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The Sheep

Thank you to the Etchart Family

(Information for this article was provided by Colleen Schrieber, Livestock Weekly.)

For the second year the sheep for the National Sheepdog Finals are being provided by the Etchart Family. The headquarters for Etchart Livestock is situated just seven miles west of Montrose, Colorado.

The family operation began when their father Martin Etchart, a French Basque immigrant, came to America’s Uncompahgre Valley in far western Colorado in May, 1947. He came to herd sheep. For some six years straight, Etchart was the faithful shepherd of a flock of 1,500 ewes. He never once, during all those years, left his sheep to come to town. By 1954 he had saved a considerable amount of money, and when an elderly American sheep rancher offered him an opportunity to get his own start in the sheep business here in America, Etchart didn’t hesitate.   He was one of the first Basque immigrant sheep herders to start his own operation here in the San Juan Mountains of western Colorado.

Today, Ernie and George, Martin’s sons, run Rambouillet / Merino ewes on some of the same allotments that Martin started out on more than 50 years ago.  The summer permits range from 12-13,000 feet in elevation. In the past 150,000 head that once grazed these valleys. There are only five producers left that run, all total, of approximately 15,000 sheep. 

Yearling Ewes from flocks in the Rocky Mountains are considered some of the most challenging sheep in the dog trialing world.  Many Handler/Dog teams consider mastering these Yearlings as the ultimate achievement.  What makes them so challenging?  Range ewes are run in large bands of sheep and are grazing the land in various   often unpopulated areas.  Seldom are they in small groups. The Etchart Yearlings had quite the journey in their life before arriving at the Strang ranch.  Their beginning started in Montrose, Colorado, where they were born in March and April of 2018.  They are immediately placed in individual pens with their moms.  As lambs they bond with their mother and the ewe bonds with her lambs.  They learn how to distinguish each other from 100’s of other sheep that they will be spending the lives with. Life get exciting when they get turned out into green spring pastures with the other ewes and lambs. They run, jump and frolic as well as learning to call out for mom and find her after they venture off to play and explore.  By the time the lambs are 4 to 6 weeks old they are eating grass and are not drinking the ewes milk exclusively. As the summer begins and the valley pastures are needed to grow crops, the band of sheep start their journey to higher elevations. Each time they reach higher ground they find fresh new grass to graze on.  Eventually by August theses bands of sheep find their way to the highest elevations of the Rockies often living at 10,000 - 12,000 ft elevation.   

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