Rhen on the chute after guiding his Dad who was backing up the truck.
Sometimes we have multi-species days. Pat, Eamon, Rhen and Sharon headed to Powder Flat to load heifers on trucks so we could move them to spring country north of Dixon. We are full-on lambing at the Powder Flat headquarters, so there was plenty going on there already.
Each March, we lamb our purebred ewes, Hampshire and Rambouillet, in the sheds at Powder Flat. We raise our rams for the commercial range ewes from these two farm flocks. Luckily, we have a good crew and the early weather has been mild.
As the elk and the deer
head down from summer’s grass
calves and fawns by their side
we gather cows, their calves and
hope for good weather.
We hook up the sheep camps,
move our community of critters—
ewes, lambs, dogs, horses.
The shepherds shift from early mornings,
lazy afternoons, fights with bears
trying to find a camp spot among
tourists, campers, refugees from Covid.
At home, we stage the sheep, bringing them
bunch by bunch to pastures,
to the corrals
For sorting, for judging who stays,
who goes, some to the desert
some to farmers with soft fields and warm barns.
Lambs climb onto trucks—
first the heavies, born early,
next the lights,
and finally the peewees
headed for corn and lower country.
Today, we are “springing forward” in time. The transitions back and forth between Standard Time and Daylight Savings Time are always jolting. I think it’s harder than one hour jet lag because the environmental clues of sunshine and shadows don’t change. We are close to the Equinox, when daylight and nighttime hours are approximately equal. This change is subtle but real. It reflects the wheeling of the earth, sun and stars. The measurement of time is a human construct, to give us a path to capturing the vast reality of our journey through the universe. The ancients built pyramids and Stonehenge to chart this course.
We are finally, I hope, making the transition from Winter to False (or Almost) Spring. A few days ago, we woke up to zero degrees, again. For the last two or three days, daytime temperatures have been above freezing–even as high as a balmy 40 degrees! We are moving from snow everywhere to snow most everywhere, interspersed with mud. We have lots of little lambs on the ground at Powder Flat. Most of the ewes are still in the Big Horn Basin, but we are seeing the light at the end of the snow tunnel and hope to bring them home soon. Most of the cows are in Nebraska and Laramie, but we are waiting for the day when conditions improve so they can come home too. The young bulls are hanging out at Powder Flat with the early lambers. Roma poet Virgil: “fugit inreparabile tempus”, which means “it escapes, irretrievable time”.
In the fall, we send lambs to the feedlot. These are the lambs that we have nurtured in the womb throughout the cold winter months. These are the lambs that we saw into the world in a cold wet spring. These are the lambs for whom we fended off coyotes and ravens and bears. These are the lambs who followed their mothers and grew on sweet summer grass.
Some of their numbers fell to predators. A few fell to the hundreds other hazards that await the creatures that we care for. Now we sort out the ewe lambs who will stay with us and become mama ewes. The others go to feedlots where others look after them. In a few months, they will go to slaughter and provide sustenance, by-products such as insulin, and pelts for all of us. The income they bring helps us continue the cycle of husbanding livestock and caring for landscape.
July 1st brings the on-date for the Forest grazing permits. We worked Modesto’s bunch at the Johnson corrals, in the Routt National Forest. We not only counted the ewes and lambs, but put numbered paint brands on the “marker” ewes, and gave Rhen an opportunity to practice his mutton busting.
Cora keeping an eye on the sheep.
Belling number 2, Juan supervising
numbering the marker ewes
Rhen practicing mutton busting
Siobhan and her team of Border collies
Counted, belled and numbered–heading for summer pasture
In the fall, the cows and calves are gathered into private pastures near the Home Ranch. They have spent the summer months grazing on National Forest permits. It takes several “back rides” to make sure that all the critters have come down from the summering ground, and we collect them into pastures where they can graze and hang out until it is time to sort them. Here are some views of our family, friends and employees moving cows and calves closer to home. Soon it will be time to load the calves onto trucks to their new homes, and the cows onto trucks to go to winter pastures and cornfields where they will ruminate and gestate until spring.
The cows and the sheep have been sharing the Sheep Mountain pasture.
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.
Border collie with sheep Photo by Elizabeth Campbell
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.
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.
Sharon's father George, 89, passed away December 25, 2010. He lived much of his life in the house where he was born, and remained active in the day-to-day life of the ranch. Mr. Salisbury was a decorated World War II veteran, a former member of Wyoming's House of Representatives, and former President of Wyoming's Board of Agriculture.
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 also served on the Wyoming Board of Agriculture, and she and Brian are active in community service. Daughter Bridget lives in Denver with her husband, Chris Abel, where she works in public relations and he serves agriculture in the food 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 nurse.
The blog traces the activities and life on the ranch, from the mundane to the fabulous.