Monthly Archives: October 2012
Today, Pat, Maeve and I toured our Red Desert grazing allotments, Chain Lakes and Cyclone Rim. We went with our Rawlins BLM District Range Conservationists, Andy Warren and Mike Calton. We have had the privilege of working with Andy and Mike for many years. On our Colorado BLM grazing allotments, the range cons change with disconcerting frequency, meaning they never really get to know the vast public landscapes which they help administer.
The Red Desert gives a whole new meaning to “vast.” We graze (sometimes in common with other grazers) some 60,000 acres with sheep in the winter months. We share the grass with antelope, deer, and elk, as well as feral horses and permitted cattle. It also supports sage grouse, rare plants, reptiles, rodents and many other creatures, small and large. What it lacks is people.
While some folks, mainly grazing permittees and the landowners of inholdings, know parts of this country very well, I doubt if anyone knows great expanses of it as well as Mike. Today, we were looking for water. Normally, we depend on snow to water the sheep throughout the winter months. We graze in a checkerboard (half BLM and half private) pasture, Badwater, through much of November, waiting for snow on the Red Desert. Our on-date is December 1st, so usually the snow comes just as it is getting too snowy in Badwater, which lies on the Continental Divide some 40 miles or so south of Chain Lakes.
In this dry year, we are worried that the snows will not come early enough. Fresh water exists on the Red Desert, but one has to know where to look. Mostly water is available is reservoirs and wells which have been developed by grazers, and sometimes oil and gas producers, benefitting both wildlife and livestock. We wound our way through the Desert, with Mike directing us onto faint two-tracks I had never seen. Enough water holes exist to get us by until the snows come (especially if we don’t get a period of dry, really cold weather) . We’ll sleep better tonight.
October is a month which starts with glorious colors as the leaves drop their summer green and segue into the yellows, reds and browns of a brief, glorious orgy. Now, as the month winds its way down toward Halloween, tans and greys prevail, as the trees stand bare and the fields lay fallow. In the last couple of days, we have had wet welcome snow. The growing season is long past, but after this record dry year, moisture is a miracle, and we hope a portent of things to come.
It is also a season of endings. After the burst of life that comes forth with the births of new lambs and calves, it is now shipping time. The lambs are being loaded onto trucks, destined for the feedlot in South Dakota, and the calves have been sold. Both will be fed until they are the right size to be slaughtered for food. We have also retained ewe lambs, which will become our replacement ewes next year, and sold replacement heifer calves, which will become someone’s cows. We also have replacement heifer calves, destined to become our future cows. Soon, all this season’s babies will be gone, or at least weaned, and we will go into our winter season with the animals who stay.
October 1st was a big day in our family. Pat and I welcomed a new grandchild, Rhen Jeffrey O’Toole. Our son Eamon and his wife Megan had a baby boy, 6 pounds, 14 ounces, 19 and 1/4 inches. His big brother, McCoy, will be two on Halloween, so they have a busy household.
Pat and I were in California, heading to a Partners for Conservation meeting in Fortuna. We knew that the baby’s arrival was eminent (but not whether a boy or girl was on the way) when we entered the redwood forest in northern California. No cell phone service was available. As we emerged from the trees, Pat had a message on his phone: “new baby”…then the service dropped. Finally we got close to town and learned that Rhen, to everyone’s surprise, was a boy baby.
Welcome, Rhen. You are a much loved child.
Faithful blog readers may recall that our bellwether, Dunkin, was lost last May. After shearing, he stayed with our yearling ewes at the Badwater pasture, some 40 miles north of our lambing grounds, near Dixon. Except that he didn’t stay. He disappeared, and we assumed that he was trying to trail himself down to join the ewes and lambs. We looked for him along the trail, requested that the trappers look out for him, asked our neighbor to keep his eyes open when he flew his plane to check his cattle, and even wrote an article for the local paper, in case someone spotted him. After a couple of months, we gave up and assumed that he had either fallen prey to coyotes, or perhaps to a human with a taste for really fat mutton.
A few weeks ago, Pat came home and said, “I have really good news! Dunkin is in Joyce’s pasture”. Our neighbor Joyce lives right on the Savery Stock Driveway, and strays often collect up in her pasture. Pepe, Dunkin’s original patron, went to collect Dunkin and bring him home. Joyce’s employee, Percy, said that Dunkin had been there for a couple of weeks. Dunkin was probably 50 miles from where he had last been seen, in Badwater.
Pepe was furious, because Dunkin, who had a fresh paint brand (a Banjo) when he was lost, was wearing the brand of another sheep producer. He had even been earmarked, which was surely an outrage to Dunkin. He apparently escaped and found his way to Joyce’s. Dunkin is very happy to be home, hanging out with his sheep, dog and human friends, and we are glad to have him home.