Trailing the Year: The Human Landscape of Sheep Ranching in the American West

Sheep, dust, and herdersWorking with sheep is one of the last handcrafted occupations with ancient roots and traditions. While the business of sheep ranching has evolved, the fundamentals of raising sheep have remained much the same for thousands of years. Sheep herding and ranching provide a hands-on, independent life, where workers shape their daily existence according to the cycle of seasons that defines their work.

Shearer loading wool balesThis traveling exhibition, produced as one part of the Western Folklife Center’s Sheep Ranching in the American West project, presents a broad view of the work at hand as experienced in the Intermountain and Great Basin West. The exhibition will be on view at the Ketchum Sun Valley Heritage and Ski Museum during the 16th Annual Trailing of the Sheep festival in Ketchum, Idaho from October 11-14, 2012, with a reception and open house on Friday, October 12. Previous other exhibition venues have been Trailing of the Sheep and the Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Fire Festival and Greater Yellowstone Food & Heritage Fair.

Herder and dog, Photo by Linda DufurrenaBecause much of the business of sheep ranching takes place in extremely remote places in the American West, the everyday public is not generally aware of this way of life and the current challenges it faces. This largely invisible occupation is quickly disappearing as the number of sheep operations in the American West diminishes. Since 1974 the sheep industry has declined over 39 percent. As a result, family run ranches seek new ways of sustaining their livelihood as they face challenges to their industry. In this atmosphere of necessary change, contemporary sheep raising continues to draw upon generations of wisdom, skills, and traditions. These cultural threads – emphasized in Trailing the Year - strengthen the industry and provide a legacy of work that paints a rich picture of an occupation at risk.

Read the Online Journal of Pat and Sharon O'Toole to share in the daily life of a sheep ranch.
Read a Postcard From the Road about this exhibition.
Listen in as the Western Folklife Center travels with a sheepherder in "Sheepcamps," a radio episode from our series, The Open Road, heard on PRIs series called The Savvy Traveler.
Click here to listen to our Ranch Rhymes podcast episode where we interviewed shepherds at the 2005 Trailing of the Sheep Festival.

View these and other related products often available in our online Gift Shop:
Songs and Stories from Sheepherding, a Deep West Recordings CD
Fifty Miles from Home by Linda Dufurrena and Carolyn Dufurrena

Anne Pattee
National Endowment for the Arts
Simmons Family Foundation
R. Harold Burton Foundation

Click here to find out how you can host this exhibition.

Oliver's Sheep Camp carving