the V6 is really busy with our 3 cattle drives in April and May, gathering and pregnancy testing 250  first calf heifers, and receiving 280 head of Mexican cattle to brand and vaccinate.  Add in the fact that we are in the middle of getting 75 acres ready to plant 11,000 Pistachios trees on, and that’s a full schedule.  However, everything had to take a backseat to the events that unfolded this evening.

Zee and I helped our son John and his wife Barb put on a spur of the moment cattle drive.  This worked for me because I was still about 80 head short of cattle.  Zee and I went along to help out and gather some of our missing cattle.  This drive had 14 guests and family wranglers.

We started on a Tuesday and rode about six hours gathering and riding to our Mustang Camp where we would all stay Tuesday and Wednesday night.  Wednesday was another pretty long day riding for seven hours.  By Thursday, five of our guest had worn their fannies to the bone, so we gave them a ride back to our headquarters in a pickup.  That left five extra horses to lead home.  What we normally do is put them through a certain gate that lets them travel about 6 miles to home.  Well, their leader’s sense of direction must have been off as he led his four friends into a dead end brush alley that engulfed them so tightly that they could not go forward or turn around.  Friday morning arrived and no horses standing at the gate so Zee and I decided to go looking.  No luck but we were sure that by afternoon they would be waiting at our gate. Late afternoon came and went.  Son John volunteered to go back to where they were last seen and track them on foot.  I would wait 15 minutes and then drive to Mine Mountain trail and meet John.

No John in sight, but his wife Barb arrives to meet me with a cell phone message from John to meet at Catfish Camp.  I have my 6 horse trailer in tow,  so off we go to get John and the horses at Catfish Camp.  We arrive to a camp with no John and no horses so we wait and wait some more.  Finally, we decide to go look around and see if he came down a different part of the mountain.  No luck.   Barb and I start to really worry is John is hurt.  Where could he be? This being a no cellphone service area, we decide that we need to go back to where Barb parked her side by side utility vehicle and put the search into full gear.

As we round the last bend in the road and the side by side comes into view, there stands John with one horse in tow.  Barb’s face goes from the look of dread to joy.  John’s cell phone had been dead the whole time.  He told us that the other four horses got away because he only had one halter.  He said that they looked like they were headed back to Mustang Camp.  We load the one horse in our trailer and head to Mustang Camp where we had just spent the last three days.  It’s just about dark now and as the corrals come into view, there stand four horses waiting to get into their pen.  I can’t be mad anymore because all’s well that ends well. 
See Ya
Jack

What a Wonderful Life, Maybe

The eighth performance of the National High School Rodeo Association has just finished and Zee and I have chosen to linger a while in the grandstand to let the crowd move out.

Out of the corner of my eye I catch a gate swing open that leads into the arena were the bull riding has just finished.  Suddenly, into the arena runs all the bucking horses that had just done their best to dislodge future bronc riders– and the not-so dedicated ones that are thinking “I might want to take up another sport.”  The picture that I’ve attached to this story shows the wonderful condition that the stock contractor who owns these horses keeps them in.  I watched as this band of about 100 got  some exercise.  They trotted and galloped for a little while, then broke into a walk.  You could plainly see that this was a happy lot.

These horses are born to buck, much like Thoroughbreds are bred to run, and cow horses make their living working around cattle, and work horses find a place when pulling a plow or wagon.   All horses wear man’s fingerprint in the selection of the genetic traits that will make up our various breeds.  With their D.N.A. code directing them, they can go do what they do best .

Hoses are a gregarious lot that find comfort in numbers.  If left to roam, they will travel several miles a day grazing, playing and satisfying their curiosity as to what’s over the next hill.  Bucking horses are usually kept in big pastures free to eat and roam.  Now, let’s take a look at the bucking horses’ cousins that live in our towns and cities, housed in box stalls by the  thousand.  Many will spend their entire lives in these stalls never free to roam.  If these stalls were used for humans, we would call it a prison cell.  It is just as much a prison for my friend the horse where she must waste away the years being treated as a toy.  She is ether overfed or underfed, but boredom and loneliness soon cause aberrant behavior that shows itself with maladies like cribbing, weaving, and pawing.  When people enter their prison stall you may be greeted with pinned  ears and a hostile eye showing their contempt for the way they have to live their lives.

You mean to tell me that Mr Bucking Horse gets only 8 seconds to show his or her stuff before being sent back with their friends to maybe discuss how they threw that young whippersnapper to the ground?  What about the flank strap that they wear?  Well first, it’s lined with sheepskin.  It’s designed to tickle the same as when someone would tickle the bottom of your foot and you squirmed and laughed.  So what’s left?  The question becomes, if you were a horse where would you like to call “home?”
See Ya
Jack

The Art of Lingering

I suppose if I had lingered more when I was new to the ranching world then I wouldn’t be in business today.  However, that was then, when agriculture was bound by tradition and moved at warp speed in order to, as we were told, feed the world.

