Wednesday, July 1, 2015

An Independence Day Plea...

Wildfire is a constant concern during summer in the foothills.  Please be careful....

http://sacramentovalley.org/stories/living-with-wildfire/

Monday, June 29, 2015

Stockmanship Notes: Correction vs. Punishment

I spent Saturday morning at the California 4-H Classic Horse Show in Elk Grove watching my youngest daughter, Emma, show her pony.  Emma's good friend Anna showed her horse, Cash.  Without going into great detail, both girls did well - and both had some challenges.  At one point, our conversation turned to what could have gone better in a particular class (as conversations inevitably go at horse shows!), and to who was to blame - the rider or the horse.  I asked Emma and Anna to explain the difference between correcting their horses and punishing them.  They struggled to answer my question, and I realized how difficult this is for me - and for most people who strive to become better stockmen (and women).

Punishment, to my thinking, involves memory and emotion.  The punished must remember what he or she did to merit the punishment.  The punisher, in my experience, is upset about the transgression suffered at the hands of the punished - and this emotion is directly conveyed.  Correction, on the other hand, must happen in the moment to be effective - and it must be done without emotion (as much as possible).

My experience with dogs, I think, may provide some illustration.  Here some examples of punishments that I've tried.  When housebreaking a puppy, I have (on occasion) stepped in a pile of puppy poop that was deposited long before my foot found it.  I've grabbed the puppy, shoved his nose in the pile, and put him outside - scolding him all the while.  I was mad (who wouldn't be with dog poop on his foot), but I'm certain the puppy had no idea why I was mad.  With my working dogs, I've watched a dog nip at a sheep's flank - entirely inappropriate behavior.  After the fifth or sixth time, I've called the dog to me - with an angry voice - and chewed him out.  You can guess how keen he was to come to me the next time - he obeyed (by coming to me) and got punished for it!

Now let's move on to correction.  For a correction to be effective, it must happen precisely when the undesired behavior is occuring.  Again, using working dogs as an example, when I'm training a young dog to go around sheep, he will sometimes dive in too close to the flock.  A harsh "uh-uh" will often interupt the inappropriate behavior.  A correction, at least with an animal (and I suspect with other people) is simply a way to communicate, "I don't like what you're doing right now - please try something different."  With dogs, if they've realized that I've given a correction and have tried something different, I immediately reward them - usually by letting them continue to work (the ultimate reward for a border collie).  Even if the different thing the dog tried isn't exactly what I wanted, I reward the dog for trying.

In many ways, working with horses is similar.  I'll often see a rider (including myself, I'm afraid) punishing a horse for misbehaving.  The rider is angry (emotion), and he tries to convey this anger through physical discomfort (and even pain) administered to the horse.  The horse, meanwhile, has no idea what triggered this outburst.  Correction, on the other hand, can be administered respectfully and in the moment.  This requires us as horsemen (and women) to be aware of subtleties.  My friend John Erksine, who trains farm horses in the Pacific Northwest, put it this way to me: "You've got to be totally calm and totally present to train a horse."  I love that perspective - and I've found that I have only made progress - with horses and dogs - when I'm calm and entirely in the moment with my animals.  When I'm distracted, things fall apart!

Finally, punishment is often administered in our own language - which animals rarely understand fully.  Punishment, at least when I've administered it, seems to require a loud voice and colorful language.  My canine and equine partners know that something's wrong, because their human partner is about to pop a vein!  I'm certain they are thinking, "What has he done now, and why is yelling at me about it?!"  Correction, on the other hand, requires us to find common language.  I'll sometimes growl at my dogs - their mothers growl at them when they are displeased, so I feel like maybe it's more understandable for them - and it seems to work.  With horses, I try a similar approach - I think about how other horses would convey correction.  Humans, because we have the "gift" of speech, seem to be far less perceptive when it comes to nonverbal communication - the types of cues our animals perceive.  I just know that I have much more to learn about this!  How exciting!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Californication

I can't remember when I first heard the term, "Californication," but I can remember that it came up in a conversation with my uncle Doug, who lives in Walla Walla, Washington.  I'm sure he didn't coin the term, but he did use it correctly: it refers to the way in which Californians seem to ruin parts of the rural West through overdevelopment.  This week, I've driven with my oldest daughter, Lara, through northern Nevada, eastern Idaho and western Montana on our way to visit Montana State University in Bozeman.  Our travels have given me the opportunity to think about, and to some extent, observe the process of Californication in the intermountain West.

