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Showing posts from January, 2013

Ranching Habitat

When I started my career with the California Cattlemen’s Association more than 20 years ago, the modern-day range wars had reached their apex.  The environmental community was certain that grazing cows and sheep were hastening the ecological apocalypse.  The ranching community was certain that the environmentalists and the government were conspiring to bring about the end of rangeland livestock production and ranching culture.  My introduction to agricultural policy included Bruce Babbitt’s Rangeland Reform initiative and the rise of the Home Rule movement in the Great Basin.  Ranchers and environmentalists didn’t seem to have much in common.  Nearly two decades later, I’m speaking at the 8th annual California Rangeland Conservation Coalition’s Summit in Davis later this week.  This coalition of ranching interests, wildlife and land management agencies and environmental groups represents an amazing departure from the antagonistic relationships of my early career.
In the late 1990s, a…

Bad Checks

On the last Saturday before Christmas, I participated in the Old Town Auburn Farmers' Market for the first time in several months.  During the fall soccer season, our friends Matt and Callie Urner sold our meat and yarn at the market.  December 22 gave me a chance to catch up with friends and customers who I had not seen for quite some time - I had a great day!  As usual, the last Saturday before Christmas was a busy one at the market - despite the cold and rainy weather.

The following Monday, I went to the bank to make my deposit.  I discovered, among the half-dozen or so checks that I had received, a check with no name, address or bank information on it.  I couldn't decipher the signature, and I had no memory of who had written it.  I'd been so busy talking with folks that I hadn't paid any attention to it at the market.  While it was only a $30 check, I was annoyed with myself for failing to catch the problem at the time.

We've been selling products at the farme…

The Technological Shepherd

In ancient times, a shepherd would pen his flock at night and lay near the gate to the pen to protect the sheep from predators.  These days, I use guardian dogs and llamas to serve the same function!  However, there may be a more technologically advanced way to address the problem of predators.  The following note appeared in this week's edition of American Sheep Industry Weekly:

"Meanwhile, sheep got in on the texting action, too. Biologist Jean-Marc Landry of KORA, a Swiss carnivore research group, connected heart rate monitors to text transmitters. When sheep in a research trial were scared by wolf-like dogs, their triple-speed heartbeats triggered texts."
I started thinking about how I might use social networking and modern technology to improve the efficiency of my sheep operation:
Each ewe should have her own twitter account.  This way, I can figure out when they need to move to fresh pasture, when they're about to lamb, etc.  Here's a sample tweet from a ewe …

Going for a Walk

This morning, the border collies and I moved the ewes (all 250 of 'em) from Shanley Hill near Auburn to another pasture about a mile away.  It was such a nice morning for a walk, I thought you might enjoy a few photos of our trip!

Growing Up Near Yosemite

Ron Arrington, who taught agriculture at Sonora High School when I attended in the 1980s, used to say, "If you're luck enough to be in the mountains, you're lucky enough."  I don't know if R.A., as we called him, was the first person to say this, but it certainly stuck with me.  Growing up in the Sierra foothills, I definitely counted myself lucky to be in the mountains (or at least close to them).  Living in Auburn, I suppose I'm still lucky!

My family spent many summers camping in the Sonora Pass country of the central Sierra Nevada.  As a small kid, we spent 1-2 weeks camping on the Clarks Fork of the Stanislaus.  As I grew older, we started camping further up the hill - at Dardenelles or near Kennedy Meadows.  As an adult, my Dad and I spent a weekend each autumn on the west fork of the Walker River - on the east side of Sonora Pass.  I was lucky enough.

I grew up in Sonora - about 90 minutes from Yosemite Valley when the weather was good.  Despite our p…

Side Hill Mechanic

As I was approaching the sheep on Shanley Hill on Thursday morning, I heard a clunk from the right front wheel of my truck, followed by a lack of steering.  Upon inspection, I discovered that the right tie rod had failed - in fact, the ball joint at the right wheel had come apart.  Since my 2005 Dodge has more than 245,000 miles on it, I wasn't shocked.  Stressed about the expense of the repair, yes - but not shocked.

Since I'd broken down on a muddy ranch road on the side of the hill, calling a tow truck was probably out of  the question.  Furthermore, the expense of having a mechanic fix it seemed overwhelming.  After shouting a few four-letter words to nobody in particular (except my dogs and the sheep), I decided I'd try to repair the tie rod myself.

This morning, equipped with a new tie rod (to the tune of $168 and change), my modest tool box, and my border collie Taff, I tackled the repair.  With some coaching from my brother-in-law Adrian (a much better mechanic tha…