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Showing posts from February, 2011

A Lambing Journal - Day 7

While this lambing season has been less than spectacular in terms of our success, there is one aspect of our management system that seems to be living up to expectation.  For the first time this year, we used a "teaser" ram - a ram that Sami vasectomized.  In other words, he has all the parts, but he can't finish the job.  This allows us to use the ram effect - exposure to the teaser ram is supposed to synchronize the estrus cycles of all of the ewes, which in turn compresses the lambing season.  We had 9 ewes give birth yesterday, and 8 more (so far - it's 9:30 p.m.) give birth today.  Synchronizing the ewes allows us to focus all of our labor into a shorter time frame.

Speaking of labor, I think I'm starting to hit the wall.  This lambing season, because of the weather, has been similar to the first few months of parenthood - up every 2-3 hours.  With more stormy weather due in tomorrow night, I'm hoping to get a good night's sleep tonight - we'll s…

A Lambing Journal - Day 6

Today marked 150 days since the rams were turned in with the ewes, and it was by far the busiest day yet this lambing season.  While it started off with more frustration (we had a lamb fall into a small creek and get chilled), it ended on a high note.  As I write this at 7:30 p.m. we've had 4 single lambs, 2 sets of twins and one set of triplets.  When I left the ranch an hour ago, there was at least one more ewe who was set to lamb.  I'll go back after the girls go to bed and check on her - wouldn't surprise me if a few more had lambed as well.  As of this moment, we have 20 lambs on the ground.  In the next two weeks, I expect that at least 100 more will arrive!

We also stripped out (milked) one of the ewes that had lost her twins in the storm.  I taught two of our interns how to milk by hand - we agreed that it was clear why someone had invented a milking machine!  We got 40 ounces of milk (which we'll save for future bottle lambs), and we'll try to catch her ag…

A Lambing Journal - Day 5

Today was a better day (for the most part).  In addition to the two lambs born last night, we've had three new lambs so far (all singles).  I expanded the paddock that the ewes are in, which made the girls happy.  I was on hand this morning when ewe 512 gave birth (unassisted) to a 14 pound lamb!  They were doing great tonight when I saw them.  Cold and dry is much preferred to cold and wet and windy.

I sometimes hesitate to post photos of the lambs - after all, our main product is meat.  In 6-8 months, the lambs that we're caring for today will become the product that earns us our living.  Some people have a problem with this.  To me, it is part of a cycle.  I absolutely love this time of year - new life is amazing.  My friend and fellow sheepman Al Medvitz puts it this way: "In this country, we think that death is the opposite of health - it's not.  Death can be a healthy and necessary part of life."

With that said, here are a few photos from today.

A Lambing Journal - Day 4

What a day - eventful, long, exhausting, discouraging, encouraging - you name it.  We ended up losing all but one of the lambs that were born in the last two days - the cold, wet and windy weather was just too much for them. When something like this happens, I always second guess myself - should I have moved them into a barn somewhere?  Should I have left them in a paddock with less feed and where the new lambs were secure rather than move them to fresh feed?  Should I breed for a later lambing date?  We try to get lambs on the ground beginning in February so that the ewes (and the lambs) can benefit from the rapid grass growth that begins in late February or early March.  Usually it works fairly well, but not when we get the kind of weather we had last night.

As far as eventful goes, the rain and wind turned to snow at about 10:15 this morning - as Taff and I were moving a handful of yearling ewes to better shelter.  It snowed like crazy for about 2 hours and then quit.  Snow is an e…

A Lambing Journal - Day 3

It's just after 10 p.m. as I write this, and it's been a very long day.  It started out great - two new sets of twins this morning, and a single this afternoon.  Unfortunately we're getting very cold rain and wind tonight.  At my 8 p.m. visit to the sheep, I found that the lambs weren't handling the cold well.  After talking it over with Sami, we decided to bring all of the lambs and ewes home.  We have two lambs on the hearth warming up, and everyone else is in the barn.  I'll head back out to the ranch (about a 3 mile drive) at 1 a.m. to check for more lambs - I hope the rest of the ewes can hold on.

Tomorrow, we'll move onto a different property with access to a barn.  We're supposed to get even colder tomorrow, so I plan on dropping the rest of my activities and get the sheep situated.

I love what I do, but days like this are draining (physically and emotionally).  Hope tomorrow's a better day!

A Lambing Journal - Day 2

Our day started with checking on yesterday's ewe lamb.  Her head and one ear were still swollen.  While she was warm and seemed to have eaten, we decided to make sure.  While I held the ewe, Sami milked her (and we decided she had definitely nursed during the night).  We tube fed her, and gave her more anti-inflammatory and some long-acting antibiotics.  Sami made a "jacket" for her out of an old sweatshirt.  Tonight, she's still swollen, but she seems to have eaten - we'll keep our fingers crossed!

My next stop was at the paddock where the ewes were.  No new lambs, so we went on to Sierra College to move the yearling ewes and goats.  After feeding a small group of cows in Lincoln, I returned to Auburn to check the ewes - again, no new lambs.  Paul, Taff and I moved them just down the road to fresh feed (which they were happy about!).  We then expanded the paddock - I wanted to be sure they had plenty of feed and natural shelter with the weather (rain and snow) w…

A Lambing Journal - Day 1

Lambing season officially started today (a day early by my calculations, but the ewes don't carry a calendar).  Ewe #33 (a maiden ewe, meaning this is her first lamb) had a bloody discharge showing when I walked through the sheep this morning.  As this is usually a sign that a ewe has already delivered, I was worried that I didn't see a lamb with her.  After more exploration in the pasture, I came across a single ewe lamb off by herself (never a good sign).  The ewe showed slight interest in the lamb, but much more interest in grazing.  The lamb was clean and dry, but obviously hungry - she even tried to nurse on the guard dog (good ol' Uncle Buck).

