Fresh Growth

Emigh Livestock & Flying Mule Farm: Opportunities for the Sheep Industry

April 12, 2022 Co-hosts Stacie Clary & Steve Elliott with guests Dan Macon and Ryan Mahoney Season 3 Episode 5
Emigh Livestock & Flying Mule Farm: Opportunities for the Sheep Industry
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Fresh Growth
Emigh Livestock & Flying Mule Farm: Opportunities for the Sheep Industry
Apr 12, 2022 Season 3 Episode 5
Co-hosts Stacie Clary & Steve Elliott with guests Dan Macon and Ryan Mahoney

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Dan Macon is a University of California Farm Adviser and also the operator of Flying Mule Farm in Auburn California. Ryan Mahoney is a fifth-generation sheep and cattle rancher who operates Emigh Livestock, in Rio Vista California. Dan and Ryan are also participating in a Western SARE project demonstrating and evaluating how information from both electronic identification tags and better understanding of sheep genetics could be improve sheep production economic viability.

Emigh Livestock produces “climate beneficial wool.” They put together a carbon farm plan – carbon emissions minus carbon sequestration. Through this they no longer sell in the bulk auction and receive a price premium. The end product is sold as 100% American processed fiber.

“It’s neat to see your wool in that finished product, says Ryan.”
Flying Mule is also seeing changing markets.  Dan is beginning to work with a stronger market for replacement ewe lambs that can fit for targeted grazing operations to manage weeds or for reduce fuel loads.

Other opportunities and changing demand face the sheep industry. According to Dan, “real opportunities have been this shift during the pandemic in people eating and preparing food at home.” There is a rebound in interest in lamb at retail level and this has driven opportunities to ramp up production. Additionally, the non-tradition market of selling whole lambs, which are smaller than those sold in the commercial market - primarily due to California’s ethnic diversity has been part of producers’ attempts to adjust to drought and other conditions.

Learn more about the Western SARE project.


Thanks for listening to Fresh Growth! To learn more about Western SARE and sustainable agriculture, visit our website or find us:

· Instagram

· Facebook

· Twitter

Contact us at

Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Dan Macon is a University of California Farm Adviser and also the operator of Flying Mule Farm in Auburn California. Ryan Mahoney is a fifth-generation sheep and cattle rancher who operates Emigh Livestock, in Rio Vista California. Dan and Ryan are also participating in a Western SARE project demonstrating and evaluating how information from both electronic identification tags and better understanding of sheep genetics could be improve sheep production economic viability.

Emigh Livestock produces “climate beneficial wool.” They put together a carbon farm plan – carbon emissions minus carbon sequestration. Through this they no longer sell in the bulk auction and receive a price premium. The end product is sold as 100% American processed fiber.

“It’s neat to see your wool in that finished product, says Ryan.”
Flying Mule is also seeing changing markets.  Dan is beginning to work with a stronger market for replacement ewe lambs that can fit for targeted grazing operations to manage weeds or for reduce fuel loads.

Other opportunities and changing demand face the sheep industry. According to Dan, “real opportunities have been this shift during the pandemic in people eating and preparing food at home.” There is a rebound in interest in lamb at retail level and this has driven opportunities to ramp up production. Additionally, the non-tradition market of selling whole lambs, which are smaller than those sold in the commercial market - primarily due to California’s ethnic diversity has been part of producers’ attempts to adjust to drought and other conditions.

Learn more about the Western SARE project.


Thanks for listening to Fresh Growth! To learn more about Western SARE and sustainable agriculture, visit our website or find us:

· Instagram

· Facebook

· Twitter

Contact us at

Speaker 1: 0:06 

Welcome to Season 3 of Fresh Growth, a podcast by the Western SARE program, that’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education. I'm your host, Steve Elliott, alongside co-host Stacie Clary. Just for background, Western SARE promotes sustainable farming and ranching in the American West through research, education, and communication efforts, like this podcast. It is funded by the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Fresh Growth introduces producers and ag professionals from around the West who are embracing new ways of farming and ranching. They'll tell us about their experiences adopting more sustainable agricultural practices and challenges and benefits they've seen.

Today's guests are Dan Macon and Ryan Mahoney. Dan is a University of California farm advisor, and also the operator of Flying Mule Farm in Auburn, California. Flying Mule F arm is a diversified family farm that provides wholesome, sustainably produced food and fiber to the community. Ryan is a fifth generation sheep and cattle rancher who operates Emigh Livestock in Rio Vista. He credits their lush green pastures as a huge part of maintaining their high quality meat. Dan and Ryan are also participating in a Western SARE project demonstrating and evaluating the economics of how information from both electronic identification tags and a targeted sheep genotyping panel could be incorporated into commercial sheet production systems. Dan and Ryan, welcome and thanks for sitting down with us.

