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The Last Lament (hopefully)

sheepherder on the horizon

I haven’t put up many posts this winter, mostly because it has been so overwhelming. 2022-2023 is one for the record books, not just for us, but all the way from Elko, Nevada to Rawlins, Wyoming. All of Wyoming, and parts of surrounding states were hit pretty hard. Interstate 80 was closed 55 times between October and early March. It seemed like every time they opened the interstate, someone died.

As this blog shows, we had to evacuate our sheep in January and early February from their usual wintering grounds on the Red Desert to safety on our hayfields north of Dixon. Normally, they spend December to mid-April grazing on the Cyclone Rim and Chain Lakes allotments before heading down the trail, first to the Badwater Pasture south of Creston Junction, then on to the lambing grounds near Dixon. Often we are worried about finding enough water and snow drifts along the trail. If the shearers show up on time, we usually shear at Badwater. If they are delayed, we set up the traveling shearing sheds on the lambing grounds. Sometimes a few lambs show up by the time we finish shearing.

This year our cows wintered on a friend’s ranch near Laramie. Who’d have guessed that Laramie would have a relatively mild winter with not much snow.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we were buried. The Snowtels were measuring record snowfalls. The story that the Snowtels (measuring devices for snow and water content located high in the mountains) didn’t tell is the amount of snow falling in the lower country. The wildlife normally spend the summers in the mountains where there’s lots to graze. That’s where our cows and sheep spend the summers as well. In the fall, we all move down together.

In 2022-2023, the snowpack was “inverted.” It piled up in the lower landscapes where the deer, elk and antelope can usually dig down to dried grasses and be sustained through the winter month. Usually, especially on the high desert, winds blow the snow into drifts and leave bare ground for grazing. This winter, it started snowing in mid-December, then warmed up briefly allowing the surface to turn to liquid, then ice. This formed a solid layer which the animals couldn’t  penetrate with their hooves.

We usually turn our rams in with the ewes on about December 13th. We were worried because we had to wait a few days since the roads were closed. I said, “Well, if it’s a stormy spring, we’ll be glad to be lambing a few days later.” Little did we know how prescient those words would be.

As chronicled in earlier posts, the ewes spent the winter on full feed on our snow-buried fields. We have brought in truckload after truckload of alfalfa to keep them alive. Family, employees and friends have done an heroic job. Some of the neighbors fed elk alongside their cattle, and we even had Greater Sandhill Cranes picking alfalfa alongside the sheep.

Deer and antelope are not very adaptable in their diet. They cannot digest hay and alfalfa, and we have watched them die. Now that the snow is finally melting, we find their emaciated bodies alongside the roads and piled under Juniper trees. Some few deer have survived by staying in town and foraging there.

It has been a slow warm-up so far. This is generally good because it slows down the flooding, but much of the snowpack is still in the mountains. We pray for warm days so the grass will finally come, but not too warm so we’re not inundated. Water managers in the Lower Basin States of the Colorado River are happy as they anticipate the runoff. However, Mother Nature is taking her due, soaking runoff into drought-dried soils, and evaporating into the sky. Even so, we hope to see significant rises in reservoirs large and small.

Today, I was in the feed store in Craig. An older gentleman, there loading up bags of feed, said “It sure is a nice day.” I agreed. It made me look around and appreciate it.

I went inside to sign the ticket and chatted with a young lady, there to pick up calving supplies.

We commiserated and told war stories about the winter. She told me about the scores and scores of dead deer, antelope and elk that she had counted along the roadside.

She said that she and her husband had thrown valuable alfalfa to antelope sheltering in a draw near their home. “They’re all dead now,” she said.

Finally, finally, most of the ground is bare and we are seeing a green sheen on the pastures and hillsides. The surviving deer, antelope and elk are looking a little better as they are able to forage. Most of them will make it now.

As for the sheep, they too will look a lot better once the green grass comes.

I hope now to spend the next months posting about sunshine, grass, lambs and great weather.

barn in late March

Tiarnan trailing the horses home (Rhen, Siobhan and Trevor helped too!)

Sheep Mountain and Flattop in late April

brush hedged by deer and antelope

winter-killed antelope

more winter kill

three more dead antelope

Sandhill Cranes on the Dixon Ranch–better days ahead!

 

 

 

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Fall Work

Cows in the JO

 

I once told a cook that we were only really busy in the summer. As the year wore on, he commented “I didn’t know summer lasted until November!”

So here we are in November, and it seems like  the fall work just keeps coming. Here’s some pics of cows, calves, ewes, lambs, dogs, horses and folks who help us out.

in the corral

Eamon and dogs at the ready

Casey and Bubba

Eamon, Bubba and Casey having a meeting

ewes and lambs in the Dixon corral

lambs onto the truck, Nevada bound

sea of sheep

Meghan and the loaded truck

beaver dam across Battle Creek

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2022 in Animals, Cattle, Dogs, Horses, Sheep

 

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Summer’s Almost Gone

horses crossing the road

 

It’s not quite time for winter to be coming on, but we’re starting to see yellow leaves and cool mornings. Here’s some photos from the last of our summer days.

bringing up the heifers

buck lambs

Eamon opening the gate

McCoy ready to ride

lambs and ewes near Little Red Park

 

Siobhan’s elk. She had a “depredation” tag for elk eating our alfalfa. That’s alfalfa all around!

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2021 in Animals, Cattle, Family, Folks, Folks who help us out, Horses

 

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Solstice Morning

Bubba and Eamon celebrating the summer solstice

 

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Horses along the Little Snake

the horses heading to the Lemmons Meadow

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2021 in Animals, Horses

 

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Pancho and Lefty

Alejandro with Pancho, the pet sheep and Lefty, the puppy

 

Here’s Alejandro at his winter camp near Powder Wash. Pancho is a bum lamb who is well on his way to becoming the new bellwether. He has big hooves to fill to replace Dunkin. We’ll just have to name the puppy Lefty.

The horses are wintering well

Alejandro with his Border collie puppies

 

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November Cavvy

November Cavvy

 

 

November cavvy,
trotting into headquarters—
sporting winter coats

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2020 in Animals, Dogs, Folks, Folks who help us out, Horses, Poetry

 

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Pal–the horse Houdini

Pal leading his pals on the great escape

 

You sly old pony–
you can open any gate. . .
will work 4 green grass.

 

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2020 in Events

 

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Ace-in-the-Hole, Powder Wash

horses, ready to go

 

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.

Siobhan, home-schooling

Tiarnan and Dot, one of his home-school teachers

Meghan and Siobhan

 

heifers, Megan and Rhen

Eamon sorting the heifers

sorting crew, Powder Wash

Cows and heifers trailing up the Powder Wash

 

 

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Welcome to the world, Emma!

The horse herd welcomes Emma

 

This morning when we checked the horses, we found that Sarah has a brand new colt! Sarah is a great kids’ horse, so Tiarnan and Rhen were very excited to visit Sarah and her baby. She has a filly, born on my grandmother Emma Terrill Salisbury’s birthday, so of course she is named Emma.

Tiarnan and Rhen checking out Emma

mealtime for Emma

Tiarnan and Rhen opening the gate

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2020 in Animals, Family, Folks, Horses

 

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