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Ready for the Storm

We've probably all heard the saying, "Red sky in morning, farmer take warning."  I'm wondering what this morning's
purple sky means!
If the weather forecasters are correct, we're in for a significant storm this week in Northern California.  Perhaps I'm cynical (or maybe I'm just a farmer who spends much of his time outdoors), but these weather events rarely live up to the media hype - I think this is the tenth or eleventh "Storm of the Century" we've faced since 2000.  And since we've been in a drought, the hype over this storm seems especially intense.  Even so, we're taking steps early in the week to prepare our sheep operation and our home for the arrival of wet and windy weather.

Rangeland livestock are especially well-equipped to cope with inclement weather.  The particular breeds of sheep that we raise were developed in northern England and southern Scotland, so they can handle wet and windy storms.  Since we are rangeland-based, we take sheep to the grass (rather than carry hay to the sheep).  Our storm preparations, then, are centered around making sure we have adequate forage and natural shelter for the sheep going into the stormy weather.  We also try to build big enough paddocks to avoid having to build more fence during the height of the storm.  In other words, we try to keep both sheep and shepherds safe and comfortable!
This 4.5-acre paddock should have enough forage and shelter for the ewes through this week's storm.

My storm preparations started yesterday.  Before heading into my Cooperative Extension job yesterday morning, I built a new 4.5 acre paddock for the ewes.  Based on the growth stage of the grass and the current nutritional needs of the ewes, this much grass should last for 5-6 days.  However, during inclement weather, the ewes will graze more than normal (to help maintain body temperature).  Tomorrow, I'll build another new paddock which will allow us to move sheep quickly and easily on Thursday or Friday if necessary.  In selecting a site for this new paddock, I made sure that the terrain and vegetation would provide some relief from the rain and especially the wind.  This large paddock has a small grove of live oaks at the bottom of the hill, and another smaller grove at the top.  If we were lambing (which will start at the end of February), I would have chosen a site on a north or northwest facing slope to provide more topographic shelter from wind-driven rain (during storms, our prevailing winds come from the south and southeast).

My second consideration with impending stormy weather is truck access.  We've had enough rain this fall that the green grass (and heavy morning dew) is providing most of the ewes' water requirements - my 150 ewes are drinking less than 10 gallons per day (total).  Despite this fact, I want to make sure I can get my truck close to a water trough.  With 3-4 inches of rain expected at the end of the week, this means I need a fence line near a paved or graveled road.

This morning, I  moved a second group of sheep into a more sheltered location at another property.  This paddock also has trees and terrain to provide shelter, and it has flowing water (which means I won't need to haul water).  This group of sheep should be fine through the weekend.
This morning - working "by the dawn's early light" to move a second
group of sheep onto fresh (and sheltered) feed.

My biggest concern with this predicted storm is the wind.  Our temporary electric fence works great, but the combination of high winds and soggy soils will sometimes pull fence posts out of the ground or knock sections of fencing over.  We also may get branches (or even entire trees) that blow over onto our fences.  Once the storm starts, I'll check the fences morning and night to make sure there are no problems.  I'll also walk through both groups of sheep to check for any health problems.

As with most of my shepherding work, I'll rely on my border collies during the storm as well.  Like our sheep, border collies as a breed were developed in the British Isles.  Our dogs seem to love wet and windy weather - it must be genetic!  If I need to catch a sheep to provide medical treatment or move the sheep into the new paddock, the dogs will make quick work of the job.  And if the sheep escape through a blown down fence, the dogs will bring them back.  I sometimes think the dogs actually knock down fences just to have an excuse to work the sheep!
As always, Mo is ready to help!

At home, we've cleaned our gutters and raked our leaves - which we'll need to do again after the storm, no doubt.  I'll also place sandbags in front of my shop building - in heavy rain, we get a small stream flowing through the shop.  I'll also set up my battery charger in the garage - our electric fences are powered by deep-cycle 12-volt batteries.  In sunny weather, our solar panels can keep our batteries charges; with 3-4 days of cloudy weather expected, I'll need to rotate batteries.  Finally, I'll make sure the wood box is full of firewood and that the kerosene lanterns are full of lamp oil.  By tomorrow afternoon, we'll be ready.  Bring on the "Storm of the Century" - at least this week's version!

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