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Stories from the valley

Waiting and Worrying

Contributed by Dan Macon

When we established our sheep ranch on a commercial scale ten years ago, we decided to follow the rhythm of the seasons.  To do this, we matched the period during which we needed the highest quality grass with the period during which Mother Nature would normally supply it.  In other words, we set up our system to lamb in the late winter and early spring – the period when our grass is typically green and growing rapidly.

Two weeks ago, we gave our flock of ewes their pre-lambing vaccinations.  We vaccinate our sheep against the common diseases that are the greatest risk in our environment – clostridial infections and tetanus.  We try to vaccinate our expectant ewes four to five weeks prior to lambing, which provides immunity to their lambs through their milk.  Now we simply wait until the first lambs arrive in late February.  For me, this month between vaccinations and the onset of our lambing season is like the season of Advent – the anticipation and excitement are building!

Macon 2And this year, so is the worry.  The calendar year of 2013 was the driest on record in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento (where we raise sheep) – we measured just over 10.5 inches at our home place for all of 2013!  The fall of 2014 was a vast improvement – we had over 11 inches of rain in December alone.  However, the first month of the new year has marked a return to drought conditions in Northern California.  As I write this, we’ve measured just 0.01” of rain since January 1.

Our fall rains were sufficient to germinate our annual grasses and keep them growing, which is a wonderful departure from last winter’s dire conditions.  The shorter days, colder temperatures and lack of rainfall in January, however, have brought grass growth to a standstill.  And so while we wait for the arrival of our first lambs of 2015 in about four weeks, we’re also anxiously watching the weather forecast and the sky.  We hope the rain is coming!