Tag Archives: california

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

10:51 P.M.

That’s what time it is according to my iPad.  I’m cozied down in my Lazy Boy recliner.  Having just downed a glass of Gatorade and a T.V. dinner, I’m ready to tell you all about our last four and one half hours.  Tomorrow I’ll be harvesting eight of our grass-fed bevies using a mobile harvest trailer that allow cattle to be harvested at the ranch with a USDA inspector approving of the process.  We saddled up about six this evening, loaded our horses in our gooseneck trailer, and headed to our permanent pasture ranch where we raise our grass-fed bevies.  Here, there are 150 little Brahma cross-breed calves that will stay at the V6 Ranch until next summer when they will be sold.

It’s cooled off now in the day, and as we approach the cattle, I can tell that they feel like running (or stampeding).  Well all it took to ignite this swarm of bevies was an ill timed bark from one of our dogs… and the race was on.  I’m sure this mess would have been nipped in the bud if lion-hearted Bob was along, but I left Bob at home to let some of our other dogs try out their skills at controlling this mob.

The first thing to go was the electric fence, and next was a gate that was left open.  Half of the mob headed right for the gate, and on to the county road they went.  Boy I hope there are no cars coming. Still running, the leaders of the crowd spy my neighbor’s driveway… and in they go!  I’m sure glad there are no flowers to contend with.  I get around the leaders and back on to the county road they go, still running.  Luckily there are no cars in sight.  How many cars are using passing through Parkfield, population 18, anyway?  Zee was positioned to turn the runner back into the field where we started.  We watch now as the run becomes a trot and the trot becomes a walk.  It’s almost dark as we enter the corrals with our eight grass-fat steers and 10 little ones who sort themselves off easily so we can put them back into their pasture.

It’s dark now as I back my son-in-law’s trailer into the alley so we can load the cattle.  Upon opening the trailer gate, I see the front quarter is taken up with Mike’s ATV, but I felt there was enough room for cattle behind the panel that separates his iron horse from my cattle.  Loading in the dark can be hazardous to your health because it’s hard to tell who your friends are.  As I’m bringing the cattle toward the trailer, Zee is behind the trailer gate ready to close it.  In they go, except one sweet thing that makes a pass at me and doesn’t go in. You bitch, don’t you know I’m tired and it’s time to go in the trailer?  Zee closes the gate because we decide to load her in the other stock trailer with our horses.  After switching rigs, we’re ready to load Sweet Thing.  She’s as black as the night and she’s lost her sense of humor.  Plus the back of this trailer has french doors, which are hard to close on cattle that don’t want to stay in.  We have her in a crowding pen where she is trotting around and having a teenage melt down.  My hope is that she might like the trailer more than the crowding pen.  She goes in, and back out.  I’m climbing the fence like bull riders do after being bucked off.  Just in time as she gives out a blood curtailing bawl and blows snot on me then laps the pen and jumps in the trailer again. “Close the gate,” I yell.  Zee says I’m afraid she will knock me down coming out of the trailer. Well this bitch has been in and out of this trailer 8 or 10 times by now.  I’m also afraid to get flattened by old what’s-her-name.  But macho men never let on that they’re afraid.  Good form is to urge your wife not to be afraid and try again.  Besides, dear, you know I’ll take you to the hospital if you get flattened.  I think sweetie pie’s adrenalin must be wearing off by now as she’s been in the trailer several minutes, so I jump off the fence and blindly try to close the trailer.  I close the divider panel from the outside and I’m ready to load my horses.  Sweet thing blows snot at me one more time as I tie mine and Zee’ horses in the trailer. Driving home I’m thinking, I haven’t had an adrenalin rush like that in awhile.  Life is good.
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’s in a Smile?

I was never much of a school yard scrapper.  On the other hand, I have always had a fair amount of confidence.  Some would call it “cocky” that I wore on my sleeve.  That made me a target for some of my classmates who found much joy in school yard scrapping.
Until my senior year in High School, I was smaller than most other students. This, for some, made me a sure victory.  So when confronted I developed the art of smiling; it became and effective shield that kept me from wearing black eyes to school.
I was not a great believer in the old saying “it’s not the size of the man in the fight but the size of the fight in the man.”  I had a different old saying: “he couldn’t fight his way out of a wet paper bag.”  I believed it to have some truth.  When I was young, my mother called me Sunny but by around 8 or 10 years of age she seemed to know that it was time to start calling me Jack.  This was okay by me but I didn’t give up wearing a friendly face that was now my comfortable companion.  I started to understand how smiles open many doors and put people at ease.  A smile makes it hard to fight with a guy.
I’ve come to some conclusion over my lifetime. What I discovered was the top of my list is to “SMILE.”
1. Smiles are like welcome mats.

2. Smiles never go out of style.

3. Smiles are always in demand and they don’t cost anything to give.  You just simply turn the corners of your mouth to the up position from the down position and amazingly your attitude will follow.
4.  I usually find the greatest benefactor of a smile is myself.  When I smile I’m spreading around some joy and that makes me feel good.

5.  Smiles are contagious. So go laugh more, live more and the world will be a better place because you smiled.
See Ya
Jack

Pistachios Should be Grown by the Elderly

What else takes about 7 years for the grower to harvest his first nut (this guy is nuts) and 10 years to be able to start paying some bills?  Just think, if a person wants something to look forward to, why not a pistachio? Yes, there are other options out there, like wine grapes, which take as few as 3 years to come into production.  And if you drink enough of your own raising your liver will probably succumb from having too much fun, taking you with him.  Or you could raise oranges; now what could be better than that?  Why, you would never be deficient in vitamin C.  But are you ready to get out of bed at midnight on the coldest nights of the year to start your wind machine or sprinklers to keep your beautiful oranges from freezing?  I’m not.  So for me it’s pistachios.  I get more years to look forward to my first nut to go with the two I’ve already got.  Just think: when I’m 90 I’ll be able to start paying the bank back.  Now many of you at this moment are thinking, this guy is missing a few bricks out of the load. Well, it’s too late to try to reason with me as the trees are coming and I have to get ready.
See Ya
Jack