Idaho Sheep on the Move 18

Trailing of the Sheep Festival

The streets were quiet and coming slowly alive in the early morning hours in Ketchum, Idaho, as you could see shop owners sweeping in front of their businesses and city custodians taping off orange cones on the main street. Everything was getting ready for what would be a bustle of activity on this final day of the Trailing of the Sheep Festival.

Each year Ketchum plays host to this fantastic festival that has become a historical event people from all over the world will travel to enjoy. Many have come here to see the first herd of sheep make their way down Main Street, crossing over from higher elevation toward their winter pastures in Gooding, Idaho before the day is over.

This legacy is carried on by hard-working second- and third-generation families who are etched within a land that is still raw and rugged—a culture of people who have made this their home, livelihood and way of life. The heartbeat of the festival is the sheep, from which a cultural tapestry of concerts, workshops, presentations, characters, dogs and horses all come together.

Some of the best lamb and finest wool in the United States and around the world come from and are produced by sheep in the American West. The life of a sheep rancher can be challenging at times, as they face volatile markets, imports without quotas, high production costs, death losses from predators and loss of traditional public land grazing.

Amidst those challenges, generation after generation continue to choose the life of a sheep rancher—it is a family affair. In 2014, the Trailing of the Sheep Festival began ‘Celebrating Generations’ with the goal of listening, learning, sharing and saving the memories of the western sheep ranching families who live and work the land and are the keepers of open space.

Shakers and Movers

The forefront of the festival brought accredited author Julie Weston on hand for the signing of her books. Workshops and cooking with delectable lamb dishes served by acclaimed chefs and local restaurants were all part of the setting. The Sheep Folklife Fair provided displays of sheep wagons, kids craft activities, local artisans and demonstrations of sheep shearing.

Looking closer behind the festival are some shakers and movers who were on hand having coffee with locals and travelers from afar. Third-generation rancher and former Senator John Peavey and local historian and former mayor of Ketchum Jerry Seifert were both speaking to a full house and answering questions about range management, ongoing debates, economics and marketing, and telling stories of wolves, guard dogs and horses. Heads of wool manufacturers such as Charlie Bishop with Pendleton Woolen Mills were also present, as they play a role in the economics of the industry.

National Point Qualifying Sheepdog Trials

Animal enthusiasts gathered to see some amazing border collies at Quigley Canyon Fields in Hailey, Idaho. A field is set up with a predetermined course for handlers to work the sheep with their dog.  Each handler then takes their turn to demonstrate how well the dog will work in the field and how responsive the dog is to the human voice, whistle and gesture.

The dog sets forth directing the sheep far away out into the field and then leading the sheep back into the holding pen for completion of the trial. Dogs such as the border collie take charge of sheep to make them go where they’re supposed to go and are independent enough to get the job done without constant direction. The border collie is known for its intense and unwavering stare of power, or “having the eye,” with which they control their flock without the need to have physical contact. They are dogs with unlimited energy, stamina and drive—all of which make them premier herding dogs.

Trailing of the Sheep Parade

As the festival parade starts, a culture that is rich in history and full of characters comes out to show all its beautiful colors. Weaving the way through the main street for the beginning of the Trailing of the Sheep Parade were:

• The Peruvian Dancers and Musicians (formerly Latino X) who have been playing together for several years performing Andean music and the contemporary dance music of Peru.

• The nationally acclaimed Oinkari Basque Dancers and musicians trained in traditional Basque music who accompanied these dancers.  The music and dance they play and perform could have been heard more than 100 years ago.

• The Polish Highlanders of North America presented the folk music and dance of their families who are shepherds from the Tatra Mountains of southern Poland. Their singing was once used to communicate from mountaintop pastures to the valleys below.

• The Boise Highlanders, who are one of the oldest pipe bands in the Northwest. Dancers join the Pipers and drummers performing the Highland fling and jigs. This popular group performs regularly throughout the region.

On the Move with Faulkner Land and Livestock Sheep

The parade included historical sheep wagons and participants from the Folklife Fair, and, of course, the sheep who are making their annual journey home crossing into warmer pastures and destination of Gooding for the winter. The authentic trailing of the sheep as part of their annual migration to winter pastures followed behind the Boise Highlanders. Fifteen-hundred sheep paraded down Ketchum’s Main Street with sheep ranching family members and herders headed south.

People from all walks of life, families and children were all there as the first herd of sheep came around the first bend and through the crowds gathered alongside with cameras and camcorders catching all the action. As the sheep made their way through town, you could see the famous guard dogs known as the great white Pyrenees ever on guard as they trotted alongside, with their regal bearing of courage and bravery. As the last of the herd of sheep exited the town, you could still see many people following along to get the last glimpse before they disappeared into the wooded area near the river.

The hosts of this year’s sheep for the parade were the men and women of Faulkner Land & Livestock, headquartered in Gooding since 1933. They were assisted by Sheep Manager John Etchart.  Most of Faulkner’s sheep run in the Smokey Mountains at the head of the South Fork of the Boise River, in the hills behind Featherville and Fairfield and through the Wood River Valley north into the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

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To see a close-up video of the 2016 Trailing of the Sheep Festival Parade visit