UC Hopland REC Reduce Sheep Flock
For over 65 years, the Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC) has been well known as one of the last large scale sheep ranches and research facilities in the northwest. Their woolly forms are a familiar sight against the backdrop of the 5,358 acre site, well loved by the community for school field trips during the lambing season and for the sheepdog trials during the fall. In addition, they have a long history of being on the forefront of emerging research and management strategies related to sheep for topics such as: sheep biology and management, rangeland management, livestock/predator/wildlife interactions, as well as grazing as a tool for vineyard owners, fire prevention, and noxious weed control.
This summer the HREC flock will be reduced from 500 breeding ewes to approximately 125 and their full time shepherd position will be cut. The sheep will be sold at auction on the site (4070 University Road, Hopland, CA) on June 3. The sale will allow sealed bids from 8am-11am, with a minimum lot size of 20 animals. This reduction echoes a change that can been seen across the state in flock size and management styles.
Agriculture moves in cycles, following both the seasons and market demands. The sheep population in Mendocino County has fallen from 140,000 in 1954 (UCANR) to 10,400 in 2018 (USDA), and statewide sheep numbers have fallen from 2,034,000 in 1954 (UCANR) to 550,000 at the end of 2018 (USDA). As California flock numbers have declined, so has sheep research interest and funding.
Magnifying the impact of these changes, HREC is facing a significant reduction in funding from the University of California system. HREC is one of nine Research and Extension Centers (RECs) under the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) division which has seen significant budget challenges in the last few years due to flat state funding. Overall, budget reductions of $3.1 million from central (ANR) funding across the REC system are planned, and HREC's share of these cuts will amount to over 30% of its budget. The scale of this budget reduction is driving a statewide reevaluation of priorities and strategic decisions about where ANR should allocate limited funds to best meet its mission of strengthening the health of California's people, communities, food systems, and environment.
“While we must strategically adjust to financial realities and changes in research and extension priorities, we are sad to see the flock reduced and to face the coming loss of our dedicated and talented shepherd Jim Lewers. The smaller HREC flock will continue to fulfill an important role at the site, allowing us to continue to offer sheep focused educational programs and events, and to share our experience and research with sheep owners. The flock is a key tool in reducing the risk of wildfire through grazing for fire fuel reduction. Targeted grazing also helps to reduce invasive species and provides food and fiber. We plan to continue to welcome our community youth to “meet the lambs” and celebrate the services and products provided from the HREC flock at our events, for example our Wool Growers Field Day which takes place on June 1” said John Bailey, Interim Director at HREC. “We are also working to pivot our livestock programs to meet a broad array of identified research and extension needs. This will include working with private producers and potential diversifying into other species such as cattle.”
Although sheep have been considered a core feature of HREC, many other aspects of natural resource management and education are offered at the site. The diverse landscape offers oak woodland, chaparral, and riparian areas, as well as the ability to compare areas affected and unaffected by the 2018 River Fire. This landscape provides an important site for researchers from across the University of California system and beyond to study diverse aspects of the ecosystem services and working landscapes that makes California the wonderfully productive and diverse state that it is. Currently 19 research projects are studying topics including: climate change effects on soils and oaks: to tick-borne diseases: to wildlife ecology and management: rangeland ecology: fire science and sustainable land management practices.
In addition to diverse research opportunities, HRECs Community Education Specialist, Hannah Bird, has built and continues to develop a rich portfolio of extension and education events including workshops, field trips, and field classes. With the goal of educating and inspiring connection to and knowledge of diverse aspects of agriculture and natural resources, program offerings include not only sheep and wool focused events but also naturalist trainings, fire science education, birding trips, a youth summer camp, and extensive field trips which have brought over 2000 community members to the site in the past year.
“We are excited to share this wonderful site and extend the deep and broad knowledge which researchers and passionate individuals have developed about California ecosystems and agricultural systems. In this era of increasing focus on digital devices, we offer an alternative of hands-on, science-based educational opportunities for youth and people of all ages to engage with and deepen their love for our rich environmental and agricultural heritage.”