Sometimes new mothers will clean off a lamb and then go off to graze, forgetting where they've left the lamb.  After watching the ewe for about 45 minutes, I decided to send the ewe and lamb home.  Our intern, Paul, put in an ear tag, gave her a selenium drench, and docked her tail.  He also paint branded her with her mother…

Intern Reunion at Sierra College

One of our 2009 interns, Julie House, visited us today - what a treat!  Julie is now working at a Montessori school in Davis.  We had a great time catching up.  Julie helped us move fence for the sheep and goats at Sierra College and walked through the ewes to check for new lambs (turns out that lambing is her favorite time of year, too).  One of this year's interns, Paul Lambertson, worked with us this morning, too - our chores went especially quickly!

Over the years, we've tried to develop a formal internship program.  Our interns are expected to read up on subjects related to sheep production and pasture management.  We also help them gain hands-on experience in all aspects of our business.  Finally, each intern takes on a farm-related project - Julie's was helping to organize a lamb and goat recipe book - and a farm-community project.

While formal education is important, much of what I've learned from being in the sheep business is not taught in college level anim…

Late Winter Sunset

What a pretty day!  Wish you could here the frogs chirping - made these sunset photos even prettier!

A Shepherd's Day

This morning, my friend and sheep partner Roger Ingram and I moved the bred ewes about 1/4 mile down Shanley Road to fresh feed.  Thanks to our outstanding dogs (Bella and Mo this morning), the move went very well - and the sheep were very happy to be on new feed.  After they settled in, Roger and I walked through the ewes to see how close they're getting to lambing.  We expect to have new lambs by the end of the week!

Then Mo and I drove to Sierra College to check on the yearling ewes and goats that are grazing a fuel break on campus.  I'd moved them yesterday, so we didn't have much to do.  After several days of cold rain, they were enjoying the sunshine.

After stops at the feed store and the hardware store on the way home, I finally cleaned my desk (much to Sami's amazement and delight).  I also went through our lambing supplies and got organized for the impending arrivals.  This afternoon, we met Roger and our friend Kathy Hofer at the ranch to train dogs.  Taff di…

Working in the Rain

I must admit - I kind of enjoy working outside in stormy weather.  I'm fortunate to have pretty decent foul weather gear (including lots of woolen clothing and good rubber boots), so it's generally not too uncomfortable.
I find being outdoors in rain or snow to be calming - things are quieter and slower.

Today, I built a new 3/4 acre paddock for our sheep and goats at Sierra College (in the rain).  I also moved our 130 pregnant ewes across the road and into a new pasture during a driving sleet storm in Auburn.  Maybe it's genetic - my northern European and Scottish ancestors probably dealt with worse weather.  What a great day!

The Shepherd's Dog at Rest

Ernie got to spend the night in the house last night.  As you can see, he especially enjoyed waking up in front of the woodstove this morning!

8 days to go

Theoretically, we have 8 days to wait before the first lambs arrive.  The ewes aren't acquainted with theory, so we might have a ewe or two that decides to lamb early.  Accordingly, we will spend the rest of this week walking through the sheep  to make sure that everyone's okay.

As I've written previously, I love this time of year.  The grass is starting to grow, the days alternate between spring and winter, and we begin to see the results of our work last summer and fall.

On April 2, we're hosting a photography workshop with our friend Mary Yates (from Sage Ranch).  We should have most of our lambs on the ground by then - should be a great day for photos and fun!

Da' Boys

A few photos of our rams - soaking in the footbath today!

Grass-fed or Grain-fed - Asking the Right Question

Grass-fed meat has become quite trendy over the last 5 years.  When I working on establishing a producer-owned grass-fed beef business in 2003, grass-fed was still viewed skeptically by producers and consumers alike - it had a reputation for being tough and dry (from a consumer perspective) and an unprofitable "micro" niche (from a rancher perspective).  Since that time, we've seen the publication of several Michael Polan books espousing the benefits of grass-fed meat.  We've had cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in North America.  And we've seen one of the largest privately owned ranches in California (Hearst Ranch) start marketing grass-fed beef.

As with many agricultural trends, the U.S. Department of Agriculture seems to be lagging behind.  For many years, USDA permitted meat purveyors who marketed grass-fed meat to feed grain for up to 20 percent of the animal's lifetime nutritional requirements.  While the definition has changed, it continues to…

How Small is Big Enough?

Small is beautiful, E.F. Schuacher tells us, and Schumacher’s vision of economics at a more human scale certainly resonates with me as a small-scale farmer.From a local food perspective, small farms are held up as a more compassionate, sustainable and responsible alternative to corporate-managed industrialized agriculture.Small, family-owned farms, the theory goes, are more ecologically sensitive than their “industrial” counterparts.As a practitioner of “small” farming, I am philosophically and economically inclined towards this perspective.As someone striving to make my living from small farming, however, I often struggle with the question of scale.Balancing the idealistic goal of staying small with the realistic need to be big enough to earn a living wage is, I think, one of the most critical questions for small farmers.
From a practical standpoint, there are advantages to staying small.On a small farm, the farmer can pay close attention to details that might be lost on a larger oper…