Tag Archives: conservation

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

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

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

Would You Like to Eat? Just Add Water

Of late there certainly has been a lot of print delegated to how much water farmers and ranchers use to provide town folks with three meals a day.  I think my urban friends who are suffering along with those of us in agriculture in this interminable drought are beginning to be inconvenienced enough to start lashing out at the hand that feeds them.  Just the other day I was reading an article that caught my eye in one of my farming magazines.  The author must practice voodoo mathematics for I know of no other way that he could arrive at the  preposterous figures that he used to make a case of why almond farmers use too much water to make this very healthy food available to the public.  This charlatan that works on the theory that most people who see something in print think it’s the Gospel knows he doesn’t have to defend his figures to the gullible public.  He can say that it takes a gallon of water to raise one nut and that it takes 1,800 gallons of water to put one pound of beef on your dinner table and no one questions him.

I want to do a little number crunching and then let you folks out there be the judge.  Cattle will drink about one gallon of water per day per hundred weight, so a 1,000 pound steer will drink 10 gallons of water per day.  Then again, when they’re out on the range and the grass is green they may drink half that amount.  Let’s say our steer is harvested in 720 days (2 years).  He will have consumed about 7,200 gallons of the wet stuff.  If we use voodoo math we will multiply 1,000 pounds X 1,800 gallons per pound of weight = 1,800,000 gallons this this steer will have to drink in 720 days.  The poor steer will have to drink 2,500 gallons of water per day, or 2.5 times his body weight.  I believe most would consider this animal cruelty of the first order.

On that account, if we all want to eat, then part of the process is to just add water.  The question then becomes: how much?  I suggest that because water is an expensive part of raising our food, our farmers and ranchers will use it in a very miserly fashion.  I hope most of you will come to the conclusion that in order to eat you will cast your vote for the person that raises it, knowing we have more credibility than voodoo mathematicians.

Before closing, I do have a wonderment: why is it that I never hear a word about the water used to make wine, which is not necessary for your health?
See Ya
Jack

Save Water With Common Sense, Not Nonsense

I was reading an article the other day written by the generic name of Mr. Ecology.  His opening paragraph about how important it is to save water to help  California get through our present drought is very noble.  Every right-minded person would surely want to be part of the solution.  But here is where Mr. Ecology and I disagree.  His solution and mine are light years apart.  Albert Einstein, though genius with his famous game changing Theory of Relativity nor William Shakespeare, poet and writer of verse that will always be inspiring have never raised a tomato, or carrot. Perhaps Black Angus is thought to be a sexually transmitted disease among these geniuses, so they wouldn’t be my choice to solve our water woes.  You ask who might be able to shed some light on the problem?  I believe that I can help.  My profession these past 57 years is a Grass Man that provides grass for my cattle to graze upon.  Grazing is a natural and necessary part of Mother Nature’s plan that our environment needs to succeed.

I would like to take you all back in time about 200,000,000 years ago when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. The herbivores were the grazers who moved about mostly on 4 legs.  The carnivores like Tyrannosaurus Rex who traveled about on 2 legs.  The omnivores  ate everything in sight like us humans.  If eating almost anything is part of my D.N.A. sign me up as a meat, vegetable, fruit, ice cream and cake eating vigorous 80 year-old.  Mr. Ecology never mentioned exercise so I assume that he doesn’t consider it important.  But for me a two mile hike five out of seven days a week is as necessary as the food that’s going to give me the energy for my hike.

But I want to get back to water conservation and show you how Mr. Ecology has “cooked the books.”  Cattle will drink pretty close to 1 gallon of water for every 100 pounds of live weight.  Let’s say that a Grass Fat Steer ( an altered male) lives for 24 months and now weights 1200 pounds. His average weight is 600 pounds so he drinks 6 gallons of water a day (more on a hot day but in the winter some days he will get all his needs just from the grass). Doing the math ( 2 times 365 days = 730 times 6 gallons / day = 4380 gallons. Only 1/2 of the steer is meat so we really have 600 pounds of meat so I’m going to divided 4380 by 600 pounds of meat = 7.3 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat not 1,800 gallons.  If you want to consider the total weight, it has value for making leather, the heart and liver are enjoyed by many, and the rest is put to many uses so that nothing goes to waste.  I think I’ve made my point that the other half of the steer has value. Then using the total weight: a steer weighing 1200 pounds and living for 730 days consumes 4380 gallons of water, it then takes 3.65 gallons of water to help produce 1 pound of live weight steer. To use Mr. Ecology figure of 1800 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef is pure fantasy.  Again doing the math  1800 gallons of water times 1200 pounds of beef animal = 2,160,000 gallons of water. Now let’s divide 2,160,000 gallons of water by 730 days = 2959 gallons of water per day! This poor steer would have to drink over twice his body weight every day of his entire life. Talk about animal cruelty…

The next example that is irrefutable would be a toilet that is leaking 1 ounce of water / minute times 1440 minutes in a day = 1440 ounces divided by 128 ounces / gallon = 11.25 gallons per day. That is enough to water almost 2 of my steers each day.  Hopefully I have demonstrated that Mr. Ecology was merely picking numbers out of thin air, that if you didn’t know the truth any person would sit up and take notice.

