Each Day is Closer to a Rainy Day …

No grass no water

“Each day is one day closer to a rainy day,” exclaims Connie Willems of Grieb Ranch in Arroyo Grande. She continues to be hopeful as we all pray for rain. “Any amount of rain is considered a blessing for this ranch. 2013 -14 were some of the driest years in our local history and the driest in 85 year-old Carl Grieb’s life-time. The state has declared SLO County a natural disaster area due to the horrific drought.”

“The current drought on the Central Coast has made a big impact on my life and family, “ continues Connie, “Last year with no affordable food for the cattle and no grass on the hills we shipped cattle to sell and also shipped a few to Oregon to put on pasture.” The 2015 feed year started out promising as local ranchers got rain before Thanksgiving to green up the hills; then the rains stopped. So once again in 2015, we are experiencing a severe drought.

Connie went on to explain how Grieb Ranch has coped, “This year we again reduced the numbers in our cow herds by selling all the older cows and the open (not pregnant) cows. We also weaned the calves early and put them on permanent pasture in a different area. We have a little feed, but water has been the bigger issue. The stock ponds strategically dispersed over the range to shorten the distances cattle walk to get water are now dry. To help with the drought we found a spring and then developed a delivery system to pipe water up a hill using a 1000 ft of pipe. Now the natural springs are slowing down and it is only April.”

In the article, Drought and Grazing by Royce Larsen, Area Watershed/Natural Resource Adviser through UC Cooperative Extension says, “There is no such thing as an average year, which makes management decisions very difficult. We have to live with wet years and dry years . . . Many refer to the average of an area for making management plans. However, the average rainfall in SLO County is not a very good indicator for planning ranch activities like forage production, cattle numbers and other agricultural crops. . . For more practical purposes, the years that are below the average determine what and how much forage can be produced on the ranch, and number of cattle that can be grazed on a sustainable basis.”

It will be interesting to see if this current drought is worse than the great drought of 1862-1865 that wreaked havoc on the state and the cattle industry. Half of the cattle in the state died as a result of that long drought, and large numbers of cattlemen were forced out of business – forever changing the way the ranching industry did business in California. There are stories of driving cattle over the cliffs into the ocean to save them from suffering. In other years, creative foraging was introduced. We understand that trees were cut down so the cattle could eat the leaves.

Royce Larsen also states, “We have had severe droughts eight times since 1869, or approximately once every 17 years. But none of these have lasted for three years in duration like the 1862-1865 drought did.” Royce goes on to say, “Based on 137 years of rainfall data, we can expect a drought that creates feed shortages about every six years on average.”

The current drought, 2013 -2015, mimics the great 1862-1865 drought. These conditions force modern ranchers to get creative and have permanently impacted California ranching for years to come.

“Since the water year is not yet over there is a small chance we could get more rain,” states Royce.

Cal Poly Rain Data

For more rain data information and for current data check out the following websites:
Dept. of Public Works , City of Paso Robles,
Cal Poly Irrigation Training and Research Center

“I could dance with you ’till the cows come home . . .”

“I could dance with you ’till the cows come home. Better still, I’ll dance with the cows and you come home.” – Groucho Marx, who was never one to pass up an opportunity for a play on words, expresses this in his dialogue in the 1933 film Duck Soup.

 "I could dance with you till the cows come home. Better still, I'll dance with the cows and you come home."

“I could dance with you till the cows come home. Better still, I’ll dance with the cows and you come home.”

Put on your dancing shoes, the cows are coming home to Grieb Ranch with hope of green by Thanksgiving. With rain in the forecast for today the likelihood of green looks quite promising.

"SC" branded cattle with calf.

“SC” branded cattle with calf.

Many of the registered herd went north to Oregon late winter of 2014. Now the cattle are leaving the freezing, icy Oregon weather to come back to the beautiful California Central Coast. One load of Oregon born late-calving cows and weanling calves have come home already. Other cattle went to sales in Madras of Jefferson County or Cottonwood in Sherman and Gilliam counties, Oregon.

Papa Carl at the age of 86 will make the trip north to drop off a few bulls, and bring back some fall calving cows with their calves. First the bulls need to be “Tric” Tricomoniasis and semen tested before they go north. In the meantime the survivor cattle that never left Grieb Ranch are calving.

So if you see Grieb family members dancing with the cows it’s because the hills are green and they are looking for you to come home and join them in their dancing.
Prayerfully this devastating drought is behind us and the pictures here showing its effects will be history.

He Gives And Takes Away – Drought Devotional

Gives and takes away

“Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor the fruit be on the vines; yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk 3:17-18

“And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ ” Job 1:21

The drought on the central coast in 2014 has made a big impact on my life and family. With no affordable food and no grass on the hills to feed the cows we shipped cattle to sell and also shipped a few to Oregon. Through reading “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young and reading scripture, I am encouraged to rejoice in the Lord. I am reminded that God is with me through the drought. He will watch over me and my family constantly. Nothing – including the extremes of so much rain causing flooding that washes out dams to the driest drought years that leave the land bare – can separate me from God. At Grieb Ranch some of us seem to find God more during the dark times, when our difficulties force us to depend on Him. Others of us feel closer to God when our lives are filled with good things. I am learning to respond to both with thanksgiving and praise. God is amazing in that he knows precisely what I/we need to draw nearer to him. I am learning to go through each day looking for what he has prepared for me. I need to accept every event – droughts included – as a hand tailored provision of my needs. I must remember when I view my life that way the most logical response is to be thankful. I must not reject any of God’s gifts, and find God in every situation. “Blessed be the name of the Lord, He Gives and takes away.”  – Devotional by Connie Grieb Willems

Matt Redmond singing the song “Blessed Be Your Name”

No Rain = No Grass, No Water, and Expensive Feed.


Grieb Ranch Registered Angus in Oregon.

Grieb Ranch Registered Angus in Oregon.

It’s been 3 years without much significant rainfall here in California. As a result the hills that make up Grieb Ranch are bare, some of the springs have dried up and supplementing the cattle with expensive feed is costly. The solution for Grieb Ranch was to ship (via truck with cattle trailer) a few of the remaining head of Registered Angus cattle to Oregon to Connie’s sister’s ranch last winter. Here they have feed until more rain falls back at Grieb Ranch on the Central Coast of California. This is the first time in the 136 year history of Grieb Ranch that the range cattle have had to be moved elsewhere for feed for a long period of time.

Calves with ear tags.

Calves with ear tags.

The cattle in Oregon still need to be worked, which is a bit difficult to do from California. Connie took the train up in June to work the (late) calves that were born in the snow after the Mother Cows were shipped to Oregon last winter. These calves needed to be branded, tagged and vaccinated and Connie was on hand to do just that. The train trip was fun. As she traveled, Connie was filled with hope as she passed beautiful irrigated hay fields, and some irrigated pastures that were dotted with cattle; a rare sight these days in California.

"SC" branded cattle with calf.

“SC” branded cattle with calf.

As fall approaches so does the arrival of the 2014 fall calf crop, many that are hopefuls for the 2015 Registered cattle show at the fair. The details of each new calf: its birth date, sex, and weight are recorded. An ear tag is then placed in each calf’s ear indicating the sire (bull) and dam (cow) and the birth date of the calf. At a later time the registered calves will have an ear tattoo placed for permanent identification.

At Grieb Ranch we continue to pray for rain, and look forward to the day when we can bring back our cattle to the green hills and flowing springs of Grieb Ranch.


Pictures by Wendy Gauthier – Connie’s niece in Oregon