This coming Saturday, Rex and Kerry Williams of Williams Ranch will have plenty of fresh lamb, including bone-in and butterflied legs, at the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market.
In addition, they will also have a wide range of other cuts, including loin chops, shoulder chops, leg steaks, sirloin roasts, frenched racks and shanks.
The Williamses founded their ranch on the edge of the Laguna de Santa Rosa in Sebastopol in 2006 and quickly developed a reputation for having some of the finest lamb around; I have never tasted better. They learned their techniques from Bruce Campbell of C. K. Lamb, who taught them how to identify the ideal moment of harvest by touch, by feeling for the proper layer of fat.
It takes from six to eight months for a lamb to reach this point; the lambs harvested for Easter were born last fall.
Campbell no longer raises lamb commercially.
Williams lambs graze on grass, and it was not easy getting them through the winter, as the drought had a profound impact. In November, December and January, when there was not enough grass, the animals had to be fed alfalfa, at a cost of about $2,000 a month.
Water was an issue, too. Typically, lambs would get all the water they need from creeks and vernal pools, but everything was dry. For several months, the Williamses had to truck in water and deliver it to three different pastures.
They also downsized, selling about 100 pregnant ewes so that they would have fewer mouths to feed.
Today, they have about 200 ewes and 85 lambs that will be ready in the fall. Despite the drought-related troubles, Rex Williams says it is shaping up to be a good year. Mid-February and March rains brought back grass, and as long as their water supply continues, all should be fine.
There is a second aspect to the Williams farming business that most people don't know about — Black Oaks Sheep Dairy. All the milk goes to Bleating Heart Cheese, which is based in Tomales. Bleating Heart is probably best known for its Fat Bottom Girl, a sheep milk cheese named after a song by the band Queen.