Sunday, March 10, 2019

No Tomorrow

This darling is 24 hours old. Gotta lead with a heart tugger.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve reconnected with the Abeytas of Mogote, Colorado. I might want to collaborate with Aaron Abeyta, a college professor, author and poet, to complete and publish the long gestating book, The Last Shepherd. I’ve begun to think I’m not going to make it happen without a partner in crime, though I’m not fully committed to that direction. I would still prefer to write the book myself. Then again maybe he’s a better writer and the project would be leant luster with his name attached. To paraphrase, we might be able to get the book published at no cost to me if he's aboard. The University of Texas Press and the Trinity University Press are thought to be players right now. The University of New Mexico Press is out of the game.

This one is five minutes old. Mom is licking off the afterbirth

Anyway, one thing led to another and I found myself with Andrew Abeyta at the Abeyta Ranch Saturday to photograph another day of lambing. It had been three years. As I edit the images, I’m not convinced I added anything to the story. One can hope. 

Hay is the only option till the sheep head to the prairie for free forage
Andrew Abeyta pulling off flakes of hay. Each monster bail has 45 flakes.

I did however see and photograph elements of the process that I missed in the six years I’ve been working on the sheep story. And, more importantly, I clarified some facts like when Victor “Cuba” Hernandez really came to the United States. I’ve been off by 8 to 13 years depending on who I believed at the time. I’ve been reporting that Cuba fled Cuba in either 1967 or 1972 but Andrew set me straight. Victor sailed to Florida from Mariel sometime between April 15 and November 31 of 1980. He’s confident that’s the case because it happened when he was graduating from high school and Jimmy Carter was president. It also tracks with Victor’s story of picking oranges in central Florida before picking fruit in California and finally making his way to the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado and his nearly forty years with the Abeytas.

As far as I know everybody who subscribes to this blog will remember the Mariel Boatlift in which 125,000 Cubans arrived in Florida during 1980's onslaught of refugees. Although some were imprisoned when arrived, and indeed some had been prisoners in Cuba, they were granted legal status in 1984.

I'm delighted to report that Victor is still herding the Abeyta sheep despite annual threats to retire. But he turns 80 this year and Andrew is painfully aware that Victor’s run can’t continue forever. Already he’s having a hard time walking ten miles a day and has finally started riding a horse part of the time. And he may be losing a cognitive step, as well. Andrew estimates that he lost thirty sheep last season and that it may be due to Victor’s inattention. Whatever the cause it’s painful hit to the bottom line. Thirty sheep at 100 pounds per lamb times $1.50 is a big loss to a small operation. $4,500 in fact.

I asked Andrew if plan B is still to hire a foreign herder since nobody in the Valley will do the job. He said that’s the case but it’s really expensive for a small operation. By law he’d have to pay the worker $1,500 per month for the whole year while he only needs one for seven months. And he’d have to provide housing and travel expenses to and from South America.

It’s prohibitively expensive and he’d have to increase the size of the herd from about 350 to 600 just to cover the additional costs. I asked if he could increase the herd to 1,000 head and make out on the deal. I thought I saw a dawning in his eyes. But his grazing permit is for 350 sheep. He’d have to buy somebody’s permit. Oh, and now he’s being taxed $10,000 a year for well water for his sprinkler system. That’s a new cost of doing business. Ranching isn't for sissies.

I’m afraid Andrew is hoping that tomorrow never comes. He's denying the inevitable. He’ll do what he has to do when the time comes. Go big, get a herder from Peru and grow his herd or downsize and keep 200 head at the ranch. But that means buying hay. And that means there are no easy choices.


Terry T. said...

Nice to see you back on the sheep story, amigo. Full steam ahead... Let him do the Forward and you write the story.

Blacks Crossing said...

Terry said it perfectly. Whether you write the book jointly or you do it exclusively, it should be written. And it would not be the same without the cuteness quotient of your first lamb photograph. The border collie in front of the hay stacks is also a great shot. Connie Taylor - the diva of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado Navajo-Churro sheep - would be an excellent resource during the process. Go Steve Go! Spring is coming!