Tag Archives: Pat
It’s shipping time for the calves. Some of our calves, born last spring, will leave the mountains and their mamas and head to buyers who will feed them for market. Some heifer calves are sold to a buyer who will raise them to be replacement cows. Some heifers calves will stay with us to become our future cow herd. In every scenario, we bring the cows and calves into the corrals at the Home Ranch, sort them, wean them from their mothers who are already pregnant with next years calves, and send the calves to their various homes, and the cows to winter country.
October 1st is drawing near. In our world, that is the off-date for most of our National Forest permits. We are now staging both the cows and the sheep to trail down to the Home Ranch in a few days. Here’s Pepe and Modesto, our excellent long-time herders, with their ewes and lambs, ready to come off the Forest. We have had a record year for predator losses, in spite of their efforts and the efforts of our valiant Livestock Guardian Dogs. Since we know how many ewes and their lambs went up in July, and Pepe and Modesto (and the other herders) keep track of other deaths, we will soon have an idea of how terrible these losses have been.
After we rescued the misguided GPS traveler on the morning of July 4th, we moved on to rotating the bucks to a new pasture across the Little Snake River. Even though the grass is greener on the other side of the Little Snake, the bucks were not enthusiastic about crossing. It did not involve any swimming (although shorn sheep can swim). This was not, so to speak, our first rodeo, and we knew that eventually they would see it our way. It took a lot of whistling, throwing of sticks, calling back the dog, roping and pulling a couple of bucks across to serve as a “draw”, but we eventually prevailed. Our crew included Pat, Meghan, Bridget (on loan from Arizona), Siobhan, Bubba and me, plus Belle the Border Collie.
As our blog watchers know, we have had a horrific winter which made it hard to keep our livestock well cared for. This is the origin of the phrase “animal husbandry.” After a long and trying series of experiences, mostly weather related, we moved both the sheep and the cows to warmer climes. They are now coming home. We are in the season Still Winter/Almost Spring. The Coronavirus outbreak has affected our day-to-day lives less than many, but our big picture economic lives more than many. Still, we live in the day-to-day. We had sent most of our sheep, ewes and rams, to the Bighorn Basin for the winter. The early cold froze the sugar beets grown there, which meant that the beets couldn’t be harvested, but were frozen in the ground. As it happens, sheep can “graze” on sugar beets in the ground, and other crop aftermath. Spring is sort of coming and the deep snow is finally sort of melting. The farmers in the Bighorn Basin, where it is almost 3,000 feet lower in altitude, need to have their fields cleared of sheep so they can be ready to plant the 2020 crops. We began to be worried that the side-effects from Coronavirus would make it hard to bring the ewes several hundred miles south, and home. The truckers are busy hauling essential supplies, and sheep trailers especially are in short supply. What would happen if our sheep, men and dogs were stranded? We have some great trucker friends and were able to organize 17 trucks (same trucks, more than one trip). We had already brought some home earlier, but we had not figured on the unprecedented challenges of a Black Swan event.
Faithful blog readers know that due to extreme winter conditions in the Red Desert, our usual wintering ground, we have trucked most of our ewes north to the sugar beet fields in Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin. The Bighorn Basin is several hundred miles to the north of us, almost to the Montana border, but is also several thousand feet lower, and less snowy. We have some ewes who experienced “early conception,” probably due to a rogue buck lamb who escaped docking. At Powder Flat, we are set up for shed lambing (usually in March) and have a great crew. Pat and I went up to visit the ewes and herders, and to collect the pregnant ewes and bring them home to lamb. The Bighorn Basin is also experiencing an unusually snowy winter, though for them it is several inches of snow, not several feet. We have a good crew there too–Pepe, Modesto, Alejandro and Joel. It’s a long ways from home, but has feed available for the ewes.
October 1st is the off-date for our summer grazing permits on the national forests. We spend a lot of time staging the trailing off of both cows and sheep. We consolidate sheep bunches, move them onto private pastures, and bring every ewe and lamb through our corrals and sheep chutes at the Home Ranch. We sort the lambs off the ewes. Some lambs will go to a feedlot to gain more pounds, and some will stay home and become replacement ewe lambs.
The ewes are sorted several way. Ewes with good health and good udders stay with our bunches. The “good old ewes” who are short on teeth but otherwise sound will go to buyers, usually in the Midwest, who can care for them for several more years, in conditions more forgiving than Wyoming’s Red Desert. The “killer ewes” or culls will go to slaughter.
All this involves a lot of moving parts, but when we’re done, we’re ready to move onto other late fall pastures before the long trail to the wintering grounds.
We raise our own replacement ewes from the best of our Rambouillet commercial ewes. We select about 1500 of these ewes, checking them for fine consistent wool, good body type, twinning, open faces, and other traits. The rest of the ewes, who are good but not as good, are bred to Hampshire (blackface) rams. We breed the replacement moms to the Rambouillet rams that we also raise.
When these lambs are born in May, they are more vulnerable to harsh weather conditions than the cross-bred lambs, who have hybrid vigor. The twin and triplet lambs are more at risk since their Mom has multiple lambs to care for. We have lambing sheds where we can give the ewes and their multiple lambs extra care and shelter. It is key to know which ewes are carrying the valuable and vulnerable twins and triplets.
Luckily for us, we can call on Optimal Veterinary Services to test our ewes mid-pregnancy. We set up our corrals, and Geri Parsons’ testing tent, on top of Cyclone Rim—a high range on the Red Desert. That’s where Avencio and his sheep are. The winter has been dry, so we have moved up chasing snowdrifts for water for the sheep. Geri, and her partner, Dr. Cleon Kimberling, “have lab, will travel”. Doc didn’t come this time (too far to ride his bike!), but we gathered employees and family members to work as the ground crew. We were lucky to have good weather with almost no wind—not always the case on Cyclone Rim!
Geri set up her tent next to the chute. As each ewe stopped, she checked them with an ultrasound machine, then called “single”, “twin”, “triplet”, and occasionally “open”! We then marked each ewe. The ewes pregnant with multiples will be sorted into a separate bunch when we shear in a few weeks. Then they will head to the lambing sheds for TLC.
We lease grazing from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department on their Chain Lakes Wildlife Habitat Management Area northeast of Wamsutter. It is a wonderful area, with healthy rangeland. Part of our lease is an agreement to maintain historic water developments to benefit both wildlife and livestock. Here we are with Scott from Pronghorn Pumps and Matt from the Game and Fish, making plans to repair this long-time watering site.