After 24 straight days of flooding the Rancho was ever thankful for last month's official day of spring and all the sunshine brought with it. The start of the new year began with flood levels not seen in six years. The last significant flood to greatly affect operations at the Rancho was in 2011. Road closures, overflowing river ways and saturated soil made Rancho operations more challenging than normal. Our shop manager, Shannon, had to taxi staff into headquarters via a tractor known as a road grader. It is the tallest and only piece of equipment able to drive through flooded Ord Ferry Road, the Rancho's main access.
Although Llano Seco translates to dry plain, the Rancho is surrounded by waterways. The Sacramento River sits to the west, Little Chico Creek to the east and bisecting our landscape is Angel Slough. Angel Slough is a wide flood channel that carries excess water running parallel to the river more than 60 miles south to the Sutter Bypass. The bypass is the junction point of the Sacramento River and the Feather River. The soil found at the bottom of Angel Slough dates back 5,000 years, says Joe Silveira, a wildlife biologist for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services stationed at the Rancho.
The biggest hurdle to overcome during the flood was access to our renovated farrowing or birthing barn. Prior to 2015 renovations the barn had been abandoned for 3 decades. The heavy rain and flood levels rose up around the barn creating an island surrounded by a moat- like water way. We now call this area of the Rancho "Hog Island." As we prepared for the highest flood levels, the hog department production staff lived on "Hog Island" to manage breeding, maintain the facilities and feed the every-hungry sows. The pigs enjoyed the rain, mud and rooting around in the lush acreage but it was important to make sure they had a safe and dry place to return to. It was an all hands on deck, 24- hour job. As the water level surrounding "Hog Island" fluctuated, access to the barn was monitored. The road grader was used to transport needed goods such as feed and bedding material for the hogs. Shannon would drive through the flooded access roads and get as close as possible to the banks of the island. The production staff was also on a rotation schedule, sharing the workload between shifts and taking the tractor in and out of "Hog Island."
The weather also affected the Rancho's Cowboys, Baker and Coop. Early this spring they called upon their colleagues to help brand the newest arrivals to our herd of cattle. Normally, a full day of branding can be done with 15 sets of helping hands. This year, they needed 30. The flooding delayed the bi-annual movement of the herd back to headquarters from "The Rocks," 6,000 acres of feeding ground east of the Rancho. Every year they move cattle to help replenish the feeding grounds around the Rancho. This migration normally takes place at the start of the new year but the cowboys couldn't move the cattle back until March. This delay meant the calves were bigger and the cowboys needed extra hands for a smooth and efficient branding.
As the spring sun continues to shine and more and more acres of the Rancho begin to dry, it seems as if headquarters has been brought back to life. Row crop and orchard farmers are busy mapping out their later-than-expected planting schedule. Although the timeline is tight we are set to have a successful and abundant year. For more imagery of the Rancho's flooding season be sure to watch a video here.