Over 1,000 sheep released on Rabbit Ears Pass for annual grazing (with video)
Aside from tire tracks on the gravel terrain and a few piles of horse manure, there is little evidence of the commotion that took place in the parking lot at Lake Dumont, a few yards from US Highway 40 , the morning of Saturday July 16.
At 8:45 a.m., three tractor-trailer trucks arrived carrying about 950 ewes and their lambs. Each truck had three layers of sheep which were unloaded using a metal ramp. The sheep rushed and jumped to the nearby field.
By 9:45 a.m. the sheep were no longer visible from the road, penned to graze closer to the Basecamp Trailhead area.
Nick Maneotis, owner of Maneotis Ranch in Craig, said his family has been bringing sheep to Rabbit Ears Pass for about 35 years. He has three permits in the Lac Dumont area on both sides of the highway that allow him to bring his sheep into the high altitude area each July. The animals will roam about 31,000 acres before Maneotis picks them up in September.
“All the nice grass and the cool weather, the lambs are growing and doing really well,” Maneotis said.
Guided by a shepherd and guarded by dogs, the sheep munch on grass, weeds and various flora between Highway 40, Steamboat Resort and Highway 14. Maneotis said an adult sheep can eat up to to 10 pounds of hay a day and probably eat a similar amount of grass.
“We try to minimize all fire hazards,” Maneoties said. “That’s what our main goal is to reduce fuel for fires.”
While sheep like some wildflowers, they don’t eat others. Even with 1,000 sheep in the area, the wildflowers at Rabbit Ears Pass are not threatened, especially since the rancher frequently moves the animals. He also tries to avoid the trails to reduce the risk of conflict with the public, which has increased in recent years.
“Since COVID hit two years ago, I’m not exaggerating, there must be double the number of people here because everyone is going outside,” Maneotis said. “It was never like this before.”
Maneotis will unload around 800 more Suffolk and Rambouillet sheep on the south side of the highway in the coming weeks which will do a similar loop before heading back down the east side of the pass.
A new threat
Maneotis is very concerned about the pack of wolves that call Jackson County home, about 30 miles, as the crow flies, from Rabbit Ears Peak.
There were eight known wolves in Walden’s pack, although only seven have been spotted recently. The pack was found responsible for the deaths of several cattle and a dog at a ranch in North Park.
Adding to the concern of nearby ranchers, the three GPS collars that were on pack members stopped transmitting. Both mother and father wolf had collars when they naturally migrated to Colorado and Colorado Parks and Wildlife bonded a female pup from the breeding pair in February 2022. All three stopped working, which is not unusual .
A wolf pack can have a territory ranging from 50 square miles to 1,000 square miles, according to the National Wildlife Foundation.
“It’s very concerning that we don’t know where they are or where they are going,” Maneotis said. “There were other sightings. Some have been confirmed, but others have not. From here to Walden, as a wolf would, it’s probably less than 30 miles. They could go there. This is a very big concern. »
Of course, there are always risks in bringing sheep into the Routt National Forest, as there are coyotes, bears, and mountain lions. Predators not only kill a portion of the sheep each year – ranging from 1 to 10% depending on the year – but they also scare and scatter the flock. A scattered herd is easier to attack and more difficult to round up in the fall.
Guard dogs are there to scare away predators and protect the herd. As of Saturday, a single shepherd mix accompanied the herd. The Anatolian-Akbash White Shepherd will soon be joined by one or two other dogs, Maneotis said.
Meet the sheep
The dogs take their job of protecting the sheep very seriously, but Maneotis brings its friendliest dogs to Rabbit Ears, as it is a high traffic area.
If anyone sees the flock of sheep from afar, Maneotis suggests driving around to avoid the animals and guard dogs. However, if someone were to encounter a dog, they should not feel threatened.
“Just talk to them. These dogs, if you talk to them, they’ll be fine,” he said. “The dogs that come here aren’t aggressive towards other dogs, but if you see the sheep, if you can go around the trail further, that’s your best bet to avoid conflict.”
Dogs generally cause more chaos than humans when they encounter a herd guard dog. In National Forests, dogs must be leashed in designated recreation areas and under voice control or leash otherwise. Sheep, the noises they make, and the dogs around them can be very convincing to even the best-behaved dogs.
Sheep and their guardian dogs can also be found in North Routt and the Flat Tops Wilderness area. Some dogs are friendlier than others, so recreators should be prepared to stray from the herds.
If anyone encounters a single or small group of sheep in the bunny ears area, they should call the dispatcher or forest service. In the fall, Maneotis will post signs with a number to call if people see free-roaming sheep after the herd has gathered.
Anyway, there are always a few strays at the end of the year, wandering somewhere.
Maneotis recalled collecting them from just under the Steamboat Resort roller coaster one year and finding them on golf courses and in neighborhoods just off the west side of the pass.
Marianne Sasak has helped find strays every fall since meeting Maneotis and his father before a dog trial years ago. She helped herd sheep all over Routt County.
“We took them out on the sled in January,” she says.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.