Friday, February 20, 2015

A Lucky Guy

I might get in trouble for posting this picture!  I wish I knew who the artist is (perhaps somebody who sees this will know).  My friend Jeannie Hodges, who is the mother of my best friend from elementary school, posted this on my Facebook timeline today. Her comment was, "reminded me of your life."  Later in the day, as I was walking through a group of cow-calf pairs to make sure they hadn't trespassed into one of the research plots at the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center (SFREC), I thought about the picture, and Jeannie's comment.  I realized how lucky I am to be doing the work that I do.

When I made the decision to apply for this job, in some ways it felt like an admission that I'd failed as a sheep rancher.  While I love the work of caring for grazing animals like nothing else I've ever done, I've never been able to make a living doing it - until now.  My motivation for starting to ranch was to produce food for my community from the rangeland landscapes that I loved.  While I still enjoy the direct interaction that this work gives me with people that love to eat the food I produce, I've realized that my true passion lies in husbandry - in caring for livestock and for land.  I'm a stockman - or as my new title at SFREC indicates, a herdsman.

Today's workday was a snapshot of why I think I'm lucky.  This morning, I saddled one of the SFREC horses and rode through a 300+ acre pasture where we're grazing a group of heifers.  The fog lifted as we rode, making for some incredible scenery.  At the top of this particular pasture, I can see the Sierra crest, including the Sierra Buttes at the headwaters of the Yuba River (which runs by SFREC).  We returned to headquarters in time for a barbecue lunch that all of us contributed to producing.  After lunch, I hauled protein tubs to cow-calf pairs, checked on several groups of yearling steers, and drove a 1952 jeep out to check the research plots I mentioned above.  My afternoon partner was Mo, one of my border collies who (like me) is learning to herd cattle as well as sheep.

After "work," I headed out to the pasture where we're grazing our sheep, along with Mo's half brother Ernie and my retired sheepdog, Taff.  The ewes are due to begin lambing in the next 4-5 days, so I walked through the flock slowly to check on the health of the ewes.  We then drove to another property to check on a small group of yearling ewes.  Since we still had daylight, I decided to do a bit of schooling with Ernie.

All of this returns me to the picture that Jeannie posted on Facebook.  All afternoon, I thought of the things that John (Jeannie's son, and my best friend as a kid) enjoyed doing together.  Most of what we did was outdoors.  I realized how fortunate I am to still be spending my life outdoors in the foothills where I was raised.  I'm a lucky guy!

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