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Showing posts from May, 2011

Through Others' Eyes

Teaching helps me to see things that I take for granted through another's eyes.  Yesterday, Sami and I taught our intern Callie and her boyfriend Matt how to process chickens.  Sami and I have processed chickens on a regular basis over the last 8 or 9 years (first for our own consumption, then for our customers).  Callie and Matt were new to the entire process, and their reaction to it helped Sami and I see it in a new light.
The butchering process, for me, is both physical and mental.  I always do the "outside" work (that is, I bleed, scald and pluck the birds), while Sami does the "inside" work (evisceration, chilling, weighing and bagging).  I've done the outside work enough to have muscle memory for the tasks involved.  For example, I know where and how to use the sticking knife to quickly and humanely dispatch the chicken.  I know how long to scald the bird to make sure the feathers come off completely, and I know how to hold the bird over our plucking …

Whitney Oaks Grazing Update

Now that the sheep have been shorn, we'll be bumping up our numbers on our Whitney Oaks grazing project in Rocklin.  This year's better-than-average rainfall has resulted in tremendous grass growth, and we find ourselves behind schedule on this project.  Now that we'll have more mouths on the project, we should pick up the pace.

In addition to adding animals, we're boosting consumption through management as well.  We've added protein tubs for the sheep - the additional protein will help the animals consume and digest more dry feed.  Ruminant animals need protein to digest cellulose, and the dry grass doesn't have enough protein for their systems.  These tubs take more labor and expense to use, but the trade-off in terms of animal health and forage consumption will be positive.

Shearing the animals will also boost consumption.  Without wool, the sheep will be less likely to seek shade during the hot part of the day - meaning they'll graze for longer periods.…

Shearing - Day 1.5

Here are some photos from the first full day of shearing here at Flying Mule Farm.  More will be posted....


Bucolic – adjective.1. of or pertaining to shepherds; pastoral.2. of, pertain to, or suggesting an idyllic rural life. []
In some ways, "bucolic" describes the life I lead.Certainly the first definition applies – I am a shepherd who operates a pasture-based sheep business.On some days, the second definition also applies – some days are idyllic.Other days, unfortunately, are not.
Some of the stress I deal with is external.Lack of rain, too much rain, predators that threaten my sheep, neighbors that object to our use of livestock guardian dogs – these are stressors that are largely outslide of my control.However, I also find that I put stress on myself.Most of this type of stress stems from my inability to say “no” – I seem to want to help anyone who asks.
Sometimes, I can’t say no to volunteer activities – things that I think are important to our community but that take time that I don’t have to give.Other times, I can’t say no to business opportunities that take a…

Weather Woes

Yesterday, I awoke to rain and an outside temperature of 38 degrees F - normal for March, but unusual for mid-May.  My folks reported an inch of snow at their home east of Sonora - the first time they could remember measurable snow in May in the nearly 44 years they've lived there.  Our intern Paul was caught in a thunderstorm (including hail, thunder and lightning) while moving the sheep in Rocklin.  By all accounts, May 15 was a wild day, weather-wise.

Normally I enjoy late season storms - I soak up the cooler weather knowing that the summer heat is just around the corner.  This year, since a canal outage has disrupted our supply of irrigation water, I'm especially grateful for the nearly one inch of precipitation we received yesterday.

On the other hand, we're trying to get our sheep shorn.  We're nearly 3 weeks behind our normal shearing date, thanks largely to the extraordinarily wet March we had.  I was planning on shearing about 30 ewes myself yesterday - we gav…

Getting Ready to Shear - 2011

Seems like shearing preparations are hectic every year - we typically have to move sheep home or to some other central location to get them shorn.  The wet spring (and the threat of more wet weather next week), combined with the number of grazing contracts we have this year, has made this year especially crazy.

This will probably sound like whining, but listing all that we have to do between now and next Saturday (May 21) is therapeutic!

May 13
Beginning Farming Class in Jackson

May 14

Move portable corrals and footbath home and set them upMove 10 pairs of ewes and lambs home from Shanley LaneMove 2 rams home from Dry Creek RoadMark large lambs for weaning and note their mothers' ear tag numbersSort 30 of the ewes whose lambs we'll wean off for shearing on SundaySet up shearing barn, skirting table, wool sack stand, etc.Arts Council of Placer County Out of the Box AuctionMay 15 Shear 30 ewes (I'll do these myself - should be interesting!)Put 30 ewes through the footbathMay 16 H…

Urban-Rural Conflict

On Monday, we hauled most of our ewes and lambs home from a grazing contract in Lincoln - we're hoping to get the ewes shorn in the next several days, and we need to do the job at home.  The move home is always somewhat noisy - lambs looking for their mothers and vice versa are very vocal.  I delivered the last load at about 6 p.m., and everyone quieted down for the night.

However, they apparently didn't quiet down quickly enough for one of our neighbors.  We found out from our friend Tom Harper, who keeps several bee hives at our place, that someone from Placer County Code Enforcement had talked to him when he checked his hives yesterday afternoon.  I followed up with the woman from the County today and learned that a neighbor had filed a written complaint that we had too many sheep for our property (despite the fact that the grass in our pasture is thigh-high).

While our home property is relatively small, it is zoned "Farm," which means the County allows most agric…

Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

On April 19, the Bear River Canal ruptured near Colfax.  The canal, which is operated by Pacific Gas and Electric, moves water from the Bear River to Placer County Water Agency customers and to Placer County customers of the Nevada Irrigation District.  In one of the wettest years on record, we face the ironic prospect of starting the 2011 irrigation season in a drought.  Most of PCWA's commercial agriculture customers will have their water deliveries cut by 25 percent.  Some farms and ranches west of Lincoln will receive no water until the canal is repaired.  Here at home, we will have 3 days with irrigation water and 4 days without it each week.  Fortunately for us, the irrigated pastures we've rented this year are unaffected and will receive full deliveries.

In our Mediterranean climate, farming depends on our ability to store the precipitation that arrives in the winter months as rain and snow and then transport that water to the crops that need it.  Obviously, those of us…

Diversified Ranching in Sierra Valley - a Sierra CRAFT Workshop

Through a grant from the Western Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (WSARE), a group of farms and ranches in our region (our farm included) has been presenting a series of workshops on a variety of production, marketing and business management topics.  The Sierra Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (Sierra CRAFT) is focused on providing opportunities for farmers and ranchers to learn from each other.

Yesterday, with the help of UC Cooperative Extension and Plumas Rural Services, we held a tour of three Sierra Valley Farms that have successfully diversified their operations.  I wanted to share a few of the key lessons I learned - I'm sure that each participant learned something different.  We had a wonderful day!

Our first stop was at Harvey Ranch in Calpine.  Don and Anna Harvey raise about 3000 commercial ewes, along with a "spinning" flock consisting of about 50 Coopworth, Romney and Rambouillet ewes.  They also have a logging…

Spring Photo Album

Enjoy these photos!

4-legged Hay Makers

Our grazing lease landlord Pat Shanley called yesterday - just to check in on me.  Pat has lived all of his 91 years here in Auburn (except for time away during World War II).  Since we leased his ranch last fall, he's become a good friend!

He told me that the man who had cut the field in front of his house (about 7 acres) for hay last year came to see him this week.  When he asked Pat about cutting hay this year, Pat told him, "We've got it covered - we're doing the mowing, baling and feeding all in one operation this year."  When the man looked puzzled, Pat explained further, "We have sheep coming!"  Pat and I both got a good laugh from the story.

Pat's reply was only partly in jest.  Like me, Pat feels that letting the animals do the job rather than using a machine (and increasingly expensive fuel) is the right approach.