Speaker 2: 1:33 

Thank you.

Speaker 3: 1:33 

Thanks for having us.

Speaker 4: 1:37 

Dan, I was able to recently visit with you and it's absolutely beautiful up there. It would be helpful, could you describe of your area of California and what it's like there?

Speaker 2: 1:46 

Sure, sure. It is beautiful, especially this time of year. We operate in the Sierra foothills about gosh, about 30 miles from where gold was discovered way back in the 1840s. We winter our sheep between 800 and a 1,000 foot elevation in the oak woodlands on annual range land. And then we summer sheep a little higher elevation on irrigated pasture primarily. We're operating in an area that's been divided and subdivided. And so we work with lots of different landowners and have lots of different landlords. But it's a way that we've been able to keep grazing on the landscape by providing sheep in some environments where there used to be a lot more livestock.

Speaker 4: 2:34 

Ryan, what about where you're at?

Speaker 3: 2:37 

Yeah, so we're down , we're downstream from Dan Macon down in the delta, California, Sacramento River Delta. The area we operate in is called the Montezuma Hills. It's kind of a hill range right at the mouth of the Delta, almost a stone’s throw from the East Bay, but there's not a bridge right directly across, so we don't have quite the people you find in the East Bay, but there's a lot of sheep. So we run in these kind of hill grasslands. We don't have any of the oaks that Dan has because we get a lot of wind and if you try to grow an oak tree, it tends to grow sideways for about a year and a half and then blows over, but it raises good cattle and good sheep. And then we also have some irrigated ground up along the Sacramento River, just kind of southeast of Dixon, California. So between the irrigated pasture and that native hill range, that's the kind of operation that we run. We're cattle and sheep, like I said,

Speaker 1: 3:32 

Okay. Talk a little bit more about it, you know, where you market and, and sort of how it's come about and, and the values that you bring to the ranch.

Speaker 3: 3:45 

Sure. Who do, who do you want to take that one first? Me or Dan?

Speaker 1: 3:49 

You go first, Ryan we'll reverse order this time.

Speaker 3: 3:51 

All right, sounds good. So yeah, I said we raised cattle and sheep, but we in, you know, they raise a lot of different types of products. We’re definitely a meat focused operation. So we sell the meat lambs and we sell the calves as beef. A third of our cows are, crossbred to a Wagyu bull to make American Kobe beef. And then the rest of them are going be Angus cows, that we use to kind of build replacements for our cow herd from those. And then on our sheep side, we sell the lamb. All the lamb we raise sells to Superior Farms out in Dixon, California. We've had a working relationship with them for a very long time, goes back to my grandpa. And then I think even before that, well I guess, yeah, they moved to Dixon probably when my grandpa was running. So, them, and we also raise wool and the wool we sell to a company called Imperial Yarn out of Redmond, Oregon, just north of Bend. And, we have a hundred percent American manufactured processed wool, and we have a carbon farm plan on our ranch and we're able to sell our wools as climate beneficial wool. And I can get into that in more detail later if you want. But, so it's wool, meat and beef is what we sell, and we don't do any direct customer sales. It's all wholesale stuff.

Speaker 1: 5:19 

Since you brought it up, talk about the climate friendly wool. How does that work?

Speaker 3: 5:26 

So, about five years ago or so we were approached by, Fiber Shed and, we've always had really good wool, but we've always sold it kind of at the auction market, just at the bulk auction. And it would go into the, oftentimes in like military uniforms or something like that. But we were approached by Fiber Shed, with the idea of putting together a carbon farm plan on our ranch and the carbon farm plan is essentially a measurement of your carbon emissions. And then subtract out the sequestration that you do as an operation, because when you're raising cattle and sheep, cattle and sheep give off methane and then you use trucks and things to move them around. But then you also grow grass and that grass eats CO2 and so can store it in the soil and different things like that. So you kind of take that and with our resource conservation district, we got together and mapped all of our practices and were able to come up with a number of how much we sequester as a ranch on an annual basis. And then with that number or plan, we could then go to the wool market and say that we, you know, when you're buying our wool, you can have the confidence that this is coming from a ranch that is benefiting the environment, by these numbers , not hurting it, like, and basically it's not so much to sell against other wools as much as it is to sell against the manufactured fibers, like the polyesters and you know, those kinds of renewable fibers is kind of what it's selling. They also, they'll do like cotton blends, they've been playing with this year, with some wool and they also blend with Alpaca and different things like that. But it was a really neat way to take our wool out of kind of that, we still sell at the commercial scale, but we took it out of kind of that commercial market where it just gets mixed with all these other wools from all around the country. And now you actually are able to trace it to handheld products that you're able to, you know, give to, we gave all of our workers beanies this year and family beanies. That was our Christmas gift this year, all wool hats . Dan got one, I think, but it's really neat though, to be able to see your wool actually in that finished product.

