This is the main event. The Trailing of the Sheep Festival is a celebration of the Wood River Valley’s unique history and heritage. Sheep and sheep ranching are honored in the area because they shaped this region of Idaho. It’s the only parade of this kind in the United States!
The John and Jodie Faulkner family, whose sheep parade attendees will see today, as well as the other sheep families in this area, trail their sheep north each spring and then south out of the mountains in the fall to desert winter pastures for grazing and lambing. The ewes in the parade this year will winter along the Colorado River in Blythe, Calif., or Poston, Ariz.
Those ewes will start lambing again around Christmas and by March will be heading back to southern Idaho with their lambs.
The sheep would be trailing through the valley this time of year whether there was a Trailing of the Sheep Festival or not. They would be traveling down a side street so they wouldn’t block traffic.
Instead, just for today, they are moving down Main Street thanks to the city of Ketchum and the Idaho Transportation Department to celebrate a tradition that began more than 150 years ago, during the years when this region was the largest sheep shipping center in the world—second only to Sydney, Australia.
People in the Wood River Valley are proud of that rich and colorful history. To the people who organize this festival, preserving and celebrating this history is a passion. They hope that it helps everyone to understand a little more about this land that we all love so much and enriches our lives in many other ways.
Every fall for nearly 150 years, sheepherders in the region have been trailing their sheep through Ketchum and Hailey, moving their herds from summer pastures in the mountains to milder lowland areas for winter grazing and lambing. This event honors the tradition of welcoming husbands, fathers, brothers, sheep and sheepdogs back home in a celebration of family and community.
The sheep families and old-time residents that remain are the truest link to the valley’s history and the most experienced guides to the landscape. The Trailing of the Sheep Cultural Heritage Center says it feels a strong commitment to listen, learn and participate in their stories. It is a powerful way to connect the past to the present.
Between 1910 and 1920, there were 1 million to 2 million sheep trailing through the Wood River Valley, and families were shipping millions of lambs on the Oregon Shortline spur of the Union Pacific Railroad.
This festival has been dedicated to the sheep ranching and herding families who have been involved in making this community what it is today. Working family farms and ranches produce food and fiber and sustain local economies and generations of hardworking families. Managed correctly, they provide wildlife habitat, preserve wildlife migration corridors, protect rivers and nurture a distinctly American way of life.
Enjoy the parade view with great food and music! The sheep picnic is brought to you by the Wood River Sustainability Center. Music is by Idaho favorites Gary and Cindy Braun of the famous Braun family.
The picnic will be serving tasty lamb gyros and Italian hoagies, as well as wine by Sawtooth Winery and beer by MillerCoors. A percentage of the profits will go to the festival. T-shirts and festival merchandise will also be available for purchase.
The Trailing of the Sheep Parade
- Sign-bearing dancers from the Footlight Dance Centre. These young dancers will accompany each of the parade participants with signs so you know who is passing in front of you at the time. Hilarie Neely has been teaching dance in the valley for 37 years.
- Color guard—Boy Scout Troop 192, Ketchum. The color guard (where the word “color” is referring to the national flag) carries the National Color. Being assigned to the color guard is considered an honor due to the fact that these young men are presenting and carrying the symbol of their country.
- Debbie Hook loves the Trailing of the Sheep and is driving a “Trailing of the Lambs” sheep camp made by her husband, Jim. The camp is pulled by Debbie Hook’s registered miniature paint named Mounty and her miniature registered Appaloosa named Noble. The Lamb Camp has become a crowd favorite wherever she goes.
- Rodney and Sheila Jones of McCammon, Idaho, join us again with their sheep camp pulled by a team of 12-year-old Percherons, Pat and Mike. Rod and Sheila use this camp and team to take hunting and fishing and for guiding trips into the mountains all year long.
- Richard and Silvia Lockyer of McCammon, Idaho, are here with their sheep camp and team of half-lingers Reba (red horse) and Brittany (yellow horse). The Lockyers are “parading” with friends, also using their sheepcamp for recreation with the Jones and Hooks.
- City of Hailey Sheep Camp, restored and cared for by community leaders and long-time supporters of the festival, Joan and the late John Davies of Hailey, is being pulled today by Shelby Hansen and her team of Belgian horses, named Duke and Robin.
- Bruce and Lenna Dawkins join us from Blackfoot, Idaho, with their sheep camp and team of horses—Richard (a Belgian) and Willa (a Persian). They regularly wagon train with their sheep camp, being out on the trail six days at a time.
