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Showing posts from September, 2010

Predator Friendly?

We've been seeing lots of coyotes around our sheep lately.  The proximity of these predators to our livelihood presents an ethical dilemma for me - I'm always thrilled at seeing local wildlife, but I always worry about the safety of our sheep.  Our friend and partner Ellen called last night, saying that she was a "poor shepherd" because she failed to run over a coyote on her drive back to the ranch.  We both agreed that we would have a hard time killing a predator unless it was actually killing a sheep.

If we didn't use guardian animals (dogs and llamas), I would not be able to say this.  I like to tell folks that we're predator friendly, but our guard dogs are not!  The exception to this, at least for me, is a domestic dog.  We've lost sheep to neighbor dogs, and I think I'd probably have a hard time NOT shooting a domestic dog that was chasing my livestock (even if it hadn't killed anything yet).  A domestic dog kills for sport; a coyote kills f…

Random Thoughts - Organic vs. Local

I spoke to a group of high school students last week about local farming issues.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself - engaged teenagers ask incredibly insightful questions!  In following up with one of the students, we've continued to discuss organic versus local farming.


For me, this is a complicated question.  In some ways, it gets to the heart of whether we believe that a piece of paper can ensure healthy and sustainable farming practices.  The question is also related to the 3 elements of sustainability (economic, social and environmental).  If a farm can't make a living for the farmer, the other elements of sustainability (social and environmental) begin to fall apart.  While local doesn't necessarily ensure sustainable practices, the fact that local farms are an open book to their customers goes a long way in this regard (at least in my mind).
Wendell Berry writes "But the real products of any year's work are the farmer's mind and the cropland itself.  I…

The New Year

According to my sheep calendar, our new year begins this week.  At the end of the week, we'll sort our ewes into two breeding groups and turn the rams in with them.  This begins our production cycle once again.  The rams will stay with the ewes for 6 weeks.  When we pull the rams, we'll trim everyone's feet and booster their footvax vaccinations.  Then we have about 6-8 weeks of relative ease (that is, we'll only be moving the ewes onto fresh feed every few days).  After the Holidays, we'll booster the ewes 8-way vaccinations (which will provide some disease protection to their lambs as well).  In early March, our new lambs will begin to arrive.

I look forward to these milestones in our sheep year.  Breeding, lambing, shearing, weaning and harvesting are times when we can take stock of our success as managers.  On Friday, we'll check all of the ewes for body condition (an evaluation of their external fat cover) and for the condition of their feet.  This systema…

Requiem for Number 7

Purchased on the courthouse steps during the first Great Depression, You were named for your number on the list of foreclosures. Your fertile soil and plentiful water yielded cherries, pears and persimmons, And your family made a living.
Your family, in one way or another, owned you for more than 60 years. After your orchards declined, you produced grass and hay For draft horses and Angus cows and the occasional grass-fed steer. And your family made a living.
Near the end of the century, you were sold to another family, And another chapter in your life as a farm began. For awhile you still produced grass, but your soil became dirt – Dirt to be graded and paved over for houses.
By the time I met you, you’d been cut into pieces. Your new family saw the land as a toy and as an “asset.” You were no longer a farm – you were real estate – And parts of you were sold off or returned to the bank.
I only knew your entirety for two years – For two years your soil and water grew grass and lamb and beef. We shear…

The Intern Blog: Tales of a Lapsed Vegetarian - Part I: We don’t go to church, We’re vegetarian (by Alice)

Most people don’t choose their religion, but are born into family’s with certain beliefs and grow up believing the same. As we grow up many people begin to question these beliefs and practices and may depart from what their parents believe, or change the way they feel about their families way of practicing. My family is not religious. We don’t believe in god, and we never went to church. I think the only religious literature in our house was an old I Ching Book of Changes, left over from the sixties. We were not religious, we were vegetarians. It was the comprehensive belief system we practiced every day, and in many ways, defined our family. We weren’t fundamentalist vegetarians; we used leather and ate eggs. We didn’t care, or weren’t aware of animal rennet in cheese and ate marshmallows containing gelatin. It was fine for other people to eat meat, but my brother and I were taught that meat is not food. It is the flesh of dead animals, and you do not put it in your mouth. My mom eve…

Field Trips and Fairs

Last week, our kids exhibited animals at the Gold Country Fair in Auburn.  Emma, our youngest, showed her rabbit and one of our dogs (Taff).  Lara showed two market lambs and her dog, Popcorn.  They both had successful fairs - Lara's lamb was the 4-H grand champion, and she received a whopping $21 per pound at the junior livestock auction.  So much for learning about the realities of the sheep business!

On Sunday, we hosted to classes taught by our friend Susan Marshall at Humboldt State University.  The classes, one in ranch planning and development and the other in range improvements, were on a field trip to central California.  Our landlord, George Nolte, talked about the development of the Elster Ranch - he's installing new fencing, planting new pastures, and putting in new irrigation systems.  I talked about our sheep business, about conservation easements, and about the California Agricultural Leadership Program.

The common theme in these two activities, obviously, was ed…

Dog People

Some people are dog people - some are not!  I think dogs can sense this - they like people who like them back. Dogs can certainly sense fear, so why not kindness?  Dogs also respect honesty and clarity of communication, and respond well to people who understand this.

This weekend, we moved our ewe lambs from a property in Loomis because our guard dog, Boise, was intimidating to the landowners and their employee.  Boise is a large dog who can seem quite ferocious.  His anxiety level seems to increase greatly when people are afraid of him.  On Sunday evening, he got out of his paddock.  While he was apparently charging the person who called me, when I arrived he only wanted to be back with his sheep.  I've observed him acting aggressively with people who yell at him out of fear, and I've also observed him relax when a person ignores him or tells him to "knock it off" forcefully and without fear.  On Monday, our friend Roger Ingram (a definite dog person) approached him…