Thursday, November 17, 2016
Orbit is turning out to be a great guard dog, but he is also an avid hunter, and we have found him outside the ewes’ pasture a lot lately, waiting in the driveway to be let back in. We discovered he had found a tiny exit hole in the pasture fence where it crosses a creek. He could get out in pursuit of a fox or skunk, but it was more difficult to get back in. Lisa and I went down to measure the hole so that Lolo could cut a hog panel and permanently block it. Orbit watched our work with concern–his walkabout days are over for now.
Monday, November 7, 2016
My select group of retired ewes (the “pets”) live by my house and always gather at the fence when I walk by for chin-scratches or a treat of corn. Bebe (7 years old), Mother (5 years old), Shorty (6 years old) and Emy (7 years old).
Monday, October 31, 2016
Not such a Happy Halloween for our boys–we took the rams out today, a couple of weeks earlier than we usually do. They have been in with the ewes just 21 days, which is just a bit longer than a ewes’ 17-day cycle. We find that most of our ewes get bred in the first cycle, and so each year most of our lambs come in the first 2 weeks of March. But there always are a few stragglers, and we put a lot of labor into waiting for and raising those last lambs, at a time of year when we are pretty exhausted from lambing. We decided that this season we’d take the rams out early, so all of our lambs come in early March (when my cousin Linda will be here!) and then we will be done. And if that means that we have a higher percentage of open ewes (not pregnant), we can live with that. We wound up breeding 38 ewes, when I was originally planning to reduce the flock to 30 or fewer. When Dr Dotti comes to do the ultrasound in December, we will know how busy we will be when Linda is here in March! (Photos: Lolo and Melinda moving Pistol’s group of ewe lambs to the corrals for sorting.)
Sunday, October 23, 2016
It’s breeding month, and all the ewes are in breeding groups with the rams. Most of the ewe lambs are in with our ram lamb, Pistol, and acting all grown up! Nugget (photo-bombing the first photo, taken by Melinda) still has a bit of a head-tilt, but she is a happy gal and such a character, and we’re glad we kept her. Lisa calls her the RCA-Victor lamb, recalling the dog in the RCA Victor ads who cocked his head to listen to the old Victrola phonograph. That is particularly fitting, since our ranch is the site of the old Marconi radio towers and Marconi’s American holdings became the Radio Corporation of America. In the second photo, Pistol is acting like the grown-up ram that he is, courting one of the ewe lambs and testing her urine for a pheromone that will tell him if she is in heat. (That photo of Pistol was taken right after the rams went in on October 10, before we got our big October rain that greened up all the pastures!)
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Who would have thought you could get two 200-pound ewes in the back of a Toyota 4Runner? I was skeptical when Sam Stack came to pick up Brown-Nose and Luna, the two 2-year olds he and his wife Lauren had bought from me to add to their flock at Willy Nilly Farm in Humboldt County. Sam said he likes to transport sheep this way because he can turn on the air conditioning and keep them comfortable in the mid-day heat. He doesn’t even put down the back seats! We loaded Brown-Nose and Luna into our sheep trailer, backed his 4Runner up to a hill, and they stepped willingly into the tiny space and were snug and happily scarfing down alfalfa as he prepared to head out. Brown-Nose looked like she was eyeing the comfort of the back seat, but Sam was confident she would stay put for the ride to their new home.
Monday, October 3, 2016
I took eight ewes who are retiring from production to Soul Food Farm in Vacaville today. We had our first rain of the season, just a light drizzle, but it made the day pleasantly cool, perfect for transporting sheep. In May I had sold four ewes who turned out not to be pregnant to Alexis Koefoed of Soul Food Farm, to be part of her soil management program. Alexis decided that she wanted to increase her flock, so I sold her eight more ewes who needed to retire from lambing, mostly because of udder problems, although they were otherwise healthy. Among the group were old friends including TidBit, Little Pig-Face, and Bebe’s daughters Berta and Beatrice. Also 1116, whose twin sister, 1115, had been among those who went to Soul Food last spring. When I arrived at the farm with my trailer, there were my four girls sitting under their repurposed chicken shelter, looking as happy as could be. Tears sprang to my eyes seeing them again. We unloaded the newcomers, and watched as the four resident girls got up and came over to greet their old friends. It was such a sweet reunion and it is so nice to know what a good home these gals will have, as well as a second career in soil management. Pictures on the left are of the reunited group checking out their new digs.
Friday, September 23, 2016
I made the last cheese of my professional career yesterday. It was a nearly perfect cheesemaking day; I began at 6 am sanitizing equipment and the milk line, began the transfer of the fresh milk from the bulk tank, and was joined by Melinda who prepared the buckets of frozen milk to add to the vat, plated the milk samples and washed the buckets and the bulk tank, while I added cultures and rennet. I had some quiet meditative time alone, cutting, stirring, cooking and hooping the curd, before being joined by Lisa for cleanup, flipping of cheeses and getting them into the brine. It was a bittersweet but satisfying day.
