West River sheep grazing in South Dakota
West of the Missouri River in South Dakota is a dry, arid climate, rich with short cool-season grass prairie, a perfect combination for producing high quality wool and for grazing sheep.
Raising sheep on the range means that sheep live year round or most of the year on pasture. The flocks are moved from one area to another depending on the time of the year. Sheep may lamb in a pasture with lots of coverage like sagebrush, rocks and valleys and summer on the open prairie. Prior to the 1920s, most of the land was open country or had few fences. Sheep herders were required to follow the hers and protect them from predators and thieves. It was common to lamb near Black Hills and trail the sheep up to Montana for the summer. In the 1800s, sheep herders and cattlemen would fight over open grazing land and access to water. It was believed that the sheep would graze all of the good grass and leave nothing for the cattle, which was untrue. Sheep eat different grasses than cattle and do not pollute the water by walking through it like cattle do. Today, many ranches raise both cattle and sheep because it improves their range management and diversifies their source of income.
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Photo Courtesy: Mary Clarkson Buchholz