Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Rolling with the changes
Today I was supposed to be residing at a luxury hotel in Cody, Wyoming, scheduled to give a presentation about using livestock protection animals to the Western Association of State Agricultural Directors. Instead, I’m sitting in a pickup truck on the edge of my sheep herd, pounding the keyboard on the laptop and waiting for the sun to come up.
The ongoing drought on the western range (now afflicting much of the nation) has had stunning impacts for livestock producers. Thousands and thousands of cattle and sheep have left this state, headed to range or feedlots elsewhere. Others have sold their entire herds. Feed prices are skyrocketing and producers have turned their herds onto hay fields in order to get by a little longer.
For our small outfit, we’re struggling to keep everything together. Our traditional pastures were done before we started this year, turning brown without moisture, so we leased other private property in our neighborhood, wherever we could find it. We found a nice parcel that hadn’t been grazed for about three years, but water was spotty, so I’ve spent part of the last month as a water hauler. We had hoped to have this pasture get us to August 1, but about two weeks ago, I realized it wasn’t going to happen. We would need to move sooner.
My goal was to keep the herd in this pasture until this weekend, when we would erect portable pens and sort and ship the sheep to new pasture located in the Wind River Mountain foothills. One other problem has added to our drought dilemma: a pack of wolves has taken to killing sheep in the pastures adjacent to the one we are headed for. With 20 sheep wounded or dead, federal wildlife officials have responded and killed five wolves out of a pack of seven or eight. Perhaps stalling a few more days is our best bet.
The last two days, the sheep have decided to “quit” the pasture – that means they’re crawling under fences that were built to hold cattle and getting out, scattering in all directions. When the sheep do this, the guardians can’t keep tabs on all, and I’ve noticed a few lambs are missing. Predators are taking advantage of the situation, feasting on fresh American lamb.
Other sheep crawl under the fence onto the highway right-of-way, tempted by sweet clover blooms adjacent to the pavement. But the road is an access to the Pinedale Anticline gas field, one of the largest gas fields in the nation, so it’s a dangerous place to be.
Young coyotes are out and about learning to hunt, and there has been one teasing Rena the guardian at night while she’s locked in the pen with the orphan lambs at the house.
So I’ll be based from my truck-office the next few days, writing while I’m not chasing the herd, and trying to figure out what constitutes the right thing. Sometimes the best decision isn’t that great of an option, but we’ll make do.