Together, the Jensen family manages 300 ewes, plus their lambs (each ewe has 1-2 lambs), on their 240 acre ranch, plus Mitchell Ranch, a 290 acre property they lease. “Dad and I,” is how Jim talks about their working relationship. Bill is “retired” in the way a rancher retires yet continues to run livestock: he still gets up early to do farm chores. He gives advice, monitors flock health, and helps to prevent any issues before they might become established. His experience on the landscape is critical to the operation. Yet a lot of management decisions and overall direction lie in Jim’s court. Fortunately, Jim’s day job involves monitoring stewardship and conservation of sensitive environments for Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), so land management is not just in his blood, its his profession and training.
This balance of old and new, tradition and training, grandpa’s way vs 21st century science puts Jim in a remarkably promising position. He understands the knowledge and perspective of the few remaining Marin County sheep ranchers, yet has interest in and access to cutting edge research and ideas, such as carbon farm planning. With a foot in each field, its a best of both worlds situation.
This crux of tradition and experimentation is the quintessential expression of Californian agriculture. Its the lifeline for ranching in the new millenium, through the challenges of climate change and land prices.
The 2013-2014 drought has resulted in some losses, but according to Jim, “it was a good year to assess the entire operation and look at ways to improve our water infrastructure and reduce risk.” In 2014, winter was difficult. Low rainfall caused the grass to grow in late, creating not ideal conditions for lambing. As Bill pointed out, “people are becoming aware that grass is the most important product on a ranch.” Jim agrees, but realizes that “people are your most important asset, active management decisions are what can save you in a drought, or flood. When you rely on mother nature to stay viable, you have to control the factors you can. Quality genetics and sustainable management practices will usually pay for themselves over time. We are fortunate to have amazing technology and equipment available to us nowadays, but overall this small family ranch still runs the same way it has for multiple generations. We have ATV’s and a tractor instead of horses. Dad has even learned to text message as another form of communication on the ranch to become more time efficient.”
Jim expresses a hope in these new, more direct markets developing for wool, and continues to raise his sheep for quality wool, meat, and land stewardship. He and other ranchers are a living link between past and future: continuing traditions and moving into the future.