Winter on the Frey Ranch has been filled with rain this year. Mendocino County seems to be experiencing a Real Winter after many years of drought; the greens in all hues are vibrantly coloring the landscape of the ranch as the fields, pastures, and hedgerows have taken in water to a full saturation point. Gratefully, the weather has been coming in stormy spurts that allow a proper level of percolation between rainy downpours, and nature's irrigation program has been nearing perfection!
In the barnyard, extra rains mean extra worms, and the chickens have been happily foraging each day for the juiciest selections the earth promises to yield. The sheep, goats, and cows all seem to be tolerating the pouring heavens, although I believe that they are more interested in the prospects of delicious fodder in the months to come than the actual rain right now.
I was mucking the goat pen the other day: a process which involves gathering the pee and poo-soaked straw into wheelbarrows and bringing the earthy offerings to a pile nearby where compost can commence. We try our best to keep the pens cozy, but the added weather has been better for compost than for barn hospitality I'm afraid. Because our animals get to graze in the vineyard rows at this time of year, they have lots of time to frolic and stretch out their limbs in the great outdoors. Being able to run about on the gravel roads and rocky outcroppings allows them to maintain better foot/hoof health, and they love finding rare treats on their forays. Madrone leaves have been a particular favorite as of late. It's a true thing of beauty to be out in the vineyards, watching the goats find edible bites here and there, browsing between wild greens and cover crop legume sprouts.
Speaking of the goats, our herd has expanded for the winter. Some dear friends have brought their small herd of pack goats to play with ours for the winter months while they vacation in warmer climes. For those that haven't heard of pack goats, the concept is not unlike using horses, burros, or donkeys to carry the load for walking expeditions. The goats are usually given a modest pack to carry along on hikes; they dine on whatever is fresh and available, so there is no need to bring along food for them. In fact, the ladies offer up fresh milk to the humans, making them ideal companions on the trail. Because our friends’ pack goats like to spend their summers in the Trinity Alps of California's northern wilderness, and are used to lots of exercise, they have been fitting right into our daily walking adventures on the land. Both of their female goats and two of our goats are pregnant and due to kid this spring, when the sun has returned to longer, warmer days.
Until then, we're finding the best dry days to muck out the barn and savor extra-long walks among the dormant grape vines. Away in a manger, life smells of summer-cured alfalfa and grass hay. There might even be a tomten tucked up in the rafters, singing songs of sunnier days to the ruminating barnyard.