Monthly Archives: March 2012
In the lambing seasons of 2010 and 2011, we had terrible cold weather, freezing drizzle and snow. We estimate that we lost at least 1000 lambs, beyond normal death loss, each year to the terrible conditions. This year, we determined to be ready for another hard spring, especially after November blew in with a lot of cold and snow.
We decided to build a shed on the private part of our lambing grounds, which also includes BLM allotments and a Wyoming state lease. Then we would at least have an alternative in case of bad weather. We have always “drop lambed”, which means that we start out with bands of 2000 ewes or so, then move then along morning and night, leaving the newly lambed ewes and their babies behind. This is known as “cutting the drop.” The sheep are constantly attended by our very competent Peruvian sheepherders, and Pat, Meghan, Eamon and I go back and forth with supplies, groceries, and whatever else is needed.
To make the best use of the shed, we decided, for the first time, to pregnancy test some of the ewes. The lambs who are most vulnerable are the white-faced twin lambs. They do not have the hybrid vigor (the result of breeding two different purebred lines) of our Hampshire/Rambouillet cross lambs. We tested, over the course of a week, about 3,400 ewes bred to Rambouillet rams, in order to determine the ones pregnant with twins. We can, this year, keep those ewes close to the shed, and give them shelter and extra care as needed.
Of course, as the saying goes, only fools and newcomers predict the weather. This past winter has been the mildest in recent memory, and spring is appearing ahead of schedule. Of course, that does not mean that May and June will be warm and dry, but it is certainly shaping up that way.
Geri Parsons, a certified veterinary technician and partner in Optimum Livestock Services LLC, is a master at ultra-sounding ewes. She and Dr. Cleon Kimberling, formed their livestock health company following Dr. Kimberling’s retirement as the long-time (and famous) sheep extension veterinarian at Colorado State University. Due to unplanned circumstances, Geri’s keys became locked in her pickup, along with all her gear, at the end of a long day, and a very long way from assistance. We were near the top of the aptly named Cyclone Rim. Luckily, the next day, a newly made key solved the problem, but not before our crew had exhausted their burglery skills.
Spring is almost sprung. We have new lambs on the ground. We raise our own Rambouillet and Hampshire rams which we breed to our commercial ewes, so these babies are born earlier in the year than the lambs from the range sheep. We shed lamb at Powder Flat, so here are some photos. It seems to be a good year for twins and triplets, God bless ‘em!
Our cows spent the winter in Laramie, Wyoming, eating hay on the windy plains. We recently brought them home to eat our own hay until the green grass comes. I expected them to fall over after leaving that windy country.
Our valley, the Little Snake, is an area blessed with abundant natural resources. Community members recognize the value of the abundant wildlife, habitat for all sorts of fish and fowl, and rich agricultural lands. Many folks who live here have made a commitment to working with a number of partners in order to enhance these resources.
On our ranch, we have worked extensively with the U.S, Fish and Wildlife Service’s program, Partners for Fish and Wildlife. as well as the Wyoming Game and Fish, the Little Snake River Conservation District, the USDA conservation programs, and many other interest groups to keep our operation healthy and productive.
Here is an article written by Mindy Meade Vohland, a wildlife biologist and our go-to person on our Battle Creek fishery project.
Land Ethic Fuels Public-Private Conservation Efforts in the Little Snake River Basin, WY
By Mindy Meade Vohland
Communities within The Little Snake River valley have a long and remarkable history of natural resource conservation. Conservation partnerships in this region demonstrate not only that wildlife and agriculture are mutually compatible, but that restoration efforts can reap positive rewards for both.
The Little Snake River drains the western slopes of the Sierra Madre Mountains and snakes westward along the Wyoming-Colorado border, ever broadening until it reaches the Yampa River and ultimately, the Green River Basin in Colorado.
