Job with a View
"Sheepherder"

More than a quarter million sheep graze Idaho's lands, making the state the 9th largest sheep producer in the country.

To keep track of the livestock, the Idaho sheep industry is highly dependent on Peruvian sheepherders, who are hired for special three-year contracts through the U.S. Department of Labor.

In this "Outdoor Idaho" piece, we focus on the herders who work for the Soulen Livestock Company of Emmett.

Herder in camp

The 25 men take care of the sheep year-round, starting in the Birds of Prey area and making their way to McCall by the end of the summer. There are seven bands of sheep, totalling 16,000 animals. Many will be sold in the fall. Earlier in the spring, they are sheared for their wool.

The piece follows the herders during the lambing season, one of the most stressful of the year. Herders are responsible for helping ewes during difficult births and making sure that the lambs suckle and aren't left behind. At night, they worry about the lambs being eaten by coyotes and other predators.

The men live in wagons during the winter and tents during the summer. Typically, one man is left behind at camp during the day to cook for the rest. The camps move every several days.

Sheep herd

For their services, the men are paid about $700 a month. Their room and board, as well as their transportation from Peru, are covered by the rancher, who also pays for health insurance and workers compensation. The men go home for only a few months between contracts, leaving their families behind.

It's a hard job, one that few Americans will tackle. But to the Peruvians, it's an important source of income.

"I come from a poor family, says herder Ramiro Ayllon. "For me there is no such thing as hard work."

As more and more range livestock operations are turned into factory breeding operations, sheepherding is becoming a dying job. And yet, as livestock owner Margaret Soulen says, "We're totally dependent on them. They either make or break our business."