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Shearing 2017

In the shearing shed

It is hard to describe shearing season. It is essential, and ridden with uncertainty. The sheep must be shorn once a year in order to remain healthy and productive. The wool is a critical part of our income. And it is overwhelmingly important that the wool be shorn before lambing commences—a point that was brought home in 2015 when the scheduled shearers did not show up, and the problems of the season were exacerbated by weather and visa issues for the crews. We had to lamb in the wool, and organize a complicated shearing/docking operation in June.

Shearing of the range sheep herds is accomplished by contractors, who hire highly skilled crews (mostly foreigners, who need H2-A visas). It is a well-paid profession, but like most essential agriculture jobs, hardly filled by Americans. The contractors spend most of the non-shearing season vetting, hiring and completing paperwork so that they will have enough skilled, hard-working shearers to fill their crew.

Ewes coming in to the corrals

The contractors seek to work for producers with a large number of sheep. This means that they don’t have to move as often, and are guaranteed a good period of work. Producers develop reputations for their facilities and respect for the crew, as well as proximity to amenities such as grocery stores and fuel.

Likewise, shearing contractors are known for their speed, care of the sheep and the wool, and above all, reliability. Producers value the good crews and strive to hire them. It is a dance every year, with the crews shifting as the situations change. Loyalty goes a long way for both partners.

bringing in the ewes

This year our good California crew returned, and sheared our sheep in good order. We had luck that they were able to show up only a couple of days after our original target date. Sometimes the delay is many days, or weeks. Producers have to “stage” the sheep, since the shearing areas are usually at a fixed site, with usually “just enough” feed to support the sheep as they cycle through the shed.

Luka and Riley helping in the chute

In the old days, producers had large fixed sheds, which were designed to facilitate the movement of sheep and efficiency for the shearer. Most of these old Australian-style sheds are gone now, and the traveling crews have portable sheds which are basically small buildings on a trailer base. These are ingeniously designed to allow the sheep to enter a long chute from which the shearers (usually six or eight to a shed) can pull them to the shearing floor. After she is shorn, the ewe goes out a trap door to the left, while the wool slides out to the right. The wool handlers are waiting to sort and bale the wool just outside. Some crews have “sorting tables” to make it easier to skirt and bale the wool.

wool packing crew hard at work

About 40 fleeces go into each bale, tamped down by a large ramrod into a rectangular wool bag. Bellies and tags (dirty short pieces) are baled separately, as are different types and grades of wool. The wool handlers, often women, are also skilled and must work fast to keep up with the shearers, who outnumber them.

Kimmy, Uribe, Luis and David on the job

The weather is a huge factor in all this. Wet sheep cannot be shorn. The wool quality is ruined if it is baled wet. Shearers won’t shear wet sheep because it can lead to “wool pneumonia”. Cold spring storms are a threat to recently shorn sheep. In a week or so, enough wool grows back to allow the sheep to have some insulation, but freshly shorn sheep are very vulnerable to cold, wet weather. A late April storm in 1984 killed a quarter million ewes in Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas. Some of them were ours.

All that said, we are grateful that we got through the week it takes us to shear with relatively good conditions, a good crew and healthy sheep. We have to trail to the lambing grounds now with the main bunches. The two-year-olds are already under way lambing at our lambing sheds, so all hands are busy.

Ciro and Pepe

shearing the black ewes

Uribe and Megan unbelling the black ewe

Rhen helping in the chute

Rhen and Cora pushing the ewes up

Rhen practicing mutton-busting with Uribe

Edgar pushing ewes along the chute in the shed

Maeve and Seamus playing “Throw Dirt at the Sibling While Guessing the Wind Direction”

Guard dogs with shorn ewes

McCoy, Eamon, Gramps and Pat

Meghan and Eamon conferring

Riley’s lunch for corral crew and shearing crew–a welcome sight!

Siobhan and Luka in the shed

Karen with Cora and Sam–“Come early,” I said. “It’ll be fun!” I said…and it was.

Pat contemplating the shorn ewes

 

 

 

 

 

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Along the spring sheep trails

looking east from Powder Rim

We have started trailing from our wintering grounds to spring country where we have shearing and lambing in our future, and theirs.

The ewe lambs have spent the winter in the Powder Wash country. Yemerson has started them along the Powder Rim trail. In a few days, they will arrive at the Badwater Pasture, where they will hang out until early July.

In the meantime, the ewes who wintered on the Chain Lakes allotment on the Red Desert have started south. Their destination is the Cottonwood lambing grounds. In a few weeks, we’ll have wool in the bags, and lambs on the ground, God willing.

ewe lambs watering on the Powder Rim trail

nooning at the reservoir

leaving the Red Desert

between I80 and the railroad overpass

Pepe giving an early lamb a lift

catching a ride

over the Union Pacific bridge

almost to the Rodewald gate

Timmy–ready for green grass

 

 

 

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The Centennial Livestock Express

Luis looking for the drys

We are almost done lambing out the purebred ewes (one left to go). We have a few ewes who need to go to the auction because they were dry (not pregnant) or otherwise not likely to produce a lamb next year. Here are Meghan, David and Luis catching the ewes who will go on the Centennial Livestock Express. Here also are lots of successful moms and cute baby lambs who will grow up to be our replacement ewes, bucks and 4-H lambs. It is starting to green up, so the ewes are eager to get out of the corral to chase after those early sprouts.

