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Showing posts from July, 2014

One Man's Weeds - Another Man's Forage

Or How I  Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Yellow Starthistle
Okay, so I don't really love yellow starthistle, but my attitude about weeds is evolving.  Back in 2001, I dragged my young nieces and oldest daughter along on a weed tour of the Sierra Valley.  As I recall, the theme of the tour was militaristic - we were waging war on weeds like tall whitetop and yellow starthistle.  The tour focused on strategies for controlling (and hopefully eradicating) these invasive plants from other continents.  The girls (now ages 16 to 22) tease me about this fascinating and enjoyable field trip to this day!

Perhaps I should pause and provide my favorite non-scientific definition of a weed.  A weed is a plant that's growing somewhere that you don't want it to be.  When I grew vegetables, the weeds I hated the most were Bermuda grass, Johnson grass and red-root pigweed.  By this definition, however, a squash plant in the middle of a row of tomatoes would be a weed, too - it's not …

Farm-to-Fork - Why the Sacramento Bee Just Doesn't Get It

The Sacramento Bee seems to have embraced the Sacramento region's growing "farm-to-fork" movement, but recent editorials, guest editorials and news coverage suggest a lack of understanding of what it takes to actually put food on our forks.  At best, the Bee's recent coverage indicates a lack of understanding about the connections between farming and food.  At worst, the Bee seems increasingly hostile to the concerns of the rural communities surrounding the Sacramento metropolitan area - the very rural communities that provide the agricultural foundation for farm-to-fork.  For example, on June 14, 2014, the paper published a guest opinion from the Center for Biological Diversity supporting the state listing of the wolf as an endangered species.  To my knowledge, the Bee has yet to publish an alternative perspective about the impact that the listing is likely to have on ranchers (and I know that at least one differing viewpoint was submitted).  During the following w…

Next Year

I went fishing today.  Not remarkable, I realize - but what is remarkable was the water situation on the middle fork of the American River, where we fished.  We drove beyond the town of Foresthill to French Meadows Reservoir, part of the Placer County Water Agency's (PCWA) Middle Fork American River project.  We started by fishing in the river above the reservoir, but there was so little water flowing that we decided to try the lake instead.  I'd fished the lake just 4 weeks earlier, and I was stunned by how far the water level had dropped - at least 5-6 feet according to my untrained eye.  The lack of inflow and rapidly dropping water level made me wonder what next year will hold.

Our irrigation water at Flying Mule Farm comes from the Nevada Irrigation District (NID) - PCWA's neighbor to the north.  While the watersheds that serve the two agencies are similar, their water rights situations vary somewhat.  PCWA provides irrigation water to many of the small farms and mand…

Learning to Work: The Continuing Education of Ernie the Border Collie (and Dan the Shepherd)

I spent yesterday moving our ewes from a targeted grazing contract just outside of Auburn to our main leased pasture closer to home.  This work involved hauling five trailer loads of ewes from Christian Valley back to Oak Hill Ranch near the corner of Mt. Vernon Road and Shanley Road.  I took our border collies Mo and Ernie to help me with the task.

Loading the trailer directly from our electro-net paddocks takes patience and good dogs - too much pressure and the sheep blow through the fence; too little pressure and they don't get in the trailer.  Once I'd moved the ewes into a smaller holding paddock, I set up the trailer and asked Mo to bring the flock to the rear of the trailer with the hope that they'd jump right in.  As sometimes happens, the ewes were reluctant to load, and Mo was not creating enough motion on his own.  In the past, I've had problems working Mo and Ernie together - I sometimes have to put pressure on Ernie (with a harsh voice - not physical press…

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.

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 Twitte…


Fire season has begun in earnest.  Large fires are burning in the coast range north of San Francisco, as well as on the Modoc plateau.  Wildland firefighters are reporting that fuel moistures are unusually low because of the drought - they are seeing fire behavior that looks more like September than early July.  And the forecast calls for above normal temperatures and single-digit afternoon humidities through the middle of next week - which means any little spark is potentially disastrous.  Since this is Independence Day weekend, the chance of a little spark is much higher than normal.  The combination of dry fuels, dry weather and crazy people makes me nervous.

Fireworks are banned in and around Auburn, but they are readily available in Rocklin and Roseville - just to the west of us.  Nonprofits sell fireworks this time of year as fundraisers - and while I support many of the same causes, I can't support the method of raising money.  To me, selling fireworks to the general public…