Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Lara and her dog Mo helped us work sheep on Monday.  At one point, Lara sent Mo to gather a field of about 180 ewes, which included a handful of ewes that have lambed.  Mo disappeared around the back of a hill and didn't reappear where we were expecting, so Lara went looking for him.  Sometimes when a dog disappears like this, he's become distracted or confused (and has basically quit working) - not Mo, however!  Mo had discovered a ewe with a newborn lamb, and he was slowly bringing her along to join with the rest of the bunch.
Taff (L) and Mo waiting to go to work!

I can't describe how proud I was of Lara and Mo.  The episode emphasized to me the importance of "listening" to our working dogs.  Mo's disappearance might have been cause for anger (mine and Lara's) if we hadn't realized what he was trying to "tell" us.  Without the ability to verbalize, dogs must rely on their handler's ability to understand their actions and judgement - and Mo's judgement is nearly always good!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Placer County 4-H Stock Dog Project Photos

Jo Ellen Sellers, the mother of one of the kids in our stock dog 4-H project, took these photos yesterday - aren't they great!?

Lara and Mo taking a group of ewes back to pasture.

Ellen and Tess putting ewes and lambs through the corrals.

Canyon View Preserve - Final Post

We completed this round of the Canyon View Project last Saturday - we moved the sheep and goats off the project in anticipation of heavy rains over the latter half of the weekend.  Thanks to our border collies Taff and Mo, we were able to load the animals in a culdesac adjacent to the property - all without loading chutes or corrals!

The animals did a tremendous job on the blackberries - they defoliated most of the plants they could reach.  By defoliating them in the fall when they are going dormant (and trying to store energy in their root systems), we hope we can stress the plants enough to kill some of them.  Later this winter, the Placer Land Trust will plant native trees and shrubs in the riparian corridor.  We'll bring sheep back this spring to graze the yellow starthistle as it begins to bolt (probably in early May).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Ernie Blog

Our youngest border collie, Ernie, is nearly a year old.  We've been working him on sheep, with our friend Ellen Skillings' help, for about three months now.  I'm a novice at starting a puppy, but he's amazing!

Tonight, I worked him on five ewe lambs in our back field.  He has been ignoring me and charging in at the sheep, but tonight he was very attentive to me.  We're working on pacing and distance - he still works a bit too close to the sheep, but we're making improvement.

Ellen tells us that we need to keep the work interesting for a dog of Ernie's intelligence.  I'm looking forward to the next step with him - I'm hoping to use him during the winter on larger groups of sheep.  My challenge is remembering that he's still learning.  I need to avoid getting in a hurry - I need to take time to correct him when he's wrong and praise him when he's right.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Winter Weather Preparations

With the onset of winter weather expected this weekend, we're making a few preparations to ensure that our animals are ready for the cold and wet conditions.  The sheep handle this kind of weather remarkably well - their wool coats are terrific insulation.  Similarly, our guardian animals (dogs and llamas alike) can handle the wet weather just fine.

There are, however, a few things we try to prepare for before the rain (or maybe snow) starts falling.  First, if we have young lambs (as we do currently), we make sure that our pastures include some sort of shelter.  This could be trees or shrubs, or it could be topography.  Our prevailing winds during a storm are generally southerly, so a north-facing slope will provide some wind protection.  The pastures that our sheep are in this weekend offer all three types of protection.  Second, we make sure we have plenty of fully-charged deep-cycle batteries on hand. These batteries power our electric fences.  Normally, the batteries are charged by solar panels, but the limited sunlight over the next 3-4 days means we'll have dead batteries on occasion.  Third, we do any necessary hauling into and out of our pastures before the ground is too wet to drive on.  Today, I pulled our small water trailer out of the pasture.  Finally, we try to anticipate high water, high wind, or other problems that might cause problems for our electric fencing.  We shore up fencing where necessary, and check our fences more frequently during the storm.

As grass-farmers, we rely on the type of weather we're supposed to get this weekend.  I'm looking forward to real winter weather (and to the grass and new life it will bring next spring)!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fall Sheep Work

Ewes are pregnant for 145-155 days.  If we want to match our lambing season to the period of rapid grass growth in the spring, we need to breed them in October and early November.  Today marked the 42nd day that the rams were with our ewes (which covers two estrus cycles), so today we separated the rams and ewes and trimmed everyone's feet.

In the past, we've had problems with footrot, a soil-borne bacterial infection.  We've implemented a comprehensive vaccination, footbath and culling program that has resulted in far fewer problems.  Today's foot-trimming work bore this out - we had very few infected ewes.

Unfortunately, the vaccine that we've been using has been discontinued - a common problem for sheep vaccines in a country with declining sheep production.  We'll be able to vaccinate our sheep this fall, but I don't know what we'll do in the future.

Our dogs were amazing today - especially Mo (who belongs to our daughter Lara).  He gathered the ewes, moved sheep the the corrals, and even loaded the rams in the trailer.  He's a young dog, but today he showed me how much he's matured.  Working with border collies is a partnership that goes deeper than any relationship I've ever had with a pet.  Today was a blast!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Day on the Farm, by Tristan Lambertson

Tristan Lambertson came to the farm with his Dad, Paul, last week - here are his reflections on his day!

