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Postcard from the Past: Herding and Shearing Sheep

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

“An Eastern Writer Gives Us Some Very Interesting Facts,” reads a sub-head in the March 1, 1908 issue of  The Wyoming Industrial Journal. A portion of the article follows:

Speaking in the Review of Reviews for March, Arthur Chapmann interestingly handles the sheep business and especially the herder and shearer of the flocks. He says:

Naturally, the central figure is the sheepherder. He is the man upon whom the owner depends for the safety of an average flock of from 2,000 to 2,500 sheep, which may be worth from $10,000 to $30,000.

It has been the custom to look upon the sheepherder as the man who takes up the employment because he is “locoed,” or because he cannot do anything else. Nothing could be further from the truth. No sheep owner could not put so much responsibility on the shoulders of incompetent or irresponsible men. 

The herders are selected from the best material the labor market has to offer and are paid from $50 to $75 per month and board. The herder is furnished with everything he needs, and there is no limit to the quantity or quality of his fare. 

He is given carte blanche to order what the market affords, and the “camp tender,” who comes with supplies once or twice a week sees the order is promptly filled.

The sheep wagon, in which the herder lives in winter, is a veritable house on wheels. It is a canvas covered wagon, containing a cook stove, bunk, cupboard and, in short, everything which can make life bearable for the herder. 

In one of these wagons, a man can remain comfortable while the “norther” rages without. In summer, while in the mountains, he lives in a tent, but this is all a man requires among such ideal natural surroundings.

In the spring, at lambing time, is the herder’s season of responsibility. It is then a May snow may wipe out a year’s crop of lambs, if the flock is caught in a bad place, and it is then the band must be closely guarded against the danger from coyotes and wolves. 

Care must always be exercised in changing feeding ground, lest the sheep get among poison weeds and die. Countless sheep have been lost in this manner, the herder being unaware of any danger until the poisoned animals began to drop by the score. 

Sheep shearing brings to the front another interesting class of men, but, then, that is for the next time we gather at the shearing pens.

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