Rhen on the chute after guiding his Dad who was backing up the truck.
Sometimes we have multi-species days. Pat, Eamon, Rhen and Sharon headed to Powder Flat to load heifers on trucks so we could move them to spring country north of Dixon. We are full-on lambing at the Powder Flat headquarters, so there was plenty going on there already.
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!
After the cows come down from summering on the Forest, it’s time to learn if they are pregnant. It’s hard to get them to pee on a stick, so our neighbor, Dr. Ben Noland comes with his ultrasound and checks for pregnancy. One after another, he calls out “Pregnant,” “Open,” or “Late.” “Late” means pregnant but calving outside the window of time when we want to be calving. We also vaccinate, check and sometimes replace eartags, and look at the cow’s general health. Most of the cows go into the pregnant pen. Some of the lates will be sold to other producers who calve later. Pregnancy testing is a key management practice since we don’t want to feed cows all winter only to learn that they won’t be raising a calf next summer. Thanks to Dr. Ben and our entire hard-working crew!
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
We brought the heifers, recently gathered at Powder Wash, to the Home Ranch. The unloading crew was Eamon, Rhen, Sharon and Siobhan. Our equipment included a mop in lieu of a “poking stick.” This exercise fulfilled home schooling requirements for animal science, mathematics and physical education.
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.
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.
following the tractor
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.
Eamon and Guillermo bringing up the sheep
almost to the gate
Eamon, ready to trail
Wagon, waiting for the day
View from the rear flagger
Wilber and Guillermo putting in at the 18 mile marker
It finally stopped raining long enough to allow us to brand some calves. Clouds were threatening, but with lots of good help, we got through them. They were, as my Dad used to say, “Big enough to get ahold of.”
In the fall, the cows and calves are gathered into private pastures near the Home Ranch. They have spent the summer months grazing on National Forest permits. It takes several “back rides” to make sure that all the critters have come down from the summering ground, and we collect them into pastures where they can graze and hang out until it is time to sort them. Here are some views of our family, friends and employees moving cows and calves closer to home. Soon it will be time to load the calves onto trucks to their new homes, and the cows onto trucks to go to winter pastures and cornfields where they will ruminate and gestate until spring.
The cows and the sheep have been sharing the Sheep Mountain pasture.
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.