Capitol Corridor
University of California
Capitol Corridor

Posts Tagged: sheep

Livestock grazing helps California tackle wildfire

California is searching for solutions to the wildfire crisis. Livestock ranchers believe they can help.

At the 14th Annual Rangeland Summit in Stockton in January, more than 150 ranchers, public land managers and representatives of non-profit organizations that work on land conservation gathered to share research and experiences that outline the value of cattle and sheep grazing on rangeland.

Since California was settled by Europeans, cattle and sheep have been an integral part of the state's history.

“Cattle can control brush,” said Lynn Huntsinger, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley in a presentation on brush management. She discussed research she conducted in the early 1980s to understand the role of cattle in Sierra Nevada brush control.

“We need to make livestock into firefighters,” she said. “Constant, deliberate, targeted grazing is needed for fire management.”

However, thick, overgrown brush requires intensive treatment that cattle can't handle on their own.

“You have to start from a good place,” Huntsinger said. “Start early, such as post fire. Plan when you have a blank slate for the forest you want.”

UCCE specialist Lynn Huntsinger suggested cattle may be viewed as a team of firefighters.

The tragic loss of homes and lives to wildfire in the last few years has increased the public demand for answers and action. However, the reasons for greater frequency and intensity of wildfire are not well understood.

“Is it climate change? Past decisions? Land use? What can we do about it?” asked UC Cooperative Extension specialist Van Butsic. “Research.”

At the summit, Butsic presented the results of his recent research to determine whether ownership has an impact upon whether land will burn. He and his colleagues studied the burn histories of forest and rangeland areas that were matched with the same characteristics, except in ownership.

“We controlled for all factors – slope, elevation, the likelihood of ignition,” he said. “We found that on forest and rangeland, federal ownership led to .3 percent higher fire probability. Ownership is dwarfing the impact of climate change.”

There is still much more research to be done.

“We can't say the impact of grazed vs. ungrazed land,” Butsic said. “We also need to look at fire severity as well as fire frequency.”

Research by UCCE advisor Laura Snell and her colleagues showed that rangeland doesn't need to be 'rested' following a fire.

The UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Modoc County, Laura Snell, shared preliminary results at the rangeland summit that provide information for landowners making decisions about returning livestock to burned areas.

She and a team of colleagues studied the fire history of U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management rangeland in Lassen and Modoc counties where fires had burned through 5, 10 and 15 years before. The dataset included information about whether the land was “rested” for two years after the fire, or whether livestock were returned to graze soon after the blaze.

The scientists set out to determine whether fire intensity and climate at the site (measured by soil temperature and moisture) had an impact on the future diversity of plant species and growth of cheat grass, an invasive species that animals don't like. 

“No matter what we did, graze or not graze, after 15 years, the species richness stayed the same,” Snell said. “Grazing was not the driving factor.”

The results are also important in terms of fuels accumulation and the prevention of future wildfires.

“Federal land managers have typically used a policy to rest the land for two years after a fire. During the interval, the fuels sometimes burn again and livestock producers have to wait another two years,” Snell said. “Our research showed you don't necessarily need to rest the land after the fire.”

Sheep and cattle grazing can reduce the fuel load for a potential wildfire. (Photo: Dan Macon)

Two ranchers who were recently impacted by wildfire presented their experiences and perspectives during the rangeland summit.

Mike Williams of Diamond W Cattle Company had livestock on 6,500 acres of leased land in Ventura County when the Thomas Fire ignited on Dec. 4, 2017. Over more than a month, the fire burned 281,893 acres and consumed 1,000 structures.

Williams had stockpiled feed on certain pastures by limiting grazing, which during the fire turned into hazardous fuel.

Adam Cline, rangeland manager for the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation Preserve in the Capay Valley, had a similar experience when the County Fire burned more than 90,000 acres in western Yolo and eastern Napa counties in June and July 2018. To reserve feed for later, Cline had left 2,500 pounds per acre of residual dry matter on grazing land as a drought mitigation strategy. He said he plans to reconsider this grazing plan.

