Sunday, August 26, 2018

The 52nd Week - and What Comes Next...

Several years ago, I had the off-the-wall idea to start posting a photo of something to do with our little sheep operation every day for a full year. Beginning with the day we turned the rams in with the ewes (New Year's Day in our Sheep Year - the photo above!), my #sheep365 project taught me a great deal about telling the story of raising livestock - the annual cycle of breeding, birthing, weaning and marketing. Others started using the hashtag - and it even sparked Twitter and Facebook accounts (@Sheep365).

Fifty-one weeks ago, I decided to start a new project I called 52 Weeks of Sheep. Each week, I posted a video (or videos) of whatever it was we were doing with the sheep that particular week. I started out on YouTube, but soon found that 50-second videos on Instagram were easier to do. I started by talking about flushing the ewes in preparation for breeding season; my last post (next week) will cover the process of hauling the ewes from the dry, annual rangeland they've been grazing all summer back to irrigated pasture. I'm hoping at some point to be able to compile all 52 weeks of video blogging in one place (maybe here!).

I hope that these projects have helped non-sheep folks learn a bit about raising sheep. I've tried - in both #sheep365 and #52weeksofsheep - to share the good and the bad. I've tried to explain why I love lambing season. I've tried to show the monotony and the excitement. I've tried to share why I love what I do and where I get to do it. Perhaps more importantly, these projects have helped me realize that what I do - raising sheep, producing food, directly interacting with my environment - are increasingly rare in the 21st Century. These projects have also helped me connect with sheep producers in California, the Western U.S. and all over the world.

These connections hit home for me this last winter during lambing season. As usual during lambing (in late February and March), we were paying close attention to the weather. With a cold storm (and the possibility of snow) predicted, we were concerned about the newborn lambs in our pasture-based lambing system. Through my #sheep365 posts, I'd connected with a producer in the Dorset region of the UK (@meandeweblog) who posted something about some biodegradable lamb raincoats (called Lamb Macs) that she used. I sent her a message, found out where she got them, and within 5 days was using Lamb Macs from Shearwell to protect our lambs during the storm. The connections I made through social media literally saved a half-dozen lambs this year.

So as 52 Weeks of Sheep wraps up, I've been thinking about a new project. In addition to raising sheep, I work as a livestock and natural resources farm advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension service. Much of my work focuses on rangeland management - I work with other producers, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies to provide science-based information about managing rangelands. I'm engaged in a number of research projects - from drought management to coexisting with predators on rangelands. And so it seems natural to start a new project that focuses on this work! When I post my last #52weeksofsheep video on Tuesday or Wednesday, I'll also put up my first #rangelands365 post on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts (check out on Facebook; @flyingmulefarm on Twitter and @flyingmule on Instagram). As with my #sheep365 project, I hope others will join in on using this hashtag - my posts will feature lots of foothill rangeland photos, but since nearly half of the earth's terrestrial surface can be considered rangeland, I hope we'll all learn about these incredible landscapes! Stay tuned!

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