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 3, 2016
Dang me! It has been a rough week for our boy, Pistol. As a matter of fact, it’s been a bit of a bumpy life, but he is coming out a winner. Unlike his namesake in the ’60’s country song, “Dang Me,” Pistol was not the seventh son, but the single son of 2072, a triplet daughter of one of our best ewes ever, the legendary Shorty. Back in March when he was born, we accidentally banded him (a rubber band on the scrotum at 3 days of age for a bloodless castration), and shortly afterward, when entering the date in my records, I said “Oh NO! he was the ram I wanted to save for breeding!” My cousin Linda grabbed the toenail cutters and said, “How long ago did we band him?” I said 20 minutes, and we ran back to the barn with the toenail cutters and cut the band. He grew into a handsome (and well-hung) boy, but we couldn’t be sure none of the tubes were affected by his almost-castration, so this past Monday I took him to Cotati Large Animal Clinic, where Dr Dotti collected a semen sample. To our great relief, it was full of active and very normal-looking sperm! Yay! Lisa had named him Pistol so his children could say, “My daddy was a pistol and I”m a son of a gun!” (a line from the aforementioned song) and it looked like we would have some sons of this gun. Then this morning after I had fed the lambs, I returned to the pasture to give a shot to one of the lambs, and there was Pistol, bleeding profusely from a small cut on his foreleg. There was a shocking amount of blood and it was actually spurting whenever he walked. Minor cut; major blood vessel. I got Melinda and we bandaged it tightly. At first the blood was seeping through the bandage so fast we were discouraged, but eventually it stopped. This afternoon we changed the bandage, perhaps mistakenly, and the bleeding began again in earnest and we couldn’t stop it. I called the emergency line at Cotati, and Dr Wirz instructed me how to bandage it tightly but without danger of damaging the extremity, by using a thick padding under the bandage. It was a howling gale in Marshall tonight so we brought Pistol into the barn with Lambert as a companion, put them the hospital stall, and bandaged Pistol TIGHT, following Dr Wirz’s instructions. Pistol was mellow; Lambert was a COMPLETE drama-queen, VERY unhappy with being cooped up with Pistol and threatening to jump out of the stall. But when I went back to check this evening all was peaceful.
BASERRI AT THE FESTIVAL OF CHEESE
SATURDAY, JULY 30, 2016
Baserri with its First Place ribbon at the Festival of Cheese at the American Cheese Society Conference in Des Moines, Iowa.
Thanks to Seana Doughty for taking the photo!
Friday, July 29, 2016
Woo hooo! Our Baserri won First Place in its category at the American Cheese Society competition today! They even pronounced BOTH “Baserri” and “Barinaga Ranch” correctly at the award ceremony! Congratulations especially to Taryn Orlemann, who made cheese for me last season, including this lot! And to Lisa, Aline, Caroline and Melinda all of whom helped take care of it during the affinage.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
Bebe is one extraordinary ewe, and one of my all-time favorites. Her name (BB) stands for Bottle Baby, because she was rejected by her mother (who we named Psycho, because of her complete lack of mothering skills) and we had to raise her on a bottle. I originally decided not to keep Bebe, because poor mothering can have a genetic component, and I sold her as a pet. But that didn’t work out and she came back to us. By then, Psycho had proven to be the most productive ewe of her age-group, so we kept Bebe. She was the friendliest lamb in the bunch, always happy to be gathered up into my arms.
From her first year in the milking string, Bebe was a top producer–second only to the legendary Panties. She was such a proud and beautiful working girl. Paige Green took this lovely photo of the ewes coming up the alley to the milking parlor in the morning, with Bebe in the lead, stepping out like she couldn’t wait to get to work.
A year or so later, I took this portrait of Bebe in her prime. She was always a devoted mother—making me so glad I didn’t reject Bebe on the grounds of her mother’s deficiencies. In 2014, at the age of five, after giving birth to triplets, Bebe became paralysed in her rear legs. She was down and unable to get up for 5 days, and our vet held out little hope that she would recover. But Bebe was eating voraciously, and feeding her triplets even though she couldn’t stand up, so I decided to refrain from putting her down and wait to see what happened. Eventually we were able to get Bebe up, and she was able to stand on her own for a few minutes. After a few days more she could get up on her own. Pretty soon she was walking out to the pasture with her lambs. I told her she could retire to my back yard and raise her lambs, which she did. She loved those lambs and was inseparable from them.
When we weaned the lambs, Bebe still had so much milk that we returned her to the milking string, and she valiantly climbed the ramp to the milking platform twice a day. After that season we never bred her again, but Bebe has continued to live happily in the “pet flock” of retired and non-milking ewes at my house. She is still a little weak in her rear legs, but she can keep up with the flock with little problem.
I keep a couple of younger ewes as pets (Gracie and Maybe) and let them raise their lambs at the house. This year, Bebe has assumed a very devoted “auntie” role with Maybe’s ewe-lamb. They are always together. Bebe calls after Little Maybe as if she were her own daughter and the lamb comes running just as if Bebe were her mother. This evening I was sitting out on our deck enjoying watching the sheep in the evening light and got this photo of Bebe with her adopted “niece.” It warms my heart to see what a devoted mother and auntie Bebe has been. She didn’t get much love from her own mother, but she has been one of the best mothers in the history of our flock.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
I’ve been feeling pretty stir-crazy since I broke my ankle two weeks ago, missing my time working with Lolo, Lisa, Melinda and the sheep. Today I hobbled out to my back yard on my crutches and just sat down there with the pets. Gracie and her lamb Frankie were happy for the company. And their dog, Shep, didn’t seem to mind.
