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Showing posts from July, 2010

Life and Death - on the Farm and at the Fair

This week, police shot and killed what they described as a "rampaging" cow at the California State Fair.  The cow had been brought to the fair as part of the animal birthing exhibit operated by the UC Davis Vet School.  UCD has offered the livestock nursery exhibit for about 30 years.  The cow apparently panicked and escaped from her handlers to run through the fairgrounds.  After she was surrounded, she panicked again and knocked over a police officer.  The decision to shoot her was made to protect fair employees (the fair hadn't opened yet, so there were no members of the public on the fairgrounds at the time).

Understandably, the incident has generated a debate about the livestock nursery exhibit and about fair security's handling of the situation.  Those who oppose any use of animals or animal products have seized on the incident to further condemn what they see as the exploitation of animals.  Others have spoken out against exhibiting animals while they are givi…

Product Testing

When we introduce a new product or new cut of meat, we like to try it ourselves before offering it to our customers.  We think it's important to be able to give customers an idea about a product's quality and flavor before we ask them to spend money on it.

Usually, we have a great deal of confidence - we know our lamb is outstanding, for example, so we're comfortable recommending a new cut of lamb (like leg steaks or loin roasts).  This week, however, we introduced something a little different - mutton sausage, mutton tenderloin and rack of mutton.

Most people, including many of our customers, have a negative perception of mutton - it's perceived as being greasy and strong flavored.  While we've been marketing mutton as pet food (which some of our customers have used to make stew), this is the first time we've specifically marketed mutton products for people to consume.  I'll admit I was a little nervous about it.

My trepidation was somewhat alleviated when…

Dogs and Efficiency

I've realized in the last several weeks that I don't seem to be as overwhelmingly busy this summer as I usually am.  Part of it is the fact that we're not irrigating as much this year - that fact alone gives me several extra hours each day.  Part of it is the fact that we have great help (as in previous years, we have interns who help make the big project more manageable).  Part of it is that I'm not driving to Tahoe City for a farmer's market once a week.  Significantly, I'm also getting better at working with Taff and Mo, our border collies.

Our herding dogs make me more efficient in numerous ways.  When I'm moving sheep from one pasture to another, the dogs make quick work of the move.  When I need to load sheep in the trailer, the dogs make it a one person job.  Yesterday, I de-wormed and marked 200 ewes.  This involves giving each ewe a liquid de-wormer (for internal parasite control) orally.  I also put paint brands on each ewe to indicate ownership, …

150 Years of the California Wool Growers Association

I was invited to be part of a panel discussion on new opportunities in the sheep industry at the 150th anniversary convention of the California Wool Growers Association in San Francisco yesterday.  My family and I drove to Vallejo and caught a Baylink ferry into the city.  We had lunch at the Ferry Plaza farmer's market, which was amazing.  The panel included a person who has started a sheep dairy in Monterey County, a producer who contract grazes vernal pool mitigation banks in Sonoma County, a producer who is finding new uses for wool, and the manager of a small custom wool carding company in Yreka.  We had great questions and discussion with the other producers in attendance.

I have several observations about our day.  The farmer's market was one of the largest and busiest I've ever attended.  I was struck by the difference in the way San Francisco's environmental health department enforces market rules - none of the food booths were screened, meat vendors were able…

Summer Mode

This summer, so far, has been different from past years.  The most significant change is that we are not irrigating any pasture.  We have been grazing our lambs on irrigated pasture at several different properties, but we haven't had to do the watering ourselves - a nice change!

The trade-off, however, has been the time we're spending on contract grazing.  As I write this, we have sheep at five different properties.  This means we're driving more than in previous years.  While being paid for our grazing services has been wonderful, the amount of time I'm on the road is troubling.

Farming on land that we don't own has it's upside and downside.  I couldn't farm at our current scale if I had to own the land - farmland is just not affordable here.  On the other hand, our operation is very scattered at the moment.