After Dunkin the Bellwether escaped from his abductor last summer and returned to us, he spent the winter in the corral at the Home Ranch. He thinks it’s a pretty cushy life.
Category Archives: The Bellwether: Dunkin
The days unfold–one warm dry sunny day after the next. The neighbors gather and talk of only one subject–when will it snow? We all have tales to tell. Only two years ago, we were lamenting because we had to start feeding hay two weeks before Thanksgiving. This year, some of us still have some rough feed we can use for the cows and horses–the tall dry grasses left under the trees that couldn’t be reached by the mower during haying season. Some have been feeding hay for months, after the summer pastures came up short and the fall pastures were used early. Some have shipped animals out because of the lack or expense of feed. Drought in the corn states and demand from ethanol have made corn–the staple of livestock feed–prohibitively expensive. The government’s mandates, and lack of action on disaster programs mean that the livestock sector has been sacrificed as farmers are being encouraged to grow fuel in place of food. Cattle and sheep, but also dairy (especially dairy!), poultry, hogs, and even catfish are being driven into loss as corn prices soar.
We continue on, unhampered by storms or ice or cold.
Faithful blog readers may recall that our bellwether, Dunkin, was lost last May. After shearing, he stayed with our yearling ewes at the Badwater pasture, some 40 miles north of our lambing grounds, near Dixon. Except that he didn’t stay. He disappeared, and we assumed that he was trying to trail himself down to join the ewes and lambs. We looked for him along the trail, requested that the trappers look out for him, asked our neighbor to keep his eyes open when he flew his plane to check his cattle, and even wrote an article for the local paper, in case someone spotted him. After a couple of months, we gave up and assumed that he had either fallen prey to coyotes, or perhaps to a human with a taste for really fat mutton.
A few weeks ago, Pat came home and said, “I have really good news! Dunkin is in Joyce’s pasture”. Our neighbor Joyce lives right on the Savery Stock Driveway, and strays often collect up in her pasture. Pepe, Dunkin’s original patron, went to collect Dunkin and bring him home. Joyce’s employee, Percy, said that Dunkin had been there for a couple of weeks. Dunkin was probably 50 miles from where he had last been seen, in Badwater.
Pepe was furious, because Dunkin, who had a fresh paint brand (a Banjo) when he was lost, was wearing the brand of another sheep producer. He had even been earmarked, which was surely an outrage to Dunkin. He apparently escaped and found his way to Joyce’s. Dunkin is very happy to be home, hanging out with his sheep, dog and human friends, and we are glad to have him home.
Our bellwether, Dunkin, is missing. He was with the yearling sheep in the Badwater pasture, northeast of Dad, Wyoming. Last year we got a report of a sheep and a dog along the highway near Dad. It turned out to be Dunkin and a guard dog, heading south. We think that he decided he’d rather be with the lambing ewes north of Dixon, Wyoming and headed out. He apparently didn’t convince a guard dog to go with him. We are hoping that someone will spot him, and that he hasn’t become someone’s meal.
This spring, shearing was a process, not an event. In order for our spring schedule to go smoothly, the shearing crew needs to be done by May 1st. This gives us time to trail in an orderly manner to our lambing grounds, which takes four or five days. This year the crew showed up on April 30th.
It has been a phenomenally dry spring, so they had not been delayed by weather. Two reasons accounted for their late appearance. Our long-time shearing contractor had retired to his farm in New Zealand, along with his wife, a wool-packer extraordinaire, his three-year-old daughter and their newborn twin sons. The gentleman who took over his business was not nearly as experienced or efficient. In addition, our government’s jihad against legal foreign workers has taken its toll on shearing crews. Our crew did an excellent job, but was much slower than we were used to.
This year’s shearing, which lasted two weeks, took us into lambing, which starts May 8th. We had pregnancy tested many of the ewes in March, so we sent the ewes pregnant with twins on to the lambing grounds. This meant they trailed, heavy with lambs and with wool, and were sheared while they were beginning to lamb, on our private land on the lambing grounds.
Luckily for shearing, but unluckily in general, we lost only one day to rain. It was the only rain that came in a month. Hallelujah—we finally finished and were able to get on with the business of lambing.
guard dog watching sheep on the trail
Jose with Dunkin and his dogs
north of I80 at Creston Junction, April 2009
Dunkin and friends
on the trail to the Routt National Forest, June 2009
Cottonwood Pasture, October 2010
Dunkin and Friends: repost from July 2010
Pepe with Dunkin
Johnson Ranch corrals
Faithful blog readers will remember Dunkin, the bum lamb who grew up into a bellwether–a lead sheep. Dunkin was saved from certain death, and obscurity, when Pepe found him standing by the side of his dead mother as a newborn lamb. Pepe adopted him as a pet, and we even carried milk replacer on a pack horse to Dunkin his first summer. He is now a VERY large sheep, splitting his time between hanging out with the other sheep, and hanging out at the camp with the dogs. He is currently living with Modesto’s bunch, but recently reunited with Pepe.
