Sheep herding on the open prairie
This photograph is from my 1922 world geography book. The man is a sheep herder in Montana. It must have been an exciting day for him when this photograph was made. He appears to be dressed in his best suit of clothing for the occasion. The two little dogs beside him don't look much like "sheep dogs", but I'm sure he had trained them to help.
Here's the description the book gives of sheep ranching and the sheep herder's life:
A good sized sheep ranch has from twenty-five thousand to forty thousand herd of sheep. These, like cattle, may feed partly upon government land, or the "range" and partly open land fenced in and owned by the ranchman. During the coldest winter weather, when the snow may be so deep that the sheep cannot obtain food, they are often driven into protected corrals and fed on alfalfa. The fierce winds of the open plains help them, however, by drifting the snow and thus leaving open patches where they can find grass.
When the sheep are feeding on the range, one man, with a dog can herd twenty-five hundred; and if he has a horse to ride, he sometimes takes care of five thousand Selecting a spot near water for a camp, the herder drives his sheep out each morning, and back at night, going each day a distance of two or three miles from camp. When the grass is eaten in one place, the camp is moved; then from the new point as a center, they wander out as before.
The life of the herder is extremely lonely, both day and night being spent with the sheep. Once a week a man brings him food; and for weeks, and even months at a time, the only company he has aside from his sheep, is his dog and possibly his horse.
Source: World Geographies: Second Book by Ralph S. Tarr, B.S. F.G.S.A, and Frank M. McMurry, Ph. D. Copyrighted in 1920 and published in New York by the Macmillan Company in 1922.
The article says that one out of twenty sheep died during the harsh Montana winter. These animals were skinned and the hides were sent to market in early spring.
About the first of June, the sheep were sheared. To avoid the expense of transporting the wool, the sheep were often driven to the railroad over a period of weeks. They grazed along the way, moving a few miles closer to their destination each day. When they arrived at the railhead, they were sheared. The wool was pressed into bales and shipped to the eastern U.S. for manufacturing.
According to the book, some 3 to 5 year-old sheep were sold for mutton starting in July. I suppose that by mid-summer, they had regained some fat.