The sheep, herders, dogs, and horses are all safe and sound on our hay meadows near Dixon. All the grass is still buried under snow, but we can get to them with feed every day, and bring alfalfa and cake to them (except when the highways are closed, which is pretty often). It took several more days to ferry all the sheepwagons, panels and other equipment off the Red Desert and to the Dixon ranch headquarters. It continues to be especially brutal in the area we evacuated the sheep from, on the Chain Lakes allotment. Hay prices are high due to demand from impacted livestock producers and state game agencies. These historic winter conditions stretch through northern Nevada, Utah, northwestern Colorado and southern Wyoming. Wyoming’s Governor Gordon has declared an emergency. Spring still looks like a long ways away!
Category Archives: Sheep
January Day at Powder Flat
After a series of winter storms brought on by the “atmospheric rivers” hitting California, then flowing on towards us, we have more than enough snow. The Snotel near our mountain headquarters is measuring 160 per cent of average.
Our crew at the Powder Flat headquarters, Edgar and Alejandro, have been doing a great job of keeping all the animals safe and fed.
“Do Not Enter” the road to Powder Flat from the folks building the power line
Working the yearlings in winter
Today was the best day we’ve had in a while to vaccinate the ewe lambs. They are on their wintering grounds near Powder Wash. Last week was bitter cold as a “bomb cyclone” with the unlikely name of Winter Storm Elliot swept down from the Arctic. It caught us on the southern end, and we only had two or three days of wind and terrible cold. It was far worse to the east of us as the storm swept across the Midwest and the Northeast. Today, it warmed up to about 30 degrees, with only some wind, so Meghan gathered up her crew of Eamon, Chandler, Filomeno, and McCoy, Maeve and Rhen to vaccinate Alejandro’s ewe lambs. The ewes on the Red Desert “blew out” as they walked before the wind. The herders waited out the storm in their camps, then found the ewes when the cold and wind died down. The Farmer’s Almanac says we are on the borderline between a harsh winter and a mild one.
Solano and the lambs
Faithful readers may recall Solano, the pet lead sheep. Last spring he was featured on this blog as he traveled with his herder, Alejandro, and the yearling ewes on the Savery Stock Driveway. He was sporting a backpack that Alejandro had fashioned for him, though I’m not sure what it held.
He has been hard at work as a lead sheep, helping to convince his more suspicious cohorts to enter the corrals. Here is is with a group of lambs, getting ready to load and head for the feedlot.
Solano will soon rejoin Alejandro and this year’s yearling ewes. Alejandro is anxious to reunite with his pet and co-worker.
I once told a cook that we were only really busy in the summer. As the year wore on, he commented “I didn’t know summer lasted until November!”
So here we are in November, and it seems like the fall work just keeps coming. Here’s some pics of cows, calves, ewes, lambs, dogs, horses and folks who help us out.
I mentioned to some acquaintances that I couldn’t attend a Zoom meeting because I was busy moving sheep camp, it became apparent that they had no idea what I was talking about. However, they applied a humorous interpretation, speculating about what sheep camp might entail. They envisioned sheep playing volleyball, rowing boats, perhaps attending a crafts class. . .. All this made me wish that I were a graphic artist and could sketch sheep involved in summer camp activities. Alas–that is not my skill.
What I am actually doing, along with Meghan, is moving the sheep camps (portable homes) as our herders trail the sheep from the Home Ranch environs to fall pastures north of Dixon, Wyoming. These pastures also happen to be our lambing grounds in May and June. When the ewes left here in late June, their lambs were toddlers. They faced down bears and coyotes as they grazed on the Routt and Medicine Bow National Forests in the summer months. The predators exacted their toll, but the sheep were defended by the herders and the Livestock Guardian Dogs (aka Big White Dogs). Now the sheep return with their almost grown lambs. They will graze on fall pastures on Cottonwood Creek until it is time to trail north to winter country on the Red Desert.
October is one of our busiest months. The cows and calves, and the ewes and lambs, along with yearlings of both species, have spent the summer on the Medicine Bow and Routt National Forests. Our off-date is October 1st, so we stage the bands of sheep and gather all the cows we can find and bring them down to pastures near the Home Ranch headquarters. It has been a warmish fall and some of the cows are hiding out. Eamon and the cowboy crew have been backriding every day, but the best incentive is cold weather, which reminds the cows that it’s time to get the heck out of the Forest. We migrate along with the deer and elk as instinct draws the critters downward. This time of year, all the sheep and all the cattle are close to home. We work them through the corrals. The lambs are separated from the ewes. Often we sell the lambs this time of year, but this year we still have feed so we will keep them a little longer. The lambs are weaned and switched to a different bunch. The calves will be with their mamas a couple of more weeks, and then it will be time for them to be sold, as feeders or as replacements. It’s noisy as night, as the newly weaned lambs and calves call in the night, and the guard dogs who are now close to home bark all night to warn us of various impending dangers. To be fair, usually the coyotes are howling which makes the guard dogs even more on alert than usual. Tomorrow, we’ll start the sheep on the trail to our fall pastures, some 20 miles to the west.
Adventure trip with AG
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.
Yearling ewes, and Solano, from Badwater to the Forest
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.”
Lambs losing their tails, gaining vaccine
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.