On our first day out, we crossed northern Nevada on I-80, turned north on Highway 93 at Wells, and stayed the night at Jackpot.  I always enjoy spending time in the Great Basin.  While the geography might seem monontonous to some, to me, the landscape and skyscape offer rewards if I observe carefully.  As we drove east from Winnemucca, we started seeing ranchland - cows, hayfields and meadows.  We also saw evidence - past and present - of mineral extraction.  What we didn't see, though, was ranchette development.  Californians like to think that 10 or 20 acres qualifies their property as a "ranch."  In Nevada, 10 or 20 acres might feed a cow for a couple of weeks.  I don't think most Californian's are tough enough to Californicate in the Great Basin!

On our second day, we drove through southeastern Idaho up to West Yellowstone, Montana.  From there, we proceeded through the western edge of Yellowstone National Park, down the Gallatin River, and into Bozeman.  Our first clue that we were in ranch country came when we got on the interstate in Twin Falls, Idaho.  We crossed a cattle guard at the end of the on-ramp, and were greeted by an 80 mph speed limit sign.  Lara remarked, "I guess we're not in California anymore!"

Southeastern Idaho is farm country - center pivots, big-bale alfalfa, grain and potatoes - we could have even stopped at the Potato Museum on our drive north!  To an agriculturist, the landscape is beautiful, but again, I didn't see much in the way of ranchettes!  Not much Californication south of Ashton, Idaho, either.

From Ashton to West Yellowstone, the world turned green and lush.  As we crossed into Montana, we drove along the Henry's Fork of the Snake River - and passed a number of campgrounds and resorts.  We also started to see large homes and real estate signs.  North of West Yellowstone, after we left the park, we saw more "cabins" - fancier than any home I've ever lived in.  Over the next several days, as we explored Bozeman, we saw more evidence of ranchette development - extravegant homes on "large" acreages with horse pastures, ponds and swimming pools.

Bozeman itself was beautiful - for a grass farmer, seeing unirrigated verdant meadows in mid-June seemed like a luxury.  If winter wasn't a dirty word for some of my family, I could move to the Gallatin Valley in a heartbeat - it looked like a rancher's dream.  The town was a mix between Davis, California, and Walla Walla - a college town that seemed mindful and proud of its agricultural roots.  People were friendly everywhere we went.  Lara remarked that it wasn't too hippy, but it was hippy enough - and there were still pickups with dogs in the back and guys in Wranglers and boots in town.

On the first morning, I picked up a real estate paper to check ranch prices.  Based on the asking prices and advertising, I think Bozeman may be on the way to Californication.  I guess this is just another way of saying that gentrification is happening in some of the prettiest spots in the West.  Those of us who are attracted to a place primarily because of its agricultural potential are out competed by the wealthy second-homers and vacationers.  Such a cultural shift can't help but change a community in the long run.

Of the places we visited, there were a number where I could live, I think - Ennis, Montana; Tetonia, Idaho; Ruby Valley, Nevada (among others).  The attributes I found attractive - lush meadows, clear rivers, stunning mountains - are attractive to many folks.  This attraction, if left unchecked, can change a place - Tahoe and Truckee come to mind.  In loving a place for its beauty and not for its productivity, we change that place.  I wish I knew how to change this pattern.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Makes a Dad Proud

This past Saturday, we weaned this year's lambs.  By "we," I mean my sheep partner Roger and my daughters Lara and Emma - and our canine partners, Mo and Ernie.  Fewer sheep meant the day went quickly - but the work also went fast because of our systematic approach and our ever-improving skill levels.  The work also went fast because my girls are becoming damn good helpers!

