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A Shepherd’s Life

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

             According to Wikipedia, the definition of transhumance is “the action or practice of moving livestock from one grazing ground to another in a seasonal cycle, typically to lowlands in winter and highlands in summer.”

Yep, that’s us. I wasn’t aware of such a glitzy term for being a sheepherder until a few years ago when the American Sheep Industry Association had a video contest for producers to tell their stories of “transhumance.”  The winning video was shot with a very good camera in aspen-filled mountains with the sheep and herder in a pastoral setting.

Another definition from Wikipedia states, “Transhumance is a type of pastoralism or nomadism, a seasonal movement of livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures. In montane regions (vertical transhumance), it implies movement between higher pastures in summer and lower valleys in winter. Herders have a permanent home, typically in valleys. Generally, only the herds travel, with a certain number of people necessary to tend to them, while the main population stays at the base. In contrast, horizontal transhumance is more susceptible to being disrupted by climatic, economic or political change.”

It sounds like someone did their doctoral thesis on this subject. It’s true the practice of transhumance has been going on for as long as man and beast have been together, but let’s leave the pictures of the high alpine meadows in Europe and the romantic National Geographic shots and try to visualize our own example of nomadism.   

The corral was a mess. We’d gone from dry and dusty to soppy and muddy. By the way, thanks Mother Nature for the moisture – it is always good – this time it was just bad timing. We’d worked the bunch and had them sorted off for truckloads of early-breeding ewes, white faced rams and black faced rams. They were all headed to farms in Powell where they would winter on beet tops and hay. This is the second winter in a row we’ve headed there, in hopes of trying to save the home range after two years of drought.

Kate had already canceled the trucks for one day. After working ewes, we built a different sheep chute for loading. Hopefully, it would be dry enough to get the trucks turned around and backed up. 

The next day, we got four trucks loaded and out, but that night as we headed home, it began to rain. We were supposed to load the last three trucks the next day.

We don’t live close to where we were loading, so we didn’t know what to expect outside of more mud. Would it be too much to load out? I picked up two high school football players in Kaycee, which was good, as we would end up packing a lot of panels. It’s an hour-plus drive to the corral, with some pavement then a fairly good gravel road for a couple of miles, which was ending in serious mud.   The trucks arrived and we got a plan.

We ended up making a portable pen in the corral by the main gate and moved the chute pointed towards the road. The drivers chained up their trucks, one tire on each side, came down, turned around and backed up with the aid of a tractor and chain. We were ready to load.

My job was to bring 150 head of sheep at a time down from the big corrals to the small pen with my dog. That worked well, and the ewes were pretty good at going up the chute. Perhaps they knew they were headed to dry ground. We were able to get the trucks loaded and sent to Powell and the sheep all unloaded before dark.

 This scene wasn’t romantic or scenic, and we were all covered in mud. But, we got it done.

One more definition I would like to share is the definition of “nomad,” which Wikipedia explains as “a member of a people having no permanent abode and who travel from place to place to find fresh pasture for their livestock.”

A few years ago, we were visiting with Bob’s mom at her kitchen table. Kate had recently gotten into ranching, and we added some pastures, too. Bob gave his mom a tour.

Lamb prices were good that fall and calf prices were not too bad either. Bob’s mom exclaimed to Bob, “You’re rich!” My son, Jim, burst out laughing and said, “Granny, all his houses are on wheels!” 

It’s true!

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