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March Madness- Rancher's Edition

When most people hear "March Madness", I'm sure they think of basketball. The huge college tournament that is the excitement of the month, and on most people's TVs, including my family's. I grew up playing basketball. My mom coached my sister, cousin, and me from grade school through high school. It was so much fun, and a huge part of our lives that taught us so much about commitment, hard work, and playing as a team. Although I'm not in running shape like I once was, I still experience the madness of March: the rancher's version. Quite frankly, March and I have a bit of a love-hate relationship. My March consists of lambing, calving, shearing, sheep camp stuff, and many things in between. Here's a glimpse into the madness of 2024.

Unfortunately, we share the lambing barn with pack rats... This is somewhat of a problem as they spend all summer, fall, and winter packing everything they please into places it shouldn't be. For example, when we started cleaning up the sheds to get ready for lambing, one of the wheel barrows was plumb full of hay, nails, wrenches, tags, pens, wood scraps, rocks, bones, and any other miscellaneous or shiny objects they could find! The ranch we lamb at is called Orr, and we have two sheds set up for lambing. This is the only time of year that we have sheep here and use the barns, so for the rest of the year, it is prime rat habitat. Sometimes during night checks, the guys spot our "little friends" and are able to help with population control.

As many of you know, SW Wyoming is still practically winter in March- this contributes to the "hate" part of my relationship with this month. Having baby animals born in the snow and cold makes survival difficult. Thanks be to God, this winter and winter-like-spring were no where near the miserable caliber as last winter and extreme-winter-like-spring, which made it seem like we were lambing and calving in actual Heaven. It is because of these winter-like conditions that it is essential to lamb through the sheds if you are going to lamb this time of year. We have a large, straw-bedded shop that a couple hundred ewes can fit in at a time. We bring the ewes that are closest to lambing inside this shop every night, so that they lamb here instead of out in the cold and snow. We also will bring them in during the day if a cold snow storm blows in, as pictured above.

During the day, the pregnant ewes are out in a pasture near the barn. As they lamb, we bring them into the barn where they are put in a 4'x4' paneled pen, referred to as a "jug" or "crib" to sheepmen. The good mothers and seasoned ewes that have done the process before follow their newborn lambs across the pasture and right into the jug. Some of the first-time mothers or wild ewes (a common characteristic of Julian sheep) don't follow their lambs and run around in the area where they had it, looking for it. In this instance we must go back out to the pasture with a lariat and rope the ewe to bring her into the barn.

Not only are we surrounded by baby lambs, but these sweet little fluff balls too! They are in the process of becoming friends with the new lambs and learning how to soon protect them.

Last winter, I went to the desert herd every other day, tire chains on, with my mom so we could pull each other out when we got stuck in the deep snow. This winter, I didn't have to go once as we had a Heavenly winter. Come March though, when she was moving the camp to another area, she needed an extra pickup in case one of us got stuck. Which we did. We each got stuck in a different snow drift, and then had to fight the sticky, slick mud on the way out. "I couldn't let you go a whole winter without putting tire chains on and getting stuck on the Carter Lease!" My sweet mother, always looking out for me and keeping my skillset sharp!

The next day, March 10, we hauled the cows home. We winter them at our ranch up Hamsfork and haul them to Rock Creek to calve. I didn't realize how much snow we actually had until I saw our cows walking through it over knee deep! Happy calving girls. My mom is quite the cattlewoman though, and does an amazing job calving them out by herself. I'm on call from the lambing sheds when she needs help, but I never hear from her. Only afterwards when she tells me about how she tied a first-calf-heifer up in the barn to pull her calf and suckled another the same way.

Sometimes even the ewes have bad hair days. I know that mine stays in the same braid for far too many days in a row too often...

My favorite part of lambing is listening to and watching the mother lick off her newborn. I am always so amazed at just how quickly baby animals hit the ground, are licked off, are able to stand on their own, and suckle for the first time. Some of them are not quite as amazing though, and are too weak to stand or too dumb to find a tit. We must spend time throughout the days helping these ones until they are strong enough to survive on their own.

