As in much of the world, carnivores and grazing livestock in our four-county region (Placer, Nevada, Sutter and Yuba) share the many of the same rangeland habitats. In some cases, land use conversion of rangelands - often to urban or suburban development - concentrates livestock and predators on a shrinking landscape - making conflict inevitable (see Zimmerman et al., 2010).
As many ranchers know, the main predators of sheep, goats and cattle in our region are coyotes, mountain lions, black bears and domestic dogs. In the last several years, gray wolves have come back into northern California. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recently collared a female member of the newly named "Lassen Pack," apparently in the mountains somewhere west of Susanville. Gray wolves in California are protected under both the state and federal endangered species acts; lethal control of gray wolves is not an option in California. CDFW anticipates that gray wolves will eventually move as far south as I-80 in the Sierra Nevada and Mendocino County in the Coast Range.
Closer to home, I attended a meeting of the Sutter-Yuba Farm Bureau this week, which featured a discussion about a mountain lion that was collared and recently spotted in the Sutter Buttes (an area in which such sightings are apparently unusual). Ranchers in the Buttes were legitimately concerned about the safety of their livestock. While mountain lions are a specially protected species in California, ranchers can obtain depredation permits if a mountain lion has killed livestock. According to CDFW, if you suspect lion depredation, you should preserve the carcass and scene (by placing a tarp over the carcass, covering tracks with cans or buckets, and minimizing disturbance). Call your nearest CDFW office or local Wildlife Services specialist (or county specialist in Placer County). If a lion kill is confirmed, CDFW will issue a depredation permit. See below for contact information for these agencies.
Livestock protection tools - guardian dogs, electric fencing, increased human presence (to name a few) - can offer site- and operation-specific protection for grazing livestock. Along with a number of campus-based specialists and other farm advisors from through northern California, I have been working on a new publication that will help ranchers (and others) evaluate these tools for their own operations. We hope the publication will be available this fall. We will also be launching a livestock-carnivore information hub on the UC Rangelands website. Stay tuned!
Finally, we have also initiated a long-term survey to evaluate the direct and indirect impacts of predators on rangeland livestock operations. This study, which will continue over the next 10 years, will examine direct impacts (death loss) from predators, as well as potential indirect impacts (reduced conception rates, lower weaning weights, increased labor, the cost of nonlethal tools, etc.). If you are a commercial livestock producer who has at least 5 years of records on your operation and who plans to stay in business for at least 10 more years, please contact me if you're interested in participating in this project. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, I have provided a number of links regarding depredation and carnivore-livestock co-existence, as well as contact information for local agency offices.
- California Department of Fish and Wildlife - Region 2 (which includes Placer, Nevada, Sutter and Yuba Counties)
- USDA Wildlife Services - California - the state office can provide contact information for wildlife specialists in your county.
- Placer County Agriculture Department (Placer County employs its own wildlife specialists, who are available to assist with depredation problems)
- National Wildlife Research Center - the research arm of USDA Wildlife Services. The center is conducting a variety of research projects related to livestock-predator interactions.
- CDFW Gray Wolf Conservation Plan
- CDFW Gray Wolf FAQ Sheet for Ranchers - tools for California livestock producers to discourage wolf presence, guidance for suspected wolf depredation, and wolf legal status.
While our continued hot weather makes it difficult to remember that autumn is just around the corner, we're working on a busy schedule of fall and winter workshops and field days! Details will follow (be sure to check our Foothill Farming Events Calendar regularly) - but I wanted to make sure you get these events on your calendar!
|August 31, 2017||
|September 23, 2017||
Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center, Browns Valley, CA
|September 29, 2017||
Shepherd Skills Workshop: Preparing Sheep for Breeding
|October 18, 2017||
Full Belly Farm Tour
Capay Valley, CA
|October 25, 2017||
Farmer-to-Farmer Potluck and Operational Succession Panel Discussion
|November 3, 2017||
|November 9, 2017||
Electric Fencing Workshop
|November 15, 2017||
Farmer-to-Farmer Breakfast - Whole Farm Insurance Workshop
|January 17, 2018||
Farmer-to-Farmer Breakfast - Labor Workshop
|January 18, 2018||
Shepherd Skills Workshop: Introduction to the Sheep Business
|January 20, 2018||
Shepherd Skills Field Day: Sheep Husbandry Basics
|January 25 - March 1, 2018||
Farm Business Planning Short Course
|February 13, 2018||
|February 20, 2018||
Operations Planning Workshop
|March 3, 2018||
Shepherd Skills Field Day: Pasture Lambing School
I suppose it's a reflection of the time of year, but in my first 6+ weeks as the livestock and natural resources farm advisor in Placer, Nevada, Sutter and Yuba Counties, I've fielded multiple calls - and made multiple ranch visits - focusing on smutgrass in irrigated pastures. Based on all of this interest from local ranchers (and based on the smutgrass I'm seeing in my own irrigated pastures), I've turned to an outstanding publication by a number of my UC Cooperative Extension and UC Davis colleagues - Managing Smutgrass in Irrigated Pastures (Davy et al. 2012).
A native to tropical regions, smutgrass is a warm-season perennial. On our pastures near Auburn, I typically don't begin seeing smutgrass until late June or early July - after we've made one or two passes over our pastures with the sheep. Mature plants have a tall, spiky seed-head and low, sparse leaves. Livestock generally avoid grazing smutgrass - perhaps due to its coarse leaves or some kind of secondary compound that reduces palatability. Left ungrazed (which usually happens, since livestock don't like smutgrass), the nutritional value of the plant (especially protein) declines significantly during the late summer.
