- (Public Value) UCANR: Safeguarding abundant and healthy food for all Californians
Register now for the Sierra Foothills Cattle & Sheep Grazing School!
If you look back far enough in the histories of most foothill cattle operations, you'll find... SHEEP! Believe it or not, many long-time cattle operations also had sheep at one time. And today, there's increased interest in using multi-species grazing as a risk management and diversification tool!
If you're interested in learning more about managing both sheep and cattle on rangeland or pasture, sign up for the Sierra Foothills Cattle & Sheep Grazing School, July 14-15, 2022, in Auburn, California! This two-day school will include information - and hands-on experience - in grazing planning, estimating carrying capacity, fencing systems, stockmanship and husbandry practices, cattle and sheep nutrition, and economics! Our instructors include Dan Macon (UCCE Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor), Joe Fischer (Bruin Ranch), and Ryan Mahoney (R. Emigh Livestock). Every student will have an opportunity to graze both sheep and cattle!
Tuition for the 2-day program is $200, which includes meals and course materials. Producer scholarships are available through Sierra Harvest.
For more information, contact me at email@example.com or (530) 889-7385. Let's get out there and graze!
Last month, between dog food and vaccines, we spent just over $103 on our three livestock guardian dogs (LGDs). For the first part of April, our two older dogs (Bodie and Elko) were with our ewe-lamb pairs on annual rangeland west of Auburn. Our younger dog (Dillon) was protecting our rams. After we sheared the sheep over the third weekend of April, Dillon and Bodie went with the pairs to irrigated pasture; Elko stated with a handful of late lambing ewes at our home place. During that time frame, we lost a lamb to disease, another to a fencing mishap, and a third due to an assumed case of thievery (by Dillon - see "The Right Dog for the Job"). We didn't, however, lose any sheep to predators - in fact, we haven't lost any sheep where they were protected by dogs for at least half a decade. But how do we know whether our dogs are a cost-effective livestock protection tool?
Along with my colleague Carolyn Whitesell (UCCE Human-Wildlife Interactions Advisor in the Bay Area), I just published a new peer-reviewed analysis of the economics of LGDs in the Western Economics Forum (you can download the full paper here). If you're not into reading journal articles (and who is, really!?), here are our key findings:
Benefits of Using LGDs
- LGDs likely reduce the indirect, stress-induced losses associated with depredation (including reduced weight gains, lower conception rates, and increased labor).
- Ranch-raised ewes may have greater value than purchased ewes given their local adaptation to management and forage conditions.
- Sheep guarded by LGDs travel greater distances to forage in rangeland conditions, increasing grazing efficiency.
- Labor costs and dog:livestock ratios vary greatly in real-world settings. Maximizing labor efficiency, and determining the proper number of dogs by operation and season can reduce costs.
- Successful bonding techniques are a key driver in LGD acquisition and development costs (and subsequent depreciation expenses).
With the month of May upon us, wildfire season (at least here in the Sierra foothills) is just around the corner. Indeed, May is Wildfire Awareness Month - the National Interagency Fire Center website is a great source of information on steps we can all be taking to make our communities, ranches, and homes more fire safe and fire resilient.
If you operate a ranch in Nevada, Placer, or Yuba County, one of the first steps you should consider taking is registering for this year's Disaster Livestock Access Program. Developed last year by a steering committee comprised of local ranchers, agricultural commissioners, and UC Cooperative Extension, the Disaster Livestock Access Program is designed to coordinate with emergency managers to provide ranchers with access to livestock in evacuation zones for the purpose of feeding, watering, and caring for commercial livestock.
Our program is unique in that our geographic coordination mirrors that of our local CALFIRE unit (which reflects the on-the-ground reality that many commercial ranches operate in multiple counties). Each county will recognize a pass issued by any of these three counties (Nevada, Placer, and Yuba).
Who qualifies for a Disaster Livestock Access Pass?
For the purposes of this program, a commercial livestock operator is defined as owning or managing 50+ head of livestock (including in utero, e.g., 25 bred cows), 100+ poultry or rabbits, or 50+ beehives that reside in Placer, Nevada, or Yuba County for at least a portion of the year. Cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, poultry, rabbits, llamas, alpacas, and bees that are "commercially raised" (e.g., as part of a business) qualify for the program. The program applies to both private land (owned or leased) as well as to public land (including US Forest Service and BLM grazing allotments).