Speaker 1: 7:46 

Yeah. Is there a price premium for that?

Speaker 3: 7:51 

Uh, yeah, there is. That’s a whole, that's a rabbit hole we could spend hours talking about. I think Dan and I's podcast got a few recorded on that, but yeah, so the American wool tends to trade at about a 20 to 30 percent or 30 percent discount from the international wool market and through this product because we're a fully traced , situation we're able to actually command international markets. And so just you have a premium built in because we're actually trading the international market versus a discounted American market.

Speaker 3: 8:24 

All right. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 8:26 

And how about you Dan? Same sort of questions. Tell us a little bit more about your operation and the values behind it.

Speaker 2: 8:31 

Sure, sure. We're, we're very, part-time. I've got a day job and an all night job in some cases working with sheep, but, we're much smaller scale than Ryan is. Our major focus is on, has been on lambs that we work with another marketer to sell into the ethnic trade, which California is one of the real centers for kind of this, this niche market of, all sorts of ethnic interest in lamb . We are in an area that gets <laugh> in a normal year, quite a bit more rainfall than Ryan does. And so we can't raise fine wool sheep like Ryan does. Our cross breeding program is a little different. We use some, Northern English breeds that are courser wool that can withstand our somewhat wetter climate better than the fine wool sheep that you would find out in the Delta. And as a consequence, our market for wool has been, pretty severely impacted by COVID just in terms of trade flows. A lot of the courser wools have traditionally been made into carpet, have gone to other countries as raw product and come back here as carpet. And that, those trade channels have dried up to some extent. One of the areas that we're beginning to develop as a niche for our sheep, partly because of the way that we manage our grazing during the course of the year is that we've got a pretty significant demand for replacement ewe lambs that can fit targeted grazing operations, where they're using those sheep to go out and reduce fuel loads or manage weeds. And our genetic base and kind of our management style has given us an opportunity to add value to our ewe lambs and sell them into those kinds of operations.

Speaker 4: 10:31 

You've had some significant challenges and we've also mentioned opportunities on your operation. What are some of the challenges the sheep industry is seeing overall in California, you think, and what are some of the newer opportunities?

Speaker 2: 10:47 

Was that for Ryan or for me? Cause we'll both, we could both talk the rest of the day about this!

Speaker 4: 10:53 

Well, I remember we had a good conversation on this when I visited and you can start and Ryan can jump on in whenever.

Speaker 2: 11:00 

No, that's, that's great. I think, you know, one of the, the real opportunities has been this shift during the pandemic, in people eating and, and preparing food at home. And prior to the pandemic, just kind of thinking nationwide about demand for lamb, probably half of the formally processed lamb was going through food service. So, it was going to hotels and restaurants and, other outlets like that, where it was prepared for you rather than prepared by you. And, while we had a pretty significant market disruption, when the initial pandemic closures came, since that point, we've seen this huge kind of rebound and interest and demand for lamb at the retail level. And I think that's driven some opportunities for us as an industry to, to kind of ramp up production to some degree. Part of that has also been this development of what we would call a nontraditional market for lamb. And I think that's driven some opportunities as producers try to adjust to drought conditions or other kinds of, of growing conditions that can impact our ability to produce what would be a conventional lamb.  Ryan and I've talked about this to great extent. We're selling lambs that would not be, necessarily marketable in the market that Ryan currently targets, but they have added value for us because we're hitting some of these non-traditional markets where people are wanting to buy whole lambs and, have kind of a cultural background in using that whole animal. And I think that's a, an area where the sheep industry has a lot of growth for potential, but adjusting to meet that demand can be a real challenge as well, because it's a, it's a different approach to production. Ryan, I think has got some-- go ahead, go ahead.

Speaker 4: 13:07 

Can you describe a little bit more the nontraditional market?

Speaker 2: 13:11 

Yeah, so we are unique in the US in that we don't eat as much lamb as many other parts of the world. And as, particularly on the West Coast, as we have such ethnic diversity, or religious diversity. We have population centers where lamb has traditionally been a staple in the diet. In many cases, those opportunities exist outside the kind of traditional USDA- inspected 120 to 150 pound finished lamb or a 130 to 160 pound finished lamb, depending on where you are higher, Ryan says. But there's this real opportunity for we, we market a lot of our lambs right off of, right after weaning where they're 70 to 80 pounds. And if we can hit that niche at a way that's cost effective for us to do so, it also, I think creates some opportunities for some of the traditional marketing through Superior and others to find those niches as well, and, to create a kind of a range of, sizes and products that can fit different demands.

