Open Ranch Weekend – You wish you had been here

Hay bale tour about to start

Here everyone is - all loaded up and ready for the adventure. You can see me up at the front of trailer, waving my arms (my constant pose for the weekend). It may look I am giving safety instructions about how to exit the trailer safely in the event of an emergency, but actually I am saying something profound - I am sure of it.

Over the weekend, we welcomed 40 folks out to the ranch for a weekend of fun and food.  It was a blast – you wish you had been here. One thing I am learning is that most folks who buy our meat are folks that I enjoy spending time with. I always knew this to be true with folks I meet at farmer’s markets, but those interactions are on neutral ground and only last minutes. This weekend, we had folks here at the ranch for days, and I realized that at the end of the weekend I liked them more than when they first showed up. No smelly fish here.

What did we do that was so fun? Well, not much but a lot. The whole idea of the weekend was to invite folks up to experience the ranch like we do. I didn’t have any major events planned or rigid schedules to adhere to. The only thing that I knew we were going to do was eat, check out the animals and take a quick little tour up to the lake.  Having such a low key schedule was the key to our successful weekend.

Upon arrival, I greeted folks and said, “ok here you are, that’s where the tents go, here is where the food goes, now go explore and don’t burn the ranch down.” And off they went. We had an expedition of boys exploring the creek, we had folks checking out the chicks in the brooder, visiting the field coops, and saying howdy the pigs. It was a bit like a covey of quail scattering, but like the quail, I knew that they would all coalesce once I fired up the hay bale ride.

Once the truck was fired up and people started to hear the rumor of “ranch tour,” they quickly came and got on the trailer. Since people had trickled in over a couple of hours, this was the first time everyone was gathered in one place and it was surprising how many folks actually showed up for this.  Off we went in the trailer, me a little tense hauling 35 folks on a strange trailer driving a borrowed truck and the folks excited by the adventure. It all went well, although the creek crossing was a little, how shall we say, narrow? Apart from a few paint scratches, we arrived at a piece of range land that I have always found fascinating.

I won’t  recreate the lecture now, but I used that piece of ground to highlight 4 important aspects of range management:

  1. The difference between annuals and perennials range plants
    1. Simply put: annuals mostly bad, perennials almost entirely good.
  2. How the timing of the “second bite” can have massive effects on the balance between annuals and perennials
    1. Simply put again: Make sure the plant looks like it hasn’t been grazed before you graze it again.
  3. How we use fencing to manage our grazing in such a manner to encourage native perennials
    1. Since we no longer have predators to move grazing animals around, we need fences
  4. Finally, how all of these management practices and philosophies are creating a vibrant and healthy range land.

After this “lecture,” which consisted of much arm waving and more passion than fact, we loaded back up and headed home for the BBQ.  I had set this up as a potluck BBQ. We provided the meat and everyone else provided the sides. Well, with so many people coming, we had food coming out of our ears. It was awesome. I can’t even begin to list the buffet that we had lined out. But I can say that by the time people had start to talk again (ever notice that when the food is good, no one talks?), there wasn’t much left.  Special thanks to my uncle, Mike, who came up from Oakland to run the grill for us. He masterfully managed to cook 12 spatchcocked chickens on three different charcoal grills at the same time. Truly impressive, but no pictures to prove it.

After dinner, it was bedtime. Not for humans, although I was quite prepared to crash, but rather for all our animals. Folks came with me as I did all of the evening chores. We feed the chicks in the brooder, we moved the field coop of older chickens, and finally feed the pigs. The pigs were a big hit. They have great personalities and it is fun to watch a hog pig out on dinner. I must send a shout out to Dimitri, who managed to test my electric fence for me. I have been way too chicken to touch it and find out how much it hurts. But Dima, with great fortitude (and let’s be honest here, ignorance), backed into the fence and went for a bit of a ride. After a couple of minutes of Russian curses, he informed me that the fence works just fine. Thanks, Dima – now I know.

Everyone hit the hay after that -an afternoon of listening to me will mellow out anyone. Actually, folks sent up tents on our lawn. Seeing 8 tents on our lawn is not my usual morning view. The next morning, people milled around in a very relaxed ranch-state of mind. I could tell that people really didn’t want to head back to city life. But that’s ok, they, and you, can come up anytime.

The best quote of the weekend was said by Lauren:  “We were  in a rush to get here (to the ranch), figuring that we were holding up the weekend’s schedule, but once I got here I realized that this was just a weekend at a friend’s house with a whole bunch of friends I didn’t know I had.”

That for me encapsulates everything we are doing here and everything we want to continue doing.

Area 51 – The brooder house

Last week, I showed you the “half-house” for the chicks moved out of the brooder onto pasture. This week, I decided to show you the actual brooder house itself. For reasons that will be clear in the video, I am calling my brooder house “Area 51.”  Yes, part of the answer does have to do with UFOs but you have to watch to understand why.

Moving chicks out to pasture

Well, maybe just dipping their toes in it. I moved these chicks out pretty early in the brooding process. Normally, I aim for about 2-3 weeks in the brooder (a draft free warm environment away from pasture.) But this flight, I moved out at about 10 days. You will quickly point out that is only four days that they missed in the brooder. Right you are, but those four days really count for something when you are a chick and are growing like mad.  Long story short, I needed the brooder for next flight of chicks (400 showed up today – craziness around here). So I moved them out to a pasture pen but brought their hoover with them. What is a hoover, you ask? Well, watch the video and find out.