Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Reluctant Shepherd

Having tended sheep on winter nights,
I've wondered what the shepherds who were the
First to hear the news of Jesus' birth
Actually experienced. Being a shepherd myself,
And knowing other stockmen for
Most of my life, I figure there was at least
One shepherd that night who wouldn't leave his flock.

"You boys go on - this ewe's about to lamb,"
I imagine him saying. Or perhaps he said,
"I been hearin' coyotes all night - I'm not leavin' my flock,
Heavenly host or no." I'm not sure
They had coyotes in the Holy Land,
But I'm sure there were predators - there always are
Where there's sheep. I can think of a thousand reasons
He might have refused to go to town -
Some shepherds just don't like towns.

While it's not in any of the gospels,
I also wonder if he was sorry
He didn't go to the stable in Bethlehem
Once his buddies returned. I figure he might
Have been the first Lutheran shepherd -
Feeling guilty about not going but
Unwilling to forget his responsibility to his sheep.

Regardless, I like to imagine him in heaven
Finally meeting Jesus. Since Jesus
Talked a lot about taking care of his "sheep,"
I reckon he was pretty forgiving
Of our reluctant shepherd. That's what Christmas is all about!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Goats (by Julie House)

After 6 months into my externship, I got the opportunity to bring goats home to my family’s 10 acres. This would seem on the surface to be just like managing our sheep and goats at the ranch, and our contract grazing off site. But bringing them home definitely made everything more personal.
Within the first week I got a call at 4 in the morning from my aunt that the goats were in their yard. In an attempt to bring them back to their paddock, I learned that they do not herd the same as sheep, and having them separated from the sheep at my house made driving them down the hill much more difficult without the use of a herding dog. By five thirty, I had made some progress back to our property, but had given up on getting them into their pen by myself and made the phone call to Dan to bring Taff, his herding dog, and come over to help.
Since then, they did get out into the neighbors yard once more, but I have become a better fence builder since and have managed to keep them contained. They still always seem to keep the family busy. My dad will feed the dog when I am late coming from the ranch. One of our guard dogs died of old age a few weeks ago, and yesterday a doe fell into the ditch and needed a good push to get out. Also, I have walked more of the property than ever before and seen things that I did not know were there, thanks to the goats for uncovering them.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Scotch Broth

I was looking through the index in one of my favorite cookbooks (Fannie Farmer) this weekend and came across a reference to Scotch Broth. The name itself intrigued me, so I looked up the recipe. Scotch Broth is basically a wintertime lamb soup made with neck slices, root vegetables, barley and butter. We made it for dinner last night, and it was wonderful!

Here's the recipe - we varied slightly from Fannie Farmer:

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
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 biol 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.

This was a great seasonal meal! Everything we used with the exception of the butter and the water came from the Auburn Farmer's Market! After a day outside in the cold rain, it really hit the spot. I had visions of Scottish shepherds coming home to a meal like this!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Great Livestock Guardian Experiment of 2009 - Part 1: Chester (by Courtney McDonald)