Speaker 3: 14:32 

Yeah. I just like to jump in there, I'd say that the traditional lamb in the US is a 150 pound finished lamb that has a very large loin eye. And, over the last, well, since COVID, COVID kind of accelerated it quite a bit, but over the last 10-15 years there's been this growing demand for what we, we used to call it an ethnic market, but now it's kind of converged into kind of just a light lamb market because it's not just going to, it used to only go to one or two pretty specific ethnicities, but now it's going to a whole giant demographic. And the big part to them is millennials. And part of that's the pursuit of more, I don't know what the right term would be, but different eating experiences than that traditional, Italian leg lamb roast at Easter. Now it's a Moroccan lamb dish one night and then a Turkish, something else-- you get really creative and, that demands a different type of lamb. And then also there's a lot of immigration and stuff coming over. That's bringing these influences that are used to eating a small, they don't, command the premium for that small, for that large loin eye. You know, they tend to do whole roasts or shoulders or things like that. So, it's kind of two separate markets and it's really defined by weight. And it's fascinating because you have periods of time where, if you're under 100 pounds that lamb's worth $3 a pound, if you're a 103 pounds, that lamb's worth a $1.80. And so you have these huge value swings in these two markets and the traditional market, or that heavier lamb market always drove the price historically in the US. But over the, since COVID really this light lamb market is  commanding enough volume that it's influencing and affecting that traditional price in a much different way than it ever has before. And so it's a huge change, and change is always hard because change means somebody is doing it wrong and somebody is doing it right, and that's different than what it was yesterday. And so change is always difficult, but with all change, you know, it's changing because of opportunity because of you know, demand and things like that. And you have in like, I believe in the Western United States this last year as a whole, the Western US lost sheep numbers. We've been down every year consistently, but the state of California was up 20,000 sheep. And a lot of that is in these custom grazing operations, in these new creative ways. And then of course we have a huge population here and therefore a huge demand and a huge customer base. And, there's a lot of really creative people, you know, starting to sell into those markets and do some really non-traditional fun things that show a lot of opportunity for growth in the sheep industry. Kind of the first couple years that there's been so many outside the interests or nontraditional, parties that are now playing in the lamb game that weren't before. And so it's really exciting. But it's also a huge challenge because, you know, like I said, if you plan to sell to this traditional market and your lambs are 104 pounds, all of a sudden you can't sell into this light market and you may have like a, you know, $50 a head difference in the two on whether you can go one way or the other. And genetics play into to that. There's a lot of , there's a lot to, to kind of pull apart  there, but, I'd say there's a lot of opportunity in the sheep industry, especially in the state of California because of the consumer demand and then the resources we have here.

Speaker 2: 18:19 

And I just to add real briefly to that, I think my perception on the wool side, the fiber side of the market, is that fiber is where the meat of the business was 15 years ago, that we're just starting to be able to get some differentiation and value out of some of these other types of fibers because of the interest in renewable fibers. I think a lot of the climate awareness that we're seeing, particularly in California, is driving a renewed interest in wool for all kinds of uses. So I think we're, we're just at the outset of, of seeing that take off too.

Speaker 3: 18:54 

Yeah. That's a hundred percent accurate, especially like our fine wool, would've never left that traditional market, being the type of clip that it is and, and what it fits for that traditional wool market, but because of this changing environment we’re able to actually sell into this new market, and it's really exciting and just absolutely agree with that a hundred percent, the wool is really an exciting opportunity for growth.

Speaker 1: 19:22 

It it's interesting. I mean, as you guys are talking as, as these markets are changing and the opportunities are changing, talk a little about your SARE project. I mean, because research and, and understanding things better plays into moving an industry forward and, and helping producers. So tell us a little about that.

