Nestled in the rolling hills near California’s Sonoma Coast is a 1,000-acre sheep ranch called Bodega Pastures. Although the ranch has been in operation for many decades, Hazel Flett, one of its current sheep managers and our tour guide, has *only* been here for 35 years. She arrived on holiday from England, met her now husband, and never left.
And it’s no wonder she fell in love with this place. The ranch’s grassy hills are dotted with oak trees; hawks circle overhead; and the ocean is just a few miles to the west. Despite its proximity to the Bay Area, this part of Sonoma County is relatively undeveloped, with lots of working farms and ranches. On our drive to the ranch, we saw more barns, cows, and sheep than McMansions and traffic jams. (Check out this book by John Hart for a history of how neighboring Marin County preserved its coastal areas for agriculture.)
The flock at Bodega Pastures is as lovely and interesting as the surroundings. Bred for high quality fleece and meat, the ranch has a mix of about 200 corriedales, romneys, and suffolks, with a couple of navajo churros mixed in. Many sheep in the current flock are crossbreeds–corriedales with suffolks to make the offspring meatier; romneys with corriedales to come up with interesting colors. This cross-breeding has resulted in a delightful range of colors and markings.
The ranch is well known for its excellent stewardship practices, including rotational grazing. In essence, rotational grazing involves moving livestock frequently to prevent overgrazing while providing a steady supply of healthy grasses and plants. This practice is great for sheep and the land; for the ranchers, it’s time-consuming. At Bodega Pastures, Hazel and her helpers have to create a new pasture every few days, putting electric fencing around a new part of the field, moving the sheep into it, and taking down the old pasture’s fencing. (When we arrived on a beautiful Saturday, Hazel and a couple of visitors were working on this tricky task.) They also use guard dogs and a llama to protect the sheep from coyotes and other predators.
The ranch shears the animals in the spring and sells the wool as yarn (natural and dyed), raw fleece, roving, batting, and finished products like comforters. There was a rumor floating around during our visit that they might start a regular “first Saturday” farm tour. Check the website for more information.
- What fiber does Bodega Pastures produce? Wool from a flock of corriedales, romneys, suffolk, and navajo churros.
- What products does Bodega Pastures sell? Yarn (natural and dyed), raw fleece, roving, batting, sheepskin rugs, comforters and quilts.
- Where can I buy these products? All of these products are available on Bodega Pastures website. Their yarn is also sold in two shops in Bodega–Organic Cotton Fabric Shop and The Artisans Cooperative, both on Bodega Highway–and at A Verb for Keeping Warm in Oakland.