Tag Archives: Pat
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.
The rams hang around for ten and a half months, waiting for the day when they are called to go to work, fathering lambs for the next season. We put the bucks in over a period of days and weeks. We figure that the first bucks to go in with the ewes are getting tired, so we send reinforcements. They sometimes resent being worked through the chutes, but are happy to jump out of the trailers to join the ladies. When we were loading them, I said, “Hop in boys–all the corn you can eat.” Meghan said, “All the ladies you can breed!” I added, “…and all the wind you can tolerate.” Such is the life of a buck in the winter.
The ewes have made their annual trek north to the Red Desert, where we have wintering ground on the Cyclone Rim and Chain Lakes grazing allotments. These allotments are part of the vast Great Basin, home to Greater Sage Grouse, desert elk, riparian plants and amphibians, feral horses, many many antelope and, part of the year, cattle and sheep. The Great Basin is named because it is a closed basin. To the north, the Continental Divide splits and runs in separate ranges until it meets again about 15 miles south of Wamsutter near the Haystack Mountains. The country south of there–Church Butte, Adobe Town, Powder Rim–is likewise amazing landscape, but it is not part of the Great Basin, the Red Desert. It is always a relief when we safely cross the overpass over the Union Pacific line and the underpass beneath I80 and head out across the open country for winter pasture. We are a week later than usual on the trail north. We had to wait for snow, since there’s not much water on the trail. Like Goldilocks, we want it to be not too hot and not too cold!
It’s the time of year when we pregnancy check the cows. Dr. McFarland uses a combination of ultra-modern ultrasound goggles and old-fashioned palpation to determine if the cow is pregnant (the best option), open (the worst option) or late. He calls out his judgement, one after another, as the cows step into the chute for their pregnancy test. The pregnant cows will spend the winter in Laramie, eating hay and gestating. The open cows will be sold–either to become hamburgers or to be given another chance to breed. The lates are sold to someone who likes the cows, and likes to calve later. Our calendar for calving is fixed by the seasons and by our grazing permit on and off dates. We can’t calve too early, or we will surely meet with cold and snow (still a possibility). We can’t calve too late, or the cows will already be on the National Forest permit. If the calf survives predators, it will still be young and small when we ship in the fall. The calves were sorted and shipped a few days ago, so now it is time to start the cycle anew.