Tag Archives: livestock guardian dog
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.
Enough snow. Not too much. Not too little.
Most years, we set out on the sheep trail to the wintering grounds on about the same date. It is usually about a five- or six-day trail from our late fall pasture at Badwater to our winter grazing permits in the Red Desert. We leave around Thanksgiving time–grateful that the ewes have come south on the same trail in the spring, met the shearers. trekked to the lambing ground, borne and raised lambs, grazed on the forest, trailed back to the Home Ranch corrals, weaned their lambs, and now head north to winter pasture. It is usually a time when we can take a breath. We pray that the winter is not too hard, that the dry grass is enough to sustain the ewes, and then the rams, as the cycle begins anew.
This year, back-to-back blizzards hit soon after the first two bunches of sheep set out. Some days they have been stranded on the trail and it has been all we can do to reach the sheep and the herders with supplies. The Interstate has been closed, with multiple wrecks and even some deaths. We crossed two bunches in between storms, but have struggled to move them north, breaking trail with the tractor. The weather has paused between storms, allowing us to make progress. We are grateful that the storms have not been unrelenting.
We had to turn south with the last bunch. Their winter pasture on Chain Lakes is snowed under, and we’ve found another, more open, allotment to the south and west. We are trailing down the highway, which must confuse the ewes, whose instinct and habit is to head north. Since we are on the highway, and not the cross-country trail, we flag, fore and aft, to slow the oncoming traffic. Locals are also not used to seeing livestock on the road this time of year, and non-locals are mostly interested to see the sheep, the dogs, the herders and the family members.
The sheep north of the interstate are still struggling to get to Cyclone Rim. They have finally made it to a plowed road, but it is slow going due to all the trucks stuck as they try to reach the energy development in the same areas.
For us, rain, sleet, snow or shine, March always comes in like a lamb. We raise our own rams, Hampshire and Rambouillet, and the ewes start lambing March 1st. After the winter wait, the long months of lambs growing in the womb, we get to see these babies. With them lies our future. Their future, likewise, depends upon us. It is a long time between lambs on the ground and rams, dusted with iron oxide, jumping out of the horsetrailer to join the ewes, starting the cycle anew.
Pat’s birthday present was a new set of lenses for his iPhone. Here’s some photos he took at Powder Wash trying out the new lenses. Watch this space for future pics.
If the blackface and some of the whiteface ewes look roundish in these photos, that’s because they will start lambing in a month or so. You can also see how little snow there is. The winter continues to be warm and dry, and we continuously check the weather report for promises of snow. My Dad always said that a wet spring beats a hard winter, so we can hope!
Every year, we end up with a number of bum (orphan) lambs. They are motherless due to a variety of circumstances. Some ewes have more lambs than milk. Sometimes a ewe dies, leaving an actual orphan. Some lambs are weak, or injured, or just lost.
We sometimes are asked why these motherless lambs are called “bums”. It’s because they are “bumming” milk from their compatriots, or at least the most successful ones do.
This year, we have ended up with more bums than usual, partly due to our decision to lamb all the almost two-year-old ewes in the sheds. They did produce more lambs than milk. These are lambs that might have died on the range, so we are glad to have them back at the Home Ranch. This year, we decided to go all in, and raise them in an “organized” manner.
Raising bum lambs involves a lot of extra time, labor and money, as we purchase lamb milk replacer, which costs somewhat more than illegal drugs. This year, our efforts to supplement the lambs has been aided by Lady, the livestock guardian dog mom. We put her and her seven puppies with the multitudes, figuring it would be a good bonding experience for lambs and puppies alike.
Little did we expect that Lady would take her responsibilities so seriously.