As we suffered through was we consider brutally hot weather (95 degrees), we were told that a huge early snowstorm was on the way. Our new cook, from Alabama, said she was terrified of winter and abruptly left. Sure enough, all over the state, roads were closed, power was off, tree branches were broken. Here’s what the storm looked like for us. Things have cooled off nicely though.
Today, we are “springing forward” in time. The transitions back and forth between Standard Time and Daylight Savings Time are always jolting. I think it’s harder than one hour jet lag because the environmental clues of sunshine and shadows don’t change. We are close to the Equinox, when daylight and nighttime hours are approximately equal. This change is subtle but real. It reflects the wheeling of the earth, sun and stars. The measurement of time is a human construct, to give us a path to capturing the vast reality of our journey through the universe. The ancients built pyramids and Stonehenge to chart this course.
We are finally, I hope, making the transition from Winter to False (or Almost) Spring. A few days ago, we woke up to zero degrees, again. For the last two or three days, daytime temperatures have been above freezing–even as high as a balmy 40 degrees! We are moving from snow everywhere to snow most everywhere, interspersed with mud. We have lots of little lambs on the ground at Powder Flat. Most of the ewes are still in the Big Horn Basin, but we are seeing the light at the end of the snow tunnel and hope to bring them home soon. Most of the cows are in Nebraska and Laramie, but we are waiting for the day when conditions improve so they can come home too. The young bulls are hanging out at Powder Flat with the early lambers. Roma poet Virgil: “fugit inreparabile tempus”, which means “it escapes, irretrievable time”.
Faithful blog followers may have noticed that posts on “Ranch News” have been fewer and more basic lately. This was largely due to technical difficulties. My faithful laptop went on to that great recycling center in the sky, and I had to learn, sort of, to post on my husband’s wonderful, but unfamiliar, Mac. When I added the new version of Photoshop Elements, I discovered that the newer and fancier upgrade was likewise unfamiliar. Hence the changes you have observed.
But all this is in the past! After much study, I purchased a new laptop. I finally gave up and called the Adobe help desk, where the nice gentleman explained to me how to revert to the familiar “Classic Editor” posting format, which makes it easy to do more editing.
My new tools allow me to resume my former style of posting lots of medium size photos, with, I hope, enlightening and witty text.
Scott, Pat and Matt at the #2 Well at Chains Lakes
We lease grazing from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department on their Chain Lakes Wildlife Habitat Management Area northeast of Wamsutter. It is a wonderful area, with healthy rangeland. Part of our lease is an agreement to maintain historic water developments to benefit both wildlife and livestock. Here we are with Scott from Pronghorn Pumps and Matt from the Game and Fish, making plans to repair this long-time watering site.
British Petroleum is drilling new oil and gas wells on the same landscape.
Ideally, this time of year, we are done shearing and are on the trail to the lambing grounds, north of Dixon. It is critical that the ewes be sheared before lambing starts, yet this is proving increasingly difficult. It has a lot to do with the really dysfunctional H2A program in the Department of Labor, which facilitates the non-immigrant program for foreign agricultural workers. For us, this includes our valued and essential Peruvian sheepherders. For the shearing contractors, it allows them to hire highly skilled and highly paid sheep shearers, mostly from New Zealand, and sometimes Australia and other countries. The program has become so unwieldy that many shearing contractors have given up, and the remaining shearing crews are having difficulty in getting the wool off the ewes in a timely manner. This has resulted in a backup throughout the sheep herds in the Rocky Mountain West, and most producers, like us, are facing shearing during lambing–a process which is difficult for shearers, sheep producers, and is very hard on the heavily pregnant or recently lambed ewes. Nonetheless, here we are trailing ewes, still in the wool, to the lambing grounds, where we pray our shearing crew will show up very soon, and we pray that we will not have a loss of lambs to pay for the incoherent federal immigration politics.
Horseman Torran Duncan with Dad, saddlemaker and rancher Keith Duncan.
As I said, we were WORKING! Pat, our son-in-law and meat purveyor Chris Abel and I were on the panel that discussed “Food Production and the West.” We were joined by California “urban farmer” A.G. Kawamura, and Family Farm Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen. Since our roundtable was scheduled at the same time as Baxter Black’s show, we were wondering if anyone would show up. We visited with Dr. Black in the Green Room before the show, and I told him I hoped we didn’t draw away from his sold-our, lottery only show. Luckily, a goodly number of dedicated issue junkies showed up (or maybe those who didn’t draw a Baxter Black ticket–but, hey, a girl can dream!).
Pat, fellow Carbon County resident and wonderful singer Trinity Seeley, and Baxter Black, probably discussing food policy
Chris, Dan,Pat, Sharon, and AG discussing how to feed 9+billion people in a few years
This is the time of year when we hold our breath. We hope all the cows and sheep and various critters for whom we are responsible have enough to eat, enough to drink and enough body fat to withstand the cold weather. We assume that the bulls and bucks have done their jobs. We hope that the Good Lord sticks with us with weather and sends enough snow, but not too much; enough cold, but not too much. We hope that the cows and the ewes are all pregnant, and will hold those pregnancies to term, and raise a baby. We hope that predators–mostly coyotes, but bears, mountain lions, ravens, crows and maybe wolves–will find something else to eat besides our critters. The sheep eat snow and we depend on having the right amount–not so much that it will cover the grass and brush, but not so little that we are chasing drifts in draws. The cows need “wet water” and we expend a lot of energy and resources to make sure it’s available.
It is also the time of year that we try to ensure that we have enough help lined up for spring, summer and fall. Our sheepherders come on h2a visas which allow them to stay for three years with at least three months at home in Peru. We try to plan so that about one third of our crew returns to Peru in the winter, when we need less help. The process is so dysfunctional that we need to request about twice as many “new guys” as we will probably need, because there isn’t much rhyme or reason to who gets approved. Even returning employees are not assured of getting approved, so it is a challenge to plan.
So far, the winter has been cooperative. This will allow us to engage in one of our favorite vacations: traveling to Elko, Nevada–at approximately the same latitude as our home (read Deep Winter) for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. We will be hosting a discussion on Food Policy. After all, to have cowboys, we need cows, and to have cows, we need consumers: the Three C’s. That said, it is nearly a week of solid poetry, music, art and discussion which is nothing but fun.
Sheep near Eagles’ Nest. The bucks are in their working clothes.
Antelope at Powder Flat
McCoy and Nene
McCoy, Eamon and Pat on the lookout at Lower Powder Springs
Pat, McCoy and Eamon at water well at Powder Flat. I used to spend hours here pumping water with our old generator, “Fred”.
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.