After we gathered the ewes and lambs into the corrals, Roger reminded us all that we should take a few minutes to talk about what we needed to do and about the roles each of us would fill.  I get impatient sometimes, but this brief "timeout" is always time well spent.  We decided that Roger and I would apply ear tags and inject vaccines, while Lara would load ear tag applicators and syringes.  Emma decided she wanted to be the clerk - she identified lamb ownership and wrote down permanent ear tag numbers.

At that point, we began putting sheep through the alley and cut gate - ewes went one direction, while lambs went another.  With the help of the dogs, the sorting went quickly - even more so with the help of Lara and Emma.  We've always emphasized low-stress stockmanship and the use of animal behavior to work our sheep.  Both girls are very intuitive stock-people - they know where and when to apply pressure to the flock, and where and when to back off.  As a Dad, I enjoyed watching them work!

Once the sheep were sorted and the ewes were moved to a more secure holding pen, we worked the lambs.  We then put the lambs back through the corrals and ran each of them over the scale to get a weaning weight.  Emma and Lara split the duties of recording weights on the computer and helping move lambs through the corrals.  When we finished, Roger looked at his clock - we'd gathered, weaned, ear-tagged, vaccinated and weighed nearly 100 lambs in less than 2-1/2 hours!

Both of my girls have reached the age and skill level where they can be very helpful with this type of work.  With their increasing skill comes efficiency and enjoyment - Saturday was a very enjoyable day - at least for me, and I think for Lara and Emma, too!  As a Dad, I can't describe the pride I take in watching my kids anticipate what needs to be done - and then do the work well.  Saturday was a great day!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Flying Mule Sheep Company

Because of drought and related factors, Flying Mule Farm is transforming its commercial sheep operation to a small-scale demonstration flock.  Our new entity, Flying Mule Sheep Company, will focus on public and sheep producer education and the demonstration of grass-based production practices.  Specifically, we will demonstrate the following:


  • Development of a genetic base designed to optimize a low-input grass-based production (with little or no supplemental feed inputs).
  • Development of a grazing and nutrition management system that will result in a weaned lamb crop of 150 percent.
  • Development of a record-keeping and management system designed to optimize maternal characteristics (lambing ease, lamb vigor, mothering ability) in a pasture-based system.
  • Development of leasing considerations and leasing fact sheets for small-farm flocks.
  • Demonstration of desirable grass-fed carcass quality.
  • Demonstration of forage management, husbandry and marketing systems for small-scale, direct-market sheep producers.
  • Demonstration of low-stress stockmanship techniques and handling systems.
  • Demonstration of the use of guardian and stock dogs in a small-farm flock.
  • Demonstration of water-efficient irrigation technology for foothill ranchers.
  • Demonstration of predator-friendly management systems.
  • Public outreach on a variety of topics, including meat and fiber production, targeted grazing, stockmanship and predator control.

This project will continue to evolve, so stay tuned!  Look for workshops, field days, articles (and yes, more blog posts)!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Technology vs. Biology

Last month, I was invited to speak about our approach to protecting our sheep from predators at the Central Coast Rangeland Coalition spring meeting near Carmel.  The entire workshop was devoted to examining non-lethal approaches to protecting domestic livestock from predators like coyotes, mountain lions and wolves.  As I listened to other speakers, and to my fellow ranchers asking perceptive questions about non-lethal approaches, I began to feel that modern livestock production could be divided into two approaches: technological management versus biological management.  In other words, managing land and livestock using a linear, mechanical approach versus managing these elements by striving to understand and adapt to living systems.

