story & photos by Mary Charlebois
Turning east on Curly Lane from Hwy 1 just south of Point Arena, a gravel lane crosses rolling hills and pastures bordered by forest and wetlands. Groups of sheep graze meadows and laze in the shade of Cypress trees. Horses roam in the distance. Turning into the ranch driveway, chickens forage near the wool mill. Rambunctious Terrier puppies bark and chase my truck to the ranch house. Raised garden beds are filled with culinary and medicinal herbs. The scene is bucolic.
“Sheep is life”, the Navajo believe. Life on this 532-acre ag-preserve is guided by that awareness. Sheep are farmed here for meat and wool Raised organically, all Casari animals are certified 100% grass fed. No antibiotics, hormones, corn or GMO products are ever used. Casari is a member of: Livestock Conservancy, American Sheep Industry, and California Wool Growers.
Spread between the Pacific Ocean and Mendocino County Forest, Casari is home to four breeds of sheep. The Navajo Churro are an endangered breed. The rare Horned Dorset and Shetland sheep are heritage breeds. Rambouillet are treasured for their wool.
Casari’s owners, Ariana and Casey, are both lifelong ranchers. Casey grew up on a fourth-generation sheep ranch in Valley Ford, southwest of Santa Rosa. Ariana grew up at the foot of Mount Tamalpais. When they discovered Casari Ranch for sale, they knew it was exactly the place they could fulfill their mission. “We are passionate, creative naturalists who thrive on re-connecting people to land and nature and the art of living simply.”
Ariana and Casey work with the land using diverse and sustainable practices. Wool and meat are the primary products from the ranch, but other crops and services keep the ranch in balance and operation.
Accomplishing most livestock work themselves, Casey and Ariana begin each day at sunrise. Gates are opened and closed to create pathways giving animals access to new grazing territory. Individual flock members are observed for changes in health. Impending or new births and loss from predators is noted. All the ranch animals are fed and watered. Daily ranch life follows the ever-changing rhythm of seasons, weather and animals.
Casari sheep live in natural flock formations, or family groups. Each flock has several rams representing fathers, sons, uncles and nephews. These family units are pasture raised and grass fed just as their life would be in the wild.
Shearing time is an industrious event twice a year. Organic woolen fleece is shorn by shearers that visit the ranch and give the flock a haircut. Since Casari sheep are Certified Grass Fed by AGW, Animal Welfare Approved and 100% organically raised, the resulting wool is free of residual chemicals.
Wool is a long lasting and sustainable fiber. It has no dust mites, does not mold or mildew, is naturally fire resistant and supports local farming. The ranch wool is organically processed in an on-site wool mill.
A tour of the mill shows the involved process and complex equipment used to change fleece to yarn, cloud-like batting or waterproof felt. Here the difference between breeds comes alive: their wool. Some wool fibers are short and soft, others are long with great tensile strength. Each is perfect for a specific product. Short soft fibers make lofty bedding. Long, tough fibers become rugs that last a lifetime. Natural wool colors vary from white to almost black. While on tour, you may see wool from other farmers, artist and craftsmen. Casari is the only wool processing resource in Mendocino, Marin and Sonoma Counties.
Two to three times a year Casari offers grass fed lamb. All the lambs are organically and humanly raised with their family group. Whole or half lambs are available in March, May, June, October and November.
Casari’s farm stand and mercantile sells seasonal eggs, feral and cultivated herbs, food and flowers. 100% grass fed lamb, artisanal cheeses and other seasonal bounty are stocked in the cooler. Wool bedding and clothing are sold or may be custom ordered.
Guests are welcome to immerse themselves in mill work, ranch work, explore the meadows, woodlands and forest or simply sit and watch the sunrise. A family farmhouse or camping in the shade of a giant cypress grove is offered for those that come to use the mill, enjoy a farm-stay or attend a class.
Take a tour of the property with Ariana and you’ll learn about sheep and their life on the ranch. Hold on tight and be ready for a bumpy ride. The 4-wheel run-about crosses sheep-filled pastures, deep green ravines and wind-swept hilltops. Say hello to donkeys, horses and llamas, ravens, hawks and gulls. Take in an ocean view or watch fingers of fog reaching toward the headlands from the Pacific. Ariana will take you to a fragrant forest for aroma therapy. She’ll show you bubbling springs, lush wetlands, her favorite tree, old homesteads and the best mushroom picking spots. Time spent exploring is calming and rejuvenating. You can’t help but make a connection to this enchanting place, the ranch’s stewards and the animals