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Showing posts from February, 2013

2013 Lambing Notebook - Installment #2

The subtitle of today's entry is Bottle Babies and Fair Lambs!

I'll write more about this later, but here are some photos of Smalls and The Great Lambino (with apologies to "The Sand Lot"), along with Emma's fair lamb, Milo.  Milo was born today - he's out of Emma's ewe Oats.  Emma is so excited - can't wait to see how this turns out!

2013 Lambing Notebook - Installment #1

Several years ago, I made a blog entry everyday during our lambing season.  I'm not nearly as ambitious this year, but I thought I would try to make some more regular updates about how lambing is progressing in 2013.  While I hope this is of interest to others, I'm doing it mostly so that I can remember how this season goes!

We turned the rams in with the ewes on October 1, 2012, which means our ewes are, at most, 147 days into their gestation.  Ewes are pregnant for 145-155 days (generally), so we're just getting started.  So far, we've had 5 lambs born to 3 ewes, which is about normal for this stage of the game.

Last night, I couldn't make my evening check on the ewes until almost 9 p.m. - we had a soccer tournament in Woodland that kept us away all afternoon.  Usually when I drive up to the paddock, the guard dogs greet me.  Last night, however, I was only greeted by Buck.  Reno was nowhere to be seen.

As I started walking through the flock, I heard Reno barking…

By the Numbers: Looking at Scale from the Opposite Direction

As a small farmer, I’ve struggled with the idea of appropriate scale.  I’d like my sheep operation to be small enough to be manageable and community-focused, but large enough to pay me a reasonable wage.  I’ve often started with an idea about the proper scale (number of sheep, in my case), and tried to come up with a reasonable salary.  Recently, however, I’ve worked at this question from the opposite direction – I’ve decided to evaluate the size of operation necessary to generate a specific salary target.
First, let’s review some economic theory.  My own salary (or draw) from our sheep business is an overhead expense - that is, my salary is fixed whether I'm managing 10 sheep or 1000 sheep (at least in theory).  My direct costs - for things like vaccines, mineral supplements, meat processing and shearing - vary directly with the number of sheep.  My "gross product" - the total value of my sales (and net increases in my sheep inventory) - minus my direct costs results in …

Piling Stones

Today, we built two cairns on Shanley Hill.  According to Wikipedia, a cairn is "a man-made pile (or stack) of stones.  It comes from the Scottish Gaelic: carn (plural cairn).  Cairns are found all over the world in uplands, on moorland, on mountaintops...."  Shanley Hill certainly qualifies as an upland - and there are plenty of stones to work with!

While cairns are built for many reasons, in sheep country they've often been built as landmarks in country where there are no natural landmarks - or where shepherds are bored!  In the American West, Basque sheepherders built "harrimutilak" - translated as "stone boys" - to mark significant spots and, probably, to pass the time.

We decided that we could put the rocks on Shanley Hill to good use by building a couple of stone boys or cairns.  Our goal was to build them taller than Emma - you'll see by our photos that we succeeded!  Our friend and fellow shepherd Roger Ingram joined us, along with his dogs.…

Lambing on Pasture

Sometime in the next week, our 2013 lambing season will begin!  I thought this might be of interest to my fellow shepherds - and to others who are interested in sheep!  We will be hosting a Pasture Lambing Workshop on Sunday, March 10 in Auburn, California.  Email me at for more information!
Why not lamb in a barn? Conventional wisdom indicates that sheep should give birth in the shelter of a barn.  Lambs, so the thinking goes, need shelter from inclement weather and a small enclosed space (a jug or a jail) in which to bond with their mother.  Since our operation exists almost entirely on leased land without this type of infrastructure, we’ve adopted a system for lambing out on pasture.  Our system builds on the experience of shepherds here and in other parts of the world – and we learn more each year.  We’ve found that pasture lambing has several advantages:  Lower (or no) capital costs for barns and other infrastructure.Healthier ewes and lambs – we see very f…

Neighborly Wisdom and Self Reliance

In his most recent book, A Place in Time, Wendell Berry writes, "But it is possible, even so, to look back with a certain fondness to a time when the sounds of engines were not almost constant in the sky, on the roads, and in the fields. Our descendants may know such a time again when the petroleum is all burnt. How they will fare then will depend on the neighborly wisdom, the love for the place and its genius, and the skills that they may manage to revive between now and then."  In my farming career - and in my life - I've tried (and generally failed) to articulate this perspective.  Rather than reflecting a sense of nostalgia for the "good old days" (which didn't exist when people were living through them), Berry's statement suggests a real need to pay attention to our past, to our land and to our neighbors.

When we farmed vegetables (which we haven't done for several years now), we tried to convert our system for turning the soil and cultivating o…


In case you didn't see the Super Bowl (or at least the commercials) yesterday, you missed some good laughs and - amazingly - some thoughtful moments.  My favorite commercial was the Dodge Ram commercial featuring a two-minute soliloquy by Paul Harvey about farmers.  The photographs and the words in the ad made me proud to be a farmer - and grateful for the farmers I have known and still know today.  If you haven't seen the commercial, check out this link:

At some point in the near future, I want to initiate a serious discussion about the cultural and agricultural implications of this commercial.  Today, however, as part of my ongoing struggle to not take myself too seriously, I want to take a different approach.

Those of you who get western wear catalogs on occasion - and who (like me) actually wear western-wear clothing for work - have probab…

Getting Ready

Three weeks from today (approximately), we'll start lambing.  Lambing season is the busiest time of year for me, and also the most exciting.  As I've written before, lambing is like 6 weeks of Christmas - the gift of new life - and all of the work!  For now, however, I'm focused on getting ready.
We have developed a pasture-based lambing system - all of our ewes give birth in the field.  Some producers will "jug" their lambs and ewes - put them in small pens to make sure the ewe develops a strong maternal bond.  We depend on our selection system, which emphasizes mothering ability, to ensure that our ewes bond with their lambs.
Because we lamb in our pastures, we try to make certain that we have plenty of grass available.  This is why we wait until late February to begin - usually we've had enough moisture and enough sunshine to get the grass growing.  While this past January was exceptionally dry (less than an inch of rain here in Auburn), the precipitation …