The Nevada-Placer-Yuba Disaster Livestock Access Pass Program operated for its second year in 2022. This program, available to commercial livestock producers in the three counties, is the first (and so far, only) multi-county program in California. The program is managed by UC Cooperative Extension and the Nevada, Placer, and Yuba Agriculture Departments, in partnership with CALFIRE and local law enforcement and emergency management agencies.
The program is available for commercial producers raising cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, rabbits, llamas, alpacas, and bees (commercial means the livestock are part of a business). To be eligible for the program, a producer must own 50 head of livestock (including in utero, e.g., 25 bred cows), 100 poultry or rabbits, or 50 beehives. The geographic area of the program matches CALFIRES Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit and reflects the on-the-ground reality that many commercial livestock producers operate in multiple counties.
The program is not an animal rescue or evacuation program; rather, the pass is designed to provide coordinated and safe access for producers with operations inside evacuation zones. Passholders work with UCCE and county agriculture departments to obtain permission from incident commanders to re-enter evacuation zones when it is safe to do so, for the purpose of feeding and caring for livestock.
In 2022, the program expanded by 68% - 72 producers obtained passes. New producers participated in a 4-hour training session hosted by UCCE, local agriculture departments, CALFIRE, and local law enforcement/emergency management agencies at the UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center (with lunch generously sponsored by the Sutter-Yuba Farm Bureau). Renewing passholders participated in an online refresher training developed by UCCE. While passes were not formally used during the 2022 fire season, the pass program created positive working relationships between the ranching community and first responders. These relationships resulted in opportunities to help address producer and livestock safety during the Rices Fire in Nevada County and the Mosquito Fire in Placer County.
The California State Association of Counties recognized the Nevada-Placer-Yuba program with a 2022 Challenge Award in the Rural Disaster & Emergency Response category, citing the program's innovative tri-county partnership and proactive approach to addressing both public safety and livestock well-being.
Governor Newsom signed AB 1103 (sponsored by Assembly Woman Megan Dahle) in October 2021. This legislation creates a statewide livestock pass program, with new statewide training due out in 2023. Once this new curriculum is rolled out, we will be scheduling training for new and renewing passholders in all three counties! If you'd like updates on these training sessions, or the program in general, contact me at email@example.com.
2022 Program Statistics
- 28% of passholders had operations in more than one county. On average, passholders operated on 2.4 individual properties.
- 35% had multiple species of livestock.
- 38% of passholders operated in Nevada County; 21% in Placer, 29% in Yuba, and 11% had operations outside of the 3-county region.
- Participation by livestock species:
- Beef Cattle: 65%
- Sheep: 32%
- Goats: 19%
- Poultry: 19%
- Bees: 15%
- Hogs: 8%
- Rabbits: 7%
- Dairy (Goats or Cattle): 6%
- Other Livestock: 11%
- 86% were owners or family members of commercial operations; the balance were employees.
Register now for our upcoming September workshops!
Working Rangelands Wednesdays - Remote Sensing and Drought Forecast with Dr. Leslie Roche - September 7 - 6:00pm: The last in our series of Drought Solutions Webinars, this session will focus on efforts to develop forage production forecasting for annual rangelands, and will provide a look ahead at conditions this fall and winter. Register with this link! View previous sessions on our Working Rangelands Wednesdays YouTube Channel!
Crop Insurance / Pasture Range and Forage Insurance - September 13 - 6:30pm: We've invited a local crop insurance agent to walk us through the costs and coverage benefits of Specialty Crop and PRF Insurance. This workshop is FREE! Register here! This workshop will be held at the UCCE office in Auburn.
Beginning Farming Academy - September 30 - October 1: This 2-day intensive workshop provides an introduction to starting a commercial farming or ranching! We'll cover the basics of market-driven farming and ranching, provide you with economic analysis tools, and wrap up with an action plan for jump-starting your enterprise! The cost for the academy is $80 (to cover meals). Apply online.
Like many of you, I expect, I've recently debated whether to keep my social media accounts - Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram sometimes seem like a bottomless pit of advertising and argument. But then something like this happens....
Last week, I wrote about the idea of an "ecological calendar" - a way to think about our production calendars from an ecological perspective (read the post here). I included my first rather awkward attempt at graphically displaying my own sheep production calendar - and shared the graphic on Instagram.
