Cow Death Requires Pivot and Good Friends Come to the Rescue

Sun sets over the ranch and the dearly departed cow

I don’t envy the cattleman who leases the ranch fields. Cattle ranching is a great deal of work. You are making a living using sentient animals, so there is much responsibility for their respectful care. Last week, I stumbled upon one of the cows laying in the creek. It is not unusual, but something about her did not look right. She was thin and a bit rangey. She did not rise when my dogs barked. I called my cattleman, who relayed that this cow, along with three others, had been ill with milk fever. They had all been doctored, but this one had required additional care. They left her with some herd mates to recover quietly. He asked a few questions, and then told me she should be alright.

She wasn’t, and she died. These things happen in any livestock operation, and certainly in life generally. She had calved a stillborn calf and become infected. After three treatments, she seemed to be doing well he told me. When I came upon her, nothing was disturbed, no logs out of place, no enclosures flattened. We both think she was weak and slipped down into the creek – right into the middle of my butterfly habitat. There, she died of her illness. When I saw her again, there was no sign of predation. I was grateful for that. She transitioned without that violence. While this situation has left me saddened, like other downed animals of any type, her transition has allowed other wild animals to survive. I have not gone back to that place so that the scavengers can do their crucial work without my scent. It is nature taking its course.

Pivot Needed

Site plan for shift of riparian habitat

With the cow death adjacent to the only fenced portion of habitat, and upstream of some of the other sites, I was not inclined to plan near the existing habitat. Not only did I not want to work near a rotting carcass, I did not want to work near water that could be tainted if the scavengers did not act fast. I needed to search for other good sites that could be protected with either downed branches or a temporary fence. I looked further down the spring creek, finally deciding that I would simply stay away from the water – just in case. Knowing that the spring creek probably could not support the willow tree saplings I have to plant, I also looked for sites along the larger Odom Creek.

Returning from looking for alternate planting sites

I found two sites. The one further down stream of the existing habitat will be the home of most of the riparian plants. There is still water in that section, and there is a nice “beach” that gets some high water moisture, but is typically not submerged. This area has a significant number of downed branches nearby – sufficient to block off the location. Because the spring creek is not a main surface water source however, I felt uncomfortable planting any of the willows there. Instead, I identified another site along Odom Creek. which already has a number of willows in the creek bed. There are already a few saplings in the nearby area. This section is also very steep with the main cow trail coming in along the creek bed at south end of the creek (vs along the banks). We should be able to plant the saplings there, and block off the south entry to the area. If we get a large storm, we will need to go back to re-block the entry.

Area of Odom Creek just south of where new willow saplings will be planted

The photo above was taken earlier this year. Since then, the cattle have chewed up the willow sapling in the photo. Today, I saw it still had leaves, but had been roughed up a bit. The entry way narrows just south of this spot. By blocking the entry, we will help preserve this area too.

Good Friends Arrive…to Eat Gophers

Great blue heron perches on the solar panels looking for its next meal

After the first real rain, we wait with anticipation for the return of the mating pair of great blue heron who have chosen this area to raise a family for the past 15 years. So far, we have one back. Sometimes it takes a while for the other to join, or we just don’t see it until later. During the drought, we were distraught when this pair did not return for a couple years. There was just not enough water.

For the last several mornings, this heron has been hanging out in the oak, in the field, or on the solar panels. These birds are magnificent. Pardon the poor quality photo (above), but these guys spook easily. We had to take the photo from inside the house. When we know s/he is near, we give it ample room and delay any outdoor activities until it decides to leave. Why? Besides the fact that it is magic to look at this bird, it is eating gophers. Yes!

Also, for the past three days, we’ve had the largest harrier I’ve seen here. She has been flying in her characteristic grid pattern close over the range looking for gophers (or any other mammal she thinks might do). She flew remarkably close to Andy the other day – my aged beagle. Alas, he was much too big for her. Again, pardon my poor quality photo (below).

Harrier flying unbelievably close to me bringing me untold joy. I named her “Speckles”.

Another good friend finally came to the rescue. On Friday night, I awoke to the hoot of a great horned owl. In some cultures, the owl is a sign of impending death. In others, it is good fortune. In the US dominant culture, the owl is used as a symbol of intelligence. For me, I am hoping it is a harbinger of death to gophers – especially the one that occupies (shockingly) my raised bed.

Taking Care of the Oaks

Over the weekend as well, I had some nice young men come over to cut the mistletoe from two majestic oak trees here. Nick Brocchini is one of the Tribal youth I worked with while tutoring on the high school campus in the Indian Education Program many years ago. He is now a grown young man, with a family and a very needed tree service vocation. He brought his lovely cousin with him, Gary. It was difficult to watch, both due to my worry for Nick who was climbing the tree, but also for seeing branches, despite being filled with mistletoe, dropping from the tree. I sure hope this “haircut” will help these old trees thrive. I gave them a nice hug letting them know I was trying to help them. I love them so much. It was also really nice to see Nick. What a pleasure it is to see the young people in my community grow and do well.

Nick, Gary and Roscoe helping me care for the oaks

Last week, I presented at the CA Resource Conservation District Conference. See the post from last week for more information. The presentation went well. I told my story, and happily there were people who were interested. Some had questions. I met several new people who are interested in the same things as me. I also learned much from the other presenters in my session as well as the other sessions I attended. I am always learning and grateful to all of my teachers.

I will have much work to do over the long holiday weekend. There are still butterflies here. I scared one from the grass while on my way to look for alternate sites. It was one of the larger brown ones that I’ve not IDed yet. The hedgerow plants are doing well. I sure hope the carcass is fully gone this week, so that I can plant without additional concern and get back up stream to work in that area.

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