For Bill Jensen and his son, Jim, ranching is in their blood. Jensen Ranch has been in the family since 1856, when Jim’s great-great-great grandfather, Joseph Irvin, emigrated to Tomales, California from Ireland. Irvin Lane is still the name of the street where the ranch is located.
Though sheep ranching remains a strong source of rural identity in West Marin, by 2012 it was largely dying out in practice. Dropping lamb prices, negligible wool prices, increasing predation threats, drought, recession, and inflated land/cost of living pressures pushed many locals to either drastically reduce stock, or get out of sheep entirely. Many transitioned to just cattle. No problems with price or predation with cattle. But no wool either.
Yet despite all this change, and increased drought in more recent years, Jensen Ranch is alive and thriving. The Dorset — crossed with Suffolk — sheep are in beautiful condition, the grasses are growing freely and evenly, and Jim speaks about the sheep and landscape with avid, active interest. He speaks of growing the flock, rather than decreasing. He speaks of traditions and history, but also of experimentation and innovation.
Source: Marie Hoff and Dustin Kahn, photographed by Paige Green, January 31, 2017, Fibershed