For the week of June 30, 1999  thru July 6, 1999  

Sheep trail through valley

Century-old tradition

Express Staff Writer

Under a blazing sun, Mark Faulkner, of Faulkner Land and Livestock out of Gooding, gave the signal to the 2,972 sheep he was leading north on First Street in Ketchum.

"Baaa," he said.

And the sheep began padding through town Friday on their way to mountain pastures, another chapter in a valley tradition that has lasted more than a century.

The sheep followed Faulkner while motorists and pedestrians reached for camera straps. Some just stood, jaws agape.

A few motorists attempted to drive through the mile-long line of sheep, but the sheep wouldn’t have it. The motorists were forced by the wall of wool to stop and wait.

That day, Faulkner, his crew and well-trained but unnamed shepherding dogs led the sheep on a 10-mile "forced march" from just north of Hailey to grazing land in Adam’s Gulch, which is part of the U.S. Forest Service Ketchum Ranger District.

A forced march, Faulkner explained, means there was nowhere to stop on that stretch of road. Therefore, the sheep had to be forced to move along until they reached suitable grazing land. Eventually, the sheep may graze through several drainages in the Wood River Valley, he said. Grazing is allowed on public land under permits issued by the Forest Service.

Sheep have grazed and been trailed in central Idaho since 1892 when sheep largely replaced lead and silver as the Wood River Valley’s major exports. For over 100 years, sheep herders have driven the animals to the Wood River and Sawtooth valleys in the summers and back to the Snake River Plain in the winters.

Faulkner Land and Livestock also marched two other herds of sheep Friday. One was just north of Bellevue and another was just north of Hailey.

Faulkner said more Land and Livestock sheep will trail through Ketchum in the next few weeks.

"We’ve got sheep trailing all over," he said.

Faulkner said Land and Livestock’s sheep spend the winters in California where they are taken by truck, and many of them march to central Idaho’s public lands from as far as the Snake River near Twin Falls each spring.

"You don’t push em’," Faulkner said. "You just trail and feed. When they get on the open range, they’ll just feed and go at their own pace."

Faulkner, who has trailed sheep his whole life, said the present state of the sheep industry in Idaho is not as good as it once was. There used to be more than two million sheep in Idaho, he lamented. Now, there are less than 200,000.

"It’s a tough business," he said. "Imports (primarily from New Zealand and Australia) are up at least 40 percent."


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