Seasonal Sheep Herding in Idaho

GEOGRAPHY

A wall of wool will “baa” its way through Ketchum, Idaho, next month as a decades-old tradition—the moving of sheep to their winter lambing and grazing grounds—returns. (Los Angeles Times)

Use our resources to learn more about herding traditions, and gaze through the photo galleries throughout this post.

Sheep are not indigenous to Idaho! Legend holds that the first sheep in Idaho were importedin the 1860s by John Hailey, a Tennessee immigrant and key figure in early Idaho politics. Photograph by Matt Moyer, National Geographic

Sheep are not indigenous to Idaho! Legend holds that the first sheep in Idaho were imported during the 1860s by John Hailey, a Tennessee immigrant and key figure in early Idaho politics.
Photograph by Matt Moyer, National Geographic

Every summer, Idaho livestock herders guide their herds of sheep hundreds of kilometers in a route stretching from the Snake River Valley in southern Idaho to the Sawtooth Mountains in the center of the state. And every winter, the sheep are herded back to the warmer pastures of the south. Photograph by Matt Moyer, National Geographic

Every spring, Idaho livestock herders guide their herds of sheep hundreds of kilometers in a route stretching from the Snake River Valley in southern Idaho to the Sawtooth Mountains in the center of the state. And every autumn, the sheep are herded back to the warmer pastures of the south.
Photograph by Matt Moyer, National Geographic

Many herders use herding dogs and livestock guardian dogs to help guide and protect their sheep. Photograph by Matt Moyer, National Geographic

Many herders use herding dogs and livestock guardian dogs to help guide and protect their sheep.
Photograph by Matt Moyer, National Geographic

The herds—and the herders!—endure migration across mountains, valleys, and streams like this one. Photograph by Matt Moyer, National Geographic

The herds—and the herders!—endure migration across mountains, valleys, and streams like this one.
Photograph by Matt Moyer, National Geographic

The tradition of seasonally herding animals from one permanent settlement to another is a well-established ranching tradition, from the Alps (where sheep, cattle, and pigs are herded) to Central Asia (where goats, yaks, and camels are herded). Photograph by Matt Moyer, National Geographic

The tradition of seasonally herding animals from one permanent settlement to another is a well-established ranching tradition, from the Alps (where sheep, cattle, and pigs are herded) to Central Asia (where goats, yaks, and camels are herded).
Photograph by Matt Moyer, National Geographic

The sheepherding migration route in Idaho passes right through the town of Ketchum, which celebrates the annual autumn migration to the foothills with a "Trailing of the Sheep" festival. Photograph by Rob Crow, courtesy Flickr. This image is licensed under the Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

The sheepherding migration route in Idaho passes right through the town of Ketchum, which celebrates the annual autumn migration to the foothills with a “Trailing of the Sheep” festival.
Photograph by Rob Crow, courtesy Flickr. This image is licensed under the Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Discussion Ideas

  • Read through our encyclopedic entry on herding. What type of herding is celebrated by the Trailing of the Sheep festival—nomadic, semi-nomadic, transhumance, or ranching? What are the characteristics of this type of herding?
    • Transhumance. Transhumance is the seasonal migration of livestock and herders between warm valleys and cool foothills.
  • The Trailing of the Sheep Festival is held in Ketchum, Idaho. According to the Trailing of the Sheep Festival and the Idaho Agricultural Statistic Service, “sheep migrate north each spring from the lower elevations of the Snake River plain of Southern Idaho, traveling in bands of close to 1,500 sheep, through the Wood River Valley to summer high mountain pastures. This traditional route takes them up Highway 75 through newly populated, residential areas and the towns of Bellevue, Hailey, and Ketchum. Some continue their journey over Galena summit into the Sawtooth Mountains. In the fall, the animals retrace this trail south to desert fields and it is this return migration that we celebrate as the Trailing of the Sheep Festival.” Now take a look at our MapMaker Interactive, focused on Ketchum, and use it to map the sheep’s general migration route. Remember to use the zoom and search features, and use our wide variety of markers!
    • What geographic clues might help you map the migration?
      • rivers (Snake River, Wood River)
      • towns (Ketchum (already marked with a sun, recognizing its neighboring ski resort, Sun Valley), Hailey, Bellevue)
      • mountains (Sawtooth, Galena summit)
      • roads (Highway 75)
    • Here’s a peek at what your map might look like! I used boat markers for the rivers, dots for towns, and mountain peaks for mountains.
  • Skim through our encyclopedic entry on herding. According to the Idaho Agricultural Statistic Service, early Idaho herders had Scottish and Basque ancestry. “Today,” however, “most Idaho herders are Peruvian. There are some Mexican, Chilean, and several Mongolian men as well.” Do these cultures have strong herding traditions?
    • You bet!
      • Scottish and Basque cultures have strong traditions of herding sheep. In fact, Scottish immigrants were the first to import several varieties of sheep to Idaho in the 1800s. Check out this utterly irresistible “Extreme Shepherding” video. (OK, it actually takes place in Wales.) Really, watch this video.
    • Peruvian herders have strong traditions of herding alpacas, vicunas, and llamas (as well as sheep and goats—check out this photo) through the foothills of the Andes—which make the Sawtooth Mountains seem like bumps in the road!
      • This Peruvian herder and her livestock (llamas) seem unimpressed with the Incan ruins in the background. Photograph by Bates Littlehales, National Geographic

        This Peruvian herder and her livestock (llamas) seem unimpressed with the Incan ruins in the background.
        Photograph by Bates Littlehales, National Geographic

    • Mexican vaqueros are most famous for herding cattle, but also herd sheep and goats.
      • A modern vaquero leads his heard of cattle through the deserts of Baja California, Mexico. Photograph by Michael E. Long, National Geographic

        A modern vaquero leads his heard of cattle through the deserts of Baja California, Mexico.
        Photograph by Michael E. Long, National Geographic

    • Chilean herders have traditionally herded llamas, sheep, and cattle.
      • Chilean herders keep track of their sheep near the Strait of Magellan, at the far tip of South America. Photograph by Volkmar K. Wentzel, National Geographic

        Chilean herders keep track of their sheep near the Strait of Magellan, at the far tip of South America.
        Photograph by Volkmar K. Wentzel, National Geographic

    • Mongolian herders have an historic tradition of herding horses, goats, yaks, reindeer, and (most awesome) two-humped Bactrian camels!
      • This Mongolian herder tends to an unruly herd of Bactrian camels. Photograph by James L Stanfield, National Geographic

        This Mongolian herder tends to an unruly herd of Bactrian camels.
        Photograph by James L Stanfield, National Geographic

3 responses to “Seasonal Sheep Herding in Idaho

  1. Pingback: Sheep festival in idaho, usa | Tosanakworld Amazing World·

  2. Pingback: Magnus Mundi Festival de Arrasto das Ovelhas | Magnus Mundi·

  3. Pingback: Seasonal Sheep Herding in Idaho | Kid Safe News·

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