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Showing posts from January, 2016

Big Dogs, Hot Fences and Fast Sheep - A Few Thoughts on Predators and Sheep-raising

In the 12 years I've raised sheep commercially, I've been fortunate to have very few problems with predators.  Normally, I'd say "knock on wood" here; but luck has very little to do with our lack of predator problems.  We use an integrated strategy - which I jokingly refer to as "Big Dogs, Hot Fences and Fast Sheep" - to keep predators at bay.

Before I describe our system, however, I should stress that our approach won't work everywhere or for everyone.  I firmly believe that non-lethal predator protection, much like low stress livestock handling, takes a belief in the system and the will to make it work.  If you don't believe it will work, nothing I say or demonstrate is likely to convince you that it will.  If you do believe in the system, you'll learn from mistakes and find ways to constantly improve the system (as we do).

I should also stress that I think USDA's Wildlife Services agency provides valuable assistance to anyone who mus…

Ranching, Wildfire and Community

Last week, I helped to organize a tour of the Butte Fire in Calaveras County as part of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition summit.  The tour, and the Coalition's summit on the following day, focused on the intersection of wildfire and ranching in California.  During our tour, we heard from a watershed manager from the East Bay Municipal Utility District, from a local CalFire battalion chief, and from several ranchers who were impacted by the fire (including Doug Joses, whose efforts before and during the fire helped save the town of Mountain Ranch).  During the summit on Friday, we heard from researchers and ranchers about fire prevention, fire management, and the need for more research (especially regarding post-fire grazing management).

Over the last three years, the Sierra Nevada region has experienced three fires that burned more than 50,000 acres in a single 24-hour period (the 2013 Rim Fire, the 2014 King Fire and the 2015 Butte Fire).  I remember hearing a UC …

A Conversation with the Land

Wendell Berry is one of my favorite authors.  As a poet, a novelist, an essayist - and a farmer - he writes about things that interest me - and in a way that makes me think more deeply about my own agrarian efforts.  For Christmas this year, my wife gave me a copy of his 2015 collection of essays, Our Only World.  As I read his essay about sustainable forestry last night, I was struck by the thought that farming and ranching (and forestry) - done well - are conversations with the land.  Good farming and ranching requires a dialog with the land - a give-and-take discussion.

This conversation requires us (ranchers and the land) to develop a common vocabulary.  The grass, the trees, the soil, the animals (wild and domestic) allow us to communicate with the land.  More importantly, these "words" allow the land to communicate with us (if we're willing to "listen").  For example, the variety and health of the plants in our pastures allow the land to tell me how I…

Anguish and Anxiety - Hidden Impacts of the Drought

In late December, the Modern Farmer published an article online entitled, "Climate Change is Freaking Farmers Out, Medically Speaking." The piece, by Dan Nosowitz, discusses a recently published study from Australia regarding the mental health impacts of climate uncertainty on farmers in the town of Newgate (in the southwestern corner of Australia).  Neville Ellis, a PhD student at Murdoch University, interviewed 22 farmers about their lives and their sense of well-being.  His findings, according to the article, confirm that climate change has had an impact on farmers' mental health:
"This sort of climate change, in an area vulnerable to extreme changes, has had a nasty effect on the mental health of farmers.  The biggest problem seems to be the uncertainty.  Farmers don't know whether their crops will survive or be hit by a sudden drought or heat wave.  They don't know whether storms will blow their now-dry topsoil away, ruining any chance for crops to grow.…

Random Thoughts on Eastern Oregon

I've struggled with whether I should post my thoughts on what's been happening in Eastern Oregon (relative to the conviction of the Hammonds on arson charges and the militia occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge).  This post, like my thoughts, is disjointed - but I feel like I need to write down my ideas.  I hope the few of you who read this will add to the thoughtful discussion.

It's on the Internet - it must be true!
While the Internet is wonderful in many ways, it doesn't facilitate thoughtful discussion of complicated issues.  Over the last week, I've seen "news" articles and analyses that justify everyone's perspective on this issue.  The Hammonds are being persecuted. The Hammonds are deer-poaching right-wing radicals.  The Bundys are patriots. The Bundys are crazy.  The Bundys are trying to establish a Mormon homeland.  The federal government is trying to steal the Hammond's land.  The Feds are simply trying to protect our public lands…

Drought Update: Still (Always) on my mind

Looking back at my writing over the last six months or so, I've found that I've written about our drought with much less frequency.  While I suppose this could be taken as a sign that I feel like the drought is over, in reality, I think drought has become the new normal for me.  And so as we enter a new year, I want to think about the ways in which drought continues to impact my day-to-day life.

First, a snapshot of current conditions in my part of the Sierra Nevada foothills.  With just over six inches of rainfall in December 2015, we are approaching "normal" precipitation for the current water year (which started on July 1).  More importantly, we are slightly above normal in terms of our mountain snowpack.  Since snow is our most important "reservoir" for summer water, this is great news.  Last year in early January, my family visited Yosemite Valley and found it barren and brown; yesterday, we snowshoed in Truckee and were heartened to see more than 3 fe…