Tag Archives: ewes
Riding Rough Stock
The rough stock waits in the chute.
Riders tug, straighten their chaps,
screw down their hats, squint and gauge
the critters they aim to ride.
“Now, folks” chants the announcer,
“The third go-round, Mutton Busting.
The riders are six and under,
weighing less that fifty pounds.”
Tears flow as a young rider
hugs tight to his father’s leg,
snuffles into the dusty denim.
“Cowboy up!” A brave nod.
A brother and sister–busters both–
adjust the numbers pinned to
their shirts, tug at the safety vests,
exchange cowboy hats for helmets.
This is serious business.
The rider drops onto the back
of the ewe with the wary look.
This isn’t her first rodeo.
Some grab the bucking strap
snugged behind her front legs—
a handhold on the shorn sheep.
Some wrap their arms around her neck.
“Let me tell you about this critter,”
Blares from speakers overhead,
“She’s known as Baaaaad Bessie—
and she’s never been ridden!”
The rider swallows, and nods,
and the chute gate flies open!
The ewe bolts like lightening
spies the white line dusted in the dirt,
And jumps! The youngster tilts
and turns, seeking mom, or dad,
and grips harder on every wooly bit.
The ground looks hard.
Then boom, the dirt rises up,
grit fills teeth, nose and eyes,
suddenly flooded with tears.
The crowd cheers, and claps.
Angelic, the Rodeo Queen appears,
smelling sweet—with hugs and smiles,
and a salute to bravery,
with a dollar bill, a shiny ribbon.
The mutton buster remembers
how the bronc riders do it,
brushes off the dirt and the tears,
and waves to the crowd.
2018 shearing is complete. The crew showed up in a timely manner, the ewes moved through in an orderly manner, and we thanked our lucky stars because many years bring problems, from weather to a late crew to the late arrival of our sheepherders from Peru.
First the ewes trailed from their winter pasture on the Red Desert to Badwater, which is spring and fall country. The shearing crew showed up and set up their shed and baler. We brought the bunches through, staging them for the trail south to the lambing grounds. We got two days of rain, which was welcome, but finished in time to trail several days ahead of lambing.
We then moved on to Powder Flat, where the ewes who had lambed in March were still in the wool, and the bucks, still in their red “working clothes”, awaited. We had a glitch when my dog, Cora, hit the automatic locks on the pickup as I was hauling the shearing shed to Powder Flat. Unfortunately, the pickup was at the main gate (fondly know as The Portal), and my phone was inside. After several hours, which included a long walk, much unhitching and hitching and dragging heavy vehicles around with a tractor, we were able to haul the shed to the waiting shearers and get started. Pat brought the extra keys, liberating the truck and the dog.
After two half days, all were sheared and ready to head into the spring season and events.
Spring has definitely sprung, if not with weather, then with spring work. After a dry winter, we have had series of spring rains and snows. In the meantime, we have lots of baby lambs and calves arriving. We are trailing sheep to spring country and preparing to shear.
We raise our own replacement ewes from the best of our Rambouillet commercial ewes. We select about 1500 of these ewes, checking them for fine consistent wool, good body type, twinning, open faces, and other traits. The rest of the ewes, who are good but not as good, are bred to Hampshire (blackface) rams. We breed the replacement moms to the Rambouillet rams that we also raise.
When these lambs are born in May, they are more vulnerable to harsh weather conditions than the cross-bred lambs, who have hybrid vigor. The twin and triplet lambs are more at risk since their Mom has multiple lambs to care for. We have lambing sheds where we can give the ewes and their multiple lambs extra care and shelter. It is key to know which ewes are carrying the valuable and vulnerable twins and triplets.
Luckily for us, we can call on Optimal Veterinary Services to test our ewes mid-pregnancy. We set up our corrals, and Geri Parsons’ testing tent, on top of Cyclone Rim—a high range on the Red Desert. That’s where Avencio and his sheep are. The winter has been dry, so we have moved up chasing snowdrifts for water for the sheep. Geri, and her partner, Dr. Cleon Kimberling, “have lab, will travel”. Doc didn’t come this time (too far to ride his bike!), but we gathered employees and family members to work as the ground crew. We were lucky to have good weather with almost no wind—not always the case on Cyclone Rim!
Geri set up her tent next to the chute. As each ewe stopped, she checked them with an ultrasound machine, then called “single”, “twin”, “triplet”, and occasionally “open”! We then marked each ewe. The ewes pregnant with multiples will be sorted into a separate bunch when we shear in a few weeks. Then they will head to the lambing sheds for TLC.
It’s a buck’s life. These boys only work six weeks a year, but it’s an important six weeks. Without them, we would have no baby lambs in the spring. Of course, it falls to the ewes to be pregnant for five months, and then to spend another five months or so raising lambs.
As for the bucks, they are ready for some rest. In a few weeks, they start looking for something to do, which usually involves trying to escape wherever we want them to be. They were glad to see the ewes on Cyclone Rim in mid-December, but now it’s time for them to leave the ewes and return to their bachelor ways. They go home the same way they left–one horsetrailer at a time.
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.