Category Archives: Sheep
Ewes through the dodge gate,
dart left, duck right, straight ahead—
In the fall, the cows and calves are gathered into private pastures near the Home Ranch. They have spent the summer months grazing on National Forest permits. It takes several “back rides” to make sure that all the critters have come down from the summering ground, and we collect them into pastures where they can graze and hang out until it is time to sort them. Here are some views of our family, friends and employees moving cows and calves closer to home. Soon it will be time to load the calves onto trucks to their new homes, and the cows onto trucks to go to winter pastures and cornfields where they will ruminate and gestate until spring.
This has been one of the driest years on record. Usually our ewes and lambs graze on the Routt and Medicine Bow National Forest allotments until the end of September. This year, with much less rain than usual, we are sorting the feeder lambs off early to send them to the feed lot. Most years, we send the oldest (and heaviest) lambs first and the youngest lambs last. This fall, like many range producers, we are bringing the sheep down to the Home Ranch so the lambs can be sorted. This gives us less mouths to feed at home, and they transition onto a nutritous growth ration. All this is happening several weeks earlier than usual. We are at the mercy of Mother Nature. Each year, we gauge the present and try to predict the future. While our fellow Americans are trying to dry out from Hurricane Florence, we pray for rain, or snow–or both.
In 2002, the Hinman Fire burned 31,016 acres in the Routt National Forest. It was part of what became the Mount Zirkel Complex of fires. Much of the burned area included trees blown down by a rare high-altitude wind storm with hurricane force gales. On October 24, 1997, it laid flat 20,000 acres and an estimated 6 million trees. leaving a pick-up-sticks matrix on the ground. The dead trees left perfect habitat for pine beetles, which have scourged the area and left millions and millions of acres of dead trees. Many of those beetle-killed dead trunks still stand, with thousands falling every day throughout the forests of the mountain West.
The Hinman Fire burned hot and hard, and left scorched tree trunks standing tall and dead. The trees were diseased and killed by the beetles, providing the “perfect storm” for the fire. It was particularly impactful to us, since we had 800 ewes and their lambs on the Farwell grazing allotment. In a effort that is still legend, our sheepherder Pepe Cruz brought the sheep down the Elk River drainage, trailing the sheep throughout the night, with a sack of new puppies tied to his saddlehorn. He brought all of the animals under his care out safely, with fire burning on three sides.
We still graze on that allotment. The regeneration of the landscape there gives me hope for the rest of the Forest, which has been devastated by beetles. In the burned over area, still marked by the standing spears of trees burned 16 years ago, the vegetation is rebounding and new growth trees are filling in the landscape. The burned area looks verdant and healthy compared to the rest of the Forest. It gives me hope to see the new forest rising from the ashes.