Sheep Herder

I have just finished a very different and enjoyable experience from my normal work.

I have been around sheep all my life. My grandfathers were both sheepmen. I had lambs in 4H. I’ve also owned and ran sheep, worked with small farm flocks and when I worked for the Sieben Ranch Company, The had several bands of herded sheep.

Clark Atkinson was Forman of the outfit and was a great stockman and camp tender.

I went to the Paicines Ranch, near Salinas or Hollister California. It is right smack dab in the middle of the Area of “The Californio’s “ style of horse and stock handling. As I looked up on the steep hills surrounding the ranch I could feel the presence of the great hands of the past in my mind.

This ranch is not into bridle horse tradition or roping. They are an organic certified property that raise grapes for wine, and are very passionate about improving the quality of all resources. They want to do this with proper farming and grazing practices. They have hair sheep that they graze, and rent the native range for grazing cattle.Everyone I met on the ranch was very passionate about what they believed was the way to do things, and were very positive in the approach they took.

The first day we had all the staff present and we discussed stockmanship in the morning and followed up with working sheep in the pasture and put them in and sorted and worked in a nice system in the afternoon.

The next two days they hosted two separate groups and we used the same format. We had real good, like minded folks all wanting to work with livestock better. We had lots of dog trainers, some folks that handled lots of cattle and people just getting into the sheep and goat business.

It was somewhat of a challenge with lots of people working the sheep, but I learned a lot the first day on how to handle things and I feel folks actually learned more because of some of the challenges we had with getting the sheep to go in to the pens. I got lots of exercise as well!

I learned a whole bunch of different thoughts on production of food.

At this operation(from my observations )they don’t have to fund the operation with immediate sales, but are trying to build infrastructure and soil and hope it returns a profit someday. Most places don’t have that luxury and have to make a profit or it is not sustainable. This creates a whole different set of options to do business. It allows you to try things that would not be possible if you have to make money to continue. I feel this is real important to have in our culture so we can learn to improve practices from trial and error, without any outside influences, so we get an accurate test for those that have to have profit for continued operation.

We need what some see as crazy or lunatics so us “normal” folks don’t seem crazy for trying something different or new.

From my observations when you have to much debt you can get yourself stuck in a system that you can’t change even if you want to, and that has become the trend in our society these days. The best thing to do is build knowledge first and then grow the enterprise you desire slowly.

A good example is college. We have students coming out with lots of debt and book knowledge, but they don’t have the practical to go with it, so they are not worth what they need to get paid in order to live and pay off the debt they have acquired.

At the ranch, they have a great bunch of young enthusiastic young people with a perfect balance of some with very good practical experience to balance it all out at the ranch. I really enjoyed observing it all.

Now, if you know me you know I’m not the biggest believer in “certified organic”.
I feel we should be way more concerned about the nutritional content of the food we eat. If you eat cardboard that has no chemicals on it, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Healthy nutritious food comes from healthy nutritious soil.
We can debate how it’s grown, but the fact is our body’s need certain vitamins, minerals and nutrients to be healthy. Healthy soil creates this and that is what we all should be trying to produce.

To me it seems someone should produce a meter you can buy and when you are shopping at the grocery store point it at the vegetables or fruit or meat you are going to purchase and it reads the nutrient content and that is how we should pick and price our food.

Then we would be paid for the quality of the product we produce, and science and technology would be helping us decide what we are purchasing rather than marketing.

I feel we need grazing animals to really help our soils. Good farming and animal management is real important no matter what the production system is.

My job is not to judge on what production system is right or wrong. My job is to try to help folks understand how to improve production and quality of life for animals. It’s not the system that creates stress on animals as much as the people in charge of the system. Cattle in a feedlot can be just as content as cattle on pasture and visa versa. The skills of the human can make it better or worse. That is what is important to understand if you are involved with animal production. It is a skill, and skills can always be improved upon.

So I try to learn as much as I can, and enjoy as much as I can wherever I go.
I learned very much from my trip to California and had a great time doing it.

I really was impressed by the young folks I hung out with. Claudio, may end up being the Governor of California someday. Jesse is the impressive, caring, light up the room type of person that really adds to this world and I really, really enjoyed hanging out with her and her dog Kip.

Donny and Kelly were the confidence and knowledge that kept it all smooth, and the rest of the bunch were real good guys with lots of energy and getting it done.

On the ride to the airport with Kelly we discussed lots of things but one thing he explained to me really made sense and I think it’s a good way for us all to look at agriculture and the soil we use to produce our food.

Their philosophy is to take the cream and leave the milk. That is a great visual for me to see sustainable agriculture. Smart guy.

I did get to spend part of one day horseback. They contract graze the range and they brought two loads of cattle in while I was there and I invited myself to ride with Joe and Buck. Good hands that rode good horses and had nice dogs and really saw the value of working with the cattle to settle them and get them used to single strand electric fence with proper handling. Another real nice day of stockmanship with like minded people. Have I ever mentioned that I have the greatest job in the world?

I am in Denver at the airport, headed for Minot, North Dakota for a Stockmanship and Stewardship presentation, then it’s off to Las Vegas and the Mandalay Bay for some demos with “Intertribal Agricultural Council” during the WNFR on the 11, 12 and 13th of December. It’s been a long time since I have done demonstrations at Vegas and looking forward to working with Wife Tammy and Daughter Mesa as well as our friend Kelsey Ducheneaux.

The thing we should all remember in agriculture is we all may not have the same methods but hopefully the same goals. It seems to me we should try to produce good food at a profit, in a manner that the soil and environment stay the same or get better as we produce.  That seems to be sustainable.  Don’t be afraid of someone who’s practices are different. Even if you don’t agree with them, you still may be able to learn from them, and if you create the right situation you may even convince them to look at what you think is right and change the mindset.  You won’t do it with force or anger.


2 thoughts on “Sheep Herder

    1. curtpate Post author


      I looked at your blog and website. Real nice, you might have the best job in the world!

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