In Like Lambs
Rams in October mean lambs in March. Even though we still have record amounts of snow on the ground, the lambs are arriving right on schedule. We raise our own rams–Rambouillet and Hampshire–and the moms lamb in March at Powder Flat. Our Peruvian crew is doing a great job at getting live lambs on the ground. It is a reminder that spring will actually arrive, someday. We did see birds migrating north. We saw geese in the sky and Sand Hill Cranes on the alfalfa feed line with our ewes.
Safe and sound, but still snowy
The sheep, herders, dogs, and horses are all safe and sound on our hay meadows near Dixon. All the grass is still buried under snow, but we can get to them with feed every day, and bring alfalfa and cake to them (except when the highways are closed, which is pretty often). It took several more days to ferry all the sheepwagons, panels and other equipment off the Red Desert and to the Dixon ranch headquarters. It continues to be especially brutal in the area we evacuated the sheep from, on the Chain Lakes allotment. Hay prices are high due to demand from impacted livestock producers and state game agencies. These historic winter conditions stretch through northern Nevada, Utah, northwestern Colorado and southern Wyoming. Wyoming’s Governor Gordon has declared an emergency. Spring still looks like a long ways away!
More evacuation of sheep, Groundhog Day
On Groundhog Day, we all saw our shadows, but we don’t have any expectations for an early spring. We did have a sunny day to evacuate the last of the ewes and rams still on Chain Lakes to our ranch near Dixon, Wyoming. It is almost as snowy at the Dixon Ranch, some 20 miles west of our main headquarters and proximate to our lambing grounds. We still have to have the sheep on full feed, but they are safely closer to home. We’ve had days that our sheepherders and sheep were stranded and unreachable. We’ve had days when even the oilfield plows couldn’t work because conditions have been so terrible. We are grateful to our neighbors who have worked to keep the roads open. They need to tend their wells, and they have gone our of their way to keep our access to sheep and men open as well. After three horrible days of blizzard and cold, we finally had a window to evacuate the rest of the sheep, horses, dogs and herders. The truckers are working constantly. There aren’t enough sheep trucks and truckers to keep up, and they go from one herd to the next as the sheep producers wait to get their critters and employees out of danger. All this costs a non-budgeted fortune for plowing, for trucking and for feed. The feed, alfalfa, is soaring in cost and really hard to find.
This doesn’t take into account the antelope, deer, elk, and even feral horses that share the same winter country. They too depend upon open winter grazing, with enough snow to provide water. We are watching them as they seek open ground, and as they die. We are the ones there as they gather into ever larger bunches, and eventually lay down and die.
We’re not yet sure how we will pay all these expenses, but we know we cannot leave our animals without care and safety. That is the original meaning of “animal husbandry.” It is our obligation to keep them safe and fed.
Hard winter, loading at Chain Lakes
We are experiencing the worst winter in decades. We trailed the ewes to their usual wintering grounds on the Red Desert, north of Wamsutter, Wyoming. We got there in early December, right on schedule. Most winters, snow falls, then blows into drifts, leaving bare ground where the ewes can graze on dried grasses left from the summer. My Dad used to say that when that country is good, it’s great, and when it’s bad, it’s awful. Well, this year it is awful. It started snowing in mid-December. We were two days late putting the bucks into the ewes because the part of Interstate 80 we need to traverse, between Creston Junction and Wamsutter was closed. We normally just feed some extra corn or cake while the bucks are in, but we have had to purchase and bring in extra feed as the landscape has gotten buried in snow. All our neighbors in the region have been trucking their sheep out of their desert winter pastures to their home ranches. Sometimes in bad winters, it is possible to find a place to take the sheep where they can graze. This year, the bad conditions reach from Nevada to Nebraska. In mid-January, we brought four truckloads of sheep closer to home on the Dixon ranch, where we are already feeding some cattle. These were the thinner ewes. Since then, we have been trying to evacuate the rest of the sheep, but have been unable to line up trucks since they are busy hauling so many sheep. We are grateful to Sweetwater County Road and Bridge, and our neighbors who are plowing in the oilfield.
We were supposed to load the rest of the sheep all last weekend, but a major storm came in and closed all the roads, locally, on the Red Desert, and especially on I80, which has been littered with accidents every time they try to open it. Our sheep truckers are just waiting for the conditions to allow it. As soon as everything is plowed, we will load the rest of the sheep and come to safer grounds. We’ll still have to feed alfalfa and cake, but both the sheep and our herders will be close to home. Here’s some photos of the loading of the sheep in mid-January.
January Day at Powder Flat
After a series of winter storms brought on by the “atmospheric rivers” hitting California, then flowing on towards us, we have more than enough snow. The Snotel near our mountain headquarters is measuring 160 per cent of average.
Our crew at the Powder Flat headquarters, Edgar and Alejandro, have been doing a great job of keeping all the animals safe and fed.
“Do Not Enter” the road to Powder Flat from the folks building the power line
Working the yearlings in winter
Today was the best day we’ve had in a while to vaccinate the ewe lambs. They are on their wintering grounds near Powder Wash. Last week was bitter cold as a “bomb cyclone” with the unlikely name of Winter Storm Elliot swept down from the Arctic. It caught us on the southern end, and we only had two or three days of wind and terrible cold. It was far worse to the east of us as the storm swept across the Midwest and the Northeast. Today, it warmed up to about 30 degrees, with only some wind, so Meghan gathered up her crew of Eamon, Chandler, Filomeno, and McCoy, Maeve and Rhen to vaccinate Alejandro’s ewe lambs. The ewes on the Red Desert “blew out” as they walked before the wind. The herders waited out the storm in their camps, then found the ewes when the cold and wind died down. The Farmer’s Almanac says we are on the borderline between a harsh winter and a mild one.
November brings pregnancy testing. We bring in the heifers and the cows, call for the vet, and learn who is pregnant, and who is not. Our long-time vet, and friend, Warner McFarland, the jefe at Carbon County Veterinary Clinic, came to check the cows. As the cows come through the chute, he palpates, looks at the ultrasound, and calls out “pregnant,” “open,” or “late”.
Each animal goes in with her cohorts to await the next step. Occasionally, we find a cow with a problem that needs attention, such as an errant horn aiming towards her eye. Luckily, Warner carries a saw for just such an occasion, thereby saving the cow’s eye and a whole lot of misery. Thanks, Warner, for all you do!
Solano and the lambs
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 once told a cook that we were only really busy in the summer. As the year wore on, he commented “I didn’t know summer lasted until November!”
So here we are in November, and it seems like the fall work just keeps coming. Here’s some pics of cows, calves, ewes, lambs, dogs, horses and folks who help us out.