Sheep ranching in Iron County is often a transhumant operation. This means that the sheep are moved seasonally to different locations. The summer finds them on the mountain while the winter range is the desert. The sheep are rotated between different pastures in an effort to maintain effective feed. While on government land, a sheepherder is required to be with the sheep to keep them from overgrazing an area, wandering into dangerous and protected areas, and privately owned land. Sheep ranchers are assigned an allotment of land that is used solely for their flock.
Sheep were first taken to the Cedar Mountain in 1870. Local historian William R. Palmer recorded that two men were sent with the herd. They had strict instructions to keep the sheep out of the timber. The owners were afraid that the sheep would get lost, wander away, or get eaten by a predator. One hot summer day, the sheep were determined to get into the shade, where they would have lain all day until evening when they could be driven at will. However, remembering their instructions, the two sheepherders spent the day battling the sheep to keep them away from the shade. Finally, the herd scattered and ran for the timber. One of the men quickly rode to town to report the disaster. A number of residents return to help gather the flock. Palmer states; “Riding and yelling through the forest like madmen they rounded up the wayward woolies and forced them back to the naked sunburned hillside. Then with many admonitions to the careless herdsmen they returned to town feeling they had done a good and heroic days work.” Fortunately, sheep ranchers today have a much better understanding of the nature of sheep.
The Ted Nelson family has been sheep ranching in Iron County for over six generations. Their ranch is centrally located between winter and summer range. Each season the sheep are driven to their ground on the mountain, then back to the ranch, then to the desert, and finally back to the ranch for lambing. The sheep move along trails created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. All local commercial sheep operations work their herds in this manner. Moving the sheep is essential for the survival of the herd, the financial success of a sheep ranch, and the ecological health of the rangeland.
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