Tag Archives: CA ranching

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

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

We Need to UBER-ize Agriculture

I was reading an article in Time Magazine this morning about a fellow named Travis Kalanick ( The Disrupter) who has recently ascended to Silicon Valley’s billionaire nobility for recognizing a need and filling it.  The basic idea as I see it, was that a lot of people would be willing to make the family car double as a taxi for hire to supplement their income.  And what was really new, the frosting on the cake, these new entrepreneurs could schedule as much or as little time to being a taxi driver as each saw fit.
Well, I think that agriculture is in bad need of some UBERIZING.  I subscribe to several magazines that mostly report stories about farmers and ranchers east of the Colorado Rockies that are starting to question the validity of solving all of our livestock and farming problems with a new drug for all the vectors transmitting diseases in our livestock and new herbicides, pesticides, vast arrays of fertilizer and genetic engineering that always treat the symptoms but never the underling problem.  “Forget the problem,” says Farmer John.  “I’ve got a ‘fix-it solution’ and it guarantees to repair said problem or my money back!  So there, you disturber of the accepted industry practices.”
“Ours is not to reason why; ours is but to do or die.”  I don’t know who penned those words– probably some Private going into battle who knew more than the General.  This is what is happening in agriculture today from our inbred educational system to the billions spent advertising.  Go out and buy all the tractors and harvesters to gather in all your booty.  Each night worry not as the ring of the cash register tolls for Monsanto, Caterpillar, John Deere, Dupont and all the other manufacturers of the Cure-Alls allowing us in agriculture to slip into a quiet slumber.
I’m not advocating that we melt down all the iron and incinerate all the advancements made for agriculture these past 200 years.  But what we are obligated to do is ask the question: “Is there a better way?”
Acres magazine of Dec. 2015 has an article titled Still Grazing by Cody Holmes, who surely must have asked himself that question.  After you digest the figures that I shall put before you, I hope all will come to the conclusion that there are better ways “to skin a cat.” (Sorry to all you cat lovers for the cliché.)  Mr. Holmes started marching to a different drummer about 20 years ago when he first started reading what Allen Savory had to say about how to care for our environment in his book Holistic Management. This book has become my Bible.  I’m going to recite verbatim Cody Holmes’ last 15 years working his Rockin’ H Ranch:

To bring you up to date, I want to give you an example of what multi-species grazing can do.  In about 15 years we took a rocky pile of thin soil and oak sprouts in southern Missouri known as the Rockin’ H Ranch- about 1,000 acres that was once feeding only about 125 cows and through a dedicated holistically planned model we are currently grazing year-round about 350 cows, 1,000 meat goats, 450 hair sheep, 150 pastured hogs, 25 head Jersey dairy cows, 80 head dairy goats, 1,000 laying hens and other pastured poultry. There is also a growing produce enterprise with a green house.  This production is done without any outside purchase of seed or fertilizer with the exception of a little liquid calcium for the produce. This list deserves no bragging rights, but is only an example of what they say cannot be done, and we are doing it. One really good thing for me about this list of animals is that I know better than anyone that we are almost constantly under stocked.  Quite a turn around.  If I could do half as well I would be a happy camper.

“As I see it” started during World War 2, with the invention of the pesticide D.D.T.  This supposed innocuous powder that would get rid of all your insect pests and would not only kill the bugs that were presently chewing on all your exposed body parts but would keep on killing for many more months.  DuPont Chemical Company knew they had a winner and hired an advertising company to come up with the jingle “better living through chemistry.”  The only trouble was this bug killer was also killing off most of our Eagles– our national bird– and God only knows what else.  But fear not, as we continue on our oblivious ways, with “don’t ask don’t tell” as our motto when using the thousands of items at our disposal all designed to make us healthy, wealthy and wise.  The problem is nobody was on the payroll to see if there was a fox in the hen house. Now, 70 years later, I see most of our farming land unable to raise a crop without the aid of big doses of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and some genetic tweaking.  We have plenty of food to feed the world… but is it sustainable?  Probably not.  Are there any hidden bobby traps ready to show their evil ways?  Probably.
So what’s the answer?  I think for every new sack full of “problem solved” maybe we could have an alternative NATURAL solution on the same label.

