Soldiers don’t have to be from Utah to carry a little Utah with them. That’s because sheep from the state provide wool for many of their uniforms.
Nearly 1,700 producers raise 275,000 sheep across Utah. The main buyer of their wool is the U.S. military. So before any soldiers button their dress blues or pull on their wool socks, Beehive State sheepherders have put in a lot of hard work.
Steve Osguthorpe is one of them. At 12 years old, with a tent, stove and a horse, he moved the sheep around on the mountains of his dad’s ranch.
Though he still herds on occasion, his operation, like many in the state, employs sheepherders from Peru and Uruguay.
“Sheepherding is becoming a lost art,” says Osguthorpe. “Not many people know how to herd or are interested in the work. But if I could, I’d still be out there every day. There’s nothing prettier than seeing the sun come up and watching the sunset at night. You get to see the wildlife, and you’re in the middle of nature with a different setting every time you move camp.”
For sheepherders, that means a change of scenery every three days or so. Osguthorpe explains that his operation has one herder for each flock of 1,000 sheep, and fluctuates between one and two flocks throughout the year.
“You’re up at daylight, because the sheep feed early when it’s cool, go into the shade in the heat of the day to sleep and feed again around 4 p.m. They bed down at the top of the mountain to sleep.”
The sheepherders’ job, along with the border collies that assist them, is to turn the herd in the direction you want them to feed, as well as to protect them.
Osguthorpe explains that in many areas there are no fences and there are always predators, such as coyotes, bears and mountain lions.
While those animals can challenge a sheepherder, they know and respect that it’s part of a balanced ecosystem.
“My dad instilled in us that if we take care of the land, it will take care of us,” says Osguthorpe, winner of the Leopold Conservation Award.
It’s a quality that Tonia Fuller, executive director of the Utah Wool Growers Association, says stands out among sheep producers. “They have a love of the land
and are strong stewards who understand the importance of caring for it, and having it be useful and diverse. They pass that tradition on to future generations.”
That’s certainly true for the Osguthorpe family. his seven children and 13 grandchildren continue the tradition.
“They’ve bought their own sheep and permits, and have chosen to raise their families by providing the same opportunities to work on the land and enjoy the beauty and peacefulness that it offers.”