Friday July 15, 2016
Melinda got this cute photo of the pigs the other day enjoying a salad of garden trimmings. This triggered her to look back through her photos and find a photo of the pigs not long after they arrived in May. That’s a lot of growth in two months! But as Lolo is fond of saying, “Well, they are pigs!”
Watch our pigs enjoy a shower on a hot day in this you tube video.
Tuesday July 5, 2016
Barely a week after we lost Big Otis, another sad milestone: We lost Bugeyes on July 4, at 8 1/2 years old. Bugeyes was the first lamb born on our ranch, in March of 2008, to Edie, the ewe who wound up being the model for our label and logo. Bugeyes got her name because she was quite a homely lamb with protruding eyes, but she grew into a beautiful and very sweet ewe. She became one of my favorite lambs.
The day in 2008 before we put the rams in for breeding, Bugeyes went missing. We searched the pasture and she was nowhere to be found. We thought a mountain lion may have gotten her. I remembered the last place I had seen her; she and her mother had been at the fence making eyes at the rams across the driveway the previous evening. I went to the spot, and I heard a faint baaing. There was a storm culvert there under the driveway and I looked in the culvert, and there was Bugeyes, in the culvert halfway under the driveway, looking back over her shoulder and baaing. She must have been looking for a way to get over to the rams! She was panicked and every movement was taking her further under the driveway. It was a very small culvert and I didn’t know how we would ever get her out. While I was trying to find a long pole or something we could push through the culvert from the other end, Luke, a very thin guy who was working on the construction of our house, shimmied into the culvert feet first from the other side, shimmied all the way under the driveway, and pushed her out. Buggies emerged, rear end first, followed by a very shaky Luke (I can’t imagine the claustrophobia of doing what he did) and Bugeyes started baaing and running toward the flock. Her mother, Edie, who was very attached to her, actually did a sheep double-take when she saw Bugeyes coming toward her.
Bugeyes turned out to be a very poor milk producer, so we retired her from the milking string after a few years and she lived in the small pet flock at our house, and raised quite a few sets of triplet lambs. She grew to an immense size and it was hard to imagine she had ever fit into that drainage culvert. In her later years we didn’t breed her any more, but she was always ready for some loving attention. She had slowed down a lot this past year, and Lolo found her dead in the pasture yesterday afternoon. Sad at her passing, I found these two baby photos, but couldn’t find any photos of her as an adult. Then I realized we have this beautiful painting of Bugeyes with Shep by Christin Coy that we bought at the MALT art show last year.
Yesterday was a sad day–we lost Big Otis, our oldest livestock protection dog. Otis had been with us for 9 years–he arrived to protect our very first lambs in 2007, and on day one, at 6 months old, he headed out into that pasture of lambs, checked the perimeter fence, found the highest spot where he had a view of everyone, and got to work, protecting. He never stopped for nine years. I like to tell people that our dogs are professionals–they take their job seriously and don’t need to be trained, they just come in and go to work. And Otis was the greatest example of that. He gave us such peace of mind over 9 years protecting generations of lambs and ewes from predators without one mistake, ever. He hated human contact and we were completely unable to catch him in the pasture, although he would grudgingly submit to some grooming when we cornered him in the corrals or the milking parlor.
Otis is our only dog who ever bit anyone. It happened early one morning during lambing. Ignacio had arrived in the dark at 5 am and heard a ewe talking to her lamb in the pasture, where no lambs were supposed to be born–the ewes we were expecting to deliver soon were all in the barn. Otis was on guard with that group and this was the most stressful of situations–a newborn lamb out in the pasture at night! This was what he was born to protect! Ignacio went out to get the lamb and bring lamb and mother into the barn, and Otis BIT him on the butt! Ignacio wasn’t hurt–he had a towel in his hip pocket–and he thought the whole thing was very funny. Otis is the only dog of ours who I could imagine doing that–he was SO serious and had no sense of humor when the welfare of his sheep was at stake. That is why we chose him to mentor our new puppy Orbit last year.
Otis had been showing his age in recent weeks, and we all knew things didn’t look good for him when he didn’t want to leave the parlor with the ewes on Thursday evening. He had barely spent a moment of his life separated from his sheep. They were what he lived for. I took him to our vet, Bill Barboni, yesterday and didn’t have a lot of faith he would be coming home, so Lisa, Lolo and Melinda said their goodbyes. I was right–Otis was in kidney failure and Bill said the most humane thing would be to put him down. I consoled myself with the knowledge that Otis had had a good, long, useful, and, I believe, to him, very satisfying, life. When Lisa was saying goodbye she told him he would find lots of lambs waiting for him on the other side, including some of his dearest old friends.