In our operation, I've noticed that our mature ewes will graze smutgrass (mostly the leaves). As the paper suggests, we may get better utilization with our ewes because we manage the grazing intensively to reduce their selectivity - in other words, short grazing periods with greater livestock density seems to help us overcome some of the lack of palatability. We also pay attention to our rest periods, adjusting them to allow for sufficient regrowth of our desirable plants before grazing again. In May, our rest periods on our irrigated pastures might be 25 days; in August, we try to let pastures rest 35-40 days between grazing bouts. I think this allows the more desirable forage species to develop stronger root systems and greater canopy cover, which helps reduce the ability of smutgrass to take hold. Shorter rest periods, on the other hand, may favor smutgrass establishment.
As with many weed problems, smutgrass can be a symptom of other management issues. Smutgrass needs bare ground and sunlight to germinate. Grazing management or other disturbances (like pasture harrowing) that result in bare ground, therefore, can allow smutgrass to become established. Josh Davy (the lead author of the paper) and Betsy Karle (an area dairy farm advisor with UC Cooperative Extension) found that proper irrigation can have a favorable impact on reducing smutgrass - in their experiment, pastures that were irrigated on a 14-day rotation had more smutgrass than pastures that were irrigated on a 7-day rotation. Our pastures are set up on a 10-day rotation, and I definitely see more smutgrass on the sections of our hillside pastures that don't get as much water.
Some producers use a rotary wiper to apply herbicide directly to smutgrass. The Davy paper indicates that herbicide treatment (with glyphosate) is most effective after smutgrass has flowered, when the plants are storing sugars back to the roots (in late summer or early fall). Desirable plants should be grazed as short as practical so that only smutgrass is exposed to the wiper. Several local producers have used a rotary wiper or spot-treatment techniques with some success. As with all herbicide applications, timing and equipment calibration are critical. The paper provides detailed information about herbicide concentration and timing.
For more detailed information, be sure to check out Managing Smutgrass on Irrigated Pastures!
If you've raised sheep or goats, you've doubtless seen symptoms of internal parasites. In our own sheep, these symptoms include diarrhea, general lethargy, anemia, and bottle jaw. If you've been in the business of raising sheep and goats for any length of time, you'll also know that dewormer resistance (that is, parasites that develop resistance to specific dewormers) is an increasingly difficult challenge. Thanks to a great webinar put on by the American Sheep Industry's Let's Grow Committee, I recently discovered a new resource for managing internal parasites in small ruminants. The American Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control has an outstanding website - check it out at www.wormx.info!
We've long used the FAMACHA(c) system to identify anemic animals in our flock - anemia is a symptom of infection with Haemonchus contortus (barber pole worm). By using the FAMACHA(c) system, we can target infected animals only with our deworming treatments. According to Dr. Ray Kaplan of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, proper use of the FAMACHA(c) system "will significantly slow the development of resistance to dewormers which is becomign an extremely important concern in small ruminant production." Click here for more information on the FAMACHA(c) system.
The FAMACAH(c) system, however, doesn't tell the whole story about parasitic infection. Fecal egg counts can be used to more closely monitor the level of parasitism in your herd or flock. We've not done this systematically with our sheep, but I think we'll start! Here's more information.
At one time, our veterinarian recommended rotating deworming products to reduce the likelihood of developing resistance. Today, rotation will not prevent resistance from worsening. Instead, experts now recommend that dewormers be used together at the same time in combination. Another article by Dr. Kaplan indicates that using combinations of dewormers gives each drug an additive effect, which means fewer resitant worms survive the treatment. Click here to read the full article. Be sure to read the "Precautions and issues to consider" section!
Finally, someone told me when we first started raising sheep that chicory contained a compound that was helpful in controlling internal parasites. It turns out that there may be something to this! An experiment conducted in Ohio in 2009-2010 investigated non-traditional forages (including chicory) as a strategy for reducing parasite burden in lambs. The researchers found that lambs grazed chicory showed statistically lower fecal egg counts. They acknowledge that "grazing forage chicory is not an effective parasite control strategy in and of itself," but that it might have potential as one tool within a multi-tool approach. Click here for more information on chicory. It may be worth seeking funding for conducting a similar trial in California - contact me if you're interested in researching this topic!
Finally, here a few more helpful links:
Sheep Agriculture (with links to ASI webinars)
US Lamb Resource Center: great information on managing lambs
I suspect the last five or six years have been difficult on our native oaks in the Sierra foothills. During the drought, many of the blue oaks I see regularly between Auburn and Lincoln leafed out during the unusual warm spells we seemed to have in late January and early February. After especially hot and dry summers, many of them dropped their leaves early. Finally, in 2017, our drought broke - in a big way! We measured over 61 inches of rain in Auburn - more than twice our annual average. And yet our blue oaks are still looking stressed. In late spring and early summer, many of them had a powdery cast to their leaves. Now, in early September, many of them seem to be turning color and dropping leaves - at least a month and a half earlier than normal. Since I'm not an oak expert, I turned to my friend Doug McCreary, natural resource specialist emeritus with the University of California.
Doug confirmed that the blue oaks were impacted by powdery mildew early in the season - thanks to our wet April. The wet spring also caused a fungal disease called anthracnose, which is likely the cause of the early leaf loss we're seeing now. Anthracnose can also infect valley oaks and black oaks - indeed, infected black oaks can experience extensive defoliation early in summer (which I've noticed during my visits to higher elevations in the foothills).
Fortunately, the effects of this fungal infection are typically not long-lasting. Since the weather conditions (that is, a wet spring) that favor anthracnose infection are reasonably rare, it's unlikely that our oaks will suffer any long-term effects.