We’re almost done lambing and it’s time for docking the lambs and getting everyone ready for trailing and summer’s grazing on the Routt and Medicine Bow National Forests. Sheep are naturally long-tailed, and if those tails are not cut short early in life, they can have problems later with manure and flies. The assembly line process also includes earmarking, castrating the males, vaccinating for diseases and a stamp with a paint brand. The ewes also receive a fresh brand and everyone is counted. We usually run two docking lines with all hands on deck, and bring up a hot lunch and plenty of cold drinks.
It’s branding time! We have lots of baby calves who need brands, eartags and vaccine so that they can be ready to head to the National Forest next month with their mamas. We have a great crew this year, which includes a lot of home-grown child labor. Sheep Mountain is a pasture which we graze spring and fall. Sheep Mountain itself is an extinct volcano which has provided us with rich soil and great pasture.
Each fall we test the buck herd. Geri Parsons, Optimal Livestock Services, comes to check our rams for fertility and health. At the same time, we look at their teeth, their feet and their general condition to make sure they are ready to romance the ewes in a couple of months.
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.
ewes and rams
getting the truck ready
eager to go home
brand inspector on the job
Joel and Pepe
Tiarnan supervising (home school)
Pepe and our “landlord” Pasquel
Maeve serving her brownies (Grandma Laura’s recipe) after the last sheep is loaded–more home school
Kids at the confluence of the Little Snake River and Battle Creek
The kids have been swimming a lot this summer. Even though the water is low, due to drought, we have still made frequent visits to our swimming hole. As Battle Creek flows into the Little Snake, it scoops out a pool where the water is fairly deep and remarkably still. The other day, I was in Murdock’s and saw a “floatie” which was an “inflate-a-bull”. The object is to ride the plastic blow-up bull while your buddies shake the intertube attached to it. It looked like the perfect activity for the grandkids. Here’s a shout-out to the brave young man who climbed up to retrieve the last one which was blown up and hung high on the wall. The kids wasted no time in talking Megan into blowing it up without the benefit of a pump, and talking her into taking them to the swimming hole. The “Inflate-a-bull” was a big hit.
The week before, the kids devised a game in which Tiarnan and Rhen were “humans”, Maeve, Seamus and McCoy were mermen and -maid. The humans could capture the merpeople by hitting them with big globs of moss, which were abundant due to warm water temps. I was the “Queen of the Sea” and they were not supposed to throw moss at me. That part didn’t work out so well.
School has started and we had our first freeze this morning, so we’ll be lucky if we can get in another swim.
Our yearling sheep remain at Badwater after shearing, while the pregnant ewes trail on to the lambing grounds north of Dixon. The yearlings hang out there on the high desert until the bunches are made up and trailed to their summer grazing permits in the National Forests. Most years, we wait until after the Fourth of July and trail the yearling sheep south and east to their summer ground on the Medicine Bow Forest.
This year, due to extremely dry conditions in Badwater and on the trail, we decided to move the yearlings by truck. It took all day and into the night to get them all loaded, transported and unloaded. We were still unloading well after dark. and everyone made it safe and sound. Many thanks to our intrepid crew and neighbors who helped out!
Off the truck at Cottonwood.
Welcome to Cottonwood
unloading after dark
Seamus on the job
Cole and Autumn
Meanwhile (during the day), the boys played in the lambing shed.
For us, rain, sleet, snow or shine, March always comes in like a lamb. We raise our own rams, Hampshire and Rambouillet, and the ewes start lambing March 1st. After the winter wait, the long months of lambs growing in the womb, we get to see these babies. With them lies our future. Their future, likewise, depends upon us. It is a long time between lambs on the ground and rams, dusted with iron oxide, jumping out of the horsetrailer to join the ewes, starting the cycle anew.
In the shed
Ladies in waiting, protected by guardian dog puppies
ewes and puppies
Oscar helping a lamb find a mom with a skin graft
Edgar and Oscar conferring
plenty of feed on hand
Oscar with his lambing crew, Tiarnan and Seamus
Babies in a box, waiting for milk replacer, or a new mama
It’s a buck’s life. These boys only work six weeks a year, but it’s an important six weeks. Without them, we would have no baby lambs in the spring. Of course, it falls to the ewes to be pregnant for five months, and then to spend another five months or so raising lambs.
As for the bucks, they are ready for some rest. In a few weeks, they start looking for something to do, which usually involves trying to escape wherever we want them to be. They were glad to see the ewes on Cyclone Rim in mid-December, but now it’s time for them to leave the ewes and return to their bachelor ways. They go home the same way they left–one horsetrailer at a time.
Guillermo, Tiarnan, McCoy, Rhen and Seamus bringing the bucks up
up the chute
Oscar and Guillermo loading the trailer
Oscar and Guillermo and the loaded trailer
last buck jumping out
Home at last! Here are the bucks with fresh hay in the Mouse Pasture.
Tim Terrill and his daughter Tate came today to shoe some horses to get ready for fall riding. He took time to show Seamus and our guests the finer points of preparing the shoes and shaping the hooves. We are located on the Continental Divide Bike Trail, and we had guests from England who were glad to see Tim at work. He happened to be shoeing a wild horse which we had adopted, so I explained the adoption program.
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.