The majority of our flock are East Friesian dairy ewes. East Friesians originated in Northern Europe. They are notable for their lovely, sleek, wool-less faces, their prodigious milk production, and their skinny rat-like tails. Their tails aren’t their most attactive feature, but the good news is that those rat-tails stay clean on their own, so East Friesian sheep don’t have to have their tails cut off for hygiene, as most sheep do. We like this, because it is one less painful procedure for our sheep, and also makes for great conversation, as our sheep-ranching neighbors are amused by our unusual sheep who have tails.
To increase the hardiness of our sheep, we have bred in a bit of Katahdin genetics. Katahdin sheep are descended from African hair sheep. Unlike most sheep, hair sheep shed their wool every spring, so they don’t have to be sheared, a definite advantage in these times when Polartec has rendered wool almost valueless. Hair sheep also are quite resistant to diseases and parasites. We have crossbred our best Katahdins with our East Friesians, and found that a bit of Katahdin blood in the East Friesians makes them more hardy and healthy. We once had hopes of developing a crossbred strain of sheep with good milk production, who would also shed their wool and so not need to be sheared, but it turned out that the good shedders were lousy milk-producers, so we have abandoned that project. Instead, we are looking for new outlets for the beautiful fleeces from our high percentage East Friesian ewes. We have had lovely blankets made from our wool in the past (see our "products" page), and in 2013 we plan to have our wool made into roving for spinners and yarn for knitters.
Big Otis with some of his flock
To protect our sheep from the coyotes and mountain lions who also live on our ranch, we have four Great Pyrenees livestock-protection dogs. Big Otis and Oso have worked on the ranch for four years. They were born with sheep and raised with sheep, and much prefer the company of their sheep to that of people. They live with the sheep full-time and are very professional, always on guard and ready to fiercely defend their charges. Our third dog, Gordy (short for "Guardian"), was socialized to humans because his mother died when he was just a week old. Gordy had a VERY long childhood, and when I became exasperated and certain he would never grow up enough to be trusted with lambs, I went back to our breeder, and got a wonderful adult dog, Gordy's age, but much more mature, named Shep (for Shepherdess). Lolo and Ignacio call her "Pastora," the Spanish word for Shepherdess. The pressure was on Gordy, and finally he bagan to act mature. So now we have four wonderful, responsible dogs guarding our flock.
I manage our flock with the help of my ranch manager, José Dolores Cortez (Lolo), who is involved in every aspect of veterinary care, lambing, and milking. Lolo is ably assisted by Ignacio Castillo Lugo.
Lolo in the milking parlor
Photograph by Paige Green
My parents John and Stephanie with Katahdin ewes