Skip to main content


Showing posts from December, 2015

When livestock are your livelihood - #sheep365

As a new month (and a new calendar year) approaches, I'm exactly 90 days into my #sheep365 social medial project.  Since October 1, I've posted at least one photograph of something related to my family's sheep operation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  Other producers (especially in the United Kingdom) have started using the hashtag, too - search for #sheep365 on Twitter and Instagram for some great sheep-related photography!

While many of the photos look very similar from one day to the next, the photos that I took in October look very different than those I took this week.  Now that I'm roughly 25 percent of my "sheep year," I can see differences in our rangeland and pastureland (we've moved from irrigated pasture to wintertime annual rangeland) and in our sheep ("open" ewes in October versus mostly pregnant ewes in December).  I've also photographed some of the mileposts of our year - from turning out the rams on day 1 to moving the …

Of Wolves and Livestock

Wolves have been on my mind recently.  Earlier this year, we received confirmation that a breeding pair of wolves had taken residency in Siskiyou County (in Northern California).  We saw photographs that indicated they were a successful breeding pair (at least 5 pups were in the photographs).  Over the weekend, the Sacramento Bee included a report of the first probable instance of a calf (and possibly a cow) killed by wolves (click here for the article).  And this week, the Bee's editorial page included yet another opinion piece authored by staffer from the Center for Biological Diversity (click here for this article).

First a note of discouragement about the Sacramento Bee's coverage of this issue.  The link to the op/ed piece by Amroq Weiss of CBD is shown as "news" - when it's clearly opinion.  Over the last 12 months, the newspaper's coverage of the topic, at least on its editorial pages, has been entirely one-sided - even though the paper has received at …

Christmas for Shepherds

"Back in the cities, they have different ways,
Football and eggnog and Christmas parades
I'll take my blankets, I'll take the reins,
It's Christmas for cowboys on the wide open plains."

                                                                    -- John Denver

A week from today, my youngest daughter will awaken us early on Christmas morning.  I think she's taken over my role as the member of our family most excited about Christmas!  She even wants me to teach her how to make coffee this year, so she can bring me a cup in bed (which, as the theory goes, will get me out of bed sooner).  After opening our gifts to each other and eating our traditional cinnamon roll breakfast, we'll all head outside to do our home chores.  We'll feed the horse and mule, let the few sheep we keep at home out of their night pen, feed the hog and check on the chickens.

Since we keep most of our sheep on rented pasture about 6 miles from home, our Christmas Day chores…

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, …

2016 Flying Mule Farm Shepherd School Workshops

Flying Mule Farm, in partnership with the Placer/Nevada office of UC Cooperative Extension, is once again offering a series of Shepherd School Workshops in 2016!  A blend of classroom instruction, discussion and hands-on learning, our Shepherd School is designed to teach new and aspiring sheep producers the basics of pasture and rangeland-based sheep raising.

Introduction to Sheep Production - January 14 (7 p.m. - 9 p.m.) - UCCE office, Auburn, CA: this classroom session will provide an overview of grass-based production systems, sheep management and husbandry, and basic economics.Sheep Husbandry Field Day - January 16 (9 a.m. - 12 noon) - Auburn, CA - this hands-on field day will provide students with experience in giving vaccinations, trimming feet, and preparing ewes for lambing.Pasture Lambing Field Day - March 5 (9 a.m. - 12 noon) - Auburn, CA - students will gain experience in handling lambing ewes, caring for newborn lambs, and managing spring grazing.  We will also discuss pre…

Working Wilderness

As I was driving between ranches yesterday, I heard a piece on our local community radio station (KVMR) about an encounter with a mountain lion.  I'm not sure who the author or the reader was, but the host continued after the piece.  He talked about the cultural and spiritual significance of wilderness.  While I don't want to diminish his connection with wilderness, I realized that my work as a rancher gives me a very different connection with the land than someone who recreates in wild lands.  In many ways, rangeland agriculture as I practice it exists (in fact, depends) on the boundary between wildness and domesticity.

By definition, rangeland cannot be cultivated.  The land is too steep, too hot, too cold, too dry - too "something" to support crop agriculture.  And yet these lands are tremendously productive (at least to my eye) - they support grasses and broadleaf plants, trees and shrubs, and an incredible diversity of wildlife.  And they support grazing animals…

Standing Guard

I'm proud to have counted Howard Nakai as a friend.  Howard farmed in Penryn and Newcastle most of his life.  We weren't close friends, but he was one of those older farmers I've been blessed to know who always took an interest in younger farmers and ranchers (like me).  The Loomis Methodist Church was absolutely packed for his memorial service several years ago.

Howard was one of the Japanese-Americans whose story was featured in a book published by Sierra College entitled "Standing Guard."  The work documented the stories of Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II.  I remember that Howard told of a Portugese neighbor who cared for his farm during the war - and who filled Howard's referigerator with beer and steak when he knew Howard was coming home.  Howard told me one time, "I never had a better beer."  When I purchased the book, I also received a lapel pin with the Japanese symbol for the words "standing guard."  I wea…

Stockmanship Notes: Cowboys versus Sheepherders

For the last year, I’ve been both a cowboy and a sheepherder.  My job at the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center has involved caring for beef cattle.  During this time, I’ve also cared for my own sheep.  I’ve thought it might be interesting (to me, at least!) to compare the jobs – and to compare the American cultural perceptions of cowboys and sheepherders.
Cowboys are iconic in American culture.  Forget that many of our cultural notions about cowboys are false (far from the rugged individualist of American mythology, cowboys have always had to work together).  Even non-cowboys can wear cowboy hats and cowboy boots!
Sheepherders, on the other hand, are often the antagonists in our Western mythology – cutting fences and stealing grass.  Sheepherders are usually immigrants in this country – Scots and Irish, then Basques, now Peruvians and Bolivians.  Not many of us are cut out to provide the constant attention that raising sheep requires!  And who ever went to a western-wear …