Luis stalking the elusive dry ewe

Davis and Meghan consulting

David and Meghan checking for milk

David with the sheephook

some Hampshire lambs

ewes and lambs with Bakers Peak

guard dog with blackface ewe

 

Seeking green grass (on the future site of the transmission lines)

 

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The Sage Grouse Strut

Grouse with the ladies
from the Craig Daily Press

The Sage Grouse Strut

It’s the Sage Grouse strut,
It’s the Sage Grouse stroll,
It’s the Sage Grouse hustle,
We boys are on a roll.

To impress our feathered friends,
we puff and shoot the breeze,
hootin’, “Hey there, ladies—
you’re some fancy chickadees!”

I can thrust my chest out—
like two shiny pearly shields,
I can waggle spotted tail feathers
in these sagebrush springtime fields.

I can flap my grousy wings
with a fancy dancey fly–
that bird with ruffled plumage
can’t even flutter to the sky.

Ten males vying for the attention of the hens

“Hey girls, look here at Big Bird–
Do you like what you see?
I’m the coolest guy out here—
Hey darlin’ chickies, pick me!”

“Just smell that spicy sagebrush,
(you can quit your hiding place)
the hen party should be over,
It’s me you must embrace!

“You may be small and brown,
but you’re winsome as can be–
shake your bootie over here
and make some eggs with me.

“Just ignore that moulty bird
with his wimpy rooster tail.
Take a brushy stroll with me
along this sagey trail.

Antelope hanging out with the grouse

“I’m a’stompin’ and a’struttin’
upon this crowded lek.
Forget your frumpy henfriends—
I’m at your call and beck.

“I’m the coolest cockerel–
see that rooster over there
can hardly puff his chest out,
He’s only suckin’ air.

“That chicken who is struttin’
and a’prancin’ through the sage
couldn’t hardly get a date
if he was dancin’ on a stage,

“and that struttin’ fool you see
is nothin’ but a poult.
if you study him real close
he’s about to start to moult.

“Don’t even take a look–
that cocky dude is not the best.
He’ll love ya and he’ll leave ya
with chicks tucked in the nest.

“Just ignore those other birds,
with their inferior display,
I’m the ace who offers
the best sort of DNA.

“I’m the best grouse on the lek,
I’m a struttin’ fool, you see–
so take the Sage Grouse stroll
through the scented brush with me!

“It’s the Sage Grouse strut
It’s the Sage Grouse dance,
Step right up, you sexy hen,
it’s time for Grouse romance!”

Teacher Cindy Cobb and Wildlife Biologist Tony Mong answer third grade students’ questions. during Greater Sage Grouse field trip. Photographer Noppadol Paothong from the Missouri Department of Conservation documents it all. That ‘s Maeve on the lower right in the pink coat.

 

 

 

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’till the cows come home, and baby calves on the ground

Casey, Taylor and Chad supervising unloading the cows

Each winter, we send many of our cows to Laramie to be wintered by our friends, the Spieglebergs. They raise a lot of hay at their high altitude ranch and give great care to our cows. Now it is time for them to come home, so they are arriving, one truckload at a time.

In the meantime, we are seeing new calves on the ground. We’ve had some scary weather with high winds and low temperatures, but for the present, we have bare meadows, warmish days and nights, and a lot of fun overseeing the new babies.

coming home

Meanwhile, back at the mud puddle–Maura, McCoy and Tiarnan

Siobhan watching the cows cross the bridge, headed for the Lemmons pasture

Cows and baby calves in the Ames Field

Black baldie mama

hanging out in the Lemmons Place

 

 

 

To lamb or not to lamb, that is the question

If it’s March, it must be time to pregnancy test. We breed the best of our Rambouillet ewes to Rambouillet rams, thereby ensuring a new crop of replacement ewe lambs, as well as their brothers/cousins. Since purebred whiteface lambs are more vulnerable at birth, especially the twins, we pregnancy check the moms so that the ewes carrying twins can lamb in the sheds. The rest of the Rambouillet ewes are bred to our Hampshire rams. Their lambs have hybrid vigor and usually do fine with drop lambing on the range. Our friend Geri Parsons from Optimal Livestock Services comes up each March at mid-pregnancy to check the ewes and call out “single”, “twins”, “open” and even “triplets”. Meghan and her crew appropriately marked the ewes with a paint dab on their heads to signify their status for later sorting. Geri usually braves chill winds and long drives for several days to accomplish this task. Here’s some photos of this year’s pregnancy checking.

Ewes, waiting for the verdict

Pepe at the chute, Geri’s office in the tent

 

It was REALLY MUDDY!!!

Chris bringing up the ewes

Pregnancy testing crew–Sam the Border collie, Modesto, Maeve, Meghan, Pepe, Tiarnan, Geri, Chris

 

the view from Eagle’s Nest, looking east

 

 

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February Thaw

Lemmons Meadow

Lemmons Meadow.

 

It’s been a weird winter so far. We’ve had lots of snow, lots of thawing, and a lot of bare ground for February. The critters are glad for the warmer temperatures.

cows with puddles

cows with puddles

Bucks in the Mouse Pasture

Bucks in the Mouse Pasture

horses in the Wyoming Field

horses in the Wyoming Field

Casey training horses

Casey training horses

 

 
 

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