Will a Disaster Livestock Access Pass get me through a road block?
Not necessarily. Your local agricultural department and I will work with incident command to identify areas within evacuation zones that are safe for passholders to access. Refer to the incident flowchart below for more details.
How do I get a Disaster Livestock Access Pass?
To enroll in the program, you must provide contact information, APNs, physical addresses, and/or allotment names of grazing sites, general season(s) of use, livestock description and inventory, and release of liability. You can register online at the N-P-Y Disaster Livestock Access Registration Site or by contacting me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 889-7385. Ranchers will need to apply each year; even if you received a pass in 2021, you'll need to complete this registration process again this year.
Is training required?
If you haven't held a pass previously, you'll need to participate in a 4-hour training session on Saturday, June 4, 2022, from 9am to 1pm at the UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center in Browns Valley, CA. This training will provide an overview of the program, information on the incident command system and wildfire behavior, and an opportunity to ask questions with local law enforcement, emergency services, and CALFIRE. If you held a pass last year, you'll need to participate in a 1-hour virtual refresher course currently in development.
Preparation is Key!
Three days before our first 2021 training session, the River Fire tore through parts of Placer and Nevada Counties. Several of the ranchers who came to the workshop were able to describe the chaos and confusion of the early hours of the fire - as well as the need to coordinate with law enforcement and fire officials on the fly. Hopefully this program will improve our ability to communicate during an emergency - and provide access to care for livestock.
If you have questions, please contact me at email@example.com or (530) 889-7385./span>/span>
Like many people in the rural areas of the Sierra foothills, my family raises chickens. Our dozen or so laying hens keep us supplied with eggs year-round. And each year, we raise 20-30 Cornish-cross meat chickens, which we butcher ourselves - roast chicken and barbecued chicken are two of our favorite meals!
About 10 days ago, we picked up our first 15 meat birds of the year from a feed store here in Auburn. While we typically expect to lose one or two chicks at this stage, this morning we lost the 13th chick out of the 15 we started with - so we decided to try to learn what's going on. I'd recently read about an avian influenza outbreak in the Midwest and felt that we needed to be responsible chicken owners!
I first called the Sick Bird Hotline at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) (866/922-2473) and left a message (they called back within an hour). Then I contacted the California Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS) Lab at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. From there, I was referred to CDFA's Animal Health Branch Redding District office, where I talked to Dr. Michael Poulos. He told me that backyard chicken producers could get up to two birds examined at the CAHFS lab for just $25 - and that we could overnight the specimen to the lab (as a sheep producer, I have driven animals to the lab in Davis for necropsy - it was nice to know I could put the dead chick on ice and overnight it to Davis - especially with gasoline at over $5 per gallon!)
The lab should have my sample by tomorrow morning. Overnight shipping was around $47 - less than the gas I would have burned driving to Davis and back. And I hope to have some answers by the end of the week. I don't suspect avian influenza, but I do hope to learn what's going on! Stay tuned!
In the meantime, here are some great resources for backyard poultry producers:
A final note on the CAHFS lab - we send sheep to the lab whenever we experience an unusual death (for example, if more than two sheep die, or if we experience an unusual level of abortion or newborn lamb losses). We don't always get definitive answers, but we do get useful information. Thanks to information we've received from the lab, we've adjusted our mineral supplementation program to be sure that we are providing adequate selenium - and we always have injectible selenium on hand at lambing. We've also started paying more attention to sources of copper (including irrigation and drinking water in our environment). Having a necropsy performed is an investment in improving our management!
I suspect anyone who has used livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) to protect livestock has experienced at least one of the following interactions with non-ranchers:
- A call or conversation with a neighbor, complaining about the dog barking;
- An email (often anonymous) from a neighbor about the dog barking;
- A visit from animal control about (a) the dog barking, (b) the fact that the dog is outside ALL OF THE TIME, or (c) all of the above;
- A call from animal control that a well-meaning person "found" a stray big white dog and brought it into the animal shelter.
And the list probably goes on!
These complaints, in my experience, reflect a number of misconceptions. Most people think of dogs as pets, and expect that working LGDs should be treated as such (which apparently means letting them sleep inside). A surprising number of people here in the foothills have never seen any of our local predators (especially mountain lions) and so have no idea of the threat these predators pose to livestock. And virtually nobody who doesn't use a dog to protect livestock understands the types of behaviors that make for an effective LGD.