To Mr. Ecology,  diatribe of irrelevance and missinformation.  There is only one word to describe his article: STUPID.  So how does a responsible steward of the land help to conserve water and care for the land?  Allen Savory is a gentleman from Zimbabwe Africa, who created a way to save the land and those that live upon it using a thought process called Holistic Resource Management.  When I was dealing with our last drought (1985 to 1991) I was using the long held traditions of the cattle industry and watching my neighbor, but I knew down in my soul that that these methods weren’t working.  I had to make changes but I didn’t know how.  Thank you Allen Savory for in 1991, I spent 3 days opening my eyes to mind changing ways to become Mother Nature’s ally instead of her adversary.  I learned to assume that the decision I was making was wrong for if I thought it was right I would never have changed it.  Then I tested and monitored the decision.  If it didn’t pass the holistic test then I needed to change what I was doing to a way that considered the whole.  Mother Nature in many ways has showed me that she is quite giddy with my new found way to care for the land and all the critters that call the V6 Ranch home. I have a 3 word motto that always keeps me in good stead working around the ranch “SLOW DOWN WATER.” If a decision increases the speed of water (rainfall, evaporation, well water) something is probably wrong with what I want to do. Jack, you had better rethink what you’re doing!

I once heard that Monterey County was about 2,000,000 acres in size.  It really doesn’t matter… what matters is what is happing to the water on 2,000,000 acres.  Is it mostly running to the ocean because we either paved it all over or we bare the soil which speeds up water?  Bare soil is also hotter in the summer than soil that has a coat of growing things, or summer dry grass and organic matter.  The hotter the soil the more water is evaporated into the atmosphere.  It won’t be around to migrate into the underground aquifers where Mother Nature banks her water not needed at the moment for growing things.

I like crunching numbers because they show a person how I arrive at answers.  Doing the math tells me, if I save 1″ of water and sequester it in the soil I will have saved 2,000,000 acres X 7.5 gallons / cu. ft. X 43560 cu. ft. = 653,400,000,000 gallons
divided by 12″= 54,450,000,000 gallons on 2,000,000 acres 1″ deep. Divided by 7.5 gallons /cu. ft. = 7,260,000,000 divided by 43560 cu. ft. / acre = 166,667 acre feet.

If you save one inch of water that is 47% of the volume of Lake Nacimento which is 350,000 acre feet. I recognize that Bean Counters don’t like numbers that are subjective because we can’t measure exactly how much is sequestered.  But I do know this process has been going on since the beginning of time and the aquifers of the world were once full.  So let’s recognize that we humans are the problem and the solution.  Let’s start by using valid numbers not the ones that fit somebody’s misguided agenda.

To all you deceivers out there, here’s a piece of common sense I think from the Bible that might help to give you a satisfied mind: Seek the truth and the truth will set you free.
See Ya,
Jack

The V6 Ranch Conservation Easement: Defined

I believe that the spirit of this agreement should address the goals to be accomplished and the methods used to accomplish these objectives.

Upon the signing of the Conservation Easement, a vacuum was created by the fact that the Varian Family L.L.C. could no longer use the sale of a portion of the ranch in order to cure economic or family difficulties. The question then becomes: how do we fill the vacuum in a way that satisfies all the parties that have an interest in the sustainability of the V6 Ranch?

First, all the noble goals that this land can provide the ranch must be managed in ways that will keep it solvent so invoices are paid. Second, a policy of flexibility that allows a diverse number of practices to be employed, thus insuring that a sustainable landscape for the good of all will be preserved.

The following practices at this time we believe give management the elbow-room to operate the V6 Ranch, but it should not preclude that the future will undoubtably present new ideas that must be given fair consideration. If they have merit and meet the ranch goals, then they can be implemented.

  1. The right to amend this easement shall be maintained.
  2. The use of grazing animals that will allow the symbiotic relationship between grazer and grass to flourish is so granted.
  3. In order to provide a sustainable neighborhood for wildlife to thrive the management will emphasize the need to provide feed, water and cover.
  4. Hunting and fishing is a sustainable and necessary part of good game management.
  5. The enjoyment of the land by the public is an admirable use and will help keep The V6 Ranch economically sound. The types of recreation that are allowed must not diminish the sustainability and quality of life on The V6 Ranch.
  6. Decision making is an endless process which effects the quality of life for every living thing on The V6 Ranch. Therefore, good decisions will be grounded by considering the whole: how a decision affects the speed of water (slowing is good, speeding is bad); is the The V6 Ranch stewardship reliable and beneficial?
  7. With the ever increasing human population and our ability to literally move mountains, climate change is most likely. The V6 Ranch will do its best to help reverse climate change on our land by harvesting sunlight. We will use grazing animals to harvest growing things so the soil is left covered with litter. This encourages the percolation  of water into the soil and reduces soil temperature, thus reducing evaporation. The V6 ranch will encourage photosynthesis, the natural process that converts sunlight into organic substances (chiefly sugars) and removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (one cause of global warming), helps green things grow, sequesters carbon to the soil and puts oxygen back into the atmosphere. The V6 Ranch has the best of intentions to help arrest climate change, but we all must recognize that part of the natural course of events is chaos from drought, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes and more that can lay man’s best plans to rest. So once again, flexibility is a necessary component of good management.
  8. Mutual trust and respect, if they are present then all of the above can happen, if they are absent then we will all collectively suffer the cost of mistrust

The Varian Family L.L.C.