You may be wondering what Mother Teresa has to do with this. Well, let me explain. It is ideal to shear your sheep before lambing begins. As mentioned earlier, March, and February for that matter, are still winter around here. It is nearly impossible to line up for the shearer to make it the end of February when it snows every day he can come, you can't shear wet sheep, and he has plenty of other jobs where it's not snowing. By the time he could finally make it, and the sheep weren't wet, it was March 16th. 16 days of lambing and fighting getting sick from lack of sleep and no lack of stress. I was already close to halfway done lambing, with small bunches of ewes and their lambs spread across all the pens, and individual ewes with their lambs in the jugs. I am also lambing both black face and white ewes which are mixed in the drop (still pregnant) pen together. The wool of a Rambouillet is of much higher quality than that of a black face. We must keep this wool separate. We ran all the white ewes through the shearing trailer first. This required someone running the cutting gate to keep the black faces separate and continuous moving around bunches of sheep. This was the easy part, and thankfully our whites had just barely started lambing so we only had a couple of them with lambs. Then we had to run each individual pen of black face ewes with their lambs through the corral, which consisted of 5, 10, or 20 ewes in each bunch. There were about 15 different bunches. These bunches could not be mixed, or else we would never know which lambs belonged to which ewes. My guys and I ran the ENTIRE day, in muck boots (not great running shoes), to get each bunch of ewes to and from the corral and attempt to keep sheep in the shearing trailer (I think we failed at that part). We were also having ewes lamb in the midst of all of this, a couple of them in the corral. It was miserable. The next day I really felt like I was getting sick and had blisters on my feet, but it was a huge day of playing catch up from the day before and making sure everything was straight from the chaos. That night, I couldn't leave the bathroom. The next day I was too sick to leave the house or get very far from the toilet (TMI?) hence me reading a book about Mother Teresa and drinking only broth for a while. The next few days felt like I couldn't catch up, and my immune system was having a hell of a time keeping up too. Rough week, or two. Thank God for the amazing guys I am lambing with. They obviously handle stress better than I, as none of them got sick. And no, I still haven't finished that book...

The majority of our days are spent moving ewes and lambs around. They each usually spend 24-48 hours in the jug before I tag the lambs, band their tails, and paint corresponding numbers on each ewe and her lambs. The guys then trim their hooves, and we send them to a bigger pen with other ewes and lambs, then a bigger pen with more pairs, and then again. We need to keep the ewes and lambs moving out of the jugs and smaller pens each day to make room for the new lambs coming in. (If you want more detail on the whole process, and missed my story explaining it all, you can find it HERE)

On the mornings that mom had to be out to the desert super early before the mud thawed, I fed at Rock Creek for her before heading to Orr. Mornings at Rock Creek are so peaceful with the birds singing, no wind, and Sampson watching over me.

Whenever my step-dad, Jim, needs a hand, I try to sneak away from the lambing barn to help him. It's always a good day when you get to heel cattle and spend the day on the back of a horse! After pulling this calf, we trailed all the cows to better, drier calving grounds.

To top it all off, it's my birthday month! Another year wiser, right? The guys and I eat lunch together at the house they live in at Orr every day, and for my birthday they surprised me with wine, cake, chocolate, flowers, and a handmade sign, tape ribbons, and glove balloons! David made delicious lamb chops, and we celebrated all the time we get to work together. Since the guys don't go to town, and I'm the one that gets their supplies from town, they secretly lined it up with my mom to bring my gifts out for them. What a special birthday.

And feeding, can't forget about the important, twice-a-day, every day task of feeding all the sheep! Along with feeding, we have to provide them all with water too. The three guys and I have a system every morning of two feeding with the skidster while one feeds the ewes in the jugs with the wheel barrow. Then a guy helps me to feed with the tractor while the other two water everything. It starts all over again in the late afternoon. The evening feedings are the BEST because we get to watch all the lambs run, race, and play with each other, and it is in these moments that all of our hard work is paid off.

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Thanks for sharing! So interesting to me! Great respect for the job you do and the sacrifice you make to do it right and keep a good attitude! Keep on little lady! Love and hugs! G. Kay

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