Author Archives: Ladder Ranch
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.
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.
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.”
We’re almost done lambing and it’s time for docking the lambs and getting everyone ready for trailing and summer’s grazing on the Routt and Medicine Bow National Forests. Sheep are naturally long-tailed, and if those tails are not cut short early in life, they can have problems later with manure and flies. The assembly line process also includes earmarking, castrating the males, vaccinating for diseases and a stamp with a paint brand. The ewes also receive a fresh brand and everyone is counted. We usually run two docking lines with all hands on deck, and bring up a hot lunch and plenty of cold drinks.
It’s that time of year again. The shearers have shown up and shearing is underway. Each year it takes a lot of moving parts for fleeces to roll off the sheep and into the big bales. Our shearing crew are contractors who come out of California. We are their last client of the season. This is good because they are not under pressure to move on to the next producer, but nerve-wracking because we want to have the ewes shorn in time to trail to the lambing grounds north of Dixon. Lambing starts around May 10th.
We were fortunate with the weather this year. We had a snowstorm right before we were ready to start. The weather cleared and was warmish and nice for most of the week, allowing us to get through the “main line,” as the wool buyers call the running age ewes. The yearlings were next, followed by a brief, but not killer storm–always a worry for freshly shorn sheep.
Our crew packed up their portable shed–the shearing equivalant of a food truck–and moved to Powder Flat. The early lambers and the rams were there, and soon they too had given up their winter coats. Beulan and Maria the llamas were also shorn, much to their spitting disgust, but they are ready for summer.