Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Herding sheep, and words

It’s been such a long time since I’ve posted, and I have missed the blog much in the last few months. Our sheep and guardian animals are all fine and wintering well. We’ve moved the herd to the pasture at our house, so my “checking the sheep” sometimes only involves looking out the window. When we moved to the house, we started feeding hay. It’s a rich mixture of oat/pea/alfalfa, so the ewes leap high into the air, twisting sideways with joy, while chasing the feed truck every afternoon. It’s comical. We won’t start lambing until early May, so these are easy, quiet months for the herd as long as the weather isn’t too miserable. They’ve had an easy winter so far.

Every time our herd moves, it’s an attraction for predators. It usually takes a few days for our guardian dogs to clean out the coyotes from new range, but this year we’re dealing with a couple of packs of coyotes. A few weeks ago, both Rena and Luv’s Girl arrived at the house at dawn, battle-weary and bloody after a night of conflict. The sheep herd was unscathed, and had been joined on their bedground by a couple of hundred pronghorn antelope. Apparently the pronghorn realized that the safest place to be when there are predators on the prowl is with a guarded herd. Neither of the dogs was hurt badly, but Rena slept for almost nine straight hours in the spot just inside the door where she had collapsed upon entry. It was obvious from the frozen traces left on their neck manes that both dogs had been in physical conflicts with smaller animals that were trying to bite their throats. The smaller animals never succeeded, although Luv’s Girl did have some swollen, bloody bites on her nose.

Because of the sheer persistency of our coyote threats, I’ve been trying to keep one guardian dog kenneled at night – forced rest – while the other two are on night duty. Rant has been doing a really good job when he’s on duty, but he’s returned to the house nearly unable to walk a few times now, suffering from exhaustion. The size of the coyote packs are dwindling, and I’m fairly confident that Rant has decided that lethal control is the way to go.

With three burros, and three guardian dogs, and their location right outside the yard, my herd has not suffered from predation this winter, but the everyday threats are astounding. We see coyotes every day, we hear their howling every day without fail, and coyotes make tries on the herd every night. Our sheep are Rambouillets, which are famous for their flocking instinct, which helps to protect the herd from predation. Stray sheep are dead sheep in this predator-rich environment.

While the guardians have been working hard to keep life pleasant for the sheep, I’ve been busy inside. In December, we became aware that our favorite sheep magazine was printing its last issue. The Shepherd had been published for 56 years, was based in Ohio, and each monthly issue had been full of animal husbandry, nutrition, and management information. The loss of the publication was a blow we felt personally.

So my buddy Pete and I talked about it, and we teamed up to make an offer to purchase the magazine. We were somewhat surprised when our offer was successful, and we scrambled to form a corporation and jump through all the legal hoops. We Wyoming sheepherders now own a national monthly sheep industry magazine – something we had not foreseen a few months ago. The purchase did not include employees – what we bought was the brand, its subscribers, its advertisers, its 56 years of history and past issues.

We’ve just sent our first issue of the magazine off to the design and print company. Although printing and mailing the magazine will continue from a facility in Ohio, it’s with a great deal of satisfaction that we’ve moved the editorial and business operations to the sagebrush rangelands of western Wyoming – our sheep range. We’ll continue herding sheep, and words.

For those who want to know more, check out The Shepherd.

9 comments:

Brenda Negri said...

Thanks for the update Cat and I really look forward to your being at the help of The Shepherd!

Kate Howe said...

Glad you and your friend had the foresight to save The Shepherd... Looking forward to the first WY issue......
Keep those coyotes entertained...
Ha Ha..
Kate Howe

Cat Urbigkit said...

Thanks Brenda and Kate - your support is very much appreciated!

Chas Clifton said...

Lawdy lawd, publishing! Now you can be a slave to a new set of deadlines. :)

Anonymous said...

Do you use protective collars or spikes on the dogs? Just curious.

Cat Urbigkit said...

We do sometimes use spiked collars - when we know wolves are in the area. The dogs can handle coyotes just fine without the collars.

Eugene (AZAM) said...

Congratulations on the purchase!thou it's also a lot of work and responsibility.
Good to hear about the dogs and their work.

Eugene

Jenny Glen said...

Cat are you going to be able to ship "The Shepherd" to Canada?

Cat Urbigkit said...

Jenny:
I will be able to international subscriptions. As soon as I get the first issue out (the first week of March) I'll find out how much I need to charge for international mailings, and will then make that option available. We'll have some writing from sheep/guardian owners in other countries, so this must be an option.