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A Day on the Road

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Days start early for the Curuchets

In order to avoid the growing summer heat that rises with the sun, days start early for the Curuchets. With parents waking up and getting horses ready around 3:30 a.m. and kids waking up around 4, the day begins in near darkness.

Early each summer ranchers from around the county make their annual trek up the mountain, bringing livestock out of the hot and dry flats into the cooler grasslands to graze for the summer months. For the Curuchets, moving just over 3,000 sheep takes about a week and only works with the contribution of the whole family.

With everyone helping out, from kids to grandparents, each person has a role in making the move happen. Beginning on their ranch east of Kaycee, the sheep are pushed through town, toward Mayoworth and up the mountain to their final summer destination. This year, dry weather encouraged the trip and high temperatures forced only early morning and late evening travel. The family and the sheep moved through Kaycee in the early morning on June 10 and continued preparations for their trek uphill. 

The family uses a combination of vehicles, ATVs and horses

To move the sheep, the family uses a combination of vehicles, ATVs and horses to move the sheep down the road for the day’s trip. A truck and trailer followed behind the whole group to carry any slower animals that need to ride rather than move with the group.

Ben Curuchet, 10, holds onto one of the dogs

Ben Curuchet, 10, holds onto one of the dogs atop the four wheeler while talking to his mom Chris barely above a whisper on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The pair were sitting back away from the gate after opening it as they waited for the sheep to be pushed through by dad Mike, brother Joe, 13, and sister Jamie, 12, who were all riding horseback.

The Curuchet family continued their roughly week long trek

The Curuchet family continued their roughly week long trek moving more than 3000 sheep up the mountain from the home ranch to their summer range on Thursday pushing nearly 2500 ewes and lambs through the town of Kaycee to the Mayoworth holding area just west of town. The group started at dawn, beginning to move the sheep out onto the road just as the sky began to turn pink.

Ranching is a family job

For the Curuchets, ranching is a family job that gets everyone involved. All three kids help their parents move sheep each day while their grandparents pitch in either leading or trailing the herd from a vehicle. Tom Schutte, Chris’s dad, rode one of the four wheelers while his wife Karen drove the truck and trailer behind to pick up any animals that couldn’t walk the full distance. Ben ran back from his mom’s four wheeler to get extra flags out of the truck.

The Curuchet’s make the final approach into Kaycee

As the sun peaked over the horizon, the Curuchet’s were making the final approach into Kaycee. The family moved the sheep a bit faster in the morning trying to make it in and out of town early before the heat set in and before traffic could become a problem on the road.

Moving sheep through town

Moving the sheep to the mountain from the home ranch which is east of Kaycee involves pushing them through town. The sheep are moved in two groups through town split between two days to keep the trip more manageable. Town is the most stressful part of the trip for the Curuchet’s as they have to worry not only about keeping the sheep together and moving but about people, cars and extra roads and places for the sheep to sneak off the road into.

the pace of the move drastically slowed

After pushing through town the pace of the move drastically slowed. The sheep were allowed to pass under the interstate overpasses at their own pace, letting them cool off and catch their breath after the morning jog through town. Horses and four-wheelers slowed and pulled back to allow the sheep to slowly wander under the interstate and through the west side of town.

Jamie, Joe and Chris Curuchet give the horses and the sheep a break

After making it through town, from right, Jamie, Joe and Chris Curuchet give the horses and the sheep a break on Thursday. The sun fully rose over the sky and lit up the town just as they were arriving, making sure that the hard part of the trip was over before the heat of the day took over.

Mike finds breakfast sandwiches with Ben

Leaving the sheep with Jamie and Joe, Mike, center, took son Ben and mother-in-law Karen to the Sinclair to pick up breakfast sandwiches and drinks for everyone. Ben helped remember what everyone does and does not like on their sandwiches, making for a varying selection. On the way out, Ben grabbed a free trucker magazine to look at trucks when he has time off.

"What gear’s it in?”

