Old Worries and New Beginnings
Muddy Mountain, Carbon County, Wyoming Summer 2006
Photo by Pat O'Toole
This time of year is always busy for us. We have cows and calves on two forest permits, and seven bands of sheep on the forest. At the home ranch, we are putting up hay, and starting on such tasks as getting in wood for the winter. This year, all of this is colored by the drought which is consuming much of our country. We are more fortunate than many of our neighbors, who do not have the relatively lush forest permits to go to. Our relationship with the Forest Service is long and mixed, but a year such as this one shows us the value of that high mountain feed. Even the forests have had less rainfall than usual, and we are running our livestock on these permits at about 80 per cent, voluntarily. Some of our neighbors with only desert (actually high plains) pastures are selling out, shipping out at great expense, or barely hanging on by buying additional feed and searching for the rare lease with grass.
Photo by Pat O'Toole
Our valley is a relative oasis. We have had less moisture than normal, but still more than the surrounding areas. Our hay crops have been mostly good. Those with early water rights, and irrigation water provided by a recently completed dam have grown good crops with the hot weather we have been having. Those without access to such water have had their fields and pastures burning up.
In the fall and winter months, we depend on range, especially for the sheep. Much of our fall and winter country is arid. Without summer rains, the grass has not grown. Weeds comprise a lot of the ground cover. Much of this grazing land is being heavily impacted by oil and gas development, which produces the petroleum products we all need, but brings people, traffic, dust, weeds and stress to the animals, domestic and wild.
We are worried about the feed we have to go to when we leave the forest in late September. We plan on reducing sheep numbers, taking non-use in an area where we used to winter two bands of sheep, and are scratching our heads for the most viable place to feed our lambs, with fuel costs soaring.
Did I mention busy? My youngest daughter, who lives and works in New York City, is getting married at the ranch on September 2nd. We are in a frenzy of painting, weeding, replacing broken windows on outbuildings, and all the stuff we should really do anyway. That is not to mention flowers, food, music and all the other accoutrements that go with such a joyous occasion. Bridget’s fiancé is a young man from Northern Ireland, so his family, Irish all, are planning to celebrate with our new family from across the Atlantic. My side of the family, heavy on Scotch, English and Irish, are also planning to gather en masse. So we will set our worries aside for a few days and enjoy the gathering and the joining of the clans. Photos will follow, I promise!
Bridget & Chris, Derry Sunset