From the standpoint of protecting our sheep from predators, we've tried to take the approach of living with predators rather than eradicating them.  Our entire management system has been devised to fit our sheep into their rangeland environment, rather than imposing them on it.  We move our animals frequently, just as wild grazing animals would move in response to predator pressure.  We use electric fences to discourage predators and protect our sheep, and we use livestock guardian dogs fill the ecological niche that would otherwise be filled by coyotes or other predators.  And we select ewes that give birth to active, vigorous lambs and that are protective of their offspring.

During the workshop, I learned that predator eradication systems can often increase predator pressure.  Coyotes, for example, will increase their reproductive rates when one of the alpha pair is killed.  When a dominant animal is killed, the subordinate animals in that group will begin to reproduce as they attempt to replace the dominate animal.  Killing an alpha, in other words, increases the number of coyotes.  While I don't have any direct experience with wolves, I've read that a similar dynamic exists.  The technological approach of killing all predators (whether they are killing livestock or not), it seems, can create more predator pressure in some situations.

A similar dichotomy exists in our approaches to stockmanship, I think.  A mechanical, or technological, approach to stockmanship relies on force and fear.  With enough people, dogs, horses, etc., we can make cattle or sheep go through a gate, walk up an alley, or load into a trailer.  A biological approach, in contrast, seeks to understand and use animal (and human) behavior to manage livestock.  Bud Williams, who helped countless livestock producers understand and implement low-stress stockmanship techniques, put it this way:

The "old" [mechanical/technological] way of handling livestock: "I'm going to MAKE that animal do what I want."

The "new" [biological] way of handling livestock: "I'm going to LET that animal do what I want."

The "new" approach requires us to study livestock behavior.  If we're using dogs and/or horses to help us in this approach, it requires us to study inter-species communication (as I've written previously in "Thoughtful Stockmanship").

At least for me, these opposing approaches come down to our approach to life, in some ways.  With the amazing technology we have today at our fingertips, I think it's easy to assume that we have all of the answers.  The biological approach to managing land in livestock, by contrast, requires that we keep asking questions.  When something doesn't work as planned, the biological approach requires us to ask why - whereas the technological approach pushes harder, works faster - and yells louder.  When we find a coyote-killed ewe, if we use the technological approach, we kill any coyote we see.  If we use the biological approach, we try to figure out what we could do differently to prevent future conflict.  Again, Bud Williams sheds light on this topic.  The technological approach says, "That miserable, no-good ornery ewe (missed the gate, charged me, ran through the fence, etc.).  The biological approach says, "What did I do to cause the animal to react that way?"  Answers imply certainty - questions acknowledge uncertainty.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Playing a Kid's Game

As an extremely middle-aged but lifelong baseball fan, I no longer think of professional ballplayers as heroes.  As the late Jim Murray wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "If you think baseball isn't a business, then General Motors is a sport."  But one of the things that keeps me watching - and mostly listening - to baseball, is that there seem to be players who remember that they are getting payed to play a kids' game.  There are still players who, despite being millionaires, seem to realize that they are pretty damn lucky to be where they are.

Hunter Pence has played right field for two world champion San Francisco Giants teams.  He's fun to watch - he does everything at full speed.  And he doesn't seem to take himself too seriously (just google Hunter's Hitters for proof).  During spring training this year, he was hit by a pitch on the forearm, fracturing a bone.  After starting the regular season on the disabled list, he started a rehab stint with the Giants' Triple A club, the Sacramento RiverCats.  And thanks to our friends Steve Nichols and Claudia Smith, my family got to attend last night's game.  We arrived during batting practice, and our girls joined a large group of fans beyond the home dugout waiting to see Pence.  When the rest of the Sacramento club came out to warm up on the field, Pence jogged down to the home plate area and started signing autographs for a group of little leaguers who had been part of an earlier parade.  He made his way slowly down the third base line, signing baseballs, caps, and other memorabilia.  He spent at least 20 minutes signing autographs, including for both of our girls!

