on the road

on the road

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Fire Relief Fundraiser

So many people in Northern California have been impacted by this week's devastating wildfires, including many of our farming and ranching friends in the Sierra foothills. We'd like to make a very small effort to help out these farms and ranches by donating a whole lamb, cut-and-wrapped, with all of the proceeds going to the Nevada County Farm Bureau's fire relief efforts.

To make a bid, simply go to our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/flyingmulefarm) and enter your bid as a comment. If you'd like to make a contribution, send me an email at flyingmulefarm@gmail.com. Thanks! And please share this info with your friends and family! Every little bit helps!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Happy New Year - Sheep New Year, that is!

Sheep-raising, like most agricultural endeavors, follows the seasons. In the Sierra foothills, where we graze sheep, our best forage is in the springtime - and so we match our production system to the grass. In other words, we time our management calendar so that lambs are born when the grass is growing rapidly - we match supply with demand in our system. Since sheep are pregnant for 145-155 days, and since we want our ewes to start lambing when rapid grass growth begins in late February, we turn the rams in with the ewes around October 1.

For us, the act of putting rams with the ewes feels like the first day of a new Sheep Year. The lambs born in 2017 are weaned; most of them have been sold. After weaning, the ewes go back onto dry forage for the summer. Around September 1, we put them on irrigated pasture and feed them grain to "flush" them - to get them ready for breeding. And yesterday, we put the rams back with the ewes for 6 weeks of ovine procreation. Happy New Year!

Here's a short video blog about what the last couple of days have entailed:


Monday, September 25, 2017

52 Weeks of Sheep #4 - All About Flushing

Since we're offering a workshop on Friday focusing on preparing sheep for breeding season, this seemed like a timely vlog post!


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

52 Weeks of Sheep - Week 3

Check out this week's vlog post - all about irrigating with K-Line!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Gourmet Sheepherders

I have the honor of serving as the vice president of the California Wool Growers Association - the oldest livestock organization in the state. I recently asked my fellow officers, all of whom are of Basque heritage, to share their favorite lamb recipes. I can't wait to try them!

I should say that most of the sheep ranchers I know gravitate towards the lower priced cuts of lamb. That's not to say we don't enjoy a good rack of lamb or loin chop when we have the chance; rather, I suspect that most of us would rather sell these expensive cuts - or save them for special occasions.

Here are the recipes they shared!

Ryan Indart, President
Ryan and his family farm and ranch in Fresno County. I've always wanted a recipe for Basque beans - can't wait to try this one! He says its a combination of recipes from Wool Growers Basque Restaurant in Bakersfield and Louie's Basque Corner in Reno - two of my favorite places to eat!

Basque Beans
Ingredients
1-1/2 bags dried kidney and pinto beans
1/3 cup bacon or salt pork
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
8 oz can tomato sauce
1/2 tsp dried thyme/oregano/basil
pinch red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
3 cups water or beer/wine mixture
2 cups beef stock
3/4 lbs boneless pork (cubed)
3/4 lbs ham steak w/ bone
1 bay leaf
1/2 lb Spanish or Mexican chorizo or linguisa
Lamb stew meat

Soak beans overnight or do a quick soak (google it!). Rinse beans and return to pot. Add enough water to cover 3/4 inches. Bring to a boil over high and then reduce to a simmer for 2 hours. While beans are cooking, cook boneless pork, bacon, lamb stew meat, and chorizo for a few minutes (don't cook all the way) along with onions and garlic - use white wine and butter. After the beans have cooked 1 hour, stir in the meat/garlic/onion mix, along with tomato sauce, thyme/oregano/basil, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cook for one more hour and let rest. Eat the next day.

Sheep Camp Stew
Ryan says he makes this recipe during lambing season.




































Lamb Shanks or Ribs
Ryan says this is one of his favorite recipes!

Ed Anchordoguy, Secretary/Treasurer
Ed raises sheep in Sonoma County - and he's the money guy for our association! He sent the following recipes:

"Two very simple ones which you probably know. Leg of Lamb- Cut Rosemary into small sprigs and skin gloves of garlic.  Make holes in leg with a knife and stuff both a sprig of Rosemary and a clove of garlic into each hole.  Make holes all over both sides of leg.  Put salt and pepper on the outside of leg if you want and either bbq or put in oven. Lamb Chops- Chop up rosemary and garlic gloves in a Mezzaluna wood bowl with Mezzaluna knife until you dice it all into almost a paste.  You can also create the same paste in a blender or food processor.  You can add salt and pepper if you want.  Put the mash on thick on one side of the lamb chop (loin is best of course, lamb steaks work well also), the side with paste up on the bbq.  If you are putting them in oven you can do both sides.  You just don’t want it to burn much, just crispy.  There is a small company in Clovis called The Basque Co.  They make a Meat Tenderizer- BBQ Sauce which is excellent to marinate any cut of lamb.  I have been using it for years.  You can buy it in most major grocery stores.  You can also order it directly from the source and have it shipped to you.  They also make a great Seafood Marinade." [Note: We've used this marinade for years - it's our favorite for just about every kind of meat!]

