Ok, so I got some of my facts wrong in my earlier conversation with Javier, the Peruvian sheep herder. As we lingered over dinner, he rapid fire answered question after question as we all sat in continued amazement. He talks so fast, even Jackie had trouble following it all.
First of all, trout are a rare treat for us, as we do not fish, but Jackie loves to fish and put some in the freezer, so I thought that would be special for Javier. Silly me, little did I know, that trout are one of his main foods, as he goes out with the sheep, he catches them for his food.
He showed us a picture of himself with a net and about 25 trout laying in the grass on the bank. Jackie asked him how he took the picture, and he said he put his camera on a timer and set it on a rock. He said he gives a lot to his dogs as well.
He told us that he has been with these sheep, by himself, for 7 months, and the total has been about 2500. Last week they came and separated all the sheep in pens and sold off all of the fat lambs, approximately 1400. He does have a sheep herder wagon that he stays in at night, but only if there is a road nearby. His boss comes with a truck and moves it to different sections, but Javier has to sleep in a tent with the sheep most of the time. He gets very cold.
His boss comes usually once a week and brings him food and water for his trailer, but he says that he also drinks out of the river or wherever he can find water when he is out with the sheep. He does have a horse, which he stakes out on a line, and uses it when he has to take the sheep a very long way.
The most shocking stories he told us were about the dogs. He said that the white female Akbash is the one which really herds the sheep. She stays up front and will push them from the side and will take them to water and somehow knows where the next place would be that has good grass. The lead ewe has a bell on, and a few sheep in the middle of the herd, and the straggler in the back all have bells. Somehow the dog will not let them get too far from “base camp, which is his tent or the trailer. We still could not understand it all because they walk the sheep to places that would take us over 2 hours to drive by car.
I had thought he said that he never lost any sheep to coyotes, bears or lions, but he showed us a picture of a sheep that was only wool, head, spine and legs. He said it took a bear less than 30 minutes to eat it all.
The two little herding dogs were the most unbelievable for us all. Javier said he did not train them, but somehow they know exactly what to do. He will tell him to move the sheep left or right from either on foot or horseback, and will wave his arms to the left or right, or to bring them close. The biggest mystery is when a sheep is sick, that those dogs will separate it out and bring it to him when he is ready to give it medicine. The dogs will grab on to the wool on the head of the sheep and bring it down and hold its head down so Javier can give the sheep a shot. He has a special bond with those dogs and they sleep with him in his tent and he shares his food with them, while he gives bagged dog food to the white dogs which sleep with the sheep.
While all of us were in awe of what Javier does, the skill and bravery, the absolute strength to deal with the elements, the loneliness, the physical stamina… we were sure that this was just in his blood and he was raised with these skills in Peru. Nope. He is an office, tie wearing, studious type. He has 5 years of University and almost has his degree to be a veterinarian. He knows AutoCad on the computer, as he also designs houses. He says he is done with Colorado, sheep, the cold, being cut off from the internet and phones… and when he returns to Peru, with his tie on, he will not even think of sheep.
So, here is the sickening part.
His herd of sheep, approximately 1200 ewes worth at least $250 each. The 1400 lambs brought at least $150 to $200 each. He has three other friends who also have herds this large and do exactly what he does. All are owned by one couple, originally from Spain, who have lived here for many years since the man came over to Colorado to be a sheep herder himself.
In the winter, Javier and his friends live at the big ranch and feed and care for the 5000-6000 sheep. They sell probably about the same or more in lambs every year. Do the math.
Javier gets paid $700, per MONTH. hmmmm.
We will definitely see him again, and they are going to separate the next three herds soon and take off the lambs. Hopefully they will let us help.