Thursday, August 6, 2020
Sheep Trailing’s Real Heroes Sometimes Overlooked
Peruvian musicians were among those who made for a colorful Trailing of the Sheep Parade on Sunday.
Monday, October 15, 2018


Sheep Rancher John Peavey is fond of telling stories about the beloved border collies that have helped herd sheep for the Flat Top Sheep Ranch for what is now five generations.

An 11-month-old Jock became so frustrated with cattle that wanted to run around in circles rather than exit a corral that he leapt in the air, grabbing one by the nose and hanging on until it ran out of the corral leading others with it.

Another would stare at sheep until they broke down.

Lamb Chop shares a moment with longtime Trailing of the Sheep volunteer Ruth Leider.

And when another went missing, herders retraced their steps to find him lying next to an abandoned building where sheep had fallen into the window well and couldn’t get out. He had lain there for 24 hours without food and water waiting for someone to return to rescue the sheep he was entrusted with.

Those heroes were on view Sunday, herding the sheep between spectators on both sides of Main Street as the 22nd annual Trailing of the Sheep took place. But, chances are, no one paid attention to them as they focused on the wooly buggers moving through the streets like a giant amoeba.

Hundreds of people from 50 states and a couple dozen countries thronged Ketchum’s Main Street despite a cold wind blowing from the north to watch the trailing of 1,500 sheep through town as they moved from summer pastures in the meadows to winter ranges south of Bellevue.

It’s a practice that has been going on since Ketchum was the second largest sheep center in the world behind Sydney, Australia, in the early 1900s.

The Rev. Ken Brannon braves a potential stampede to bless the sheep to “be the best sheep you can be.”

But 30 years ago, Peavey noted, ranchers took sheep through back alleys at odd hours to try to keep  condominium owners from complaining. He and his wife Diane Josephy Peavey started the sheep trailing to acquaint the local populace with Sun Valley’s sheep heritage after bicyclists complained about their tires rolling over sheep turds on the bike path that had been built on top of the sheep driveway.

The spectacle, now considered one of the top festivals in the world, featured bagpipers, Basque dancers and Peruvian musicians as it rolled through Ketchum on Sunday.

Sheep wagons with white canvas tops rolled along on rubber tires—not the iron wheels they used to travel on.

A few pulled wagons behind them—a commissaries that hauled firewood, hay, water and staples like rice and potatoes for sheepherders watching over sheep in the mountains.

Girl Scouts came with their own sheep—on strings.

In days past, the wagons were pulled by teams of horses. When it was time to move, drivers would often race one another for a choice camping site by a creek.

“We don’t have teams of horses, anymore, and I miss them,” said Peavey.

Today’s sheepherders—most of whom come from Peru--can stay for three years before they have to return to their country of origin. They can return to the United States three months later.

“Everyone wants to come back, which is wonderful for us because they know the country. We have the same crew year after year after year,” said Peavey. “Sometimes we have soccer game between the Peruvians and the Mexicans who work in the fields.”

The Peruvian dancers featured a large contingent of children this year.

While the border collies steer the sheep, Tantra sheep dogs and Great Pyrenees dogs who weigh between 90 and 120 pounds, lumber along with the sheep protecting them from coyotes and other predators.

Despite the dogs, the Flat Top Ranch lost 10 lambs and a guard dog overnight this past summer to wolves, Peavey recounted. Herders removed the lambs from the herd, and the depredation stopped immediately as the wolves moved on to another sheep outfit, Peavey said.

“It’s easier for them to prey on 80-pound lambs than 285-pound ewes,” he added.

Appearing before hundreds of humans lining the streets after a summer in the backcountry, can be traumatic for the sheep, sending them running in circles, jumping over one another, even trying to take detours off the parade route.

"The parade isn’t choreographed, you know,” Ketchum resident Jack Williams told a young man from the Bay area. "Once you  release the sheep, you can’t stop them.”

The sheep were well behaved, however, acting as if they had followed a well choreographed routine.

And Flat Top Rancher John Peavey was well pleased.

"I heard from people that they loved connecting with things that can disappear. This festival has become huge for reconnecting people with the land, with a way of life many no longer are connected to."



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