The past two winters have been hard winters by anyone’s standards. Conditions were especially harsh on the Red Desert north of Wamsutter, where we winter our sheep. In 2018-2019, the ewes and bucks were snowed in on the Cyclone Rim allotment for weeks, and we couldn’t even get to the Chain Lakes allotment. In 2019-2020, the winter started early, so we found frozen sugar beets in the northern part of Wyoming and trucked the sheep to farms.
Now we are in drought. We have received around 65 percent of normal moisture so far this winter. An easy winter is easier on both livestock and herders, and on us as we drive back and forth to the sheep camps. The sheep depend upon snow for water for most of the winter. We’ve had several days of wind and thaw, which takes the snow and leaves bare sage and steppe. We now wait for a good winter storm, which we hope will bring much-needed moisture. Winter snow brings us spring grass.
As our blog watchers know, we have had a horrific winter which made it hard to keep our livestock well cared for. This is the origin of the phrase “animal husbandry.” After a long and trying series of experiences, mostly weather related, we moved both the sheep and the cows to warmer climes. They are now coming home. We are in the season Still Winter/Almost Spring. The Coronavirus outbreak has affected our day-to-day lives less than many, but our big picture economic lives more than many. Still, we live in the day-to-day. We had sent most of our sheep, ewes and rams, to the Bighorn Basin for the winter. The early cold froze the sugar beets grown there, which meant that the beets couldn’t be harvested, but were frozen in the ground. As it happens, sheep can “graze” on sugar beets in the ground, and other crop aftermath. Spring is sort of coming and the deep snow is finally sort of melting. The farmers in the Bighorn Basin, where it is almost 3,000 feet lower in altitude, need to have their fields cleared of sheep so they can be ready to plant the 2020 crops. We began to be worried that the side-effects from Coronavirus would make it hard to bring the ewes several hundred miles south, and home. The truckers are busy hauling essential supplies, and sheep trailers especially are in short supply. What would happen if our sheep, men and dogs were stranded? We have some great trucker friends and were able to organize 17 trucks (same trucks, more than one trip). We had already brought some home earlier, but we had not figured on the unprecedented challenges of a Black Swan event.
ewes and rams
getting the truck ready
eager to go home
brand inspector on the job
Joel and Pepe
Tiarnan supervising (home school)
Pepe and our “landlord” Pasquel
Maeve serving her brownies (Grandma Laura’s recipe) after the last sheep is loaded–more home school
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.