Marie, Pat and Sharon Christmas 2015, Hobe Sound, Florida
Pat’s Mom, Marie O’Toole, will turn 100 years old in May 2016. She still lives in her own home in Florida. Pat and I spent Christmas with her, conveniently missing some minus 20 degree temperatures at home. We are trying to talk her into moving West, but for some reason, she thinks Wyoming is too cold!
I am sad to report that Dunkin, a sheep of much renown and many adventures, has gone to that great pasture in the sky. He led a long and interesting life, especially for a cross-bred, parrot-mouthed wether. Here he is with his patron, Pepe, who found him as a newborn lamb at the side of his dead mother. He was a friend to dogs, sheep and people, and will be missed for his skills as a bellwether.
We now swing toward the winter solstice. Days grow shorter and nights grow longer. The time for caring for livestock is well and truly upon us. The cows need sustenance to nurture the calves growing within them. For the ewes and rams, it’s the breeding season, and good nutrition is essential. All of us–man and beast, domestic and wild–are hunkered down and hoping for a “just right” winter. We need snow, but not too much. We need wind, but not too much. We need sun and grass and corn. We will rejoice when the world turns and the days grow longer.
The cows grazing at the Powder Flat headquarters
McCoy chopping ice for the cows
McCoy striking a blow while Marley and Belle watch
The bucks have been waiting all year, or at least since February, to hang out with the girls again. They spend most of the year hanging out with each other, and plotting to escape from the buck pastures. At long last, breeding season has arrived and they can find romance. We sprinkle their wool with red powder to make it easier for the herders to count and identify them, load them into the trailer and take them to the pasture where the ewes are awaiting them. For the ewes, it means a very brief moment of passion, five months (less five days) of pregnancy, and four or five months of raising lambs. They probably find their lives to be a lot more interesting!
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.
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.
Sharon's father George, 89, passed away December 25, 2010. He lived much of his life in the house where he was born, and remained active in the day-to-day life of the ranch. Mr. Salisbury was a decorated World War II veteran, a former member of Wyoming's House of Representatives, and former President of Wyoming's Board of Agriculture.
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 also served on the Wyoming Board of Agriculture, and she and Brian are active in community service. Daughter Bridget lives in Denver with her husband, Chris Abel, where she works in public relations and he serves agriculture in the food 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 nurse.
The blog traces the activities and life on the ranch, from the mundane to the fabulous.