Speaker 2: 19:43 

Absolutely, absolutely. So our, our project was really focused on two things, as you said, at the outset was focused on how to use electronic identification systems and, and what kinds of data we can track, with that at the producer level. So getting some sense of, of the economics of using those systems, of the costs and benefits associated with it, but another piece of it where the sheep industry has both a great opportunity and a great challenge is understanding our genetics. and if we look, you know, Ryan's got extensive experience in using genetic and genomic information in the cattle side of his business, we really don't have that kind of information available to us in the sheep industry. And I think we're at the cusp of figuring out how to measure some of those genetic parameters as they relate primarily to meat production, but also to some of our production practices, like, the ability of an animal to have twins or her ability as a mother or her parasite and disease resistance. And part of building that system in the US will be a more efficient system of collecting data on a large number of animals. And I think that's where the relationship for us as researchers came in between the electronic identification systems and this genetic information. We're starting at the very basic level, and one of the areas where we really started to focus was to work with Superior, to get some heritage information back on the lambs that had been a identified electronically, as they went through the plant. All of us probably kind of knew this in the back of our head, but it's startling to see, at a production level that you have maybe 20 percent of your rams responsible for 80 percent of the lambs in your flock, which makes you wonder about those free loaders that are--

Speaker 1: 21:48 

All the other ones that aren’t pulling their weight!

Speaker 2: 21:50 

Yeah , exactly. And I , you know, one of the real benefits of working with Ryan on this project is that he was an early implementer of some of these systems. And I think more than most has seen beyond the genetic and the information value of these systems, how those systems can affect labor and kind of management decision making. And it was helpful to kind of get a real world setting in Ryan's operation as to, to where those systems fit.

Speaker 1: 22:20 

Talk it forward. I mean, as, as you get more genetic information and kind of the breeding values that cattle folks have used, and what will it look like for producers? Will you be able to choose and improve herds, flocks , not herds. How will it work?

Speaker 3: 22:42 

I think for me the best, the best benefit of the EID or how it kind of manifests itself is it's identifying the genetic differences within a breed. So you're able to use that information that you collect on a per animal basis, running them in a commercial setting or a larger setting, and you can start to identify the differences within a breed. So you'll have a whole bunch of Rambouillets, but you'll have everything from a, you know, from a 16 micron wool clip to a 25 micron wool clip. And, but they're all Rambouillets. You have, all of those Rambouillets and you'll have a third of them are excellent mothers. A third of them are horrible mothers and a third of them are in the middle. And so a lot of the EID work actually helps you to track on a long term timeline in a generational timeline line where the genetic dispositions for these different traits are within that breed. And that's what EBVs are measuring. But the key to accurate EBVs is volume data. Volume data is hard to come by, especially when you talk about subjective traits like mothering ability is. My definition of a good mother is different than Dan's definition of a good mother, even though both of us agree on what a good mother is. And so <laugh>, it gets really tricky in some of those areas. And the other thing I think is it does take, like I said, it takes a lot of data and a lot of time to prove these things out. I think that was one of the biggest, or one of the most interesting parts when they recorded the data on our sheep, and then presented it back with some of the other ranches is where we have a lot of, a lot more background data than some of the other places. What was that? <laugh> ,

Speaker 2: 24:32 

That was me coughing, sorry. 

Speaker 3: 24:34 

Oh, thought that was a dog! You herding sheep, Dan? Anyway, one of the interesting things was our ability to kind of interpret that data and explain some of the things that we found out, a little deeper than some of these other places. A lot of the other places, the data presented was  the gold standard. But for us, that was part of the puzzle of all of the other stuff we've been collecting. So like the ram is a great example. You know, 20 percent of the rams are siring 80 percent of the sheep, but is that, s it the same 20 percent every year? Or is that 20 percent changing every year? So if you go and only keep the ones that are breeding, the high percentage, you might actually be losing out on very productive rams, because it's age, it's the groupings you put them with. There's so many other factors into that social network of those rams that play into who's breeding, what year over year, over year. And so there there's a lot, it was just, it was really interesting. And, it, you know, projects like this have to keep going. And in order for us to build enough data, to be able to actually have strong, accurate EBVs yeah. To be able to just pull up a book and say, this is what this sheep is going do with a, as long as you give it feed. <laugh> 

Speaker 2: 26:02 

I think the other unique thing, when you look at the sheep industry versus the cattle industry, you know, there are sheep genetics to fit just about every environment in the world, and that's both a strength and a weakness for us as producers, that genetic diversity with the climate issues that we're dealing with, I mean, just the variation from the two hours between Rio Vista and Auburn, you know, it takes me a very different set of genetics for sheep to thrive in my environment than it does in Ryan's.

Speaker 3: 26:37 

I think we got like, what four different, like production zones or climate zones between you and me, it's two hours away. It's pretty amazing, the change.

Speaker 2: 26:45 

Yeah. And I think that genetic diversity in sheep is strength, but it also makes the predictive value of this genetic information more difficult to collect. And I think the fact that all of us have a little bit different priorities in our system also makes it challenging, which makes the amount of data we need to collect even more important for the systems

Speaker 1: 27:09 

Right. I could see the geographic overlay that's required to make this valuable on the ground. 

