In September, ALBC technical staff Jeannette Beranger and Alison Martin visited ALBC members in California and Nevada and attended the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, California.
First on our trip were visits to two master breeders of Native Milking Shorthorn cattle in Fallon, NV. Fallon is a high desert town about 70 miles from Reno and averages less than 9 inches of rain per year, falling mostly between November and May. Driving out to Fallon we marveled at the stark hills, the grasses dry and golden in late summer, contrasted in places by irrigated alfalfa fields of emerald green. We watched a band of wild horses across the valley pick their way down a rocky hillside toward the river. Cattle ranching in this area requires careful pasture management. We expected to find hardy animals on the two ranches, and we were not disappointed.
Our master breeders were father-son team Ron and Norris Albaugh, and Jack Barnes. Jack and Ron have both been raising and breeding Milking Shorthorns since the 1940’s, and their careful attention to the quality of their breeding stock really shows. More recently, Norris Albaugh’s breeding decisions using the Gearld Fry method have taken the Albaugh herd to an even higher level of uniformity and productivity, and allowed improvements in calving ability and parasite resistance. Both ranches focus on beef production first, but emphasized that bigger calves are not always better, instead favoring cows with slightly smaller but rapidly growing calves. In order to achieve that rapid growth, they select for milking and mothering ability. The Albaughs leave calves on the cow as long as 10 months to take advantage of the rich milk their cows produce on pasture. Barnes favors easy tempered cows that are so laid back that they share mothering duties with calves grabbing a sip wherever they can. The Albaugh ranch lies near the Carson River, so they are able to irrigate their pastures for a purely grassfed operation. At Barnes’s smaller ranch he supplements with hay. Both ranches have found receptive markets for their meat and breeding animals. During the visit ALBC staff documented the wisdom of these master breeders for inclusion in Breed Profiles and other outreach documents.
After a detour through Tahoe, we drove over the Sierra Nevada and made our way to Santa Rosa for three days at the National Heirloom Exposition. It is fitting that the expo was held at the county fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, home to famed plant breeder Luther Burbank (1849 – 1926), who was responsible for introducing more than 800 new varieties of plants. This year
Californians from across the state brought their pigs, sheep, chickens and cattle to the event. We were fortunate to share space for two days with ALBC member Christina Nooner and her team from Sunshine Sanctuary for Kids and Horses. They brought two beautiful Santa Cruz horses: Enshalla (age 3 months) and her uncle Cochise, who adopted the filly when she was orphaned shortly after birth. There are fewer than 30 breeding Santa Cruz horses remaining, so it was a great opportunity to tell their story while we talked to visitors about the importance of preserving rare breeds. About 150 birds were on display at the expo and APA judge Walt Leonard selected a handsome Buff Orpington rooster as the winner of the poultry competition. Turkey breeds were well represented at the show, and Magpie, Welsh Harlequin and Indian Runner ducks were among the waterfowl attendees.
In pens under spreading oaks we found Shetland and Navaho-Churro sheep. The Shetland is a small, fine-boned sheep prized for its fine, soft, strong wool. Shetland sheep come in several colors, so the sheep and their wool products attracted much attention from fiber artisans. Navaho-Churro sheep are remnants of the once widespread Spanish sheep populations of the Southwest. Spanish missionaries and rancheros established the first flocks as sources of meat and wool. After the Spanish-American war, American ranchers established flocks of “improved” sheep breeds such as the Romney that were more common in the rest of the country. However, remnants of the Spanish flocks remained, most notably among the Native American populations for whom sheep rearing fit well into their agricultural lifestyle. The famous Navaho rugs continue to be are woven with the wool of the sheep now known as Navaho-Churro.
While in Santa Rosa, we visited the home of Carole Coates, a breeder of San Clemente goats. This rescue story put ALBC on the map in the mid-80’s as we partnered with other groups to ensure that breeding animals were kept together following the last removals of goats from San Clemente Island. The Coates’ small flock of San Clemente goats is helping to expand the breed and includes a Santa Catalina doe from a related bloodline. The goats were happy to demonstrate their foraging ability with yard clippings including thorny branches of blackberry and rose. A noxious California weed, yellow star thistle, is readily consumed by goats, and Coates is considering putting her goats’ appetite to use in the brush clearing business.
All in all, the time we spent in California and Nevada was a great opportunity to connect with what is on the minds of heritage breeders in this part of the country and reminded us of the diverse environments that influence the breeds we work with.