Faithful readers may recall Solano, the pet lead sheep. Last spring he was featured on this blog as he traveled with his herder, Alejandro, and the yearling ewes on the Savery Stock Driveway. He was sporting a backpack that Alejandro had fashioned for him, though I’m not sure what it held.
He has been hard at work as a lead sheep, helping to convince his more suspicious cohorts to enter the corrals. Here is is with a group of lambs, getting ready to load and head for the feedlot.
Solano will soon rejoin Alejandro and this year’s yearling ewes. Alejandro is anxious to reunite with his pet and co-worker.
I mentioned to some acquaintances that I couldn’t attend a Zoom meeting because I was busy moving sheep camp, it became apparent that they had no idea what I was talking about. However, they applied a humorous interpretation, speculating about what sheep camp might entail. They envisioned sheep playing volleyball, rowing boats, perhaps attending a crafts class. . .. All this made me wish that I were a graphic artist and could sketch sheep involved in summer camp activities. Alas–that is not my skill.
What I am actually doing, along with Meghan, is moving the sheep camps (portable homes) as our herders trail the sheep from the Home Ranch environs to fall pastures north of Dixon, Wyoming. These pastures also happen to be our lambing grounds in May and June. When the ewes left here in late June, their lambs were toddlers. They faced down bears and coyotes as they grazed on the Routt and Medicine Bow National Forests in the summer months. The predators exacted their toll, but the sheep were defended by the herders and the Livestock Guardian Dogs (aka Big White Dogs). Now the sheep return with their almost grown lambs. They will graze on fall pastures on Cottonwood Creek until it is time to trail north to winter country on the Red Desert.
Leo on the trail with the sheep
herder, sheep and Baker’s Peak
guard dog on the job
along the Savery Stock Driveway
coming down the hill
sheep running under trailer parked on the Driveway
October is one of our busiest months. The cows and calves, and the ewes and lambs, along with yearlings of both species, have spent the summer on the Medicine Bow and Routt National Forests. Our off-date is October 1st, so we stage the bands of sheep and gather all the cows we can find and bring them down to pastures near the Home Ranch headquarters. It has been a warmish fall and some of the cows are hiding out. Eamon and the cowboy crew have been backriding every day, but the best incentive is cold weather, which reminds the cows that it’s time to get the heck out of the Forest. We migrate along with the deer and elk as instinct draws the critters downward. This time of year, all the sheep and all the cattle are close to home. We work them through the corrals. The lambs are separated from the ewes. Often we sell the lambs this time of year, but this year we still have feed so we will keep them a little longer. The lambs are weaned and switched to a different bunch. The calves will be with their mamas a couple of more weeks, and then it will be time for them to be sold, as feeders or as replacements. It’s noisy as night, as the newly weaned lambs and calves call in the night, and the guard dogs who are now close to home bark all night to warn us of various impending dangers. To be fair, usually the coyotes are howling which makes the guard dogs even more on alert than usual. Tomorrow, we’ll start the sheep on the trail to our fall pastures, some 20 miles to the west.
Meghan, bringing down the cows
lambs in the corral at sunrise
Hampshire ewes hanging out with the bucks for March lambing
Theo working sheep
at the Home Ranch corrals
cattle in the Big Meadow
yearling ewes in Loco Canyon, with guard dog
fall colors with the Petite Tetons (the Mountain Formerly Known As Squaw)
Summer is slipping away for our sheep grazing in the National Forests. We haven’t had rain lately, so the vegetation is drying up. We have been blessed with a rainy summer so there’s feed on the ground. The ewes are getting restless as the sunshine days grow shorter and the nights get colder. We had our first frost this morning and soon the leaves will change the color of the hillsides. A few eager trees are already throwing out some yellow. We move the sheep camps every few days to fresh feed. Today we moved Edgar’s camp from Aspen Alley to the Battle Creek Campground.
Our friend AG Kawamura came to visit us from California, and to represent Solutions from the Land at the AgroForestry tour Pat organized. He had an extra day and we wanted him to have a true range agriculture experience while he was here. AG raises strawberries, green beans and other tasty commodities, so he is a true farmer, but had never tended sheep camp before.
Sure enough, as we were pulling the sheepcamp up the VERY rocky road to Bridger Peak, we heard a bang, followed by dust billowing out to the side. Soon we were looking at a really really flat tire. We had a handyman jack and a spare tire (and Alejandro’s pet lambs, Susan and Cunadita) in the back of the truck.