"What gear’s it in?” Ben asked as he stood up tall in the four-wheeler, excited that he was getting to drive it up the ditch to catch it up with the group. His dad replied with a laugh and a “Second and that’s all you get.” While hoping for more, Ben settled with a “Darn, I guess that’s fine,” and began his drive. Mike reassured him that it wasn’t him he was worried about, but everyone else on the road.

Ben pretends to ride a saddle bronc

Ben pretends to ride a saddle bronc in the back of the truck while his dad and grandma, Ginger Curuchet, watch the sheep lapping into the day’s holding pasture. Ginger drove ahead of the sheep, warning oncoming drivers to slow down as they approached and moved through the herd. Ben was clear that he doesn’t want to be a bronc rider but instead wants to be a truck driver. He already has his truck picked out: A green Peterbilt with a drop axle, a grill guard and a lowboy trailer.

Mike pulls one of the dogs through the fence wires

Mike pulls one of the dogs through the fence wires after going out to check on the sheep as they arrive in the holding area on Thursday morning. The holding area is set aside as a place for sheep and cattle to rest with water as they trek toward the mountain. Because the weather has been so hot during the day, moving livestock has to be done early in the morning and late at night when the weather is cool enough to keep them healthy.

Ben helped to place the blocks and crank down the stands

Eager to help, Ben helped to place the blocks and crank down the stands to hold the trailer steady once they were parked by the holding pen Thursday morning. Chris joked that each of the kids had their own unspoken roles in camp: Ben likes to help with the camp itself, Jamie helps with the horses and the dogs and Joe picks up whatever is left over.

Chris Curuchet places a bandaid on Ben’s heal

Chris Curuchet places a bandaid on Ben’s heal that had rubbed sore again after the morning’s work. Joe and Jamie watered the horses and got all the animals put away before returning the trailer to get out of the sun and relax for a while.

Chris went back to the morning’s starting spot

Chris and Mike caught up on some paperwork and talked about what needed to be taken care of for the day while Ben checked his hair in the mirror. Chris went back to the morning’s starting spot to retrieve the trailer and catch it up with the sheep so that they could park next to the animals and keep an eye on them.

Joe was the first to crash

With the early mornings and late nights that come with the trek up the mountain, napping in the middle of the day between jobs is common for the kids. Joe was the first to crash after the mornings work, napping on his bottom bunk for an hour or so.

Despite the hot, dry weather, mud was available

Despite the hot, dry weather, mud was available enough to keep boots, jeans and some dropped phones caked in mud. The dogs wandered in and out of the trailer between naps in the shade, bringing in their own mud and hair to share with everyone.

The hot wind began howling

After settling in for the day to avoid the heat, the hot wind began howling, sending curtains and loose papers flying as the open windows and doors attempted to cool off the space. The stuck clock on the wall reminded no one of the time, although they checked periodically on the sheep and horses to make sure everyone settled into the holding area okay.

Ben was quick to pull out Boggle

During the peak heat of the day, it is too hot to safely move livestock and so random tasks like grocery shopping, shoeing the horses and chores back home fill the day between moves. Ben was quick to pull out Boggle as he convinced his dad, sister and eventually brother to play the game with him.

The boggle board was flipped again and again

Passing time in short increments, the boggle board was flipped again and again as the group searched for new word combinations that they hoped wouldn’t be spotted by anyone else. Joe joined the game after his nap and Ben constantly tried to sell his family on words of his own creation.

Chris watched as the boggle points

After returning from a grocery run, Chris watched as the boggle points were added up and words found. As this was the last day close to town, Chris stocked up on groceries for the rest of the trip so they didn’t have to come off the mountain if not necessary.

Jaimie swapped horses

Making sure that all the horses got time to graze after the morning workout, Jaimie swapped horses midday so they could all eat. When the Curuchet’s moved the sheep through Kaycee, they only moved in the morning. But once everything makes it through town, they planned to move both in the mornings and evenings when temperatures were low.

Photojournalist

Jessi Dodge joined the Bulletin as a photojournalist and a Report for America corp member in 2020. If you have ideas or comments, reach out at jessi@buffalobulletin.com.

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