HA HA HA this guy has lost his cotton picking mind!  Why, this flies in the face of everything I was taught in college and by all the people that manufacture the cures for my problems. This guy must think I’m stupid.
See Ya
Jack

What You Think of Me

I have always known my father-in-law was exceptional!  For twenty-two years I have witnessed his ideas take shape with a genius only time, trials, and wisdom can perfect.  Life’s experience is that clay that we shape, chisel, and mold continually.  In this deeply personal and honest writing you can see that Jack’s mold was complex but it has created something of the utmost beauty for us all.  Enjoy this writing and take away what you need to continue to shape your mold.  I know I certainly will.

Barb Varian

I hope the exposé to follow will be helpful to those out there who have struggled with unreasonable fear that diminishes joy and quality of life.  I hope you will find comfort and strength from some of my struggles so that you might better deal with your demons.

What you think about me is none of my business…

 

My first encounter with sheer terror took place when I was about 8 years-old.  The year 1943 my family was in the town of Garden City, New York, during World War II.  As gas was rationed, long trips (meaning 25 miles or more) were out of the question.  My dad came home one day after work and announced that he and a friend from his work place– Sperry Gyroscope Co.– had learned of an old abandoned gravel quarry that had closed because of a high water table.  A good sized pond had formed that was at least 20 feet deep and perhaps a quarter mile wide.  Our soon-to-be swimming hole for the duration of the war was but about 5 or 6 miles from our home.  I was a pretty good swimmer and always looked forward to our summer outings there.  

One particular summer evening I swam out toward the middle of the lake and was in the process of turning back toward the shore when this overwhelming feeling that something was grabbing my ankles and was going to pull me under the water overcame me.  I began to scream uncontrollably.  My father immediately dove into the water and came to my rescue.  As he approached me the fright that had engulfed me subsided as quickly as it came on, leaving me embarrassed and ashamed.  

The next time I was overtaken with unreasonable fear was that same summer.  My sister and I decided that it would be fun to gather some rocks and throw them from the roof into a puddle that was left over from a thunder storm the night before.  My sister was sitting on the roof above me.  As I stood up to throw a rock my sister had just released her rock which struck me in the back of the head.  In an instant blood was gushing from the wound.  I asked, “Am I going to die?”  Her reply of, “I don’t think so,” was of little comfort.  It wasn’t until my mother washed off all the blood, assured me that I was not going to die that a feeling of relief came over me.  In the end, I was left with another questioning thought: Am I a coward?

It was several months until a new paranoia took center stage; this one only happened when it was time to go to bed and I was alone.  I realized there must be something under my bed that was going to grab my legs.  So for the next several years I would run from maybe a three feet distance to jump into bed.  This had to be kept a secret because my father was so brave that I knew he would be disappointed.

I felt like now I needed to sustain some injuries that could show myself and my peers that I was not a coward.  Broken bones would be the answer.  So in my teenage years I managed to break my arms three times by skiing, falling out of a tree, and falling off a horse. 

It was in my teenage years that being popular in high school became very important to me.  One of my self-imposed conditions for being cool was to get poor grades, but at a subconscious level I knew I was pretty smart.  I slid through high school with a bunch of C’s and some B’s (enough to get me into Cal Poly college).  

In my senior year, fear still lurked in my being but I had ways of disguising it.  One way was to always take my car when it was time to go cruising and looking for girls.  Sports came in the form of being on the swim team.  I was average. I could still be cool and not be a jock.  My summer job working on a cattle ranch further endorsed that I was no coward, but secretly I was a closet one.  I was even afraid of the dark.

The year is 1957.  In order to meet my selective service commitment, I joined the Army Reserve that summer and reported to Fort Ord, California for 6 months of active duty training.  The first 8 weeks of basic training went well; after the first week of training  I was given the duty to be the platoon guide for our company.  This gave me a certain amount of authority that I tried to use judiciously over my fellow grunts (as we were known by our drill sergeant) and my own private room.  The next 8 weeks I was to spend in advanced infantry training.  

Paranoia again overwhelmed me, but in the army you don’t just walk away to be out of harm’s way.  Somehow my mind washed my memory clean of the event and that placed me in the Ft. Ord psychiatric ward. What a devastating and disgraceful time this was. The doctor who came to talk to me about what to do next thankfully had an answer. 

“Are you mechanically inclined,” he asked.

