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Showing posts from April, 2016

Working Dogs vs. Recreation Dogs

Every couple of months, I get a phone call or an email from somebody who has heard that we use herding dogs in our sheep operation.  Occasionally, these questions come from a fellow sheep producer (usually a new one) who wants to learn how to use dogs (and make themselves a better shepherd).  More frequently, the call comes from somebody looking to find a new activity to enjoy with their border collie or Australian shepherd.  With the latter, the conversation usually begins with the other person describing how gifted and intelligent their dog is.  While I'll still take time to help folks in the first category, I've become increasingly reluctant to help folks in the second.
First, I should say I'm not a dog trainer.  I've had help with my herding dogs. Much of what my dogs have learned, I've learned with them. The skills that my dogs have, they've developed through actual work - moving sheep and cows.
Second, a bit about my experience working with the second group…

Thankful for the water, but....

On Friday, April 15, our irrigation district (Nevada Irrigation District, or NID) turned on our irrigation water.  Unlike the last several years, NID has plenty of water in storage (both in reservoirs and as snowpack) - we don't have to worry about getting enough water this year.  Even more importantly, NID expects to have enough carry-over water in storage at the end of this season to ensure adequate supplies for next year.  After four years of drought, having enough water is a huge relief!  But while I'm thankful for the water, early season irrigation with our K-Line irrigation system is a challenge - largely because of type of water delivery system we have in the foothills.

First, let me extol the virtues of NID's system.  Our irrigation system is a legacy of the first settlers (miners and farmers) in our part of the Sierra foothills.  Miners, mostly, dug canal systems to provide water for mining - which farmers later used to grow crops.  The NID canal that runs through …

Stockmanship Notes: Learning to be a Shepherd

Earlier this week, I had an exchange on Twitter with a fellow shepherd (and outstanding author - check out The Shepherd's Life) from the UK named James Rebanks:

A day later, my friend Kent Reeves posted an article on my Facebook page entitled "Stop attacking pastoralists. We're part of natural resource management, too."  Finally, I had an actual face-to-face conversation (imagine that!) with a fellow sheep rancher this week, during which we both lamented the lack of experienced shepherds in California (and, I suspect, elsewhere in the United States).  Each of these encounters underscored a problem that has been tickling my subconscious mind for some time now: in our modern, technologically advanced society, very few people have a detailed grasp on what it means to be a shepherd - and even fewer have a true desire to learn (and master) the necessary skills.

My own work this week offered yet another example of the realization I had several years ago that stockmanship - t…

2016 Lambing Report

Yesterday morning, I found ewe 1526 with a brand-new ewe lamb (born overnight) – she put a wrap on our 2016 lambing season (an interesting side note – she was also the last ewe to give birth last year).  In many ways, lambing season is one of the measuring sticks we use to evaluate the success of our management over the previous 12 months.  The year’s lambing season is dependent on ewe nutrition prior to and during our breeding season (the previous September through mid-November), our management in the 3 weeks post-breeding, and weather and management during the 6 week lambing season.  By any measure, this year’s lambing season was our most successful ever – and the result of continuous learning and management adjustments on our part.  I should note that I offer this report not as a comparison with other sheep producers; rather, I want to document our efforts this year as a benchmark for evaluating future management decisions.
StatisticsBreeding Interval October 1 – November 15 Lambing I…