John and Connie Olagaray
Five-O Ranch—Lodi, CA
“He lives, eats, thinks and breathes sheep. Raising sheep is what he was meant to do.” That’s how Connie Olagaray’s wife describes her husband, John. “Raising sheep is a hard job that has lots of challenges, and John likes the challenges and the constant change associated with raising sheep. He’s a hard worker, and I back him 100 percent.”
John and Connie Olagaray of Five-O Ranch in Lodi, California, are second-generation sheep ranchers. John’s dad, Salvador, came to the United States in 1951 to work as a sheepherder and saw the possibility of one day owning sheep. Ten years after tending sheep and trips to his native Basque, Spain, Salvador, and later his wife, returned to the states and started writing the Olagaray family’s U.S. history.
“Sheep are in my DNA,” John says in his quiet way. “I enjoy being involved in the life cycle: getting the ewes bred, lambing, then taking a lamb from day one through to marketing.
“There’s always something new. Every day is a different day, with one, two or several different challenges. This past year has been filled with drought-related challenges, and has had me on my toes.”
Today, John and Connie run 2,500 ewes and 1,200 yearling ewes. The ewes spend February through May on the California Delta land in and around the Montezuma Hills as well as Winters, California. While many California sheep producers lamb in the fall, the Olagarays lamb in the spring, March and April, with ewes lambing in the open rolling hills.
Growing up, the Olagaray’s three children, Michael, Katie and Robert, were at their parents side at shearing, marking, lambing time. After university, oldest son Michael went to work at a nearby vineyard management operation. Robert is studying at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, while Katie is working on her master’s degree in ruminant nutrition at Kansas State University. Both college-age kids spend summers and holidays working on the ranch, while Michael helps out with the family sheep business when needed.
“We haven’t pushed the kids toward raising sheep,” Connie states. “If they want to return to the ranch, they can. My guess is that the one to take over will be Katie – but then, you never know. Some young people want to try other things, then realize that they like raising livestock better and return to the family farm. Time will tell.
“That said, raising sheep has given each of our children a good work ethic and an appreciation for the land and animals. They know the life cycle of livestock and that animals are harvested to provide meat for the table.