A Tale of Transhumance: Herding Sheep with Livestock Guardian Dogs
(Page 6 of 7)
I stayed awake late last night reading, and just minutes after I shut off the light, the coyotes began yowling, calling the dogs out to the hills below my camp. Since coyotes typically try to enter the herd under cover of darkness, this is when our dogs do battle with them; few physical conflicts are seen by human eyes. I listened to hear the outcome of the dispute, but the wind didn’t allow much satisfaction to that end. Within another hour, the wind increased in earnest, such that I curled into my warm bed and hoped that the gusts that were rocking the camp wouldn’t blow us to Kansas or some other distant place. I later learned that a wind gust of more than 110 miles an hour was recorded on a ridge across the basin. The wind certainly wasn’t that bad in my camp, owing to its placement tucked into the hillside.
When I arose to check the sheep at dawn, I found that they were not where I had left them at dusk, although I soon located them, huddled together in the shelter of a swale. All was well, so I left them with their guardian dogs to graze. Within a few hours, the herd wandered over to my camp, bedding in the brush above it, reposing in the sunshine, for a midmorning rest. The ewes are heavy with pregnancy, and lambing could begin at any time, although their official due date isn’t for a few more days.
The wind blustered for most of the day, and the herd grazed in gullies and washes that offered protection from the gales. The range is covered with low vegetation that is high in nutrition but small in size due to the harsh climate. Jim tells me the low sagebrush the sheep currently seem to favor has a lemony flavor and is a rhizome, meaning it grows thick stems both below and above the ground. I drove around exploring the pasture, following the herd. I hiked the narrow passage between two slopes, following behind a small group of ewes to a grassy knoll, from which gurgled forth a spring of cold, clear water in a space the size of a washbasin.
With the blustery weather, there wasn’t much avian activity, although I twice noticed the hardy little kestrel crisscrossing the brush in front of my camp, hunting fast and low to the ground. Its presence gives me joy, for this fierce little falcon is a species I much admire.
Late in the afternoon, Jim arrived to deliver supplies. It was wonderful to see him, but I fear he’ll soon be run ragged with his job, taking care of home, and ferrying supplies to me once or twice a week. He restocked my water supply (scolding me for watering the dogs from my supply rather than from nature’s offerings), delivered groceries and books, and helped insulate a vent in my camp that allowed the gusting wind to enter. His hour-long presence was welcome, but so short. He is worrying less, admires my undertaking, and admits to being a little envious of my life on the range. But it’s because of his support that I’m able to be here, and I look forward to sharing the adventure with him.
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