Monday, October 31, 2011

Turning the Page

In our farming operation, there are tasks that seem to allow us to complete one season's work and turn our attention to the next season - to turn the page, so to speak.  I especially look forward to the page that we turn in the autumn when we market the last of the current year's lambs.  Up until this time, we're spread out - ewes with the rams on one or two properties, grass-finishing lambs on another.  My days seem to be consumed with moving electric fence and driving.  After this time, our flocks are more consolidated - things slow down and I find myself spending much less time on the road.
Ernie and Mo - ready to go to work!

Today, I weighed and evaluated our last 39 lambs.  These lambs have been on the best grass/clover pastures that we have access to - this year, they've been at the Elster Ranch between Auburn and Grass Valley since early June.  Tomorrow, I'll ship these lambs to our processor, and beginning next week, we'll begin to market the last of our lamb at the Auburn and Roseville farmers' markets.  After weighing the lambs, I drove back to Auburn to move one of our groups of breeding ewes onto fresh feed.  I ended the day by training my youngest border collie (Ernie) on a group of ewe lambs we've separated from the rest of the flock for just this purpose.

One of the most satisfying parts of farming, at least for me, is the opportunity to see what I've accomplished at the end of the day or at the end of the season.  I've always enjoyed stacking wood for this reason.  Today marked the culmination of a process that began just about 12 months ago when we put the rams with the ewes in the fall of 2010.  While our lambing season was challenging this year (I just looked back at my blog entries for February and March), our lambs did exceptionally well this summer and fall.  Looking at this last load of lambs, I'm extremely pleased with the progress we've made in our genetics and our management.  We've started the cycle over again - the rams are currently with the ewes - and I'm excited about our prospects for next year.

Can you find the ram in this photo?
Boise's ready to lead the sheep onto
fresh pasture.
Autumn has always been my favorite time of year.  The natural world seems to slow down - and if we're paying attention, so do we.  My friend Eric Alexander remarked last night that things seem quieter in the fall. The logical side of my brain tells me that this is because there are fewer folks mowing their lawns and using other types of power yard equipment.  The spiritual side of my brain tells me that this is because the earth is slowing down - things are going dormant and quiet.  Sometime in the next 2 weeks, we'll get our first frost of the fall.

Other farmers and ranchers are marking similar turnings.  As I gathered our lambs today, I could hear the cowbells on Dave and Barbara Gallino's cows more than a mile to the west.  Dave and Barbara summer their cows in the mountains part way up Yuba Pass.  They are gathering their cattle onto their home place before shipping them to the northern Sacramento Valley for the winter.  The sound of cowbells is a marker for me - it denotes the transition from one season to the next.  Shaun Clark, a young farmerwho grows summer vegetables finished, his clean-up and winter preparations today - the cover crop is planted and the crop residue is gone. I saw Tony Aguilar, who is a mandarin grower, last weekend - he's gearing up for harvest.  The expected cold weather will sweeten this year's mandarins!

An autumn sunset behind Shanley Hill - one of my favorite places in all of Auburn!
 After tomorrow, my work will take on a different feel.  I won't be scrambling to check sheep at three different properties.  I still have equipment and fencing to pick up at Elster Ranch, but I won't need to worry about any sheep there.  I can turn my attention to getting ready for winter - splitting firewood, raking leaves, and repairing equipment.  I can turn the page!

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