Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thoughts on Donkeys and Dogs

Burros make great guardian animals
Okay, there is one more hoofed animal that has caught our eye - Donkeys!

The BLM rounds up wild horses and burros every year, and Kim and I would love to save some of them.  We may not be able to handle the horses, but a young burro would be a good addition to our barn as a 'herd guardian".

That's right!  Burros are very protective of their herd, and if they are the only burro around, they consider any hoofed animal around part of their herd.

Kim and I know we have wolves, bear, lynx and mountain lion in our woods, and these could be problems for our animals.  Burros have been known to kill mountain lion, so a carnivore-savvy burro may be just the ticket as a guardian for our ranch.

LGD's think of themselves as one of the flock
Another guardian that might be worth considering if we end up with a lot of hooved animals is a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD).  There are many breeds that work in this capacity.  They stay out with the livestock, having been imprinted on them as a very young puppy (6 to 8 weeks old).  While leaving a dog outside works against my natural inclinations, these dogs are not alone.  They are raised to think of themselves as a sheep or goat companion, not as a human companion.

We will definitely not be going this route anytime soon though.  First, we will not have enough animals to justify the expense.  Second, we already have four dogs, each of whom will take exception to having another dog on the property!   We'll just have to hope the smell of our dogs is enough to keep large predators away from our Ranch.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Thoughts on Ranch Animals

You will notice that several animals have their own page listings at the top of this blog.  That's because Kim and I LOVE animals, and have DREAMED of surrounding ourselves with animals since we were kids.  So, animals are a MUST.  The only question is, "Which animals?"

Since we cannot afford to be an animal sanctuary, my policy is that every animal we add to the Ranch must benefit the Ranch in some way.  While this pragmatic view does take a little of the romance out of our ranching dream, if we can stick to it most of the time, it should allow us to keep our ranching reality alive and thriving. 
My Dream Horse

Horses, of course, are IN!  I could justify them easily by saying we have many square miles of forest to explore at our doorstep, and riding those miles makes more sense than walking.  We also have a friend that has cattle drives twice a year that needs our help (and might trade our help for hay), so obviously horses will be very useful to us and might even earn some of their keep.  However, I have to admit that their primary purpose is to fulfill our childhood fantasies of being wild forest princesses with secret powers!  So, horses need no further justification.  Hey!  Dreams get to peek through into reality every once in a while, right?

Our dogs fall into this "special" category as well.  They are our buddies first and foremost, and if they can fulfill the roll of guarding us and our ranch from goblins and other scary things, BONUS!

However, these two exceptions are all we can afford.  I am afraid all the other animals we add to the ranch need to pay their way.  So, we presently plan to bring in just chickens and a cow or two. 

Buckeye Chickens are great mousers!
Chickens add eggs, meat, and bug and rodent control. They also will help us finish off extra fruits and vegetables we have on hand, and produce salable products (eggs, meat, chicks) if Kim and I decide we want to earn a little extra money. 

Cows add milk (and therefore cheese) and meat, and can graze off the land to some degree.  Again, the milk, cheese and meat (as well as young calves) also have some commercial value should we want to make the effort to market them. Since Kim and I both like cow's milk in our coffee and adore cow milk cheeses and beef, cows are a better choice for us than, say, goats or sheep.  However, there is the issue of size.

Kim has made it very clear that the only animal she will kill for meat at the Ranch is fish.  Since I don't want our stock to be frightened before they meet their end, I do not want anyone else killing and butchering them. So, it looks like any warm-blooded animal butchering is going to be done by ME.   That means, our meat animals have to be small enough for me to handle on my own.  This fact started me looking at Mini-cows!

"Miniature" Jerseys produce great, creamy milk!

Miniature Nigerian Goats produce great milk too!
Other Animals are being considered since our "let's have an animal menagerie" gene is firing our imagination.  So, just for the record, I will tell you that we are also considering a few goats, sheep and pigs!

Yes, I could justify them all as they each could add meat to the table, and young ones for the sale block.  Goats and pigs have the added benefit of eating everything you put in front of them so table scraps of all kinds will find happy faces to feed, and our weeds and brush will not know what hit them!  Pigs could also help with any broken eggs we find, and they are great at getting the ground ready for planting in your garden! You can even get  miniature or pygmy varieties for easier handling and amped-up cuteness!  There is also a variety of sheep (the Katahdin) that does not need shearing!  What could be better?  My head is spinning from all the choices!

Vietnamese (Pot Bellied) Pigs are great for the small farm (photo by Wind Ridge Farms)
Katahdin Sheep are easy care and hearty
On the other hand, there is the reality of the work required to care for them, the cost of feeding them and keeping them healthy, and time and emotion required to "process" them.  Hmmm, I think we will take this one animal at a time.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Starting Something New

It is a time of transition and preparation.  Though Kim and I are living in the Bay Area right now, we are preparing for our move to Sundog Ranch.  I have closed my Australian Cattle Dog Rescue, Cattledog Dreams, and am officially retired.   Kim is finishing her last year as a delivery driver for UPS, and will retire in May of 2012.

The Ranch House at Sundog
Kim has been planning for retirement for some time, and purchased her dream retirement home (a five acre property in the California mountains) several years ago in anticipation of the big day.  She named it Sundog after the atmospheric phenomenon that fascinated and delighted her in childhood, feeling this would be a good omen for her future there.  It is, indeed, a wonderful spot that will undoubtedly live up to all her expectations, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to enjoy it with her. 

First, we have to get all our stuff up there!  Kim and I will make the long trek to Sundog many times this year to haul our belongings up in preparation for our final move next year. 

Looking toward the barn and house at Sundog
Once we arrive to stay, we will have a lot of work ahead of us!  The buildings on the property (a house, garage and barn) have seen better days, and the range cattle that roam the surrounding forest land have destroyed most of the fencing.  However, the buildings are sound, and Kim and I are looking forward to making repairs, updating the kitchen, installing new flooring, painting everything in sight, clearing out the barn and getting new fencing installed.    We have already hired a company to install a new garage door, and ordered Kim's pride and joy - a new GATOR!  More on that later...