The words “organic,” “sustainable,” “natural,” “diversity,” and “holistic,” were words to be found only in Webster Dictionary.

Allen Savory was an unknown studying the grazing habits of the wild herds of Africa and their healthy relationship with the land.  He also came to believe that those in charge with the care of domesticated livestock were responsible for the deterioration of the grazing lands on all corners of our planet.  Not only that, but he found that people that lived their lives removed from the land  have also had a negative effect on the environment.  Their donations to the decline of our environment has come in the form of ill advised regulations, badly written legislation that many times is emotionally or politically driven, causing more problems than the law was intended to mediate.

So what might be a good sustainable alternative?  How about a hunt club for me?  It’s the most profitable venture I have.  It’s a real incentive to constantly improve the habitat for the wildlife that live on the ranch.  My son John and his wife Barbara put on Cowboy Academies and Dude Ranch weekends; Zee and I do the  City Slicker cattle drives with the help from our neighbors and border collies.  We move cattle around the ranch in ways that replicate the grazing herds of old.  The results: cattle fat and slick and the land this year dazzles my senses with its beauty.  Stay true to Mother Nature’s plans.

In the past, I breezed along oblivious to the fact that I was also part of the problem.  The fall of 1958, with a brand new wife, a freshly minted Cal Poly diploma, we were able to buy a starter ranch.  There I learned that there are ranches that could send a person into bankruptcy trying to become a Cattleman.  And we had one.  In 1961, we were lucky enough to trade in our starve-to-death model for our present day ranch that we call the V6.  All through the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, I did like most others in my industry: I would hit home runs once in a while only to give most of it back when the cattle market would take one of its famous free falls.  We cattlemen don’t seem to be able to stand prosperity for long.  In fact, I believe we’re uncomfortable being rich.  We will always over produce in order to get to that comfortable place with hat in hand, visiting our supposedly friendly banker.  This is the guy that in good times wanted to take you to lunch and loan you more money than a guy really needed.  Now as you stand before him he has the do I know you look on his face.  Somehow or another you leave with Mr tougher-than-hell waving good-bye with a nice big fat mortgage in his hand and you with a line of credit to get back in the game again.

I keep forgetting, this writing is about lingering.  So, how do you become one who lingers?  I’m pretty sure it’s not for the young with their youthful impatience and those who need to be here, there, and everywhere all at once.  For me, lingering has become a necessary part of my management plan, especially since I’m in the middle of planting 100 acres of pistachio trees.  I have chosen to raise my pistachios organically, which means you throw out 90% of our traditional commercial practices.

The picture that is posted with this blog shows an annual Mustard plant growing right next to a New Pistachio tree.  Most growers would get a hoe and whack this nuisance into the next county.  But as I linger, observing the relationship between tree and plant, I must first ask myself, “did I consider that there might be a little symbiosis going on here?”  Part of my quest to improve soil health is to introduce more oxygen, water, and increase soil porosity below ground.  Because this plant has a large tap root, it will grow deep, leaving a shaft for all of the above to follow.  Above ground, the plant is in full bloom.  As I look closer, there are about ten busy bees gathering nectar for their hive.  Waiting until the bloom is over will help them to fill their honey combs. So, why not wait for the plant to die probably within a week or two?  When it’s dry we will run it over with a flail mower, making the above ground part into a mulch that will turn into organic matter more quickly.  Below ground, its tap root and smaller roots will start to decay, creating food for all the soil biota.  Just think, if I hadn’t lingered I might have missed Mother Nature’s song that was playing.
See Ya
Jack

Visualizing What Can’t Be Seen

“Seeing is believing” is a time honored quote that has a lot of wisdom attached to it. However, in agriculture this saying can hold back change.

I have become more and more aware of the importance of feeding the soil before anything else, which can no longer be just a nice thought but a mandatory practice.  Feeding the soil is an ongoing process that is 75% visualizing what’s going on as you can’t see beneath the soil surface.  “Seeing is believing” is the other 25%.  The 25% proof is healthily growing things all around that you can see and touch.  The soil that we all stand on everyday has more life in the top one foot than all the life from the surface of our planet to the stratosphere.  Most of that life is microscopic, so to feed these critters you need a real small spoon.  That real small spoon is called a Compost Tea Brewer.  It takes compost and washes all the microscopic life leaving it suspended in water, which can then be distributed over the soil.

