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Showing posts from February, 2012


We're officially in the midst of lambing season - we now have a newborn lamb in the living room!  We'll be offering him a bottle every several hours for the next week or two, and he'll be transitioning to outdoor life as soon as the weather improves.

We get bottle lambs for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes a ewe dies, so we have orphan lambs.  Sometimes a lamb gets chilled and won't get up to nurse on its own.  Other times, like tonight, we find a lamb that can't figure out how to nurse and/or a ewe that doesn't seem that interested in its lamb.

Tonight, I watched this lamb and its mother for over an hour.  When I first discovered the pair, the ewe had not yet passed her placenta, which meant that the lamb was not yet an hour old.  During the the time I watched them, I never saw the lamb nurse.  I even caught the ewe at one point and tried to get the lamb to latch on - no luck.  This was the ewe's first lamb, and she just doesn't seem to be a very good …

Lambing 2012 - first update

Someone remarked that we'd had about five or six days of winter this year (at least if you count the number of storms we've had).  One of those winter days (or nights, in this case) was last night.  We've had rain and lots of wind overnight - it's been one of those nights that keeps a shepherd up with worry - especially if his ewes are in the midst lambing (as ours are).

Last year, I kept a daily journal on this blog of our lambing.  We had a difficult time of it last year - a selenium deficiency resulted in the loss of many lambs early on during lambing, and wet weather was hard on the sheep as well. I won't keep a daily log this year, but it is helpful to look back at what we went through in 2011.

At 3:45 this morning, I finally gave in to my worrying and ventured out to make my first round through the sheep (we have flocks in two locations about 5 miles apart at the moment).  Because of last year's experience, I had some anxiety about what I'd find.

I wa…


Each year during lambing, I find that I must re-learn trust.  Because we pasture lamb, I must trust that our ewes will deliver their lambs unassisted and take good care of them once they are born.  I must trust that our guardian animals (dogs and llamas) will protect the sheep from predators like coyotes, dogs and mountain lions.  I need to trust my own instincts, too - should I move the ewes to fresh forage, or can they make it another day where they are.  Experience and mistakes (I hope) lead to wisdom, and wisdom helps me trust in my own abilities and the abilities of my animals.
Most of the time, my trust is well-founded - we've established a flock that is well-suited to pasture lambing.  Our guardian animals, for the most part, do their jobs well.  Our border collies have the intelligence to change their approach to herding once the lambs arrive (the ewes are much more aggressive with lambs at their sides).
Sometimes, though, I find that things don't work out like I plan.…

Lambing 2012

We're officially into lambing season - our first lamb of 2012 has arrived!  Actually, we started yesterday, but do to the over-exuberance of Vegas the guard dog, today's lamb is the first that has survived.  She's out of a maiden ewe (which means this is the ewe's first lamb), but the ewe seems to be handling motherhood quite well.

Over the next 6 weeks, we anticipate the birth of 250-300 lambs.  A second, smaller group of ewes will give birth in April.  All told, we should have 375-450 lambs this spring.  Needless to say, we'll be busy.

With lambing comes sleepless nights, worries about weather, and long days.  We pasture lamb (meaning we rely on our ewes to give birth without assistance and to be outstanding mothers).  While our ewes generally do an outstanding job, I still feel like a mother hen - always worrying!  Regardless, lambing is my favorite time of year - I love the new life that lambing brings us!

Walking vs. Driving - what's a shepherd to do?!

Actually, the answer to this question is pretty simple - a good shepherd will always choose to walk sheep to a new pasture if he (or she) has good dogs!

Today, we moved a group of about 100 ewes onto a neighboring property.  We walked about a third of a mile - through 4 gates and up a fairly steep hill - but not a bad walk.  In the aerial photo above, our route is represented by the red line.  The ewes nibbled on grass all the way to their new pasture, and the dogs (as well as the shepherd) enjoyed the work.

If we'd had to haul the sheep to this pasture, the day would have involved a longer walk (nearly a half a mile) - represented by the blue line on the map.  Then we'd have had to put the ewes in the trailer - about 25 at a time in their current pregnant state - and drive about .9 miles to the new pasture (represented by the yellow line).  Our 20 minute walk would have turned into a half-day worth of work!

Thank goodness for excellent border collies and helpful neighbors!

More Thoughts about Profitable Farms

Last summer, I wrote a blog entry entitled "Is Profit a Dirty Word."  This week, I was reminded of the conflict I feel about profitability and farming by a discussion during a local farm business planning class that I'm helping to teach.  The word "profit," it seems, comes with lots of baggage!

Profit is a difficult thing for many of us small farmers to get our arms around.  In some ways, we’ve chosen farming as a rejection of the “normal” American aspiration for material wealth.  Profit, as such, is part of this rejection – we farm because we value good food, good land and strong communities more than monetary gain.
Once we begin the work of farming, however, profit takes on a different meaning.  Without profit, we can’t produce food over the long term.  Without profit, we can’t keep our land in farming.  Without profit, our families cannot be contributing members of our communities.
Someone asked whether it is legitimate for a family with other sources of inc…

The Finished Product

When we shipped the last of our lambs for processing last fall, we kept the two lightest lambs to finish on grass and alfalfa for our own freezer - we always seem to run out of meat before the next year's "crop" is ready.  We also wanted to teach Sami's 4-H Sheep Project kids about the end product - they usually don't see their lambs after the fair auction.  A week ago, I took these two lambs to our regular processor (Superior Farms in Dixon).  Last Friday, I picked up the whole lambs and took them to Roseville Meats - where we store the meat we sell at farmers' markets.  Today, Dan (who has worked at Roseville Meats off and on for 20 years), showed us how to "fabricate" a lamb - how to cut it up into individual cuts of meat.

As Dan started showing us how to break down a lamb, it was clear that he'd been doing this for a long time.  Like most of the applied arts, butchery takes lots of repetition, and Dan is a master.  He took time to show the k…

Fragmentation and Isolation

Habitat fragmentation is known to be a significant threat to wildlife species in our part of California.  As farms and ranches are split into smaller pieces to accommodate suburban sprawl and ranchette development, we lose migration corridors, foraging habitat and other critical habitat attributes.
This fragmentation can impact farming in similar ways.  From the standpoint of physical geography, fragmentation reduces the size of properties available for farming or ranching.  When a 160-acre orchard here in Placer County is split into 5-acre lots - even if the trees remain - the economic viability of farming is seriously diminished.  The story is similar for all types of farming and ranching.  The scale of an operation is directly related to it's economic viability - a farm needs to produce enough product (and profit) to cover direct costs and overhead costs.  An acre of vegetables, or 100 acres of unirrigated pasture, does not produce enough revenue for a farm family to make a liv…

Carbon Cycles

Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend my first EcoFarm conference.  In its 32nd year, EcoFarm takes place at Asilomar in Pacific Grove - one of my favorite places in all of California.  My friend Roger Ingram (a fellow sheepman and our local farm advisor) also went - we both spoke at different sessions.

Roger's session on grazing systems also included another friend - Joe Morris of TO Cattle Company.  Joe spoke about using grazing (cattle in his case) to manage carbon cycles.  Joe said that he'd heard that the first two weeks in January were the warmest in recorded weather history in the U.S.  Regardless of one's perspective on what is causing these apparent climate changes, we are dealing with increasing levels of carbon in our atmosphere.  Joe is using cattle to incorporate carbon deep in the soil.

Joe's presentation helped me look at our sheep grazing operation in a different light.  In Joe's view, there are three ways that graziers can manage carbon - cons…