The most awaited time of the year is here!
If you’re a sheep on the Helle Rambouillet Ranch that is… It’s time to start the annual migration up into the high mountain summer pastures of Montana. The first day of summer has already come and gone and the grass in the Sweetwater Basin is starting to cure. However, in the high mountain summer range, the snow still hasn’t finished melting in the 9000’ mountain meadows. Soon to emerge from the rich loamy soil are hundreds of different high mountain forbes that will quickly bloom making the land change colors each day. The result is a rich diverse landscape perfectly adapted to the grazing and browsing rituals of the mountain ungulates.
The sheep will slowly make the 40 mile trek with their now 3 month old lambs. The trail has been used for the past 100 years as an entry into the mountains from the lower winter country. Starting in near desert country, the migration will take about 6 days. As the altitude gains and the grass gets greener, the ewes get more excited and the herder has to slow them down so their lambs don’t get tired. The mountain pass is like a gateway and once on the other side, it’s downhill all the way to the river, a coveted fly fishing destination.
The sheep and shepherds are the stewards of the land and their first task is the prescribed grazing of the poisonous weed, Larkspur. Larkspur will kill cows if they ingest it but sheep eat it like candy. So the sheep graze ahead of the cattle, removing the poisonous plant. The balance of cattle, sheep and wild animals is carefully monitored each year to ensure sustainability in the multiple use forest. The sheep will enjoy a short stay of 3 months before the snow starts flying again and it’s time for the century old migration back.
Photos by: Ace Kvale