Monday, November 30, 2009


We lost our oldest guardian dog, Duke, last night. He'd been guarding goats in Auburn, and the property owner discovered him last evening.

Duke was an older dog - not sure exactly how old, but certainly over 8 years of age. For a dog of his size and breed, he was pretty old. He was always very protective of his livestock, but he was also very leery of people. Our friends Allen and Nancy Edwards acquired him about 4 years ago, and they always wondered if he'd been mistreated by a previous owner.

Lately, we'd put Reno, our youngest dog, with Buck to learn the trade. Reno's on his own with the goats, now - we hope he learned Duke's loyalty to his livestock. Thank you, Duke.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Giving Thanks

Like many, I've been thinking quite a bit about the things for which I'm thankful this year. Here's a start to my list:

  1. The chance (and ability) to work outside with animals nearly every day in the last year.
  2. My family, who puts up with (and helps with) my farming habit.
  3. The rain, which started early this fall - I hope it keeps coming!
  4. My friends.
  5. My interns - Courtney, Julie and Jason (see #4).
  6. My dogs - Taff has become an incredible partner in our sheep operation (and in just about everything else I do).
  7. The chance to do this all again in the coming year!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wheeler Sheep Camp

After making a meat delivery to Truckee yesterday afternoon, we had time to drive north on Highway 89 to the Kyberz Flat Interpretive Area on the Tahoe National Forest. This area, east of Highway 89 and north of Stampede Reservoir, is adjacent to the old Henness Pass Road, one of the primary immigrant and freight routes through our part of the Sierra Nevada during the gold rush and the Comstock mining era. Petroglyphs left by the Washoe people suggest that the area was important long before Europeans arrived.

Our main reason for going to Kyberz Flat was to see the restored Basque oven at what had once been the Wheeler Sheep Camp. The Wheeler Sheep Company, from Reno, used the camp as the hub of its summer operations. At one time, the camp included a cabin, corrals, barns, a chicken coop, and developed springs (the remains of which are still evident). In the 1990s, the director of the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, led efforts to restore the brick oven at the camp. The ovens were used to bake bread for the sheepherders who worked for Wheeler Sheep Company. Every five days, according to the sign at the site, the camptender would bring the herders fresh-baked bread from the oven.

Looking out over Kyberz Meadow, I could hear the echoes of ewes calling to their lambs, of herders calling to each other and to their dogs. As a modern-day shepherd, the idea of a summer spent in the mountains without moving electric fence is quite appealing, as is the idea of moving an entire flock to the mountains on foot.

I seem to have an ever-growing list of projects here at home (repairing fences, re-doing our wood/tool shed, etc.). After our "field trip" yesterday, I've added the construction of a brick oven to the list!


Last month, my Dad gave me two Muscovy ducks - both drakes. About 10 days ago, our interns, Courtney and Julie, and I butchered them. On Sunday, we celebrated the end of irrigation season by barbecuing the ducks and making lamb stew over the campfire. The ducks were incredible!

I've only eaten duck a few times, and I suspect it wasn't well prepared when I had it. This time, it was done perfectly. It has the look and texture of beef, but a flavor that is unique. Our youngest daughter, Emma, love it, too - she ate as much as I did!

We're considering adding Muscovy ducks as our primary poultry enterprise. We still have a lot to learn, but if the flavor and quality of the ducks we had for dinner on Sunday evening is any indication, they'd be a great addition!