For most of us, me included, we have much more faith in “seeing is believing ” than in what can’t be seen.  But that is exactly what we must do.  We must put the same amount of faith into the the unseen:  the microscopic world of bacteria, fungi, nematodes and many more critters that make up soil microbiology.  This then becomes the Achilles heel of feeding the soil first.  This method that requires a certain amount of faith matched against “seeing is believing” has a tough row to hoe.

We have weeds, so we buy a herbicide;  in short order that weed is dead. We have bugs eating our crops, so we buy a pesticide; those bugs that came to put me out of business soon lay dead upon the ground.  Our crop has a somewhat sickly look, we bring a sack of Nitrogen fertilizer to the rescue and in a matter of days a healthy green look returns.  Why would anyone in their right mind want to change a system that gives off so much instant gratification?

For many years I drank the Kool-Aid with the rest, but I can no longer turn a deaf ear to all of the disturbing events that present themselves almost on a daily basis.  The chemical industry has produced some 80,000 new chemicals, which do not exist in nature.  What disturbs me is the fact that not all these chemicals are user friendly to us or the environment.  I know that the whole world is one big chemical factory, but Mother Nature has her chemical factory in perfect balance.  I’m not so sure our man made factory is as well balanced.  In fact I’m sure it’s not.  So I’m going to cast my lot first with the microscopic world knowing that Mother Nature doesn’t deceive.  Then I’ll add some patience and I’m sure that happy green growing stuff will sure enough surround me.
See Ya
Jack

Documenting Stupidity

I don’t quite know what it is about the county fairgrounds of San Luis Obispo and Amador counties that provide the facilities for our junior and high school rodeos.  But it must be that either the fair board or the fair manager are germaphobes, probably both.  Last year at the SLO fairgrounds signs appeared that said touching a horse or a cow or any livestock could be hazardous to your health.  They warned that each time you touched  livestock your life could be in jeopardy.  To quell this threat you should go immediately to a bathroom of the correct gender, but beware there might be some dirt loving cowboy or cowgirl hiding in a bathroom stall waiting to cast a little “Cow Pie Dust” over an unsuspecting germaphobe that will probably rekindle his or her immune system to normality.  I wonder if they understand healthy?

The instructions are quite explicit as to how to wash your hands.  You must wash not just the palms of your hands but between your fingers and under your finger nails with vigorous scrubbing while singing the Happy Birthday song twice.  You must use a germicide soap that some corporation has spent millions of dollars in advertising to keep this scam alive.  Never mind that there is some evidence that this practice could be creating a super bug that renders this antibiotic worthless just when, we the people, might really need it.  While all this hand washing and mental hand wringing
is going on, a line is beginning to form outside our public.  It takes a lot of time to wash under 10 fingernails and 20 sides to 10 fingers. As the line grows I can see anxiety growing on the faces of the old and those with small bladders.  When finally one old guy can’t stand it any longer, a stream of pee runs down his leg and splatters to the ground.  In the bathroom there remains one intrepid soul that has followed the hand washing instructions to his anal best finally leaves the bathroom only to be greeted by a clap of thunder announcing a newly arrived thunderstorm that promptly lets loose a lightning bolt that lights the sky then strikes our poor germaphobe dead as he exits the bathroom.  As I perused the line of folks with wet pants who could hold it no longer and this poor fellow dead, I over heard one person say to his friend “I think dirty hands is a better option.”
See Ya
Jack

Comfortable Shoes

When I was young and in my prime I used to wear those traditional cowboy boots with the pointed toe and high heel.  At the top of each boot was a loop big enough to put your index finger into.  Then with some grunting, heavy breathing and pulling, your foot slipped into place just like a tongue giving a French kiss.  Back then, any cowboy worth his salt knew that this style of footwear allowed your foot to come out of the stirrup if your horse was really serious about bucking you off.  I was in the camp who knew that getting bucked of was more likely than staying on and the ground was going to greet me shortly.  With that in mind, I’d better be looking for the best place to land, and I didn’t want my foot hung up in the stirrup when I took my high-dive.

But no more!  Today I ride my friend Fuzz, who assures me that he doesn’t want to use all his energy to put me on the ground.  Besides, we have a mutual admiration for each other.  With hitting the ground no longer an issue, and no longer wanting to make a fashion statement, comfortable shoes with no point-to-the-toe here I come!  Today my toes can wander, no longer trapped inside like a bunch of folks squeezed into one of those high rise elevators in New York City.

