Sheep trail is here, the most anticipated time of the year… that is if you are a sheep on the Helle Rambouillet Ranch….
The yearly sheep migration has started into the high mountain pastures of Montana. This important time gives the ranch grasslands time to regrow. In the alpine meadows above 9000’, snow is still melting. Hundreds of mountain forbes are quickly blooming as they emerge from the rich soil. As a result, a colorful, diverse landscape is created, perfectly adapted to the grazing rituals of mountain ungulates.
For the past 100 years, the sheep trail has served as an entry into the mountains from the lower winter grounds. As the sheep climb higher and higher and the grass becomes greener, the ewes become excited. The sheepherders slow them down so their lambs won't tire before the end of their journey. The 40-mile trek will take about 6 days for the bands of sheep and their 3-month-old lambs to complete. Reaching the mountain pass, a natural gateway, offers a stunning view to the Ruby River Valley 4000 feet below.
The Helle sheep along with their herders are the stewards of this majestic land. Their first task in the high country is the prescribed grazing of Larkspur, a poisonous weed that can kill cows if ingested. Sheep, on the other hand, are resistant to the toxic alkaloids in Larkspur and consume it like candy. Grazing ahead of the cattle, the sheep help clear the land of this poisonous plant. The high country is home to the Helle sheep for 3 months. As the snow starts to fly this fall, it is time for the century-old migration back to the ranch.
Photography: Ace Kvale