I replied,” It’s right up my alley.  “I loved working on cars in high school.”  Well that sealed it, and the next day I found myself in a motor pool unit classroom learning to repair trucks the army way.

However, panic would not let me go, and a claustrophobic fear overwhelmed me again.  Back to the psychiatric ward again, where my same doctor came to visit me.  

This time he said, “You know, Jack, the army isn’t meant for everybody, so I’m going to discharge you.  I know that you can do more for our country as a useful citizen.”

I doubt if the famous World War II General George C Patton would agree.

I was discharged with a small suitcase that contained some clothes, a bar of soap, and my toothbrush, and a great dearth of emotional baggage.  That baggage would later lead me down many roads in search of peace and usefulness.

The fall quarter at Cal Poly was about to start.  I knew that I wanted to finish school.  Zero, my wife-to-be, hung in there with me.  On June 21, 1958, we were married in Corona, California.  After a few more weeks of summer school, I graduated from Cal Poly with a B.S. in Animal Husbandry.

With some help from my folks, Zee and I were able to buy a 2,700 acre ranch west of Paso Robles CA for $70,000.  This purchase proved the old saying “you get what you pay for,” which in my case was not much.  I was like the young man digging in a pile of horse manure and was heard to say, “What, with all this poop there must be a pony here someplace.”  Zee and I looked for that pony for three years and never found him, so we decided to look for greener pastures before we went broke.

We spent a couple of weeks looking around our western states but the thought of spending six months of each year shoveling snow didn’t sound very appealing.  So, home to California we came.  We were home barely a week when a friend of ours who was also in the cattle business said that his realtor brother had a listing on a ranch near Parkfield, California.  Compared to the brush pile we called home, this was Camelot!  Fifty-one years later I can tell you with confidence that we couldn’t have made a better choice.

In spite of a beautiful wife, family,  and a great ranch to ply my ranching skills, unreasonable fear still haunted me.  A still hidden demon turned every moment of triumph into a moment I felt I didn’t deserve.  A graphic example of that feeling happened in the spring of 1978.  It was a wonderful year because of generous amounts of rain and a very strong cattle market.  Phil Stadtler was my man who could buy all my cattle and make me enough money to pay off both ranches and deposit a million dollars in the bank.

 Instead of hugging Phil when he said, “I’ll take them,” I replied, “I think I need to talk to my accountant.”

Phil said, “The offer goes with me and it may not be there when you get done talking to your bean counter.”  

But I was in a cavalier mood and replied, “We’ve got a great market and all experts say it should last.”  

You guessed it, the market proceeded to take a dump along with Phil’s offer but I was still full of bravado and told all in earshot I’m going to feed them out and sell them as fat cattle.  It took 20 years to heal my pocketbook but there was a silver lining for me and eight years of anxiety for my family while I traveled down a lot of dead end streets.  

To all the players that helped me search for meaning and to feel worthwhile in my skin, thank you.  Each helped me to expose my demons that have caused me to do lots of stupid, absurd, stupefying deeds.  Thank God that what came next was a belief that it was my responsibility to change how I react to life situations.  What followed for me, were piles of self-help books, psychiatrists, psychologists, religion, biofeedback, yoga, exercise, friends, work, and most helpful of all, a teaching called Support Group Network as taught by Dr. Robert Simmons. 

Dr. Simmons lectured the group for the next several months on how we might fulfill our expectations toward a more satisfying life.  After our formal training was complete, we broke up into groups.  There were thirteen people in my group.  The first order of business was to have a name for our group that we could rally around.  How do you come up with a name that everybody from different walks of life could agree on?  Well it was easy, after one of my new friends– a lady with no makeup and hair in her armpits– stood up and said “Let’s be EGG BOKS. It stands for everything is going to be okay. We all agreed that name would suit us. This started my five-year journey of every Monday night meetings that started promptly at 8 pm and ended at 10 pm with a rotation to each member’s house that could accommodate all thirteen EGGBOKS.

The first year of my journey was illuminating, as I was to learn that other people in the group had problems besides me and that each of us was encouraged to discuss any and all problems and situations with no judgment.  There was one exception and that was criminal behavior was not to be brought before the group.

