Last Saturday, we embarked on a 24 hour trip to Walden Ranch located in Linden just 20 minutes from Stockton. We drove through a quiet country road with walnut and cherry tree farms still bare without blossoms or leaves.
Turning into the property, we saw our first sign of cattle. A young cow who seemed to have escaped through the fence seemed to taunting us to chase it. As we drove deeper into the ranch we saw the sign “Alan’s Grove” where we turned left into the campsite. The campsite was in a grove of trees facing out to a glistening pond on one end and a large barn with a tin roof. We plopped ourselves close by the pond. First order of business was to make some carne asada tacos and then — set up our home for the night.
Alan, the owner dropped by and asked if we wanted to help feed the cows. The extent of animal feeding that I’ve done is hand feeding pigs/alpacas/goats vegetables. He explained that we would be feeding hay to the cows out of a moving trailer. We didn’t have much planned for the trip during the day— our go to activities would have been take a nap or read a book. So — Yes!
The barn was literally a vault of hay. Alan explained that a few weeks ago he had fallen from a stack and broke his ribs. I couldn’t help but ask how old he was — 81. Yikes! Each bale of hay is 120 lbs. The farm helper used Captain Hook hands to hoist each bale onto the trailer. As we loaded onto the trail on top of hay we pushed unraveled slices of hay off the trailer. Cows upon cows were approaching us.
Unfortunately, the advertised 23 MPH winds that we had been worried about did not pair well with my fleece jacket. Hay seemed to have caught on all parts of my jacket as if it were a hay magnet. Nonetheless, it was worth it. That day they pointed out two mama cows that just gave birth to their calves without human intervention. Cows were flocking towards us and soon the trailer was just empty except with humans and dogs.The horizon was clear and wide and we saw parts of Tahoe, Yosemite and Sonora Hills in the distance.
The farm helper we met was named Brian. He explained to us that he was from San Francisco and in exchange for staying at the camp site he helped Alan out on the farm. Two years ago, he had camped at Walden Ranch through Hipcamp and thoroughly enjoyed his stay. His job in SF was managing the food concessions at the Giants stadium. With the pandemic putting games on hold, he decided to take some time off away to help on the farm. He had won $3,000 at the casino just yesterday and was planning on investing it into the stock market. Brian was so nice — he collected 18 eggs for us and Alan asked us to help ourselves to the tangerine tree by the house. We learned that Alan is a retired English school teacher and Alan constantly corrects Brian’s grammar.
I asked Alan what it is like to own a cattle ranch. He says they feed the cows hay from the months of October through March. The rest of the months the cows graze on the grass. He keeps tabs on the cows and sells them when they are one year old and he tends to keep the nicer ones for breeding. He did mention that he has a soft heart and sometimes he tends to keep them longer than they are marketable— for instance he still owns Buster an abnormally friendly 20-year-old steer.
We strolled the ranch with a beer. One of the mama cow’s with her day old calf kept tracking us even while we many yards away. That evening, we made military stew and watched the full moon rise in the east and get higher in the sky as the night progressed. We stayed close by the fire. We heard owls, geese, roosters, and I think even coyotes late into the night.
By the time we got home we were SO exhausted. It was a good tired. We learned a few things — bring more shoes than just slip-ons it’s awkward walking the farm, keep hot water in the tent (gosh, it’s cold in the morning), bring some whisky to keep us warm in the evening, and don’t wear a fleece when feeding cows. I know I felt present and didn’t think much about life back home. We left feeling more connected and knowing we made a friend or two or three.