Speaker 2: 27:15 

Yeah, absolutely.

Speaker 3: 27:17 

Well, and I, I think it gets back to kind of the earlier point, Dan was making about markets and the diversity within the markets and the us. So then the cattle industry, Angus association was able to grab the lead, push all this information. And all of this is based on Angus genetics. And if you influenced Angus genetics, you're influencing a huge percentage of the beef herd in the US. Well , in California, in that two hour strip between us and Auburn, we have about 4,000 different breeds <laugh> sheep. And so if you get the, you know, say the Suffolk association comes out and pushes some EBVs, you're going to affect 30 percent of those herds in between there you're not going to affect 'em all like, whereas that Angus association right , has so much so much of its blood in the herd, that that really is a mover. Whereas that sheep industry is so diverse because Dan's hitting a 80 pound lamb market, I'm hitting 155 pound lamb market. And the genetic needs for both of those are completely different. And so to come up with the work that the Angus association did on, you know, 20, 30, 40 different breeds of sheep is a lot of work. And so it it's really a big challenge, but yet again, opportunities lie in all challenges. So you just have to find them.

Speaker 4: 28:30 

And Dan mentioned specifically it also influences labor, and management decisions. How, and I remember Dan talking about some of the labor savings, what on your operation, how are you, how are you seeing the correlation between the, the genetics and the ID tags and the labor?

Speaker 3: 28:51 

Yeah sure, so the easiest way on the labor is to use, uh , foot rot, very prevalent. We have fine wheel sheep in ,  adobe clay soils that get about 16 inches of rain on a normal year that hasn't happened in the last like five years, but <laugh> but if typically with that moisture in that kind of soil composition, the sheep are susceptible to foot rot , which is a bacterial infection in the hoof . It used to infect about 80 to 90 percent of the sheep in our hurt. But since we implemented, EIDs started tracking how often we trim them, uh, antibiotic usage, different things like that be because of the foot problems. We've taken that to where now it's affecting probably about 20 percent of the herd. And, if you have a active foot rod infection and you have to actively trim it takes you, well, it takes, you have to take the sheep, physically, turn it over, trim each hoof, and then soak it in a foot bath for five to 10 minutes, and then treat it with antibiotics and then bring it back around maybe four or five days later and run it again. So there's a lot of labor per animal. And if you have 5,000 and you take your treatment and you drop it by 60 percent 5,000 times 0.6 is 3000 head that you are not doing all of that labor on. So that is a very direct, huge labor savings. And you're running the same number of sheep, just handling them less. It's better for the health of the animal. It's better for the safety of your employees and it's better for all production, your production values go up, everything, everything increases, when you have a healthier animal mm-hmm <affirmative>, which is essentially what this allowed us to do,

Speaker 5: 30:35 

Right .

Speaker 2: 30:37 

I think one of the areas at our small scale that's, that's had a benefit from a labor perspective is our focus on maternal ability. So we, we lamb on pasture. I'm basically, I'm the cook and chief bottle washer for fine mill sheep company. So, I'm the guy out there doing the lambing and in being able to record some specific, objective traits about maternal ability and make our replacement ewe lamb selections based on that criteria, really reduces our labor at lambing. A ewe that can give birth on her own and count to two and produce good milk takes probably a third of the amount of labor that a ewe that can't count to two, and that has to be brought into a pin so that she'll bond with her lambs. And if I can keep records readily available to make those decisions over time, that has, has reduced our labor at lambing pretty significantly. And adding some of the other things now that we can do, because we've got these records electronically things like evaluating the pounds of lamb that a ewe weans  every year. You know, if we're, if we're having to make decisions about drought management, we've got a better understanding of what ewes we should keep and what ewes we should sell, in terms of their value to the business.

Speaker 1: 32:06 

Are the lambs of ewes that are good mothers, good mothers. I mean, does that, does that trait pass down?

Speaker 2: 32:14 

It's what we would call mildly heritable. So there's a lot of, of variability in there and there's, we're not sure what particular genetics, genes drive that. But what we have found is that the daughter of a ewe that's a strong mother is more likely to be a strong mother herself, but more importantly, the daughter of a ewe that is not a good mother, doesn't get to stick around. And so we, we over time eliminate kind of that, that either behavioral or genetic component to mis-mothering