I’m also finding pleasure riding a new horse who my daughter has loaned me for the spring cattle drives.  Bugs is closer to the ground, so gravity is not such a big issue.  I can throw my saddle on without having to grunt and groan.  Getting on a tall horse used to be a big event that required hunting for a log or a rock to stand on.  With Bugs, why, I can just get to his high side and hop on like I could in my younger years.  Yes, comfort is more important these days than the pain of breaking in new shoes.  My current shoes have take care of my feet for the past four years. They are so comfortable that they are going to get the call for almost any occasion.  Happy toes are more important to me than people’s opinions.  I mean the people who see me coming and whisper to each other that if that guy had just saved for his older years he wouldn’t have to wear those scruffy, comfortable shoes.
See Ya
Jack

Bailing Wire

Living 5 miles north of Parkfield makes me just about a one hour drive to our closest town, Paso Robles.  The return trip takes another hour plus shopping time so what usually happens is that most of the day is gone by the time you return home.  So, how do you fix things without going to town?  Almost on a daily basis something breaks!
A few years ago on the V6 Ranch there would have been an abundance of bailing wire.  But bailing wire has been replaced by bailing twine which has filled the void with almost as many uses as bailing wire but not quite.  For instance, you can check to see if a battery is charged by touching the positive pole to the negative with bailing wire and watch the sparks fly.
Another instance happened the other day as I was driving my pickup down a rough dirt road; my steering tie rod fell off.  So with no steering I was forced to stop and make repairs.  Looking into my big tool box under my pickup bed there they all were waiting to save me from a long walk:
1. A nice big hammer to pound the tie rod end to the steering control box.
2. My handy tool box produced some old bailing wire to keep the tie rod from falling off with a twist from my Leatherman.
3. Then to really secure this repair job there was in its entire silvery grey splendor, duck tape.
Now with all the confidence in the world I head for home.  Several days later I drive to town for a proper repair job and wheel alignment.  The mechanic grinned and said, “What do you need me for?”
My bridal reins break, my horse is kind enough to stop, bailing wire again answers the call by sewing my reins together.  And away I go. The uses for bailing wire in my era were endless so it is kind of sad to see an old friend put out to pasture.
Good bye bailing wire. I’ll miss you!
See Ya
Jack

Is Sustainability Possible?

It better be, because as I see that the status quo of our present agricultural model is not working.

The over-use of nitrogen fertilizers is causing them to leach into our underground aquifers as nitrates.  The nitrates pollute the aquifer before we pump water to the surface in a tainted form to grow our crops.  Then we wonder why so many people drink bottled water. Over-use of the herbicide RoundUp has caused weeds to mutate and become RoundUp resistant.  The list of law suites grows daily claiming the herbicide causes cancer.  The oldest agricultural practice of all, plowing the soil, is now being called into question because of the loss of top soil to erosion. This is caused by the exposed bare soil to wind and water.  I could go on and on sighting instances of farming practices that are mining our planet on a world wide scale that are not sustainable.  But before I numb you all to the pillaging that is going on 24/7 to our home called Earth, I want to pose the question: “Is their a better way?”  I believe there are better ways; some of them known and some yet to be discovered.  Those of us that raise the food and fiber for the masses must also ask the question: “Is there a better way or is there a different way?”  My frustration is that so few are willing to even ask the question.

I believe change will come as our old sclerotic farmers and ranchers pass from the scene.  What is ironic as I wait for kinder and more effective ways to raise our veggies and livestock?  The answer is showing itself with a new breed of kids on the block coming from our cities and families that don’t make their living from agriculture.  This new generation is passionate about their new found profession and are not weighted down with the millstones of tradition.  Some will argue that you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.  I’ll agree to saving the baby but you must promise to at least teach him to ask the question: “Is there a better way?”
See Ya
Jack

It’s Snowing

The last time it snowed down to our house at 1800 ft elevation was 5 years ago before the big California drought.

Zee and I were about ready to take our daily hike. This was before the snow storm and the sun was shinning through the clouds. We both had good heavy coats on and we were full of resolve to hike for our health and to renew our vow: “when the going gets tough the tough get going.”  There’s a few drops of rain starting to fall and our dogs that had boredom written all over their faces became instantly excited at the prospect of a hike.

“So let’s go, gang!” We had ventured about 20 paces from the garage when we looked at each other as a couple of rain drops pelted us and the talk I gave to myself about when the going gets tough the tough get going was forgotten in a heart beat as we headed back to the house faster than a ground squirrel running for its hole from a diving Red Tail Hawk.  For me, I didn’t feel one ounce of remorse for cutting and running as I settled back in my recliner.

Last September, turning 80 was a little hard to take at first, but it does have a silver lining.  Guilt about taking a day off from the ranch no longer irritates my work ethic and the prospect of somebody someday replacing me at the helm… well that even seems acceptable.  But just not now, as next week I have a Compost Tea Brewer being delivered that I can use to make a caldron full of soil microbes suspended in water to fertilize the soil organically. This will make the use of commercial fertilizer irrelevant and keep me relevant.
See Ya,
Jack

The Cowboy Side of California