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Cashmere Goats, Babydoll Sheep, and More!

This California couple chucked city life for 50 acres and lots of projects
  • Started with blank canvas

    A work of art starts with a blank canvas and a vision. That’s just what Deborah Walton and her husband, Tim Schaible, an artist, had 13 years ago. They sold their advertising agency, chucked their suburban life, bought 50 acres of rolling land in Two Rock Valley, north of San Francisco, California, and named it Canvas Ranch.
       
    “One morning I saw an ad in the paper that described this property,” says Deborah. “I met the owner, walked around the place and said, ‘I want to make an offer.’ He said, ‘Where’s your husband?’ I said, ‘He’s traveling, but it’s OK.’ I bought it then and there. Later, I called Tim. ‘Guess what? I bought us a farm.’ And we’re still married!”
     

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: April 2, 2014
  • Cashmere goats

    Now they had to figure out what to do with the property. “There wasn’t a living thing growing here,” says Deborah. “It truly was an empty canvas.”
     
    She and Tim had met a woman in Italy who raised cashmere goats and made soap from their milk. “I was awestruck,” says Deborah. “They were just so beautiful. I’d never been around livestock, but then and there I knew I was going raise cashmere goats.”

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: April 2, 2014
  • Cashmere fiber

    The Cashmere goats are raised for their fiber. They are never sheared, only combed out. Deborah harvests the fiber and sends it to a mill to be de-haired. “They take the guard hairs out by machine at a mill. It comes back all washed and clean and wonderfully fluffy,” she says.

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: April 2, 2014
  • Babydoll sheep

    Olde English Babydoll Southdown sheep have unique attributes. “We heard about a breed of sheep that were really short,” says Deborah. “I had no experience with any kind of livestock, so I remember thinking, ‘I can handle them; they don’t scare me.’”  A rare heritage breed, babydoll sheep are from the Suffolk Hills of England and related to Southdown sheep, but smaller. “Somebody went back to England in 1960 and found some of the shorter original ones, and brought them back and put the silly name on them,” says Deborah.


     

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: April 2, 2014
  • Grazing in vineyards and orchards

    The breed is useful beyond meat and wool. Because they're 24 inches at the shoulder they are suitable for grass management in orchards and vineyards. They can’t reach the grapes, and fit right under the trees in orchards. “The sheep are our little weed whackers,” says Deborah.

    She manages roughly 100 head, selling off some lambs. Others are hired out to manage grass beneath vineyards or in solar fields where solar panels are close to the ground. “It’s the only kind of sheep where the males are worth just as much as the females,” says Deborah. “Usually you keep the females for breeding, or for their milk. Here the males are useful as weed whackers.” Lambs sell for up to $750. 

     

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: April 2, 2014
  • Organic wool

    She takes the processed wool from her sheep and has comforters and pillows made by hand covered in organic cotton. She sells them online and at farmer’s markets. “The organic wool doesn’t harbor dust mites and it breathes at night,” says Deborah. “It’s soft and comfortable, not like down which makes you sweat. It’s wonderful to sleep on.”
     

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: April 2, 2014
  • Maremma Italian dogs

    Four white Maremma Italian dogs, Sophie, Nico, Guido, and Gracie, look over the flocks from vantage points on the farm, their long shaggy hair blowing in the breeze. They protect the sheep and goats from coyotes and mountain lions, living full time in the fields.

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: April 2, 2014
  • Fruits and veggies

    The couple also raises strawberries, tomatoes, summer and winter squash, onions, zucchini, peppers, chard, kale, mustard greens, parsley, and more. They deliver produce to CSA members at drop-off points around and in San Francisco. They also donate veggies to an elementary school garden and cooking program, adding to what the school can grow there.

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: April 2, 2014
  • Deep-planted tomatoes

    One acre is dedicated to raising 80 varieties of dry-farmed heirloom tomatoes, including San Marzano, Black Cherry, and Brandywine, using a deep-planting technique. They plant the tomatoes deep, strip off most of the leaves, and never irrigate. The plants put down deep roots and all their energy goes into producing deeply flavored tomatoes.

    “Because they’re a vine, all the underground part of the stem grows more roots, and that gives them a good start,” says Deborah. “An old farmer named Elmer showed me the technique. The tomatoes taste the way your grandfather’s tasted, and it saves our precious water resources.”

    The couple also uses the deep-planting technique with cucumbers, squash, and a few other vegetables.

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: April 2, 2014
  • Small grains

    They also raise small grains, including flax, sunflowers for the seeds, and Emmer wheat, which they first tasted in Italy where it’s known as farro. “I just love it, you cook it just like risotto,” says Deborah. They put in some test plots the first year, and then planted 2 acres. It has a hull like oats and must be de-hulled with a special machine. They also sell a golden flax seed with high omega 3 and protein, and is a good mix for local artisan bakers. Their sunflower seeds go to local bakers for bread making, too.
     

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: April 2, 2014
  • Barn studio

    “Everything here has to have two or three different purposes, including Tim,” says Deborah. “He farms, paints, cooks, and even delivers CSA bags.”

    Tim works in the barn studio, painting large landscapes and abstracts on huge canvases. Stacks of his brightly colored finished art line the walls, waiting shipment to buyers and galleries. His art sells at galleries in Grand Cayman and Napa Valley, and is also handled by local galleries. In his “spare” time he holds painting workshops at the ranch.

    The canvas is full!

    Date Published: November 26, 2013
    Date Updated: April 2, 2014

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