SHEEP Experiment Station at Dubois, Idaho, is Unique

In 1915 President Wilson signed an Executive order creating a reservation of 28,160 acres of sheep-grazing land near Dubois, Idaho. This land was an undeveloped sagebrush range typical of vast areas of the intermountain regions of the West, where about half of America’s sheep are produced. Congress then appropriated funds for the establishment of the United States Sheep Experiment Station on this tract. (Fig. 204.)  In 1917 a band of about 1,000 Government-owned sheep began grazing there, and the construction of the necessary equipment was begun.

FIG. 204.—Headquarters of the United States Sheep Experiment Station at Dubois, Idaho. The foreground shows the sagebrush type of range where the sheep graze during the spring and fall. In winter they are trailed 40 miles to the deep, protected canyons of the mountain ranges in the background

Most of this reservation lies far from running streams or any other natural body of water, so that the first important step in the development work was the digging of a well. The elevation at headquarters, where the well had to be dug, is more than a mile and the soil is of lava-rock formation. In order to insure an abundant supply of good water the well was dug through rock to the depth of 750 feet.

After the construction of necessary barns, silos, houses, and water reservoirs and the building of 40 miles of fencing a definite program of experiments in the problems of range-sheep men was promptly put into operation.

It was found necessary to have an area for summer grazing definitely assigned to the station. For this purpose President Harding, in 1922, signed an Executive order setting aside 16,650 acres near the Continental Divide, about 40 miles northeast of Dubois, for use in summer grazing experiments with sheep, making a total of 44,810 acres for range-sheep experiments, all within 60 miles of Yellowstone National Park.

Results Apply to Practical Range Problems

All operations at this station are kept in line with good range practice, and the results of the experiments apply directly to the practical problems of sheep producers, especially of the intermountain ranges. Approximately 16,000 acres were fenced in the fall of 1920, thereby excluding all roaming livestock from that area. During the next five years an average of 3,100 sheep were grazed on the area each spring and fall for a combined season of 120 days. During this five-year period grazing was not started quite so early in the spring as formerly, and the camps and temporary watering places were moved frequently to avoid overgrazing local areas. In June, 1925, a careful survey was made of the vegetation and its grazing value on this protected area and on similar but unprotected grazing lands just outside the fenced area. It was found that the protected area had a carrying capacity of 160 sheep per square mile for a 120-day period and the unprotected range a capacity of only 135 sheep per square mile for the same period. Thus the protected range was 18.5 per cent better than the unprotected range as a result of controlling the number of sheep and the use of the range during a more appropriate grazing season.

Columbia Breed of Sheep Developed

The development of the Columbia breed of sheep is another result of the station’s work. The foundation of this breed is the Lincoln-Rambouillet crossbred. The crossbred ewes have been mated continuously with crossbred rams, until now the type is fairly well established. The Columbia sheep yield heavier fleeces and heavier lambs than any other breeds tested under similar conditions by the department. Other experiments show that Rambouillets yield good feeder lambs and excellent, fine wool, and that Corriedales produce splendid quality in both lambs and wool.

One outstanding discovery in the station’s wool experiments is the fact that length of staple in Rambouillet fleeces has a very important influence on the total weight of clean wool. Recent results show that on a normal market each addition of 1 inch in the length of staple results in an increase of from $1.25 to $1.50 per fleece. Western wool-growers who keep sheep by the thousands are finding such information of great practical benefit.

Lamb-production experiments show that the use of Hampshire rams with Rambouillet or Corriedale ewes under conditions of the intermountain range results in lambs of greater weight than purebred Rambouillet or Corriedale lambs at market age. However, Corriedale lambs have averaged the higher in quality of meat produced. A band of 1.200 ewes is used in this experiment.

FIG. 205.—A band of Corriedale and Columbia ewes on spring range just before "bedding down” at sundown. The camp wagon is the herder’s home

Annual Field Day Held

Each spring a field-day meeting is held at the station and is well attended by stockmen and workers of the surrounding States. Shearing is then in progress and the results of the various experimental projects are demonstrated. The visitors go out over the range and see at first-hand how the grazing value of range vegetation can be improved and how the usefulness of dry ranges may be extended by methods of supplying stock water. Displays of mounted plants tell important stories about the forage resources of the ranges.  Graphic charts and tabulations on exhibit at the sheep pens tell facts of practical application illustrated by the sheep themselves.  State and Federal investigators also discuss at this meeting the technical phases of the work and exchange views on plans for future work.

So far as department workers are able to learn, the United States sheep experiment station is the only experiment station in the world that is devoted entirely to the solution of sheep problems under practical range conditions. It is dedicated to a study of the efficient use of intermountain ranges which are adapted only to grazing purposes—a conservation measure of national importance.