- These two beautiful black Peruvian paso horses live and play right here in Sun Valley. Peruvian pasos are the smoothest riding horses in the world. They are also one of the showiest of all horses because of an inner pride and energy that make them travel with a style and carriage as if always “on parade.” Both the gait and the flashy leg action are completely natural. They were bred and used in Peru by ranchers who had to travel many miles each day to work their ranches, and they wanted to ride in comfort. The big gelding is named Rudy and was born in San Antonio, Texas; he was moved to the area more than 10 years ago. Rudy’s rider is Steve Riccabona, an agent for Keller Williams Real Estate here in Sun Valley. The little mare is Misty. Misty was born here in Carey, Idaho, and is a sweetheart to ride. Misty is being ridden by Amanda Perino. These horses are bright and show a lot of personality. Rudy and Misty enjoy a parade, but they really love to walk the trails or follow the sheep high into the mountains, and run on the dirt roads around the rivers. If you ever get a chance to ride a Peruvian paso, take it—you will enjoy the experience!
- Peruvian Dancers & Musicians of the Wood River Valley are former sheepherders at local ranches, and represent the contributions of Peruvians to sheep ranching in the West. They have been performing Andean music and the contemporary dance music of Peru together for several years. Today, Peruvians remain the largest group of sheepherders in the West. Herders must be tough—working almost 365 days a year and sometimes “on call.” Living in tents or sheepcamps, they often spend weeks solo with their sheep. Sheep need careful tending because they have so many predators. Most ranchers will tell you they couldn’t survive without their herders.
- The Oinkari (oyn-car-ee) Basque Dancers and musicians of Boise honor the contributions of the Basque people to the sheep industry and Idaho. They studied music and dance in Spain, maintaining the Basque tradition and honoring their rich culture. The Oinkari Basque Dancers of Boise was started by a group of Boise Basque Americans after a trip to the Spanish Basque country in 1960. They began the dance group and called themselves Oinkari. A combination of “oinak” meaning “feet” and “-ari” meaning “one who does”), Oinkari translates to “dancer” in the Basque language. Today many dancers are the sons and daughters of those founders, carrying on the traditions of their ancient homeland. Musicians trained in traditional Basque music and its instruments accompany the dancers. They play Basque music of varying styles and rhythms using traditional instruments including the txistu (chee-stew) and button accordions, accompanied by pandareta and other Basque instruments. The music they play could have been heard coming from a Basque hotel or boarding house in Hailey, Shoshone or Boise more than 100 years ago.
- Generations of Basque young people of the valley. The Goitiandia, Onaindia and Inchausti families are represented here today. Their great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers came from Spain to herd sheep. Here we have daughters, nieces, nephews and cousins of some of Blaine County’s founding families.
- The Siumni (Shoo Mnee) Polish Highlanders This year marks the 14th anniversary of the Polish Highlanders’ making their way from Chicago to the Wood River Valley for the festival. The Polish Highlanders of North America present the folk music and dance of their families, shepherds from the Tatra Mountains of southern Poland. Their dance is found only in this region of Europe and their singing, once used to communicate from mountainside pastures to valleys below, continues today. The group keeps its distinct identity and traditions to pass on to their children. Look at the beautiful traditional attire of these dancers and the fine embroidery work on the clothing. Each piece of clothing and accessories was exquisitely handcrafted and, of course, for the men, made of wool—what else? Their goal is to preserve the history and traditions of their ancestors who have been herding sheep for six centuries in the Tatra Mountains of southern Poland. They live in Chicago now and work to keep their identity and traditions to pass on to their children.
- Girl Scouts of the Silver Sage There are many Girl Scout troops in the Wood River Valley, from kindergarten to high school seniors. Troops for new girls and leaders are forming today. Girls work on community service projects, learn new skills, work on earning badges, have fun events with other troops and go on trips. They belong to the largest organization of girls and women in the world.
- Boise Highlanders, Boise, Idaho. The Scottish people of the West were among the first immigrant group to run sheep in Idaho and start its ranches. The Boise Highlanders bagpipers, drummers and dancers play in honor of this Scottish heritage. The Boise Highlanders, formed in 1961, is one of the oldest pipe bands in the Northwest. The pipers are complemented by the Highland drums, often cited as the most complex form of snare drumming. Dancers join the musicians performing the Highland fling and jigs. Pipers and drummers wear the Davidson tartan. The dancers wear tartans of their choice. This popular group performs regularly throughout the region and always at the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. As always, they lead the sheep through the Festival Parade.
- Father Ken Brannon, rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church joins us to for his significant role of blessing the sheep. Thank you, Father Ken.
- Darby Northcott and her pet sheep help lead the sheep with the Faulkner family and sheep ranching friends. Darby has been leading the parade sheep since she was a little girl. She began raising lambs for 4-H when she was young and continues to raise a sheep from a lamb as a pet. Her “lead sheep” allows her the control needed to lead a band. Darby helps local ranchers at shearing and other times during the year when she’s not leading our parade! It’s always great to have you here, Darby.
