It has been a very memorable 6 weeks, beginning on August 17, my 65th birthday, with an unprecedented summer thunderstorm (Melinda got the photo of one of the lightning-bolts above) that set fires all over California, including in the Pt Reyes National Seashore, in the beautiful forested area off the Bear Valley trail where I ride my horse with friends every week. We were in deep mourning as we watched the daily reports and the fire expanded to burn our entire trail-riding area of 3,000 acres or so. And of course elsewhere in California it was much worse, with huge fires burning vast areas, people evacuated, homes burned. By September 9, we had a day that looked like this, with so much smoke in the upper atmosphere that you could barely call it day at all. It was truly apocalyptic feeling. The sheep were as confused as we were depressed.
Meanwhile, despite Covid and fires, our sheep-calendar was moving forward and harvest days as well as breeding time were just around the corner. I was trying to arrange a road-trip to my cousin Josi and her husband Karl’s place in Pocatello Idaho, to pick up our new Cormo ram, who Lisa had already named “Perry Cormo.” He comes from my friends Chad and Susan Waite’s Earthstar Farm in Whitefish, Montana. Chad and Susan have selected for very fine Cormo fleeces and we were excited to add Perry to our flock. Chad was willing to drive him down to Pocatello. Then our friends Mike and Tana Powell invited us for a visit at their Lantana Ranch near Yerington, Nevada, where they had been isolated since the pandemic began. The day after that apocalyptic day pictured above, Corey and I headed out to Nevada, with a custom-built ram-transporting pen in the bed of my pickup. (Sorry I didn’t take a picture!) We spent the night at Lantana Ranch, and I left Corey there to have a 3-day vacation with Mike and Tana while I drove the 10 hours from Yerington to Pocatello.
I had a day with Josi, Karl, Josi’s mom Linda and Josi and Karl’s daughter Neva before Chad joined us with Perry in his trailer. The next morning, we transferred Perry from Chad’s trailer to my pickup with the help of a steep driveway to bring the trailer close to the level of the pickup bed, and once Perry was snug in his new carrier, I headed back to Lantana Ranch. Perry spent that night in my pickup in Mike’s airplane hangar, and the next morning Corey and I drove him home to our ranch. We had been dodging terrible smoke all the way, and just as we crested the hill and saw our ranch, the skies turned blue. Melinda said it was the first blue skies in over a week.
Lisa had prepared a nice paddock to hold Perry for a few days until breeding day, but his first act was to bust through a gate and get in with our ewe lambs. They scattered as if a boy had just barged into the girls’ locker room! We quickly got everyone to the corrals and got Perry sorted out. He spent the next two days securely in a box stall in our barn with our wether, Black Bean. It is handy to have some wethers around as companions at times like this.
Then it was time to prepare the flock for breeding day, and the next three days were full of sheep work, trimming feet, vaccinating and worming the ewes and rams. The first day, I got kicked by a ewe just as I was vaccinating her and she managed to drive the needle into one of my finger joints. Ouch! It was the worst needle-stick injury I’ve ever had –I wound up on antibiotics for two weeks to fight an infection in the joint. We are rethinking how we give shots to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.
Finally it was breeding day, and we sorted the ewes in to our five breeding groups. I always make a plan in advance and it feels a bit like choreography, mapping out every move of each group of sheep. We were bringing ewes and rams in from five different pastures, sorting everyone in the corrals and winding up with five breeding groups to be returned to the pastures, either moving them on foot or transporting them in the trailer. The choreography went off without a hitch and by the end of the morning each of our five rams we are using had his harem of girls.