Sheep

Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network

A former sheepherder says he was forced to work in near slave-labor conditions for years, stranded in a remote Idaho outpost with no transportation and barely enough food. 

sheep, pasture, barn
Heidi Schuyt / Flickr Creative Commons

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson will try to keep open an Idaho sheep experiment station despite President Donald Trump's proposed budget calling for its elimination.

The Post-Register reported Tuesday that Clark County economic development officials worry closure of the station could have a major negative impact on the economy.

The U.S. Sheep Experiment Station employs 14 full-time researchers. It's one of the most significant employers in the county that about 860 people live in.

Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

Before the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area became a backcountry paradise for outdoor adventures, families up and down the Snake River called it home.

Plucky families, including Lem and Doris Wilson, made a go of sheep ranching in a very primitive environment that had no electricity, no refrigerators and no modern conveniences. In 1951 the family of four moved onto a 4,000 acre ranch in the canyon, several miles away from Grangeville, with 1,200 sheep for company.

Scott Ki / Boise State Public Radio

A couple of truckloads of sheep were delivered by truck to 8th Street above the Foothills Learning Center Monday. They are slowly heading north.

For experienced Boise Foothills trekkers, spotting sheep wandering through the scrub and pathways in the spring is not so unusual. But not everybody is familiar with the story of Frank Shirts and his sheep.

Shirts is a real-life sheep rancher with 12 bands (groups) of sheep. That adds up to about 28,000 ewes and lambs each year.

Over the last 20 years, the number of sheep in the U.S. has plummeted by half. The sheep industry has actually been declining since the late 1940s, when it hit its peak.

The sharp drop in production has left ranchers to wonder, "When are we going to hit the bottom?"

Some sheep are raised for their wool, others primarily for food. Consumption of both products — lamb meat and wool — have been declining in the U.S.

Jim and Jamie Dutcher / The Hidden Life of Wolves

State wildlife officials have confirmed that wolves killed 31 sheep on a south-central Idaho ranch over the weekend. 

Carey-area rancher John Peavey tells the Idaho Mountain Express that the ewe, one lamb and two that weren't born were also killed Sunday morning.

Idaho Wildlife Services State Director Todd Grimm says the final mortality count for kills on May 10 and May 12 was 13 ewes and 18 lambs.

Peavey says a state Fish and Game representative determined wolves were to blame. Idaho Wildlife Services has a kill order on at least two wolves in the area.

Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network

A bill before an agriculture committee in the Idaho Legislature aims to keep shepherds from abandoning their flocks. The state's wool industry still relies on old-fashioned sheep herders but some are leaving those positions for better jobs. Now, the bill has hit a nerve with immigrant rights groups.

Scott Ki / Boise State Public Radio

Sheep grazing along trails is a rite of spring in the Boise foothills, so are the White Great Pyrenees dogs that protect them. 

Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission spokesman Steve Stuebner says it's important to keep pets leashed up to avoid a confrontation with the guard dogs.   "And then if you’re on a mountain bike and you come up to the sheep, it’s a good idea to dismount from your bike and get off your bike and walk through the sheep."