Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March Madness

To the sporting crowd, March Madness means basketball. I think. I don’t follow basketball myself though I know a lot of folks do, with watch parties and office pools and all kinds of basketball talk.

A chokecherry grows in the cleft of a rock it split 50 years ago.
Sports wise, I’m more interested in spring training and spring football, though I don’t follow either one very closely.

March is an interesting time of the year on the EJE Ranch. On March 1 (as I write this) we’re a month away from first calves, and a lot will happen this month.

Eagle Rock
The cows are in their final month of gestation, busy putting final touches on the calves they’ll soon be producing. They’ve been “building” these calves since last summer, and during that time they’ve had to live through an autumn drought, separation from last year’s calves, and an often harsh winter. They’ve used up a good bit of summer condition to get here, and will need good nutrition to finish gestation, calve, and begin lactation.

Windmill in Googie Gulch.
While the days are getting longer and nicer, the ground is still frozen under foot and the grasses are still dormant in their winter slumber. Over the next month the ground will thaw and the grasses (forbs too, of course) will begin to green up. In the meantime, however, those gestating cows will continue to need supplemental feed – hay mostly, but minerals as well – until the grasses boom to life and start producing grazeable biomass.

Aeromotor and gossamer sky
It’s also time to get myself prepared for calving. I’ve yet to round up the equipment and supplies and put them in their calving-season places, but I’ll get that done over the next few weeks. There’s also some work to do in the barn to make sure the calving pen and headgate are ready to go.

March weather is the real madness across the south Panhandle. The days are longer, and many are quite pleasant, but it’s not yet spring. The days can be delightful, but they can also be blisteringly cold and packed with heavy snow. With La Nina conditions continuing to prevail across the equatorial Pacific, meteorologists say we could be in for a wild weather ride including heavy spring blizzards.

Vader Ridge
Last week I hiked out across the prairie on a wonderfully warm day. There was little if any wind, so the hiking was more than pleasant. Yet the warm air still held the sterility of winter. There seemed to be no odors at all. Certainly no odors of growing things were present as I trudged across top-mushy ground that was still frozen rock-hard a few inches below.

Strokeout Butte
When I hiked again two days later, things were entirely different. It was chillingly cold and snowing, with a mild but biting south wind. I stayed off the prairie and stuck to the roads. As I trudged along the snowfall stuck to my clothes, covering me in an even, white blanket. Soon I matched the world I walked in, a potentially dangerous condition since there were a few cars and trucks out and about. I was plenty warm so long as I kept hiking along at an exercise pace; the several layers of clothing I wore and continually-produced body heat saw to that.

As I hiked along I was struck once again at how very different this country can look in a single week. One day I strode out across a brownish prairie, where windbreaks and yucca provided the only hints of color. I could see for miles in the clean, crisp air, and the sky was an enormous inverted bowl of cloudless blue. Then the weather changed, and I found myself hiking a winter landscape two days later. Snow was everywhere, covering nearly everything within my sight. Visibility was less than a quarter-mile, and falling snow blurred the world into a powdery softness.

Both hikes were enormously enjoyable, and each helped, in its way, to chase most of the winter “blah” from my soul. The nice day presaged spring, and the snowy day felt more like spring snow than winter snow.

Today I hiked the prairie again, and nearly all of last week’s abundant snow has gone. The ground is getting softer on top as winter’s frozen, vice-like grip begins to loosen in the soil. Still no green showing, but I did spot a grasshopper and a beetle out and about. The seasons, they are a changin.’

As I count down the days of March, drawing ever closer to calving, I’ll continue to see signs of the annual rebirth of spring. It’s not here yet, and there’s still liable to be far too much snow left in the season, but that’s okay. It’s part of the deal here on the High Plains, and spring is within reach.

1 comment:

  1. Huhoh. Grasshoppers?
    A friend posted that her daffodils are starting to come up, so I guess it's time . . .