Fall days are the time of year when the cattle and the sheep come down from their summer grazing on the the national forests. We bring them all to the Home Ranch, and sort them through the corrals. The ewes bring with them their whole entourage–herders, horses, Border collies, livestock guardian dogs. For a couple of weeks, we manage a rotating menagerie of sheep, dogs and–pigs? We keep a few feeder pigs over the summer to provide winter pork, but in the meantime the pigs consider themselves free-range critters who are likely to show up about anyplace. The guard dogs are suspicious of the pigs, but the pigs don’t care. I am reminded of “Babe” and wonder if we couldn’t train them to herd livestock. They are utterly indifferent to the dogs, who are puzzled by the pigs.
July 1st is the on-date for most of our sheep grazing permits on the National Forest. We have to stage them on since we have several bunches which graze on federal permits in the summer, and it is the on-date for our neighbors as well. They usually trail one day apart so we go up the line and move each camp to the next spot until everyone is settled
There is always a grateful sigh when we know we are through lambing, through docking and through trailing. The next challenge is withstanding the predators which view our ewes and lambs as tasty snacks, especially in a year when the deer population is low. My Dad’s cousin once said, “Well, you’re up there in the nice cool flies.”
Now we are up in the “nice cool bears.”
We have grass and we have water. The grazing greatly reduces the fuel load and the fire danger. We are worried about fire in this year’s drought conditions. So it begins.
Pulling the wagon and flagging the sheep up the road
It’s that time of year. We’re nearly through lambing, and now we need to dock all those baby lambs. This is to ensure their health and well-being in the future. We dock their tails, vaccinate, castrate and earmark. The whole process takes a few minutes, then the lambs run off to join their moms. We count, number and brand the ewes and check for health before trailing.
Now that the sheep are sheared, it is time to head 40 miles south to our lambing grounds. Trailing was held up a couple of days by stormy weather, but the moisture was welcome. We are pushing hard to get there before we have too many lambs on the ground. Now it’s time to pray for perfect weather, no predators and green grass!
The ewes are eager to migrate to the Cottonwood lambing grounds.
Pepe has picked up the ewes with early lambs and one guard dog.
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.
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.