“Now, cattle feed looks like a lot of fuel,” he said.

Posted on Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at 8:40 AM
Tags: cattle (17), Laura Snell (3), Lynn Huntsinger (7), rangeland (27), sheep (9), Van Butsic (9), wildfire (127)
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Madera farmer says feeding sprouted grain to sheep improves milk quality

Hydroponically grown sprouts at six days old. (Photo: Dan Putnam)
A Madera farmer is sprouting barley hydroponically inside shipping containers on his farm to produce feed for his sheep, reported Ezra David Romero on Valley Public Radio.

“I think that's a big advantage if you don't have a lot of land,” the farmer said. “You can produce a tremendous amount of feed in a very, very small area with a very little amount of water.”

However, UC Cooperative Extension alfalfa specialist Dan Putnam noted in the story that the system may not pencil out.

"If you really apply a little bit of economics to it and animal nutrition to it, it doesn't appear quite as promising as one might think," Putnam said.

There is no question that animals find the sprouted barely delicious. Online videos show cattle and horses "gobbling up sprouted grain like a vegetarian at a salad bar," Putnam wrote in a 2013 blog post that asked Does hydroponic forage production make sense? Things are not always as they seem. Animal ration calculations are based on dry matter since water is provided separately. 

"A feed with 90 percent water (such as sprouted grain) has considerably less 'feed value' than something with only 5 percent water (such as the grain itself), on a pound for pound basis," Putnam's blog post says.

Feeding sheep sprouted barley makes sense to Mario Daccarett, the owner of the Golden Valley Farm. He said cheese made from his sheep's creamy milk is sold in places like Whole Foods.

"They have our cheese there and they tell me that our Golden Ewe cheese is the best for grilled cheese sandwich ever, and they have over 500 different varieties of cheese there," Daccarett said.

The farmer feeds his sheep one part oats and hay and one part sprouted barley.

“You do the math and you say, 'Well, yeah, it might not work,' but once we started doing it we found out that sheep tend to eat less, more nutrition, more enzymes,” Daccarett said. “So they become more efficient.”

Posted on Friday, June 24, 2016 at 2:55 PM
Tags: Dan Putnam (12), hydroponic (1), sheep (9)

Mendocino County no longer to contract with USDA Wildlife Services

Mendocino County supervisors decided to sever ties with the USDA's division of Wildlife Services, reported Peter Fimrite in the San Francisco Chronicle. The decision was made after environmental groups said the agency was indiscriminately killing predators, such as mountain lions and coyotes, because they are a threat to livestock.

The article featured a gallery of 10 artful photos taken at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center, which maintains a research sheep flock of 500 breeding ewes. Record-keeping of sheep losses to predators began at Hopland in 1973. Coyotes are the most serious predator problem.

Hopland staff use a variety of non-lethal and preventative methods to protect sheep from predators, such as fencing, mob grazing and frequent pasture rotation and guard dogs, according to Kim Rodrigues, the director of the research and extension facility. Currently there are five guard dogs at the center. The guard dogs bond with sheep and protect them primarily by barking and other aggressive behaviors when strangers or predators are near the sheep flock.

A guard dog protects sheep at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center. (Photo: Robert J. Keiffer)
Posted on Wednesday, April 27, 2016 at 9:46 AM

Research can help Californians live safely with wildlife

A ewe and her lamb at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center. (Photo: Robert Keiffer)
Winter is typically lambing season on Northern California sheep ranches - a perilous time of year. Baby lambs are vulnerable prey for wildlife like coyotes, mountain lions and bears. With increasing numbers of wildlife, both rural and urban neighborhoods are being impacted.

At the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center, we are braced for our first winter under a new policy that minimizes the use of lethal control against native wildlife that prey on our lambs and ewes. As director of the 5,300-acre Mendocino County research facility, I'm nervous for the well-being of our 500 sheep and lambs soon to be born. 

The animals are defenseless, therefore it is our responsibility to protect them from predation by wildlife or other animals, such as domestic dogs. Many non-lethal methods of protecting the sheep have been implemented over the past several months. We installed and repaired fences and brought in five new guard dogs to protect the sheep.