The Little Snake River Valley has always supported productive wildlife and game populations. In 1844, explorer John C. Fremont said of the area:
“The country here appeared more variously stocked with game than any part of the Rocky Mountains we had visited: and its abundance is owing to the excellent pasturage…”
The excellent pasturage led to the establishment of viable livestock operations, starting with cattle in 1872. Today, ranching and energy production are the primary land uses. An abundance of game, including some of Wyoming’s largest populations of elk, deer, and antelope, still thrives alongside existing ranches.
The waters of the Little Snake River are fertile grounds for Colorado River cutthroat trout and other fish. This intact aquatic ecosystem and its associated riparian and wetland areas provide habitat for over 150 bird species, including a large, stable population of Greater Sage-Grouse and the largest population of Columbian Sharp-tailed Grouse in Wyoming. Regionally, these extraordinary wildlife populations have engendered a community land ethic that links the viability of lifestyle and working landscapes to natural resource stewardship
and conservation. Indeed, local residents and agricultural community members typify this ethos, having established in 1954 the Little Snake River Conservation District (District), a property tax assessment to fund conservation work within the Basin (in 1990), and the first locally led collaborative effort for a 500,000-acre watershed improvement project (in 1993). In 1996, they established a national “Seeking Common Ground” project that demonstrated how livestock operations can positively co-exist with fish and wildlife.
To be sure, landowners, along with government and non-profit partners, possess the willingness and drive to further landscape-level conservation in the Little Snake River Basin. For example, the Muddy Creek Wetlands near Dad, WY, a project of the District and its partners, is the largest constructed wetland complex in Wyoming. Hundreds of species of waterbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl from both the Pacific and Central Flyways utilize the area for breeding and migration; the site is a WY-Audubon Important Bird Area.
Another project, the “Little Snake River Basin Aspen Conservation Joint Venture,” is set to restore over 12,000 acres of aspen woodlands. Over 16 miles of river and stream projects have been completed on the mainstem of the Little Snake River and within its tributaries. These projects include improving fish passage and riparian plant communities as well as restoring hydrology to perched water tables to enhance oxbow slough wetlands and streamside cottonwood galleries.
Lastly, three area ranches have undertaken conservation easements in order to protect natural resources, keep agricultural operations and economic benefits intact, and protect the scenic landscape from subdivision.
“We are proud that we can provide for both wildlife and our agricultural operation, and enhance them both,” said Patrick O’Toole, a private landowner (and IWJV board member) whose Ladder Ranch partnered with The Nature Conservancy in a conservation easement. Ladder Ranch is a sustainable ranching operation that also serves as an ecotourism destination.
Successes such as these were spurred by a communal land conservation ethic, but realized by a body of collaborative, private-public conservation efforts, many of which were led by the Little Snake River Conservation District. Accordingly, the District received the National Association of Conservation District West Region Collaborative Conservation Partnership Award in 2008 and was named “Conservation Partner of the Year” by the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust board in 2010.
Larry Hicks, Resource Coordinator of the Little Snake River Conservation District, describes his work and the magic of the Little River landscape: “I came here looking for a job. In my 21-year journey, I found my soul, a community and a new way of life – one that exemplifies the moral principles of the land ethic. It’s who we are.”
Mindy Meade Vohland is Wildlife Biologist for Partners for Fish & Wildlife (a division of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
Editor’s note: In 2010, the Intermountain West Joint Venture helped catalyze a small NAWCA grant for oxbow wetlands restoration in Wyoming and is looking forward to helping catalyze more conservation partnerships in the region.
Last fall, after requests from Routt County, Colorado residents, Carbon County decided to replace the Battle Creek bridge, just below our house. The bridge is barely in Wyoming and almost everyone who lives above it is a Colorado resident. The Routt County Commissioners decided to kick in $150,000. The bridge was not rated for the weight of the trucks which cross it with gravel, cattle and other goods. As it turned out, it was so heavy that the contractors could hardly move it. We have had an exceptionally open winter which allowed work in December, January and February. I could watch the whole process from my kitchen window. We purchased the old bridge and moved it to a crossing farther up Battle Creek. This will allow us to get to our fields on the east side of the creek before the high water goes down.