After a lot of jacking by AG, Pat and Tiarnan, they managed to get the flat tire off and the spare tire on. I was indeed helping by sitting in the driver’s seat with my foot on the brake.
We just sold three years worth of wool. In 2020, the Trump trade war with China, and Covid 19, caused the previously decent price of wool to plummet. We decided to keep that year’s clip in hopes of higher prices in the future. We’d heard stories of sheep producers who had held their wool throughout the Depression, then sold several year’s worth for good money when the United States entered World War II and needed wool for uniforms and other strategic goods. In 2021, the wool market and the trade situation had not improved, so we kept a second year’s clip. We have a large shed where we can store the wool, so were not accruing storage charges at a wool warehouse. This year, we visited with the wool buyers, who advised us that the world political situation was not improving, but that prices were up somewhat. We decided to sell the 2020, 2021 and 2022 clips, which required two semis with long flatbeds. The first truck driver was from Uzbekistan, and spoke limited English. He was very cautious and conscientious, and when the wool was loaded, strapped and tarped, it looked as neat as could be. The second truck driver was from Denver, but spoke fluent Spanish, which was very helpful with our Spanish-speaking employees who were loading the truck. He even helped load the bales of wool, which weigh 400-500 pounds each. The wool was secured and headed for San Antonio. Our fine Rambouillet wool is usually sold to another buyer who uses it for U.S. military uniforms. We think this fine wool will end up in mills in Italy. The blackface wool goes on to become blankets and sweaters. The shed looks empty without three years worth of wool bales stacked up.
Aaron with hayhooks
Juan with skidsteer, Aaron ready to load
Juan, skidsteer and bale of wool
emptying the shed
Loading the trailer
Lalo making sure the bales are in the right place (33 on each layer, fewer on the top)
After lambing, we trail the ewes and lambs to grazing allotments on the Routt and Medicine Bow National Forests, where they find green grass, fresh water, and bears and coyotes. The on-date is the first of July, and we stage the trailing, one day apart–one bunch after another. When the ewes, lambs and herders and settled on their summer grazing grounds, it is time for the yearling ewes to start on the trail. They have been grazing in the high desert Badwater pasture since shearing in late April. They follow the traditional trails, including the Savery Stock Driveway, to their high mountain allotment in the Medicine Bow.
Solano with his backpack
The yearling herder Alejandro likes to keep an orphan lamb each year, and raise it as a pet. This summer he has two bum lambs, including one which was lost on the trail and picked up by our neighbor, Jock–an avid bicyclist. Alejandro still has his pet from two years ago, Solano. I was startled to see that Alejandro had “repurposed” a dog food bag into a backpack for Solano. I’m not quite sure what he was meant to carry. Solano is quite the sheep. Sometimes he follows Alejandro on his horse, and sometimes he hangs out with the dogs or the sheep. I like to say that Solano is “no ordinary sheep.”
Patrick and Sharon O'Toole are ranchers in the Little Snake River Valley on the Wyoming-Colorado border. They represent the fourth generation on the six-generation family ranch. The O'Tooles raise cattle, sheep, horses, dogs and children on their high country ranching operation. The transhumance operation stretches from north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado to Wyoming's Red Desert.
Pat has served in the Wyoming House of Representatives, the Western Water Policy Commission, and is currently President of the Family Farm Alliance, representing irrigators and water users in the western United States. He is active with several conservation and agricultural organizations.
Sharon is a writer and poet. She writes extensively on western issues, and the relationship between landscape, animals and people. She is widely published as an author, essayist and editorial commentator.
Pat and Sharon have three children. Their daughter, Meghan and her husband Brian Lally, live on the ranch with their children, Siobhán, Seamus, Maeve and Tiarnán. Meghan has also served on the Wyoming Board of Agriculture and the Environmental Quality Council, She and Brian are active in community service.
Daughter Bridget lives in Phoenix with her husband, Chris Abel, where she works in health care communications. Chris works in the food distribution business.
Son Eamon and his wife Megan live on the ranch with their sons, McCoy and Rhen. Eamon is a horseman and natural resource manager, and Megan is a flight nurse. Eamon is a member of the Wyoming Beef Council and is active in the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
The blog traces the activities and life on the ranch, from the mundane to the fabulous.