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Showing posts from November, 2011

Sharing Traditions

Our friend and fellow farmer Courtney McDonald lives in the midst of an old persimmon orchard near Ophir.  Courtney is also a professional chef and the site manager of the Old Town Auburn Farmers' Market.  Like our family, Courtney and her partner Eric value the farming traditions that make our part of Placer County so rich.  Being blessed with and abundance of "free" persimmons, Courtney has taken it upon herself to learn from the older Japanese farmers who planted many of the persimmon trees that are so common in our part of the county.

Oak Hill Ranch in Auburn, which we've leased for going on 5 years now, has more than 100 old persimmon trees.  In past years, we've anxiously awaited the time when the hachiya persimmons soften on the tree - only then are they ready to eat.  I've tried them while they were still firm and have found them so astringent that my mouth feels dry for hours after taking a small bite.  Usually the birds can tell they moment they…

Take Your Dog To Work Day

As a shepherd, I guess every day is "Take Your Dog to Work Day" for me - I'd be lost without my border collies, and my sheep would be coyote bait without my livestock guardian dogs.  Lately, I've been taking two or three border collies to work with me, but today was Taff's turn to be the only dog to go to work!

Our dogs have sorted themselves into a hierarchy, which is most easily seen when we're on a walk away from the sheep.  Taff, our oldest border collie (and my main dog), is the top dog - he's always closest to me.  Ernie, the youngest, would like to be top dog, but he still looks to Taff for direction.  Mo, who actually belongs to our daughter Lara, is in the middle age-wise.  Mo is a free spirit.  He ignores Ernie (his younger half-brother) and he looks up to Taff.  When he's not working, however, he'd rather be chasing butterflies or bird shadows.

From the standpoint of work, Mo is easily the most talented dog of the bunch.  As I've l…

Weather Worries

A little more than a week ago, the weather forecast in the Sacramento Bee said we would not need to worry - the weekend wouldn't be "ruined" by wet weather.  While I've written on this theme in previous years, I never cease to be somewhat offended by the idea that rain during the rainy season is an inconvenience.  Since our sheep rely on the grass that in turn relies on precipitation, rain doesn't ruin my weekend this time of year!

Since I rely on grass, and because I work outside nearly every day, I take a personal interest in the weather forecast.  While this autumn started out with favorable rain in October, the storms that have been predicted over the last several weeks have fizzled.  While we've just barely started into the wet season, I start to get nervous when predicted storms fail to deliver.  We've reached the point in the year when the days are short and soil temperatures have dropped enough to where the grass won't grow much, even if we ge…

Thanks

My daughters and I were discussing our favorite holidays this afternoon while we were hauling firewood to a customer in Meadow Vista.  Lara, our oldest, said that Thanksgiving and Christmas were her favorite holidays, and I have to agree with her.  I enjoy the short days, the cold weather, the sense of stocking up and settling in.  I also enjoy the chance to think about those things that make me grateful.  In many ways, this has been a difficult year for us.  We experienced more problems during lambing than we've ever had.  We found ourselves spread thin geographically and physically this summer.  This fall, I've struggled with the realization that I'm missing some of my girls' growing up time in order to market our products at farmers' markets.  Despite these challenges, I'm grateful for many things on this Thanksgiving eve.

I'm thankful for my family - Sami, Lara and Emma put up with my long hours, my frustration (at times) and my exhaustion.  My extended…

LGD Puppies and Sheep Work

Vegas' puppies are now 3-1/2 weeks old - their eyes are open and they are becoming much more mobile!  Vegas is proving to be a great mother, although I suspect she's looking forward to the day the puppies are weaned.  The hardest part about rearing these pups is avoiding over-socializing them.  Now that their eyes are open, we hold them and pet them as little as possible - we want them to bond with our sheep.





Last night, we de-wormed all of the pups and clipped their toenails.  Our friend Kerry Williams, who raises working Pyrenees, suggested this.  Their nails can grow long and sharp before they start to walk, which can injure their mother's teats.  We clipped the sharp points off - it doesn't hurt them, but they don't like being held (which is probably a good thing, given their future occupations).

When the puppies are 10-12 weeks old, we'll begin selling them to other sheep and goat producers.  Based on their parents' guarding abilities, we think they…

Nothing like a Pendleton shirt!

Last week, the weather finally stayed cool enough during the day to justify breaking out my woolen Pendleton shirts.  My collection of Pendletons includes three or four shirts that I bought new or received as gifts.  The rest I've inherited from my Dad and my uncle Doug as they "outgrew" them.  I have at least one shirt (too small for me now) that dates from the late 1950s.  Others I can remember my Dad buying from Baer's Clothing in Sonora before I started school, which makes them at least 40 years old.  They may not be the most stylish garments, but then I'm not the most stylish person, either.  My Pendleton shirts are far and away my favorite clothes.

That a garment can last for many decades is a testament to the quality of the fabric and the skill of the craftsmen (and women) who manufactured it.  As a wool producer, I sometimes wonder if we'd be better served if wool didn't last so long - maybe folks would buy more wool if it wore out as quickly as c…

Great Lakes Dairy Sheep Symposium Report - Volume 1

Late last week, the 17th annual Great Lakes Dairy Sheep Symposium was held in Petaluma, California.  Two of our former interns - Courtney McDonald and Callie Murphy - attended the entire conference (including a great tour of several sheep dairies on Saturday).  My friend Roger Ingram and I drove down for Friday.  More than 140 folks attended the symposium, including dairy shepherds from Canada and Mexico.

Upon her return to Placer County, Courtney shared the following information with us:


"Recent research at Spooner Station (at the University of Wisconsin) shows that dairy ewes pastured on clover and orchard grass (or any 50% legume) and fed 2-3 pounds high energy grain ration (whole corn) on the milk stand had better milk production and fat/solids composition than traditionally managed ewes fed alfalfa and high-protein grain ration on stand.  This study is included in the proceedeings booklet.  Having just seeded my pasture with clover and ryegrass, I find this encouraging a…

My Favorite Season

I love autumn.  I love the scents - wood smoke, decaying leaves, moisture.  I love the sense of slowing down - our work slows, the world seems to slow.  I love the variety - sunny and comfortably warm one day, cold and wet the next.  I've always enjoyed change, and the transition from summer to winter is particularly wonderful.
Today's time change allowed me to sleep in without feeling especially guilty - I slept for nearly 10 hours last night, but I still got up by 7 a.m.!  My sister and her youngest daughter were visiting, and we had the most enjoyable and relaxing morning with them.  At mid-day, we drove to one of our leased ranches and cut firewood for several hours.  I then moved a group of sheep, fed the guard dogs, and herded one of our breeding groups back to our back pasture (they'd been grazing some grass for a neighbor who is selling their father's home).  Daylight ended with our chores at home and with splitting kindling for the next week.
Part of what I l…

Progress

I took a load of 37 lambs to our processor in Dixon this morning - the last of this year's lambs are finished.  For us, this marks tremendous progress in our operation - two years ago, the last of our lambs didn't finish until February - at 11 months of age.  We aim to finish our lambs at 95-100 pounds (lighter than conventionally finished grain-fed lambs). The oldest of this year's lambs were seven months of age.  This may not seem like a big difference, until you realize that it costs about $5 per month to feed and care for a lamb - in other words, this year's lambs cost us at least $20 less per head to raise.  As I think about our management system, our progress can be attributed to three factors: genetics, pasture and animal management and marketing sophistication.

This marks the third year of our use of the three-tier breeding system used in Great Britain to produce grass-fed lambs.  We breed our white-faced ewes (Dorset, Dorper, North Country and Border Cheviot, …