Full Belly Farm is an organic farm located on approximately 400 acres in the Capay Valley, northwest of Sacramento, CA. The farm produces vegetables, eggs, chicken, lamb and wool, then sells these products directly to consumers through farmers’ markets, the farm’s website, and a fantastic CSA (community supported agriculture) program.
The sheep at Full Belly Farm are integral to its operations. An assortment of lovely merinos, rambouillet, lincoln, suffolk, ryedale and Capay red, a special local breed, the sheep take over the farm’s fields when the crops have been harvested, eating down the rest of the plants and fertilizing as they go.
The sheep are also shorn once a year and the wool is sent to Green Mountain Spinnery in Vermont to be cleaned and spun into three-ply yarn. The yarn is 100% organic and undyed. Because the sheep themselves come in a beautiful range of browns, creams, and greys, the yarn does too. Sheepskins and roving are also available for purchase.
The eighty or so ewes that live full time at the farm are also bred for meat. To sell the meat as “lamb,” rather than “mutton,” the farm has to sell them before they are one year old. During that year, staff keeps an eye out for especially beautiful ewes, who are then kept on as part of the regular farm crew.
When we arrived at the farm, our tour guide, Jordan, told us we were in luck. “This is an exciting time of year for us,” he said. “Lambing season!” So we hopped back in our car and drove a mile farther down the road to the lambing area. There, the pregnant ewes were hanging out together in one area; the ewes with newborn lambs had little pens to themselves (“preschool,” Jordan told us); and the ewes with lambs that were a little bit older were in a third area that looked like a giant salad bowl (“kindergarten”).
Keeping moms and newborns separate from the rest was essential, Jordan said, to make sure no pregnant ewe mistakenly claims a lamb for her own. If that happens, the adoptive ewe will abandon the adopted lamb when the ewe’s own lamb is born, and, by that time, the biological mom won’t take the adopted lamb back. “We call those lambs ‘bummer lambs,’ because we have to bottle feed them every three hours when they’re little,” said Jordan. These “bummer” lambs turn out to be quite useful when they’re older, however. “They’re not afraid of humans like the others, so we use them as leaders,” guiding the flock from one field to another.
The farm has other working animals, too, including a border collie. It turns out, however, that this trained sheep dog is . . . afraid of sheep. “He mostly likes to herd people,” Jordan told us. This people-herding frequently happens in the morning, when staff get together in a circle for an all-hands-on-deck meeting that involves some stretching and, at the end, jumping jacks. “This drives the dog crazy. He can’t stand the jumping jacks.”
Fortunately, the farm’s other animal inhabitants are a bit more productive. Chicken roosts appear here and there across the farm. The farm sells the organic free-range eggs; it also culls the chickens at two years and sells them at the farmer’s market. “They make great stock,” a farm staffer told me as she fixed fences near one roost.
- What fiber does Full Belly Farm produce? Wool in a mix of merino, rambouillet, lincoln, and suffolk.
- What products does Fully Belly Farm sell? Undyed, three-ply organic yarn; roving; sheepskins.
- Where can I buy these products? Fully Belly Farm’s website.