Within several hours, I had the most wonderful response from someone who listens to our Sheep Stuff Ewe Should Know podcast - complete with an actual, real-world ecological calendar from a famous sheep-producing region in France! Yeva (@why_suarez on Instagram) shared this:
"The inner orange circle says “troupeau en montage” (herd in the mountains) and troupeau en crau (the Crau is a geographical area). Most sheep farmers in the south of France move their sheep to the mountain areas (like Haute Savoie, the mountains between Italy and France. Pyrenees is another system yet again) as there's not enough green pastures available, because of the high temperatures that dry out the land and/or because the irrigated areas are used to produce hay (there are more reasons, but that's the short version!). Wolves are a big issue, they will be guarded by a shepherd throughout the summer. But back to the calendar.
"You see two blue lines pass through all the circles, one: mid-June; one: beginning of October. That's when the sheep are away, which matches with the outer circle that says “estives dans les alpages.” Estives means summer pasture. Most of the sheep will be taken there, represented in the tiny sheep symbols. Outside that period is says in the circle “enneigement en montagne,” which is basically snow in the mountains!
"The arrows show the movement of the sheep to the different kind of pastures. In the Crau, you basically have two kinds, the green one that is irrigated and produces the hay and the dry one or the “Coussouls” that have a very specific kind of biodiversity and is known for its many rocks.
"It's a bit complicated to explain because it's a circular system, so it's all linked – which also makes it very cool, because the entire calendar is pasture and hay based, including lambing dates, etc. But basically, Foins de Crau is a very famous hay that's produced with a complicated irrigation system and is subject to many rules if it wants to qualify as “foins de crau,” as it's known for its very high quality. They cut it three times a year (in the calendar it says “1ere coupe = first cut, etc.). Each “cut” has a different nutritional component and is marketed differently. The fourth cut is not actually cut; it is eaten by the sheep when they return from the mountains. That's why you see the sheep symbols between October and February in the same circle as the “cuts” – we call those kinds of pastures the “prairies.”
"Half February (the blue line only overlaps the prairies and coussouls) they are then moved to the coussouls. The prairies will start growing again for the first foins de crau cut and the cassouls offer enough food. Some other shepherds bring sheep to hill areas nearby instead of the coussouls – it tends to depend on the particularities of that farm. The amount of sheep symbols has grown in the cassouls circle, because the herds tend to be much bigger as this calendar reflects an autumn lambing period, which is the overall tendency here.
"Outside the inner circle is a smaller blue one that shows when the prairies are irrigated with water and when not (“arrossage de pres”). The specific timing of the movement of the herds would be a much longer story! But I hope the different layers of the calendar are clearer now and why they are linked."
I shared this calendar explanation with my friend Dr. Hailey Wilmer, who is the Research Rangeland Management Specialist at the U.S. Range Sheep Production Efficiency Research Unit, in Dubois, Idaho. Her observation was that "calendars can help tell stories across landscapes." I agree - looking at the calendar Yeva shared, and the explanation she provided, helped me look again at my own calendar. I asked myself these questions:
- What is the heart of our sheep operation in terms of nutrition and forage? For us, I think, it's the annual rangeland we use in the winter and again in summer.
- What is the second most important forage resource? In our case, it's our irrigated pasture. Pasture is more productive - and also more costly. With sheep, we could probably figure out how to get along without it.
- Finally, how do our production needs (vaccinations, shearing, lambing, etc.) fit within these underlying forage cycles?
All of this brings me to a question for you! How does your production system fit the ecological cycles in your region? I hope you'll share! And I guess I'll keep my social media accounts for now....
Over the last ten years or so, I've had the opportunity to help teach farm and ranch business planning courses (first, as a collaborating producer; more recently, as an extension advisor). One of the exercises we've used to help producers relate their cash flow budgets to their production calendars is to create an operational timeline that includes key management activities - as well as the associated inflows and outflows of cash. While this timeline has been a useful teaching tool - it always seemed a bit flawed to me. The work of ranching, after all, is cyclical rather than linear. During our most recent Beginning Farming Academy, I tried a new approach - a circular calendar rather than a timeline. And it so happens that a recent article in Rangelands (the non-technical journal published by the Society for Range Management) puts a name to this approach. Karim-Aly Kassam, of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment and the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program at Cornell University, calls these "ecological calendars" - calendars that provide a systematic way to measure and give meaning to time based on our observations of the habitats in which we live.
