It’s that time of year again. We have lots of baby calves who need vaccines, brands and earmarks before they head up to the Forest with their mothers. We have a great crew this year. Everyone knows how to work together to minimize stress on both cattle and people.
There’s a reason recent blog posts have been mostly of sheep. In the winter, the sheep stay relatively near (100 miles) to the Home Ranch. Most of the cows go to spend the winter eating hay at the Spiegelberg Ranch near Laramie. A couple of days ago, granddaughter Siobhan, a student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, went to visit the cows, including our summer nurse cow, Loralie. Here’s Siobhan’s photos of the winter cows.
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
After we rescued the misguided GPS traveler on the morning of July 4th, we moved on to rotating the bucks to a new pasture across the Little Snake River. Even though the grass is greener on the other side of the Little Snake, the bucks were not enthusiastic about crossing. It did not involve any swimming (although shorn sheep can swim). This was not, so to speak, our first rodeo, and we knew that eventually they would see it our way. It took a lot of whistling, throwing of sticks, calling back the dog, roping and pulling a couple of bucks across to serve as a “draw”, but we eventually prevailed. Our crew included Pat, Meghan, Bridget (on loan from Arizona), Siobhan, Bubba and me, plus Belle the Border Collie.
Bubba pulling the buck across the river
Siobahn and Pat
Siobhan, Meghan, Bridget and Bubba trying to convince the bucks
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
We brought the heifers, recently gathered at Powder Wash, to the Home Ranch. The unloading crew was Eamon, Rhen, Sharon and Siobhan. Our equipment included a mop in lieu of a “poking stick.” This exercise fulfilled home schooling requirements for animal science, mathematics and physical education.
Today, we gathered, trailed and sorted cattle in the Powder Wash. It was a great home-schooling experience for Siobhan, Tiarnan, Rhen and Seamus (helping but camera-shy!). We were joined for a time by three young mustang stallions, evidently kicked out of their herd and looking for friends.
Today, Siobhan and I were on a routine drive, all within a mile of home. when we got very stuck. We were checking the horses and the cats. We followed the tractor’s tracks. Alas, we have had approximately two feet of new snow in the last couple of days, and it was actually warm. It was, by any measure, a bluebird day. This meant that the frozen trail, packed by the tractor, was mushy. Sure enough, we sunk into what I thought was a soft drift, and, ahem, spun out and became inexorably stuck.
Siobhan recalled that when gathering cattle from this meadow in sunnier days, her phone had service. I pointed out that we were close to home and could walk there in probably 15 minutes. She convinced me to walk a few hundred yards, find cell phone service, and call home for a tractor rescue. Soon Wilber, bless him, came with the tractor to pull us out. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it might be, as we got stuck four, count em’, four more times. Finally, with a lot of plowing and pulling, we were on our way to check on Eamon and Megan’s cats, who were very glad to see us.
Bear in mind that it was 44 degrees, and we were within an easy walk of home. It was not comparable to the time that Siobhan and Pat were stuck overnight on the Red Desert, with only gritty M&Ms to sustain them. Siobhan and I did spend three hours of quality time together, and the cats were really happy when we showed up!
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.