For various reasons, six people left the group within the first year.  I was hooked, and looked forward to each Monday night and always felt that my time was well spent.  By the end of our fifth year, there were five of us left in the group.  With many of our group’s personal demons now lying dead or dying it became obvious by some grand design each of the last of us decided that we had gained enough life skills to venture out on our own new worlds, with views quite different than the old ones we once held.

I believe the year the EGGBOKS disbanded was 1987.  I was ready to turn 52, and still had a large debt with Farm Credit to cure.  I was just about ready to present to the public the Varian Ranch, a new way to develop land, and hopefully pay off my debts.  My vision for this development was to leave a much smaller footprint on the land. The homes would be clustered on one corner of the ranch to leave 98% in tact to retail its agricultural value. 

With just a couple of months needed to complete the project I received a call one day from the new manager at Farm Credit to inform me that I no longer had the line of credit that I needed to finish the project.  In the 1980’s the U.S. farm credit system was in just as bad of shape as I was.  That meant anybody that didn’t fit their new formula for credit worthiness got the ax.

What to do! What to do! First you gulp, then gulp again.  Then you ask the caller, “Are you sure you have the right Varian?”

The voice replies in what I was sure had a gleeful tone to it, “Your line of credit is cancelled as of this moment.”

Jack, remember all the old sayings that you thought so much of?  Well, you better hope they work!  And you can start thinking of them right now. Winners never quit, and quitters never win.  Never yell whoa in a bad place.  When you’re at the bottom the only way is up.  

I’m sure that each of you out there in blog land have your own way to make the best of a bad situation. My mantra must have worked, because I found financing and finished the project that went on to win “The Best in the West 1988 Gold Nugget Award for a Residential Land Plan on 25 Acres or More.”  The project was well received by the buying public, so Farm Credit got paid off completely and all the rest who put off collecting their bills could now take their checks to the bank.  

To the many that supported me as I worked to implement this new and kinder way to have people who work in the city but want to live a rural lifestyle, a heartfelt thank you to all!

It was now time to get back to doing what I enjoyed most, running our home ranch in Parafield.  The 1980’s were a very enlightening time.  Decision making could no longer be dogmatic or “it’s my way or the highway.”  I knew that I couldn’t find the answers I needed in the traditional cattle world.

The year is now 1991 and California has been plagued with six years of subnormal rainfall.  I had cut the numbers of cattle that I stocked the two ranches with significantly, but Zee and I knew we had to find new ways to keep the wolf from the door.  Much to my good luck, I received a phone call from a close friend of mine.  He asked if  I would like to attended a seminar in Paso Robles on new ways to make decisions about how you manage the land you steward.  The name of the organization was Holistic Management.  It was founded by Allen Savory, who hailed from South Africa and saw things in a totally new and refreshing way.  After the seminar, I was free to look in all directions for other ways that didn’t violate my holistic beliefs that could add income to pay the bills.  

Again, luck was with me as Zee and I had just recently watched the movie City Slicker starring Billy Crystal. “Zee we can do that; we have the horses, the land, and the cattle.”

This year will be our 20th year having guests contribute to our economic well-being.  In return, our family, the beauty of the Cholame Valley, and lots of nice horses and cattle to work with leaves most knowing they had just participated in something meaningful, unique, and fun.

The 1990’s saw the passing of our dry years and into a decade of friendly ones that had lots of rain.  This afforded me running room to practice throwing all those methods out that no longer met the goals of Holistic Management and replace them with ones that did.  After several years I was able to come up with a simple sentence that made the ranch management decision making process easier to monitor… SLOW DOWN WATER.  If the decision that you made increases the velocity of water, it’s most likely wrong.  Likewise, if your decision tends to slow the speed of water, it’s most likely right.

My demon that has caused me a lot of grief in my life is probably deep in my subconscious laying in wait like a dormant virus. It’s waiting for the right circumstance to show itself.  But what it doesn’t know is that over time I’ve developed new ways to cope.  That way when it shows itself I can recognize it early on and knock it out of my mind before it gets a head of steam.  I’ve got the tools to send it back into hiding.  Each time it shows itself, it’s much less the grand combatant and more a tired warrior whose time has passed.

My hope is that for those of you that could be suffering from any or all of my now receding travails might find one or two pearls of wisdom for your life’s puzzle and feel the wind at your back more often.


                              See Ya
                                 Jack

 

P.S.  If the time comes when it is necessary for me to act bravely, I think I will.  But I could falter.  I dearly hope not.