Like in most situations like this, I'm sure, some of the autograph-seekers had economic motives.  Some were pushy adults.  Most, though, were kids who just wanted to be close enough to a big leaguer to have him sign something.  My oldest daughter, Lara, said that he made eye contact with everyone for whom he signed something, and that he seemed to seek out the little kids who had been waiting patiently for him.  Lara got a signed Giants cap, and Emma got a signed game ticket.  They were both pretty excited (as was their Dad)!

Pence's performance during the actual game wasn't as noteworthy - he popped out, struck out with runners on base, and reached on a throwing error.  He was then thrown out at home trying to score the tying run on a ground ball to first.  From where we sat (and we had great seats!), he looked safe - but he hopped up smiling and jogged to the dugout.  It's also worth noting that he wore number 9 for Sacramento (rather than his customary number 8).  I'm sure as he could have demanded that the player wearing 8 for Sacramento give up his number - but he didn't.

Baseball, even at the professional level, is a humbling game.  The best hitters in the history of the game made outs 60-70 percent of the time.  Last year's World Series MVP, Madison Bumgarner, only lasted 5 innings in last night's Giants' loss to the Florida Marlins.  And Hunter Pence went 0-for-3 against minor league pitchers.  But it was refreshing to see a multi-millionaire professional athlete acknowledge that he was getting paid to play a game.  No other professional sport, in my opinion, has the pacing and accessibility that allows fans and players to interact like baseball.  Take me out to the ballgame - any day!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Embracing Complexity

In California’s ongoing conversation about drought, we seem to look for simple answers to an incredibly complicated problem.  Lauren Michele’s piece (“Why knock almonds? Alfalfa uses more water) in the April 26, 2015 edition of California Forum is no exception – “Californians need to lay off the cheeseburgers, and the media needs to lay off the almonds,” Michele concludes.  In other words, California could solve its water crisis if we’d stop raising cattle and growing alfalfa.  But like most matters concerning water and agriculture, reality is far more complex than Michele would have us believe.

Michele begins her piece by citing oft repeated – and incorrect – “data” regarding the water required to produce beef.  In California, beef cattle spend the majority of their lives on rangeland – land that by definition is not  irrigated.  Much of this water, then, is rainfall that grows grass – not irrigation water.  Those of us who rely on grasslands watered by rainfall have faced “reductions” in our water supply each of the last four years – simply because we didn’t receive our normal precipitation.  In general terms, we've only grown two-thirds of our normal grass this year.  Most of us have adjusted by selling livestock.

Much of California’s water originates on or flows across rangeland that is used for sheep and cattle production.  Grazing, as a land use, is an important factor in maintaining habitat diversity and connectivity, in managing invasive species (like yellow starthistle), and in reducing wildfire threat.  Eliminate rangeland livestock production and we lose these critical ecosystem services.

Alfalfa, from an economic standpoint, may indeed contribute less value to California’s economy than almonds.  From an environmental perspective however, alfalfa is an important crop.  It is often grown in long-term rotation with other crops; as a legume, it naturally fixes nitrogen in the soil, which reduces the need for fertilizer applications.  When alfalfa is irrigated, the water that is not taken up by the plant helps recharge groundwater supplies or flows back to surface water where it can be used for agricultural or environmental benefit downstream.

In the meantime, we have been planting almonds and other permanent crops on rangelands that were not previously irrigated.  Technological and cultural advancements have made it possible to grow (and irrigate) crops on land that could only grow grass in years past.  As Michele suggests, these decisions are largely economic – an unirrigated acre of grass provides a net return of $1.02 to a rancher, while an acre of irrigated almonds provides a net return of $195.  However, these economic figures don’t answer questions about where the irrigation water comes from, or what happens during times of drought.  An acre of grass during drought can still be grazed; an acre of almonds must be irrigated to survive – and this irrigation water is often groundwater.

