Several weeks ago, I arrived at one of the ranches we lease to find that about a third of our irrigated pasture had been mowed by our landlords. My jaw (and my heart) dropped - as grass-fed lamb producers, we rely on a plentiful supply of healthy pasture to finish our lambs. We try to manage our pastures to allow enough time for them to regrow between grazing sessions. This allows the desirable plants (like clover and orchard grass) to flourish, in turn crowding out the less desirable plants (like smut grass). The portion of the pasture that had been mowed was the most productive, and it had only been rested for about 7 days (this time of year, we try to rest our pastures 35-40 days). While I'm still not sure what possessed our landlords to mow down our forage, I knew that afternoon that we'd need to try to find alternative feed to finish our lambs.
I made several phone calls and found some leads, but nothing concrete. The next day, my friend and our local farm advisor, Roger Ingram, was meeting with the folks at Elster Ranch between Grass Valley and Auburn. We had finished our lambs at Elster Ranch the last two years, but owner George Nolte was expanding his cattle operation and felt that he needed every blade of grass he could grow this year (who could blame him)! After talking with Roger and learning of my predicament, George offered to let us graze our feeder lambs at Elster Ranch for 30 days, in exchange for bringing our ewe flock to the property to help control weeds. What an incredible gift!
The pasture at Elster Ranch is beyond compare - it's by far the highest quality forage we've ever grazed with our sheep. George's vision, cowman Bill Boundy's years of experience, and ranch manager Rob Thompson's irrigation expertise have created in lush pastures that result in amazing gains in our lambs (and in George's grass-fed steers). We hope to duplicate their effort at Oak Hill Ranch here in Auburn next year.
I've written before about the pleasure I take in working with other stockmen. George, Bill and Rob understand both the science and the art of pasture and livestock management. Our experience at the other ranch this year has highlighted for me the challenges in communicating our management approach and needs with someone who doesn't have the same stockmanship ethic. As we move forward in reorganizing our business to permit me to work off-farm part-time, I'm thankful that our landlords/partners in the Mt. Vernon area of Auburn are supportive, understanding and enthusiastic about our operation. In the meantime, I'm enjoying grazing our sheep at Elster Ranch one more year!
For more information about Elster Ranch, go to http://www.elsterranch.com/! Check out their grass-fed beef!