2,000 Sheep

Sheep_being_led_down_road cropped

© — I watched it happen in the Bay Area.  Land that I played on was once considered useless, and then became million-dollar properties as people and money moved in.  I watched it happen in Sacramento: rice fields gave way to housing tracts.  I wasn’t going to just watch it again.  So, I bought 80 acres outside of Virginia City, NV.  Some may think it’s just a piece of desert, but it’s a really beautiful piece.  It’s called Tocchino Springs.  There are springs on it, and a small reservoir that served to water potatoes feeding the Comstock miners.  It’s the only water for miles around, so it is home to wildlife: rabbits, snakes, mice, hawks, coyotes, wild horses.  And frogs that sing at night.

I bought the property from the Borda family.  They have been sheepherders in Dayton for 150 years.  Old man Borda won Tocchino Springs in a card game with a pair of deuces.  It was so cheap that I almost felt sorry for buying it.  It’s on a county road, but floods and mining have turned the road into a big-fun, four-wheel-drive adventure.  Directions to Tocchino Springs are this: From Virginia City, go down Six-Mile Road; at the Flowery Mine, take a left; at the road sign destroyed by bullets, take a right.

I got to be friends with the Bordas.  They’re very friendly people.  They keep 2,000 sheep at their Dayton ranch on the Carson River.  The sheep spend the winter there, and in the Spring, they graze on cheatgrass in the Pine Nut Mountains.  The interesting part is getting the sheep from the ranch to the road leading up to the Pine Nuts.  The town of Dayton sits in between.

I was honored with an invitation to herd the sheep one spring.  We started early one sunny morning, and took the sheep out of safe containment.  The Borda kids, now my age, and their spouses, a shepherd from Mexico, three dogs, and I walked with the wool.  We traveled west on the edge of Highway 50.  We soon came to a trailer park.  The swarm of sheep filled the park, trapping residents inside.  Wide-eyed residents, fresh from bed, stood on their small porches and watched as the sea of fur floated by.

Most impressive were the dogs.  These dogs are really, really smart…herding really, really dumb sheep.  Without commands, they would find strays and quickly bring them back.  They knew intuitively what the herd would do next, and they were always in just the right position to keep the sheep together and going in the right direction.  When all was well, you could find the dogs right beside the shepherd.

As we entered the town, development had filled the shoulder of the highway.  So out into the highway we went.  2,000 sheep, going west on Highway 50, blocking traffic.  Livestock has the right of way in Nevada, and the Bordas weren’t the slightest bit concerned.  Cars came to a halt, and people jumped out with cameras.  Children skipped around in the middle of the highway shouting things like, “Look, Daddy, Look!”  People with places they really needed to go to stood and smiled.

We arrived in the middle of Dayton, not one sheep lost, and turned onto the bridge; 2,000 sheep completely fill the bridge, and pour out either end.  On up the road, and then, I, with the Bordas, stopped.  The shepherd and his dogs would take the sheep from here.  Into the mountains, where they would spend late spring, the summer, and early fall.  Fat and furry, they would return to Dayton.  Going east on Highway 50.

Bob Hansen

Copyright – Robert W. Hansen – 2012

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