We seem to be entering an era of increased uncertainty regarding our climate and our water supply.  This uncertainty is more complicated than it would have been a generation ago; California’s growing population makes divvying up the water “pie” difficult even in normal years.  Resolving conflicts over water use will require us to accept – and embrace – the complexity of the issue.  Simply favoring one crop over another based on water use doesn’t move us down that path.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

From Anxiety to Resignation

Last night, we measured 1.15 inches of rain in Auburn.  The Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center (where I take care of cattle and pastures) picked up 0.71" of rain.  While the precipitation is a welcome break in our warmer-than-normal springtime weather, it doesn't have much more significance than that.  Our annual grasses, for the most part, have already matured and won't grow any more even with this rain.  In our irrigated pastures, this weather will slow evapotranspiration (the demand for water from plants and evaporation) temporarily, but we still need to irrigate.  And so the year marches on - we're quickly approaching our "normal" summer dry period.  My winter-time anxiety about drought has turned into resignation that we are coping with a fourth dry year.

Despite the above-average rainfall we received last December, I remained worried about drought.  In some respects, I felt like the boy who cried wolf - I kept thinking (and saying), "This drought's not over."  In early January, our local water agencies told us that their private weather forecasts were indicating above average precipitation through the end of March.  But forecasting the weather is a chancy business - even for paid professionals!  January turned out to be the driest on record (we measured a whopping 0.01" of rain for the month).  By the end of March, our total rainfall was similar to last year's disappointing total - and the snowpack was the worst on record.  The April 1 snow survey for our watershed indicated that we had just 4 percent of normal for that date.  The Nevada Irrigation District reported that it's snowpack was the smallest - by far - in its 94-year history.  The boy who cried wolf turned out to have seen a whole pack of them!

For farmers and ranchers, drought induces constant worry.  I think about the drought's consequences every day.  Will we have enough grass for the sheep and cows this spring?  (We did, but barely). Will our summer irrigation water be cut? (Probably not). Will it be more expensive?  (Yes). Will we have enough dry grass to graze next fall before the rains come again?  (I'm not sure). Will our native oak trees survive a fourth year of drought?  (We're seeing drought stress in some blue oaks at SFREC). Will we have pest problems because of the warm winter?  (We did last year). Will the continued dry weather result in infestations of weeds like yellow starthistle and medusahead barley?  (Again, I'm not sure). Intellectually, I realize that worrying won't make it rain, but emotionally I find that I can't help but worry.

But as we head into our normal dry season, I find that my anxiety is turning into resignation.  We're not likely to get much more rain until next autumn (and even if we do, it won't help much).  My worry about the dry winter has transitioned to worry about hot weather and fire danger, but hot weather and wildfire are part of every summer in Northern California.  While my sharp daily anxiety about the immediate consequences of the drought is giving way to a dull worry in the back of my mind that we're at the front end of a long-term dry period, at least I know what I have to work with this summer.  We'll try to manage our sheep and cattle grazing to make it through until next fall's rain.      We'll stretch this summer's irrigation water as far as it will go by installing new, more efficient equipment.  In other words, we'll try to live with what we have - and I'll take a break from worrying about rain until next October!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Profit and the Nature of Farming

Since Governor Brown announced mandatory reductions in urban water uses earlier this month,  he has repeatedly emphasized that agriculture has already taken a significant reduction in water availability.  He's also made the point that using water to grow food is different than using it to grown lawns (for a similar perspective, check out this NPR story).  Despite the Governor's attempts to educate the public about agriculture, many of our urban neighbors (aka, customers) have railed about "big ag" using too much water.  I've read statements on line that even suggest that profit is not an appropriate motive for farming, especially if you're exporting some of the crop you grow - I guess we should farm and ranch simply for the satisfaction of feeding our neighbors.  Unfortunately, this satisfaction doesn't pay my mortgage.

