Today I am reporting on how beef and dairy prices are being affected by the drought, the heat, the price of gas, the price of corn (thanks, ethanol), the global markets, the alignment of Jupiter, the itch under my right foot, blah blah blah.
Mostly I wanted an excuse to get out of the office and go meet some real people on the farm. Most of you probably don't realize that California is farm country--it leads the nation in just about every crop. For this story I went up to the Central Valley (think "Grapes of Wrath") to talk to some ranchers.
Here's one thing I like about my job. Many people I meet think I am an idiot at first. They are right. But I end up winning them over by letting them know I'm in on the joke. I met veteran cattle rancher Jack Sparrowk at his ranch in Ione (pronounced EYE-own). That's right, it's not Jack Sparrow, it's Sparrowk. I almost called him Johnny Deppk, but stopped myself.
Sparrowk is tall, lean, sunburned, the whole Marlborough man thing without the phlegmy smoker's cough. As I walked up to introduce myself, he grabbed my hand to shake and said, "Very nice to meet you," in a way that seemed to say, "How long is this going to take?"
Then he asked, "Where are you from?" "Los Angeles," I replied with a grin. "Oh, we won't hold that against you." This, I am used to, and it's understandable. I told him, "Good. We prefer to be blissfully ignorant of what others think." He laughed.
I then proceeded to display my stupidity. When I pointed to some cattle and asked, "Are those steers?" (Thinking how impressed they would be that I would know what a steer is--a male which is castrated so he will "beef up"), the cowhand looked at me, paused, and said, "No, those are pregnant cows." Oh.
Later, at a dairy farm I did a "reporter standup," you know, where I talk on camera (see video below). It was done in front of some cows as I said, "It is 109 degrees out here and it is already affecting production. Each cow here is down a quarter gallon apiece." Which is true, except the cows I was standing in front of on camera were heifers! What is a heifer, you ask? A female who has yet to have a calf and therefore is not yet producing any milk at all! Oops! Wrong backdrop.
But the best moment of the day was when I was chatting with Jack Sparrowk, and I asked him how he decides when not to castrate a male, when to let him become a bull. He answered without missing a beat. "It's based in part on how big his testicles are." OH HO! GLAD I ASKED!
I had a great time on the farm, and, as I left, Sparrowk shook my hand again, this time with more warmth. He commented on my strong grip, and said with a twinkle in his seasoned blue eyes, "It's been a real pleasure talking to you."