Saturday, October 31, 2009

Lamb vs. Chocolate

I heard on NPR yesterday that every American consumes on average 24 pounds of candy each year. The most recent statistic for lamb consumption is less than 1 pound per person per year. Maybe this is why we have an obesity epidemic?

By the way - we're not giving out lamb to trick-or-treaters tonight!

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 26, 2009


We held the first of our annual planning meetings today with our local farm advisor, Roger Ingram. I try to spend some time at the end of each year evaluating the previous year and planning for the coming one. This year, we spent some time thinking about what went well and what needs improvement.

As we talked, I realized that one of my biggest challenges is to keep from spreading myself too thin. I truly enjoy raising sheep and marketing lamb. I also enjoy working in the woods (cutting firewood, milling lumber and making peeled poles). In 2010, I need to try to organize my work so that I spend my time as profitably as possible. As our sheep flock expands, this means more time irrigating pastures and managing our grazing operation.

Our interns, Julie and Courtney, also participated in today's meeting. I found their insights into our business (after nearly a year of direct participation) to be extremely helpful. I think they found the discussion to be a useful model in considering their own farming endeavors, too.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Grazing Trial

In early September, we planted triticale (a rye-wheat hybrid) and ryegrass in a small plot at one of our leased properties. To plant the seed, we broadcast it onto the ground and then fed 150 sheep and goats over it. We had the equivalent of 240 cows per acre on the site for a day and a half - they trampled the seed in very effectively.

After planting, our local farm advisor irrigated the plot diligently - in a week, we had newly sprouting grass. The rains over the last two weeks were perfectly timed.

Today - about 7weeks after we planted the seed - we put 90 head of sheep on the plot for 2 hours. Before turning the sheep in, we clipped to sample one-foot squares to determine the amount of feed on the site - I'm guessing we had close to 2 tons of grass per acre. It was beautiful! At a time of year when feed is generally in short supply, we successfully planted a pasture using nothing but livestock, a broadcast seeder, and electric fence. Pretty cool!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fall Coyotes and Guard Dogs

Fall is the bleakest time for predators, I think - there's not much around for the coyotes to eat. As a consequence, they seem to be spending more time near our sheep at night.

Last night, one of the folks who lives at our leased ranch heard coyotes about and our guard dogs barking. Buck, our oldest and most reliable guard dog (a Pyr-Anatolian cross) had all of his ewes bunched together and protected. We couldn't get along without our dogs!

We currently have four guard dogs. They live with the sheep and goats around the clock. In the daylight hours, they sleep. At night, they're all business. They don't like strange dogs, but they are very friendly with our Border Collies. They're amazing!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Working Dogs

Last Saturday, our friend Ellen Skillings visited and conducted an afternoon clinic on working border collies. Ellen is a breeder, trainer and sheep producer from Tulelake, CA. She trained my dog, Taff, and bred and trained our daughter's dog, Mo. Our friends Roger Ingram, Courtney McDonald and Teresa Trull also joined us (with Bella, Lucy and Pippin, respectively).

In my daily work at the ranch, I get so focused on getting particular jobs done that I often fail to insist that Taff perform his work correctly. We always get the job done, but Taff gets away with things that he shouldn't. Usually, these transgressions are the result of my failure to communicate effectively.

Ellen helped each of us be better partners with our dogs. Each dog (and each of us) is in a different spot in terms of abilities and training - we all learned a tremendous amount on Saturday.

Ellen will be back in Auburn on November 8 and December 13 - we can't wait!


I woke up at 2 this morning to the sound of rain - the first real rain of the fall. What a wonderful noise! While not all of my farming colleagues will be happy with the timing of this first precipitation, it's perfect for us.

October 15 generally marks the end of the irrigation season - our irrigation district stops its summer water deliveries. Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate by turning on the "winter water" at the same time, but this year her timing is perfect.

We need about an inch of rain to start the grass - it's called a germinating rain. If this week's forecast is accurate - several inches of rain followed by 75 degree days - our pastures should be covered in a beautiful green fuzz within the next 7 days!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Labor vs. Technology

Over the summer, my Dad sent me a copy of Home Economics by Wendell Berry, my favorite author. Included in this collection of 14 essays is one entitled "A Good Farmer of the Old School," in which Berry describes the farming operation of Lancie Clippinger, who happens to farm with horses. Mr. Clippinger's approach to farming emphasizes choices - choices between technology and labor, between conventional and organic techniques, between crops and livestock. My friend Allen Edwards emphasizes looking at returns to labor versus returns on investment when analyzing farm enterprises. In many ways, this is the same approach.

In thinking about our sheep operation, we've decided to spend our time moving fence and irrigating pasture rather than purchasing expensive grain. This is a trade-off for us; in essence, we're trading our labor in moving fence and pipe for the faster gains we'd get by purchasing outside feed.

We are currently feeding locally grown alfalfa to our lambs to improve their gains. We've made this choice to free up additional feed for the ewe flock going into the winter. Again, we've tried to structure our business to maintain options - within seasons and from one year to the next.

Wendell Berry writes that "mental paralysis and economic slavery can be instituted on a farm by the farmer's technological choices." I think the key for us is to choice technology (like electric fencing) that increases our flexibility.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Our Approach to Grass-fed Lamb

At Flying Mule Farm, we take our commitment to producing all-natural, grass-fed meat seriously. We use the following animal health and management procedures:

1. No hormones/implants or animal by-products are used (fed or otherwise administered).
2. No antibiotics capable of entering the animal’s blood stream are fed or injected.
3. Quality Assurance practices are followed (all injections in the animal’s neck or over rib).

We raise our animals on natural grasses, legumes or range forage (this includes grass and alfalfa hay). No supplemental grains or grain-based manufactured rations are fed. No reprocessed animal tissue, animal by-products, fecal material, food waste or by-products are fed either as supplement or primary feed at any time. We do provide a full array of mineral supplements as required to maintain maximum levels of good health; however, these minerals are not provided in conjunction with grain or grain-based supplements.

Animals must occasionally be confined in corrals for sorting, vaccination, and other management procedures. However, animals are provided with access to pasture at all other times.

No synthetic hormones, growth promotants or steroids are used at any time during the animal's life. No implants are used (fed or otherwise administered).

We employ management practices that promote animal health including pasture rotation, vaccination, and low stress handling. We also medicate animals in the event of illness or injury in order to minimize suffering and prevent death. However, no animal is processed and marketed that has had antibiotics administered into or passed through the blood stream that may produce antibiotic residues. All vaccinations are administered in the animal’s neck or rib area and can be traced and verified.

Using guardian animals and electric fencing, we maintain a “predator-friendly” operation.

We welcome visitors to our operation to observe and verify our management and production systems. We believe that these systems allow us to produce the best tasting, highest quality and safest grass-fed meats possible.