For me, this begs the question, "What do we mean by 'big ag'?"  Is this about the type of ownership?  There are extremely large farming operations (in excess of 100,000 acres) that are privately held.  There are much smaller operations that are owned by family corporations to facilitate passing the ranch to the next generation.  Perhaps ownership isn't a good (or at least the only) criteria we should consider.  Is it the size of operation?  I worked for a 3,900-acre diversified farm last year that produced lamb, wool, several types of small grains, and winegrapes.  Sounds like a large operation, right?  It is managed by the husband-and-wife owners and 4 employees and operates on very thin margins - doesn't sound like "big ag" to me.

Ultimately, those of us who farm and ranch commercially are business people.  Without profit, businesses are not sustainable.  Dave Pratt, who teaches a Ranching for Profit school, puts it this way: "Profit is to business as breathing is to life."  In other words, profit isn't the reason that I ranch, but it's crucial if I hope to continue ranching.

In the context of water use, I think the discussion of big versus small gets further complicated.  I suspect that larger farms have more financial capacity for investing in water-conserving irrigation systems.  While there are cost-share programs available for improving water conservation, the capital outlay required is still significant.  I'm curious as to whether a 1,000-acre row crop or orchard is more water efficient than 100 10-acre operations.  I don't know the answer, but it's a question we should be asking.

Additionally, our society, through non-governmental organizations, government agencies, and the market place, has told farmers that we'd rather they grow high-value crops (like trees and grapevines) than low value crops (like pasture, alfalfa, field corn and row crops) because these high-value crops are more water efficient.  Is it legitimate, then, for us to squawk when we find out that these high-value crops have export value?  How do we account for the fact that these high value crops take huge investments in development - investments that may price smaller-scale operations out of the market?  How do we account for the fact that these products must be marketed at scale to be profitable?  What happens during drought?  An alfalfa or tomato grower - or a pasture-based sheep operator like me - can fallow land if water is not available.  What would you do if your $50,000/acre investment (just in trees and infrastructure - not including land) was at risk because of lack of water?  Would you let the trees die and start over?  If I had the wherewithal, I'd probably pump water.

These considerations are similar for ranchers.  I've written extensively about how hard it's been to sell sheep in this drought.  My friend Deneane Glazier Ashcraft, who operates North Valley Farms Chèvre (a goat dairy) in Cottonwood, recently said:

"I don't know if anyone who doesn't raise livestock can understand what it is like to have to sell off animals that took decades of careful breeding to assemble.  For many shepherds and herdsmen, the herd represents their "body of work". Much thought and monetary investment has gone into creating groups of animals that work in specific grazing and feeding management scenarios. Even non-animal ag folks don't understand the attachment an accomplished herdsman has to the animals.  And there is little understanding of the cost involved in caring properly for the herd.  Many think we should be happy in the "glow"  and "satisfaction" of being part of the land and producing food for our communities.  That is what drives many of us, but we of the working classes are also dependent on the streams of modest income that result from our endeavors.  I think unless people have had the experience of the morning the truck comes to load and take away "the body of work" they can't relate.  
All of this brings me back to the uproar about mandatory urban water cutbacks and the sense that farmers are getting an unfair "pass" from water restrictions.  Since this drought began, farmers and ranchers have been coping with water cutbacks.  We've had to make hard decisions - about selling animals, letting trees die, laying off employees.  As I told someone last week, I love the lilacs that I've planted around our home.  They probably won't get much water this summer, and some of them may not survive.  That said, for me at least, there is something more fundamental to human existence about using water to produce food and fiber.  I'll willingly stop watering my yard if it means I (and my farmer and rancher colleagues) can continue to produce food and fiber.  Again, Deneane Glazier Ashcraft says it more eloquently:
"And as hard as it is for some of us to understand the other end, their pain of not being able to shower for an hour, tolerating an ugly lawn and dirty car and feeling wounded relative to handing over the "dead presidents" to some farmer at the farmer's market who they perceive as a millionaire, is as acute and painful for that individual.  It is a different frame of reference.  Therein lie the stumbling blocks to solving our problems."
If we can get beyond the finger-pointing, perhaps this drought will force us as a society to come to terms with what we want our food system to look like.