- Author: Dan Macon
Once again, Flying Mule Farm (in collaboration with UC Cooperative Extension) is offering a series of workshops designed to help new and aspiring shepherds get started in the sheep business. These workshops will give students basic information on sheep husbandry, marketing and business management, lambing, shearing and wool handling, predator prevention and pasture management. Several workshops will be offered classroom style, while most will feature hands-on work with sheep.
- Predator Protection for Small Scale Livestock Producers (January 11): This workshop is part of the Nevada County Sustainable Food and Farm Conference in Grass Valley, CA. For more information (and to register) go to: http://foodandfarmconference.com.
- Introduction to Sheep Husbandry - Classroom Session (January 15): Basic information on managing a small flock of sheep, including management calendars, husbandry practices, economics of the sheep business, and marketing. For more information, and to register online, go to: http://ucanr.edu/sites/placernevadasmallfarms/?calitem=250009&g=22527. The workshop will be held at the UCCE office in Auburn.
- Introduction to Sheep Husbandry - Field Day (January 17): This hands-on field day will provide students with the opportunity to learn how to give vaccinations, trim feet, evaluate general health, and prepare a flock for lambing. For more information, and to register online, go to: http://ucanr.edu/sites/placernevadasmallfarms/?calitem=250011&g=22527. The workshop will be held at our leased pasture near Auburn.
- Lambing on Pasture Field Day (March 7): This field day will provide hands-on instruction on managing a lambing flock on pasture. Students will learn to dock, castrate and eartag lambs, manage ewe and lamb nutrition, evaluate health, and manage pastures during lambing. Stay tuned for registration information!
- Shearing and Wool Handling Field Day (early May): This field day will provide hands-on information regarding preparing sheep for shearing, shearing-site set-up and management, wool handling and preparation for marketing. The date will be determined by availability of our sheep shearer.
- California Multi-Species Grazing Academy (September 11-13): This multi-day workshop will provide students with hands-on experience in electric fencing, pasture management, forage evaluation and animal husbandry. Participants will work with sheep and goats. Stay tuned for more information!
For more information, go to http://ucanr.edu/sites/placernevadasmallfarms/ and click on the specific events on the calendar page - or contact Dan Macon directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530/305-3270!
- Author: Dan Macon
I don’t claim to be an expert shepherd – I’m often humbled by the realization of how much I don’t know about raising sheep. However, I estimate that since I started raising sheep on a commercial scale in 2006, I’ve spent in the neighborhood of 14,000 hours doing everything from moving portable electric fence to trimming hooves to analyzing the economics of my business. And while I still have more questions than answers about how to make my living by raising sheep, there are parts of this business that are far easier now that I’ve invested so much time!
Some of the benefit is akin to muscle memory. If you repeat a physical motion enough times – like playing the piano – eventually your muscles remember where to place your limbs and digits. These movements become second nature. Last week, we completed our annual task of trimming feet, a process that involves tipping every ewe onto her backside and trimming all four of her hooves. With 250 +/- sheep, this meant trimming approximately 1,000 feet! Just 5 years ago, such a task would have left my back sore for several days – and it would have taken three people just to treat our flock of 100 ewes in a single day. Last week, with help from a few friends, we treated 250 animals in about 8 hours.
Building electro-net fencing is another example of increasing efficiency. I estimate that I put up and take down my 164-foot rolls of electro-net between 700 and 800 times in a year. When I started learning how to use the fencing 7 years ago, a 6-net paddock (which encloses about 1.25 acres) took me several hours. Two weeks ago, I built a 16-net paddock (enclosing 9.25 acres) in less than three hours. Once again, I’ve now built enough fence that I learned how to be as efficient as possible.
Finally, spending time working on the business is as important as spending time working in the business. When I’m working “in” the business, I’m doing many of the things I’ve discussed above. When I’m working “on” the business, I’m thinking about bigger questions – how should I market my lambs next year, for example. I’ll admit I’d much rather spend the day working with my sheep than in front of my computer, but I find that the quality of my “on-the-business” work improves the more I do it as well. For instance, we’ve decided this year to keep our sheep year-round on properties much closer to home, which will reduce our overhead costs substantially. We’ve adjusted the scale of our operation to fit the land we can access without putting the sheep on a trailer.
I suppose that this idea is at least indirectly related to scale. The more sheep you raise – or the more carrots you grow – the more quickly you cross the 10,000-hour threshold. Regardless of size, however, the investment of time in farming eventually pays dividends in skill level (and hopefully in profitability).