September 30 is the off-date for most of our Forest permits. Bridger Peak above Battle Pass is one of our highest grazing areas for the sheep in the summer. Alejandro takes the yearling ewes to the top of the Continental Divide. He had a flat tire on his wagon, so German changed the tire before we pulled the camp down the really rocky road to the highway. Alejandro shepherds the yearlings with the help of his border collies, his livestock guardian dogs, and his pet lamb, Solano. We saw snow on the Divide, and glorious fall colors on the trail down.
July 1st is the on-date for the forest permits where our ewes and lambs graze for the summer. While the ewes are lambing at Cottonwood, the yearling ewes hang out in the Badwater pasture, some 40 miles to the north. The ewes and lambs are usually settled on their permits for the summer by the 4th of July. The permit where the yearlings graze for the summer has an on-date of mid-July so it’s their turn to trail. Yearlings can move a lot faster than the five miles per day required by the federal agencies, so they usually move right along. This year was exceptional. Due to drought, very little water was available as we trailed. We discussed hauling water, which is difficult and expensive, but Alejandro said he’d rather make more miles and go from water to water. This meant that one day, the yearlings covered about 20 miles, which usually takes three days. They were tired, but really happy to see that reservoir. They are young and healthy and did fine, but I hope we don’t have to do it again. We rested them in our State Land pasture on the lambing grounds, which had feed and plenty of water, then pushed on to their summer permit. They spend the first few days on our neighbor’s private in-holding. We appreciate the extra grazing, and he values the reduction in grasses for wildfire protection. Alejandro did an excellent job in shepherding them through the dry country.
The reservoir’s in sight below Muddy Mountain
Trailing the yearlings onto their summer permit (Yes, that’s smoke in the air.)
Settled at last on Condict’s. That’s a smoke plume from the Morgan Creek Fire on the right.
We’ve been trailing and back-riding for a week, as the cattle come off the summer grazing grounds. The cows and calves have been on the Routt and Medicine Bow National Forests since June and July. They graze in large rotations and we ride through them almost daily. They don’t want to leave since the weather is still warm. They see no reason to leave perfectly good feed and water. We’ve been watching the Middle Fork Fire, to the south of our allotments. It’s been burning in ungrazed areas, although there are plenty of beetle-killed pines everywhere. We’re glad to be out of the Forest with this season of fire.
On the road
home to the meadows
Pat D. and Tiarnan
cows trailing near the Midnight Ranch
riding crew at lunch (photo credit, Pat Danscen)
through the horse’s legs (photo credit, Pat Danscen)
Tiarnan and Battle Mountain
Tate, Sharon and Liberty the filly (photo credit, Pat Danscen)
Sharon and Seamus the horse (photo credit, Pat Danscen)
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.
Tiarnan helped tend two sheepcamps. We drove two and a half hours to Shirley Basin, where Guillermo is tending the bucks (well away from the ewes!). We took a back road through several gates, a muddy slough (didn’t get stuck, but it was a near thing) and a “Beware of Radiation” sign. On the way home, we left water for Leo in the Medicine Bow National Forest. I was lucky to have Tiarnan as a helper guy and good company!
Tiarnan filling the water bucket at Guillermo’s camp.
The National Forests near us are filled with dead Lodgepole pines, killed by pine beetles over the past decade or so. The trees are long past the “red and dead” stage and are now at the gray and falling over stage. Much of the Medicine Bow and Routt Forests are a tinderbox. We want to see a number of smaller burns instead of a great conflagration.
A few days ago, our range conservationist on the Routt contacted us to let us know of a small fire on an adjacent grazing allotment. We went up and moved our cows away from the fire area. We are praying for moderate weather and no rain. My Dad was a great believer in fire as a range management tool. He may have sent that lightening bolt!
This fire could do our Forest a lot of good and literally “clear out the deadwood”.
It’s almost time for the bulls to seek romance with the cows. The highlight of the year comes just before the summer solstice, when their long months of waiting are at an end, and they get to hang out with comely cows in the beautiful Routt and Medicine Bow National Forests. What more could a bull want?
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.