trotting into headquarters—
sporting winter coats
Most years, we set out on the sheep trail to the wintering grounds on about the same date. It is usually about a five- or six-day trail from our late fall pasture at Badwater to our winter grazing permits in the Red Desert. We leave around Thanksgiving time–grateful that the ewes have come south on the same trail in the spring, met the shearers. trekked to the lambing ground, borne and raised lambs, grazed on the forest, trailed back to the Home Ranch corrals, weaned their lambs, and now head north to winter pasture. It is usually a time when we can take a breath. We pray that the winter is not too hard, that the dry grass is enough to sustain the ewes, and then the rams, as the cycle begins anew.
This year, back-to-back blizzards hit soon after the first two bunches of sheep set out. Some days they have been stranded on the trail and it has been all we can do to reach the sheep and the herders with supplies. The Interstate has been closed, with multiple wrecks and even some deaths. We crossed two bunches in between storms, but have struggled to move them north, breaking trail with the tractor. The weather has paused between storms, allowing us to make progress. We are grateful that the storms have not been unrelenting.
We had to turn south with the last bunch. Their winter pasture on Chain Lakes is snowed under, and we’ve found another, more open, allotment to the south and west. We are trailing down the highway, which must confuse the ewes, whose instinct and habit is to head north. Since we are on the highway, and not the cross-country trail, we flag, fore and aft, to slow the oncoming traffic. Locals are also not used to seeing livestock on the road this time of year, and non-locals are mostly interested to see the sheep, the dogs, the herders and the family members.
The sheep north of the interstate are still struggling to get to Cyclone Rim. They have finally made it to a plowed road, but it is slow going due to all the trucks stuck as they try to reach the energy development in the same areas.
Ewes through the dodge gate,
dart left, duck right, straight ahead—
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.
Mid-December brings true love to our ewes and rams. The rams, at least, have been waiting in the wings since, well, last winter. Mid-January brings rest to the bucks, who have been working hard for a month. It is time to bring some of them home. Here are Pepe and Meghan loading bucks for the trip home. You can see that it is deep winter on the Red Desert. We were worried about not having enough snow for the ewes to eat for water. Now we are worried about too much crust on the snow for them to graze. Pepe and the other herders feed them corn every day to keep them strong. And pregnant.