The sheep program started in 2002, eating down grasses, shrubs, and vines, to reduce fire hazard at The Sea Ranch Association. The herd size is 320 mother ewes at all times, with lambing time starting mid-April and continuing through the end of May. You can see these lambs moving from spot to spot with their mothers throughout the summer. They are weaned at 3-5 months when their diet is mostly forage based, and taken to a location off Sea Ranch. The lambs are given very large fields to graze with lots of free choice feed, which results in healthier and fast-growing lambs.
The mother ewes’ rotation is divided by Hwy 1. They travel in a North-South field to field pattern, ranging from the golf course to The Sea Ranch Lodge. Sometimes we graze a figure 8 pattern, crossing at the water treatment plant and white barn. TSRA provides a corral system at this point and it naturally creates a hub effect. There are several reasons for changing direction but can include:
- Time of year
- Rain fall
- Lambing season
- Fire danger
Our herd grazes in a “Mob” style with many animals bunched together, eating anywhere from 30-70 percent of the biomass present in each field. Hoof action also plays an important part in encouraging biodiversity. Hoof action presses a percentage of the biomass in contact with the ground, protecting the soil from erosion and allowing water to absorb. Our goal is 100% ground cover all the time. Grazing in this pattern – staying bunched together, always moving forward, not regrazing until usually 4 seasons later – also mimics the natural historic large herbivore behavior. Our perennial plant base was formed with a natural chaotic grazing behavior similar to the pattern our sheep follow.
When it comes to grasslands and forest edge habitat, we want diversity. A healthy environment means healthy animals. The more bushes, grasses, forges, legumes, and other plants, the better. We work with TSRA staff when any plant or animal might come into rotation, so we are aware of any endangered or rare species. The sheep program has been successful in promoting diversity, and encouraging native plant and butterfly species to return to the area.
Our sheep are mainly katahdin, a hair breed of sheep that shed their coat naturally in the spring, like most dogs do. We have crossed these with other breeds that still need shearing, producing a low-quality wool. Some of this wool is made into yarn and sold locally, some donated to TSRA garden to cover the beds in wintertime. After it is used in the garden, it is composted. High quality wool breeds do not adapt well to our coastal, brushy environment. Our sheep are hardy and adaptable, and the perfect breed for the coastal environment and forage based land management.
The sheep are always on the move. The average field size is 3-5 acres and bounded by houses, trails, roads, horse stables, owners’ favorite bushes, bird feeders, driveways, trash and propane enclosures, fiber optic cables. The beauty of electric fence means a 5-acre field can be built and sheep grazing in the matter of hours. Our general rule of thumb is graze the common areas up to owner mow lines, plus or minus a few bushes, hedges or flowers. Given notice, we can skip, delay or partially graze any field to accommodate home owners.
See the sheep run from one pasture to the next on Facebook. #mobit
Leland Falk is a fifth generation rancher from Stewarts Point, Ca. His mothers family, the Richardsons, settled Stewarts Point in the late 1800’s where they have been ranching timber and cattle ever since. Leland has always loved animals and livestock, when the opportunity presented itself to take over the Sea Ranch’s grazing operation he jumped. Running 600 head of sheep as a 20 year old with only his trusty sheep dog big mac by his side. He learned the ins and outs of all the common ground throughout the Sea Ranch community, working 7 days a week for 10 years straight with very little assistance. Leland finally tired of working alone and hired helped allowing him to expand his business, Falk Livestock and Land Management and to work more on his families ranch. Leland has a passion for holistic ranch management which he thrives to educate himself on and promote. Lelands latest endevour is his families small scale pinot vineyard, where he uses his sheep annually to graze throughout the vines. With his passion for regenerative grazing and innovative ranching we cant wait to see where his career takes him next. #mobit