- THE SHEEP!!! A band of 1,500 sheep from Faulkner Land & Livestock are about to trail down Main Street. The sheep will move through town with the help of the Faulkner family, friends and sheepherders.
Please help them “trail” smoothly. Sheep are essentially wild animals that prefer “flight.” Be calm and quiet to help the sheep herd through town peacefully.
Before going onto Main Street, please wait for the street sweepers to clean the streets (right behind the sheep).
Sheep in the American West produce some of the best lamb and finest wool in the United States and around the world. But, daily, its producers face the challenges of volatile markets, imports without quotas, high costs of production, death losses from predators, loss of traditional public land grazing and public hesitancy to cook or serve their product. Why would one choose the life of a sheep rancher? Yet, they do, generation after generation. It is a family affair.
After the parade
A Sheepherder Walk, 2-3:30 p.m. Take the sheep shuttle from Ketchum’s Forest Service Park (meet the shuttle at 1:50 p.m. to depart at 2 p.m.) or follow behind in your car to Eagle Creek Road, 6.3 miles north of town and Neal Canyon at the road’s end for a tour of sheepherders’ carvings on aspen trees. This art was produced by herders who camped in the area and in lonely moments chose to leave their mark on the bark of aspens that surrounded them. Enjoy a guided hike through area aspen groves to view sheepherder tree carvings, a disappearing Western art form. Ride the Sheep Shuttle to the Sheepherder hike north of Ketchum. Third-generation sheep rancher and former state Sen. John Peavey will share stories and answer questions about the history and traditions of sheep ranching life. And, John and his loyal sheepdog Aggie, will be on the bus to share stories during the ride. (Ride the shuttle for a $10 fee or follow in your car for free.)
Championship Sheepdog Trials continue until 2 p.m. International Dog Handlers and Stock Dog Association Dog Trials. Located behind Wood River High School (north side) off state Highway 75 at Fox Acres Road in Hailey. 70 handlers working their dogs.
- Sheep have been a part of the West since the conquistadors brought them from Spain in the 1500s.
A sheepherder’s role is to stay with the sheep. They care for sick animals, help deliver lambs at birth, help the new lambs learn to drink milk, protect the sheep from predators and keep the herd together.
The sheep camp—the sheepherders’ home
- Sheepherders have to move with their herd, so their home has to also move.
- Sheep camps, once pulled by horses, have all the necessities of life like a kitchen, living room and bedroom.
- Modern camps now may have solar panels, cell phone chargers, microwaves and showers.
Sheep are ‘environmental tools’
- As “forage” animals, sheep can produce high quality meat without eating human food like corn.
- Sheep are a land stewardship tool for both farm and public land. Sheep in the U.S. contribute to environmental balance by grazing noxious and toxic weeds, without the use of herbicides.
- Sheep are an ideal tool for controlling undergrowth in forests and rangeland to prevent wildfires. Sheep recycle nutrients back into the soil, improving the quality of the pasture and rangeland, while minimizing erosion.
- The meat of a sheep one year or younger is called “lamb.” Although under a year in age, the lambs are quite grown, typically weighing morre than 100 pounds.
- Lamb provides an excellent source of protein, vitamin B-12, niacin, zinc and iron.
- Lamb is raised without artificial or synthetic growth hormones.
- Lamb is a source of protein that is higher in important minerals than many other meats.
- On average, a three-ounce serving of lamb has only 175 calories and meets the Food and Drug Administration’s definition for lean.
- When sheared each year, a sheep provides about five pounds of wool—enough to knit five sweaters.
- Shearing used to be done by hand with blade shears. Today, it is typically done with machine shears, which gently trim away the wool fleece.
- Shearers, those who trim the wool, are typically supported by a suspended belt, making it easier to bend over and shear a sheep.
- Wool is a diverse fiber that is warm, durable, hypoallergenic and washable and has low flammability.
- Wool fiber exteriors repel water and the interior of wool absorbs water—wool can absorb more than one-third of its weight in water without feeling wet.
- Wool can be used for clothing, carpets, blankets and even acoustics, to name a few things.
The sheep and Faulkner Land & Livestock
John Faulkner is a third-generation sheep rancher on both sides of his family. His father moved to the Gooding, Idaho, area in 1933 with 25 sheep that he purchased for $1 each, and the family has been in the sheep ranching business ever since. Today, John and his wife, Jodi, run the operation with their two sons, Mike and Jack, and their respective families. The Faulkners own about 12,000 head of Columbia/Rambouillet (say ram-bow-lay) cross ewes. The ewes in the parade will be heading to California soon for lambing season and to munch on fresh alfalfa. The Faulkners also farm row crops and do custom farming.