Ryan Mahoney
Emigh Livestock—Dixon, CA

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“My greatest satisfaction from raising and feeding sheep comes when I go to the store or restaurant, see eye-appealing lamb in the case or tasty lamb served to customers and know that I had a hand in bringing that to the consumer,” says Ryan Mahoney, a fifth-generation sheep and cattle rancher who serves as operations manager for Emigh Livestock, based in Rio Vista, California. “That’s a darn good feeling.”

At Emigh Livestock, mature ewes, yearling ewes and lambs are run on grass year-round, thanks to irrigated pastures and California’s mild temperatures. The irrigated land can carry 1,000 lambs on 160 acres, but Emigh Livestock prefers to run its sheep in smaller bunches of 400, simply because “they do better.”

Ewes are lambed in the fall, with lambs weaned in May weighing 90 to 100 pounds. The lambs then go on irrigated clover. The sheep take full advantage of every bit of edible vegetation, including nutritious native plants like filaree and burclover. 

Ryan, who joined the family business after graduating from St. Mary’s College of California in 2006, says one member of the sixth generation of the family is already learning the ropes at age six. Ryan and his wife Kelli have three children: McKayla, 6; Emily, 4; and Connor, 1. His young daughter McKayla worked on the farm with him this past summer, earning $1 an hour. She saved up $60 – “and got her share of Frosties along the way.

“It’s quite unusual in California to have five generations of sheep ranching to one’s history, and it makes you feel good that the next generation is interested in the business. We’re a family business, with four generations – my grandpa, mom, me and now my kids – involved right now.”