Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Clear Direction

The chapters of my professional life have been brief of late.  Since 2011, in addition to carrying on my own small-scale commercial sheep operation, I've worked for a large sheep outfit in the Delta, for our local University of California Cooperative Extension office, and for the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center.  This week, I started yet another chapter - as an assistant specialist in rangelands in the Plant Sciences Department at UC Davis.  In some ways, I feel like a flake for changing jobs so frequently.  In considering this new opportunity, however, I've discovered that I finally feel like I have some clear direction in my career.

I love working with rangeland livestock - sheep, specifically - like nothing else I've ever done.  Raising sheep on grass will always be part of what I do - until I'm too old to do it!  As I've written here before, however, raising sheep at a full-time, commercial scale, without access to enough land and enough capital, has proven difficult.  California's worst drought in 500 years hasn't made this any easier.  I've realized that I can be happy raising sheep as a part-time endeavor - which is what my current land base and finances will allow.

I've also realized that I enjoy scientific research and teaching.  I'm working on a master's in agriculture degree in integrated resources management at Colorado State - the degree combines range management, animal science and agricultural business (much like my career, in many ways).  Upon completing my master's degree, I hope to work as a farm advisor within the agricultural extension system.

All of this brings me to my current job.  I have an academic appointment within the Plant Sciences Department at UC Davis (where I earned my bachelor's degree 25 years ago!).  My work includes research into the impacts of drought on rangeland livestock producers, working with ranchers to address water quality and other rangeland-focused environmental issues, and developing educational programs focused on improving rangeland management.  I'm joining a tremendous team of scientists - working for and learning from Dr. Ken Tate and Dr. Leslie Roche, who are internationally-recognized range scientists.

More than 18 years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the California Agricultural Leadership Program.  During the course of the two-year fellowship, I realized that my skills and personality were better-suited to serving others than to the advocacy jobs I'd held up to that point.  My ongoing effort to establish a successful ranching business is part of this realization - producing food for others is the ultimate in service, in my mind.  But my new job - and my effort to obtain the qualifications for working as a farm advisor - are another step down this path for me.  While I agonized over the decision to leave my work as herdsman at the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center, I'm finding that I've never been more excited about a new job as I am about this one!

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