How Much Pleasure Per Acre Does Your Ranch Produce?

My father was an early day pilot flying as a captain for Pan American Airlines. He signed on with Pan Am in 1927 to fly Trimotor Ford planes.

This is how a Pan American plane was boarded in 1929.

The part of the world he would live and work in would be Mexico and Central America. Mexico City for the next 8 years was where he called home. From there, he would fly as far North as Brownsville Texas and as far South as the Panama Canal. What he was soon to learn was that flying in stormy weather would become a common occurrence. The instruments my dad had in the cockpit of his plane to guide him on his daily journeys could only tell him up or down, left or right, or how fast or slow and a compass to tell him what direction he was going. But this was not enough and he wondered if there was some instrument that would warn him if a mountain might be hiding in some cloud he was about to enter. 10,000 feet elevation was all the higher he could go as some passenger might run out of breathable air. Back then, there were no pressurized cabins to allow an airplane to fly above the bad weather.

Trimotor Ford- enroute Merida to Tejeria, Veracruz.

  1. Hidden mountains in bad weather became the number one hazard for pilots and passengers in those days. My father began to write letters to his brother Russel whose occupation was that of a Doctor of Physics and he would quiz him about the possibility of some sort of radio wave that might warn of a cloud that had a mountain hidden in its vail.

  • Clouds were the biggest worry for early day pilots. You did not know what might be hidden inside.

Russel's reply was that there was no law of Physics that he could see that would bar them from inventing a warning device. So in July of 1935 with my birth close at hand, my father left a good paying job with Pan Am so I would be born in California. Taking my mother, my older sister and all his savings in the middle of the Great Depression, we moved to Halcyon, a tiny community in the Central part of California, where he and his brother were raised. There he asked his brother if he would join up with him and search for this magical beam. The next two years were full of success and failures that included a move to Palo Alto home of Stanford University where Russel had gained permission from the university to use their Physics laboratory to complete their search for this new device.

So from 1935 to 1937, they worked to develop the beam. What emerged after two years of their labor and thought, was a vacuum tube that would oscillate sending out high frequency radio waves. This device would send out waves, they would then bounce back upon hitting a solid object. By measuring the elapsed time for the round trip, it would tell a person how far away a hidden mountain was from an airplane. Today we know this phenomenon as Radar.

That’s some pretty heady stuff to have to compete with. But my dad once said, “You don’t have to do what I do, follow where your passion leads you”. So my passion took me to the headwaters of the Little Cholame Creek and a 60 year love affair with the character and atmosphere of the land that I have called home. My thoughts hopefully will elicit a different way of evaluating how well we are practicing our job as ranch owner or manager. I want to leave the cost of doing things like repairing equipment, cost of production etc. out of this article because all that information is already out there and yet I don’t want to down play it’s importance because we all have to pay our bills.

What I want to discuss, is my ranch or yours a place where the goal is to create an environment that says this is a joyful place to live and work and if not, why not? I believe that we have to start by recognizing that Mother Nature’s rules are inflexible and to try to circumvent them we do at our peril. Her number one rule is she slows down water, above and below the soil surface. Once that’s at the top of our “To-do list”, we're off on the right foot which also means we mustn’t let too much tradition get in our way.

  1. I want to acknowledge all the good work that has been done over the last 50 or so years on herd improvement by the cow calf producer. It has certainly shown that their efforts have helped their bottom line as well as mine. I cheer them on to keep up the good work. But if you don’t grow the grass first, all that herd improvement is for nothing. Then I said to myself, why stop here? What about the wildlife, are they happy? Am I doing a good job of slowing down Water? How much bare ground is showing? Are my cattle traveling too far to get a drink of water? Can I change that? Is sustainable good enough,I certainly hope not! I think a more complex and regenerative surroundings is a much better goal. How about what’s going on in the top one foot of soil. How’s the diversity on your ranch? As I continue to slow down water, I notice that complexity is improving. Complexity is another one of Mother Nature’s cornerstones for a happy ranch.

I saw my first Weasel the other day, first one in 60 years. Over the last ten years, we have had Bald and Golden Eagles year around. There are some Blue Herons now, that have decided that the V6 lakes are a better place to make a living than on the other side of the Coast Range where they used to live on the Pacific Ocean. Our Blacktail deer population is growing and lately wild turkeys have moved in and are now permanent residents. This is one more game bird that a hunt club member can bag then take to the family table for Thanksgiving dinner.

The more value game animals have for hunting, the more emphasis will be placed on their well-being by providing ever greater amounts of food, water and cover. Make them illegal to hunt, their numbers will diminish as their monetary value goes down. Thus losing a valuable income stream that once contributed to the economic stability of a ranch.

I’ve learned that when I buy stocker calves with good genetics from a high desert ranch that are weaned and come directly to me, I have virtually no death loss. When I brand and vaccinate the next day and by using low stress methods to handle my cattle, I find that I can now turn them out on our pastures with hardly any sickness.

Where I once bought 1500 head to stock the ranch and I expected the cattle to gain 200 pounds per head or 300,000 total pounds for the season (standard for our part of California). But now with better genetics, more grass and more watering troughs, 1,000 head will now gain 300 pounds per head or 300,000 total pounds for the season. I have 500 head less to buy, 500 head less to account for and 2,000 less hoofs to impact the land all adding up to one more practice that has put a smile on my face

I don’t know why it took me most of a lifetime to figure out that what I was doing for the first 40 or so years of my tenure as the Majordomo, wasn’t working. It was probably an over inflated ego that allowed me to puff out my chest at the local cafe for breakfast and tell my friends how many cattle I own. That, plus the exhilaration that comes from “making a deal” or buying and selling cattle and then making more deals to keep that “heady” feeling. A potent mix that people in our industry call “ deal junkies” can lead to all sorts of problems.

Our family V6 ranch is one of the prettiest ranches in California, so to make sure that nobody in the future could despoil this special place we placed a “conservation easement” over the whole ranch. Now this cheerful place for cattle, horses and all the other critters and people too, that call this ranch home. They can now be at ease knowing that this land is protected in perpetuity against further development.

So why not encourage people from anywhere and everywhere to come, stay and enjoy the Cowboy Side of California from the back of a horse or the shade of a tree. Upon leaving you’ll say “I’m glad I came!"

If happiness is a state of mind, it follows that when I embrace Mother Nature as a friend and not the enemy, a big smile appears on my face, realizing that my almost 60 year tenure as caretaker of this beautiful place has left me with a feeling that everything is going to be OK.

See Ya


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