Our new practices seemed to work last spring and summer. We can't draw research conclusions from one year of data, but the number of sheep confirmed killed by wild carnivores in 2015 was much smaller than the year before, 10 vs. 48. And the number of coyotes taken so far in 2014 – 15 – was about half the amount in 2014.

I'm encouraged by the numbers. But we want to do better. As a University of California research center, Hopland is the ideal place to study ways for sheep ranchers throughout Northern California to maintain sustainable flocks even in the presence of the growing, and increasingly diverse, wildlife population. At Hopland, we are interested in learning more about how to prevent conflicts with wild animals and reduce the need for lethal control of wildlife. This information will inform policies for wildlife control in cities, rural areas and on ranches.

The Hopland REC was a working sheep ranch when it was purchased by the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources for rangeland and animal management research in 1951. From the 1990s to the 2000s, 10 to 15 percent of lambs or more were killed each year by predators – mainly coyotes – despite aggressive non-lethal and legal lethal control, according to Bob Timm, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist who served as director of the station for 30 years before retiring in 2014.

We will always have predators threatening our sheep. We need research-based information to inform us how to deal with them humanely while maintaining economically viable ranching operations in Mendocino County and throughout California.

Justin Brashares, a professor of wildlife ecology at UC Berkeley, has developed a research plan for the center. We are seeking funding and, in the coming years, will use Hopland as a living laboratory to answer many questions scientists and ranchers have about wildlife in Northern California. The research will help us estimate the wildlife population. We plan to use high-technology GPS collars on prey and predator species to develop very fine-scale information about their interactions. Hopland will also be a site to study the very fencing we and other sheep producers are earnestly installing to protect our sheep from hungry carnivores.

I believe we are lucky to have the wildlife among us. I'm committed to helping our community protect wildlife and raise sheep with research and education programs at Hopland. 

We will always have predators threatening our sheep. We need research-based information to inform us how to deal with them humanely while maintaining economically viable ranching operations in Mendocino County and throughout California.

Posted on Friday, January 15, 2016 at 8:53 AM
  • Author: Kimberly Rodrigues

Non-lethal predator wildlife control helps keep livestock safe

A coyote very near one of HREC's main pastures that holds lambs. (Photo: Robert J. Keiffer)
Five guard dogs are part of the team protecting sheep at a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) research center in Mendocino County. The director of the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC) Kim Rodriguez is optimistic the dogs and other non-lethal wildlife control efforts being used at the station will allow peaceful grazing animals to share land with natural predators, reported Sarah Reith in the Ukiah Daily Journal.

Rodrigues initiated a new standard operating procedure (SOP) at Hopland early this year for predator animal control. The policy involves guard dogs, improved fencing and pasture management to protect sheep from coyotes, rather than shooting the predators. Jim Lewers, senior animal technician at HREC, said the "losses have declined" since the new policy was put in place. 

Hannah Bird, HREC community educator, said 10 sheep at the center were killed by coyotes in 2015, while 43 were killed in 2014.

Rodrigues told the reporter that it is hard to attribute declines in animal deaths to a single strategy. She hopes to eventually make Hopland a hub for research and information sharing with local landowners on wildlife control.

That effort begins next week. On Dec. 1 and 2, HREC will offer two separate workshops on wildlife management. The first day will include representatives from USDA Wildlife Services, the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, and Defenders of Wildlife. On the second day, local ranchers and UC ANR representatives will speak about their chosen methods of wildlife management. Registration is $30 per day. Registration for the two days is separate, and the deadline is Saturday, Nov. 28. 

Click here to register for the Dec. 1 workshop.

Click here to register for the Dec. 2 workshop.

Posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2015 at 9:20 AM
Tags: coyotes (10), Hannah Bird (5), Kim Rodrigues (5), sheep (9)

Next 5 stories | Last story

 
E-mail
 
Webmaster Email: kmchurchill@ucanr.edu