Friday, June 13, 2014

Drought Update - Marketing our Lambs 2014

As I've written previously, one of the consequences of the drought is a change in how we market our lambs.  In the past, we've tried to market most of our lambs as meat, directly to our customers.  We sold lamb at farmers' markets, to restaurants, and directly to our customers.  This year, we won't be at the farmers' market at all.  We are finishing a handful of lambs (mostly for our own freezer and the freezers of our family), but most of our lambs will be marketed within a month of weaning (that is to say, by next weekend).

Part of this shift in our marketing strategy is a direct result of the lack of precipitation over the last three years.  Good irrigated pasture is difficult to find, and so we're not able to finish as many lambs on grass.  Some grass-fed producers have decided to grain-finish their animals this year - and they've told their customers about their plans.  We've decided to stay true to our 100% grass-fed system, so a lack of summer grass impacts our production.

Most of the shift in strategy, however, is indrectly related to the drought.  Because I've taken an off-farm job (which as of this week requires 32 hours of my time each week), I have less time for our ranching business.  A typical work day during the summer looks like this:

  • 6:45 a.m. - leave the house, check on ewes (at one location) and lambs (at another location).  Feed guard dogs.  Move irrigation water.
  • 7:45 a.m. - return home, drop off border collies, change clothes if necessary, and head to work.
  • 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. - work at the UC Cooperative Extension office in Auburn.  Hopefully we have no problems with sheep during the day!
  • 5 p.m. - check sheep, move water if necessary, and hopefully return home by 7 p.m.
I usually have one day off each week, which I reserve for building fence, moving sheep, and other tasks that take longer than the couple of hours of daylight I have available after work.

With days like this, I find that I simply don't have the energy or the time to be at the farmers' market on Saturdays.  I'll admit that I'm probably a little burnt out on the market - while I love the interaction with my customers, I miss spending time with my family on Saturdays.  I've decided that I want to be at soccer games, horse shows and fishing trips while my girls are still at home.

We're still selling some of our lambs locally.  Over the last 2 weeks, we've marketed 30 lambs to folks in Placer and Nevada Counties who what to raise their own lambs.  Today, Emma and I took 35 lambs to the Escalon Livestock Market (our closest livestock auction that sells sheep).  Next week, we'll sell 40-45 lambs to Superior Farms in Dixon.  And for the rest of the Saturdays this year, I'll be a sheep rancher, a soccer fan, a fisherman, a dad - and a farmers' market customer!


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