Dunkin with his friends–Richar. Pepe and Modesto
Routt forest, July 2010
Dunkin (of blog fame), Dot (of National Geographic fame) and guard dog pup
Chain Lakes, Salomon’s camp, February 2011
Johanna with Dunkin at shearing, April 2011
Dunkin with lamb buddies, October 2011
December 12, 2008
Pepe and Dunkin, June 18, 2008
Loco, Savery Creek
photo by Sharon O’Toole
Sometimes, for one reason or another, a lamb ends up as an orphan. We call them bum lambs, because they try to “bum” milk from ewes not their mother. In Nevada, they are known as “leppies” although I’m not sure why. We usually bring them home and raise them on a bottle until they can graduate to grass and grain pellets. Bum lambs have a lower survival rate than lambs with moms. It is critical that they receive colostrum, which is the first anti-body laden milk that comes from the ewe. We often rob some of this thick golden elixir to give to orphan lambs, for without it, they usually succumb to disease, sooner or later.
Pepe found Dunkin standing next to a dead mother. I don’t know why she died, but Dunkin was a lucky lamb. Pepe (who has never done this before) took Dunkin under his wing and kept him as a pet. Here are a series of pictures showing Dunkin throughout the past seven months, thriving as I have never seen a bum lamb thrive. I attribute this to the vast amounts of lamb milk replacer he consumed, along with horse oats, as well as Pepe’s TLC. We actually packed lamb milk replacer ( a powder) on mules to Pepe’s high mountain camp last summer, along with Pepe’s groceries, dog food, and sheep salt.
Dunkin was born a buck lamb, and while we eventually convinced Pepe to castrate his pet, he never did dock his tail. Dunkin spent the summer following Pepe’s band of sheep to the summer pastures, playing with the other lambs, and sleeping with the sheepdogs under the sheep camp and by Pepe’s tent. Given Dunkin’s superior social skills, with people, sheep and dogs, we decided to keep him as a bell wether. A wether is a neutered male sheep, and the original meaning of bellwether is a sheep who leads the others into a corral or pen.
The final photo shows Dunkin outside looking in, as his peers are loaded onto a semi, destined for a feedlot in South Dakota, and eventually, fine dining establishments. He still has the ewes and the ewe lambs for company.
Pepe, Dunkin, Marie and George
Dudley Creek, Routt Forest, July 3rd
photo by Sharon O’Toole
Pepe, Dunkin and Megan
Farwell Mountain, Routt Forest, August 8th
photo by Sharon O’Toole
Pepe and Dunkin
Routt Forest, September 29th
photo by Pat O’Toole
Pepe, Dunkin in hunting season, October 31st
Cottonwood corrals, north of Dixon
photo by Sharon O’Toole
Dunkin, saying goodbye to his friends
Badwater, November 15th
photo by Sharon O’Toole
July is finally here. I feel like we haven’t looked up since we left the Red Desert with the ewes in mid-April. Finally, all the ewes and lambs and all the cows and calves are on their summer Forest permits.
We have a fine crew of Peruvian employees (as well as young ladies from Germany, friends, family and American employees). Their families often check the blog in hopes of seeing pictures of these men, who leave home for three years at a time to seek their fortune as sheepherders in the American West. Our Germans, Inka and Johanna, were seeking adventure and stories to tell. Here are some photos of these good folks.
Sarah, sunburned at shearing
It has been a tough cold spring. I haven’t posted lately due to computer issues (now hopefully resolved) and the shear volume of work, as we have trailed, sheared, trailed again and started lambing the sheep, and finished (almost) calving and commenced branding. All this has been complicated by rain, wind, and just real cold weather.
I can watch on TV as floodgates along the Mississippi and its tributaries are opened, or I can look out my window at Battle Creek creeping out into our meadows.
We do not have near the flooding that folks do in the Midwest, but Pat, Eamon and I spent a morning this week helping our neighbors sandbag as they try to keep their riverside businesses from being inundated. We are not at high water yet, due to unseasonably cold weather. The mountain Sno-tels (which measure water content in the remaining snow pack) are at over 200%, and it keeps raining and snowing. The slow melt has given folks time to sandbag and move things to higher ground.
We are asked if our house is in danger of flooding, but since we live on a hill, the whole valley would really be in trouble if we were underwater. Some of the roads are closed due to mudslides.
As we watch farmlands and rural communities along the Mississippi being flooded in order to save downstream cities and structures, it makes us think about what we value. While no one wants to see New Orleans flooded, again, and especially no one wants to see chemical factories and oil refineries awash, we do wonder about the crops being lost. My husband said, “If those flooded farms were their only source of food, they would look at this differently.”
This cold wet spring follows a hard winter (hence the heavy snowpack). It has been tough on livestock and the wildlife, as well as people. It was the coldest shearing I ever remember, with the corral crew bundled from head to toe. I, in particular, was “all wooled up”. I had on a wool hat, sweater, long underwear and socks, in addition to a down vest and jeans. I felt the ewes were looking at me with longing (and possibly resentment) as we sent them to have their own wool coats removed. Even the shearers, in the shed and working hard all day, wore sweatshirts with hoods.
We arrived late on the lambing grounds, since we were trying to hold out for growing grass. The moisture is good, but the cold weather makes the grass hold back. Like us, it is looking for sunshine. We had to pick up a quite a few lambs along the trail. We have only been able to use the lower lambing grounds so far, since Loco, 500 feet higher, is still snowy and the roads into that area are still drifted over.
Two years ago, we had a hard winter followed by a wet spring. We do not normally dock lambs (a June job) in the rain, but that year we only quit when we were threatened by lightening. By the time you read this, we will hopefully be docking lambs on bright sunny days with lush grass all around.
I am sympathetic to our friends in New Mexico and Texas, where drought and wildfires continue to ravage the landscape. We’d love to send some of this rainy weather and cool days your way! Our friends in Arizona and California will surely be grateful for the floodwaters headed for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.