Feeling sheepish at Strang Ranch | AspenTimes.com

Feeling sheepish at Strang Ranch

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Jim Paussa photo/www.paussa.com

Sheep and sheepdogs will make an encore appearance at Strang Ranch in Missouri Heights.

Bridget Strang has been awarded the right to host the 2014 National Sheepdog Trials Finals on her family’s ranch. The Strangs also hosted the event in September 2011.

Strang has created the nonprofit National Finals Sheepdog Trials to organize the event and raise awareness about the need to preserve agricultural land.

“It’s more than just a dog trial. It puts some meaning in it,” Strang said of the nonprofit’s mission. “It’s one more way to get on my soapbox and say, ‘Take care of the world.’”

The ranch off Garfield County Road 102, above Catherine Store, is an ideal model of preserving agricultural land. The Strangs run a cow-calf operation and sell cattle to nearby Milagro Ranch, which raises them and sells grass-fed beef. The Strangs also raise sheep, which provide meat for Carbondale restaurants that serve lamb. Bridget has taught horse-riding lessons to hundreds of kids. The ranch also boards horses and operates a sod farm. The diverse agricultural pursuits are undertaken even while the Strangs have placed 400 acres in conservation easements, which extinguish development rights but provide tax advantages.

“We love that people can come to the ranch and see what an ‘eased’ ranch has to offer,” Strang said.

The national sheepdog finals revolve between the West Coast, East Coast and middle America every year. They are in Virginia this year. The event at Strang Ranch brought in spectators from around the country and was well attended despite rainy weather. Organizers credited the ranch for being “a good fit,” Strang said, because the open fields allowed plenty of parking and handlers hauling campers could set up on the grounds.

The biggest challenge were the sheep. “They were really tough,” Strang said. Sheepdogs are used to skittish sheep that are easier to herd. These sheep were seasoned ewes that spent the prior summer in the high country, and they were not easily set into motion by the dogs. Many of the sheepdogs were puzzled when they charged out only to find the sheep stand their ground and look at them, Strang said with a laugh.

The sheep that will be used next week are yearling ewes that spent time in the high country with their moms last summer.

“They won’t be as opinionated as older ewes,” Strang said.

In preparation of the national finals next year, Strang Ranch will host two trials this year. The first is May 7 through 10. Dogs and their handlers are coming from 13 states. The public is invited to attend for free. Bring lawn chairs, but under no circumstances bring your dog, Strang said. It’s not even acceptable to leave dogs in a vehicle on the ranch grounds, she said. Food will be available for sale at the famous purple tent of Bottoms Up Farm during the event.

A second trial will take place in October. Volunteers and sponsors are needed for the October trials and the September 2014 finals. Contact Bridget Strang at 2014finals@gmail.com to volunteer or provide a sponsorship.