It’s that time of year again. December rams mean May lambs. A sheep’s gestation is five months less five days, and usually we put rams into the ewe flocks on December 15th. A big snow storm was predicted for the 15th. Since some of the roads are scary, especially I80, we decided to haul bucks on the 14th.
The rams wait all year for these winter weeks. A ewe’s heat cycle occurs every three weeks, so we leave the bucks in for six weeks or so. The rest of the year, they are bachelors (except for the lucky few who get to hang out with the early lambers in October). For a few weeks, it’s all romance, all the time!
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.
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 ides of December means that it’s time to put the rams in with the ewes. Romance in December brings lambs in May. A sheep’s gestation is five months less five days. I wish we could predict now just when the shearers will arrive and what the weather will be like on the 10th of May.
Each fall, before the bucks join the ewes, we ask Optimal LIvestock Services to fertility check them. Renowned, and sort of retired Dr. Cleon Kimberling and his partner Geri Parsons bring their traveling lab to ranches around the West. Dr. Kimberling started this service when he was the extension sheep vet for Colorado State University. Back in the day, Dr. Kimberling would arrive with a crew of veterinary students. Dr. K would bicycle over the mountains from Fort Collins while the students drove the van. CSU no longer offers this service, but luckily for us, and others, Dr. Kimberling and Geri Parsons are keeping up the good work. He is still an avid bicyclist, and a working vet. Rhen was fascinated by the whole process, and told his parents that we had “preg tested” the rams.
bringing in the bucks
Modesto holding the foot securely
Oscar and Geri
Geri testing, Rhen learning
free at last!
Rhen checking the results with Geri and Dr. Kimberling
Mid-December brings true love to our ewes and rams. The rams, at least, have been waiting in the wings since, well, last winter. Mid-January brings rest to the bucks, who have been working hard for a month. It is time to bring some of them home. Here are Pepe and Meghan loading bucks for the trip home. You can see that it is deep winter on the Red Desert. We were worried about not having enough snow for the ewes to eat for water. Now we are worried about too much crust on the snow for them to graze. Pepe and the other herders feed them corn every day to keep them strong. And pregnant.
This time of year, the bucks are like teenage boys, with two things on their minds–one of them is eating. Here the “boys” are more or less contained in the Mouse Pasture. The Mouse Pasture got its name because the fence was built by long-time (and late) Ladder Ranchhand Bob Holmes. My Dad said the fence was so tight, it “would hold a mouse.” They still seem to be able to crawl under the gate.
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.