Member Spotlight: Shepherdess Land & Livestock Co

Shep 2021 Season_2_Cristian Arambula

New year new member spotlights! In 2023 we hope to bring you all a wide range of members from all walks who are excited to share what being a member means to them. This month we had the amazing opportunity to learn more about Sherperdess Land & Livestock Co. We hope you enjoy this spotlight and stay tuned for the ones we have in store for you in 2023!

About Shepherdess

Our team is composed of next-generation graziers, folks new to agriculture coming from backgrounds traditionally atypical for someone who works with livestock and the land. Founded, owned and operated by Cole Bush, Shepherdess L&L was launched in 2020 in the Ojai Valley of Ventura County where the Shepherdess “flerds” of sheep and goats work from to provide vegetation management services for fire prevention and ecological enhancement projects. Coming into the third prescribed grazing season, the Shepherdess team is growing with a team of 4 core shepherds and an additional 4-6 shepherd working apprentices who will be going through extensive training on the job for the duration of the Spring and Summer seasons. 

The core Shepherdess team shares a bit more about their work and why being a member of CAFF supports their outfit whose mission is not only to steward the land to create fire safe and ecologically resilient communities, but to train the new graziers coming seeking opportunities to learn, grow and work in this valuable field.

Meet the Team

Cole Bush: Advocate, educator, & owner operator of Shepherdess Land and Livestock Co.
Dylan Boeken:  Project Manager, Lead Shepherd 
Diane Anastasio: Ranch & Apprenticeship Programs Manager, Shepherd Supervisor
John Fraher:  Operations Manager, Lead Shepherd

Q &A

Each member of the team answer a different question and give us their individual perspectives. Thanks A team! 

Jungmaven 2021_5_Paul Mirah Collins

Why did you become a CAFF member?

“For the past ten years, I have trodden my own path as a next-generation agrarian coming from a non-traditional background to land and livestock. Since the beginning of my journey in agriculture, land stewardship and the pursuits to build a meaningful livelihood in the world, I feel as though I “grew up” in this field familiar with CAFF as an organization that has effectively and impactfully provided support and resources for folks like me who endeavor, bold and brave in small-scale farming, ranching, land and livestock operations.

I first learned about CAFF when I studied Agroecology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, while learning about the vital relationships between ecological processes within agriculture to create, sustain, and regenerate food systems that are resilient to.” – Cole 

What is a day in a Shepherd’s life like?

Dylan Boeken_Shepherdess L&L

“Not every day goes perfectly.  Sometimes you’re building fence or coming back from an errand in town to find all the herd climbing over the next mountain and you have to get out and around them with your herding dog and start gathering all the groups that have separated off into one herd again. Then get them back to your paddock.  This is where experience working the animals is most important.  Having a sense of the animals behavior and eye for them will help you not lose any of them or leave any behind.  

In most cases we’ll be done building fence and moving animals before the sun goes down.  I like to see them bedded down before I go to sleep, so I know where to find them and that is not going to give me any surprise midnight breakouts.  I’ll feed the guard dogs and check that the water, fence and batteries are all in good condition and go cook dinner before going to sleep. I generally get some reading and other work done before I do.  In most cases that’s the end of the day. Other nights the coyotes might be giving the herd a little pressure and you can hear the guard dogs barking at them and I like to go check on them and chase the coyotes off with a flashlight or something like that. 

Then get back to sleep so you wake up before the sheep do.” – Dylan

What role do animals play
in wildfire mitigation?

“The most direct role a grazing animal has in fire mitigation is reducing the density of fire fuels. If we can reduce the fire fuels significantly enough the intensity of the fire will not be great enough to jump into the canopies of trees and is manageable for ground crews to combat with hand tools.  Reducing the overall fuel load also is a significant variable on the speed that the fire spreads.  

Secondary effects of grazing animals role in fire mitigation are removing dead oxidized material allowing new growth to fill its space which burns less readily, as well as improving the mineral cycle through biologically and nutritional inputs via their dung and urine resulting in higher quality soil with a greater water holding capacity and in turn reducing the drying effects of drought.  

Landscapes with these roles fulfilled will burn less intensely and be easier to manage when they do.” – Dylan

What’s the difference between
a rancher and a grazier?

“I often share with folks that I don’t identify as rancher and that I most recognize myself and my comrades as “graziers”, those who manage grazers (grazing animals). Our work that we do on the land with animals does not require us to be associated with one place or particular landbase. In our own unique context we are practicing our own version of pastoralism moving the animals and those who tend to them with the seasons or activities unique to the mobile nature of our work. Many of us from from the suburbs or cities, without direct or historical connection to the lands we work upon. As graziers we are observers first and foremost ready to listen and learn from the land and the communities that surround it to know how best to manage our animals in a prescriptive manner. We are often visitors on the land that we work as we come and go using temporary infrastructure allowing for wildlife to be unobstructed by fences and water points for our livestock to move along as we do. I have many friends who are in fact ranchers and farmers who live and work their operations from a centralized location where there is permanent infrastructure and sometimes family heritage associated. Although our operations are different, we all care for our animals, families, the land and future of viable agricultural operations all the same. As a grazier, I hope to continue to model for others who do not have access to land bases that are needed for operations at scale how a land and livestock business can start, grow, and thrive as we build Shepherdess L&L.”-Cole 

What obstacles do new and aspiring grazers face today?

“One of the greatest obstacles aspiring graziers face is finding opportunities for on-the-ground education and training that don’t also contribute to the burden of personal debt. One of the only ways to learn the art of shepherding at this time is to offer labor and time for free to already-established grazing operations, barring access to folks without economic means. Finding work with no experience can be difficult, so beginning graziers are often expected to volunteer in order to learn skills. The lack of training programs in this area only reinforces this issue. In addition, women, queer folks and people of color often face the unique challenges of being dismissed, undervalued and excluded from this historically male-dominated industry.”- Diane 

What advice would you give to
an aspiring grazer?

Go get on the ground experience doing the work.  Reading and studying on the subject is helpful, but nothing can replace the wisdom that will be gained in the field.  If no one will pay you immediately, go volunteer your time once a week until you have enough experience that you do, or get paid to do other jobs around the ranch while learning about grazing animals so that you can be an asset to a grazing business.  If you can learn to put in a herd of escaped animals that is a major step forward to being a trusted member of any grazing outfit. “-Dylan

Grazing is more technical than people think. It is an art that requires a vast array of mental and physical skills. When folks embark on this journey, they often underestimate the physical prowess and strength needed to perform this job – hiking through steep canyons in 115 degree heat while carrying rolls of fence, chasing escapee sheep and goats at full speed along cliff sides, etc. Mental fortitude and the ability to remain calm in high-pressure situations are crucial components of being a shepherd, so prepare yourself ahead of time for the physical, mental and emotional challenges presented by this line of work.” – Diane

Final thoughts from Cole

Cole Bush_Todd Selby

Recognizing that many generations ago most of us came from folks who had relation to agriculture, I don’t necessarily identify with being a first generation agrarian but more of a skipped generation agrarian, revitalizing a way of life that has deep roots in who I am as a descendant of homesteaders in the West. It’s been many generations since my family has raised or grown our own food or lived on the land that sustained us for when my ancestors first arrived in North America. However, discovering that I have “sheep in my blood” I feel the most alive when I’m interacting with the land and animals daily, I am proud to be reawakening this part of who I am.

For over a decade, CAFF has been an organization that has presented support and resources for folks like me who endeavor, bold and brave in small-scale farming, ranching, land and livestock operations. As an advocate, practitioner, next-generation agrarian, and entrepreneur