Conversation between Buck and Rambo or Breeding season on the Ladder Ranch
There’s a rumor goin’ ‘round, ‘bout some ladies to be found–
the boss is hookin’ up the trailer, gassin’ up the truck
(The trailer lights aren’t working, again, but oh well.)
I’m hopin’ that you’re right, and it seems that time of year— they’ve been pourin’ out the grain, dashed red powder on our backs, lots of hay, and we all look fat and ready—well, you know.
Last year all the ladies loved my tuxedo vibe.
My black face is debonair, my moves make me look fine.
I jumped out of the trailer, and I think they liked my leap.
Ha—that woolless blackface face can’t compare with wooly charms, and HOW ABOUT these curly Rambouillet horns. They love those! I’ll rub them on this hay bale and that will make them shine.
We have to wait all year, just hangin’ with the guys—
they keep us in buck prison, and we KNOW how that can be.
It’s the ladies that we want, with their pretty ewey charms
YES! The boss says time to get to work, but it’s not work at all, we can whisper those sweet nothings, but you know they’re loved and left. raisin’ lambs on grassy meadows, while we move back to bachelor digs.
Our lambs are happily ensconced at Harper’s Feedlot near Greeley. They are eating corn and growing every day. Pat, Tiarnan and I went to visit them recently. The weather is warm–too warm for this time of year–so all the lambs on the feedlot are doing really well.
Purebred Hampshire and Rambouillet sheep, ready for the sort.
Much of our lives revolves around reproduction…sometimes encouraging it, sometime avoiding it, but always managing it. Sheep reach sexual maturity at a relatively young age, so in July we must remove the buck lambs, born in March, from their mothers and the ewe herd. The conventional wisdom, at our latitude(about 41) is that ewes can be bred in any month with an “R” in it. It’s a bit more complicated than that, depending on factors such as the breed and nutrition, but we have learned not to overthink it. Suffice it to say that if you don’t want to be lambing at Christmastime or so, it’s a good idea to remove intact buck lambs from their mothers in July. We don’t want to wait until “AuRgust”!
Since we raise our own bucks, and they are getting to be pretty big guys, we put them into the corrals at the Johnson Ranch, where they summer north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The buck lambs who pass the test to be replacement rams are weaned and taken to the Home Ranch, far away, we hope, from any ewes.
These guys will miss their moms, but they get to grow up to be dads.
Which one of these is not like the others? Pepe, Adolfo, Apolinario and Max are taking a lunch break.
We have started lambing the purebred ewes at Powder Flat. They are the moms of our future bucks and many replacement ewe lambs, and we lamb them earlier so these lambs will be older when it’s time for them to become working sheep. Our hard-working crew of Peruvian employees are supported by frequent visits from Meghan and her crew.
Rambouillet ewe looks after her twins
Here’s looking at ewe.
Tiarnan with a Hampshire lamb
Hampshire ewes and lambs hanging out by the heifers
Purebred Rambouillet ewe with five–count ’em five!–lambs
We have an amazing birth announcement. The Finn folk may brag about their multiple births, but, for the first time ever (for us, at least), we have a Rambouillet ewe with quints. They are doing well (with some supplemental milk) AND she gave us a 64’s spinning count fleece!
This Hampshire ewe doesn’t want to be outdone, but I suspect only two–maybe three–of those lambs are hers.
In mid-winter, we shear the ewes that are going to lamb in March. When it goes well, we even shear before lambing starts! We do this for several reasons. Even though it seems early to shear, all goes better if the wool is off before the first lambs hit the ground. We raise our own bucks, which means that in order for them to be “of age”–at least some of them, by next winter, late winter/early spring is the time to be born. It is important for the ewes to be out of the wool for a couple of reasons. In cold weather, if the ewe is not cold, it doesn’t occur to her that her lambs might be cold and she should seek shelter. And when those lambs are looking for nourishment, it is helpful if tags of wool are not hanging down in strategic locations. Anyway, thanks to Cliff and Donna of Hoopes Shearing, we have spent two days shearing the early lambing ewes and the mature bucks. What did the bucks do wrong, you might ask? Well, then we don’t have to figure out how to get them staged for the main shearing in April (April, right Cliff and Donna?).
Often, well actually, always except for this year, it is pretty cold in mid-February and we feel guilty removing wool coats from the sheep while we are all wooled up in sweaters and long underwear. I don’t know if we have weather or climate change to thank, or blame, but this week, we had ideal shearing weather–not too cold, not too warm–Goldilocks Weather.
We do have a few lambs on the ground, due to errant buck lambs–born last March–you get the picture.
Sorry, but it was too dark in the shed to get shearing shots!
unshorn ewes, Brittany, Gyp, Antonio, shorn ewes–in that order
free at last!
Rambouillet ewes, after the blade
Sharon, working the pink chute
Donna loading fleeces into the brand new packer
which has a few glitches…Antonio and Oscar pushing out the first bales
Justin, who keep the wool packer working!
Maeve and Seamus checking out the new bales
Siobhan trying to push her siblings off the wool bale
Seamus and Maeve dueling with livestock working sticks
brands of growers on the side of the purple Hoopes Shed (with lime green accents and the pink chute)
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.