Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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(Sprague River) Ranchers find Salers a perfect fit
Disposition suits their hearts; quality
suits their wallets
Krizo/For the Capital Press
Over a picnic lunch with his family at Flying T Salers Ranch, Bruce Topham was telling about the time two uninvited telephone company men drove all over his property in the mud, making ruts in the hayfields and airstrip.
They were planning where to put some telephone lines.
Topham and Erika Bentsen were explaining private property to them when the red Salers bull Diablo came storming across the pasture aimed right at them men. The intruders couldn’t get away fast enough, each trying to hide behind the other.
What Topham and Bentsen never did tell them was that Diablo just wanted a hug and his head scratched.
The picnickers roared with laughter.
Such is the disposition of Salers cattle, and the Tophams.
In 1972, after raising grapes and cattle in Fresno and farming in Wyoming, Topham and his wife, Virginia, set out in search of the perfect cattle ranch. They wanted property with privacy, plenty of water and room for an airstrip. After a phone call from a Realtor, the Tophams flew their 1946 Stinson to Klamath Falls, Ore., to inspect the property.
“We flew up, saw it and signed the papers within an hour,” Bruce said.
“I liked the privacy,” Virginia said. “And we were impressed by the water.
“We came with a wheelbarrow, shovel and desire. This property, formerly part of the Klamath Tribal reservation, looked nothing like this when we arrived,” he said. “It was sagebrush, juniper and rocks, and the timber had been logged. There was slash everywhere. We hauled off five semi-truck loads of trash and 13 wrecked cars. The only structure on the property was our 100-year-old house. We burned the slash, developed the irrigation, and built the barn and sheds with lumber we milled ourselves.”
Now the ranch is picture-perfect.
“When we got the property, we could put up 100 tons of hay and summer 75 yearling heifers. Now we harvest 600 tons and pasture 200 pair on the home place. In developing the pasture and hayfields, we enhanced the habitat for wildlife,” Topham said, adding that about 75 new bird species nest on the ranch.
The Flying T Salers Ranch is home to the Tophams, their grown children Susan and Brandan, and neighboring rancher Erika Bentsen. They are the entire crew.
“We introduced Salers bulls to help with calving ease. We read the propaganda about these ancient cows, and it sounded too good to be true,” said Topham. “Every breed claims to be the best, but Salers promised light birth weight bulls for our heifers and less problems with our calving.”
According to the American Salers Association, Salers are healthy, vigorous and easy to handle. Calving is easy, the cows are maternal and carcasses are excellent.
The website states: “Salers carcasses have dominated some of the most competitive carcass quality competitions in the country, including the National Western Fed Beef Contest and the Great Western Beef Expo.” And the animals will pasture where other cattle will not venture.
The Tophams bought two Salers bulls and figured in a couple years, with on-the-ranch experience, they would tell the world what was wrong with this breed.
That was 26 years ago. The herd has grown to 500 cows, and the Tophams have yet to find any problems. The first year, they discovered the calves were born to live. If they weren’t tagged in the first hour after birth, they were hard to catch. They were the first calves that the coyotes didn’t catch.
Topham’s first calf heifers produce calves that are 15 pounds lighter at birth; however, they weigh 70 pounds more than other breeds when they are weaned. The bulls live approximately 15 years; the cows, 15-19 years. His bulls weigh 1,900 pounds at maturity and are still breeding at 10 to 12 years of age.
A Salers bull services two to three times as many cows as other breeds. The bulls are very fertile. He had 90 calves born from a single bull in 28 days. Cows weigh around 1,200 pounds.
Topham attributed much of his herd’s longevity and soundness to being raised on grass and grass hay with no grain in their diet.
Topham holds one of the calves at the Flying T Salers Ranch. She
loves working with Salers cattle, and says this breed is
Susan Topham praised the Salers’ behavior. “They are nice cows. They surround you, lick your shoes. They like us,” she said. “We often move up to 400 cows on foot when the snow and ice make riding horses too dangerous.”
She said she hopes to stay on the ranch. “This is where I want to live if the Klamath Restoration Agreement lets us. The proposed agreement would basically give the Indian government the Mazama Tree Farm, and it would give the Indians control of most of the water in this valley. And without water, this isn’t a sustainable operation.”
Freelance writer Jacqui Krizo is based in Tulelake, Calif. E-mail: email@example.com.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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