News Letter: Summer: 2000

dry as a bone

Summer ... we thought it would never end! Its official now: the worst and hottest summer on record. A normal summer would have had on average 35 days above 90 degrees. The old record was set in 1994 at 60 days above 90. Now the new record is 61 days above 90, with the last day at 95 degrees on 9/17/00.

Along with the heat, we've had almost no rain. The total precipitation since January, 2000 has been less than 5 inches. The river dried up along with the pastures near the end of June. We have been feeding our winter hay stores since the end of June.

The words "dry as a bone" are quite literal.

Over the Summer I kept thinking about the old guy who was the first to homestead this piece of land. He worked a 160-acre plot that ran in four 40-acre plots, north to south, along the north fork of the Little Thompson River. His name was Amyl Smith and he received his homestead patent in 1891. I expect he was here then in the summers of 1893-95 ... years whose records we broke this summer for high heat.

It makes you wonder what must he have done to survive? The river would have been dry. His pastures would have dried up. He wouldn't have had a deep well (as we do, at 640 feet deep) and wouldn't have had even drinking water for himself. Would he have sold off whatever livestock he had? He wouldn't have gotten in any sort of crop. Not any hay, potatoes, nor apples from the old orchard. Things must have looked bleak for him going into winter. I wonder if he didn't just pack it in and move to town to find work, food and water until sometime later when the river would flow again? I have tried to find out a bit about him, but haven't had any success. One can only speculate about how very difficult and grim his life must have been.

The other thing I found myself curious about, was where the beavers would have gone? The folks at the Division of Wildlife seem to think that the beavers are willing to take off across country, if need be, in order to find running streams. The closest would be the St. Vrain River, a good 4 miles south of the dried up Little Thompson, over some very rugged ground. Or, they might have worked their way down stream as the river dried up ... going ever further east until they reached the Platte River, some 18 miles to the east. There is no way to know how much longer the river will be dry, and if the beavers that were here will come back this way again.

This is the beaver pond with their six-foot high dam at the south end. These are thistles growing in the river bottom. The leaves have wilted and fallen off of the elms and cottonwoods. There won't be any "fall colour" this year.

The bears have eaten all the fish. Even so the bears are going to have a hard time making it through this winter. There has been little for them to eat, as they get ready to hibernate. It is likely that as many as 50% of this year's young bears will die during hibernation as they could not gain enough weight to carry them through the winter.

This year's lamb crop has not gained weight as they usually do. This is due to the heat stress and poor pastures. The heat and drought are harder by far than the cold winter conditions. (I say that now, while I hope that there aren't too many periods of time below zero coming.)

beaver dam

The heat hasn't slowed the rams down any. They are very eager for their breeding assignments and have been working tirelessly at removing the fencing and other barriers designed to contain them. Meanwhile the ewes have been shamelessly throwing kisses their way and calling for them to "come on over". We just HAVE to keep everybody under control for another two weeks.

We have planned to use the two moorit Bond rams extensively with our coloured Corriedale ewes. It's hard to imagine what the lambs will look like. The Bond sheep are smaller framed and have a different look in the face.

We did shear the Bonds back in May and it was a good thing as the summer ended up being so terribly hot. I did have their wool measured by micron count so that when we shear next spring, we can compare their fleeces. Having sheared in May, next year's fleeces will still not be a full year's growth, so we will have to wait yet another year to see a full fleece. Their wool seems to be finer than the crimp would indicate and is very soft.

The ewe lambs haven't grown as I had hoped, but the younger ram Nimbus, has entirely caught up with James, the older ram and may yet be longer and taller. Here is James on the left and Nimbus on the right. Below on the right is our Corriedale ram Kermit, and on the left is our old silver Corriedale ram Freckles. Such pretty boys ... the girls just can't resist!

We will be hoping to find enough hay to make it through the winter, and that the fences will hold out through the breeding season. We wish you all the best for the fall season!

Moorit Bond Rams

Freckles Kermit

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