Each fall we test the buck herd. Geri Parsons, Optimal Livestock Services, comes to check our rams for fertility and health. At the same time, we look at their teeth, their feet and their general condition to make sure they are ready to romance the ewes in a couple of months.
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.
Cora and Sadie on the job
view from the back
guard dog on the job
Siobhan and Tiarnan sorting
Tiarnan in Geri’s chute
Siobhan at the chute
Tiarnan with the sorting flag
Pat and Tiarnan behind the sheep
Meghan and Oscar working the chute, Geri’s tent in place
Each fall, before the bucks join the ewes, we ask Optimal LIvestock Services to fertility check them. Renowned, and sort of retired Dr. Cleon Kimberling and his partner Geri Parsons bring their traveling lab to ranches around the West. Dr. Kimberling started this service when he was the extension sheep vet for Colorado State University. Back in the day, Dr. Kimberling would arrive with a crew of veterinary students. Dr. K would bicycle over the mountains from Fort Collins while the students drove the van. CSU no longer offers this service, but luckily for us, and others, Dr. Kimberling and Geri Parsons are keeping up the good work. He is still an avid bicyclist, and a working vet. Rhen was fascinated by the whole process, and told his parents that we had “preg tested” the rams.
bringing in the bucks
Modesto holding the foot securely
Oscar and Geri
Geri testing, Rhen learning
free at last!
Rhen checking the results with Geri and Dr. Kimberling
If it’s March, it must be time to pregnancy test. We breed the best of our Rambouillet ewes to Rambouillet rams, thereby ensuring a new crop of replacement ewe lambs, as well as their brothers/cousins. Since purebred whiteface lambs are more vulnerable at birth, especially the twins, we pregnancy check the moms so that the ewes carrying twins can lamb in the sheds. The rest of the Rambouillet ewes are bred to our Hampshire rams. Their lambs have hybrid vigor and usually do fine with drop lambing on the range. Our friend Geri Parsons from Optimal Livestock Services comes up each March at mid-pregnancy to check the ewes and call out “single”, “twins”, “open” and even “triplets”. Meghan and her crew appropriately marked the ewes with a paint dab on their heads to signify their status for later sorting. Geri usually braves chill winds and long drives for several days to accomplish this task. Here’s some photos of this year’s pregnancy checking.
Ewes, waiting for the verdict
Pepe at the chute, Geri’s office in the tent
It was REALLY MUDDY!!!
Chris bringing up the ewes
Pregnancy testing crew–Sam the Border collie, Modesto, Maeve, Meghan, Pepe, Tiarnan, Geri, Chris
This is the time of year when we decide who stays and who goes. The rams are evaluated, intimately, by Geri Parsons and her crew (this year her one-woman crew) at Optimal Livestock Services for fertility, age, potential disease or injury, and condition. The ewes are evaluated by our crew for many of the same traits which indicate whether they will be productive for another year. We check their teeth, which affects their ability to eat the hard winter grasses on the desert. We check their udders, and their overall condition. The rams are basically judged to stay or go. The ewes are judged as keepers, good old ewes who are sold to someone who can give them an easier lifestyle, and “killers” who are culled due to age, condition, and injury to their udders.
Ashley Miller checks a Hampshire ram, with assistance from Christian
Pregnancy testing is one of the veterinary services offered by Optimal Livestock Services–Dr. Cleon Kimberling, veterinarian, and Geri Parsons, vet technician, proprietors. We ask them to pregnancy test our ewes who are expecting white-faced lambs. When we know which ewes are carrying twins, we can manage them separately so that they can get extra nutrition and care. At lambing time, we can make sure they have better shelter because the white-faced lambs are more vulnerable at birth than the cross-bred lambs which have black-faced Hampshire fathers. You old ag majors remember the lessons about “highbred vigor” which results when different types of sheep, or cows or whatever, are mixed. The purebreds are less hardy, but they are the lambs which grow into our replacement ewes (or at least the females do). We need both.
Geri recently showed up to check our ewes, who currently reside on the Red Desert, north of Wamsutter, Wyoming.
Salomon, Meghan, Pepe and Eamon bringing in the ewes
Pepe and Maeve, at work
Siobhan and Sadie, corral help
Eamon and Tweed, lending encouragement
preg testing crew: Richar, Salomon, Pepe, Eamon Geri and Meghan (and Sharon behind the camera!)
Most of the year, we think about the ewes–are they eating enough? are they pregnant? did they lamb? did they have twins? did they elude the coyotes and bears?
Of course, in order to have those little lambs hit the ground in May and June, we need to have dads. In the livestock world, dads (be they bucks, bulls, or stallions) count too, and we want them to be the best most productive sires we can find. And, since it costs money and opportunity to support them for most of the year (well, actually, for all of the year, but they only work for a couple of months), we want to make sure they are the optimal sort of dad.
Who you gonna call? Optimal Livestock Services of course! Each fall, retired Colorado State University vet Dr. Cleon Kimberling, and his partner and sidekick Vet Tech Geri Parsons travel throughout the Rockies to test rams. They check rams for fertility, disease, and other factors, such as age and condition, that can influence their ability to breed ewes.
Dr. Kimberling mans a traveling lab, where he examines sperm samples from rams. Geri, with help from our crew, collects the samples in test tubes, records information about each individual, and gives all the info to Cleon, who studies and collates it. At the end of the process, we growers are given a computer printout that rates each ram according to fertility, health, age, and other variables.
We then mark the rams who fail to make the grade. They get a truck ride which ends in a vacation in Mexico. I’ve never asked Dr. Kimberling what happened to his vet students who failed to make the grade.
Geri testing buck
Geri marking a test tube
Dr. Kimberling at the microscope
Maeve helping Dr. K.
Pepe and Timoteo securing a ram
Crew hard at work: Pepe, Sharon, Geri and Christian
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.