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Showing posts from February, 2016

Taking the Bad with the Good

One of my favorite musical groups is a band from Newfoundland called Great Big Sea.  They perform a combination of their own material and traditional, Celtic-influenced music.  One of my favorite songs, Tickle Cove Pond, includes the line, "The hard and the easy, we take as they come."  This line describes my day - and in many ways, the thinking behind my #sheep365 project.

When I started taking photos of the day-by-day work involved in raising sheep, I consciously decided that I'd post photos of the parts of being a shepherd that I most enjoyed - ewes grazing on green grass, new lambs frolicking.  I also consciously decided that I'd show the hard days, too - the monotony of irrigating in August, and the death that comes with raising livestock.  Today is the 145th day of my 366 day project (it's a leap year, after all) - and today marks the first day that I've posted something about the harder part of my avocation.

The first three ewes to deliver lambs were m…

The Ideal Ewe

With the start of another lambing season just around the corner (our ewes are due to start lambing around February 23), I'm again giving some thought to what Flying Mule Farm's Ideal Ewe looks like.  And I refer specifically to our Ideal Ewe for a reason; every operation has specific environmental, management and marketing conditions - which means every operation should have a different set of criteria for its ideal ewe.

The ecological foundation of our operation are our annual rangelands.  From November through mid-April, our ewes graze in the oak woodlands near Auburn.  Our grazing land is composed mostly of annual grasses and broadleaf plants, along with several species of brush.  I've written elsewhere about the relative values of our forage species; for my purposes in this essay, I'll just say that our rangeland plants exhibit a variety of nutritional value and grazing palatability, and that these factors vary spatially and seasonally.

During the summer months, we h…

Where has the magic gone? Thoughts on ranching, science and easy answers

In the last several years, I found that I’m becoming increasingly skeptical of easy answers and “magical” solutions when it comes to ranching.  The quick fix that will solve all of the challenges of raising sheep on rangeland seems elusive – whether it’s supposed to address economic, ecological or animal husbandry problems.  When I was getting started in the sheep business, these recipes and mystical answers held a great deal of attraction to me.  Today, much of the magic is gone!  Perhaps that’s a good thing!
Perhaps this is related to my age – I’m no longer the na├»ve youth who wanted to make my living from farming and ranching 15 years ago.  Perhaps this related to my return to school – I’m currently pursuing my master’s degree in integrated resource management through an online program at Colorado State University.  Most likely, this is a combination of these and other factors.
I should probably provide an example or two.  I’ve written previously in this space about my own struggl…

Testimony re: Draft CA Dept of Fish & Wildlife Gray Wolf Conservation Plan

Tonight, I testified at the last of three hearings held by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife regarding its draft Gray Wolf Conservation Plan.  A number of stakeholders worked with the Department on the plan, including the California Wool Growers Association (of which I am a member and an officer).  The draft plan is over 300 pages; members of the public had 3 minutes to provide oral comments.  At the risk of boring most of you, here's what I said:

"Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments tonight.  My name is Dan Macon, and like most bald guys, I wear a number of hats!  I am a small-scale commercial sheep producer in Placer County. I'm also the treasurer of the California Wool Growers Association and an assistant rangeland specialist in the UC Davis Plant Sciences Department.  Tonight, I am speaking for myself as a small producer.  We have practiced non-lethal predator protection (raising sheep, goats and cattle) for 25 years.  My comments reflect th…