It’s that time of year again. We have lots of baby calves who need vaccines, brands and earmarks before they head up to the Forest with their mothers. We have a great crew this year. Everyone knows how to work together to minimize stress on both cattle and people.
Today would be my Dad’s 101st birthday, He’s surely smiling down as Eamon and the boys harnessedup this team to feed the heifers. We have a lot of snow, but it’s been warm, making the snow “boggy.” We got tired of stuck tractors, so Eamon found this beautiful team of Percherons, Chief and Commander. We still have harnesses from the days when we used to feed with Fran and Chub. Eamon, Bubba, Chandler, Tiarnan and Rhen harnessed them, hooked them up to the sled, and fed the heifers, just like in the old days. They didn’t get stuck! Happy birthday, Dad!
Crunching as the calf dives into dry willows
“Quakey” aspens rustle up autumn, leaves flutter to the ground
“Hup, hup!” I holler, trying to spook the calf out of the willows
A thump on the ground as I dismount, followed by
more crunching as I thrash through the willows
A sigh as I realize the calf has somehow escaped me
“Hey there, pretty baby” as I push the filly aside
“Stand still, I said” to my mare as I mount
We sit very still, listening
to low bird song and the chuckle of aspen
but not the bawl of a calf
“Hey, you guys OK?”—our cowgirl come back to see what’s taking so long
“Holy cow, look at that!”
A smoke plume silently rises, signaling the faraway
crack and crash as molten trees succumb
as animals dash madly from the deadly flames of the Mullen Fire
Another sigh—of relief—that the blaze is far away
“That calf caught up”
The quick clop of hooves as we trot up to the herd
“Come by! That’ll do!” Reluctantly the Border collie drops back
Mooing—meaning “get over here and stay by me”
Whinnying as the filly realizes her mom and I have moved to the lead
Clip-clopping as she races past the cows to catch up
They watch, knowingly
The distant rumble of cars, trucks, RV’s
The flash of my gloved hand
“Just go slowly. The cows will move. Watch the calves”
Finally, the clank of chain and squeak of gate
as the cows and calves slip through
to green grass
The dark settles, birds silent
The ewes and lambs graze on the National Forests in the summer months. They move through a rotation so that they are not in any area for long. Part of the journey for Pepe’s sheep includes several weeks in high mountain pastures near the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. He stays in a tent and we pack in his groceries and dog food. When he drops into the north fork of the Elk River, we bring his camp to him. This involves a drive down a death-defying curvy road to a wonderful mountain meadow. Bubba came along, both to learn the way and to provide the muscle.
It’s that time of year. We’re nearly through lambing, and now we need to dock all those baby lambs. This is to ensure their health and well-being in the future. We dock their tails, vaccinate, castrate and earmark. The whole process takes a few minutes, then the lambs run off to join their moms. We count, number and brand the ewes and check for health before trailing.
It’s shipping time for the calves. Some of our calves, born last spring, will leave the mountains and their mamas and head to buyers who will feed them for market. Some heifer calves are sold to a buyer who will raise them to be replacement cows. Some heifers calves will stay with us to become our future cow herd. In every scenario, we bring the cows and calves into the corrals at the Home Ranch, sort them, wean them from their mothers who are already pregnant with next years calves, and send the calves to their various homes, and the cows to winter country.
Tate, and multiple Border collies, bringing up the cows
Bubba watching the gate
Pat and Bubba watching the cows
through the rails
Eamon sorting, Ned the brand inspector watching from the fence
After we rescued the misguided GPS traveler on the morning of July 4th, we moved on to rotating the bucks to a new pasture across the Little Snake River. Even though the grass is greener on the other side of the Little Snake, the bucks were not enthusiastic about crossing. It did not involve any swimming (although shorn sheep can swim). This was not, so to speak, our first rodeo, and we knew that eventually they would see it our way. It took a lot of whistling, throwing of sticks, calling back the dog, roping and pulling a couple of bucks across to serve as a “draw”, but we eventually prevailed. Our crew included Pat, Meghan, Bridget (on loan from Arizona), Siobhan, Bubba and me, plus Belle the Border Collie.
Bubba pulling the buck across the river
Siobahn and Pat
Siobhan, Meghan, Bridget and Bubba trying to convince the bucks
Lambing is closely followed by docking the new lambs. This means literally docking the tails, to protect against flystrike, earmarking and paint branding to indicate ownership, castrating to make management easier and to create better meat quality, vaccinating to protect health, and a look at each and every lamb for problems to address. It makes for long days, but also adds camaraderie and teamwork to our hard-working crew! A good lunch is sure to appear. No one has trouble sleeping at the end of the day
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. He is active with several conservation and agricultural organizations.
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.
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 has also served on the Wyoming Board of Agriculture and the Environmental Quality Council, She and Brian are active in community service.
Daughter Bridget lives in Phoenix with her husband, Chris Abel, where she works in health care communications. Chris works in the food distribution 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 flight nurse. Eamon is a member of the Wyoming Beef Council and is active in the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
The blog traces the activities and life on the ranch, from the mundane to the fabulous.