Countdown to Spring
By Lynn Harlan
Laughter and the clang of the deck boards float back to me at the early morning sheep load. I’m standing at the back of the lambs and it’s a crisp 19 degrees. I could move up and join the camaraderie of the men huddled at the truck, but in this particular corral there are no gates handy and I’ve already clambered over the fences to get to my spot. I’m at the back of the lambs to keep them from piling up and I’ll move them up when they start loading.
We’re at Shane’s feedlot and loading pens near Powell, at seven in the morning in early February. These are fat lambs headed to Ault, Colo. to finish out at a feedlot and will be lamb chops soon. We try to get the truck loaded and gone as quickly as possible so the driver can unload in the daylight.
It’s a rattletrap set-up but the lambs move quickly through the alley and run up into the truck. Everything is cobbled together with wire panels, plywood boards, old gates and plenty of twine when there’s not wire available. It’s an old cow feedlot converted to lambs years ago when we started feeding lambs in the Big Horn Basin.
We’ve been sending our replacement ewe lambs over here for 30 years. The relatively cheap feed and the watchful eye of the farmer make it work. Also, hauling in sugarbeet pulp from the sugar plant, barley and corn stubble in the harvested fields and beet tops.
Beet tops are what’s left when they harvest the beets. The green tops of the beets are left in the field to dry along with pieces of sugarbeets then chopped up in the machine. Hay and corn the farmer grew finish out the ration.
When Bob started retaining ownership and feeding our market lambs, he approached a couple of farmers in Powell. Instead of loading on a truck in the fall and going directly to a feedlot, the lambs were sent to Powell and fed more slowly (the feed stuffs listed above instead of a heavy diet of corn) enabling us to try a different market – say Easter instead of Christmas, and even into summer grilling season.
Most of the lambs in the Rocky Mountain region traditionally loaded on trucks at shipping would go to a feedlot, and then generally be fattened and ready around Christmas time. This could sometimes cause a “glut” in the market – too many lambs ready at once.
Since those early days, Bob has bought many lambs to feed out and gamble with the markets. We have fed lambs in western Oregon on the rye grass fields, lambs in southern California on alfalfa fields, along with lambs in Worland and Powell.
Eight years ago, and also the last two winters, we have brought our ewe herd to Powell for four months. No appreciable rain or snowpack for two summers prompted the move. It’s a lot of work. Driving hundreds of steel posts and stretching up tight wire sheep fence before the ewes come, as the fields aren’t fenced.
Building a night pen out of posts and panels. Moving all the fence when the field is done. I’m thankful for our two Peruvians, Jesus and Henry, who stayed over the winter to do most of the post pounding. We did invest in a small hand-held gas powered post pounder, which helped.
Now it’s March and our time here is winding down. We have been ultrasounding the ewes, and hope to shear some of the early lambers before they get trucked back home.
We pregnancy check the ewes to see if they are having twins, a single lamb or are not bred – open. We dot them with different colored spray paint and will work them into their appropriate bunches before shearing, and then mark them again with paint so as to keep the twins and singles separate and sell the open ewes.
We’ve been working and loading out the fat lambs. Our feeders and farmers don’t want to be feeding many lambs when farming starts in the Big Horn Basin next month. The guys have been pulling out fence posts if the frost allows and rolling up wire.
It will be good to get home to my own bed again. We rented a tiny house the last two winters and one good thing is the main street of Powell is only a block away. The bad thing is I ate too many meals out this winter and drank too many good beers brewed in Wyoming.
A shout out to Amy Hendrickson, the Wyoming Wool Growers Executive Director for the past eight years. She’s dealt with problems coming out of Washington, D.C. along with irascible sheepmen and she’s earned some time on a sandy beach somewhere. Thanks for all your hard work Amy, and great luck in your future endeavors.