Friday, December 17, 2010

Bringing in the Reindeer

This story started with a business idea.  Our girls, Lara and Emma, both have pretty good sheep dogs – Mo and Ernie (respectively).  Over dinner this summer, Lara suggested that we could help other ranchers gather and move their livestock.

“Let’s put a sign up at the feed store, Dad,” she said.  “You could use Taff, too!”

“Yeah – we could make a little money for Christmas and get a chance to use our dogs,” Emma agreed.  “Let’s make a poster.”

The next week, we put up a handmade sign:

Need help corralling your wild sheep?
We can help!
Have sheep dogs – will travel!
Dan Macon and Daughters
Livestock Herding Services
Call us today!

We also posted the information on our website in hopes that we’d reach more folks who needed our assistance.

During the next several months, we took on a few jobs – nothing too difficult.  We helped a neighbor move his goats into a new pasture.  This fall, we helped gather a friend’s ewes before they were tagged for lambing.  The girls earned some spending money, and the dogs had great fun!

The week after Thanksgiving, I got a call on my cell phone from a number I didn’t recognize – I didn’t even recognize the area code.  I let the call roll over into my voice mail, and retrieved this message:

“Mr. Macon, this is Kris Kringle up north – you might know me better as Santa Claus.  I saw the information on your website and thought maybe you could give me a hand.  In early October, one of the elves forgot to latch the door to the grain room.  One of the reindeer – probably Donner – got the door open, and the reindeer got into my special grain.  The stuff that makes them fly.  They’ve been impossible to catch ever since.  After Thanksgiving, I usually start putting them in harness and getting them in shape, but they take off every time we try to catch them.  Give me a call – I’m sure your girls and their dogs can help!”

Well, as you can imagine, I called back immediately.  Kris picked up the call himself – who knew Santa had a cell phone!?

I said, “Santa, the girls and I would love to help, but I’m not sure Taff, Mo and Ernie are up to gathering flying livestock.  They are great dogs, but they’re not terribly aerodynamic.”
Mo waiting to get airborne!

Taff at rest - a typical pose.

Mo's little brother Ernie - doesn't he look like he could fly!?

“Just leave that to me,” laughed Santa, “I have a special supplement I add to the grain we feed the reindeer.  A scoop on their dog food ought to do the trick!”

I covered the phone and asked Lara and Emma what they thought.  “Let’s try it, Dad,” Emma said, “sounds like fun!”

“Yeah, Dad,” Lara agreed.  “I’d like to see the dogs fly!”

“We’ll give it a shot, Santa,” I spoke into the phone.  “How do we get up there?”

“Leave that to me,” he said.

A week later, we were at the North Pole.  Santa made us promise not to divulge our travel route or methods – we’ve since tried to find his place on Google Earth without success.

We put a scoop of reindeer dust on the dogs’ food.  Ernie and Taff gulped theirs down, but we had to add an egg to Mo’s food to get him to eat all of it.  Immediately, all three dogs began to levitate about five feet above the snowy ground.

“Looks like it worked,” Santa said.

Mo and Ernie were obviously thrilled to be flying, but Taff looked apprehensive.
Lara said, “Dad – I think you should keep Taff on the ground – he doesn’t even like to jump much.  Maybe he can put them in the corral once they’re down.  Let’s see if Mo and Ernie can gather the reindeer.”

Now those of you who’ve been around sheep dogs know that we have commands to go left and right – “come bye” and “away to me.”  However, I’d never given much thought to up and down!  While I was certain that there were obscure Scottish terms for up and down that made just as much sense as “come bye” and “away,” the girls convinced me that “higher” and “lower” would be easier to remember.   We walked out to the corrals and saw the reindeer circling high over head.

Lara called Mo to her side and said, “Come by – higher” in a sweet voice.  He climbed into the air and circled to his left around the reindeer.  Emma told Ernie, “Away – higher,” and he took off to the right.  Taff curled up under Santa’s sleigh – content to wait until the other dogs did the aerobatic work.

As the dogs came around behind the maverick reindeer, most of them bunched together.  One of them, however (“That’ll be Donner,” Santa told us), put his head up and decided to take on the dogs.

