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Showing posts from August, 2013

Rim Fire Fundraiser

Since I saw this photo posted on Facebook, I haven't been able to erase it from my mind's eye.  We're always mindful of fire this time of year - last night I saw smoke and fire planes in the direction of home while I was changing water.  I raced home to check our animals - relieved to find that all was well here.

As many of you know, I grew up in Tuolumne County - where the Rim Fire continues to burn out of control.  A number of my friends and fellow ranchers have been severely impacted by the fire - losing barns, equipment, forage, and even cows in some cases.  The Tuolumne County Farm Bureau has established a fund to purchase emergency hay for the ranching families who have experienced losses.  My family would like to organize a local effort to raise money in support of this effort.  Here’s what we’re doing:

We are offering a whole, grass-fed lamb, cut-and-wrapped, via on-line auction (at our Facebook page,  You can bid by posting a comme…

Is the Customer Always Right?

Several years ago, a customer purchased a package of lamb shanks at the farmers' market.  I assumed, incorrectly, that anyone who asked for lamb shanks would know how to cook them.  The next week, the customer said, "You know, we barbecued those shanks and they were awful - way too tough!"  Rather than speak my mind, I suggested that they try one of our slow-cooked lamb shank recipes - and I gave them a free package to replace the package they'd ruined.  Our recipe was successful, and these folks have since become regular customers.

Such encounters are much less common with professional chefs, but they do happen.  On rare occasions, a chef will fail to prepare a product appropriately.  A tough steak from Iowa Beef Products (one of the biggest beef processors in the country) is one thing; a tough steak from Flying Mule Farm is quite another - customers that provide direct feedback to the farmer or rancher have every responsibility to tell us when things are bad as wel…

Ernie's Progress - and the Ultimate Goal!

It's been more than a week, but I wanted to add another installment to the ongoing saga of my attempts to work with Ernie, our youngest border collie.  On August 8, Ernie and I moved approximately 140 ewes and lambs from the Allender property in Auburn back to Oak Hill Ranch.  Ernie worked great - he took my "lie down" at the gate, letting the sheep walk through without succumbing to the temptation to rush them through the gap and get to their heads.  I even got him to lie down and "look back" - not an easy task for those of you who train border collies for trial work!  Most impressively, he took my flank commands even when they ran counter to his instincts!

Since then, I've used him several times for short moves and for holding sheep while I rearrange fencing.  For the most part, he's been great.  He still thinks he needs to beat me to the work sometimes - running to the head of the flock rather than staying behind it, like I'm asking.  Nonetheless…

Ernie's Progress - August 7

Not a whole lot to report today, but what I do have to report about Ernie is positive.  This evening, we moved ewes and lambs into an expanded paddock.  I asked Ernie to come into the paddock.  He wanted to go around the sheep, but I wanted him to stay with me.  Despite his desire to work, he stayed with me - definitely progress!  Later, we discovered that we had a single lamb (and a former bottle baby, so an obnoxious single at that) that had stayed back.  Working a single is difficult for many dogs, and Ernie struggled to figure out what I was asking.  That said, he successfully moved the lamb into the newly expanded paddock.  I was pretty proud of him!

Tomorrow or Friday, we'll be moving this group of sheep to the corrals and then up the county road.  I think Ernie's ready!

Some Observations on Guard Dog Behavior

On my lunch hour today, I let sheep into a new paddock that I had constructed before work this morning.  This new paddock is bounded on three sides by electric fencing, and on the remaining side by an existing field fence.  On the other side of this field fence is my landlords' vegetable garden and back yard.  While they love having the sheep "mow" their irrigated pasture, they're not wild about having sheep in the garden or the yard.  That said, they would like the sheep to graze right up to the field fence - grazing the weeds helps keep garden pests like squash bugs at bay.

I'm always a little nervous about relying on a fence that isn't my own electric fence.  Old field fence, especially, often has gaps where wires have broken - gaps that are big enough for an ambitious lamb to squeeze through.  I always check these fences carefully, but I'll often miss holes that the sheep eventually notice.  Or maybe the guard dog - and that's what happened today.

Another Way of Looking at This!

