There it was, ten o'clock on a Saturday morning. A Toyota truck with the camper shell pulled into the parking lot next to the rusty hay baler that still has not been tucked under a roof for winter. “You ready to go?” asked the driver.
“No.” I wasn't ready to spend most of the day on the road — Highway 20 east to I-5, then north to Orland in the Central Valley where Stuart and Emily Rowe have recently moved their herd of milking shorthorns.
The last time I'd ventured further than Ukiah was in March this year, and three shorthorn cows had lumbered up Lambert Lane toward Boonville, causing me extreme embarrassment. This time though, the all-day drive would be with another local rancher, and the trip was on account of our cows. We were going to pick up a bull calf. Our monstrous, rusty maroon bull finally sired some heifers in May and it is time to start raising up his replacement. We don't want inbred cows with learning impairments. We have to seek out some fresh blood.
There is only one milking shorthorn dairy in California. Stuart Rowe inherited the herd from his father — the Innisfail herd, named after an island off Ireland. They were shipped across the big water prior to 1900 and first lived on a boggy island in what was then a much more aquatic Sacramento Delta. Somewhere around 1915 the cows moved to somewhat drier ground on a farm near Davis. They stayed until three years ago when Stuart and Emily moved them up to Orland, fleeing the wild real estate speculation that had gobbled up most of the farmland around them.
“We are also glad to be far away from those crazy animal rights activists,” said Stuart who is beyond his 80th birthday.
It struck me as ironic that the Innisfail dairy would have had strange encounters with animal rights activists, blood-thirsty vegan college students at UC Davis. Ironic because the Rowes are an exception to the California Dairy Industry, one of the last relatively small family farms where they literally care more about the cows than about milk production. They hire three guys who take turns on milking shifts, running 150 cows through every morning and night. 150 cows might sound like a lot, but these days a herd that size is considered tiny. The only commercial milking operation in Mendocino County works over 2,000 cows through, their milkers going steady 24 hours a day — and they would be a small dairy by California's industry standards.
I had called Stuart back in August to say I was interested in a bull calf to replace our aging big guy and Stuart had waited until a prize prospect had dropped from one of his best cows, then kept the calf for six weeks to be sure he was past the danger of scours before calling to say he had one. “Fifty dollars,” he said.
Stuart has already tried to retire. Two years ago when he and Emily bought the dairy in Orland, they leased it and their shorthorn herd to a fellow who was milking Holsteins. He ran a more modern production dairy, had a rigorous antibiotic program and originally impressed the Rowes with his state of the art husbandry techniques. However, the bull calves that the Rowes were raising for fun at their home in Davis kept developing scours, the severe diarrhea that plagues modern dairies. “We'd never had problems with scours before,” they told me. Gradually, the Rowes became dissatisfied with the roughshod husbandry techniques of the modern man, and they fired him, told him and his herd of Holsteins to hit the road. “He was cutting corners, worried more about the bottom line than he was about the cows.”
Emily and Stuart have known each other since childhood, but both married and raised children with other partners. They have been together for several decades now. They and their prized shorthorn cows travel the country, attending dairy shows in Wisconsin and New York. Emily does the books. She printed up our receipt in case the CHP pulled us over and suspected that we'd rustled the critter.
The drive to Orland and back was uneventful, thankfully. The omnipresent CHP on Highway 20 left us alone as we passed through the gauntlet of FOR SALE signs that try to reach out and grab you.
Back in Boonville, the cows were content. No animals were out of place. My blue heeler bitch was nursing her seven pups. And none of those pups escaped up Lambert Lane.
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Seasonal Gardening Tips
If your garlic is not planted, it is certainly time to do so, no matter where in the Valley you live, elevationwise. People with home gardens and raised beds are putting in broccoli starts. Kale and turnips always bolt for me if I plant them this late, so I don't. Some people with good drainage plant peas this time of year. Leeks do well in the winter, they say. Cover crops are popular and fun, but if you have a home garden I think you're just as well to get a bunch of spoiled hay or stable manure and pile it on the soil, let it rot all winter. Plenty of spoiled hay around after that big monsoon in early October when a bunch of us still had stacks that were half-assed tarped for late summer feeding. ¥¥