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Showing posts from December, 2014

Gear Review - Head-wear for (Bald) Farmers and Ranchers

As a bald rancher who spends much of my time outside, I've become something of a connoisseur of hats.  For me, a hat is much more than a fashion decision - it's a piece of gear that makes my day-to-day work safer and more comfortable.  I thought I'd offer a brief review of the types and brands of hats that I prefer - hopefully others will offer additional suggestions!

My hats must serve multiple functions.  First, like all of my work clothes, my hats must be durable in all kinds of conditions.  In addition to covering the top of my head, my hats sometimes serve as training tools for training my border collies, as a basket for collecting eggs, or as a flyswatter.  Second, my hats must be comfortable - my lack of hair means I don't have much between my scalp and my hat.  Third, my hats must serve season-specific functions - warmth in the winter, ventilation in the summer, shade for my face and sweat-absorption year-round.


Since it's winter-time as I write this, I'…

Quietly Paying Attention

I'll admit to professional bias, but the part of the Christmas Story from the Gospel of Luke that most appeals to me is when the angels appear to the shepherds.  I realize that much of this story has to do with the symbolism of God choosing to announce the birth of Christ to the lowest of the lowly; that's fine - as a shepherd, I've had lowly days myself.  Even so, to me this part of the story suggests something more profound.  To me, this story suggests that perhaps stockmen - and women - are more in tune with what's happening around them.  To me, this story suggests that shepherds (and by extension, stock-people) were perhaps the only people who would have noticed the angels in the first place!

The best stock-people I've known - and by this, I mean shepherds (and shepherdesses), cowboys (and girls) and goatherds - have some things in common.  I've found them to be quiet and constantly paying attention.  And they spend much of their time (if not most of it) o…

A New Chapter

Next month, I'll be opening a new chapter in my work as a stockman.  In mid January, I will become the herdsman at the University of California’s Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center.  This new job will give me the opportunity to care for grazing livestock (cattle, in this case) and to help with education and outreach activities.  I’m tremendously excited about the job! I'll be getting paid to work horseback with my dogs, and I'll have the opportunity to assist with research and teaching!

As you can imagine, this change means we're re-thinking our sheep business.  We'll be downsizing our operation significantly in the next several weeks.  Our plan is to match our flock to the pasture resources we have close to home (we intend to keep 40-50 ewes).  We'll still offer grass-fed lamb next fall (whole and half lambs can be reserved later this spring), and we'll still offer our best fleeces to handspinners this spring.  However, we won't be going to …

I'm Dreaming... of a GREEN Christmas!

With apologies to Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin...

Dreaming of a Green Christmas
Ol' Bing had it wrong when he sang his song dreamin' of Christmas snow.
After the wreck of '13, I'm hopin' for green grass this Christmas, ya know.
No startin' each day loadin' the hay and haulin' it out to the sheep -

Let the rain come, followed by sun; gimme lotsa grass that's knee-deep!
By far, the shortest Christmas poem I've ever written, and certainly not the best - but it's been that kind of year!  Here's hoping that 2015 brings an end to our drought!

Ready for the Storm

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 fo…

Of Floods and Droughts - Past, Present and Yet to Come

I just finished reading The West without Water by B. Lynn Ingram and Frances Malamud-Roam.  For the most part, the book is an interesting look at 20,000 years of climate history in the American West, with an eye towards predicting the impacts of impending climate change.  While accounts of prehistoric and historic droughts, floods and other extreme weather events are interesting and informative, I found myself disappointed by the tired, disproven (at least from my perspective) anti-agriculture solutions offered in the book's conclusion.  While the science behind the examination of the historic climate record seems thorough, I find the lack of scientific rigor applied to the recommended solutions.

The majority of the book is devoted to a rigorous review of the scientific evidence for variations in the climate of the American West in the last 20,000 years.  The opening chapters review much of the written history of California and the West with respect to climate - especially the 186…

Stoic Creatures

Someone more eloquent than I once said that sheep are stoic creatures.  I interpret
this to mean that sheep accept whatever comes their way without complaint.  To me, this characteristic is why many stockmen are not suited to raising sheep - it's terribly frustrating to care for an animal that is fine one day and on death's door the next.  I've found that it takes a very discerning eye on the part of the shepherd to notice a problem with an individual sheep - it's any eye that I'm still developing.

This afternoon, I needed to move the ewes.  They had plenty of dry forage, but they had grazed most of the green grass.  As I prepared to move them into a holding pen, a powerful thunderstorm chased the ewes back under some tree cover - and chased me back to the truck (I'm always a little nervous about handling electric fence during an electrical storm).  By the time the lightning had passed (though it was still raining) I only had a half hour of daylight left for b…

Measuring the Drought: How Farmers and Ranchers Can Report on Drought Impacts

Note: this blog post was originally published on the Farming in the Foothills blog (at http://ucanr.edu/sites/placernevadasmallfarms/blog/) In early November, the California Rangeland Watershed Laboratory at UC Davis hosted a workshop/webinar entitled “Ranching and California's Drought” (for videos of the presentations, CLICK HERE).  For me, one of the most interesting parts of the workshop was a panel discussion featuring several of the authors of the U.S. Drought Monitor (go tohttp://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ for more information about the Drought Monitor).  According to the Drought Monitor website: “The U.S. Drought Monitor, established in 1999, is a weekly map of drought conditions that is produced jointly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The U.S. Drought Monitor website is hosted and maintained by the NDMC. “U.S. Drought Monitor maps …