My Bladder is No Longer My Friend

I guess this is just one more part of my old body that these days thumbs it’s nose at me and makes me have to “go” at some of the most inopportune times.  I guess this is payback for all the times that I made you wait, dear bladder.

My memory, that before could remember dozens of phone numbers and was able to recall a school text book for an upcoming test, is gone with the wind.

I want to say how much I appreciate the old friends whose names I can’t bring to mind.  These friends don’t leave me to play 20 questions in my mind but instead gives me his or her name straight away, no big deal.  My brain reminds me that my memory loss probably happened because I overloaded it for so long with worry thoughts that got me nowhere and only squandered a lot of brain cells.  You jerk, says my brain over and over.

Wait, I’m not done yet.  I want to whine a little more about a most delicate subject that for today’s millennias is probably hardly worth a snicker.  What is it Jack?  Well, it’s about farting.  I just can’t slip one out anymore with no one being the wiser.  Instead, my flabby old sphicter muscle is no match for a determined fart that’s headed for the exit door.  This is where one of my most trusted mottos comes to my rescue: What you think about me is none of my business.  So proper ladies can titter, youngsters can giggle, and some can say “oh how gross,” but at my age I feel nothing but joyful relief.  And, with any luck at all, tomorrow I will again be releasing more methane gas into the atmosphere.  I will be doing my share to help with global warming.

I also need two hearing aids to hear, sort of, and glasses to see, somewhat.  But for me there will always be a silver lining.  I’ve still got most of the teeth in my mouth that help me when I smile.  I still get a thrill when I get out of bed in the morning to greet the day.  I can close my eyes and touch my left index finger to my nose and then my right index finger to the same nose.  Now who could want more?
See Ya,
Jack

I’m Running For President

My country encompasses that lower part of Monterey County, California.  The northern boundary is King City and the southern boundary is the San Luis Obispo county line.  It runs from the Pacific Ocean east to the Fresno County line in the west.

If you’re going to have a country, you have to have a capital.  Parkfield is the name of ours; population 18.  It has all the trappings of a fully functional city.  Why, we have the finest one room school in the land, an Inn and Cafe,  a state of the art town hall, rodeo arena, church with service on Wednesdays, and a Cal Fire forestry station.  We are the earthquake capital of the cosmos.  I think other folks on other planets in the cosmos must have earthquakes, but I’m sure ours are the best.

I’ve heard tell that if you’re going to run for president you have to have a platform.  It’s supposed to show what I plan to do for my country!

I believe that our future rests with our youth.  So what am I going to do about it?

First, I will fire the principle of any school that wants to ban tag from our grammar school  playgrounds.

Secondly, I will have a duel minimum wage that will allow our youth under the age of 18 to let the employers of our land and our youth decide what each kid has to offer in the way of energy, skills, cooperation and attitude to measure their worth.  In our present day society most youngsters are priced out of the labor market because of the minimum wage.  The employer must pay more than they’re worth so these inquisitive, energetic  kids are relegated to spending their learning years consumed with television, cell phones, drugs or some other destructive habit.  Let’s quit wasting these precious years in the name of child welfare.  What we’re doing now to our youth is true child abuse.  Let’s let them work and play at jobs and games that leave them with an optimistic view of themselves.

Third, everybody in this day and age needs to know how to drive an automobile.  In our country of mostly country roads, I propose that our youth learn to drive at 12 years of age.  Anything learned at a young age is always better than at an older age.  Dancing is much the same; learn to dance when you’re young and less inhibited and it will come easy.  In my country, dancing will be offered in grammar schools.  Plus it’s good exercise.

Fourth, exercise will be mandatory.  Those that exercise will be less likely to become couch potatoes in later life.

Now we have a good academic environment for kids to learn in.  If book learning is not your cup of tea, vocational programs will be as important as studying to be a lawyer (which we have far too many of).

The government that governs best governs less.  This means you’re going to have to make it mostly on your own.

Next, we need to practice the Golden Rule ( do unto others as you would like them to do to you).  It’s the best way I know of to get along with your neighbor.  If you really want to put frosting on the cake of neighborliness, don’t keep score, and do 51% of whatever.  You know, that probably will work in a marriage, too.

