Friday, July 15, 2011


I just came in from riding my mule, Frisbee, in our back pasture.  I noticed this evening that the blue oaks on our property have pushed out new growth since the big rain we had in late June.  Seems like nature takes advantage of positive conditions - the oaks will grow more because of the natural irrigation they received this summer.

The challenge for farmers and ranchers in our region, I think, is to work with natural conditions.  Generally speaking, we get a germinating rain sometime in the fall.  The grass starts to grow, and it continues to grow until the temperatures remain too cold for growth (usually sometime in December).  In late February or early March (usually), the temperatures stay warm enough to promote rapid grass growth.  In May or early June, soil moisture is depleted and growth stops.

For livestock producers, this means that we should try to synchronize the reproductive cycle with the weather cycle.  A female sheep or cow has her greatest nutritional demand in late pregnancy and early lactation.  The grass is at its best, usually, in March and April.  Spring lambing and calving, then, seems to make sense.

For crop farmers, the challenge is somewhat different.  Most of our "annual" crops, at least in California's Mediterranean climate, require summer irrigation.  My friend Alan Haight, from Riverhill Farm, is pondering whether there are any crops that match our weather patterns.  It's an interesting concept.

Successful small-scale farming requires careful observation - of weather patterns, of livestock behavior, of crop responses.  Observation is part of what makes this profession enjoyable!

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