We have a farm flock of purebred Hampshire sheep. We lamb them out early (March) at Powder Flat, and raise our replacement bucks for the commercial herd from these ewes. They also produce replacement ewe lambs and some future lamb chops.
In late spring, usually mid-May, we truck them to the Bull Pasture, near the Home Ranch. They hang out there for a couple of weeks, then trail about 15 miles up to the Johnson Ranch, a private inholding in the Routt National Forest. There they spend the summer, growing and fending off bears and coyotes.
A few days ago ( and a couple of weeks earlier than usual), Meghan, Siobhan and granddaughter-of-the-heart Bahnay trailed them on up to their summer pasture. They (sheep, horses, dogs and ladies) really did walk all the way, but I caught them on their mid-day break.
Cow elk crossing the road near the Johnson Ranch in the Routt National Forest.
Maybe this post should be titled “Early Spring”. I drove through the Routt Forest on May 15th and saw these cow elk crossing the road. It is really early for elk to have migrated to their summer country in the Forest. But then, everything is really early (except the shearing!).
It’s a little hard to see, but just as I took this photo of the elk in the meadow, a hawk flew up between them. Notice that the pine trees in the background are dead from a pine beetle infestation.
This spring, shearing was a process, not an event. In order for our spring schedule to go smoothly, the shearing crew needs to be done by May 1st. This gives us time to trail in an orderly manner to our lambing grounds, which takes four or five days. This year the crew showed up on April 30th.
It has been a phenomenally dry spring, so they had not been delayed by weather. Two reasons accounted for their late appearance. Our long-time shearing contractor had retired to his farm in New Zealand, along with his wife, a wool-packer extraordinaire, his three-year-old daughter and their newborn twin sons. The gentleman who took over his business was not nearly as experienced or efficient. In addition, our government’s jihad against legal foreign workers has taken its toll on shearing crews. Our crew did an excellent job, but was much slower than we were used to.
This year’s shearing, which lasted two weeks, took us into lambing, which starts May 8th. We had pregnancy tested many of the ewes in March, so we sent the ewes pregnant with twins on to the lambing grounds. This meant they trailed, heavy with lambs and with wool, and were sheared while they were beginning to lamb, on our private land on the lambing grounds.
Luckily for shearing, but unluckily in general, we lost only one day to rain. It was the only rain that came in a month. Hallelujah—we finally finished and were able to get on with the business of lambing.
guard dog watching sheep on the trail
waiting for the shearers
Sheep wagons at Badwater
Shearers at work
Shorn ewes in front of portable shearing shed
Amanda carrying wool to the mechanical packer
Maeve and Tiarnan on the wool bales
Stacking the wool bales
Tiarnan and ewe check each other out
Pepe, Dunkin and Siobhan
Afrenio and Pepe help Maeve practice mutton busting
Seamus, Meghan, & Maeve working hard on Mother’s Day!
Meghan stacking wool bales with Seamus and Maeve at her side!
Meghan working with her family at her side. If the US Department of Labor had their way this could not happen. Luckily, they were scared into withdrawing their proposal to ban kids from working on a farm or ranch.
Each year, Siobhan’s teacher, Cindy Cobb, takes her third grade class on a field trip to see sage grouse dance. This is an opportunity for the kids in our rural school. Sage grouse are an iconic western bird, and lots of attention is being paid to them due to the possibility that they might become listed as an endangered species. Each spring, the birds gather on open areas in their sagebrush habitat, known as “leks”.
Male sage grouse dance in order to impress the females, who wander among the preening males looking for “the one”. They spread their fan of tail-feathers, puff out their white chests and make a distinctive “cooing” sound.
“Reminds me of people,” quipped Tony Mong, the Wyoming Game and Fish biologist who accompanied the students to the dancing ground.
Trying to impress the ladies
Miss Cobb explained that she likes “hands-on” teaching, and she is known for the many field trips she sponsors for her students.
“My philosophy of teaching is based on a Chinese proverb,” she said. “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
“How many kids, or even adults, have seen sage grouse dance?” she asked.
Tony and kids watch the grouse from inside the bus
This lek is below this oilfield installation
Next, the class visited man-made wetlands near Dad, 20 miles north of Baggs. This project diverts water from Muddy Creek and has created wetlands on a formerly dry sagebrush flat. It provides a stopover for migratory birds and habitat for a number of species. Here, Tony explained the various ecosystem services provided by such wetlands, using items swiped from the family kitchen to illustrate.
These wetlands are considered “urban” even though they are definitely way out in the country. This is due to the high level of oil and gas development in the area.
Siobhan and friends on the dike with Pat and Miss Cobb
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.