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  • Writer's pictureMarie

Fall Works of a Sheepman

It all starts around the middle of September when mom and I ride in to count all the herds before beginning their descent out of the forest. We count each herd to make sure they aren’t missing any sheep before starting on the trail. Once on the trail, all 7 of the camps and supply wagons are hooked up, loaded down, and moved out to their location on the range where the herders will move into them. We load the blue wooden supply wagons, also known as commissaries, with 8 small bales of hay, a sack of grain in the grain barrel, several pieces of wood, a couple sacks of dog food, and a 5-gallon-bucket of diesel. I check all the tires between the camp and commissary and add air if needed. Five of the eight herds trail down Commissary Ridge/Sheep Mountain in their pack outfits the whole way, it doesn’t work to take their camps all the way up and down this rocky ridge. Instead, I park their camps at different campgrounds scattered across the base of Sheep Mountain, in varying proximities to the corral. I take Edgar’s camp to Bradley Pass, Teo’s camp to Burnt Cabin, Edwis and German’s camps to Harrower spring, as well as David’s camp eventually, but he stays up on top longer than the rest with the yearling herd. When I unhook them, I fill what water containers they’ve left behind in their camps out of the blue water barrel in the back of my pickup, using a portion of a hose to syphon it out.

The other three herds trail down Dempsey Ridge. The guys with one of the herds stay in their camp throughout the summer, so my mom moves this camp every day from the allotment on the forest, down the trail, and to the corral. I take the other two camps partway up the trail where the guys move into them, mom loads their pack outfits to store in the warehouse til next year, and she begins moving all three camps each day until they hit the corral. In total it takes about 10 days of moving the camps every day to get all three to the corral. The pack outfits of the other five herds also must be gathered and stashed in the warehouse.

Once all the herds are off the mountain and close to the corral, we begin working them. The first herd arrives at the corral around daylight. We get them all in and keep them running down the alley where they get sorted three different ways. The ewes get cut and counted into the first pen, and then the lambs get sorted two different ways, the ewe lambs one way and the wether lambs the other. From here, the wether lambs are trailed the approximate 3 miles to the ranch where they get to spend time in the hay meadow before being shipped. The ewe lambs are left in a separate pasture at the corral until we have all the ewe lambs from every herd together and can work them and send them out as a herd of their own. A portion of these are also sold and shipped to a fellow sheepman in Idaho for his replacement stock. The ewes are circled back around into the corral where they get mouthed and bagged, branded, and vaccinated.

What is mouthing and bagging? A strange sounding sheepman term maybe! It is where we check the mouth, or teeth, for age of the ewe; and the bag, or tits, for any lumps and hard spots. If their teeth are super wore down or missing, then they are likely too old to spend another winter on the desert, so we must mark these ones to sell. They also have to be culled, or sold, if they have hard lumps or bad bags; this hinders their ability to produce milk and they won’t be able to raise a lamb. You can tell how old a ewe is based on the length and number of her teeth.

Whoever is in the chute checking mouths and bags calls out a color for each ewe. We put a specific paint brand on them according to age to divide all of the ewes into 5 herds, two of which are the yearling herd and ewe lamb herd which are worked separately. The oldest ewes, outside of the ones that get sold for being too old, get a purple DJ. The middle age ewes get a red pot hook, and the youngest ewes get a green bar J. The ewes that will be sold get different colored “dobs”, the bottom of a bottle blotched on their back, as well. There is a man for each color, and then someone goes in behind the mouther and baggers and gives each ewe a dewormer shot. They work a chute at a time, sorting the colorfully painted ewes into separate pens before reloading the chute. This is a LONG, all day, tiring, dusty, and windy process that goes on every day until all of the 8 herds have been through the corral. The two in the chute definitely get wore out and their toes stepped on enough to make a man curse.

The guys keep it entertaining though by calling out the colors in 3 different languages randomly: English, Spanish, or a native Peruvian language. You have to stay on your toes to keep track of which ewe is which of the many words getting hollered out! I try to always have a cooler with beer at the corral as well so we can enjoy a cold one together at the end of our long days. My favorite thing about this time of year is having nearly all of our guys together, working with each other and enjoying one another’s company. A celebration of making it out of the mountains, selling the lambs, and completing the busiest work and seasons of the year with plenty of stories, laughs, and cervesas. They also somehow find the energy after working all day to play a game or two of soccer, either at the Rec Center in town or in the field between camps and dogs trying to get in on it. We take the guys to town to go shopping while they’re all close and not tied down to a herd, and it is after the bulk of the work is completed that the extra men go home to Peru for the winter. There are hugs and sad goodbyes as they load in the pickup for mom to take them to the Salt Lake airport.

Not only is the corral work going on during the day, but there are still camps to be moved, water and feed to be checked, cattle and our separate bunches of sheep- the black faces and 3 different sets of bucks- to be moved and worked, groceries to be bought for everyone, and horses to be turned out for the winter. Each herd needs 7-9 horses in the summer for packing their camps, but in the winter each camp only has 3. As the herds make it to the corral, mom and I catch the extra horses from that set, deworm them, and haul them to the ranch where they are turned out until spring.

As the days go on with all the herds being worked, the lambs to be sold are also worked and shipped, and we hold our completed herds in areas around the corral until the shearing crew shows up. They shear the wool on the face of the ewes so that they don’t get wool blind in the winter with snow sticking to the wool around their eyes so bad they can’t see. The wool around their tail is also sheared to help with cleanliness and breeding season. The shearers whip through the ewes at a quick rate, all the herds are done in a couple days, and we begin trailing them to the desert. Not only are we trailing our sheep to the Little Colorado at this time, but sheepmen from Idaho, Utah, and fellow Wyoming neighbors are all trailing their herds east. It is a beautiful sight to drive along the highway out of Kemmerer and see a camp of varying colored commissaries- each outfit uses a different color- and a herd of sheep about every 5 miles. It makes me feel as if I’m living in a scene from the old west, when the range was covered with sheep and the men that accompany them. I thank God that version of the old west is still alive here today, and I get to live in the midst of it.

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The complexity of how y’all make this work year after year is stunning. You could only learn this through generations of experienc!


Good job!

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