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.
The McCullem Place is part of our Powder Wash ranch west of Baggs. It serves as spring pasture for some of the cows and calves. The homestead era headquarters is mostly gone, so we set up portable corrals, brought in the cows and calves, and processed the calves. These are some of the Akaushi-cross calves so we also had to take a snip of ear to check their bloodlines. We built an old-fashioned fire to heat the branding irons. We had another great crew of family, friends and employees.
It’s branding time! We have lots of baby calves who need brands, eartags and vaccine so that they can be ready to head to the National Forest next month with their mamas. We have a great crew this year, which includes a lot of home-grown child labor. Sheep Mountain is a pasture which we graze spring and fall. Sheep Mountain itself is an extinct volcano which has provided us with rich soil and great pasture.
Early morning Sage Grouse dance east of Muddy Mountain
Third grade teacher Cindy Cobb is famous for her field trips. The most famous field trip is to see the mating dance of the Greater Sage Grouse, which is amazing. The kids have to show up to the school at 5 a.m. or so to board the bus for the dancing grounds on our lambing grounds. Last year when my grandsons McCoy and Tiarnan were in third grade, they missed the cool field trips because the coronavirus had closed the school, This year, the fourth graders joined the third graders on the trek to see the lek where the male grouse dance and hoot in their attempt to attract the hens. Wyoming Game and Fish Department Biologist Phil Damm accompanied the students on the bus and explained what they were seeing. These kids know the ways of the birds and the bees!
Megan and Eamon discussing her future run at the NFR
We know how to have a good time on a Saturday afternoon. Eamon borrowed Ed Buchanan’s roping dummy on wheels. He pulled it with the four-wheeler, giving McCoy, Tiarnan, Rhen and several adults the chance to practice their roping. A good time was had by all!
After the cows come down from summering on the Forest, it’s time to learn if they are pregnant. It’s hard to get them to pee on a stick, so our neighbor, Dr. Ben Noland comes with his ultrasound and checks for pregnancy. One after another, he calls out “Pregnant,” “Open,” or “Late.” “Late” means pregnant but calving outside the window of time when we want to be calving. We also vaccinate, check and sometimes replace eartags, and look at the cow’s general health. Most of the cows go into the pregnant pen. Some of the lates will be sold to other producers who calve later. Pregnancy testing is a key management practice since we don’t want to feed cows all winter only to learn that they won’t be raising a calf next summer. Thanks to Dr. Ben and our entire hard-working crew!
The cows and their calves have happily spent the last three months grazing on the Routt and Medicine Bow National Forest. October 1st is the off date for our Forest grazing permit. Friends and family help us as we bring the cattle down from their summering grounds.
Kids at the confluence of the Little Snake River and Battle Creek
The kids have been swimming a lot this summer. Even though the water is low, due to drought, we have still made frequent visits to our swimming hole. As Battle Creek flows into the Little Snake, it scoops out a pool where the water is fairly deep and remarkably still. The other day, I was in Murdock’s and saw a “floatie” which was an “inflate-a-bull”. The object is to ride the plastic blow-up bull while your buddies shake the intertube attached to it. It looked like the perfect activity for the grandkids. Here’s a shout-out to the brave young man who climbed up to retrieve the last one which was blown up and hung high on the wall. The kids wasted no time in talking Megan into blowing it up without the benefit of a pump, and talking her into taking them to the swimming hole. The “Inflate-a-bull” was a big hit.
The week before, the kids devised a game in which Tiarnan and Rhen were “humans”, Maeve, Seamus and McCoy were mermen and -maid. The humans could capture the merpeople by hitting them with big globs of moss, which were abundant due to warm water temps. I was the “Queen of the Sea” and they were not supposed to throw moss at me. That part didn’t work out so well.
School has started and we had our first freeze this morning, so we’ll be lucky if we can get in another swim.
It’s a buck’s life. These boys only work six weeks a year, but it’s an important six weeks. Without them, we would have no baby lambs in the spring. Of course, it falls to the ewes to be pregnant for five months, and then to spend another five months or so raising lambs.
As for the bucks, they are ready for some rest. In a few weeks, they start looking for something to do, which usually involves trying to escape wherever we want them to be. They were glad to see the ewes on Cyclone Rim in mid-December, but now it’s time for them to leave the ewes and return to their bachelor ways. They go home the same way they left–one horsetrailer at a time.
Guillermo, Tiarnan, McCoy, Rhen and Seamus bringing the bucks up
up the chute
Oscar and Guillermo loading the trailer
Oscar and Guillermo and the loaded trailer
last buck jumping out
Home at last! Here are the bucks with fresh hay in the Mouse Pasture.
We sold one truckload of heifers so it was time to sort and load them. After weeks of dry weather, fire in the forest and smoke in the valley, we’ve had rain. It has settled the dust and greened up our brittle grasses. The Big Red Fire did a lot of good, this week’s rain is doing a lot of good, and the first frost which came last night is just a few days ahead of the Equinox. Fall is here, and the cooler weather is welcome.
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.