Grazing sheep at the turn of the century (a rare cyanotype in USU 's Special Collections)
Here in Cache Valley, the bands of sheep we see nowadays would most likely be from the Goring Ranch, based in neighboring Box Elder County's Deweyville.
Bill Goring's mother and grandmother resting
against a sheep camp around the year 1916
The Goring family has been in the sheep business from as far back as 1892 when John Henry Goring, the father of Bill Goring, ran sheep out of Idaho in partnership with his wife's father, John Selman. After John Henry Goring's early death, the young Bill Goring continued to live and work on the ranch with his grandfather Selman. During the Depression of the thirties, John Selman lost everything when the bank foreclosed. But his grandson, Bill, had a small flock he'd raised on his own and, from these 100 sheep, Bill eventually built up a herd that numbers somewhere around 7,500 head after spring lambing. Shown below is a young Bill Goring on horseback in front of the indispensable sheep camp in the 1930s. Horses are important in sheep herding to this day.
EARLY SHEEP RANCHING
For Cache County, the sheep business took off in the late 1800s when Willard S. Hansen, a local dairyman, built up a herd that soon reached 1,300. His success inspired others in the valley, and by 1900 the number of sheep here reached 300,000, producing over 1.5 million pounds of wool a year.
Hansen's efforts were repeated by others elsewhere in northern Utah and throughout the state. By the turn of the century the state as a whole supported over 3,800,000 head, and the sheep industry prospered to such an extent that the animals were crowding cattle from many Utah ranges. Historian Charles S. Peterson attributes this to two facts: first, that desert ranges for winter grazing were more abundant in Utah than in surrounding states, and second, that sheep competed more efficiently for scarce resources than cattle. The tremendous growth of the sheep industry in the late decades of the nineteenth century, however, was based on the free use by sheepmen of public forest and desert land, and these resources soon showed the effect of severe depletion by overgrazing. By the time the Goring Ranch was expanding, public grazing had been sharply reduced for over two decades. Sheepmen like Bill Goring needed exceptional management skills to raise to the top in what had become in Utah both a chancy and difficult business.
Bill teasing a friend with a coyote tail in the late 1930s
FROM WOOL TO MEAT
In a 1928 Experiment Station bulletin on Utah's sheep industry, agents wrote that the industry's breeding bucks (rams), initially made up of wool-producing types such as Rambouillets and Merinos, had given way in the state to mostly meat producing bucks such as Hampshires and Suffolks. By 1946, encouraged by passage of federal supports, the industry was still, nevertheless, shipping wool out of Utah at the rate of 2.5 million pounds yearly, sheared from ewes which were, and still are, mostly wool-producing, white-faced Rambouilet-Merino-Columbia crosses. The lambs these ewes produced, on the other hand, would harbor a good percentage of meat producing genes for the fat lamb market.
To generate replacement ewes for their herds, some sheepmen put a few wool producing bucks in with the ewes to refresh the breeding stock. Others simply buy yearling ewes from other herds.
LOVE AND MARRIAGE
Back in 1946, Bill Goring's outfit was a growing part of Utah's wool and lamb production. Bill had also found himself a wife – Marge Carter, originally from a farming community in Illinois. Illinois? Well, how did they ever get together? Maxine said, "I love this story," and then she and Marge proceeded to recount it.
It seemed that Marge was headed to California to marry a man in the Merchant Marine and stopped off to stay overnight with an Aunt in Tremonton before going on to California. For that one night, she was set up for a date with a guy whose nickname was "Wild Bill."
The upshot was that she never made it to California. In fact, she never left Utah. But she did get married, though not to a Merchant Marine, but to a sheepman destined to become a significant part of the sheep business here in northern Utah.
Maxine said to her mother, "You never would have been happy married to that Merchant Marine." She leaned over and added to me, "He wound up a bouncer in Las Vegas."
Today, grazing on public land is carefully calculated by public land officials, as is the herds' grazing there and elsewhere by their owners. The Gorings explained the seasonal process as it is carried on today.
After their new lambs get docked (castrated, tails removed) while on the spring range near Tremonton, they're trucked to the summer range in the mountains – Logan Canyon and Ogden Canyon, and on up to Laketown. Then they come back down to glean the harvested valley fields starting in September.
After the harvested fields are grazed, the sheep are put through the chutes and cut out into fat lambs and feeder lambs, culled ewes and breeder ewes. The fat lambs are marketed and the rest of the lambs kept or sold as feeders. The feeders retained would be fattened out in the Goring's Deweyville feedlot – the largest feedlot in northern Utah. These animals are sold as fat lambs during the winter as their weights improve. The ewes not able to stand up under the rigors of the high desert winter range – the culled ewes – are either sold or kept in the feedlot to be fattened and shipped as Mutton to markets in New Mexico.
One of the five semis owned by the Goring Ranch
The rest of the ewes are trucked in the family's five semis to the winter range in western Utah. The Gorings like to have the sheep bred while in the winter range, and so put the bucks in with the ewes at this time. Then, in early spring, the bred ewes are trucked back to the Tremonton range for lambing out. This spring range consists of 10,000 acres of fenced pastureland owned by the Gorings, and located west of Tremonton. There the new lambs are docked and the seasonal cycle begins again.
The Goring's range ewes are sheared while on this spring range. Marge said that some of the shearing crews come into northern Utah from as far away as Australia. Years ago, a local crew sheared regularly for the Goring Ranch. It was run by Ray Deacon from Tremonton. Bill Shaw, part of that crew before he retired in the 1970s, said he always liked to shear the Goring herds. With their six or seven bands of sheep and shearing, on average, a band a day by a crew of ten, it meant staying in place for an entire week – a rare treat for Deacon's crew.
The Gorings, Senior and Junior, before Bill Senior's death
five years ago
References used for this piece include "Livestock Industry," C.S.Peterson in Utah History Encyclopedia; A History of Cache County, F.R.Peterson; Sheep Ranching in Utah, Utah Ag Experiment Station Bulletin #204, January 1928; A History of a Valley, Ricks; "Joe Redd," Oral History Project, C.S.Peterson, BYU, USU, & Jensen Historical Farm, July 26, 1973.
Photo credits – all photos from the Goring collection except where noted.