St. Isidore Ranch Update

Two years ago, I made the trek to Oregon to pick up a Dexter cow and her calf.  The price was right, but there was a condition: I had to take another mean, wild, unmanageable one-eyed cow with me. I mentioned this to a friend of mine and asked him if he wanted to start his own Dexter herd. He agreed, so I brought the cow home and she’s been on our pasture with the others ever since. My friend named her Blackberry Blossom.

Well, Blackberry Blossom turned out to be made of gold. Several months after bringing her home, she dropped a calf! She had not been purposely bred, and no one had any idea that she was pregnant. As a result of this mystery calf my friend now has a fat steer almost ready for the freezer.

A year ago last June, we had Blackberry Blossom and two others artificially inseminated. We don’t keep a bull on the property. The oldest of the three became crippled and had to be slaughtered before she was ready to calve. Another cow, Camelia, gave birth to a heifer without complications. Blackberry Blossom did not get pregnant, apparently. Her baby steer (now bigger than she is) had not yet weaned itself, so that might have been part of the problem.  We just figured we’d try again next year.

Last week, Kelly – the young cowboy who rents our pasture – pulled up in his dusty old truck and asked to speak with me. Did I know that one of my cows just had a calf? he asked.  I said that was impossible, there must be some mistake. No mistake, he insisted. He had been treating the calf for pneumonia for a couple of days, and it looks like she’s going to make it. I was incredulous. How can that be? We don’t keep a bull, and her AI treatment was 15 months ago. So far, despite the advances of technology, they still haven’t come up with a self-fertilizing breed of cattle!

Nevertheless, there it was: a calf. Facts are facts.

Kelly asked me if I had seen any of the neighbor’s cattle in my pasture lately. I assured him that I had not. Does the neighbor keep a bull? he asked. I wasn’t sure. I’d seen just one bull across the fence in the past, but that was more than a year ago. Well, the only explanation he could think of is that Blackberry Blossom was impregnated by a neighbor bull. And the calf, he said, appeared to be much bigger than an ordinary Dexter calf and was probably half-Angus.

So my fortunate friend, who decided on a whim to accept a wild one-eyed Dexter whom nobody wanted, ended up with two “freebies” from nowhere! Some people have all the luck.


Last Saturday we rose at 5:00am, loaded the kids and their instruments in the van, and headed for the historic gold-mining town of Weaverville, California for its third annual Old Time Fiddle Contest.  We went with another family whose children also fiddle – that’s right, Blackberry Blossom’s family – and between our two families we had six children in the contest. They all played marvellously well. It’s heartwarming to see so many young people keeping the “old time fiddle” tradition alive in California. I am also proud to say that our Amy Rachel won 2nd place in her division – quite an accomplishment for someone who has only been playing for a couple of years! Toward the end of the day we were treated to some bluegrass gospel music by the Winton Family of Redding. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like live, acoustic bluegrass right up close.

These contests have been organized by the California State Old Time Fiddler’s Association since the 1950s, beginning in Butte County. The contestants are mostly from little towns in Northern California, but some come from out of state to participate. There are always a dozen or more RVs and trailers set up in the parking lot. Next month we’ll be going to another contest in Red Bluff, which lasts three days and is considered the Granddaddy of them all.

These events are delightful for their wholesomeness and homely political incorrectness. From the natural religiosity of the organizers, to the corny jokes of the MCs, to the earthy titles of the songs played, it’s everything the uppity PC world despises. Here’s a place where simple, small-town people can just be themselves without having to walk on eggshells. And this in California – the real California, the California that few people know exists.

9 thoughts on “St. Isidore Ranch Update

  1. Is the owner of this cow also Catholic? ;-)

    It sounds like there must be an Angus bull wandering around somewhere and hiding. That’s a pretty amazing story. I think your friend should pay you well for housing his cow. It looks like it’s a good location, one way or another.


  2. Yes, Lydia, the owner is Catholic – a traditionalist, no less! But howcome his cow has this magic fertility and my cows don’t?

    My wife jokes that we ought to butcher his steer and eat it ourselves. At least I think she’s joking …

    Truth be told, this family has done more for us than we can ever repay. In many ways, tangible and intangible. In fact two of our milk goats are up at their ranch getting bred right now.


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