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Cemetery sheep 'mowers' give Highway 49 drivers something to chew on

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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An overgrown lot off Highway 49 in Auburn is getting plenty of double-takes from motorists since a herd of sheep moved in and started chewing away Tuesday. The 25 sheep and one guard llama are making quick work of the star thistle, vetch and other weeds in the Chinese Cemetery, an oak dotted, 2-acre parcel near Nevada Street. The sheep and Clara, a 200-pound-plus llama, were delivered to the property Tuesday by North Auburn farmer Dan Macon and were soon grazing on the undergrowth, oblivious to the heavy traffic rolling along Highway 49 nearby. Macon’s Flying Mule Farm hires out the herd to property owners as an alternative to mowing or spraying. It’s also seen as a way of reducing fire danger by controlling dry grass and brush. Richard Yue, a member of the Joss House Museum Society in Auburn, said Flying Mule Farm and its sheep just made sense the 2-acre property, near the Nevada Street crossroad. “I try thinking out of the box occasionally,” Yue said. “It seems the main watchword these days is ‘Go Green.’” The century-old cemetery – bought by Yue’s grandfather for $10 in gold – holds 11 members of pioneer Chinese-American families in the area. Upkeep has been done in the past by volunteers and Placer County Jail inmates. Macon said that the two-foot high range of grasses and weeds would be chewed down to the ground within a week. More ewes are expected to arrive soon from another area being grazed in the Robie Point neighborhood, swelling the number of sheep on the property to 50. An electric fence keeps the sheep from wandering out. Clara and the fence keep predators from coming in. Dogs would be the most likely attackers in the urban Auburn environment, Macon said. “She’s very territorial,” Macon said. “We thought of bringing in dogs but they would be stressed because of the level of traffic.” Macon said that because of the regular rain that has fallen on the foothills throughout the spring, it has been an amazing year for grass growth. “But it also means there is a lot of this stuff to control before it dries out,” he said. The sight of livestock on Highway 49 through Auburn is something that hasn’t been seen for at least two decades. “We’ve done public projects in the past and people are just excited to see them,” Macon said. “It’s something you don’t see every day.”