As I read this paper, I realized that my approach to raising sheep largely revolves around this idea of an ecological calendar. Our sheep year starts and ends with the forage cycle here in the Sierra foothills. My starting point is to match our period of greatest nutritional demand (late gestation and early lactation - lambing season, in other words) with the time period when Mother Nature provides the greatest quantity of highly nutritious forage (the "spring flush"). This decision point gives us the ability to adjust our stocking rate to seasonal changes in the carrying capacity of our rangeland and irrigated pastures. We wean the lambs as the annual rangeland forages dry out. We manage our irrigated pasture to be sure we have quality forage prior to and during breeding season. Our ewes have their lowest nutritional demand during the late fall months. In many ways, our approach reflects an emphasis on the productivity of the ewes rather than the weaning weights of individual lambs - we're optimizing our ewes' ability to turn forage into fiber and lambs.
Our decision about when to lamb sets up other key dates in our production system, as well. We shear the ewes when the youngest lambs are 4-6 weeks old - in early May. The ewes shear better then, and we avoid some of the stickers that can contaminate our wool. We dry the ewes off (wean the lambs and end the ewes' lactation) on dry forage in mid-Summer - which allows us to rent the ewes out for fuel-load reduction on unirrigated rangeland. We flush the ewes (prepare them for breeding) in September, when our irrigated pasture begins to recover from the heat-induced summer slump in productivity. We turn the rams in with the ewes in late September, and the entire cycle starts again!
But as I've thought about our approach through the lens of an ecological calendar, I've realized that the key dates in our system have nothing to do with the chronological date - and everything to do with the annual cycles of weather and forage production. Rather than the names of the months, the headers on my ecological calendar are events - Germination Day, the Onset of Rapid Growth, the Summer Slump, the Autumn Rebound. Unlike the rigidity of the Gregorian calendar that most of us use, this ecological approach to our production schedule is incredibly flexible! Weaning day happens when the grass dries out, for example - which could be late May or late June, depending on the year. Longer-term flexibility is also possible - if we begin to see that our moisture and temperature regimes in the late winter and early spring change the timing of the spring flush, we can adjust our lambing date (by adjusting the date on which we turn the rams in with the ewes).
I suppose some will say that we're simply ranching with nature - that we're just adjusting our production to the cycles around us. But giving meaning to time based on my own observations of the world around me seems deeper than simply picking a lambing date to coincide with spring growth. Keeping track of how the world around me changes in response to things like the timing and amount of rainfall, the temperature of the air and the soil, the humidity and wind here in the foothills - all of this helps me adjust my interactions with the natural world. All of this helps make adapting our sheep enterprise to ever-changing conditions easier!
Be sure to check out our upcoming webinars on cattle production and targeted grazing - we have a great line-up of speakers and topics!
Tuesday, October 6 (6pm) - Introduction to Targeted Grazing
This webinar will provide an overview of targeted grazing, including grazing management, picking the right grazer for the job, livestock management, and customer relations. Cost: $10. Click here to register!
Thursday, October 15 (6pm) - Cattle Health – From Parasite Management to Vaccination Programs
With Dr. Gaby Maier (UCD School of Veterinary Medicine Beef Extension Specialist) and Dr. Becky Childers (Large Animal Veterinarian). Learn about controlling external and internal parasites, developing a vaccination program for your herd, and the importance of establishing a working relationship with your veterinarian. FREE! Sponsored by Tahoe Cattlemen's Association. Click here to register!
Tuesday, October 20 (6pm) - Beef Business Basics
With Dan Macon, UC Cooperative Extension; Judd Tripp, Placer County Rancher; and JC Baser, Placer County Rancher. This webinar will focus on basic economic analysis for new and existing ranching businesses. Our rancher panel will share their experiences operating successful foothill ranching enterprises. FREE! Sponsored by Tahoe Cattlemen's Association. Click here to register!
Thursday, October 22 (6pm) - The Basics of Grazing Management
With Dan Macon, UC Cooperative Extension; Greg Lawley, Placer County Rancher; Joe Fischer, Placer/Nevada County Rancher. Well-managed grazing can improve pasture productivity and cattle health. Learn the basics of grazing management and hear from ranchers who use these practices every day. FREE! Sponsored by Tahoe Cattlemen's Association. Click here to register!
Tuesday, October 27 (6pm) - The Business of Targeted Grazing
Join Dan Macon and a panel of targeted grazing contractors to learn about the ins and outs of building a targeted grazing business. Cost: $10. Click here to register!
Thursday, October 29 (6pm) - Beef Cattle Nutrition
With Dr. Pedro Carvalho, UC Davis Feedlot Management Extension Specialist. Learn basic information about beef cattle nutrition, from grazing to ration formulation. FREE! Sponsored by Tahoe Cattlemen's Association. Click here to register!
Once you've registered for each webinar, you'll receive a Zoom link that will allow you to participate. We'll also post videos of each webinar on the Ranching in the Sierra Foothills YouTube Channel.