“Not a smart move,” Lara chuckled – “Get ‘im, Mo,” she called.  Mo crept towards Donner (you should see a dog creep when it’s airborne – it’s something else!).  Donner put his head down.  I covered my eyes – those antlers looked wicked.  Quick as a wink, Mo dashed in and nipped Donner on the nose!  Donner tucked his tail and joined the others.

“Walk on – lower,” Emma called.  Mo and Ernie wove back and forth just above and slightly behind their “flock.”  Down they came – and Taff was waiting for them.  As soon as the reindeer touched the ground, he made sure they went through the corral gate.  Santa’s elves slipped halters on them and took them into the barn.

“Thanks, girls – your dogs are amazing!  I’ll bet Mrs. Claus has hot chocolate and cookies waiting for us,” said Santa.  Emma and Lara thought that sounded great!  “And I’ve got something for Taff, Mo and Ernie,” Santa added, “Liver-flavored candy canes.”  Yum!

We made our way home this last week.  Santa told us to be sure to hang stockings for Taff, Mo and Ernie – the girls can’t wait to see what he brings the dogs!  We all want to try the candy canes!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fall Work is Done!

Yesterday, we completed our fall work with the ewes - we trimmed feet on the last set of ewes (about 75 of them) and put them through the footbath.  We then moved them onto new feed.  There's nothing more satisfying to me than seeing sheep grazing contentedly!

We're due for heavy rain over the next several days.  Now that our fall animal husbandry activities are competed, we can concentrate on keeping the sheep moving to fresh feed.  In a month or so, we'll bring them in for their annual vaccinations.  In about 2 months, our new crop of lambs will begin to arrive.  Seems like we just turned the rams in!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Portable Foot Bath - It Works!

We put the finishing touches on our portable foot bath yesterday and actually used it - we were able to put about 240 ewes through the foot bath.  They each soaked for a minimum of 30 minutes.  It worked great!  Here are some photos:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mutton Curry

Believe it or not - we're having mutton curry tonight!  By choice, not necessity!  We've been selling mutton products (stew meat, pet food and sausage) for about a year now.  The sausage is great!  Customers have been telling us that the mutton stew meat is great, too, but tonight is the first time we've tried it.  We have to say that the customer is always right!

Here's what we did (as best as I can remember - we kind of threw it together).

1 pkg mutton stew meat (about 2 lbs)
3 large carrots, sliced
10 cloves garlic, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and diced
Thai red curry (to taste)
1/2 can coconut milk
Coarse ground pepper (to taste)
Kosher salt (to taste)
Smoked Spanish paprika (to taste)

Brown mutton pieces in olive oil.  Put in crock pot.  Add carrots, onions, garlic, curry powder, and pepper.  Cover with water and coconut milk and cook on low for 4 hours.  Add butternut squash.  Continue cooking on low for 2 hours.  Remove meat and vegetables.  Remove bones.  Strain fat from liquid and reduce liquid over stove by half.  Recombine all ingredients.  Add salt and paprika to taste.  Heat through and serve over rice.

The neat thing about this recipe - everything except the coconut milk came from our Auburn farmer's market! It's cheap, too - less than $10 to feed the four of us Macons and leave us some leftovers!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bald Eagle!

As I was checking fence at a newly leased ranch near Auburn yesterday, I happened upon a bald eagle roosting in a large oak.  I was within 50 feet of it when it flew off.  It was so majestic.

In the last several years, we've seen several bald eagles here in Auburn - usually around Christmas.  I think they must be moving around this time of year.

I realize that not everyone agrees with the approach of the federal Endangered Species Act, but the bald eagle is truly a success story.  I never fail to be thrilled when I see one!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Long Days

The last two days have been incredibly long ones!  Yesterday, I helped to put on a workshop on soil and irrigation management for vegetable production.  The workshop was at Jim Muck's farm in Wheatland - Farmer Jim's Produce grows vegetables for farmers' markets and for his own CSA.  It was a great day - lots of new and existing growers and lots of great information.  Check out my youtube channel for videos:  I'll keep adding more!