Ed also forwarded this recipe - he says that once his friends have tried it, they always ask for it again!





























Frankie Itturia, Immediate Past President
Frankie and his family graze sheep in the Bakersfield area and along the east side of the Sierra. He preceded Ryan as CWGA President. Frankie's dad, Paco, was CWGA President when I worked for the California Cattlemen's Association more than 20 years ago (which, as I like to remind my cattleman friends, is the second oldest livestock organization in the state!). Frankie shared a number of great recipes from the Bo-Peep cookbook put out in Kern County several years ago!










































































I think I'll need to acquire one of those cookbooks!

Finally, I'll share one of my family's favorite recipes. As the only non-Basque member of our current officer team - and as the only Scotch-Irish-German (and other various ethnicities) officer, I thought I'd share a decidedly non-Basque recipe! My family usually has this on Christmas Eve.

Scotch Broth
(Adapted from the Fannie Farmer cookbook)

3 lbs lamb breast or neck slices
8 cups cold water
1/2 cup barley
3 TBS butter
2 carrots, diced fine
2 stalks celery, diced fine
2 small white turnips or rutabagas, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced fine
Salt
Freshly ground pepper

Remove most of the fat from the meat and cut into small pieces. Put it in a pot with the cold water. Bring to a boil and stir in the barley. Simmer, partially covered, for 1-1/2 hours, or until the meat and barley are tender, adding more water if any evaporates. Remove the meat from the bones. Cool the soup and skim off the fat. Melt the butter in a skillet and add the carrots, celery, turnip (or rutabaga), and onion. Cook over low heat, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Add to the soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook for another 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Serve piping hot.

What's your favorite lamb recipe!? I challenge all of my fellow sheep producers (foreign and domestic!) to share a recipe in the comments section! Let's have some fun with this!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

52 Weeks of Sheep: #1

Here's my first attempt at vlogging! Enjoy! And let me know if there are specific questions or topics you'd like me to cover in the next 51 weeks!



You can subscribe to my YouTube channel, too - flyingmulefarm!


Saturday, September 2, 2017

52 Weeks of Sheep - a New Video Blog

As a part-time shepherd with a day job, I've come to realize that I have an opportunity (perhaps, even, a responsibility) to talk about the day-to-day realities of raising sheep. Many of my full-time sheepherding colleagues don't have time to tell their stories; their days are consumed with caring for sheep. There are exceptions, obviously - be sure to check out these Instagram accounts of a few of my favorite California shepherds: @californiasheeprancher, @starcreeklandstewards, @wookeyranch, @humboldtherder, @skyelarkranch and @jaimegreywin!

Nearly 2 years ago, I started a project I called #Sheep365 - I took (and talked about) a photo of our sheep operation each day for a full year. I found it to be a fun - and challenging - project! Having something to say everyday is not as easy as it sounds (even for me).

This year, beginning this Saturday, I'm going to try something different. While I'll continue my written blog, I'm going to start a once-a-week video blog (or "vlog") focusing on whatever it is we're doing with the sheep. This week's installment is a short video clip about starting the process of flushing the ewes. Flushing means we put our breeding flock on a rising plane of nutrition, which increases ovulation and (subsequently) our lambing percentage. Today, we moved the ewes from dry annual rangeland near Hidden Falls Park west of Auburn to our irrigated pastures closer to town.

To follow my "52 Weeks of Sheep" project, follow me on Instagram at @flyingmulefarm. I'll also post links to my Flying Mule Farm Facebook page (at www.facebook.com/flyingmulefarm).


Friday, August 25, 2017

21st Century Shepherds in California!

In the 30 years we've raised sheep, we've sold sheep in lots of ways - in parts (as meat), directly to processors, through livestock auctions in Escalon and French Camp, and to our friends and neighbors. We've seen our lambs leave the ranch in our gooseneck trailer, in a pickup with stock racks, and in the back of a Subaru station wagon. In 2017, we're trying a new marketing technique: next month, we'll be offering a Shropshire ram lamb and two crossbred ewe lambs in the first ever California Wool Growers Association Online Niche/Specialty Breeds Sheep Sale! Welcome to the 21st century!

Just as this marketing technique is new to us, it's also new to the California Wool Growers Association. As vice president of the association, I feel like it's my obligation to support the sale! CWGA has long managed the California Ram Sale, a live auction that currently takes place in Porterville each April. This sale is focused on commercial range operations - some buyers may purchase 30-40 blackface or Rambouillet rams. Smaller scale producers (like us) don't typically have a use for that many rams, and these breeds don't typically fit our programs. This online sale is an exciting new way for CWGA to meet the needs of members like me!

Perhaps a bit of historical perspective is necessary - it occurs to me that some (most) of my readers don't know much (anything) about the California Wool Growers Association! CWGA was founded in 1860 - making it the oldest livestock organization in the state (which I take great relish in reminding my friends who are members of the California Cattlemen's Association). My predecessors in CWGA formed the organization to help market their wool - fiber was far more important than meat in the 19th Century! These forward-thinking sheep ranchers secured a ship to move their wool around the horn to the East Coast wool markets. I'm sure in their day, they were considered cutting-edge marketers!