"I had a great day at the Flying Mule Farm. Farmer Dan taught me how to work on a sheep farm. I got to see a lot of baby lambs. We spread fences out to make new pens, and I got to watch Taff heard the sheep. Farmer Dan also took me to the Edwards’ to pick-up firewood. While we were there he showed me how to know how old a tree is. As we were leaving, he let me smell a bay leaf that he had picked from a tree on the side of the road. I hope I’ll get to go back and farm again soon."

Canyon View Preserve - Day 12

Today, our interns (Alice and Paul) moved the sheep and goats into a new paddock at Canyon View.  This involved moving the animals into a holding pen and then setting up new fence across the small creek and through a fairly dense stand of blackberries.  They did a great job, for the most part.

Tonight at about 4:45 p.m., I received a call from a neighbor that the animals seemed to be out - they'd been on a walk and were greeted by Reno the guard dog.  When I arrived, I found the animals out - they'd gone through a section of fence.  I'm not sure if something chased them through the fence, or if a section of the fence fell down - regardless, the animals were out.

Farm internships are a great way to gain hands-on experience.  Interns can provide significant on-farm help, as well.  That being said, an internship is a learning experience, which means there will be mistakes on occasion.

Back in Roseville

I went to the Roseville Farmers' Market today for the first time in many months - I've been having our interns go to the market in my place.  While it's a very different market than Auburn, I enjoyed being back - I saw customers I knew, as well as many new faces.  Our newest intern, Paul, brought his family, which was a real treat!  Here are the kids enjoying a cookie behind my stall!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Lambing in the Rain

I always worry about our newest lambs when it rains.  Generally, our ewes take wonderful care of their lambs - a little rain doesn't phase them.  However, the older ewes that we're lambing out this fall have had some challenges.

When we arrive at the ranch each morning, our first chore is to walk through the ewes and lambs and check for problems.  I look for lambs that appear thin or cold, especially after a rainy and windy day like we had Sunday.  If a ewe isn't producing enough milk or has forgotten a lamb, we'll intervene.  If possible, we supplement the ewe's milk production by bottle-feeding the lamb (or lambs) in the pasture.  Sometimes, however, a lamb has become so chilled that we have to intervene more forcefully.

This morning, we discovered a lamb that was barely alive.  He was so cold (mostly from lack of milk) that he had no suckling response.  We caught his mother and tried to milk her, only to discover that she was hardly producing any milk at all (the root of the lamb's problems).  We were able to get about 10 ml of colustrum from her, which we fed to the lamb using a stomach tube.  I then wrapped the lamb in my coat and left it the sunlight while we did the rest of our chores.  We brought the lamb home and gave him milk replacer, again using the stomach tube because he was too weak to suck.  We left him wrapped in a towel next to the woodstove.

When we returned from our next set of chores, he was warm and hungry - and he'd remembered how to suck!  We fed him sheep's milk that we'd frozen during the summer, which he devoured quickly.  As I write this, he's napping on the hearth next to the fire - waiting for the next feeding at 10 p.m.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Canyon View Preserve - Days 7 & 8

Yesterday, I arrived at the project at about 1 p.m. and decided that the animals needed more feed - they had gone through the second paddock much more quickly.  I added a section of fence and allowed them access to more blackberries.

Today I arrived to the dismaying scene of goats in the adjacent subdivision.  Thanks to our wonderful dogs, Mo and Taff, we got everyone gathered and back on-site.  We then moved the bunch downhill to a new paddock with lots of blackberries - they seemed quite happy when we left.

This time of year, I start watching the weather.  High wind and high water will impact our fencing, so I try to make sure that the paddocks are secure.  With rain on the way, I'll be back at the project site first thing in the morning to make sure everyone's okay.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Canyon View Preserve - Day 6

The goats and sheep completed their work on the first paddock yesterday, so we moved into a new paddock just across the small creek at Canyon View.  They were happy to be on fresh feed.  We appear to be holding to the schedule I established for the project.

One of the challenges in managing blackberries with sheep and goats is that sheep sometimes get stuck in the thorns.  We had to rescue one ewe lamb who was stuck - she's fine.  The thorns are also hard on my border collies.  I was quite proud of Mo and Taff - they showed considerable toughness in moving through the brambles to move the sheep and goats yesterday.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Canyon View Preserve - Days 4 & 5

The goats and sheep are making great progress - an island of the thickest blackberries is all that's left in this paddock.  On Monday, we found several of the smallest goats eating their way out of the berries, while the larger goats and some of the sheep were eating their way in.

At this point in the year, the blackberries can be a great source of nutrition - they have protein levels similar to that found in alfalfa hay.  With their wool, the sheep are somewhat more reluctant to enter the thickest patches.  We find that the goats blaze "eating trails" that the sheep can follow.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I think fall is my favorite season.  I've always liked change, and for some reason, the changing weather of autumn appeals to me.  I enjoy the sense of things wrapping up - this year's leaves coming off the trees, this year's irrigation season ending (usually on October 15).

Fall also brings a sense of promise - of new beginnings - that is  directly related to the annual cycle of our farm.  If the weather cooperates in the fall, we get a germinating rainfall (like we got weekend before last).  A germinating rain gets the grass started, and if we get a stretch of warmish weather after this rainfall, the grass really takes off.  Every day now, I can see more green in our pastures.  This fall grass growth is critical for carrying our animals through the winter months.

Finally, fall is our main breeding season for the sheep.  Most breeds of sheep are seasonally anestrous, which means they only breed when the days are growing shorter (and which also means they have their lambs when there is grass).  We put our rams with the ewes on October 1 this year, which means the lambs will begin arriving in late February or early March.