Despite the system-wide budget challenges, HREC continues to build its research and educational programs. Donor support and grants have become an integral part of their future. “Over the last year, we have been successful in obtaining grant awards from the Environmental Protection Agency with our partner REC in the Sierra Foothills for $100,000 to support fire education for middle school youth and adults, local grants to support youth education from the Mendocino Community Foundation, and individual donors have supported us with over $18,000 in 2018. Never has there been a time when such support is more needed at HREC to help us to continue to fulfill our important role in northern California.” commented Bailey in closing.
For further information regarding the sheep sale on June 3rd please visit http://bit.ly/HRECSheep . For information regarding the Wool Growers Field Day on June 1st please visit http://bit.ly/WoolGrowers . To find out more about HREC or donate to their work visit: http://hrec.ucanr.edu/ or call Hannah at (707) 744 1424 ext 105.
From the Barn to the Yarn in Hopland
On Monday morning a group of 25 strangers gathered in front of the lambing barn at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center. “If you survive the week, you'll be in a rare group” commented John Harper, Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor to the class. This heralds the beginning of the sheep shearing school, an intensive week long class, which is so eagerly anticipated that space on the class was filled in just 4 minutes from the opening of online registration.
The participants are varied and have traveled from all over the USA. As they introduce themselves they explain their motivations for joining this class and a common theme begins to emerge “there's just no one else to shear my sheep”. Many of the participants work with smaller sheep flocks and it is not economical to employ travelling shearers, used to shearing flocks of hundreds or thousands, for just a few sheep. These small flocks are increasing across Mendocino County and the need for qualified shearers who are sympathetic to the needs of small producers is high. The group mix might surprise some, with over 20 female participants and a number of the group using vacation from their “day job” to attend this class including a hair dresser looking to expand her scope. During the introduction it is made clear to all that shearing is not as easy task “a full day of shearing is equivalent to running a marathon” concluded Harper as he led the class into the barn to get started.
“One of my favorite things about this school is the range of people who are brought together for such an intensive experience” commented Hannah Bird, HREC community educator. “At the end of the week you always see such pride in their achievement, and the possibility of a new economic string to their bow, we're proud to see that being expressed in our community through Matt Gilbert and his family, a past shearing school participant who has now opened Mendocino Wool and Fiber, our local wool mill”.
Alongside a renewed interest in keeping small flocks of sheep, there has also been increased practice of fiber arts such as knitting and felting in the last 20 years, particularly amongst millennials. Celebrity knitters such as Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz might be partly responsible, but the many qualities of wool as a fiber are greatly appreciated by local spinners, knitters and artists.
To get a taste of the entire process from sheep to scarf, HREC invites the community to their 4th annual Barn to Yarn celebration on Saturday, May 12th. There will be displays and demonstrations including herding sheep with a sheepdog (performed by Tom Trent from the Redwood Empire Sheepdog Association), shearing, knitting, felting, spinning and weaving.
“Our amazing team of experts and volunteers will help attendees at Barn to Yarn to try their hand working with wool – this is such a great day for all the family from kids to the committed fiber artist. We'll even be creating a beautiful shawl during the event which will be offered at silent auction through the day. What could be a better Mother's Day present?” added Bird. Guest of honor, Jean Near (103) will be adding to the event with stories of over 100 years living in Mendocino, ranching merino sheep which are prized for their wool over many of those years. Matthew Topsfield brings rare knitting skills all the way from the Outer Hebrides of Scotland which he will share with attendees who might enjoy making a “fisherman's gansey”.
Admission is $10 for adults, children under 12 $5. HREC asks visitors to leave their pets at home to protect the site and the sheep resident there. Bring your own picnic and all utensils; tea, coffee and water will be available. Visit http://bit.ly/BarntoYarn2018 to find out more and purchase your ticket. Barn to Yarn will be held at the Rod Shippey Hall, 4070 University Road, Hopland, CA 95449 from 9am-3pm on May 12th. For more information contact Hannah Bird, (707) 744-1424, Ext. 105, firstname.lastname@example.org.
submitted by Hopland REC Director, Dr. Kim Rodrigues
Since arriving as the Director for HREC in 2013-2014, I have been committed to protecting all of the amazing resources here at the Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC,) with a dedicated effort to saving wildlife and reducing losses of sheep. As one of the last remaining sheep research facilities and one of the largest flocks in our immediate area, the sheep are prey to coyotes and other potential predators on the landscape.
