Archive » June 12, 2008
ON THE RANCH
By Nancy Crawford-Hall, Publisher
On the road
We are still traversing the length and breadth of Scotland, now in Oban, a fairly large city on the west coast. We have probably seen more of Scotland than most Americans, and that is quite a treat for us. We are staying here four days so that we can move out from here every day in a new direction. There are literally hundreds of islands of varying size surrounding the mainland. We go by ferry to visit several of them tomorrow. There are castles to see and puffin colonies to enjoy. The sea life here is quite substantial, so we intend to have a full day of it.
I have been learning new forms of English as well. Because I studied linguistics (long ago), language in all its forms has always been of interest to me. Differences between British English, Scottish English and American English are really quite striking. Although generally understandable to us, some of the differences are entertaining, and I find myself often muttering under my breath, “oh yeah, that is…” when I hear the variation. For example, a road detour is a diversion, tennis shoes are trainers and a sweater is a jumper. I find the Scottish English sometimes harder to understand partly because of the Gaelic influences.
I can see the ferry from my hotel window and just hear the engines fire up. It appears that another load of people is moving on to another location. It is a car ferry, and I am looking forward to experiencing that, as it is not something we have anywhere near us. It has been warm and sunny here for some time, most of our trip actually, although down south around London and south from there it has been raining buckets for days with flooding a concern. The Caledonian MacBrayne has just cleared the dock and is on her way across the sea. What a lovely day for a sail.
Back at the ranch
Meanwhile, back at the ranch the annual selling-of-the-calves process has begun. Now that the calves are around seven months old and weigh about 600-700 pounds, it is time for someone else to take over their care. Having weighed a representative sample of steers (males) and then heifers (females) on our livestock scales, we know approximately what they weigh and that they are ready for sale. It is also the time to call the cattle sales representatives to have them come and look at the calves to see if they would be interested in featuring them, either at a direct sale in Templeton or on the satellite sales. We have done both, since we no longer have a local sales yard, which we did have for many years at the Buellton Livestock Market. Because so few cattle remained in the area, it was no longer cost effective to keep it open, so it was closed. For the cattle people who still were in business the closure was quite a blow, because it meant that the animals had to travel farther, which causes more strain on them and guarantees less weight on them, which reduces their price because they still are paid for by the pound.
Selling by satellite can be more cost effective and less stressful on the animals, but because the bids come from all over the West (in our case), the prices can vary depending on conditions where the buyer is located. It can be more stressful for the rancher because contracts are signed with the buyer and, depending on the contract, there may be a penalty charged for animals that are over a given weight at the time of shipping.
Although I am a fourth generation rancher, I find this time of year to be the most unpleasant. I watch for the new calves to be born, enjoy their playtimes, hope for their health — then feel very sad as the youngsters are loaded on trucks to go to their new homes. The cows will bawl their losses for two or three days, and then all is quiet on the ranch as the cows wander off up the mountain for the summer to await the arrival of this year’s crop, and the cycle starts again.
There are a number of other factors to consider when deciding how to market and sells one’s animals, and each rancher must decide which suits his or her situation best. It is not always the same every year, either. Buying cattle has a completely different set of issues, such as, for cows, where were they raised and whether they have been exposed as they were growing up to the very costly Foothill abortion. This is a condition that exists in our area and some others in California and results in the loss of calves at least once because of a particular kind of tick that exists in our foothills.
Speaking of species
There is a controversy raging in communities across the globe between various groups of people who are trying to determine the issue of what “native” means and how it should be applied. Since the rise of the environmentalist community, which now want to be called conservationists (in my book, just as bent on controlling things they don’t own), the political emphasis has been to encourage things that are considered to be native and to discourage things that are considered to be non-native, alien or introduced.
It has, for many years, been the aim of a segment of scientists to find plants, insects or animals that would control or eliminate a given problem plant or animal, or at least something perceived as a problem. I am sure you are familiar with some of the results of these efforts, such as the kudzu vine that is threatening to blanket the entire South or the mongoose in Hawai`i. These experiments don’t always have the desired results, and sometimes become problems in themselves.
Part of this discussion is related to the description of what is native and what isn’t. What has not thus far really been fully explored to my mind is whether native-ness is actually something that is essential or even desirable. One point that has been, and still is, consistently missed by those who would be “green” is that it is the very nature of Nature to change constantly, to develop and sometimes to morph into different species altogether. It is, after all, how the human species came to be what it is today after millions of years of tiny, imperceptible changes.
So, too, plants and other animals develop along new lines, move according to their adaptations to new locations and have dissimilar morphologies, depending on their isolation from others of their kind. So what exactly is “native?” Does it have a time frame? How long does it take to make something native? Is something native better than something introduced? Is destroying something because it may not have originated at a particular spot a good thing or not?
Look at the human species, for example. How many of us or our families, going back through the generations, originated where we live today? I think you would have to agree that we all came from somewhere else, including even those who say they are Native Americans, as there were at least two civilizations here before they were — and where did they come from?
Plants migrate through water, air and by being carried by an animal or other vehicle to new locations. If they are hardy enough to survive in the new place, they regenerate, sometimes making a new species there. So, too, animals, when conditions permit, move to new locations, perhaps to find better forage or living conditions. In some cases, animals have been introduced to new locations by mankind, either accidentally or purposefully, taking them on their voyages while exploring new worlds. These animals usually were brought for food, fiber, or medicinal reasons. Sometimes animals appear in new lands because of shipwreck, when a few hardy ones manage to make it to shore, survive and reproduce.
So, I ask again, what is meant by “native,” and is there a time frame required by that description? Is a hundred years enough time to be native? A thousand years? A million years? Or is it really only a very subjective decision by a few people who determine what or who is native and who or what is not? Is it really mankind’s business to try to manipulate artificially or to destroy that which may or may not be “native?” Does it even matter, since the movement of plants, animals and even humans is “natural?” Have we become so egocentric as to think that we can orchestrate what “belongs” where and pronounce death sentences on those plants or animals we deem to be “non-native?” Uh-oh! I think I’m one of those! Shall I go back to Ireland or wherever my forebears came from before there? I think not, and I think we are going too far to rearrange life to our perceived scheme of things. I think it is horribly arrogant and elitist to believe that “native” is any better than “non-native,” and to kill plants and animals on that basis is a horrible distortion of who we are.
I would be very interested to hear your opinions on this subject, because your opinion will be very important in coming months right here in the county. I will tell you why later, but I would very much like to hear your ideas on the subject. Thanks in advance.