Ag Elsewhere : California

Photo and Description By Lainey Smith

Fall is in the air. For most folks, fall is the time to look forward to apple picking, pumpkin carving, specialty coffee and vivid colors amongst the leaves. As a rancher’s daughter, I look forward to felt hats, wild rags, branding calves and moving pastures.

Despite what the Beach Boys may have sung, California is much more than beaches and bikinis. Fertile valleys, large mountain ranges and thousands of acres of lease land give California ranchers more resources when managing their herds. When I first moved to North Texas, the mountains I was familiar with were noticeably absent. My first thought, “Where do these Texans winter their cows?”

Like my family, many cattlemen in the Central Valley leased ground in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. Not much feed grows in the Valley in the winter months, and ranchers compete with other crops for lease ground. Starting in October, we brand our calves, preg check, pick replacement heifers, and send our pregnant gals up to the hills for some knee high grazing until it’s time to calve.

At our fall brandings, calves are bigger than at traditional Texas brandings. We head and heel calves weighing between 500 and 800 pounds in a medium sized square pen, utilizing the corners to rope, “shorten up” and guide across the pen so our heeler can rope them close to the fire.
Brandings aren’t just a family affair; the whole neighborhood will show up. Every weekend is spent at a different ranch, gathering a different field and branding in a different pen. I don’t know how it gets any better than cowboying in the fall.

To read more pick up a copy of the October 2018 NTFR issue. To subscribe call 940-872-5922.