With increasing numbers of wildlife across the region, state and nation, conflicts between humans and wildlife are increasing. Our workshop at HREC on August 31, 2017 focused on living with wildlife while managing livestock, with an overarching goal to seek a shared understanding of non-lethal tools through research, implementation and education.
Over 80 participants from a diversity of backgrounds including researchers, ranchers, community members and non-profits attended. All participants experienced demonstrations of several non-lethal tools, including some exciting applications of scary devices, such as Halloween decorations, collars to protect sheep with strobe lights and canine avoidance noises built into them, fencing with an electric charge, lion proof pens and flagging attached to deter movement across the fencing and more. Many participants wanted more hands-on field time with the ranchers using these tools and HREC is working to develop this for late spring/early summer of 2018.
We explored new and emerging research with Dr. Brashares and his team only to learn that it “depends.” Everything is situational and place-based and this is a key lesson or outcome from the meeting. The situational questions asked of each rancher on the panel may help inform the choice of tools and the mix of tools to reduce losses.
We learned that there are practical barriers – such as time, money and labor, as well as scientific barriers to fully implementing non-lethal tools. Yet, one common message was to mix and match tools and vary them frequently. “Match” the tools to your specific situation(s) and mix them up over time and space frequently. Many creative ideas came up to help share tools and other resources and the concept of a lending library with non-lethal tools available to ranchers emerged as a local action HREC will explore further with our community partners.
We understand the importance of strong working relationships and diverse partnerships and we will work with the participants who were able to attend and outreach to partners, such as local agricultural commissioner and staff, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Wildlife Services to ensure we are all working together.
We learned from and valued the diverse perspectives and there was a tremendous sense of respect for all people present that allowed a dynamic and safe learning environment.
Already, HREC is moving forward with new research to better track and document the work of our large guard dogs (LGDs) as a tool to prevent losses of livestock. The concept of putting GPS collars on our dogs and tracking their movements over a variety of pasture types and sizes and landscapes is already being discussed and outlined by HREC staff and research colleagues. It is recognized that LGDs can and do kill wildlife, so they are not truly a “non-lethal” tool yet they remain one of the most important tools livestock managers rely on to protect their animals. Lethal controls are still used in combination with non-lethal tools – snares, calling, shooting – in most ranching situations but not all. Yet all ranchers shared their goals to reduce losses of both livestock and wildlife and agreed that preventing losses is the best approach in all cases.
I welcome you to visit our HREC site and you can review the amazing graphic art that captured the essence of the workshop, as well as the rancher panel interviews, the presentations and more online. Please join us for future events.
Together, we may find innovative tools and solutions and keep ranching viable in our communities to prevent further fragmentation and conversion to other uses, saving both livestock and wildlife.
On December 1st and 2nd we enjoyed bringing together a group of over 60 workshop attendees from diverse perspectives, including researchers, regulatory bodies, environmental non-profits and community members to talk through the issues of ranching on a landscape rich in wildlife and the challenges associated with it.
"Living with Wildlife While Managing Working Landscapes" was a two day event. Day 1 was organized by USDA APHIS Wildlife Services and brought us on a journey through the research that has been conducted on control of predators, right up to the present day and the current methods available including non-lethal methods such as guardian animals and fladry.
Day 2 allowed time for further discussion in small groups and the chance to hear from Mendocino County producers about the responsibility they feel to keep their animals safe and healthy for the duration of their lives on the ranch.
The event was a great success, allowing deeper understanding of what is sometimes an over simplified topic with strong emotion attached to it. As one attendee put it "what I realize after this event is that I knew nothing of this subject before it!"
The answers are not simple and the information provided expressed that each ranch is different and will need a wide range of tools to deter predators from their stock. That toolkit may include a relationship with Wildlife Services and their local wildlife specialist alongside guardian animals, minimizing attractants, improved fencing and pasture rotation. HREC hopes to assist ranchers to understand the best methods available to them that make both ecological and economical sense for their ranch by providing a number of training opportunities in 2016.
You can view the agenda, available presentations and notes from the small group discussions up on our website now, by visiting: