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.
Now that the sheep are sheared, it is time to head 40 miles south to our lambing grounds. Trailing was held up a couple of days by stormy weather, but the moisture was welcome. We are pushing hard to get there before we have too many lambs on the ground. Now it’s time to pray for perfect weather, no predators and green grass!
The ewes are eager to migrate to the Cottonwood lambing grounds.
Pepe has picked up the ewes with early lambs and one guard dog.
2021 shearing went very well. Roland Montemayor’s crew showed up with plenty of shearers and wool handlers, good equipment and on time. The Montemayor crew has sheared for us for several years. We try to shear two weeks or so ahead of lambing, which is easier on the ewes and the shearers, and allows time for the ewes to trail on to the lambing grounds ten pounds lighter.
My only complaint was the howling wind for the first two and a half days. The winds were so strong on the third day that it was blowing the fleeces away. As Meghan pointed out, “The point is to get the wool into the bags.” We called it a day after lunch. We have shut down shearing many times due to weather, but this is the first time we’ve stopped because of high winds. Finally the weather settled down and we were able to finish all the sheep–pregnant ewes, yearlings, the early lambers and the bucks. Roland’s crew moved on and sheared sheep for a couple of our neighbors. Shearing is one of the very most important things we do all year, and it is one which we have little control over since there are so many factors that come into play. Thank you, Roland, Ciro and crew for your good work!
early morning–waiting to get started\
wooly ewes waiting their turn
the first shorn sheep
shearer at work
Tiarnan, Guillermo and Anthony on deck
Siobhan at the chute
packing the wool
wool handler on the run
packing the fleeces into the tromper
guard dog supervising
Thomasa–former bum lamb and newly sheared lead sheep
It’s springtime and the livin’ is crazy. After hunkering down for the winter months, we are moving livestock from winter pasture to spring pasture. We are lambing, calving and trying to get all of our livestock charges to where they need to be for the change of seasons. We trucked the yearling ewes, and a few older ewes, from their wintering grounds at Powder Wash to the Badwater pasture. We are seeing the Akaushi cross calves on the ground, after last year’s decision to try these Wagu-type bulls on our Angus heifers. The calves sure are pretty and we’re excited to see what they look like as they grow up.
In mid-December, we haul bucks out to the Red Desert so they may romance the ewes, thus guaranteeing lambs in May and June. “December rams bring May lambs” as the old saying goes.
Now it’s time to bring the rams home so that they may resume their bachelor lives, and create challenges until next December.
Here we are loading rams on the top of the aptly named Cyclone Rim. We are on the Rim seeking snow drifts for water for the sheep. The bucks are still in their working clothes (red powder) which will come off when they are shorn in a month or so.
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.
As the elk and the deer
head down from summer’s grass
calves and fawns by their side
we gather cows, their calves and
hope for good weather.
We hook up the sheep camps,
move our community of critters—
ewes, lambs, dogs, horses.
The shepherds shift from early mornings,
lazy afternoons, fights with bears
trying to find a camp spot among
tourists, campers, refugees from Covid.
At home, we stage the sheep, bringing them
bunch by bunch to pastures,
to the corrals
For sorting, for judging who stays,
who goes, some to the desert
some to farmers with soft fields and warm barns.
Lambs climb onto trucks—
first the heavies, born early,
next the lights,
and finally the peewees
headed for corn and lower 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.
Lambing is closely followed by docking the new lambs. This means literally docking the tails, to protect against flystrike, earmarking and paint branding to indicate ownership, castrating to make management easier and to create better meat quality, vaccinating to protect health, and a look at each and every lamb for problems to address. It makes for long days, but also adds camaraderie and teamwork to our hard-working crew! A good lunch is sure to appear. No one has trouble sleeping at the end of the day
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.