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.
It’s that time of year again. The shearers have shown up and shearing is underway. Each year it takes a lot of moving parts for fleeces to roll off the sheep and into the big bales. Our shearing crew are contractors who come out of California. We are their last client of the season. This is good because they are not under pressure to move on to the next producer, but nerve-wracking because we want to have the ewes shorn in time to trail to the lambing grounds north of Dixon. Lambing starts around May 10th.
We were fortunate with the weather this year. We had a snowstorm right before we were ready to start. The weather cleared and was warmish and nice for most of the week, allowing us to get through the “main line,” as the wool buyers call the running age ewes. The yearlings were next, followed by a brief, but not killer storm–always a worry for freshly shorn sheep.
Our crew packed up their portable shed–the shearing equivalant of a food truck–and moved to Powder Flat. The early lambers and the rams were there, and soon they too had given up their winter coats. Beulan and Maria the llamas were also shorn, much to their spitting disgust, but they are ready for summer.
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!
Fall days are the time of year when the cattle and the sheep come down from their summer grazing on the the national forests. We bring them all to the Home Ranch, and sort them through the corrals. The ewes bring with them their whole entourage–herders, horses, Border collies, livestock guardian dogs. For a couple of weeks, we manage a rotating menagerie of sheep, dogs and–pigs? We keep a few feeder pigs over the summer to provide winter pork, but in the meantime the pigs consider themselves free-range critters who are likely to show up about anyplace. The guard dogs are suspicious of the pigs, but the pigs don’t care. I am reminded of “Babe” and wonder if we couldn’t train them to herd livestock. They are utterly indifferent to the dogs, who are puzzled by the pigs.
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 McCullem Place is part of our Powder Wash ranch west of Baggs. It serves as spring pasture for some of the cows and calves. The homestead era headquarters is mostly gone, so we set up portable corrals, brought in the cows and calves, and processed the calves. These are some of the Akaushi-cross calves so we also had to take a snip of ear to check their bloodlines. We built an old-fashioned fire to heat the branding irons. We had another great crew of family, friends and employees.
It’s branding time! We have lots of baby calves who need brands, eartags and vaccine so that they can be ready to head to the National Forest next month with their mamas. We have a great crew this year, which includes a lot of home-grown child labor. Sheep Mountain is a pasture which we graze spring and fall. Sheep Mountain itself is an extinct volcano which has provided us with rich soil and great 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. 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.