Today was a Goldilocks Day–not too hot, not too cold, and not windy at all. I took our banker, Kim Brown, from the Yampa Valley Bank in Craig, Colorado out to the Red Desert to take a look a the sheep. Conditions were perfect, with enough snow for the ewes to water on, but not so deep that they couldn’t access the dried grasses which we count on for winter feed. Everyone looked happy–the ewes, the bucks, the dogs, and Pepe, Leo and Guillermo.
Pepe unloading dog food–we buy a pallet a week
guard dog checking us out
a curious Hampshire ram lamb, also checking us out
The past two winters have been hard winters by anyone’s standards. Conditions were especially harsh on the Red Desert north of Wamsutter, where we winter our sheep. In 2018-2019, the ewes and bucks were snowed in on the Cyclone Rim allotment for weeks, and we couldn’t even get to the Chain Lakes allotment. In 2019-2020, the winter started early, so we found frozen sugar beets in the northern part of Wyoming and trucked the sheep to farms.
Now we are in drought. We have received around 65 percent of normal moisture so far this winter. An easy winter is easier on both livestock and herders, and on us as we drive back and forth to the sheep camps. The sheep depend upon snow for water for most of the winter. We’ve had several days of wind and thaw, which takes the snow and leaves bare sage and steppe. We now wait for a good winter storm, which we hope will bring much-needed moisture. Winter snow brings us spring grass.
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.
A couple of days ago, Pepe called Meghan at the cookhouse. He is tending sheep on our permits on the Red Desert. I heard Meghan say, “gallinas?! domesticados?!” (chickens?! domesticated?!).
Apparently, someone turned loose some hens and one rooster. Meghan called the BLM Range Conservationist, who tried, unsuccessfully, to catch them. The Chain Lakes allotment is checkerboard, with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department owning every other section. Mike, the Range Con, then turned the matter over to the Game and Fish.
They are fowl, if not fish.
What’s amazing is that they haven’t been eaten by coyotes!
Time flies when you’re having fun. It seems like only yesterday that we were hauling the rams out to the ewes, in order to expedite the birth of lambs in spring. After seven weeks with the ewes, it is time for the bucks to go back to a long stretch of bachelorhood. As Pepe told them as we loaded them into the trailer, “Hasta la vista…See you next year!”
Pepe and Avencio catching the buck who didn’t want to leave the ladies.
Bucks loading up.
Pat and the crew loading the bucks
Which one of these is not like the others?
Tiarnan and Pat bringing up the bucks in Chain Lakes
So, which way would you go?
Sadie had to share the floor of the pickup with this early lamb.
Siobhan helping Oscar and Tim unload the rams at Powder Flat.
Pregnancy testing is one of the veterinary services offered by Optimal Livestock Services–Dr. Cleon Kimberling, veterinarian, and Geri Parsons, vet technician, proprietors. We ask them to pregnancy test our ewes who are expecting white-faced lambs. When we know which ewes are carrying twins, we can manage them separately so that they can get extra nutrition and care. At lambing time, we can make sure they have better shelter because the white-faced lambs are more vulnerable at birth than the cross-bred lambs which have black-faced Hampshire fathers. You old ag majors remember the lessons about “highbred vigor” which results when different types of sheep, or cows or whatever, are mixed. The purebreds are less hardy, but they are the lambs which grow into our replacement ewes (or at least the females do). We need both.
Geri recently showed up to check our ewes, who currently reside on the Red Desert, north of Wamsutter, Wyoming.
Salomon, Meghan, Pepe and Eamon bringing in the ewes
Pepe and Maeve, at work
Siobhan and Sadie, corral help
Eamon and Tweed, lending encouragement
preg testing crew: Richar, Salomon, Pepe, Eamon Geri and Meghan (and Sharon behind the camera!)
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.