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Showing posts from April, 2009


Now that we're done shearing the sheep and now that the irrigation water has started, we're transitioning to other activities. Twice a day now, we'll be moving irrigation pipe at our summer ranch in Auburn. In order to finish lambs and cattle on grass, we need to maintain lush, green grass through the summer months. This means irrigation. It's kind of fun at first, but by the time September rolls around, we'll be ready for the water to shut off (usually on October 15).

We're also moving sheep almost daily. They do better on fresh feed, so we try to set up our paddocks with enough feed for 1-2 days. This means the sheep are always eating!

Finally, we're focused on processing firewood. We're cutting oak at the Hunt Ranch in Lincoln - they lost many trees in last summer's Gladding Fire. We're also continuing to cut Douglas fir and oak in Colfax at Edwards Family Farm.

I like the variety that farming provides - always something new. Each seaso…

The Intern Blog - Adventures in Cheesemaking (by Courtney McDonald)

As I had mentioned in a previous posting, I am a proud half-owner of an East Friesian dairy ewe named Yola. Dan, Samia, Lara and Emma own the other half and we split the milking duties.

I love sheep’s milk and all of its unique qualities, and have been experimenting with the milk, making cheeses and yogurt to varying degrees of success. The first cheese I tried was ricotta, which came out fantastic. I made it a second time and it came out good, but with a slightly different texture. I decided I preferred the first batch. Next I have tried feta. I salted part of the batch to be able to try it quickly and brined the rest. The salted feta was a good cheese with great flavor, but in my opinion it didn’t really taste like feta. I am hoping that the brined feta will be taste more like other sheep’s milk feta I have had, with more acid and time to develop that characteristic feta flavor. Most recently I made cream cheese (I actually just finished the final step of beating salt into …

Working Together

As you saw from my last post, we sheared our sheep on Friday and Saturday. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the day was getting to work with my entire family. Sami helped move sheep into the shearing pen, Lara helped skirt the fleeces and catch lambs for the footbath, and Emma helped catch lambs and generally kept us all entertained.

It was also a time for working with friends. Two of our interns, Courtney and Julie, helped the entire day. Our friend Roger, who we run sheep with, also helped in the afternoon. After we finished shearing, we moved the ewes back onto pasture and cleaned up. Many hands made relatively short work!

I relish these chances to work together with family and friends. We're all tired at the end of the day, but the work is much more enjoyable when it's done with people I enjoy. This is the fourth year that Derrick Adamache has sheared our sheep, and I've come to consider him a friend, too!

Sheep Shearing Time

On Friday afternoon, we started shearing our sheep. I've shorn the sheep just enough to know that it makes more sense to hire somebody who knows what he's doing. Our shearer, Derrick Adamache, has been shearing since the early 1980's. He definitely knows what he's doing!

Sheep shearing is an intense time. It involves bringing all of the sheep into a corral the night before they're shorn. We set up a sorting system to sort the lambs off of their mothers and to bring the sheep into the shearing pen as quietly as possible. We bring Derrick 8-10 ewes at a time. It takes him about 20 minutes to shear the pen.

Our wool is nothing special, but we still sell it to offset some of the cost of shearing. We're learning how to skirt our fleeces (which involves removing the less desirable wool) and to sort our fleeces by quality. We then bag it. We'll ship it to a woolen mill in New Mexico in the next month. The wool is only worth about 60-70 cents per pound. We all need t…


My friend Allen Edwards and I just returned from the 30th (I think) annual Small Farmer's Journal Horsedrawn Auction and Swap Meet (this year held in Madras, Oregon). My youngest daughter, Emma, went with us. We all had a wonderfully enjoyable, inspirational and educational time. The entire trip reinforced the idea that community is not necessarily defined by geographic proximity.
As a group, the farmers that came to the auction were a very optimistic bunch, despite the uncertain economy. We talked to a couple from Walla Walla, WA, who operated a market garden using horses for their traction. We spoke with a woman from northern Washington who operated a 20-member CSA and raised Icelandic sheep. We met a farmer and entrepreneur from Tennessee who had imported treadle-powered threshing machines from China. We reconnected with our friends from Midwest Leather - harness makers who recently moved from California to Utah.
On the first day, Emma connected with a group of kids her age - the…


April seems to be a month of preparation - we're getting ready to begin irrigating our finishing pastures, we're getting ready to shear our flock, and we're getting ready to plant vegetables. It's the beginning of our truly busy time!

To prepare for shearing, we do a number of things. First, we move the ewes and their lambs to a property where we have electricity (necessary to power the shears). This means 7 trips from Lincoln to Auburn - a very busy day! The ewes are used to the trailer, but the lambs are not - they take some convincing. Thank goodness I have a good dog and lots of friends and interns! This past Monday, we moved all 120 ewes to Auburn. On Tuesday, I moved several ewes and ewe lambs, and today, I moved the rest of our ewe lambs to Thompson Ranch. Next week, we'll set up shearing pens and our corrals. On Saturday, our shearer will be here to shear the sheep.

Irrigation season is also an intense time, but it lasts for 6 months. Once we start irrigating…

The Wrong Question

An article in today's Sacramento Bee discussed a new report from the Centers for Disease Control. The subtitle to the article was "CDC says system wasn't designed for globalism." The story discussed the recent salmonella outbreaks in pistachios and peanuts and suggested that our entire food safety bureaucracy needs to be updated to deal with a global food system.

I wonder if we're dealing with the wrong question. Do we need a food safety framework that recognizes the global food system as a legitimate method of food production, or do we need a food production system that recognizes the limits of our food safety system and focuses more on local production.

Make no mistake - I strongly believe that food safety regulations are important. Where I differ from the assumptions made by the CDC, I guess, is in the acceptance of global production as the norm. Maybe if we all ate more locally, we wouldn't be faced with the food safety issues that are so problematic. …


The domestication of animals is an interesting topic. Thousands of years of selecting for specific traits have created the livestock breeds we know today.
The various sheep breeds that we have have been an interesting study in this selection process. We have a handful of Border Cheviot sheep. This breed was originally developed in Scotland. They are known as flighty sheep, but this trait was actually bred into them as a response to predator problems. Border Cheviot lambs literally hit the ground running - they generally are able to get to their feet and begin nursing much faster than other breeds.
Several weeks ago, we had a great illustration of this trait. I'd been watching a Border Cheviot ewe who was taking her own sweet time delivering a lamb. After watching her not making any progress for nearly an hour, I decided to give her about 15 more minutes (while I moved a section of fence). During that 15 minutes, she delivered the lamb and cleaned it. By the time I returned, it was a…

Just some farm pics

Enjoy these farm photos!

Why Grass-fed?

As most readers of this blog probably know by now, Flying Mule Farm is committed to producing grass-fed meat. While grass-fed is certainly a buzzword in "foodie" circles, our reasons for producing grass-fed meat run far deeper than a marketing trend.

Ruminants (like sheep, cows and goats) are designed physiologically to convert cellulose (e.g., grass, brush, etc.) into muscle, fiber and milk. The bacteria in a sheep's four stomach compartments are able to convert plant material into essential amino acids. Our human digestive systems lack this capacity. Ruminants are able to harvest plants (which in turn harvest solar energy) and turn these plants into products that feed and cloth us. In many ways, I find this to be a miraculous relationship.

Some producers feed their animals grain to speed the growing process along. Grain provides additional energy and protein, which allow animals to gain weight faster or to produce more milk. However, the chemistry of a ruminant's dig…