Sunday, May 23, 2010

Guardian Dog Dilemma

We have used livestock guardian dogs to protect our sheep and goats for the last 5 years.  While we haven't (to our knowledge) lost any animals to predators, we have had varying degrees of success with our dogs.  We've had several dogs that played too roughly with lambs, while others have tried to protect lambs from their mothers.  Some of our dogs have decided (at times) to patrol beyond the boundaries of our electric fencing, which can be problematic when we're grazing within neighborhoods or close to public roads.  Despite these problems, however, the dogs have been an indispensable part of our operation.

Recently, we have acquired several llamas.  We've read that llamas are very effective at guarding sheep and goats from canine predators, but less effective against mountain lions.  Consequently, we've limited our use of llamas to areas where we feel that mountain lion predation will be less likely.  So far, we've not lost any animals to predators when they are guarded by llamas.

The advantages to using llamas are several.  First, they eat the same feed as the sheep and goats, which eliminates the need to feed them daily.  Second, they don't bark, which tends to improve relations with neighbors.

Despite these advantages, I still haven't established the same trust in the llamas that I have in our guard dogs.  I guess the llamas will have to demonstrate their ability to protect our stock over time.  I think I'll also need to evaluate the economics - can we afford to have slightly less protection if our livestock guardians also require less labor and have lower feed costs?  I'd be interested in other perspectives!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Urban Grazing

We have two flocks of sheep grazing on weeds within the city limits of Auburn - thought you might enjoy some photos!

In the Robie Point neighborhood, we're using sheep to control annual grasses and 3-4 varieties of thistle.  At the Chinese Cemetery on Highway 49, we're grazing on annual grasses, poison oak and starthistle.

Monday, May 17, 2010

New Sheep

We picked up 53 older ewes from Richard Hamilton in Dixon today.  We hope to get 1 or 2 crops of lambs out of these sheep, and they'll help us fill our grazing contracts this summer.

The Hamiltons have been in business for many years, and are innovators in the sheep business.  Every time I talk with Richard, I learn something.

As we try to grow our business, we're constantly trying to learn from others and from our own mistakes.  Learning from an established producer like the Hamiltons is a privilege!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Shearing School

I just returned from 5 days of sheep shearing school at the UC Hopland sheep field station in Mendocino County.  While the school itself was somewhat disappointing, I did end up getting better at shearing sheep.  I hope to do more!

One thing I did realize about shearing and wool is that every wool garment, every wool blanket, every wool anything, was touched by human hands.  I think that's pretty cool - in an age of mechanization, it still takes a human to remove the wool from sheep.

Shearing is a dance - a dance between the shearer and the sheep and between the shearer and the shearing machine.  I've never been much good at dancing, which is probably why it took me until Friday to feel half-way competent.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Shearing Day

Photos and videos from yesterday's shearing!

Derrick Adamache shearing a yearling ewe.

All of the lambs are put into a foot bath to help us control foot rot and scald.

Courtney sacking our wool.

Sorting the first sheep to be shorn the next morning - we keep them in the barn overnight to ensure that their fleeces are dry.

Lamb stew for dinner!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bringing the Sheep in for Shearing

Over the next several days, we'll post more videos of this year's shearing.  Tonight, we brought the sheep into the corrals and sorted off 130 ewes to be shorn tomorrow.

Cover Crop - Update

We moved the sheep out of the cover crop at Blossom Hill Farm on Friday - here are some photos of what the cover crop looked like:

I'm anxious to see if there is any difference in the organic matter levels in the soil in this field compared with conventional management (mowing)!

Getting Ready to Shear

This past week has been a mad dash to prepare for shearing our sheep.  With the rainy April we've had, our shearer has had to delay his trip to our operation.  We're finally scheduled to shear on Monday and Tuesday.

We're shearing at our home place this year.  On Monday, we hauled 8 loads of ewes and lambs from Lincoln to Blossom Hill Farm in Auburn.  On Friday, we hauled these sheep to our home pasture.  Yesterday, we hauled 2 loads of yearling ewes home from Loomis.  We set up portable fences at a neighbor's (where the sheep will go today), cleaned out our horse stalls (where we'll shear), and hauled equipment from other ranches.  Today, we'll finish setting up our shearing pens and corrals, and we'll sort off about 140 head to be shorn tomorrow.

Since we'll have all of our sheep and guardian dogs in one place for the next several days, we'll take the opportunity to do a few things in addition to shearing.  We'll put all of the lambs through a footbath to prevent foot scald and foot rot.  We'll treat all of the sheep for external parasites.  We'll groom the guard dogs in preparation of summer heat and stickers.

Later in the week, we'll sort the sheep into several groups and resume our spring contract grazing work.  We'll send sheep to the historic Chinese cemetery in Auburn, as well as to several private homes.  We'll also start irrigating pastures to keep them green through the summer.  Our next big chore comes in late May, when we'll wean and vaccinate all of the lambs.