Tag Archives: Filo
Today, the first band of ewes headed south, under Interstate 80 at Creston Junction, and over the Union Pacific line on Wyoming Highway 789. After a hard winter on the Red Desert, they are going to greening pastures. The other two bands which wintered on the Red Desert will follow in a couple of weeks as they travel to Badwater for shearing and Cottonwood for lambing.
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.
After all our adventures with shearing (and we still have a few ewes to shear and lambs to dock!), we loaded the first load of wool today. Most of it is bound for the U.S. military. Here is our intrepid loading crew, including the Utah trucker who came to haul it. One more load to go!
For many years, our lambs have been born on the open range, under the care of herders. Lambs usually come into the world under one of three management systems. Shed lambing calls for a lot of management, and a lot of labor, as the new moms and baby lambs are brought into the protection of sheds, and placed in “jugs” (little pens). In the past, we have lambed in sheds in March. We raise our own rams and for a number of years, we have shed lambed our farm flocks of Rambouillet and Hampshire ewes, who are the moms of the replacement bucks.
Most of our ewes “drop lamb.” Pregnant ewes are tended by herders. Each morning and evening, they ride through the sheep and “cut the drop.” This means that the ewes with brand-new lambs are “dropped” back, while the still pregnant ewes are moved ahead to fresh ground. This requires a large landscape, with the ewes scattered among sage and grass. In a few days, the ewes and their baby lambs have had a chance to “mother up” and are gathered into a bunch. When these flocks of ewes and lambs are put together, and the lambs are docked, they will trail on up to the Forest for the summer months.
The third way of lambing is open range lambing. Some producers with large tracts of private land build tight fences, concentrate on predator control, and let the ewes lamb without assistance.
Shed lambing saves the most lambs, due to one-on-one (or two, or three, or even four) attention. Drop lambing still involves a lot of labor, and has the advantage of keeping the sheep on clean ground. The herders ride through the sheep constantly and help any that require assistance. The disadvantage of drop lambing is vulnerability to bad weather, and increased exposure to predators, from coyotes to ravens. The weather has been more volatile the past few years, with spring storms killing hundreds and hundreds of lambs.
In an attempt to reduce our losses to weather, we have constructed a couple of large sheds in the last two years. The investment in infrastructure has been considerable, but our goal is to save lambs, and give ourselves, and the sheep, more protection against the vagaries of weather. This involves a lot of work for us and our employees.
On the range and in the sheds, our employees and family members are working to keep the ewes and lambs healthy. It has rained every day since we started lambing, and we are lambing in the wool, due to the shearing contractor not showing up. Even the ranch cook has helped out, after bringing hot lunches to the shed every day. Way to go, crew!
This year, our shearing crew arrived late. This meant that the ewes trailed, in the wool, to the Cottonwood lambing grounds to get shorn. Many years, we shear them in the Badwater pasture, some 45 miles north, then trail them on to the lambing grounds north of Dixon. This has to be done before May 1st if they are to have time to travel and be in the private, BLM and State lands when they start to lamb a week later.
Dixon is close to our community school in Baggs, and many years third-grade teacher, Miss Cobb, brings her students to watch shearing and learn about it. This year, it was easy, since the shearers were so close. The third graders were joined by the fourth grade class and their teacher, Mrs. Herold.
Cliff Hoopes, the shearing contractor, took time to show the students around. He even brought them, five at a time, into the shed so they could watch the shearers at work. This year’s shearing crew included one man from Japan, which was a first.
We were starting to lamb by the time the last sheep was sheared.