Speaker 3: 32:46 

Yeah. I think that that highlights a really important, important processes or mentality to have when you're dealing with genetics and making decisions based on genetics, is these measurements, even in like cattle EVBs and stuff, your heritability of different traits, a good, highly heritable trade is like 40 to 50 percent. So, you know, if you have a lot of these traits are running in the 20 percent heritability, so you often don't want to make a selection based on, I want the very best. And so I'm going to get the high , you know, I'm going to take that best mothering ewe, and keep her, the main way to use that data is to eliminate those poorest ones. The worst. Yeah. You got to , you actually got to take that backwards saying , say , I'm going to use this information to get rid of those worst mothers, and I'm going to keep all the rest and see how they do, rather than say , I'm only going to keep the best mothers because oftentimes you'll lose very good mothers that way, because yeah, it that's super important. Yeah. When you're using genetic tools and that that's, to me that translates on, you know, cattle, that's everything we do. Mm-hmm <affirmative> X , you always want to eliminate the bottom percent and not  not identify the top, the top

Speaker 2: 34:00 


Speaker 3: 34:01 

And it's always, it's measuring the genetic disposition to do something. Not, not what it's actually doing.

Speaker 4: 34:11 

You really enjoy what you do and you're on a multi-generational farm and you're raising your children there. Why did you, choose to remain in farming and did you farm with your family as you were growing up?

Speaker 3: 34:26 

<laugh> So I told this story a lot, but so I was , I worked on the farm. I was a middle child and my sister is absolutely brilliant. And so she was always pursuing academics and continuing there. My brother was a swimmer and now iron man . And so he was super athletic and always pushing in that arena and I was the middle child. So I went to work. And so, you know , at age like 14, 15, I was cutting stickers on, on a thousand acre ranch <laugh> in the Hills . And after that I decided this is pretty tough work. I don't know if I want to do it , so I got a job cleaning dishes and busing tables at a restaurant in town. And, then once I got out of high school, I ran off and I went to college. I played football in college and then I transferred to a couple of different schools and I ended up graduating with a major in religious studies. And so as a religious studies major, I went and I looked at my giant stack of job opportunities that I had, and, then my mom and grandpa sat me down and said, Hey, Ryan, we want to give you a job here at the ranch. If you wanted to, you know, we'll pay you like 35,000  to 40,000 a year, which is peanuts, but you know what the heck, I'd go for it, because I didn't really have any other opportunities here because I literally had no offers for <laugh> my major. And so , I went to work right out of college on the farm and then, but I think it was different because when I went to work , my grandpa was looking to kind of retire and slow down. And that gave me an opportunity to learn from him in a different way than, than almost anybody else that that was able to work with him. Because he had this mentality of passing on the knowledge rather than just running and learn from me while I'm doing. And so now 16 years later, looking back, I bought the ranch from the family two years ago and I have three kids and, and they're, you know, as involved as they can be being three kids with, with, public school and lives and stuff. But, and then my wife too, she helps out what she can, but she's also an English teacher, but I, yeah, we got it passed to my generation. So now my job is to get it to the next. We're sitting at fifth, and yeah, well, my kids will be six. I was raised on the home ranch that was settled in 1870s, right in there. So when we're still on the same place.

Speaker 4: 36:57 


Speaker 3: 36:58 

Really cool.

Speaker 4: 37:00 

And do you hope that the children will remain in ranching and keep it going.

Speaker 3: 37:05 

Yeah. Yes and no. I mean yes, big part of me wants them to absolutely love the ranch and be part of the ranch. But I've kind of felt that it's really important for us to, if we're gonna stay in operation or stay a ranch that's going to be successful for generations, it needs to not be dependent on one of the kids taking it. Mm-hmm <affirmative> because that's putting a lot of pressure. It is a lot of pressure on me and it puts a lot of pressure on them because it's me, my brother and my sister, and then I have three cousins. And so there's six of us and to depend on one of them to have the skills and capacity and ability and want to put in the work, learn the job and do it, is really a pretty tall order. Whereas if we can promote within and then always have that opportunity for them to join or work in whatever part they can, like that's more my goal than anything. I want to have a ranch that, you know, the guys that I work with, I mean, heck in a perfect world, they'd run the whole thing and be in charge of it. And then my kids, if they want to join, they can, you know, say, Hey, I want to work in the sheep. So then we can put 'em to work in the sheep or I want to work in the cattle. You put 'em to work in the cattle, but don't demand that they do it all. Because it's just, I feel like you're setting 'em up for a failure.