If you've read my blog for the last year or so, you know that I've been struggling with questions of scale and economic viability.  Even with a part-time job, I'm finding that the income from my current operation isn't adequate to meeting my family's reasonably modest financial needs.  Last February, I looked at scale from a different direction (see  In this analysis, I determined that I needed to run approximately 500 ewes to be able to pay myself an annual salary of $35,000, pay for my family's health insurance, and put some money aside for retirement.

Recently, as I was analyzing the prices I charge for our grass-fed lamb and mutton, I realized that there is another way of looking at these numbers!  If my goal is to pay myself the average Placer County wage ($35,000/year) and maintain our sheep operation at it's current scale (150 +/- ewes), why don't I simply raise my pri…

A Few Random Thoughts about Raising Livestock and Selling Meat

As I was making a meat delivery this afternoon, I heard a story on National Public Radio about a taste test of the first laboratory-created hamburger in England today.  Seems some university researcher (I was disgusted at this point, so I didn't pay attention to which university) grew bovine muscle fibers from stem cells and created this "beef" patty.  The reporter was excited about the potential for this new technology to provide meat to a growing population without the "environmental damage" involved in raising beef cattle.  Livestock production, according to the story, just takes too much land to be economically or ecologically sensible.  In addition, these "burgers" were ethically superior, since no animals had to die.

I guess I found this ironic - here I was delivering meat from animals that I'd cared for throughout their lifespan.  The land on which these sheep had grazed was still providing open space and ecological benefits because (at lea…

Ernie's Progress - Days ?

Yesterday marked Ernie’s first real day as “the dog” - we had lots of work to do, and Ernie was the only dog available.  And last night, Ernie discovered the other side of tired.
First, I should describe the work we needed to complete.  First, we moved 125 ewes from Shanley Hill to our corrals - a walk of about 1.25 miles.  I used both Mo and Ernie, but Mo came up lame about halfway there, so the job was up to Ernie to complete.  Then, we put all of the ewes through the corrals and into the footbath - we were sorting off thin ewes to put on irrigated pasture prior to breeding.  After we sorted these ewes, we walked the thin ewes about ⅓ of a mile to our irrigated pasture.  Then we loaded the rest of the ewes in the trailer and hauled them to another property, where Ernie had to move them about ¼ mile from the trailer to their paddock.  The last chore involved taking the cull ewes about 200 yards from the corrals to a patch of green grass.
The first stretch of work started like most of E…

Ernie's Progress - Day 18

I don't have too much to report today, other than the fact that I used Ernie briefly this morning to move about 75 ewes into a newly expanded section of their paddock.  He did well for the most part - I'd still like to see him open up his flanks, but at least he didn't charge in on the back side of the flock like he usually does.  He also took my lie down command from farther away than he ever has before - I was probably 40 yards from him when I asked him to lie down behind the sheep.  He took it, which allowed the sheep to walk (rather than run) into their new feed.  He also allowed me to call him off easily.

Tomorrow, we'll move 125 ewes off Shanley Hill and down to our corrals.  We'll sort sheep, put them through a footbath, and take the thin ewes to irrigated grass about 1/2 mile from the corrals.  Ernie should be a tired boy tomorrow (as will I)!

Our Favorite Mutton Recipes

As you know if you've been purchasing from us at the Old Town Auburn Farmers' Market, we've added grass-fed mutton to our line of products in the last several years.  This summer, we've started working with Smokey Ridge Charcuterie to provide meat for their wonderful sausage products, which has left us with some of our favorite cuts of mutton to eat at home (and to offer at the market).  Here's what we like to do with mutton!

Grilled Chops (Rib or Loin Chops)

2 chops per personSnow's Citrus Court Mandarin Marinade or Basque Meat Tenderizer (or substitute your favorite marinade!)Salt and Pepper to tasteTrim fat from chops.  Place in marinade for at least 4 hours.  Prepare an indirect fire in the grill.  Sear chops over direct heat for 3 minutes per side.  Remove from direct heat and cook for another 6-8 minutes, depending on how done you like your chops.  This is a very quick and easy recipe!
Braised Riblets 1 pkg of riblets (2 slabs of 8 ribs each)1 dark beer1/4 cu…