Skip to main content

Pasture Envy

I'll admit it - sometimes I have pasture envy!  This condition is probably due, at least in part, to my decision to raise sheep in a Mediterranean climate - one that turns golden brown in the summertime.  And while there is much to like about living and ranching in an area with distinct rainy and dry seasons, I'm envious of those who graze their livestock on pastures that stay green most summers with little or no irrigation.

Montana pastures (photo: John W. Ross)

Green in July (photo: John W. Ross)
The latest bout of pasture envy comes as a result of modern technology and social media.  My friend John Ross, who works in Washington DC but whose heart is back home at the family ranch in Montana, recently posted photos on Facebook.  John was home in the Bear Paw Mountains for the Fourth of July, and based on the photographs, it's easy to see why his Scots ancestors (who probably raised sheep, I suspect!), settled in that part of Montana.

Facebook isn't the only instigator of pasture envy.  I've recently started trying learn how to use Twitter, and I've followed a couple of fellow shepherds from northern England.  Their photos of green summer pastures and stone walls and bridges are spectacular.  I hope to visit one day!
Yorkshire, England (photo: Amanda Owen)

The Lake District, England (photo: Herdwick Shepherd)

Rationally, I know that green grass in summertime always comes with a cost.  In our climate, we only have green grass in July if we're able and willing to irrigate it.  This time of year, I spend 10-12 hours a week irrigating what little green pastureland we have.  In Montana, I suspect, green grass comes at the cost of often brutal winters or summer rainstorms that can ruin a cutting of hay.  I'm sure that the shepherds I follow in England are coping with climate-related health and management issues that are entirely outside of my experience.

But pasture envy is not a rational emotion.  I look at the photos and think about how nice it would be if Mother Nature did my irrigating!  I start to calculate the carrying capacity of the pastures.  I can almost hear the sound of my sheep grazing on these lush green fields!  Sigh....
Our wonderful Mediterranean climate in Auburn, CA! 


  1. It's funny you bring this up. I have lost track of how many times I have daydreamed of endlessly growing lush fields of grass. Ones which allow for constant rotation of livestock with numbers that are always perfect for the paddocks and the desired outcome. I daydream about such simplicity but in the back of my mind I know that folks like us thrive on complexity and fighting against the curveballs that Mother Nature tosses our way. Still, I wouldn't be unhappy if someone developed a breed of summer hibernating livestock....


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Trade Offs

As we were building fence for the soon-to-be-lambing ewes this morning, someone drove by and asked my partner Roger how long it took to set up the electro-net fencing we use for the sheep. Roger replied, "It's not too bad," to which the driver said, "Seems like a lot of work." Roger's answer - which both of us use with some frequency, was, "Yeah - but this way we don't have to feed any hay!" The driver, who obviously wasn't a rancher, didn't understand - and I suspect even some of my rancher friends don't understand the trade off we're making. Building electric fence is a lot of work - wouldn't it be easier just to feed hay?

The paddock that Roger and I built this morning encloses about 5.75 acres of high quality forage. Since the ewes are on the verge of lambing, their forage demand is peaking. They're eating nearly twice as much grass now as they need in the late summer - after all, many of them eating for three (and p…

No Easy Answers Part 2

In mid October, some friends who graze their cattle in the mountains of western Lassen County (less than 200 miles from our home), became the first ranchers to have cattle “officially” killed by wolves in California in nearly a century. Wildlife officials confirmed that the Lassen pack killed a 600-pound heifer; four more heifers died (and were partially eaten by wolves), but the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) couldn’t confirm the cause of death. While I learned about the depredations shortly after they happened through the rancher grapevine, news of my friends’ losses weren’t made public until the California Cattlemen’s Association and California Farm Bureau Federation issued a joint press release this week. The October 28 edition of the Sacramento Bee ran the story.
If you’ve read my previous blogs about wolves, you’ll probably know that I’ve frequently been frustrated with the Bee’s coverage. The paper has run guest opinions disguised as news articles, and appar…

Humbled and Excited

More than 20 years ago, I went to work for the California Cattlemen's Association (CCA). After two internships, I'd been hired by my friend and mentor John Braly as the membership director in 1992. By 1996, I'd been promoted to assistant vice president - pretty heady stuff for a young guy who hadn't grown up in the industry. I started looking for new challenges. Dr. Jim Oltjen, who was (and is) the beef extension specialist at UC Davis (my undergraduate alma mater) suggested that I think about going to graduate school to prepare for a career in extension. I considered it, but the timing wasn't right.

Fast forward to 2013 (or so) - I'd been working as a part-time community education specialist in our local University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) office for several years. The farm advisors in the office - Roger Ingram and Cindy Fake - suggested that I consider getting a master's degree and applying for a future farm advisor job. This time the id…