September 30 is the off-date for most of our Forest permits. Bridger Peak above Battle Pass is one of our highest grazing areas for the sheep in the summer. Alejandro takes the yearling ewes to the top of the Continental Divide. He had a flat tire on his wagon, so German changed the tire before we pulled the camp down the really rocky road to the highway. Alejandro shepherds the yearlings with the help of his border collies, his livestock guardian dogs, and his pet lamb, Solano. We saw snow on the Divide, and glorious fall colors on the trail down.
July 1st is the on-date for the forest permits where our ewes and lambs graze for the summer. While the ewes are lambing at Cottonwood, the yearling ewes hang out in the Badwater pasture, some 40 miles to the north. The ewes and lambs are usually settled on their permits for the summer by the 4th of July. The permit where the yearlings graze for the summer has an on-date of mid-July so it’s their turn to trail. Yearlings can move a lot faster than the five miles per day required by the federal agencies, so they usually move right along. This year was exceptional. Due to drought, very little water was available as we trailed. We discussed hauling water, which is difficult and expensive, but Alejandro said he’d rather make more miles and go from water to water. This meant that one day, the yearlings covered about 20 miles, which usually takes three days. They were tired, but really happy to see that reservoir. They are young and healthy and did fine, but I hope we don’t have to do it again. We rested them in our State Land pasture on the lambing grounds, which had feed and plenty of water, then pushed on to their summer permit. They spend the first few days on our neighbor’s private in-holding. We appreciate the extra grazing, and he values the reduction in grasses for wildfire protection. Alejandro did an excellent job in shepherding them through the dry country.
The reservoir’s in sight below Muddy Mountain
Trailing the yearlings onto their summer permit (Yes, that’s smoke in the air.)
Settled at last on Condict’s. That’s a smoke plume from the Morgan Creek Fire on the right.
July 1st is the on-date for most of our sheep grazing permits on the National Forest. We have to stage them on since we have several bunches which graze on federal permits in the summer, and it is the on-date for our neighbors as well. They usually trail one day apart so we go up the line and move each camp to the next spot until everyone is settled
There is always a grateful sigh when we know we are through lambing, through docking and through trailing. The next challenge is withstanding the predators which view our ewes and lambs as tasty snacks, especially in a year when the deer population is low. My Dad’s cousin once said, “Well, you’re up there in the nice cool flies.”
Now we are up in the “nice cool bears.”
We have grass and we have water. The grazing greatly reduces the fuel load and the fire danger. We are worried about fire in this year’s drought conditions. So it begins.
Pulling the wagon and flagging the sheep up the road
It’s that time of year. We’re nearly through lambing, and now we need to dock all those baby lambs. This is to ensure their health and well-being in the future. We dock their tails, vaccinate, castrate and earmark. The whole process takes a few minutes, then the lambs run off to join their moms. We count, number and brand the ewes and check for health before trailing.
Now that the sheep are sheared, it is time to head 40 miles south to our lambing grounds. Trailing was held up a couple of days by stormy weather, but the moisture was welcome. We are pushing hard to get there before we have too many lambs on the ground. Now it’s time to pray for perfect weather, no predators and green grass!
The ewes are eager to migrate to the Cottonwood lambing grounds.
Pepe has picked up the ewes with early lambs and one guard dog.
2021 shearing went very well. Roland Montemayor’s crew showed up with plenty of shearers and wool handlers, good equipment and on time. The Montemayor crew has sheared for us for several years. We try to shear two weeks or so ahead of lambing, which is easier on the ewes and the shearers, and allows time for the ewes to trail on to the lambing grounds ten pounds lighter.
My only complaint was the howling wind for the first two and a half days. The winds were so strong on the third day that it was blowing the fleeces away. As Meghan pointed out, “The point is to get the wool into the bags.” We called it a day after lunch. We have shut down shearing many times due to weather, but this is the first time we’ve stopped because of high winds. Finally the weather settled down and we were able to finish all the sheep–pregnant ewes, yearlings, the early lambers and the bucks. Roland’s crew moved on and sheared sheep for a couple of our neighbors. Shearing is one of the very most important things we do all year, and it is one which we have little control over since there are so many factors that come into play. Thank you, Roland, Ciro and crew for your good work!
early morning–waiting to get started\
wooly ewes waiting their turn
the first shorn sheep
shearer at work
Tiarnan, Guillermo and Anthony on deck
Siobhan at the chute
packing the wool
wool handler on the run
packing the fleeces into the tromper
guard dog supervising
Thomasa–former bum lamb and newly sheared lead sheep
We are heading south from the wintering grounds on the Red Desert. The first leg takes us to the Badwater Pasture. The shearing crew has assured us that they will be here in a couple of days, which means we can shear the pregnant ewes at Badwater. This is better for the ewes because they can trail the last 40 miles to the lambing grounds at Cottonwood without ten pounds of wool on their backs. It also means they are shorn well before they start lambing. Some years the shearers are late due to weather, equipment or misadventure, and we see lambs on the ground as we are trying to shear. With luck, all will go well. Stay tuned!
Seamus opening the gate
heading under I80
truck above, sheep below
passing through Creston Junction
between I80 and the railroad overpass
the orange flag alerts oncoming traffic
Joel bringing the ewes over the Union Pacific line (the trickiest part)
It’s springtime and the livin’ is crazy. After hunkering down for the winter months, we are moving livestock from winter pasture to spring pasture. We are lambing, calving and trying to get all of our livestock charges to where they need to be for the change of seasons. We trucked the yearling ewes, and a few older ewes, from their wintering grounds at Powder Wash to the Badwater pasture. We are seeing the Akaushi cross calves on the ground, after last year’s decision to try these Wagu-type bulls on our Angus heifers. The calves sure are pretty and we’re excited to see what they look like as they grow up.
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.