If you think of sheep as passive, humble, or lowly...think again. Their reputation has risen to warrior status as they wage war on weeds that rob livestock and wildlife of much needed pasture. The sheep are a great aide in fire control as they clear out brush and low lying shrubbery that spreads a blaze.
As sheep graze, they eat weeds before they eat grass, it's their nourishment of choice! We saw this band of 1400 ewes and lambs near Lincoln, Montana.
When we spotted the sheep, we hoped there would be a sheepherder near by. We saw the camp trailer in the trees, snuggled up under some shade. The road was a little rough but the Yukon we drive made it into camp just fine.
Meet Roberto Ninahuanca Tocas! Luckily for us, he was home! I can't tell you how interesting it was to meet him... His home is in Peru, where he teaches Spanish to the kids. He came to America to herd sheep to make more money for his family.
A couple of months ago, we were coming home from Helena, Mt when we saw a band of perhaps 3 or 4000 sheep and goats headed straight up the mountain... We stopped to wave at the sheepherder that day. Come to find out, that herder is Roberto's cousin, he also came from Peru to herd sheep in America.
Roberto told us his cousin spends a lot of time alone, as he herds sheep into extremely remote areas. Roberto's sheep were closer to the highway when we saw them and he said he has more contact with people than his cousin does, although he spends many days alone with the animals.
Roberto has a family in Peru, a wife and two children, a girl and a boy. He said his English isn't very good, but he tries hard to speak it correctly. We didn't have any trouble visiting with him at all, we thought his English was great.
He has a laptop computer in his little camper home, and it runs off batteries, but he didn't have internet. He did have a cell phone, but he didn't have a signal a lot of the time, as he's in the mountains. He told us he takes three months off each year. November, December and January are the months he spends with his family.
I asked him if he had trouble with bears, coyotes or wolves. He said a mountain lion killed six lambs a few days ago. He called the government trapper to come in and find the lion but the hunt was unsuccessful.
His sheep have a schedule. He told us they lay down for a nap around noon and rest until about 4 pm. After that, they get up and head up the mountain. Once they're on top, they spend the night there. Roberto gets up early, and with his horse and his dogs, he heads up the mountain to bring the sheep down for water, salt and mineral.
His dogs respond to whistled commands. They're lean and fit...not an ounce of fat....all muscle...from climbing the mountain each day to bring the sheep down. Roberto told us much of the time, the dogs work the sheep by noticing which way he or his horse happens to be facing. If he turns his horse to the left, the dogs automatically herd the sheep ahead of him turning toward the left.
His boss brings him supplies as he needs them. He also has two horses, and when the present horse is worn out, the boss brings a fresh one.
We're going to email pictures of Roberto to his wife. I will never in my life get over how the internet and digital cameras have changed the world. Isn't it amazing we could meet a teacher from Peru, who's herding sheep in Montana? And in no time at all, we can email photos of him to his wife and family?
This is one of the sheep herding dogs who works with Roberto, he was smiling at me.
If you'd like to read more about the way sheep control weeds in Montana, I've included a link to an article from the Montana Standard below....
Another article about sheep waging war on weeds.
We hope we see Roberto again!
Marker Sketch of Fritz
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