Nine summers ago, I received an anonymous email from a neighbor complaining about our LGD awakening him at 5 a.m. and suggesting that we use a bark collar on him. While my initial inclination was to respond immediately (and angrily), my wife urged me to sleep on my response (and, as usual, she was right about this!). Here's how I ultimately responded:
Sorry to hear that our dogs have inconvenienced you. As you may not know, we are in the commercial sheep business. All of our dogs are an essential part of our business - either as herding dogs or as livestock guardian dogs (LGDs). While most of our operation exists on leased land around Auburn, we do keep some sheep and goats at our home place. These are generally animals that require special care - orphaned lambs that must be bottle-fed 2-3 times daily, older sheep and goats that require special care and feeding, and an occasional injured or sick animal. Our property is zoned "Farm" by Placer County, which permits these commercial activities.
Sheep and goats are vulnerable to predators like coyotes, mountain lions and domestic dogs - even in a neighborhood like ours. Indeed, the only animals we've ever lost to predators were killed by a neighbor dog two years ago in our back pasture. At that time, we did not have any LGDs with the sheep. The neighbor dog was observed chasing sheep into the irrigation ditch and killing them for sport - we lost 4 ewes in the attack. Since that time, we've tried to make sure that we are always protecting our animals (and our livelihood). Our LGDs are critical to this effort.
LGDs instinctively respond to anything they perceive as a threat to the animals they are guarding. The best LGDs are raised with the animals they spend their lives guarding - our dogs have been with sheep from the moment they were whelped. Their first response to a perceived threat is to bark. If the threat persists, an LGD will aggressively challenge the threat. Sometimes the threat is readily apparent to us humans; other times it is not. We have experienced our dogs barking at the scent or sound of a coyote, which we only discovered later. We've also noticed that our LGDs can learn about routine - for example, they don't bark at folks who walk their dogs past our place at the same time everyday. Since barking is part of their guarding behavior, discouraging an LGD from barking will ruin the dog's effectiveness.
When we have LGDs at our home place, we are especially aware of their barking - both because it represents a potential threat to our livestock and because we want to be good neighbors. When a dog sounds a warning bark (and we've found that LGDs only bark when they are trying to warn off a perceived threat), we'll check it out - even in the middle of the night. Most of the time, our dogs relax and stop barking once we've responded to their warning barks.
I would like to invite you to visit our operation at some point. The partnership that we've developed over many years with both our herding dogs and our LGDs represents an amazing relationship between humans and dogs. We could not operate a commercial sheep business without this partnership, and watching our dogs work - even for us - is a wonderful experience. Also, we'd be glad to forward you additional information regarding LGD behavior and training.
Several days later, I received this response:
Thank you for your reply and detailed information regarding your business. We wish you the best success for your business! Someday my wife and I will come by and see your farm.
Thanks again for understanding and making great efforts in keeping the barking to a minimum as much as possible. We too have a dog, so we do understand.
While I still don't know who this neighbor was (and they still haven't visited our operation), we haven't had any further problems at our home place.
I'm often asked if there are particular LGD breeds that are less likely to bark. In my experience, barking varies more by individual than by breed - all LGD breeds are inclined to bark as a first line of protection. Our older dogs, typically, bark less - I suspect that experience often equals better judgment about what is a threat (and what isn't). When we're working in an area where neighbors are particularly sensitive to barking, we'll try to use an older dog if possible.
Finally, we've discovered that trail cameras can help us educate neighbors (and the public) about the predators in our environment. Last year, we photographed a mountain lion on a well-used community trail about 30 yards from where our ewes were lambing. Nobody in this neighborhood had seen a lion before; suddenly, they were happy to have an alert (and barking) dog nearby!
LGDs are not appropriate in every situation. While they may keep raccoons out of a suburban backyard chicken coop or away from pet pygmy goats, there are generally better options for protecting livestock in suburban settings. As a farm advisor, most of the calls I've received in the last 4-plus years have been about LGDs in these kinds of settings. Predator-proof fencing, night penning, and FoxLights are usually effective in these situations - and less annoying to the neighbors. But in a commercial setting, LGDs may be the best option for protecting livestock - explaining how and why these dogs work is an important part of using them effectively.