I awoke this morning to the sound of honking geese. They were flying low near the window of the bedroom I had been sleeping in.
I peek out the windows to look and the first thing that I notice are the mountains. I’d not been able to see them the previous evening/early morning when I had arrived as it had been quite dark out. I opened the door of the room and there, in a set of picture windows, were more mountains. I know that they are not revolutionary to anyone who lives near them but to start your day off in a place so completely different (read: non-mountainous) and to wake-up the next day in the mountains, well, it will get your attention.
After getting dressed I headed outside where it was crisp but not cold and clear as can be (to me at least). C finds me and offers me breakfast. After eating we go off to tour the ranch (I nearly wrote farm. This is NOT a farm. It is a ranch.) She takes me out to where some of her crew is taking the wethers and unbred ewes and a camper for the shepherd out to a new camp where they will spend a good chunk of the summer. There is sagebrush everywhere with rocks littering the surface of the soil between clumps of grass. The dogs are working hard at keeping the sheep from stopping to much on grass they travel. We leave the caravan as it starts to go through an underpass that looks like a giant culvert under the interstate.
We then go to meet my future sheep. They are in a pasture with a long, low log shed. They quickly shy away from us and hide in the dark shed. We shoo them out so that I can take a good look at them in the bright, mountain light. Most of them are yearling ewes, but there are 3 wethers as well, their little horns and bigger size giving them away. They are an assortment of colors and patterns. They gaze back at me with a combination of fear and curiosity as I start to try to decide which four not to take back to Iowa with me. They are an assortment of colors and patterns and I know that the choice will not be easy.
C then walks me around the ranch, showing me the pasture where the ewes with the youngest lambs are being kept. She also shows me her lambing jugs and how they paint mark the lambs to make sure that the correct mother ends up with right lambs. She explains the numbering system that they use and how they keep records of all the lambs. We end-up in the pasture with the ewes and the slightly older lambs.
Quite honestly, I’ve not seen this many sheep since I left England over two years ago. I’d forgotten the cacophony of a field full of bleating ewes and frantically baa-ing lambs. And the colors! Everything from a white body with a white face to a completely, coal-black sheep to a lamb with a creamy underbelly with a black topside was to be found in that field.
We then walked down to the pasture where the rams were kept, well away from any possible female companionship. There are only a few males that service the entire ranch, though the line-up does change periodically. They were handsome and not at all aggressive towards us.
C also showed me the traditional shepherd’s trailer that she has restored. It is cosy and quite able to be heated with a simple wood stove in the corner.
After lunch we started making plans for the great sheep drive. It was decided that we would do it in two days rather than one (it would have been a LONG day). We checked the weather and road conditions and started talking about all that needed to be done still.
We went back up to check on the camp being made, actually going through the giant culvert/underpass in C’s car. There was and old timbered grainery/cabin that we passed on the way to camp that fascinated me.
We knew we were close to camp when we spotted the sheep grazing under the watchful eye of the livestock guardian dogs. The small camper was parked on a small piece of flat land amongst some pines. A small solar array was set next to it to give the shepherd at least a little electricity. The location boasted a lovely view and smelled of fresh-cut pines.
After going back down, my future sheep were rounded up and driven across the road using Emma the collie. Emma is a very good dog who sometimes really likes to be naughty. She would drive the sheep perfectly to where she was supposed to have them only to scatter them and drive them back the way they came just so that she could do it all again. To say that she is fun to watch work would be a massive understatement!
We finally get the animals across the street and into a small pen with a chute where I am to pick out the four that won’t be coming to Iowa with me. Since they are pretty crowded in the pen and I had just watched them all run, I didn’t worry too much about physical condition. One had some pinkeye that was being treated so we pulled that one. That left three to choose. I ended-up going purely on what I liked color wise. I figure that these are animals that I am going to have for many years, I should really like them right from the start. So into the pen with the pinkeye animal went a red one (it’s a hard color to match to), a black one (that had some red in its fleece, unlike the pure blacks still in the pen), and an off-white one with a black face. There was nothing wrong with the last three, I just needed to pick four! It wasn’t easy and I am still trying not to second guess myself.
These are the four that stayed home.
The selection process
What I saw when I was choosing sheep.
We then took my flock (it seems so strange to write that) across the road again to a pen where it would be easy to load them in the morning. The sheep were watched curiously by the ranch horses as they were given some hay for the night.
C and I then went to dinner in the tiny town of Wolf Creek where we met with her office manager to finalize the paperwork for the sheep to be transferred into my name as well as legally driven through five different states. It was a little overwhelming to have all the different numbers and what they were for explained to me. I think that the ladies could see that and gave me some time to ask questions so that until I felt confident about what I was doing. At least for a few minutes:-)
After a beautiful drive home through an amazing canyon, both C and I were ready for bed, knowing that the next several days were going to be quite long ones.