Each fall, Geri Parsons from Optimal Livestock Services LLC comes to test our rams for health and fertility. This year she was assisted by our intrepid crew of ranchhands. The rams give up a semen sample into a test tube.. This is passed to Geri in her mobile lab where she checks the semen for viability. In addition to the ram-handling crew, this year she was assisted by our grandson Seamus, who helped with the techinical parts of the testing. The whole process involves flesh and blood bucks, and microscopes and computers. When we get the results, we cull any bucks who are not promising as future fathers, and keep the others fat and happy until it is time to go in with the ewes in December. A lucky few go in now with the purebred ewes, Hampshire and Rambouillet, so they may lamb in March. We raise future replacement rams and ewes from these purebreds, completing the circle.
Category Archives: Peruvian sheepherders
May and June bring us lambs, and lambs mean docking–cutting the tails, castrating the males, eearmarking,vaccinating and paint branding. This requires our crew to gather the ewes and lambs into portable corrals, which we move to the various areas on the lambing grounds. We sort the lambs into a smaller pen, then carry them, one by one, along an assembly line where they are prepared for their future lives without tails. The last stop is a paint brand. This year we have an exceptional multi-national crew, which includes Peruvians, Mexicans, South Africans and Americans, including our grandchildren and employees. We have had fair weather and great lunches. Soon the ewes and lambs will be ready to trail to their summer pastures on the forest.
After months of being in landscapes out of sync with where the ewes are used to being, they are at last on the lambing grounds during lambing season. They are happy and we are happy.
Spring shearing is always an adventure. This year, we planned to shear a little later than usual, since we had put the bucks in with the ewes a few days later than usual. Our shearing crew comes from California, and they told us they would be a few days late (surprise!), due to persistent rains in California.. This year we didn’t have to worry about trailing to the shearing pens on time, since the ewes have been near them since late January, when we trucked out of the Red Desert. Still, when our crew showed up, we were just a few days away from the beginning of lambing.
The rains showed up the same day that the shearers set up,. We gathered up every tarp we could and draped them over the wool handling area. We have good sheds at Cottonwood, where we were to shear, so were able to put the ewes in to stay dry. Wet sheep can’t be shorn. The moisture ruins the wool if it’s packed, and the shearers won’t shear wet sheep because it leads to “wool pneumonia.” Between the sheds, the tarps and our intrepid crew, we got all the ewes with the “main line” wool done at the Cottonwoold pasture. Since that is also our lambing grounds, the ewes, who were starting to lamb by the time we were done, just moved right onto their lambing pastures.
We moved onto shearing the yearling ewes, who had spent the winter at Powder Flat. We moved the shed, the shearers and our crew and were able to finish the yearlings in one day. Riley, our friend and former ranch cook, supplied the meals, delivering them each day to where ever we were. Her tasty meals kept everyone going
Rams in October mean lambs in March. Even though we still have record amounts of snow on the ground, the lambs are arriving right on schedule. We raise our own rams–Rambouillet and Hampshire–and the moms lamb in March at Powder Flat. Our Peruvian crew is doing a great job at getting live lambs on the ground. It is a reminder that spring will actually arrive, someday. We did see birds migrating north. We saw geese in the sky and Sand Hill Cranes on the alfalfa feed line with our ewes.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.