Today, CWGA represents sheep producers of every stripe and scale in California. Most of the large-scale operations are members; increasingly, many of the small-scale outfits like ours are as well. We find strength in numbers - we can purchase vaccines, supplies and feed at a discount; we can work with our state legislators and regulators to address issues of concern. And we can sell sheep over the internet! After 157 years, we're still cutting edge!

Just in case you're in the market for crossbred ewe lambs or a Shropshire ram lamb, here's a few photos of the sheep we're offering!
A nice Suffolk/Hampshire ewe lamb - she'd
be a great ewe for a 4-H or FFA exhibitor!

This Suffolk/Hampshire ewe lamb was born
as a quadruplet! A great looking ewe!

One of our Shropshire ram lambs - if you know Shropshires in the U.S., you know Fred Groverman!
This lamb is 6 months old in this pic - and weighs 110 lbs on nothing but grass and hay! Great genetics -
and Fred is offering a group of Shropshire ewe lambs who would be a perfect match to this big guy!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Charlottesville 2017

Several years ago, I came across a letter that my dad sent to the editor of the Union Democrat newspaper in Sonora in 1968. As I was just over a year old, I didn't know about the letter at the time. His letter was sent in response to the assasination of Robert Kennedy in June 1968. My dad, a teacher in a rural school district in Northern California, advocated gun control in response to Kennedy's murder. I still stand in awe of my dad's courage in writing such a letter. I imagine his letter had ramifications for his career and for his relationships in his community - but he wrote it anyway. And so I must write this.

Times have changed, obviously (a letter to the editor seems almost quaint in light of the instant gratification of Facebook and Twitter). And yet I can't help but admire my dad's response as I consider my own feelings following the events in Charlottesville yesterday. And I can't help but remember my granddad (my dad's dad) who crawled into the tailgunner's turret of a B-29 based on Guam during World War 2. Much as my granddad fought the evil of his time (fascism), my dad fought the evil of his days (racism).

The violence that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, yesterday is reprehensible on all sides. That said, the white supremacists and Nazis that precipitated the violence must be held accountable. Had a person of color, or a Native American, or (God-forbid) a Muslim, driven a car into the crowd, we'd all be howling "terrorism." The fact that our government cannot (will not?) call the act of a white, Christian(?) young man terrorism frightens and angers me.

Perhaps a blog post isn't a particularly courageous act - it doesn't feel like much in light of this weekend's events. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to stake out my perspective on what happened on the other side of this continent yesterday. I feel compelled to call out racism and intolerance when I see it. I feel compelled to join my dad and my granddad in my own small way.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Descending Towards Autumn

I could never live somewhere that doesn’t have distinct seasons. I’ve enjoyed Hawaii and the Caribbean when I’ve visited, but the sameness of the seasons suggests that I wouldn’t enjoy living in those places. While some would argue that my part of the Sierra foothills doesn’t experience the seasonal extremes of places like the northern Rockies, Alaska, or the tip of South America, I do enjoy the distinct changes in light, weather and internal attitude that come with the changing of the seasons.

As I write this in mid August, I recognize that we’re still in the midst of summer. Even so, the changing light (and shortening days), the moderation of our sizzling July temperatures, and the fact that both of our daughters are (or will be soon) back in school confirms that we’ve started descending the backside of the calendar - autumn is just around the corner. At some point in the next several weeks, we’ll have a cool morning and a breezy, cool(ish) day that reminds me that fall really is approaching.

Autumn, for me, has always been a season of transition and juxtaposition. The cold nights and warm days of October transition to the stormy weather and colder nights of early December (we usually have our coldest mornings just after Thanksgiving, it seems). As we “fall” towards the closing of the year, I find myself taking stock of what I’ve accomplished over the last 10 months - agriculturally and otherwise. The lambs (most of them) are sold, so we know whether the year will be profitable (or not) in a financial sense.

This feeling of wrapping up, however, is contrasted by the new beginnings represented by the start of the school year. It’s further contrasted by our preparations for a new crop of lambs. In my childhood, school started after Labor Day; our youngest, Emma, started high school last Tuesday. Lara, our oldest, will start her second year of college at Montana State University at the end of this month. Also at the end of the month, we’ll move our ewes back to irrigated pasture and begin feeding them barley in preparation for turning the rams in with them in late September. While the shorter days, falling leaves, and sense of melancholy that autumn brings me, I always get excited about the new possibilities of a new school year and a new “sheep” year. In some respects, these contrasting emotions make autumn my favorite time of year - that and the knowledge that we’ll soon be past the 100-degree temperatures of summer!


Autumn, like every season, holds uncertainty for farmers and ranchers. As a shepherd who depends on grass, I enter every fall wondering when (if?) we’ll get a germinating rain that will get the grass growing. I wonder whether we’ll have an early cold spell that will put the new grass of autumn into early dormancy. As I grow older, I also recognize that the days seem to speed by ever more quickly - Lara’s four years of high school went by quickly; Emma’s are likely to seem even more brief. Even so, I always look forward to our annual descent towards autumn.