If I have learned anything during the past ten months of interning with Flying Mule Farm, it is that effective livestock protection is essential to keeping livestock. Without reliable protection, your entire flock - and therefore your business - is at risk.
When we first moved into our new rented house, Eric and I were ecstatic to finally have a little bit of pasture to keep sheep and goats on. We discussed the idea of a livestock guardian dog with our new landlords, and they seemed intrigued by the idea. We explained that the dog’s job is to bark and be aggressive towards predators. So we took Chester, a livestock guardian dog that Flying Mule Farm had used to guard the sheep. He preferred to be anywhere else than in the sheep’s paddock, however, so after awhile he was retired from the farm. I invested in some 5 foot 8 inch electric netting for our new pasture, and added two lines of electric poly tape to the existing permanent fence to create a “Chester-proof” grazing area.
So Chester was brought to his new home, and he was thrilled to have so much new territory to mark. If you have never met Chester you should know that he is one of the largest, most handsome, and sweet natured dogs on the planet. He and Eric became fast friends.
The problems began on the first night. Chester was doing a great job of barking away anything he felt didn’t belong in his vicinity. We closed the windows and had a good night’s sleep. The next day, I asked my neighbor if the barking had bothered him, and he said he hadn’t heard a thing. Ten minutes later, my landlord showed up and said (in a very nice way) that Chester’s barking had upset the neighbors and that if he barked like this every night we would have to relocate him. He agreed to give us a few days to figure out the situation, and he seemed just as eager for Chester to be able to stay as we were.
Over the next few nights Eric and I slept with one eye open, going out to the pasture every time Chester started to bark, about every hour or so. We would assure him that everything was okay and sometimes sit with him until he went to sleep. It never lasted long, though, and soon enough we knew we had to try something different. After about a week in the pasture, we started tying Chester up at night in the half-covered carport with a comfy bed to sleep on. He didn’t make a peep the first night, so we figured we had found the perfect solution. After the third night he began barking all night again, so we tried something new. We began bringing him into the well room after dark. This is a ¾ covered outdoor area just outside the door to the house. We thought that it would be enough shelter to keep him quiet. And it did, for about 3 nights. After that, he began to whine at night. Then, he began a high-pitched barking intended to let us know that he would rather be somewhere else. We felt terrible for him, not least because there are so many critters about at night on the roof and in the walls making noise that he needed to warn us about. One early morning he even got out of the well room and went to visit all of the neighbors, which wasn’t helping his case. So we began switching up the nightly routine from the well room to the carport to the pasture, to see if a change in his routine would didn’t.
Motivated by a lack of sleep and love of Chester, we decided it was a good idea to bring this gigantic, fluffy dog who had never seen the inside of a house into our bedroom at night. Again, the first night he was quiet and showed potential to be a pet. But by the second and third nights, he was on the bed, trying to climb out of the shut window above us, whimpering and stepping on our faces to get there. We decided to try him again out on the pasture. We borrowed 18 ewes from Flying Mule Farm to graze and lamb in the fall. This was the main motivation for taking Chester in the first place. We were cautiously optimistic that if Chester was back with his sheep he might calm down and bark only at real threats.
Once again, we were back outside throughout the night, reassuring him. I remember falling asleep one night in the pasture among the star thistle with my head on my knees. This whole time I harbored a lonely guilt that we were not doing the right thing, and that Chester should be in a place where he could bark freely the way he felt necessary.
On the second night with his ewes Chester escaped his Fort Knox perimeter fencing. I remember thinking “oh my gosh, he is being so quiet tonight”, only to wake up to Chester tied to a tree just outside our from door, asleep. Apparently he went for a little adventure in the middle of the night over to our landlords house! At this point Eric and I knew there was nothing else we could do. Chester’s fate was sealed. We had to give him back to Dan at Flying Mule Farm.
We still see Chester often over at Dan’s house. We even occasionally bring him over to our house for a day trip. We love Chester, but it was beyond us to make turn him into a guardian or a pet. The perfect situation is out there waiting for him, somewhere.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Snow Day!

We awoke to snow yesterday - about 6 inches by the time it quit falling. According to the Auburn Journal, it was the most snow seen in Auburn in the last 20 years. School was canceled, so the girls and I did our morning chores together.

I love snow - despite the challenges it presents me as a rancher. Yesterday, we started by repairing sheep fence that had been pushed over by the snow. To get to the sheep, we drove on unplowed roads. After securing the sheep, we fed three groups of cows - pairs (cows and calves), first calf heifers and pregnant cows. Then we returned to the ewes and fed hay to them, followed by deliveries of hay to two groups of goats. After lunch, I resumed my rounds - feeding guard dogs, more hay for the ewes, and finally hay for the sheep at home.

Lara, our oldest daughter, is like I was as a boy - she played outside in the snow all day. Emma is more like her mom - she played outside some but was content to stay warm inside in the afternoon.

Today, we awoke to a hard freeze - it was clear and 18 degrees! The roads, which were plowed yesterday, were icy this morning. We moved the ewes onto fresh (and snow-covered) feed, and then moved goats as well.

I don't know if climate change is for real, but I do know that it snowed more in the foothills when I was a kid. I miss getting snow like we received Sunday night/Monday morning!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Another Beautiful Day

As I see the world, all life on our planet depends on the proper mix of soil, sunlight and water. Even those of us who are omnivores depend on plants to feed the animals that provide us with meat and milk. Based on this understanding, I get weary this time of year of hearing TV and radio weather people tell us that we're going to have another "beautiful day" when the forecast calls for sunshine.

I must confess that I enjoy stormy weather. I love waking up to the sound of rain. While rain, snow and wind often complicate my outside chores, I mostly enjoy being out in the elements during a storm.

We've just endured our third year of drought in California. Although the late rains we received last spring made the grass grow, we're facing severe water shortages throughout the state. I heard yesterday that the state water project will deliver only 5% of normal water supplies to its customers. While the Nevada Irrigation District, which supplies our irrigation water, seems to be in much better shape, they cannot sustain full deliveries in the face of a sustained drought.

Given our current water situation, "another beautiful day" (at least to me) will be one that brings rain in the foothills and snow in the mountains!