University of Nevada, Reno

Sheepherding Life

Sheepherder at feeding time on winter range with sheep

In Northern Nevada, sheepherders would "trail" their flocks of 1,000 to 2,000 sheep to an area where there would be adequate water and grass, and preferably some shade, during the summer months, keeping the band together and moving to fresh feed every day. Depending on the type of operation, a sheepherder might also lead his sheep to lower-altitude grazing lands in the autumn, spring, and Young sheepherding dogeven winter months. One herder (usually on horseback) and a good dog could manage a band of sheep this size, and most days there was time to spare, for sleeping or daydreaming or reading or making music or carving on aspens, but a herder was always on call to respond to predators or sheep in trouble. Most sheepherders in Nevada until the early 1980s were Basques.

I had to stay right by the sheep, especially at night. There were lots of coyotes and I wanted to save every lamb. I had almost one thousand, but I cared about each one. If I found a dead lamb, well I just started to cry.

— Beltran Paris, Beltran: Basque Sheepman of the American West, p. 30

In the summer, a herder slept in a simple tent, near the sheep, carrying his gear and supplies on packhorses or mules. In the winter, a sheep wagon or trailer might be a sheepherder's home. A camp tender would bring fresh supplies every week or so. Most of the time on the range, though, a sheepherder spent alone with his animals.

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