Speaker 1: 38:20 

For sure. One of the things we always like to ask and usually as, as sort of a winding down question is what advice do you have for people who are, are just getting into ranching or want to get into ranching? Yeah. For younger producers that sort of, to help them along, and feel good about being in agriculture. We'll start with you Dan <laugh>

Speaker 2: 38:49 

Sounds good. Sounds good. I, you know, I think that is a unique thing about the sheep industry, to be honest, is that sheep are pretty accessible. And in addition to the increasing sheep numbers that Ryan mentioned, we also had an increase in the number of people with sheep operations. I think the advice that I have for, for folks starting out is to just be a sponge, to try to get to know people and all aspects of the business and spend time with them. And, you know, don't take advantage of that relationship, but also be open to the kinds of experiences and hands on opportunities that some of those existing operations can provide. I think one of the things that's maybe unique about ranching is that it's still largely the owners that are involved in the day to day work at the ranch, even in a large operation. Like Ryan's, I mean, I visited Ryan at shearing last week and Ryan was classing wool and bringing sheep in to be shorn. And, that's typical of operations regardless of scale. And so I think finding opportunities to build those hands-on skills, whether you're a religious studies major or an animal science major, getting your hands on sheep, doesn't necessarily happen in a university class. It happens by diving into the day to day work. And so looking for those opportunities to work with somebody that's maybe had a little more experience, I think is a great place to start, but I'm interested to what Ryan's perspective is on that.

Speaker 3: 40:36 

Oh , I'm going to tail coat on that and just say like you, you can going to start out in agriculture, fall in love with the work don't be afraid of the work. Don't be afraid of getting dirty. Don't be afraid of really getting in there. There’s a very idealistic version of agriculture that's pretty prevalent, and a lot of people that are starting out kind of have that in mind. And when you start and it starts to get messy, don't be afraid. Don't run away, don't get scared, but actually dive in and learn. And, and by getting your hands dirty, by working hard by, you know, going through a box of Q-tips every month, because of the amount of crap in your nose and ears, that that means you're doing something and you're learning. And just, don't be afraid of making mistakes. You know, you're dealing with livestock and it's a learning curve. The best shepherd in the world is the best because he keeps learning every day. And so don't think that you have it all figured out, just get in there, get dirty and start learning. I think Dan mentioned that you had two, at your lambing school; you had two new operators with 500 ewes that were lambing for the first time. And that's a scary thing, but that's also really exciting thing. Because they're going to learn, they're going to learn a lot this first lambing and they might have terrible numbers coming out of lambing, but they're going to learn a lot and the next lambing’s going to be better. And the next one after that'll be better, if they stick to it. And so just don't, don't lose hope. Don't lose faith. Talk to people, talk to friends, talk to neighbors, but just learn every mile and you can't learn without getting your hands dirty.

Speaker 2: 42:10 

I think I would just add to that. And that's where extension works well and, and where I've seen really successful SARE programs. It's, it's not necessarily Dan Macon , the farm advisor telling you how to be a better sheep producer. It's building these networks and relationships between existing producers so that we can all learn from each other. And I think, you know, having this is, I think the 17th lambing season we've been through recognizing that I'm going to learn something every year that we go through it every day I'm working with sheep. Mm-hmm , <affirmative> not only is important to me, but that's important to impart to new folks that you never have all the answers it's, it's kind of a lifelong learning process .

Speaker 3: 42:56 

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I have the skills that I have today because of Jesus, because of Canejo, because of Adrian , because of Dr. Bravos, our veterinarian, because of Dr. De Young, because of Dan Macon, because of Duncan McCormick next door, because of Richard Hamilton next door, because you know, I'm learning and I know what I know right now today because of those people around me and it's those people you're working with. That's how you, yeah , but it's getting into the scrum with them, you know, that's you got to <affirmative> you got to get your hands dirty. You got to, you got to do the work, but go into it with open eyes. 

Speaker 1: 43:34 

I like the box of Q-tips a month, you know... a portion for learning. It’s like, be prepared--

Speaker 3: 43:41 

That's a real thing, right?

Speaker 2: 43:43 

Yeah . 

Speaker 3: 43:44 

Right . Yeah . Especially when there's smoke in California. <laugh>

Speaker 1: 43:49 


Speaker 2: 43:50 

Yep . Yep .

Speaker 4: 43:52 

All right. Well thanks to bothof you for taking the time. Great talking with you. Some really good thoughts there for new people getting into ag to think about.

Speaker 1: 44:04 

Thank you gentlemen.

Speaker 2: 44:05 

Thank you. Thank you.

Speaker 3: 44:07 

Thank you. Appreciate you having us on.

Speaker 1: 44:10 

It was a pleasure.

Speaker 6: 44:12 

Ryan and Dan, along with UC Davis sheep and goat extension veterinarian, Dr. Rosie Bush host a weekly podcast us on all things sheep. You can find Sheep Stuff Ewe Should Know on Apple podcasts or Spotify.

Thank you for listening to Fresh Growth. We hope you enjoyed this episode. For more information on Western SARE grants and our learning resources visit