Megan and Eamon discussing her future run at the NFR
We know how to have a good time on a Saturday afternoon. Eamon borrowed Ed Buchanan’s roping dummy on wheels. He pulled it with the four-wheeler, giving McCoy, Tiarnan, Rhen and several adults the chance to practice their roping. A good time was had by all!
Today, we gathered, trailed and sorted cattle in the Powder Wash. It was a great home-schooling experience for Siobhan, Tiarnan, Rhen and Seamus (helping but camera-shy!). We were joined for a time by three young mustang stallions, evidently kicked out of their herd and looking for friends.
Our decision to move most of the ewes north was not an easy one. We have never not kept them (relatively) close to home on desert sagebrush steppe grazing permits. Last February, our sheep were trapped by bad weather and roads. When this winter started early and hard, we bought extra feed and hauled it to them daily, hoping for a thaw. We did not have back-to-back blizzards like last February, but it has just kept snowing and getting colder. Eamon found sugar beets which had frozen in the ground in the Big Horn Basin. After lots of phone calls and planning, we started loading ewes, and rams, on trucks and moving them to beet fields and crop aftermath in the north part of the state. Most of them had never seen a truck.
The rams hang around for ten and a half months, waiting for the day when they are called to go to work, fathering lambs for the next season. We put the bucks in over a period of days and weeks. We figure that the first bucks to go in with the ewes are getting tired, so we send reinforcements. They sometimes resent being worked through the chutes, but are happy to jump out of the trailers to join the ladies. When we were loading them, I said, “Hop in boys–all the corn you can eat.” Meghan said, “All the ladies you can breed!” I added, “…and all the wind you can tolerate.” Such is the life of a buck in the winter.
The ewes have made their annual trek north to the Red Desert, where we have wintering ground on the Cyclone Rim and Chain Lakes grazing allotments. These allotments are part of the vast Great Basin, home to Greater Sage Grouse, desert elk, riparian plants and amphibians, feral horses, many many antelope and, part of the year, cattle and sheep. The Great Basin is named because it is a closed basin. To the north, the Continental Divide splits and runs in separate ranges until it meets again about 15 miles south of Wamsutter near the Haystack Mountains. The country south of there–Church Butte, Adobe Town, Powder Rim–is likewise amazing landscape, but it is not part of the Great Basin, the Red Desert. It is always a relief when we safely cross the overpass over the Union Pacific line and the underpass beneath I80 and head out across the open country for winter pasture. We are a week later than usual on the trail north. We had to wait for snow, since there’s not much water on the trail. Like Goldilocks, we want it to be not too hot and not too cold!
All is green and warm. It’s hard to believe that we are not far away, in time, in temperature, from fall. Soon we will see frosty mornings, golden leaves, and critters headed for lower climes. For now, we hang onto these long sunny days. Each sunrise the sun sneaks south, while we breathe warm breezes, a little longer.
We have started trailing from our wintering grounds to spring country where we have shearing and lambing in our future, and theirs.
The ewe lambs have spent the winter in the Powder Wash country. Yemerson has started them along the Powder Rim trail. In a few days, they will arrive at the Badwater Pasture, where they will hang out until early July.
In the meantime, the ewes who wintered on the Chain Lakes allotment on the Red Desert have started south. Their destination is the Cottonwood lambing grounds. In a few weeks, we’ll have wool in the bags, and lambs on the ground, God willing.
The bitter cold and deep snowfall during the past week has seen critters, wild and domestic, on the move. We decided to trail our yearling ewes and old ewes from the Chivington Place to Powder Flat , where they are closer to the haystack. Likewise, the deer, elk and antelope are all on the move. Here’s some of the migrations we saw today.
Yemy heading up the county road
Yearling ewes and old ewes en route to Powder Flat
The guard dogs have their back
Yemy is keeping his adopted wild horse warm!
McCoy, Sadie and Cora moving the sheep
Feral (unadopted) wild horses on the feed line with our cows
Every year at this time, we are almost there with the final leg of our 150 mile trek as the sheep trail from their summer country in the Medicine Bow and Routt National Forests to winter pasture in Wyoming’s Red Desert. Each way, spring and fall, we must cross the overpass across the Union Pacific line, and the underpass below Interstate 80–both coast to coast trails of a different sort. We make this part of the trail on WY Highway 789. For several miles, we share the highway with cars, pickup trucks and trailers, motor homes, and semi trucks hauling everything from livestock to oilfield supplies. We flag the road, ‘fore and aft, to warn traffic that the sheep are on the highway. We’ve only had a few near wrecks over the years, due mostly to inattentive or inexperienced drivers, and sometimes bad weather. Mostly we see our neighbors, who wait and wave, fellow travelers, and folks who stop and take photos and ask questions. I always send up a prayer of thanks when sheep, dogs, horses and humans have safely threaded the needle, and are on their way to the Red Desert. Then I pray for a good winter, good feed and a good living for all.
at Rodewald’s gate
Jean Carlos on the run
Filo on the railroad bridge
passing the Fireworks Stand
sharing the road
Prima Express–dos direciones
Ovcharka livestock guardian dog sees them through the gate
trailing crew–Rhen, Pepe, McCoy and Pat
more crew–Pepe, Tiarnan and Meghan
Tiarnan and Modesto headed north on adopted wild horse
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.