Today, I hauled sheep and a steer to Wolfpack Meats in Reno.  When I left Grass Valley, Caltrans reported chain controls over I-80, so I ended up driving to Oroville and up Highway 70.  What should have been a five-hour round trip turned into a nine-hour drive.  We have lots of customers who want our sheep sausage before Christmas, so I felt obligated to get to Reno today.  While Wolfpack does a great job for us, I do wish we had an option closer to home!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Portable Foot Bath - Step 2

Today, I made sliding gates and adjustable panels for the foot bath.  The panels will allow us to tie in to our existing corrals.  The next step will be to install the liner - we're almost ready to go.  The pink gates are my failed attempt at making a "livestock crossing" sign for moving livestock across a county road!

The Ernie Blog (#2)

I finally had a chance to work Ernie again tonight - with Thanksgiving and fall sheep work, we haven't had much time.  He was a bit fast at first, but he quickly settled in nicely.  He was much more attentive to me tonight - easier to call off the sheep.  We also worked on some small outruns - the first step in teaching him to gather sheep.  I was very pleased!

Ernie the Blur!

As an amateur, I find myself falling into a rut - we work on the same old things time after time.  Once Ernie started showing some boredom, I realized that I needed to mix things up.  Once he started figuring out that I was asking him to leave my feet and bring the sheep to me, he brightened considerably.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Portable Foot Bath - Step 1

I started working on our portable foot bath today.  So far, these are our expenses:

40 mil shower pan liner - (2) 15' x 4' sections - $153.30
Pan adhesive - $7.86
Wood screws - $8.69

I'm using true-dimension 1x4 douglas fir that I milled - I guess there's a cost to it (my labor), but I won't include it for these purposes.

Today, I constructed a gate frame for the back of the trailer. This panel is removable in case we want to use the trailer for other purposes.  I'll cut two 18" x 48" sheets of plywood to use as gates - these will be guillotine-style gates that slide up and down.  I'll also need to build two short panels that will run from the end of our alley to the trailer (for loading the sheep into the foot bath).  I also need to glue the pvc liner together and put it on the floor of the trailer.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Mending Fence (Again)

Skid marks and damaged posts - I'd like to see the car that did this damage!
We lease the Doty Ravine Preserve from the Placer Land Trust.  The property, which is bordered on the east by Gladding Road, includes about a mile of riparian habitat, lots of vernal pools, and some beautiful valley oaks.

Gladding Road makes two 90 degree turns adjacent to the preserve.  The western most turn is a problem - cars travelling downhill (southbound) on Gladding sometimes miss the turn (when it's wet, or when people are driving too fast).  This is our fourth season on the preserve, and yesterday, the 16th car went through our fence.  No one has ever offered to help fix the fence.

I guess I grew up in a different time.  While I've always been a cautious driver (and subsequently have never had an "accident" of this nature), I was always taught to take responsibility for my actions.  I'd like to think I'd be fixing a fence that I'd driven through.

At my folks place east of Sonora, we had a half dozen or so incidents of people driving through the fence.  Probably half of the drivers involved fixed (or at least paid for) the damage.  We've had no such luck here - a sign, I think, that rural Lincoln is not so rural any more.

I'm not sure what the solution is - it's a dangerous corner.  We joke that the county could put a ramp at the corner, which would launch cars over the fence (saving the fence and allowing us to catch the offending drivers).  At some point, I'm sure that someone will hit a tree or pole at the corner and be seriously injured (or worse).  In the meantime, I'd just like some help fixing the fence!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Portable Foot Bath

We've been working to eliminate footrot from our flock for several years.  Over the last 12 months, we've made progress through combination of foot baths, vaccinations, trimming, and genetic improvement.  As we've noted earlier, we lost one of these tools when FootVax, the vaccine we've been using, was discontinued.  This will force us to rely more heavily on our remaining tools.

A key to our future management of footrot will be the regular use of a foot bath.  With the numbers of sheep that we currently manage, and the fact that we move our animals between properties frequently, this becomes a challenge.  With our current set up (a 4x8 footbath), we would need 5-7 days just to soak every ewe for 45 minutes.

After racking my tiny brain, I think I may have found a solution.  My dad gave me a utility trailer that his dad had built in the 1950's.  We used it extensively in our family's auction business.  Over the next week, we'll be outfitting it to serve as our portable foot bath.  The trailer will allow us to soak 30-40 ewes at a time, which will allow us to treat all of the sheep in a single day.  Stay tuned for more information!