The right to keep and bare arms will not be denied.  Private property rights, though not perfect, is light years ahead of any system a government might dream up.  I see many more stewards of the land doing a wonderful job now than I did 30 or 40 years ago.  We need a little patients as the old miners of the soil die off to be replaced with new younger stewards. Once armed with new sustainable ways to care for the lands of our nation, they will move into the decision making arena.

By the way, the name of our nation that I would like to preside over is Cholame (a Yokuts Indian word meaning “The Beautiful  One”). Add in a motto to live by– never yell whoa in a bad place– then throw in a song to brighten your day (Oh What a Beautiful Morning from the stage play Oklahoma) and you have my platform.
See Ya,
Jack

Why You Should Build Fences

I love words that draw pictures in my mind. As I lie here on my comfy mattress with memory foam that never forgets how a mattress should treat a fella, two words come bubbling to the surface of my consciousness: chaos and tranquility. Part of Mother Nature’s grand plan for governing our little speck in the cosmos is chaos and tranquility. I figured she must have copied the idea from whoever invented the Big Bang theory. That original bang certainly is the best definition of chaos I know of. Sailing along in outer space where time is measured in light years means you sure have to be a tranquil sort to put up with a trip like that, especially when there’re no billboards to read along the way. What’s this got to do with fence building, you say? Well I’m about to tell you. I’m not sure any of this blog applies if you’re living in New York City, but if you decided while having a severe case of mid-life chaos that a new occupation sounds intriguing, read on.

How does owning or working on a ranch sound? If that grabs you and you think green growing things are more beautiful than anything man can create, then let’s start at the very beginning. Grass is the only life form that can eat sunlight and turn this light into food and fiber. Mother Nature has a grand design that demands chaos and tranquility to grow grass in abundance for our grazing animals so that I might have a steak to eat and a belt to hold up my pants. To illustrate this concept the example that follows will be my last. Then fence building 101 commences.

If we have one cow and put her on one acre to graze for 100 days on good growing grass I’m sure that at the end of the 100 days this cow will be starved dang near to death and the land would be laid bare to erode. Many of the soil born critters would die from the heat when soil temperatures soar. So instead, let’s take 100 cows and put them on a similar one acre for one day. The number of grazing days will be the same but the result of this change will be dramatically different. The cows will get their bellies full and the next day they will be moved to greener pastures. The one-acre plot left by the cows will be in a state of chaos. Cow poop will be everywhere. Urine and small amounts of saliva and shed hair will be absorbed into soil that all help fabricate soil health. The left over grass thoroughly tromped to the soil surface is now available food for all those critters that didn’t die from the heat of bare ground by the one cow 100-day grazing period disaster. In this example, the ground was shaded so all the critters survived to do their job of building healthy soil.

What we need to have happen next if we are going to create a place for chaos and tranquility to exist is create a pasture. Here we can regulate time, place, and numbers of livestock. Basically, we need to build fences. The more fences, the better. In my case, because of rough terrain, I have ruled out electric fencing and use only barbed wire, the stuff that cattle barons and homesteaders use to fight over on the silver screen.

Pictures speak louder than words, and this certainly holds true when trying to describe with words how to build a barbed wire fence.

The things that I consider before I build a fence are as follows:

  1. Want to build my fence with at Least 4 strands of wire (5 is even better).
  2. Consider the topography of the land. The rougher it is the more expensive it is.
  3. The different soil types on your land can also be a good reason to fence into a pasture. Our ranch has several hundreds of acres that consist of a very heavy clay soil that hooves will do great harm to during a wet winter. We have this soil type fenced. When early April rolls around we will have a field that will feed a prodigious number of livestock.
  4. Fences well placed means you can make your grazing animals utilize the whole ranch.
  5. A field that has minimal obstacles is a great place to put your bulls and cows together. That way your bulls don’t have to hike over the whole ranch just to ask some pretty thing for a date.
  6. Property line fences, if reasonably well-maintained (don’t be afraid to do 51% of the fixing) means you and your neighbor will surely get along a whole lot better.
  7. Finally, and I’m sure that there’s a whole lot more reasons to build those lovable barbed wire enclosures, the greatest of all is the chance to put Mother Nature’s way of running a ranch into action. She will love you and all the people who you do business with will love you when the check is really in the mail.

See Ya,

Jack