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Showing posts from June, 2009

Sheep on the Road

We moved about 140 lambs to another property just down the road in Auburn yesterday. To move them, we had two options: we could take 4-5 trailer loads of lambs at 2 miles per round trip, or we could walk them through one of our pastures at Thompson Ranch, onto Mt. Vernon Road, and into the new pasture (a walk of about 1 mile). We opted for walking them.

Surprisingly, the county road department was easy to work with - it turns out that there is currently no restriction on driving livestock on a county road provided they don't stray onto adjacent properties. Since we only had to use about 100 yards of Mt. Vernon Road, we didn't think we'd impact traffic too severely.

Our interns, Julie and Courtney, stopped traffic as we came onto the road. By the time we reached the road, Taff (our border collie) was pretty tired, but he gamely kept the sheep moving (along with Roger Ingram, our friend and local farm advisor). The sheep were on the road for less than two minutes.

The response …

Thank Goodness Sheep Don't Read!

Most of the grazing and animal behavior text books that I've read suggest that goats will eat brush and blackberries, while sheep will eat grass and broadleaf weeds. We've just placed a flock of 67 sheep and 13 goats on an Auburn property owned by the Placer Land Trust, and I'm pleased to report that our sheep can't read.

The Placer Land Trust hired us to control invasive plants and reduce fire danger on it's Canyonview Preserve in Auburn. The property is north of I-80 near the Canyonview subdivision and directly downslope from a professional building (see photos). The first paddock was about 1/2 acre of blackberries, thistles, dry grass and live oak. The flock polished off the vegetation in about 28 hours. The next paddock included poison oak and scotch broom, along with blackberries - again, they demolished the undesirable plants. Today (day 3), we moved them into more blackberries and dry grass (including a small burr, which the sheep love).

Our sheep obviously ha…

Whole Lamb (the intern blog by Courtney McDonald

Last Sunday I was fortunate enough to drop by while Dan and Roger Ingram were grilling two whole baby lambs over an oak fire for a special event. I was only bringing cutting boards, but ended up staying long enough for a beer and a taste of lamb.

The lambs were splayed out, skin-side up to lay flat. They cooked this way for about two hours, and then were flipped over for another hour. Dan and Roger had rubbed the lambs all over with a mixture of kosher salt and fresh garlic, mixed to a dry paste, and were basting the lambs with lemon juice and water from a spray bottle. This “asada-style” method was inspired by Roger’s trip to Argentina.

The borrowed grill had been custom made - a standard tow trailer with a grill grate suspended over the bed. A hand-cranked cable allowed the grill to be adjusted up or down. It was the perfect size for two baby lambs, one on each side of the support pole in the center. A pretty cool contraption, topped off with flames painted on the sides.

I’ve …

Child Labor

About 12 years ago, I had the chance to travel to the Dominican Republic with a group of 29 other agriculturists. We visited a cigar factory, and were astounded to see children as young as 10 and 11 working along side their parents rolling cigars. After thinking it through, however, most of us remembered times that we worked with our parents - not in a factory, but certainly in a farming situation. We realized that "child labor" provided us with examples of how to work and gave us a chance to spend time with our parents. While I can't condone the type of sweatshop work we saw in Santo Domingo, my own experience of working with my parents was wonderful. That work is part of who I am today.

Over the last two days, our youngest daughter, Emma, went to work with me. Emma loves to help, and yesterday, she spent part of the morning rolling rounds of firewood to me to split. Today, I told her I'd pay her to help me load boxes of campfire wood for the farmer's markets, w…

The garden is in - finally!

In years past, we've always grown vegetables to sell at the farmer's market, along with our grass-fed meat. This year, we've decided that the sheep and firewood enterprises are our most profitable, so we didn't dedicate the time to planting a market garden. As a result, I've put off getting our family garden planted - too much going on.

Last night, however, Emma and I planted our sweet corn, summer squash, Swiss chard, string beans and radishes. Better late than never! Once again this year, I prepared the entire garden with mule power - no fossil fuels were harmed in the preparation of our garden!

Despite my education and experience, the germination of a seed is still somewhat miraculous to me. I place a seemingly lifeless object into the soil, add water, and wait. in 3-4 days, we'll see radish plants emerging. In 7-10 days, we'll see the beans, corn and squash coming up. In 75 days, we'll be eating Silver Queen sweet corn!

The Next Generation of Farmers

The average age of a farmer in Placer County is 57+ - more than two-thirds of the farmers in our county are older than 65, while less than 5% are younger than 35. We seemed to have lost an entire generation to other professions.

Many factors have contributed to these demographics - the cost of land, lack of capital, the difficulty of the work involved, and low income from farming (among other things) are all part of the problem.

Our children, who are 11 and 5, participate daily in our farming operation. Both girls have their own small flocks of sheep. Both girls help take care of Yola, our dairy ewe. Emma cares for chickens and ducks as well.

While we've definitely sparked their interest in agriculture, I worry about the example I may be setting for them. The scale at which we are currently farming requires a great deal of work but does not generate enough revenue to justify hiring any help. Even with our 3 wonderful interns, I'm working 80-90 hours each week at the moment.…

Summer Storms

I used to think the phrase "when I was a kid" was something that only a really old person used, but last night I used it with our girls. At about 9:30 last night, we had a thunderstorm like we used to have "when I was a kid" in Sonora. The sky lit up with lightning, the wind kicked up, and we had about a 1/2 inch of rain. What a treat!

Summer thunderstorms in our part of the world can be fun, exciting and/or scary - sometimes all at once. They are fun because it's a treat to get rain during the dry season - the rain cleans everything and makes the outdoors smell good. They are exciting because of the noise and light - we talked about them being nature's fireworks last night. Finally, they are scary when they lack enough rain to counteract the fire-starting potential of the lightning. The worst wildfires "when I was a kid" were do to dry lightning storms.

From a ranching and farming perspective, summer thunderstorms have good points and bad points, t…